HL Deb 31 January 2001 vol 621 cc713-63

4.22 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, against the background of the serious crime situation on this side of the Irish Sea, it was a useful and salutary reminder of the realities of the world in which we live that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, spoke of the nightmare—my fear is that it is a growing nightmare—in Northern Ireland.

Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for enabling us to debate this important matter today. It is appropriate for us to do so in light of a report by its political editor on the front page of The Times today stating that following yesterday's discussions on the Labour Party's election manifesto, Mr Blair has elevated crime … to equal importance with health, education and welfare reform". The article contains the startling information: Yesterday's meeting was told that half of all crime in Britain is committed by about 100,000 people, and that the sentencing system will have to be changed radically to tackle them. Many had never been caught and others picked up a succession of minor sentences because the courts had little flexibility in dealing with them". I want to make a few general observations about the society in which we live. It is a matter of great sadness that when I look back on my childhood, it was an entirely different world. My family lived on Chiswick Mall. In order to get there from central London, one travelled on the Underground to Stamford Brook and one walked for about 20 minutes from the station to one's home. It never occurred to anyone in those days that there might be a risk in travelling home at night on the Underground or in taking such a walk. My family had no anxieties when I was a boy at Westminster under-school and at Westminster about letting me go anywhere in London at virtually any time of the day or night. I am afraid that that is not the case today.

My second observation arises from the fact that I celebrated the arrival of the millennium not in London—thank goodness I was not part of the queue for the Jubilee Line on the way to the Dome—but in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. In the preceding days, the churches had been packed. On the night of the millennium celebrations, vast crowds swarmed around the city, but I did not see a single policemen. Family members of all ages, from babies in prams to the very old, were present. So far as I could see, no one was drunk and I did not see anyone with a glass of beer. I cannot help reflecting on the fact that a very high proportion of the crime that occurs in this country appears to be alcohol related. I like a drink as much as anyone, but social considerations need to be taken into account with regard to the background to crime and the reasons for it. We should seriously consider education and family responsibility in that context. I look forward to hearing the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.

I never thought that I should advance the case for drinking Coca Cola but last month, when I travelled extensively on a private visit to Argentina and Chile, I was again struck by the extraordinary quantity of soft drinks consumed there and by the relatively small quantity of alcohol that is consumed in public. The relationship of crime to the consumption of alcohol deserves consideration.

I also want to make an observation on my personal attitude to the police. I have the highest admiration for the police force. There is a particular reason for that. During my time as a Minister, a bomb was placed in my Welsh home in the bedroom of my son. As a result, I was subject for some considerable time to security arrangements and the protection of the police. I made close friendships with many of them and grew to have the greatest admiration for all of those splendid public servants.

Even today, when my alarm goes off by mistake—I fear that that happens all too often—the police arrive with extraordinary speed and efficiency at my front door. However, many people in London find that if they report what appears to them to be a serious crime or burglary, they get very little attention. That is not because the police do not want to give them that attention but because of the pressure under which they work.

Although I intend to concentrate my remarks on what is happening in London, there are serious patterns of crime in the country. These days, it is unwise for one to have an antique sundial or piece of valuable stonework or sculpture in one's garden, because it will soon disappear and a transaction will take place shortly afterwards on the edge of a motorway. That happened in my case although, I am glad to say, one piece was recovered. If furniture is stolen from a house in the country that is unoccupied for a short time, it will probably be put in a container and shipped out of the country through Southampton in about 24 hours. The whole business is efficiently organised. There are real risks and hazards in the countryside and in towns.

I want to discuss the pressures in towns and our responsibilities as citizens. It has already been pointed out in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, that the level of crime in some fields has gone down. Motor manufacturers have made considerable progress in making it more difficult for vehicles to be stolen. But, again, individuals can help. We can make sure that we have effective immobilisers or tracker systems and encourage recovery.

The Government have measures before Parliament at the moment which may make that situation even better. However, I was disturbed by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, seemed to do what Ministers have done; that is, treat rather lightly the sharp rise in the theft of mobile phones. The implication is that it is nothing more than children bullying other children. I happen to think that the actions of children bullying other children should be treated seriously. In any case, it is not only children who steal mobile phones.

My wife and I were driving back from the Tate Modern one evening. As I pulled up at the traffic lights by the Old Vic, two young men attempted to mug a man on the pavement opposite and remove his mobile phone which he had been using as he walked along the pavement. I opened the window, shouted and jumped out of the car, as did the person in the car behind me. The two young men shot in opposite directions. When the police arrived 10 or 15 minutes later I could only give them a shadowy description of what the two offenders looked like.

As we looked after the victim, who had been hit and was badly shaken but had retained his mobile phone, I could not help but observe a young woman casually walking along the pavement opposite using her mobile phone. People should understand that if we walk around the darkened streets of London using a mobile phone, it is a good idea to stand where we can see what is happening so we do not become an obvious invitation to any young thief.

My point is that, as individuals, we too can help to reduce crime. I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie—a view expressed also by the Commissioner for London—that manufacturers should do more to reduce the attractiveness to thieves of the mobile phone. Measures could be taken which make them less attractive than they are at the present time and we are entitled to demand that they take them.

I turn to the question of police numbers. We heard from both sides of the House that all sorts of things can be done to adjust the statistics of crime; there is no disagreement on that. I regularly travel either by bus or car along the South Bank from Battersea to this House. I frequently see yellow notice boards put up by the police asking for witnesses to crimes committed along that road. That indicates the hazards of living in our capital city, even in an area which is not regarded as being particularly high risk.

I can give a local indication of the reduction in police numbers. In Battersea we have an admirable Neighbourhood Watch scheme. For many years I received regular reports through my door from the police and from time to time attended local meetings. The police station from which the scheme is run is now a lot further away and the constables who run the scheme have to cover a vastly increased area. That means that not only are there fewer policemen on the street, but also that they find it more difficult to have the house-to-house and person-to-person contact which is so vital if a Neighbourhood Watch scheme is to work.

I am sure there is no argument but that the numbers of police in London have come down. The Prime Minister himself is concerned that they have fallen every year for seven years. They have certainly come down in Wandsworth and in Battersea. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said about how the numbers are set for the requirements of police in a specific area. I was informed this morning that, until last year, Battersea was considered to need 399 police. Even including a number of probationary trainees, the current number is 384. However, there has been a convenient 4 per cent drop in the requirement so everyone can say that the target is being met. Whether or not that is so, we clearly have fewer police and more crime.

There is undoubtedly a need for the Government to try to do something about that. I know they will say that they allocated substantial additional resources to the problem and that within the past six months there has been an improvement in recruiting numbers. But there is a long way to go. Careful consideration must be given to how we can help those who are recruited to find adequate housing and solve the other problems which inhibit recruitment.

I agree with those who believe that the Macpherson report did a great deal of damage. I am as strong as anyone in condemning racism in the police force and indeed anywhere else. But the report gave the impression that the entire police force was infected. That had an impact on morale and made it more difficult for the police to act effectively on the ground.

I conclude by saying that a serious problem exists. It is partly a question of the law and the police; but it is also a problem of social attitudes, education, family responsibility and the way we behave. We must address all parts of the problem. My noble friend Lord Tebbit was absolutely right. There are two primary responsibilities of the Government. One is to defend the citizen of the realm from outside attack and the other to defend the citizen from inside attack—robbery and violence; in other words, to defend the Queen's peace. The Queen's peace is not being effectively defended and that should be a matter that concerns everyone, whatever their political views.

4.38 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, to take part in this debate and I speak—in reference to something he said in his speech—as a daily Fareham dog-walker.

By way of preliminary, I should like to place on record the high esteem in which I hold the work of the Hampshire Constabulary in its partnership work in the community, of which I shall speak later. I very much hope that the context of this debate from all sides of the House will be one of support and affirmation, even if it is not without criticism, for the work of our police officers whose service to society often goes unmarked. I add from these Benches to the tributes paid earlier to the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.

Perhaps I may add at this point that it is a pleasure to have my friend and near neighbour, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, next to me. He is about to retire after serving in this House for 21 years. I am not alone in having benefited greatly from his wisdom in that office as a diocesan bishop.

I want to begin with a book that may be topical to at least some of our considerations this afternoon. I possess in my study a signed first edition of Robert Campell Moberly's book, Atonement and Personality. It is a classic work by an Oxford professor, published on 14th February 1901—it has almost reached its centenary. Partly Scottish by blood and read in both Scottish and English theology, Moberly entered and engaged in the debate at the end of the 19th century about "punishment as vindictiveness" over and against "punishment as rehabilitation". That debate will find a satirical echo in W.S. Gilbert's song in "The Mikado", To let the punishment fit the crime". Responding to the debate, and in no way taking the view that punishment should not involve suffering, Moberly pictured Christ as the perfect penitent and drew on the twin aspects of justice and mercy as the foundations not only of a proper theology but also of a healthy society. The matter before us now, therefore, is not new or innovative; it simply points to a current phase in what is a long-running question about how we believe crime should be responded to and what support is given to those who carry out that task on society's behalf.

I want to make two points: first, on the prevention of crime as the responsibility of the whole community, and, secondly, on the vocational nature of being a police officer. I refer first to society's responsibility. It is clear that the fight against crime is a proper focus for any government. The introduction of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill in another place on 18th January this year is a welcome signal of the intention to reduce crime and the fear of crime and to enhance public safety and good order.

However, I should like to draw attention to the broader backdrop of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which gave a priority to local partnerships and audits carried out by the public sector as well as business and voluntary agencies. Over the past three years that has proved an effective model for establishing community safety partnerships, which have proved their worth in south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the area covered by the Portsmouth diocese. At the heart of that practice is the real acknowledgement that building safe communities and reducing crime is a shared responsibility among many agencies and communities as well as individuals. It is not simply the role of the police. Likewise, considerable resources have been channelled into those areas that are often blighted by crime. I welcome the involvement of the police in a number of local youth initiatives working alongside voluntary agency partners, such as the Children's Society in inner urban Portsmouth.

The point I make is that some seem to have confused the issue of the operational effectiveness of the police—over which there will be many armchair commentators far removed from the realities of policing a beat—with the fact that the responsibility for crime lies both with the individual who commits it as well as with the social causes which often underlie criminal behaviour. For that to be tackled properly, we need a frank and wide-ranging public debate which does not fall victim to the rhetoric of demonising either the perpetrators of crime or those charged with maintaining public order. Partnerships of the kind I have described offer effective and long-term solutions to the questions we now face.

Secondly, the question of the recruitment and retention of police officers is one which deserves careful attention rather than a knee-jerk reaction to headline figures. There are any number of factors behind that, but in particular I want to draw a comparison with the difficulty faced by the world of education in recruiting sufficient teachers. That difficulty is becoming acute in the area in which I live. Like the police, that is a profession I meet regularly as I go round my beat.

In both spheres a number of common elements come into play: first, a rapidly changing culture where the expectations and status afforded a generation ago do not hold; secondly, a move away from what might be broadly called a vocation to public service; and thirdly, a society which shuns personal responsibility and looks for others to carry it.

The police have to operate in a reactive public context which can at times focus on the vindictive nature of punishment rather than seeing the judicial process as part of a broad movement that includes the upholding of the law, appropriate forms of punishment and the rehabilitation of the offender. The riots in Paulsgrove last summer bear witness to that. We have to accept that we as a society have made these public vocations less attractive. Pay is an important feature, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for drawing attention to that in his speech. However, esteem also features large.

I do not and will not subscribe to the view that we can return to some kind of golden age of simple roles and simple solutions. Contemporary Britain is a complex culture, as it has always been. Some things have got worse, but others have got better. Policing will be a challenging career. Over the past 30 years, all public bodies have had to respond to a wide range of changes in the law, whether that be in connection with sex discrimination, equal opportunities or the creation of a diverse and representative workforce. If we can step aside from opportunistic comments about political correctness—I am grateful to a number of noble Lords for mentioning that—I believe that the current challenges that we face will turn out to be assumed norms in the next decade.

Finally, I want to end with a gentle caution to those in our society and in public comment who bemoan the loss of moral, social and judicial authority. There is something superficially attractive about that assessment because it is clear cut and unambiguous. It can sometimes involve raising the issue of immigration in the context of law and order and can have recourse to the North American fashion for zero tolerance.

There is something deeply troubling for me as a bishop about the clarity and monochrome nature of such a vision. I am concerned, not because I do not want to support the maintenance of law and order; I clearly do—for nine years as a parish priest I was chaplain to Guildford Crown Court; and although that post was honorary, it involved work and commitment by me—but rather because I cannot subscribe to the two-dimensional society which in my view it can produce. From the carpenter's son, conceived outside marriage, born under an occupying regime, forced to seek exile and asylum in a foreign land; from the one branded a criminal in his time, and suffering a criminal's death, I find no support for such a golden age. But from the God who formed me and knew me in the womb, I hope to learn justice and mercy, and judgment with loving kindness for, if I may borrow the phrase from another faith, He is the compassionate, the merciful.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, before I turn to the subject of the debate—we owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss it—I cannot resist referring to the disturbing point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, about the towers in South Armagh. I do not think we can expect the Minister to answer; he has no government responsibility for it. However, a story which is going round—as I am sure the noble Lord knows better than I—is that the military advice was against removing those towers; that the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland accepted that advice and was overruled by the Prime Minister whose only concern was to keep the Good Friday agreement together. Perhaps the only hope that the noble Lord can have is that the military will submit fresh advice to the new Secretary of State. One must hope that the Prime Minister will then take the advice of that second Secretary of State.

One advantage of speaking in the privacy of your Lordships' Chamber is that one can make comments without much risk of them "filtering beyond the walls". I want to make one or two comments about the Home Office in that context. If in the unlikely event I had ever been made a Home Office Minister, unless it was Home Secretary I would not have lasted six months. The Home Office would have contrived to persuade the Prime Minister to dismiss me because one of my objectives would have been to remove the smirk from the face of the Home Office. The smirk reveals the attitude which it takes towards and the way in which it treats Parliament.

The Minister looks surprised. My noble friend gave an example of a parliamentary Question which he asked and his treatment in respect of the Answer that he received. I hope that the Minister will reply to that specific point. I make no apology for repeating a point which I made last night when only four of us were in the Chamber—and those four are still here! On 28th October 1999, I tabled a Question for Written Answer. It asked Her Majesty's Government: Which statutory instruments giving powers of entry to private premises have come into force since May 1997". To the Minister's shame—and of course I do not blame him—the Answer was: This information could only be collated at disproportionate cost".—[Official Report, 28/10/99: col. WA37.] That shows two things: either the Home Office regards powers of entry supremely unimportant or it regards it as immensely impertinent that I should question such a matter. However, the Library, when I consulted it about that Answer, was able to say that the information would have been readily available on the LEXIS program of a computer. Therefore, I propose to table the Question again and I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to give me a reply.

There are many problems relating to the police but I want to deal with three. The first is public criticism. Sometimes the police take short cuts and I understand why they feel that they have to do so. Sometimes these short cuts result in a reversal of a trial verdict which then receives a great deal of publicity. That is had publicity for the police, which is regrettable. Whenever the police are tempted to take short cuts they may be undermining their future position.

The second problem relates to pay, which is better than it was. Your Lordships have probably seen the advertisements stating that someone joining the Metropolitan Police Force can, after 18 weeks of training, receive a salary of just over £25,000. The right reverend Prelate mentioned teachers who, in most circumstances, would receive a lower starting salary. I believe that the police deserve to earn that amount. In preparation for the debate, I visited Scotland Yard's police recruiting office in Victoria Street today where a constable gave me most encouraging news about the response to those advertisements. That is jolly good.

The third problem is a lack of discipline in the police. I agree with those people who said that the reports on Stephen Lawrence and so forth over-egged the situation and created the wrong atmosphere, but undoubtedly there was wrong doing. There is no question about that. I believe that discipline in the police has been inadequate and to some extent, although not currently, that goes to the top. I go back to 1982 when, as your Lordships will remember, a man broke into the Queen's bedroom. In my opinion, the then Commissioner of Police, Sir David McNee, should have resigned. I say that not because he was directly responsible or to blame but because if he had resigned when something went seriously wrong under his command, his successor would have been in a more powerful position to exercise the authority and discipline necessary in the performance of that duty. A successor can say, "Look, the buck stops with me. I take the decisions". That point is worth bearing in mind.

In that context, I wonder whether the time has come to reassess the need for a management intake; what was called an "officer intake". That intake was abolished almost 50 years ago with the demise of the Hendon police college system. I know all the arguments against it and I know that there is opposition to it. However, curiously, the police are beginning to accept it because there are now fast tracks for graduates and the best people are now reaching the top quicker. One of its great advantages is that it separates management responsibility and thus provides a bulwark against corruption. Any organisation, particularly the police, is subject to corruption. Furthermore, in the light of devolution, perhaps we should consider the possibility of some element of a national police force at least for England. Perhaps we could have a national detective force.

Referring to problems is not on its own useful. So I should like also to suggest some solutions. First, a greater use could be made of special constables in many different roles. At one time, they were unpopular with the police but I believe that the Government are now keen on them. If I were a Minister, I would set up a specific action programme to increase and widen the use of special constables. If they were properly recruited, they could make a useful contribution in terms of police numbers.

Secondly, too many people who would make excellent jurors are excused jury service. Too many juries consist of riff-raff who are anti-police. The Minister looks horrified—

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, from the noble Lord's contributions to previous debates, I thought that he was keen on juries. He now seems to be making an attack on them.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I totally support the concept of a jury; the concept of 12 good and true persons. However, I do not believe it is right that those whose previous behaviour shows them to be unsuited to be jurors, or likely to be unsuited, should nevertheless be jurors. I understand that the issue of juries will be dealt with in a later report and I hope that that dimension will be examined.

I turn to my main point. I do not believe that we are adequately using the opportunities provided by modern technology. My noble friend Lord Tebbit referred to the use of inadequate radios. That is a scandal. It is not as big a scandal as the failure of this and the previous Government to provide the Army with an adequate radio system. We need an effective system and the technology which can provide it is available. There is almost a need for a Beaverbrook-and-Spitfires approach.

Secondly, the possibilities of DNA are continually expanding. Today I read about a case in America in which the accused was found guilty. It was stated that the odds against the DNA match being incorrect were greater than the number of people in the world at the present time. In other words, DNA is a valuable tool. I believe that the time has come to consider the possibility of all of us—and I am sure that we would be willing—having our DNA on record. Of course, that would have to be combined with an identity number of some kind. I am not talking necessarily of identity cards—they are more provocative—but of national identity numbers. I believe that that would make a real contribution.

Finally, as regards technology, I turn to the use of CCTV, which has advanced rapidly. Tapes are no longer used; the recordings are made on discs. Until a few months ago, a camera's tape had to be changed every three or four days and the slower and longer the tape was allowed to run the less good the picture. There is enormous scope now that CDs are available on which to record CCTV pictures. Sometimes overt cameras are a good deterrent, but the technology is now so advanced that they can also be covert.

The cost of installing and maintaining these cameras is so low in comparison with the cost of policing that in inner city areas where there is far too much crime, particularly street crime, CCTV would be a dramatic deterrent. I believe that in certain shopping areas CCTV has already been shown to have a dramatic effect on crime. It could be used a great deal more. Speaking for the rural interest, I believe that many parish councils, certainly my own, would welcome the provision of CCTV.

I recognise that some of the points I raise have implications for civil liberties. But one of the points about any pressure group is that it always overstates its case. Government must listen to pressure groups and carefully evaluate them. The job of government is to balance the interests and voices of the minority against those of the majority. If they make that judgment correctly, I for one shall support them.

5.1 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has initiated this very interesting debate. The debate has three main themes and yet there has been very little overlap. I should like to pick up one matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred. He said that each person should have an identity number. I point out that when a person is born, he or she is given a number by the health service. That does not infringe civil liberties at all. Perhaps that number could be used appropriately.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I referred to an identity number. It is the national health number, as opposed to the national insurance number, which one receives at the age of 16. However, the noble Viscount is absolutely right that that is the number on which I would build.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, the noble Lord and I agree.

I am in contact with many officers in the Metropolitan Police and it is upon the Met (as it is usually called) that I base most of my contribution today. Currently, the Met is about 240 officers below the budgeted workforce target. That appears to be quite satisfactory until it is noted that the Commissioner needs—I am particular in using that word—2,500 more officers to police London with confidence.

Taking into account natural wastage, it is hoped that the Met will be about 100 officers below the target of 25,600 at the end of this financial year, but it is far short of the long-term target of 28,000. It is also necessary to take into account civilian staff who perform duties other than those performed by serving officers. About 900 civilians are needed to bring the Met up to the required strength. Major recruitment initiatives are under way and the policies to recruit police officers are under review.

It is perhaps worrying that there is wastage from the Met to the provincial forces. The reasons may be varied, but there are some who suggest that lifestyle is a factor. Equally, because free rail concessions for Met officers will soon be in operation it may well be found that, together with some pay advantages, that attracts officers to London. As a result of the Macpherson report, to which I shall return later, some people who might otherwise have applied to become officers are now, put off so doing. Consequently, although it seems that the budgeted strength may well be achieved in the foreseeable future, I hope that the high standards of police officers will be maintained in future intakes.

I make no apology for having a go at the press. When the Macpherson report was published, the press seized on the words "institutional racism". If there is any section of the community—business, religious or personal—which can say hand on heart that it has not had any racist thoughts or actions, it may be in a position to question the attitudes of others. I very much doubt that such a sector exists. The words "kettle", "call" and "black" come to mind. The press has forced an honourable profession to question its attitudes. Although there are bound to be some who have racist thoughts, the police have always tried to do their best in difficult circumstances. The press has an awful lot to answer for.

I digress slightly at this juncture to illustrate the problem faced by serving officers. After using a radar gun, one traffic inspector who is a friend of mine recently stopped a motorist for exceeding the speed limit. The driver alleged that he had been stopped only because he was black. The officer asked the driver to indicate the sex and colour of the next approaching motorist who was not exceeding the speed limit. The man was unable so to do but repeated his initial allegation. There are people out there who cause problems for officers for no reason whatever. As a result I should not be surprised if at some stage there was a backlash from other ethnic communities.

I return to Macpherson—or, to be more accurate, post-Macpherson. In February 1999, the Met identified stop and search as an area of policing which needed thorough examination. The primary legislation has not changed since 1995, in that the legal objective of stop and search is detection. However, there have been some changes which need to be addressed, notably the Human Rights Act. The value of stop and search has been acknowledged by the Home Office. Research findings have reinforced the belief that persons who are stopped are more likely to be satisfied if they are treated with respect, dealt with politely and given an explanation for the search.

It is interesting to note that in only 12 of some 150,000 searches conducted by Met officers last year were complaints substantiated, and only one of those related to a breach of the code of practice. It is intended that a senior officer in each borough should be responsible for the overall supervision and correct use of these powers in their areas. Although the report was seized on by the press for its own sales figures and intended readers, the police have managed to get over the adverse and unjustified publicity and at last are allowed—sometimes—to get on with their job.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, made specific reference to violent crime I shall try to address that area. I believe that this year to date there have been 13 yardie-style murders. Those crimes represent 61 per cent of the total of 19 firearms murders across the Metropolitan Police district. That is a reduction in the number compared with last year's total of 18 yardie murders. So far this year there have been 34 non-fatal yardie shootings, representing 66 per cent of the category of attempted murder involving firearms. It is interesting that the press campaign which led, or forced, the previous administration to ban handguns—some called it a knee-jerk reaction—effectively confiscated the guns of those who held them legally but did little to address the problem of those who did not.

I return to the 13 murders that I mentioned a moment ago. Four of them have resulted in charges, and one is likely to be reclassified because the evidence shows that the victim may have accidentally shot himself. Suspects are being actively sought in four of the remaining cases. Of the 34 attempted murders, 10 have resulted in charges and suspects are being sought in a further eight cases. It is relevant to note that on 17 occasions the victims and associates have refused to co-operate with the police or assist the investigation. It is acknowledged that the people who perpetrate these violent crimes usually emanate from Jamaica. The High Commissioner for Jamaica has provided useful and complementary feedback, and a senior Met officer has visited Jamaica for sensitive discussions with officers there.

When I prepared my speech I was not sure of the noble Lord's definition of "violent crime". I hope that by addressing the problem of the yardies, who are currently the most ruthless and violent criminals around, the police have indicated that they are doing everything possible to get on top of the problem. I believe that they are doing very well within the confines of the manpower and money available to them.

It is worth while pointing out that, whatever the morale of an individual officer, he will always carry out his duties to the best of his ability without fear or favour. He or she is a professional with a sense of duty to the office of constable. I am unable to comment on the morale of officers other than those in the Met, whom I accompany on traffic patrols from time to time, because I have not spoken to them. However, in general terms it seems as if morale within the Met has improved over that which prevailed immediately following the publication of the Macpherson report.

Morale, of course, fluctuates as a result of events and experience. It is mainly adversely affected by media comment when negative, and often inaccurate, reporting leaves officers feeling disillusioned, misunderstood and undervalued. The vast majority of officers who continue to do their duties feel more keenly the effects of bad publicity. They are proud of what they achieve in serving and protecting the public because that is their intention and motivation. They do not apply themselves to their sworn duties to please the Commissioner, their supervisors, journalists or politicians; they do it for the public and to deliver their personal and professional commitment.

Morale, or rather lack of it, can be linked to performance. If an officer's heart is not in the job by reason of a lack of appreciation or support, perhaps the "Why do I bother?" attitude will kick in. A former commissioner was often heard to say that he never worried too much when he heard that his officers were unhappy; he was more concerned if he heard that they were more or less happy with their lot—a very strange philosophy even for a commissioner.

More needs to be done to encourage and preserve the good will and motivation of our officers. I have heard recently that the newish Metropolitan Police Commissioner is seen as a copper's copper, and as one who will be followed by his officers and who has their respect. Morale, therefore, must improve.

5.11 p.m.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tebbit for instigating one of the most important debates that I have listened to in this Chamber.

The morale and numbers of police affect us all in the community. Like many noble Lords, I have attended the passing out parades at Hendon Police College and, indeed, many other police colleges. It is a procession and a parade which usually I find quite choking and emotional. One sees these young people full of hopes and aspirations, with high and good intent and in amazing formation and strength, marching forward and into their futures. They are instilled there with much of the ethos to which we aspire for our police service. The generality of the public in this country want to, and do, support the police service and yearn for it to be a top priority for the Government. Having left Hendon college, the police are dispersed across London to various police stations and into various communities.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned in his speech—on which I congratulate him—the number of police in London is well below what it should be to provide the kind of service required within this capital city. The Metropolitan Commissioner wants to increase the number. The Mayor of London has announced that he seeks to increase the number in the future. He has suggested that he will pay for that out of an increased precept. It would be better if he did not, because the Home Office has already funded it. It has already been paid for. I do not think that Londoners want to pay for it twice if that can be avoided. The principle that there should be more police in London is well accepted and welcomed.

One of the corollaries of having insufficient numbers—it may not be a bad corollary—is that the police have to work in co-operation with local authorities and community representatives to provide a way through the problems which come about partly from not having enough police, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, to bring together community groups to fight crime. It is not always crime that worries people; it is the fear of crime. As noble Lords who read their local papers will know, the local press in particular note and take advantage of any crime that has happened, such as muggings in the street and burglaries.

The fear is very real. I know of elderly people whose lives are stultified because they are afraid of what may happen. In reality, the fear is often far worse than the actuality and level of crime. That is an awful way for society to live. It is a tempestuous way to live one's life, with the fear that something may happen, that a knock on the door is something of which to be afraid, that it is not good news or someone coming to see you.

People are also afraid to tackle the young. These days many young people go around in groups. In the past—in my youth, a long time ago—if someone saw youths spreading graffiti or breaking in somewhere, an adult would have spoken to them about it. But it is not being a Good Samaritan if we pass by on the other side of the road because we are afraid of what will happen if we become involved because we have been told or we know of a Good Samaritan who tried to do something and ended up with a knife in his heart. It happens too often. That is one of the reasons why crime, particularly that committed by young people, goes unstopped.

Bringing the police and community together begins to address that problem. The community gets a sense of strength from the police being there and from being associated with them. That strength is enormously important. If one empowers and makes courageous the people who live in a community, one empowers and strengthens the police as well, because they are then acting, and can act, with the support of those they serve. They are not acting against them; they are physically acting with them.

I am sure that all noble Lords will remember the years when many local authorities would not allow the police on to their estates. They were no-go areas. Those were tragic times because the people there were always afraid. One of the great signs that progress has been made in the past few years is the recognition that the police should not be the enemy; that they should be, and are, part of the community.

Reference has been made to the work that is now being done openly with young people, and to the presence of police on estates, which are important areas. But are the police still invisible on the streets? I do not know about other noble Lords, but I am always rather grateful when I see two policemen, with their helmets and yellow jackets with "Police" written on the back, ambling towards me up the road. There is a great sense of security when a police car goes past slowly—not dashing past with its bells ringing so that one knows that there is a crisis—because one knows that there is a police presence in the area. To some extent, the importance of police strength and numbers can be dissipated by their working with the community, but I do not think that police invisibility is of any help to the community at all.

One other corollary of the reduction in the number of police officers is the question of CCTV, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I take a slightly different view. I am astonished at the welcome that has been accorded to CCTV. After all, it is a spy in the sky or a spy on the lamp-post. It means that wherever we go, we are filmed. We in the Chamber do not mind because none of us will be doing anything that anyone cares about. One thinks of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. One would not have believed for a moment that anything like that could happen. We have moved on because of the lack of people on the streets available to see what is going on and to take note of it. We cannot go back. Technology will take us further forward and the police will become more and more clever and adept at getting their man without having to leave the comfort of the police station. But that will not be a good thing. I hope that it will not happen.

The cost of the police service matters enormously. One area that needs to be taken into account is the efficiency of the technical management and ordinary management that lies behind the police service. Crime prevention by officers on the street is one aspect of the cost. But the administration behind that service is also costly. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned pensions. The funding of police pensions will bankrupt the police service in the not too distant future. Unfunded schemes mean that, annually, every pension is paid out of whatever income goes to the police service. It is a huge drain on resources. I urge the Government to look at this issue for the future. Nothing can be done about those who are currently in the service. It will take years to get the problem worked out of the system, but the service will be undermined in the future if it is not addressed at some stage.

Last week I had the opportunity to raise in the House an area of concern in my borough, Kensington and Chelsea, and in the country generally. Crack houses are prevalent on estates. Crack houses cannot be dealt with by the police because the legislation that prevents people allowing opium and cannabis to be used on their premises does not apply to crack cocaine. I raise the issue again because it is important that something should be done. The Minister was kind enough to say last week that the Government are giving serious attention to this issue. I do not expect him to say anything more than that today. But it is another area that needs to be addressed. It brings fear, intimidation and violence in its wake. Drugs are a cause of crime. When all is said and done, they are probably worse than alcohol. Drugs lie at the centre of much of the crime that ends up in the courts. The police need the right ammunition. They need the legislation. I very much hope that before long the Minister will be able to give me the reassurance that I seek on that point.

Police morale has been very low. There are a number of reasons for that, most of which have been touched on during the course of the debate. It is in all our interests that the problem of police morale is addressed. It is in all our interests that the police should not continually be under scrutiny and criticised—yes, if it is necessary and justified; but it is not always justified. Our safety, our futures and our children's futures rely on our having a police service that is friendly and approachable and makes us feel secure. It is up to us all to ensure that that happens.

5.25 p.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for securing this debate. It is an important debate, but let us put it in context. There is always room for improvement, but we have an excellent and professional police service in this country. It is still a model which most other countries look at and envy. Police officers around the country undertake excellent work 24 hours a day. Let us not forget it. We should all be grateful for their work and commitment.

"Police numbers" is an emotive issue. From my work as chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and also as a deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, I know that communities up and down the country want more police officers. What that actually means is an increase in visible policing on the streets, to offer reassurance. That is the outcome that we all want. The main question is how best to achieve it.

It is a matter of fact that in recent years police authorities have faced a string of tight settlements and in many areas recruitment activity had, as a result, been trimmed back significantly; and in some areas frozen altogether. It will take time to turn that situation around, but we are now beginning to see progress on the ground. The proposed settlement for 2001–02—giving an average increase in government funding for policing of 4.9 per cent, and in North Yorkshire, 5.4 per cent—will enable police authorities broadly to maintain existing service levels.

Police numbers overall are now on an upward trend. Police authorities have welcomed the Government's commitment to provide funding to increase police strength by 9,000 officers over and above what forces had planned to recruit over three years. I believe that we need more. The national police recruitment campaign, about which we have heard during the debate, has also generated a significant volume of inquiries. It is still too early to assess the quality of applicants. But police force recruitment departments are running flat out to keep pace with demand. Crucially, all the police training schools are now running to full capacity to keep pace with recruitment demand.

One could certainly argue that the Government acted too late. They could have prevented the dip in recruitment over the past couple of years by investing more resources in policing at a much earlier stage. But we are now beginning to see an increase and the signs are that the situation will continue to improve over the next year or so. I welcome that.

However, bland police numbers are not the only answer. Providing reassurance to communities through a visible policing presence is what we are seeking. Focusing the debate solely around the issue of police officer numbers actually misses the point. As one would expect, it is much more complicated than that. Funding for new police officers on its own is not the answer. Police authorities also need funding to be able to invest in new IT, equipment and assets. Without this, the police officers whom we already employ cannot be used efficiently and they will spend unnecessary time in police stations filling out forms. That is unacceptable.

Equally, we need to ensure that police officers specialise in policing functions, not routine administrative work. The danger of focusing the debate on police numbers is that insufficient money will be left in the pot to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of civilian support staff. It is perverse to spend money on expensive police officers, only to have to use them on administrative duties. This needs to be looked at in the round.

One of the key reasons for the steady decline in police numbers over recent years has been investment in new technology, which has in fact increased police efficiency. PSRCS, which has already been referred to this afternoon—or Airwave, as it is now known—the new police digital radio system, serves as a good example. Once implemented, it will deliver a range of efficiency savings. The same number of officers will be able to spend significantly more time on operational duties because they will have direct access to data and information through their radio handsets. However, we also heard that the cost is significant: nearly £200 million per year. Police authorities have called on the government to provide the resources to enable them to undertake an IT modernisation programme. New investment is needed to deliver long-term efficiency savings across the service. I have to admit that the Government have provided additional resources for Airwave and we are grateful for that. However, the investment needs to continue if the increased police numbers now being planned are to be retained.

Increasing police numbers is not the only answer to increasing reassurance in local communities. We also need imaginative solutions, some of which are already proving to be highly popular. For example, police offices can be co-located in rural post offices. We have done this most successfully in North Yorkshire by co-locating with a community office in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Police officers can be attached to mobile libraries. We need to see the greater use of technology to increase accessibility to policing. All these measures can play a part which we should not forget.

I could not let this debate pass without mention of the thorny issue of police pensions, to which both my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred. The unfunded pension scheme continues to be the single biggest drain on police resources, taking moneys away from current policing needs and priorities. Over 14 per cent of total revenue expenditure in 2001–02 will be spent on pensions. In my own force in North Yorkshire, that will rise to 17 per cent. The pensions deficit—the gap between expenditure on pensions and serving officers' contributions—will this year exceed £1 billion. It will increase by a further £250 million over the following three years. That equates to nearly 10,000 police officers. An announcement from the Home Secretary on his proposals for dealing with the rising pensions bill is long overdue. Police authorities believe that the only tenable solution in the long term is to introduce a funded pension scheme alongside improvements to the operation of the existing scheme.

I shall turn now to violent crime. This is an area which most concerns citizens. The better recording of such crimes has definitely meant that more and clearer statistics have become available and thus it may appear that more crimes in general are being committed. Of course the police must concentrate on dealing with violent crime, much of which is perpetrated by alcohol or drug abuse. However, few forces were given performance indicators to drive down violent crime in their areas. In fact, only the five metropolitan forces were given money in order to help them achieve their targets to drive down such crime. This, I suggest, places in context the fact that we are not beset by violent crime throughout the country, although when it does occur it causes maximum anxiety—a fact that I would not dispute in any way. I know that police officers and managers alike throughout the police service are taking their responsibilities for clearing up and preventing violent crime very seriously indeed.

Finally, I should like to say a few words on police morale. We should never underestimate claims that morale is low. Much media criticism of policing has been aired in recent years, some of which is justified, but some of which is not. However, I have to say that my close association with policing in North Yorkshire does not altogether bear that out. We still manage to come up with some of the best crime figures in the country, in spite of being a traditionally low-funded force—indeed, one of the lowest funded in the country.

Our officers have performed magnificently during three extremely difficult years when the force had to be reorganised and staff had long periods of uncertainty about their futures. At that point, morale could fairly be said to have been low. However, when officers began to see the benefits of the many changes imposed, and were told that by next year more officers would be in post than North Yorkshire has ever had before, I can tell the House that morale picked up significantly.

On Monday, I spent the day with officers in York. I went out with a traffic sergeant. He and his colleagues dealt with a horrific road accident on the A.64. When we arrived, a tailback of traffic over a mile long had already formed. It continued to grow rapidly. The driver of the car was trapped and the fire service and police were trying to pull him out. The other vehicle involved had shed some of its load all over the road. The scene was absolutely chaotic. However, within minutes, order had been restored and, once the casualty had been cut free and transported to hospital, the police set about getting the traffic moving again. I saw use being made of a kind of theodolite, which speeded up significantly the measurement-taking necessary for court purposes. That is another piece of modern, expensive but very necessary equipment which the police need to use in their everyday jobs.

I spoke to each officer. Without exception, they told me how delighted they were with the news about the extra officers. Their managers, the Police Federation and Superintendent's Association, also said that they felt that this would be marvellous for morale. Things are moving in the right direction here, although there is still some way to go. All share in the responsibility for maintaining morale in the police service. Debates of this kind must be constructive. We need to recognise the enormous effort and commitment of officers up and down the country. Their work is valued and should be more so. I am confident that all Members of this House share that sentiment.

5.38 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I recognise that many noble Lords have concentrated their remarks on urban-based police forces, but I wish to look at rural areas. While I accept and acknowledge that more violent crimes are committed in urban centres, such crimes are also committed in rural areas. In my home county of Leicester, rural violent crime accounts for 10.7 per cent of total rural crime, compared with 16.3 per cent of total urban crime in our area.

I contacted my local chief constable to ask him about two of the issues we are debating today: first, recruitment in the county of Leicestershire. In his letter, the chief constable confirmed that his force has been fortunate enough to maintain a high level of recruitment. He stated that, in fact over the past few years we have been one of the few forces in the country that has continued to increase its police establishment". Perhaps that is helped by the fact that Leicestershire is 100 miles north of London and thus far enough away from some of the great difficulties faced by police forces in the capital and the home counties. However, the chief constable goes on to state in his letter that, recruiting is becoming more difficult". I also asked about officer morale. In his reply, the chief constable pointed out that morale is "extremely difficult to measure". However, a survey recently carried out among the force indicated that the staff are, highly committed to policing and the provision of the highest quality of service to the people of Leicestershire". That sentiment reflects the remarks made by the previous speaker. However, the chief constable went on to say that: Inevitably incidents will occur which will affect morale on a local basis". He also made a comment which I believe is even more important; namely, that that is the nature of life and not just policing". The debate today reflects that. It is not simply one item.

I wish to spend a little time reflecting on the problems facing rural areas. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Tebbit, in opening the debate, commented that rural crime in some areas goes unreported. If I were ever to plead guilty, it would be to that. On three occasions during the past 18 months we have not reported to the police petty crimes and difficulties that we have had at our home. They were small issues that we coped with and got over. They should have been reported but they were not.

The cost of crime is a real cost. Perhaps I may give some figures. The National Farmers Union mutual underwriting manager, Sid Gibson, said in July last year that he estimated that thefts from homes and businesses in rural areas cost in the region of £168 million last year.

I looked at the rural White Paper recently to see what the Government had to say about this issue. I had to search to find where it referred to policing. I found a reference in the ninth paragraph—the first and only mention of the police: We are providing rural police forces with an extra £45 million over the next two years". I am suspicious that the Government do not appreciate the level of concern in rural areas about the lack of available police support. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions in regard to the extra £45 million. First, to what extent is it extra? If, for example, it is extra to last year's expenditure, will there also be a different "extra" equivalent to the normal uplift, year on year?

Secondly, does "over the next two years" relate to financial years or calendar years? Thirdly, how will the Government split the £45 million between the two years? For example, will it be £20 million in the first year and £25 million in the second year?

Fourthly, will the money be allocated according to the existing formulae? If so, will it go into police budgets at the start of each year? If not, how will it be allocated? Will it go to the same rural forces which are due to share the £15 million announced on the 20th July last year to improve police response times?

Fifthly, will each police force be allowed to decide how, where and when the money is spent, or will it be earmarked by the Government? If the latter, to what purpose will it be devoted? Sixthly, will the money, once allocated, belong to each police force as of right, or will they have to mount costly, time-consuming and not always successful bids for it?

Seventhly, will the extra money be tied to measurable improvements in police support in rural areas—for example, to a reduction in the average length of time it takes to respond to 999 calls, village by village? For someone in a very remote area, 35 minutes is an awful long time to wait for the police to arrive if he is under attack from yobs.

Lastly, can the Minister assure the House that the £45 million announced in paragraph 9 is not related in any way, in whole or in part, to the £15 million announced on 20th July for the improvement of police response times, nor to the CSR allowance of £30 million per year for each of the next three years for rural police forces?

I turn now to the funded pension scheme—or, should I say, the unfunded pension scheme. Three noble Lords have referred to this hugely important issue already—that is one of the disadvantages of being lower down on the list of speakers—and I hope that the Minister will respond to them. It concerns us greatly. The Government's response has been to announce short-term funding to cover the shortfall over the next three years.

Meanwhile, special initiatives multiply. One of the latest is the £30 million fund—open to bids—to introduce up to 50 neighbourhood warden schemes. I understand that these will be located predominantly in rural areas and will have, on average, five wardens to patrol set areas. Can the Minister say whether the wardens will have access to vehicles and, if so, to what vehicles? Can he say further whether the wardens will be of normal serving police officer age or whether the maximum age will be raised to allow ex-policemen to supplement their pensions?

At the same time as the Government are funding neighbourhood warden schemes, they have been faced with a fall in the number of special constables, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Tebbit. There has been a fall of 32 per cent—some 6,346—in the number of serving special constables since March 1997. What steps have the Government taken? Have they analysed the exit interviews of serving special constables? If so, what follow-up action has been taken to ascertain why such a dramatic fall in numbers has occurred?

The police face the consequences of the rising pension burden; of the need for high salaries and living allowances, to which several noble Lords have referred; of a backlog of the repairs necessary to buildings and equipment; of new crime reduction targets and even newer legislative requirements. The police have to cope with the implications of Macpherson, of the animal welfare lobby—an issue raised during Questions today—and, on the horizon, the prospect of a ban on hunting with dogs.

As to the increasing responsibilities on an already stretched police force, I should like to refer to the comments of Tim Hollis, an assistant chief constable, in the Daily Telegraph on 19th January. At the end of the article he states: It goes without saying that the police will do their best to meet the demands of any new legislation. But, inevitably, hard decisions will have to be made on the priorities". On the other side of the equation, I can remember that when I was young the scrumping of apples earned you a wigging from the local bobby. Nowadays, you would probably receive a community service order. The Countryside Act, which I helped to take through the House, became law yesterday. It creates new offences of a criminal nature which will have to be dealt with by the police. This House awaits the Bill to ban hunting with dogs, which the Government intend to introduce. This will also create a new section of criminal legislation, to be enforced—often in the more remote areas of the countryside—by a largely urban-based police force.

To make matters worse, there is a set of problems which will not go away, which takes up a lot of police time and which rarely results in crimes being solved. I shall mention two problems in particular—animal welfare protesters and travellers.

Animal welfare protesters have been in the headlines almost continuously for the past four years. The Government—I give them their due—have paid extra money on several occasions to hard-pressed police forces to help them meet their overtime bills. Can the Minister tell the House the Government's current thinking on solutions to the problem of these people who do not care about human welfare? They threaten, they intimidate, they destroy, they vilify; they have no regard to the legal framework in which the rest of society lives. Their misbehaviour is no longer rare; it is becoming an almost daily threat in some parts of the country to some overworked police forces and the range of individuals harassed by them is on the increase.

I turn briefly to the issue of travellers. Some refer to them as gypsies but I shall refer to them all as travellers. They also thumb their noses at the law. They rely on intimidation and bullying behaviour to persuade the law enforcement agencies to leave them alone. They flout planning laws; they threaten local communities; they cost local authorities and private individuals large sums of money in clearing up after them. Will the Minister indicate what the Government have in mind to alleviate the situation and what is their timetable for doing so?

My noble friend Lord Tebbit has given us an opportunity to consider, in the calm and peace of this Chamber, the challenges facing today's police. The newspapers will have it that morale is low. I find myself wondering whether it is not quite so much that morale is low but that the police cannot see a way of dealing with the complexities which are thrust upon them, as I have tried to show, by changes in the way we live, by the laws we pass and by the kind of behaviour that has become an accepted part of daily living.

I try to be a law-abiding citizen and, therefore, I do not usually meet the police at the wrong end of a charge sheet. However, I go out and about, and I meet with a large number of police officers in the course of my duties. Whether it is a chief constable or a bobby on the beat, I find them helpful, committed, dedicated to the job that they do but despairing in some cases of getting the support they need from government and from the law.

I know that all noble Lords will join with me in recording our thanks to the members of our police force for the work that they do. They deserve our support.

5.51 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing the opportunity for this important debate. I shall concentrate on one aspect of the prevention of violent crime. I should like to join the noble Lord and other speakers in paying tribute to the police. These public servants, in the line of duty, are often faced with threatening behaviour and verbal abuse, as I have witnessed. They deserve our respect and gratitude for their normal self-restraint and perseverance in such circumstances.

Yesterday afternoon I visited the Orchard Lodge secure unit in south London. This institution is for violent 11 to 17 year-old boys. Long established, its education facilities were greatly enhanced by the previous Conservative government. I was very impressed by the way in which these young men—armed robbers, rapists and murderers, as well as some non-offenders—had responded. They were keen to show off their work and discuss their school activities. They vied for good behaviour cards. One of the two boys who had achieved the coveted "gold" card was pleased to tell me of his success.

It was an opportunity also to hear from the senior staff how these children had become involved in violence. A psychologist explained that some came from families with parents who had been unable to set clear boundaries. However, in interviews which looked at particular incidents in detail, 30 per cent of the children reported experiencing physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse together. More than 80 per cent reported experiencing one or other of these three.

Home Office Research Study No. 209, based on the findings of the Youth Lifestyles Survey, indicates that boys without parental care are twice as likely to get into trouble. Brought up by a lone parent or stepparent, a boy is 40 per cent more likely to become a serious offender than a boy who is brought up with his two natural parents. There is a very good case for supporting families so as to prevent violent crime.

Late last year I visited the Calecott family in Newham. The four children, aged from one to 11 years, and their parents had been living for 12 months in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The mother had an infection of the pelvis and needed a pair of sticks to be able to walk. Without cooking facilities, she could but breast-feed her baby. Mrs Calecott could not take medication for her infection while feeding her son in this way. The children were not allowed to play in the yard except for a few hours on Sundays. The hotel lay on a busy road. The family's main meal was a daily takeaway. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances the five year-old boy was having trouble sleeping. He suffered from nightmares and showed other signs of anxiety. Both parents were anxious about their situation and depressed from fighting with the local authority. The mother had bitten her fingers to the quick.

Recently, I visited mothers at a Barnardos project for families in temporary accommodation. They told of their unhygienic facilities, of the difficulties of managing a child with the kitchen several floors below and no lift, of the endless delays and indignities of local authority housing departments. There are now more households in temporary accommodation than a t any time since 1978. The director of the Catholic Housing Advisory Service tells me that most of these households are families. There are now 6,000 households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London.

The capacity of these women to be good mothers is being undermined by a failing housing system. I urge your Lordships to consider that investment in social housing is an important means of preventing violent crime in the long term. I recently received a report on the Albany midwives unit at King's College hospital. The unit works particularly with disadvantaged mothers from Southwark and Lambeth. The midwives have been funded to work with reduced caseloads. They are encouraged to develop a lasting relationship with the mothers. The results have been astounding. These mothers are breast-feeding their babies more often, and for longer, than most other mothers. In this particular group one would expect exactly the reverse.

Breast-feeding encourages babies to put on weight and makes them stronger. Breast milk contains agents which combat infection—and these babies are more resistant to infection. Breast-feeding is good for mother-infant relations. These mothers are likely to have a healthier relationship with their children. Psychologists cannot be emphatic enough about the importance of good mother-infant relations to the formation of a secure personality. These children are less likely to develop personality disorders; they are less likely to be involved in violence. Midwives, health visitors and GPs all play an important part in supporting and strengthening families. There is a clear case for sustained investment in health services to reduce in the long term the level of violent crime.

Some years ago I was a teaching assistant in a primary school off Victoria Street. Ten year-old. Tom repeatedly shouted the answers before he was asked to do so. He lacked self-control. He seemed particularly interested in me because I was a man and his father was not involved in his life. There were two boys who played with their toy robots under their desks while the teacher was busy. They had been set the task of writing a story. Halfway through the time available, their books were blank. Asked by me to see how much they could write in two minutes, setting one against the other, their stories flowed. There are always difficult children, more challenging perhaps because of weak family attachments. With small enough classes, perhaps a teaching assistant, perhaps a male mentor to work with the most difficult boys, teachers can engage with more of their pupils and fewer will decline into exclusion and possible criminality.

I urge your Lordships to be mindful that well-resourced teachers can, in the long term, reduce violent crime. Well-resourced social services departments can play an important part in breaking the cycle of violence within some families. There are few more responsible jobs than that of a social worker. Yet many social services departments are chronically under-resourced. Social services also have a key role in preventing violent crime in the long term.

I urge your Lordships to consider prudent long-term investment in public services as a most important means of lowering the rate of violent crime. I ask your Lordships to remember the example of the United States, where long-term under-investment in essential public services has contributed to a prison population of a staggering number and cost. I do not seek to cast aspersions on that great country—many of the Americans I meet admit the fault, and I was pleased for us to learn as much from their nation's mistakes as from its successes.

It costs £150,000 per annum per head to keep those boys who live in Orchard Lodge, the institution with which I began my remarks. It would be far better for the taxpayer and for our society if we were to develop, and maintain in the long term, the vital early support for families and children that housing, health, education and social services can provide. I applaud the new investment that this Government are making in public services and the good economic management of the previous administration that helped to make such investment possible.

6 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I listened to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, with great admiration. I should like to congratulate him not only on the practical research that he carried out into the problem but also on his perspicacity and courage in focusing upon an aspect of the problem of violent crime that became the kernel of his remarks. Of course it is amenable to parody, just as the views of anyone from any scale of the spectrum in this enormously difficult problem are open to parody. I do not believe that anyone else, except the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, has approached the subject from that angle. I am most grateful to the noble Earl.

I planned to begin my remarks to your Lordships by observing that, as a country, we are not a cruel nation or a cruel people. On the contrary, I believe that we abhor cruelty, and that feature is perhaps increasing. Yet I suggest that the central feature of violent crime is its cruelty. Therefore, it seems to me that there is a paradox here. In this country, which is far from cruel in its predilections, it is common ground that violent crime, and the cruelty inherent in it, are increasing.

I should like to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the following respect at least. It seems self-evident that we should focus our own interest in stemming—though "attacking" is perhaps a better word—the springs of violent criminality. We should focus our attack upon the young because they are the ones who are the most impressionable in our society. In the main, I believe that they can best be impressed by the cruelty of violent crime. We should emphasise the latter.

Where the "norm" is violence, whether in real life or in the menu of entertainment that is put forth day after day and night after night, the capacity for the cruelty in violent crime to impress the young in particular is blunted. In fact, it is probably often destroyed. I am afraid that that is what has happened in real life. I shall give your Lordships an example. I speak with much deference in the presence of my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead, with whose speech I entirely agreed. We have seen in certain parts of Northern Ireland that violence of a kind that would be continually horrifying in Great Britain has become accepted—by some at any rate—as the norm.

As for the quality and quantity of violence in visual broadcasting by way of action, behaviour and language, I believe that to be most disturbing. It is also very dangerous. That is true not just of Northern Ireland—in fact, I believe it is rather less true of the Province—but also as regards what is provided by way of entertainment in Great Britain. If anything, I should like to suggest that it is made worse rather than better in its impact by programmes being characterised as "adult". It rather suggests that that is how the big boys, the grown-ups, behave. It seems to me that nothing could be more calculated than to suggest to young people that this is how grown-ups behave and thereby lead them to decide to start down that road.

What is the justification—or the purported justification—for this "norm"? I believe that it is said to lie in freedom of expression. But this particular manifestation of freedom of expression forseeably leads young people to lose a much wider freedom later in their lives at the hands of the criminal courts, as they progressively emulate what they see. Indeed, I believe that they do just that when they see such examples placed before them. The greater part of the truthful answer is that violence is recognised by programme makers as exerting a kind of morbid fascination for a very large number of viewers and, therefore, it boosts the ratings.

As a country, we tend to stick a label on the problem; namely, "Touch at your peril". Therefore, we tend to concentrate not on diminishing the springs of criminality but on trying to staunch the floods of violence that flow from them. More police and more effectively deterrent sentences are our goal, and quite rightly so in the present circumstances. We need to have more sentences that truly deter the offender from reoffending and truly deter other offenders from emulating such behaviour. If we can introduce a sentence that really achieves those aims, we need it; indeed, plenty of it.

Perhaps we could also introduce prison regimes that would educate and prepare inmates for resettlement. However, I am afraid that the Government are failing over far too wide an expanse of the spectrum, if not the whole of it. For example, although we have costly campaigns at public expense against smoking, where, I ask the Minister, is the campaign against criminality? Who is in charge of this sector of social engineering, what is his remit and, indeed, his budget? In other words, what is the Government's policy on campaigning against criminality?

Further, why do the Government suppose that police morale is as low as it seems to be? I believe that it is common ground that police morale is much lower than it should be; indeed, it is much lower than it has been in the past. However, if it is not common ground, do the Government accept that morale is low? If so, can the noble Lord give us the reasons behind it in the view of Ministers? In the vast majority of cases, I believe that men and women join the police service mainly out of a desire to serve the public. The Government and the police committees in the country are the people who represent the public in this context. Low morale in a workforce—in any service—surely implies lack of confidence in its direction. Can the Minister say whether the Government have given any thought to that view? Have they considered why it should now be the case that there is such a lack of confidence in the police as regards the direction of the service? Surely the Government have access to any amount of research. I do not believe that it is enough to say that it should not be happening; nor could they possibly get much reasoned support if they were to say, "Well, it's only the bad eggs who are unhappy".

I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for including the question of police morale in the heading of his Motion. Indeed, the whole area is an excellent subject, yet most disturbing. I was told only recently by a serving officer from a large police force in England and Wales that the greater number of people, not just a few, did not want to continue serving any longer.

Perhaps I may offer my own explanation for the situation. Despite the fact that the police service in England and Wales is probably the most regulated and scrutinised in the world—second only to the Royal Ulster Constabulary—police officers have the perception that they lack the support from those in authority over them that is necessary if they are not to feel that they are unvalued. I refer to the degree of support that must lead them to feel that risking their lives and limbs is a proper, justified and proportionate part of the bargain that they make with the public. That is thought to be lacking.

Of course the rule of law must be upheld. That includes, of course—perhaps one might say particularly—seeing to it that the police as well as the rest of us stay within the law. But the police have the impression—this is far too widely held, in my view— that in the face of any complaint, from whatever quarter, however stale, they are expected to he on the defensive from the outset. They are frequently suspended for months, if not years. They start in any event several points behind the complainant in what becomes immediately an adversarial procedure and not an inquiry. They are obliged to try to prove a negative, no matter how stale the complaint may be. I warmly endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in that regard.

I do not think that there can be any more vivid illustration of what I am discussing—albeit this incident occurred in another part of our country than the ongoing Bloody Sunday inquiry, with all its remarkable and happily unprecedented features. It was misguidedly justified on all sides, including, I regret to say, on my party's side, on the ground that we must get at the truth. But you do not get at the truth after eight years, let alone after 28 years. What you get are numerous lives spent in the public service being imperilled in some cases and almost ruined in many more cases by what I believe to be a most regrettable procedure. I further diverge into Northern Ireland by expressing my agreement—

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am slightly confused as to why the noble and learned Lord has mentioned the Bloody Sunday inquiry. As I understand it, that investigation concerns aspects of an armed services operation.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I mentioned that matter as I fully agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, with regard to the harm that arises from investigations and public inquiries into matters that occurred long, long ago when those at the receiving end are put on the defensive and are required to prove a negative.

I now turn to the question of prison sentences, which merges with that of prison regimes. Of course there are some offenders who above all else must be kept out of the way of doing harm. But the reoffending record of the inmates of most prisons is lamentable. The Government are not making progress fast enough, if at all, on that aspect. Indeed, I am not at all sure that they are not going backwards.

The Minister replied to a debate which I instituted in this House about a fortnight ago on Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House which had become the flagship of resettlement prisons in this country, with an extraordinarily favourable reoffending rate of about 8 per cent, compared with 27 per cent for resettlement prisons generally and over 50 per cent across the whole prison estate. But unfortunately the Government are supporting measures from the Prison Service Agency which will reduce the education budget in that successful prison, abolish the teaching of art and photography, increase education class sizes and make the prison much more like a standard Category C prison. That, I venture to suggest, is an extraordinary way to treat a prison which has what David Ramsbotham described as an amazing success record.

After nearly four years the Government are presiding over rising violent crime, falling, or at any rate, low police morale and falling police numbers. I think that my noble friend Lord Tebbit will be thanked by a great many people in the country for shining the light of scrutiny on to this record. I hope that he and others will scrutinise, as I shall, such answers as your Lordships receive to the questions I have asked.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for introducing this subject. In a break during this afternoon's proceedings he and I reflected on the time which we had spent working in the public sector. I worked there rather longer than he did. I remember being told by various old soldiers in many places that they had never known morale to be as low as it was. I am sure that that is just what one would find on any railway platform tonight. When the service is at a low ebb, when things are a shambles and when people have their backs to the wall, morale is low. Morale can be repaired quickly if people believe that they are achieving success, however success is measured. I know from my days working for the railways that if trains run to time, are reasonably full and if the newspapers get off their backs, morale rises rapidly.

I am convinced that low morale in the police force can be repaired. Obviously, restoring the numbers of policemen is one part of that; but other things are also necessary such as good, inspired leadership. Great changes are taking place in the police force. In my local Thames Valley force there are now three women among the six chief officer ranks. Twenty years ago to have three women chief officers out of six in a police force would have been regarded as outrageous and would no doubt have been denounced by the people who talk about low morale as being one of the reasons for it. One gets over these things, but one gets over them slowly with a constructive policy within a force which aims to change things.

I want to talk for a moment about an evening I spent in the police control centre in Reading on the Friday before Christmas. I mention this in the context of why morale might be low in the police service. I went to the control centre because I chair the police complaints committee and we have had some problems. I decided to investigate the problems for myself. They have been solved and need not detain us this evening.

As I say, I visited the control centre on the Friday before Christmas. People had finished work that lunchtime and had been celebrating. A number of incidents were reported. There was a fairly large crash on the edge of the motorway. A body was found in the River Thames. There were numerous small fights and fracas in bars in the centre of Reading. All those incidents were attended to promptly and efficiently, as far as I could see. However, some of them, for example, the motorway crash, were extremely greedy in terms of the number of police officers needed to sort out the problems.

Calls were received from residents who lived near one of the parks in the town. They said that young people were riding motor cycles round the park, through the park gates, down their road and back again. Another call was received from someone who reported graffiti being sprayed on vehicles in a residential area. These incidents are not treated as top priority as no one is being beaten to death or anything of that kind. The distress felt in the control room was not caused by not being able to attend to the first-line incidents, but by not being able to attend to those "social" incidents which caused distress. The police ought to have been able to attend to those incidents but the available resources did not permit us to attend to them immediately. The officer in charge told me that dealing with the motor cyclists in the park would require five officers. He said that he would not send one officer to chase the motor cyclists as that would make the situation worse rather than better.

Bad morale arises, first, when we cannot deal with the urgent incidents—in the case I cite we could; and, secondly, when we do not give the service the public want. When they ring for the police, they want someone to do something effective about whatever is wrong. The number of officers available did not allow that level of service to be provided. In most towns, cities and rural areas, the police cannot respond as they would like to do to a wide range of incidents

I come to what I regard as a key issue. In the Thames Valley we are trying very hard to meet recruitment targets. We cannot do so. As fast as we recruit people, others leave to work with other forces. Although police numbers in this country are rising, they are not rising in the Thames Valley. We have lost about 60 of our officers already this year—more than the number of extra recruits we have taken on.

There are two ways to deal with the matter. The first concerns the Home Office and must be attended to. The salaries we pay are insufficient to allow people to get on the housing ladder. Seventy-five per cent of our recruits are single people; 60 per cent come from outside the Thames Valley. We have to provide some accommodation for them and it cannot be police housing. Policemen nowadays do not want to live in tied cottages. They do not want to live in ghettos with other policemen. They want to be part of the community.

The second point is a matter I have raised with the Minister previously and to which he has given polite and reassuring answers. However, the whole police service is now waiting for a definite answer. We have heard that 6,000 Specials have left the force. Can we have some system of payment for part-time police officers? I am confident that we could recruit several hundred extra officers if we could pay people for one evening's training a week and one evening or day's service at the weekend. Many problems arise at peak times. We know that we shall need officers on Friday evenings. We know that when there is a football match on a Saturday, we shall need them. If industry has a peak demand, it has some form of part-time cover to deal with the problem.

A positive response from the Home Office on that point would go a long way to solving manpower problems in the short term. Being able to respond to those anti-social incidents would satisfy not only the police that they are giving a good service but also the residents of the Thames Valley.

I shall not go over many of the other issues. They have been adequately covered by noble Lords. Can the Minister respond, first, on the issue of housing; and, secondly, can we retain some form of special police force? At present, the Specials are sinking away into oblivion.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, from the tail-end position usually occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend Lord Tebbit on choosing this subject from the many issues in which he is involved. My only regret is that we have not had the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. I fully understand that as a serving Metropolitan Police officer he could not have spoken today. In his place, we had the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, who, as a recently serving police officer, has given much advice. However, I do not believe that either side of the House benefits by complaints about what the other side has done.

I join my noble friend Lord Marlesford and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew in commending the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He asked a question that the Minister cannot be expected to answer. However, the Minister responds on behalf of the Government. I hope that he will pass the matter on to his noble and right honourable friends and that we shall receive some sensible answers to the vital questions that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, posed.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It is not true to say that you can never find a policeman when you need him. In June 1979 my house was struck by lightning and began to smoulder nicely. We had no electricity or telephone but within five minutes a police car arrived, summoned by the alarm of the tree surgeons who occupy the farmyard. My wife went to the police car with the immortal words, "The house is on fire. Could you ring 999 for the fire brigade". The fire brigade responded as quickly as the police had. Quick responses to calls for police are vital in town and country but you cannot have a quick response without the manpower. Almost all noble Lords have spoken about the drop in manpower numbers, particularly in London. In eight years there has been a decrease of 11 per cent.

However, there is immense waste of manpower. A few years ago a friend of mine, an inspector, commented on the fact that he had to sign a number of gun licences. That inspector is now retired from the police force and is employed, as are many former policemen, by a security firm. But why was an active inspector signing gun licences, about which there were no criticisms?

For sergeants and constables the compulsory retirement age is 55 years. The man or woman receives a full pension after 30 years. He or she could be 48½ on retirement. Inspectors can continue after 30 years, but the compulsory retirement age is 60. Most are active and fit (in the case of my friend, perhaps a little rotund) and able to carry out police work of an administrative nature. Employing retired policemen and civilian officers would enable more police officers to be involved in active policing. At present many policemen are involved in inspection of gun ownership and gun licences. It may be necessary; I think that it is overdone. That could quite well be carried out by retired police officers.

The problem as regards numbers is one of retention rather than recruitment. We have heard that the police colleges in certain counties are full. I hope that standards are not being lowered to get policemen into the force.

As with the Armed Forces, the problem is not getting people in, but keeping them once they are there, particularly those who have experience and ability and know what they are doing. Too often, they are just paddling along, doing their duty in the easiest way possible, waiting for the moment when they can retire.

There must be some doubts about the top ranks in the police. My noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned the pre-war Hendon Police College, which was extremely successful in bringing forward a considerable number of very good policemen. I refer in particular to Simpson in London and St Johnston, the generator of "Z-Cars", in Lancashire. They benefited enormously from what they had learned in police college and the quick promotion that they were given. I knew St Johnston well. On one occasion while on the beat in London, he arrested a lobster crossing Jermyn Street.

Lord Tebbit

A lobster?

Lord Burnham

A lobster.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I could understand if he had arrested a mobster, but not a lobster. What was its offence?

Lord Burnham

Jaywalking, my Lords.

Hendon Police College was killed by representations made by the lower ranks, who did not like that type of promotion. The system is worth further consideration to enable the best people to be in the top ranks—I do not say that those currently in the top ranks are not the best people.

The morale and self-belief of policemen have been damaged. Macpherson—and many others—are greatly to blame for that. Those who complain are sometimes prosecuted. I hope that the police get the back-up that they need and deserve in order to do their jobs properly.

The police do not always help themselves. I declare an interest in this question. Why did the Essex police authority turn down a gift of £10,000 from the freemasons of the county to buy a heart defibrillator? What on earth are they playing at? Do they value political correctness above the possible saving of life? The freemasons have many justifiable causes for complaint. An organisation with the delightful name of VOMIT, which stands for victims of masonic—I cannot remember what the IT stands for—distributes flysheets. One, which was picked up a couple of weeks ago in Uxbridge public lavatory—sorry, Uxbridge public library—was written by a man who complained about a minor motoring offence of which he had been convicted. He blamed everybody from the constable to the magistrate, saying that they were part of a masonic plot against him. Although the leaflet was found in Uxbridge, the case took place in south Dorset. The honourable Member for South Dorset, Mr Ian Bruce, who was also mentioned in the pamphlet tells me that the case happened seven years ago.

There are many freemasons in the police force, but there is no more evidence against any of them for any wrongdoing than there is against the Rotarians, the Ovaltinies or any other body. Attacks should not be made on policemen for any reason; that will make them feel that they are not wanted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about the high morale in North Yorkshire. I wonder whether that has anything to do with the influence of the right honourable Member for Richmond. Life is undoubtedly easier in that sort of country area than it is in the metropolitan area.

I am deeply sorry that the police have to perform tasks such as clearing up motorway crashes caused by sheer bad driving and the many other extremely unpleasant jobs that they have to do. They must have all our deep sympathy as well as our support.

God helps those who help themselves. I shall finish with a parable. This morning, driving up on the A40, I found a small queue at Savoy Circus that was disturbed by the blaring of a police car, with noises and lights coming from every orifice. With great courtesy and skill—and considerable difficulty—all the cars in the queue got out of the way so that the police car could go by and it swept on its way. The public will do that for the police, but they need the police to help them when they need them.

6.37 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I think that it was F.E. Smith who confused the National Liberal Club with a public lavatory. I am worried that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, seems to confuse a public lavatory with a library. I shall let that pass.

I confess to an unworthy thought. When I saw who was moving the Motion, I thought that Tory Central Office had decided to set old knuckle-duster Norman on the issue to get the knees trembling in the home counties. I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, introduced the debate in a most statesmanlike way. Before the Minister gets too complacent, I advise him to read the speech with care. I have watched the noble Lord in many guises over 30 years. There is no one like the Chingford strangler for sticking the stiletto between the ribs while still smiling and reassuring the victim. When the Minister reads the noble Lord's speech tomorrow, he will find that it was not quite as gentle as a first listening might have led him to think.

One of the pleasures of this House is the expertise that is brought to debates. We have seen that recently on health matters and we frequently see it on education and defence. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, and my noble friends Lady Harris and Lord Bradshaw have brought their direct experience—the noble Lord as a police officer and my noble friends on police authorities—of the issues facing the police services. That has added to the richness of the debate.

My contribution is that of a layman. I am the voice of the consumer. As a consumer, I believe that it is fair to say that the general public are becoming cynical about politicians who constantly parade simple solutions to the problems of law and order and who constantly imply that their opponents are soft on crime and criminals. For almost a decade and two successive Home Secretaries, we have been given quick-fix solutions in response to genuine public concern about crime.

Both Michael Howard and Jack Straw have resorted to populism and panic rather than face up to the less headline-catching reforms required to tackle these problems. Each in turn has sought to give the impression that, with one more extension of police powers and one more turn on the screw of civil liberties, we could all sleep easier in our beds. The result of this decade of hard men at the Home Office is, we are told, an all-time low in police morale and continuing public anxiety about crime. The coming general election promises only more of the same from Labour and Conservatives alike. Yet, do more and tougher measures make us safer? My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked a question of the Minister to which he received a reply.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, does the noble Lord know whether his noble friend will honour us with his presence during the winding up of the debate?

Lord McNally

My Lords, he will try to do so. If he does not, it will probably be for a very good reason.

My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked the Minister how many criminal offences were created by the legislation passed in 1999–2000. The reply, which has now appeared as a Written Answer, is 123. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, constantly campaigns for less legislation. I believe that that reply provides an illustration of the type of burden with which the police have had to deal. The Home Office, in particular, has produced a deluge of legislation.

There are no quick fixes. As indicated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and in a different way by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the real response lies in addressing the mix of financial, political and social solutions which are at the heart of both the problems of police numbers and police morale. Of course, increased resources for pay and conditions will help. But we must accompany that with measures to reconnect police and policing to the communities which they seek to serve. We should underpin the policy with community-based solutions both to fighting crime and providing alternatives to it for the youth age group, which is the cause of most public concern.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth indicated, crime fighting is not only a job for the police. We must face the problems posed for our society by the cultural changes that have taken place over the past 30 years. A number of noble Lords have referred to our less deferential society, which produces a problem not only for the police but for teachers and other formal figures of authority.

The current modernisation programme brought forward by the Government is not as joined up as it should be in developing a better police service. That is why we on these Benches believe that the Home Secretary is foolish to continue to resist the setting up of a Royal Commission or a more permanent body with similar powers. Such a body could carry out a root and branch review of the service and make recommendations which could help to rebuild public confidence in the police. Indeed, it may be able to carry out some of the work referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, in investigating questions of police morale. Perhaps that would also promote a more balanced, national debate—one which I hope would address the whole combination of issues encompassed by the law and order problem.

Let us start by establishing some facts about where we are and how we got there. The Times expressed the situation relating to police numbers fairly and squarely in its editorial of 19th December 2000. It said: The plain facts arc that police numbers have been falling for a number of years but especially sharply in the capital. This is largely because of the abolition of a London housing allowance by the last Conservative administration". Indeed, a number of police sources to whom I have spoken cite as the main cause of low morale the Sheehy report of 10 years ago which resulted in the lowering of starting salaries and the removal of housing allowances, which were regionally tailored.

However, that does not explain why, in spite of numerous warnings, the present Government have allowed police numbers to drop by some 3,000 since the 1997 election, with the most severe impact here in London. Over the past four years, Ministers have trotted out a number of excuses rather than deal with the impending crisis. We have been told that the previous government gave control over budgets, and therefore over recruitment, to chief constables. At one stage, we were assured that outsourcing, new technologies and increased mobility could finesse the shortfall. We were told that police services had to share the constraints on public spending imposed by Kenneth Clarke and embraced with enthusiasm by Gordon Brown during Labour's first three years in office.

Faced with undeniable public concern and the fear that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his friends might exploit that concern, we have seen a sudden change of heart by the Government. But I regret to say that it is not the persuasive power of your Lordships which has brought that about. No; a change of heart has occurred because, first, focus groups are telling them that the public want more bobbies on the beat, and, secondly, a general election is just around the corner. On such high-minded principle does our latter-day Robespierre in the Home Office make his policies.

However, let us not ignore the chance to improve the situation, no matter how opportunistic the Government's reason for their change of heart. There is no doubt that an improvement in pay and conditions will improve recruitment and morale. But other issues must be addressed.

There is the question of job satisfaction and respect. In other debates in this House, I have mentioned growing up with childhood tales from my father. He was brought up in Old Swan in Liverpool, where the policeman was called "Clear off' and would disperse young people with those two words. In my youth, in our village just outside Blackpool, Copper Whalley used to ride around, ram-rod straight, on a bicycle. Just the appearance of him at the top of the road was enough to produce the desired effect. In their own ways, they were both pillars of their community in a manner that policemen probably do not enjoy in this less deferential age.

My nephew joined the Blackpool police and then took the opportunity to emigrate to Western Australia, where he now serves in the Western Australian police force. I asked him what his motivation was for going. I shall always remember his rather chilling explanation. He said, "I found the hatred in the eyes of people I was trying to help in Talbot Square in Blackpool on a Saturday night just too disturbing". I believe that policemen do come across such hostility, particularly among young people. That is something that must be recognised. We must find ways to link the police with the communities which they seek to serve.

In that respect, we should consider in particular the question of police recruitment among ethnic minorities. The other day at Question Time I mentioned that it is 20 years since I raised in another place the matter of the deplorable level of recruitment. Even today, approximately only 2 per cent of our police force comes from ethnic minorities. That cannot simply be due to a lack of willingness to recruit. We must give greater consideration to why our ethnic minorities are not recruited to, and do not stay in, the police force.

A number of references have been made to Macpherson, who, I believe, identified a canteen culture within police forces. Policemen accept that that culture exists and that it needs to be removed. We hear anecdotal evidence about low morale, but it is often the complainants who feel that morale is low who refuse to accept the need for change. We must change our police force so that it is staffed and trained and geared towards policing a modern multicultural Britain. We support the Government in their attempt to bring that about.

Many other issues were raised in this debate, including, for example, car crime and phone crime. At the other end of the police force—the end that is opposite that which is involved with communities—modern policing needs cleverer coppers. Modern global crime and high-tech crime need to be combated by policemen of high quality. I am worried by the fact that there has been a fall in graduate recruitment since 1994. Is the Minister aware of that steady decline? That decline is worrying—it raises long-term issues, it will affect the ability of the police to deal with high-tech crime and it shows that good managerial skills are needed in the police force.

Political and public support for the police, which the police deserve and need, depend on a social contract, which requires from our police democratic accountability, a closeness to the communities—including the ethnic communities—in which they serve and a culture of service and tolerance within the service towards those whom they seek to serve. A police service that has good pay and conditions and training, which offers good career prospects and which is well equipped and well resourced should remove policing from the political battlefield. Such a police service will have a high morale and be held in high public regard.

As for the politicians, I can do no better than to return to an editorial in The Times of 19th December, which warned: Populism is quicksand for politicians. It almost ensures maximum publicity for those willing to play it, but also an unpredictable political ending". Our police and the public deserve better from us in the forthcoming general election than the unedifying spectacle of Miss Ann Widdecombe and Jack Straw mud-wrestling about law and order. If that happens, those politicians deserve to sink into the quicksand to which the editorial in The Times referred.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I join every speaker in this debate in thanking my noble friend Lord Tebbit for launching what has proved to be a thoughtful and constructive debate which has raised real problems. There has been a considerable amount of agreement in the House. It will be difficult for someone who reads Hansard to tell which side Peers were speaking from by their remarks.

However, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, believes that it takes the efforts of Conservative Central Office to set my noble friend Lord Tebbit in action. I assure him that its influence was entirely unnecessary.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I withdraw that remark.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for withdrawing his remark.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I inform my noble friend Lord Cope that the situation was the other way round: I tried to set Conservative Central Office in action.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, exactly so.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit warned at the start of this debate of the problems of interpreting crime statistics. I agree. Whichever way one examines the statistics, particularly those relating to violent crime, they are of massive concern. That is a matter for, and the responsibility of, the police and society more generally, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and others reminded us.

We live in a rapidly changing society. There is much greater acceptance of violence on television, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and others mentioned. There has been a decline in respect and in family life. That was illustrated by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

We also need to consider the different way in which the police are portrayed almost every night on television and in all sorts of other media. They are not presented as an ideal to look up to, as PC George Dixon was many years ago; they are much less inspiring. Sometimes they are bent, and sometimes the hero is an eccentric who is out of sympathy with the bosses and the ethos of the police service in which he serves. In those fast-changing circumstances, the police do an extremely difficult job. I join every noble Lord who has spoken in paying tribute to the police.

Throughout the debate, noble Lords have expressed concern about reduced numbers and low morale in the police force. Morale is extremely important. I have accompanied police on their duties, and I appreciated the guts that are required in some situations, although they may become routine to police constables. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the hostility to which his nephew in Blackpool was subject. All of us at times have probably wondered whether we would be willing to "have a go" in various situations. That again shows the guts that are required by police officers.

How can we measure morale? Charles Clarke, the Home Office Minister, said: The number of people leaving a profession may be taken as an indicator of morale".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; col. WA 65.] That is one way to measure morale. Resignations from the police force have gone up enormously during the past few years, which is worrying. Even if every policeman who resigns is replaced by a new recruit who has come through training, an experienced policeman is much more valuable than a brand-new policeman. To lose policemen because of low morale is extremely serious.

Another indication of the state of police morale is the fact that the Police Federation has withdrawn from consultations with Home Office Ministers because it is concerned about the direction in which police reform is leading. That is of concern to us all.

It has been said that there are more than 2,500 fewer officers than there were. The Government promised, by 2002, to return to the figure that applied in 1997. They have given a string of promises while they have been in power: they promised us greater numbers of recruits and more policemen. Let us hope that that promise at least will be delivered.

Several noble Lords referred to the fall in the number of special constables. When I was a Member in another place, I became aware of the huge reliance that my local police force placed on special constables. They police special events and extra car parking at a "big do", but they also work every Saturday night in police stations. However, there are more than 6,000 fewer special constables now than there were a few years ago. I hope that the Minister will comment on the possibility of paying special constables and of keeping them on a retainer basis; similar arrangements apply in other parts of the public service.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, drew attention to the worrying number of assaults and acts of violence against police officers. I have much sympathy with his call for more custodial sentences in such cases. I believe that the Home Secretary today called for tougher sentences to be dished out, not specifically for that crime, but generally. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice asked more or less simultaneously for fewer people to be sent to prison. We shall have to sort out those two contributions on the matter when we see their comments in full.

Assaults on police increased by around 12 per cent last year. The trouble is that 200 of those convicted of assaulting police officers were released from prison under the special early release scheme. That does not help the process. Indeed, around 30,000 convicted criminals in total have been released under that scheme.

Another point running through the debate has been the differences in policing—and the similarities—throughout the country. It is in the nature of British policing that it has always consisted of local forces, typically covering a county, although nowadays often more; and that is the way it should remain. It is not something shared in many cases by other countries. In France the gendarmerie come directly under central government, as do the police in the Republic of Ireland. The Minister of Justice in the Republic is concerned with the appointments of quite low-level policemen throughout the country and with the act ions they take.

It is important that our police retain their local forces. There is sometimes talk of regionalisation and of the amalgamation of forces. I am all for cooperation; but the local nature of the organisation of the police is important. In any case, no service can work well during huge upheavals.

We have been reminded that every Bill we pass creates new offences. For that matter, almost every initiative—this applies particularly to financial initiatives—by the Government seems to lead to more ear-marked money going to police forces as opposed to money which the Chief Constable and the police authority can decide how to spend. Every time that happens, it reduces local control over the way in which money can be spent and the way in which a police force can operate. It also increases the complexity of the finances. We are reaching the stage where that is quite serious.

I have no doubt we shall hear about the 10 per cent funding increase announced in November. But over half of that is sidelined for all sorts of different worthy purposes—the Crime Fighting Fund, rural policing and so forth. The actual increase in the money given to police forces is more like 5 or 10 per cent, and that is not even enough to keep the general police force expenditure standing still. Taking account of pay and inflation, pensions, capital finance and costs and levies from the various national crime-fighting agencies, police forces face increased costs of 5.6 per cent simply in order to stay where they are.

That brings me on to pensions. There is no doubt that we need to settle the question of pensions for the future. It is partly a question of allowing police forces and the authorities to manage their budgets more satisfactorily; but it is also partly to do with retaining officers. The more officers who retire, even if they are replaced by new ones, the greater the pension bill becomes and therefore the greater its importance.

Concern has been raised about the capital budget, particularly in relation to police radios. If the Minister has the time, I hope that he will say something about that. Concern was also expressed about bureaucracy. The police now have to comply with 58 performance criteria as well as a "best-value" regime. It must be extremely difficult to hit 58 targets at once. They are all worthy and good. One of the instant reactions when something goes wrong is to introduce new criteria, as well as another sum of money to be added to the budget specifically devoted to the problem. All that makes life extremely difficult, particularly when it comes on top of the fact, as my noble friend said, that the police comprise one of the most examined sectors one can imagine.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford referred to DNA. I sympathise with what he said, especially because of the appalling murder case which happened four years ago in what was then my constituency. The case was eventually solved, I am glad to say, by the use of DNA, and a conviction was obtained. Around 4,500 men had given DNA samples in the course of those police inquiries, and virtually all of those had to be destroyed afterwards. So if another incident should happen, those samples would have to be taken all over again, and it was an extremely expensive operation to carry out.

I support the extension of CCTV. As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, it is remarkable that there is so much acceptance of CCTV, by comparison with 1984, as it were; and it is valuable. It was installed in a shopping centre near where I live and the first thing that happened was that hooligans attacked the camera on the following Saturday night. Unfortunately, they did not realise that they had attacked the dummy camera. They were filmed on the real camera and, I am glad to say, were convicted. It was a great success.

I hope also to hear that crack houses will be brought into line with cannabis and opium houses—something about which we exchanged views across these Dispatch Boxes at Questions a day or two ago. That issue has been under consideration for a long time; not just for 12 months, but for at least 12 Bills. We have debated at least a dozen Home Office Bills since it first came under consideration.

My final point concerns policing in Northern Ireland. It is different in many respects from policing in this country because of the history. But morale there is an extremely difficult problem at the present time. From tomorrow, the difficulty will be that the police are obliged to recruit 50:50 from the communities, yet they cannot recruit Catholics as long as the nationalist and republican Churches continue to oppose it so strongly, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said. Yet they are short of manpower and the terrorist threat is rising from both republican and loyalist terrorists, backed by drug racketeers. The terrorists are rearming on both sides and that is a worrying situation.

The most consistent message expressed throughout this debate has been support and admiration for the job that the police do, and a recognition of their problems about which we are all concerned.

7.9 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I want to put on record my praise and support for the police. During the time in which I have held this brief I have visited many police stations, met many police officers and had many discussions with people from the police service. As ever, on those visits—they are usually happy occasions—I have been tremendously impressed by the dedication, the strength of view and the commitment to the difficult job that police officers carry out throughout the country.

I also want to place on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for originating the debate and, in his usual way, focusing on the issues that go to the heart of the matter: police numbers, morale and violent crime. All those issues are at the forefront of the public mind and they are ones about which we are all concerned.

There has been much praise for the nature and tone of the debate. I, too, want to reflect on that. This has been an extremely good debate. I would argue that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was at his most thoughtful.

Although he was partisan, as one would expect—one would be disappointed if he was not—he was not above casting criticism retrospectively on previous governments, including his own, where he felt that they had in some way fallen down. I pay credit to him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made a good point when he said that because of the comments from contributors and the way in which they addressed the issues, it was, at times, almost possible to forget which political party they came from.

There have been many notable contributions. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, with his insight and knowledge, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his particular range of interests and critical analysis of the criminal justice system. I enjoyed especially the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, with her observations and thoughts about London policing, and the comments and reflections from the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on rural matters. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, with her clear and well thought out approach to rural policing matters made some telling points. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for his reflections on some of the difficulties facing the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for his "lobster" story, which was possibly the best story of the afternoon. I was only disappointed that he failed to tell us that the lobster had been arrested for wasting police time. I hoped that he would. As ever, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke acres of good sense.

The Government are determined to support the right of every law-abiding individual to go about his or her daily life without fear of falling victim to crime. Likewise, they recognise their responsibility in supporting the police to protect the community and to deter those who are pre-disposed to crime or other antisocial behaviour. That is why we are increasing police funding significantly and in real terms.

In July 2000 we announced our spending plans for policing for the next three years. Details of police grants are being considered today in another place. The overall financial provision is for total spending on the police to rise from £7.7 billion this year to £8.5 billion next year, an increase of 10 per cent, or 7.4 per cent in real terms. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, commented that that was a good settlement. There will be further increases in 2002–03 when spending will rise to £9 billion and a further 6 per cent in cash terms, or 3.5 per cent in real terms. Spending in 2003–04 will rise an additional 3 per cent to £9.3 billion. In 2003–04, total spending on policing will be over 20 per cent higher in cash terms, or 11.8 per cent in real terms, than in 2000–01.

Why are we spending that money, and what are we trying to achieve? These matters obviously relate to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. It has to be said that our spending increases follow a number of years when any real increases have been modest. I believe that the settlement offers a real incentive to improve the policing service on the ground; which is what we all want.

For 2001–02 the total amount of police authority general expenditure to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share of funding will be £7,732 million. That is an increase of £377 million, 5.1 per cent over the 2000–01 settlement. That amount is known as the total standard spending. Grant on total standard spending is paid direct to police authorities. It is for them and the chief officers to determine how best to allocate their resources taking into account local operational needs and priorities.

In addition to funding for total standard spending, police authorities will also receive funds, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for targeted initiatives. The four main ones are to increase officer numbers; to tackle the problems of policing sparsely populated areas; to invest in new communications technology and to expand the DNA programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the issue of rural policing and funding and did so very well. It is the case that following grants of £15 million this year, £30 million is being allocated in each of the next three years to enhance policing in rural areas. That money will be allocated to forces in less densely populated areas. The fund is a response to widespread expressions of concern at the perception of a reduced policing presence in rural areas and communities. Chief officers are expected to deploy their resources to the maximum effectiveness and efficiency. But, as many have noted, that can involve reducing police presence in areas of lower population. Most of us regret the passing of many hundreds of rural police stations; some 630 over the past decade or so. We recognise those tensions.

The 31 police authorities receiving funding under the scheme will need to show in their best value performance plans how they will use the money to improve policing in rural areas. We heard a number of valuable initiatives from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. When I met with North Yorkshire police officers recently, they greatly welcomed the extra £180,000 for the mobile police station, which they thought was a valuable initiative.

The Crime Fighting Fund will provide finance for recruitment, training and pay for up to 9,000 recruits over and above the number forces planned to engage. Provision has been made for 3,000 this year, 3,000 in 2001–02 and 3,000 in 2002–03. We expect the Crime Fighting Fund recruits to have a major impact on police numbers, to which I shall turn shortly. There is one point I need to correct. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that the Prime Minister had said that there will be 5,000 extra police officers by the time of the general election. I do not think that was the commitment we made. I certainly recognise the 5,000 figure. I believe it was Michael Howard who, in 1995, said that he expected to have 5,000 extra police officers as a result of what he then thought was a generous settlement. That turned out not to be the case. We followed those financial plans through. They did not deliver an additional 5,000 officers. I believe that they produced some 256 extra officers in the last year of the outgoing Conservative Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, drew attention, I thought valuably, to what is the fourth major development in our programme; that is, the expansion of DNA. We are investing heavily in expanding DNA and the database to hold the DNA profiles of the whole active criminal population by 2004. Support will also be provided to enable forces to visit more scenes of crime and collect and process evidence from the increasing number of DNA matches to offenders. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, gave a good example of how that can work. Taken together, that is an impressive programme of work which will do much for the efficiency and effectiveness of the police, and will greatly improve the quality of service to the public, which is of paramount importance.

A number of Members of your Lordships' House drew attention not just to the numbers issue and the numbers game—that is how many see it and describe it—but to the quality of officers who are being recruited. That point was made by the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Burnham. The quality of officers, how they are deployed, what they do and what they bring to policing in our communities is at the backbone of our policing. Much is being done to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. A direct comparison of numbers alone over long periods of time is not a reliable measure of relative performance. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. made that point in his opening remarks about the interpretation of statistics. I thought that a valid point.

Nevertheless, the number of officers is a vital component of high-quality policing in the 21st century. As has been said many times today—and it is a key issue—overall police numbers across England and Wales started to fall under the previous government back in 1993–94, except, as I said earlier, for a small temporary increase in 1996–97. Numbers declined in every year under the previous Government and in total by 1,132 between March 1993 and March 1997. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that Metropolitan Police numbers had been falling for seven years. Perhaps I may correct the record. They were falling for 10 years. We see it as important to reverse that number and the latest figures are encouraging in that regard.

From 1994 there was a sustained under-investment in the police service. Government spending rose by an average of only one half of 1 per cent in real terms over the next four years. The housing allowance was removed from all new recruits, severely hampering recruitment in London and the south east in recent years, and central controls over police numbers were removed in the 1994 Police and Magistrates Courts Act. In reply to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I do not see that as an excuse but as an explanation. It is an explanation that deserves to be heard.

The present Government committed themselves at the 1997 general election to sticking to the previous Government's spending plans for the first two years of the administration. That was not from choice but because we judged that the public finances were in too fragile a state to support major spending increases. As a result, police officer numbers fell. Our promise now is a long-term sustained investment that is already boosting police recruitment and technology. We are increasing police expenditure by 21 per cent in cash terms over the next three years—an average annual increase in real terms of 4 per cent.

We have already made provision for recruitment under the Crime Fighting Fund in the current year —£59 million for recruitment, training and pay of the first 3,000 officers from the total three-year programme. We are now beginning to see results. Most forces are recruiting successfully, helped by the national recruitment campaign. By 14th January, there had been 78,000 responses to the campaign advertisements; 34,000 people had rung the call centre; and more than 44,000 had visited the website. Seventeen thousands expressions of interest have been passed directly to police forces.

This is the first-ever national advertising campaign aimed at supporting local police recruitment. It is a three-year campaign which is designed to be self-selecting in order to attract quality applicants into the police service, encouraging people to ask themselves whether they are the right person for the job and reject the idea if they are not. The campaign underlines that the police service is a progressive, modern, high-tech and rewarding career choice. We agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the importance of graduate recruitment and shall be focusing on that issue. Furthermore, we, too, see the importance of tackling high-tech crime and we need to recruit high-quality entrants to the service in order to ensure that we can deal with those precise issues.

Information provided by the police training colleges shows that 5,268 recruits started training in the first nine months of the current financial year, compared with just over 3,000 during the same period of the previous financial year. For the first time since March 1997, the number of officers joining police forces exceeds those leaving. Police numbers between March and September 2000 rose by 444 to 124,614. If current police projections for recruitment and wastage holds good, police numbers should reach 126,000 by the end of March 2001, 128,000 by March 2002 and record numbers by 2003–04. There may be some slippage but the aim is to ensure a significant change in the number.

Even in the Metropolitan Police Service, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, which has had severe problems, numbers of recruits are rising. The latest increase in London allowance is intended to help address difficulties in recruiting officers to work in London. The Metropolitan Police Service has also been reviewing its recruitment procedures and is making changes. That should help to make the recruitment processes more effective.

In June last year, the Home Secretary accepted the recommendation of the Police Negotiating Board for a rise in London allowance from 1st July 2000 for new recruits and for officers recruited on or after 1st September 1994—post-Sheehy officers—who were not in receipt of housing allowance. The purpose of that was to help the Metropolitan Police Service to deal with its recruitment problems. Officers recruited before 1st September 1994 who are in receipt of either rent or housing allowance receive a total London weighting and London allowance of up to £2,724. Officers in the Metropolitan Police Service recruited on or after 1st September 1994 and not in receipt of housing allowance receive a total London weighting and London allowance of £6,051. We have had to correct what I believe was one of Michael Howard's biggest blunders in implementing Sheehy, a point with which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, probably agrees.

In recognition of the particular recruitment difficulties, the Metropolitan Police Service has suffered and as a result of working with it to overcome them we have introduced free rail travel for Metropolitan Police officers. That initiative, which comes into effect on 14th February, provides free standard-class rail travel to serving officers within a 70-mile radius of London upon production of a warrant card. It has a crime-fighting benefit and the annual cost of £2.5 million will be met from central funds. I believe that to be a good and sound investment. In addition to improving recruitment and retention in the Metropolitan Police area, free travel will, I am sure, encourage more officers to use the railways and have an impact on reducing the fear of crime experienced among passengers.

Many noble Lords referred rightly to the decline in police morale. There is no single measure, no indicator, of police morale. In any service one will find some people who are happy about their work and others who are less happy. It happens in politics so it must happen in the police service. The number of people leaving an occupation can be taken as an indicator of morale. Total wastage from the police service compared with other organisations is very low: 5.2 per cent, 4.8 per cent and 4.7 per cent in the past three years. It is lower than at the outset of our administration. The 2000 labour turnover survey of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported a wastage rate of 18.3 per cent for all employees in 1999. The number of resignations from the police service—0.8 per cent, 0.9 per cent and 1 per cent in the past three years—remains very small. Days lost to sickness may also be an indicator of morale. In 1996–97, the average number of days of sickness per police officer was 12.8. That declined to 11.55, or by 1.25 days per officer by 1999–2000. That is a valid indicator.

As regards morale over time, in 1994 screaming headlines appeared in the Police Review: Low morale over reform, says survey", with leading members of the federation and the service saying that they thought morale was going through the floor. A survey then showed that 80 per cent of officers said morale had been adversely affected by the Sheehy proposals and more than half of the officers expected crime in their areas to get worse over the next 12 months.

I could spin out before the House a whole range of quotes made at that time about the deterioration in support for the police and the negative reaction to the plans which were then being forced on the service by Mr Howard as a consequence of the Sheehy report. However, one powerful recollection clearly stuck in my mind; that is, the Metropolitan Police Federation meeting which had to be moved from its original venue at a London hotel to Central Methodist Hall because an unusually large attendance was expected. That attendance was expected because its members were so dissatisfied with the actions of the government of the day. I believe that morale is an issue and will continue to be so. But we are putting in place measures which are directed to reversing any decline in morale which has taken place perhaps over a longer period.

I want to spend some time examining violent crime in our society because that is important. Lessons will be learnt from the tragic murder of Damilola Taylor which shocked the nation. As a government we have for a number of years taken forward a range of initiatives to tackle violent crime. Probably the best picture of the trend in violent crime is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which was instigated in the early 1980s by the Conservative government. That survey measures crimes against people who live in private households. Although the 2000 BCS showed a recent encouraging fall in people's experience of crime, there is no room for complacency. Over the past 20 years, both the BCS and crime figures recorded by the police show a rising trend in violent crime. According to the BCS, violent crime has risen by 50 per cent since 1981. Figures reveal that violent crime reached its peak in 1995. Since then the survey has shown a 17 per cent drop in violent crime between 1995 and 1997 and a further decline of 4 per cent between 1997 and 1999.

Although the latest recorded crime figures for the 12 months to September 2000 show an 8 per cent increase in violent crime—they are measured differently—encouragingly, the rate of increase has been reduced from 16 per cent in the first quarter to 2 per cent in the last quarter of that timeframe. The reasons for the long-term increases are complex, but are likely to include, quite rightly, changes in public attitudes, particularly in terms of reporting matters such as hate crimes, domestic violence and so on, and police recording practices.

It is simplistic to say that society is more violent now than 20 years ago. In April 1998, there was a change in the practice of recording crime. Harassment, assault on a constable and common assault were introduced as recorded crime categories. The figures for reported crime for September 2000 include an increase of 11 per cent in cases of harassment, including racially aggravated harassment. They now represent 14.4 per cent of the total of 716,500 cases of all violent offences reported in the past 12 months. There is a determined effort to encourage the reporting of racial harassment, homophobic offences and domestic violence. Furthermore, the BCS 2000 noted that part of the increase in violent incidents might be due to increased willingness by respondents to mention those incidents to interviewers; in other words, the sensitisation of people to crime. Although there is still likely to be under-reporting of domestic violence, attitudes are changing.

The latest published crime statistics for the 12 months to September 2000 show a fall in overall recorded crime of 12,800 offences, or 0.2 per cent, compared with the previous 12 months. Against that overall drop, the number of violent crimes (comprising violence against the person, sexual offences and robberies) has increased by 8 per cent. That is half the previously published rate of increase. The largest percentage increases within the category of violence against the person related to harassment, assault on a constable—on which the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, commented—and common assault. The most recent figures (until September 2000) show a rise of nearly 21 per cent in recorded cases of robbery, following a much smaller increase of 6 per cent in 199899, and, interestingly, a 13 per cent fall the previous year. It may be that those crimes are being reported to the police to a greater extent than previously, especially by 16 year-olds, and that a rise in the number of mobile phone thefts accounts for some of that increase. Perhaps that is one of the disbenefits of the expansion in the mobile phone market.

In October 2000 the Met reported that 17 per cent of robberies were mobile phones only. Mobile phones were targeted in snatch offences (44 per cent), pick-pocketing (22 per cent) and other theft (33 per cent). Suspects and victims of street crime where only a phone is stolen are also younger than in the case of other street crime. In cases where only phones are stolen, 14 and 15 year-olds account for over 20 per cent of victims. That is a very worrying feature of that crime.

Analysis of Metropolitan Police crime statistics reveals that a large surge in mobile phone thefts occurs during the period between 3.45 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. when children get out of school. We are taking action with the mobile phone industry to tackle that specific problem. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary only recently met senior representatives of the mobile phone industry to develop practical strategies to combat the problem.

The recorded crime figures have shown an increase during the 1980s and 1990s in sexual offences, although there is a welcome but very slight fall in the latest figures. In the past two decades, homicide offences, which account for less than 0.1 per cent of all violent crime, have been at a lower level, but the cost of violent crime is now estimated to be about £21 billion, or two-thirds of the total cost of all crimes against individuals.

There is much more that we could say on the subject. As a government we are determined to cut the level of violent crime as much as possible, to reduce the fear of violent crime and to ensure that individuals and communities are protected and safe. That was why on 10th January 2001 we set out a comprehensive strategy and action plan to combat violent crime together, which no government have previously done. I believe that we are to be congratulated on approaching it in that coherent, cohesive way and on providing a strategy which has real long-term benefits.

We are improving support for victims and witnesses of violent crime and helping to mitigate fears of crime and to reduce the further risk of it. As we have made clear in the past, we are committed to ensuring that violent offenders are punished effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, made great play of that point. We have new measures which are designed to speed up the criminal justice system—we believe that justice delayed is justice denied—and to tackle persistent young offenders, ensuring that they are brought to justice more rapidly.

Tackling the causes of violent crime is a key element in our strategy, and in that regard the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about poor parenting is apposite. Therefore, we have a strategy to deal with economic hardship, family disruption, truancy and school exclusion, alcohol misuse and mental illness. I believe that in the longer term all these measures will make an important contribution to reducing crime and ensuring that we live in a happier and more contented society.

It would be remiss of me if I did not say something about Macpherson. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that that was one of the largest contributory factors to the decline in police morale. I believe that Macpherson was a watershed; and it certainly provided a challenge to the police service. The 70 recommendations of the report will be long-term challenges to the police and many other public services, but they are ones which they should rightly work through. Some members of the police service may have found a number of those recommendations difficult to live with, but I believe that in the longer term they will help us to create a police service that reflects our multi-racial society and responds to the concerns of many people who believe that they do not enjoy an equal and fair police service because they come from ethnic minorities. Although Macpherson, quite rightly, focused on the incompetence of the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence, the report is a challenge in the right direction.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this debate. I regret that I have not had the opportunity to deal with all of the many points raised during the debate. I have tried to pick up some of the points during my speech which I hope noble Lords have found helpful.

The Government came into office at a time when many had given up on crime. The previous administration had seen a doubling of crime. Crime here was rising faster than in any other western country; the number of convictions had fallen by one-third; violent crime had risen by 166 per cent; and the chances of being a victim of burglary had risen from 1 in 32 to 1 in 13. We are addressing all of those issues. I believe that we have made consistent progress and have been successful in tackling crime. Crime is down and will continue to decline if we attack it with the cooperation and support of the police service, the public and crime and disorder partnerships.

There have been difficulties with police numbers, not least within the Metropolitan Police area. But they are now going in the right direction—444 extra police officers over and above those in place between March and September 2000. I believe the figures will continue to rise. With that increase in police numbers and all the other important and supportive measures we have put in place to deal with hi-tech crime—DNA and introducing and supporting CCTV screens—the public will be encouraged to the view that the Government are determined to tackle crime not just now but for the future. For all those reasons, while I thank the noble Lord Tebbit for introducing the debate, I believe our Government should be supported in their crime and law and disorder programme.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I shall not detain the House long from the pleasures of hearing my noble friend Lord Campbell on the subject of the Parliamentary Referendum Bill. I thank all those who took part in the debate this afternoon and, most notably, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. He sat through the afternoon ever still in his seat, even at the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, although he seemed to get over that in the past half hour or so.

We have enjoyed a good-natured and well-informed debate. All my noble friends made excellent speeches. I have not heard quite so much common sense from the Lib Dem Benches ever in my life before. There have not been too many wild claims made, other than that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, who tried to indict me as a staunch supporter of the government of my right honourable friend John Major. I plead not guilty. There were no wild calls for throwing money at the problems; and we had few recriminations.

There were a few exchanges of dubious statistics. The Minister got the numbers of police slightly wrong. My figures show that during the time of the government of my right honourable friend John Major they actually fell by 469. He had a somewhat larger figure. I hope he will check his statistics. He was also a little wrong with another figure, although the figures were changed recently in an amended Answer from his department. In the first three years of his government the numbers fell by 2,500.

The Minister glossed over the current attitudes towards morale, going back a decade or so to find some incidents of bad morale. I direct him towards the House Magazine of 18th December last year in which the chairman of the Police Federation said: Morale is the worst I have ever seen it". We had some notable speeches, not least from my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Portsmouth. All spoke of the causes of crime. My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew rightly said that there has been, through the agency of television, a numbing down of our ability to be shocked by violence. I say to the right reverend Prelate that perhaps there is some kind of inverse relationship between—-the happy-clappy tendency call it—the number of bums on pews on Sundays and our need for the numbers of police officers on Fridays and the rest of the week.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord could be more specific even at this late stage. I am tantalised by his elusiveness, not for the first time.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, there is a relationship there; perhaps we shall explore it later.

Several points have emerged: first, the need to resolve the pension issue; secondly, the possibility of a Royal Commission on the police; and, thirdly, the quality of the management of the police service. I am always more impressed by the performance on television of Army officers who have been through Sandhurst than of many senior police officers, although I am always immensely impressed by the quality of the police officers—constable, sergeant and the ranks—directly working on the issues of crime. We might bear that in mind.

I still do not know why Her Majesty's Government have spent so much time reversing the rising trend of police numbers. They reduced them for three years and are now battling to get them back to where they were. But if what has been said today by all sides of the House has been heard by the police service, it will give them some encouragement and a reason to feel that morale should improve in future years. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.