HC Deb 16 January 2002 vol 378 cc92-116WH

11 am

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster)

A week is a long time in politics. Only seven days ago, in a debate on the London underground in this Chamber, I was bemoaning the fact that, although I had been putting in slips every week, my name was never called to initiate an Adjournment debate. However, as luck would have it, I have been called to speak on a most important issue. I suspect that shows one of two things: one should be persistent or one should moan often enough and someone in the Speaker's Office will look after one.

Metropolitan police funding is important. Letters on the subject have made up a significant element of my constituency postbag during recent weeks and months. I can confidently assume that the same applies to the other 73 London-based MPs.

I accept that the Metropolitan police work under strong constraints. Even the Home Secretary, in his keynote speech in Sheffield last weekend, recognised that policing in London is more problematic than elsewhere.

There is clear evidence of police overstretch in London. I am sure that other London Members will agree that a blind eye is being turned towards what the police might regard as minor crimes, but which none the less cause great anxiety among the stable long-term residential population—for example, aggressive begging and mobile phone theft, which have made the headlines during recent months. There is a also wide feeling in the business community that there is insufficient concentration on ensuring the core responsibility of the police to tackle crime.

Recent press reports, including one in The Sunday Times of 6 January from which I shall quote, suggest that people in London are now six times more likely to be assaulted or robbed than the residents of New York, which was once considered the most dangerous city in the world. Apparently, in November alone, 2.5 in 1,000 inhabitants of London were victims of violent crime compared with 0.4 in 1,000 in New York. In essence, that means that one in 400 people in London was the victim of some form of criminal activity in one month alone. During the past three years, muggings have risen by about 28 per cent. Violent crime in London outstrips even such hot spots as Chicago, Los Angeles or Detroit.

I realise that the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs will want to comment on the comparisons with the other side of the Atlantic as well as those within the UK, but it is simplistic to compare the London experience directly with that of New York. However, it is interesting to note the divergence in crime and, most important, in public confidence in security over the past five years. Under Mayor Giuliani and his team, New York has adopted a high-profile zero tolerance policy that has concentrated on ensuring visible and aggressive policing in neighbourhoods that previously suffered high crime rates. That has resulted in the prosecution of even relatively minor offences.

I want to say a few words about retention and recruitment in London—two of the most important issues—and to give a London overview. Obviously, there have been factors that made a difference both pre and post-11 September. Then, if the Minister will forgive me, I want to be a little parochial in relation to Westminster. I see that my Westminster neighbour and colleague, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) is in the Chamber.

Londoners and the police agree that a high visible police presence is essential, not only to detect criminals but to ensure adequate prevention of crime and to counter the real perception of fear of crime. Successive Home Secretaries have heralded record levels of police recruitment. Such claims pre-date 1997—I do not want to make a narrow party political point about that. They mask a particular problem for the Metropolitan police—retention.

There has been much talk of the inclusion of a new warden rank in London in future years. That will offer an important short-term fix, but it is equally important that the warden rank is not included in all the official statistics, although we accept that front-line policing requires adequate civilian back-up. A raw head count should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of London resourcing.

In 1991, there were about 28,485 police officers in London. That number has been reduced to about 25,500—about 3,000 short of what is widely recognised as the minimum necessary for effective policing of the capital.

From my experience as a relatively new Member of Parliament during the past seven months, representing a most inner-city of inner-city seats, as well as my experience as the prospective candidate during the previous two years, I have realised from speaking to many people that there is a multitude of reasons why officers want to leave the Metropolitan police. The 30-year rule, whereby pension rights are made considerably more attractive, causes real problems that will come to a head during the next few years as a great bulge of the intake come up to that 30-year deadline.

All too often, police officers want to transfer and move to other parts of the UK in order to obtain a better quality of life and standard of living. In recent years, there has been low morale and resignation from the police service as a whole but also directly from the Met.

When I talk to junior police officers, they tell me that London is an exciting place to come to early on in their police careers. A young policeman working in central London and the west end is very much at the centre of things. There is no doubt that the Metropolitan police are able to take on many raw recruits, but that gives rise to many management problems. Many young officers in their early to mid-20s enjoy the experience of working in London, but when they have four or five years' experience under their belt and are just at the threshold of becoming useful officers they move elsewhere. All too often, apart from anything else, that is due to the cost of accommodation. Many police officers, even those working in the centre of London, live in far-flung places in Hertfordshire or Kent. It is thus unsurprising, especially in view of the transport crisis, that the prospect of daily commuting is daunting, notwithstanding the positive initiatives that the Government have taken to help towards transport costs. Such quality of life factors mean that after a while many junior officers decide to move out.

Retention rather than mere recruitment is important. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments as to what we might do to address that issue in London.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that retention will be crucial in sorting out the staffing problems in the London police force over the next few years. Is he aware that the Metropolitan police service has been carrying out exit interviews with officers who have been leaving the force, either to take up other employment or to join other forces? Some of those interviews do not focus as much as one might expect on quality of life issues, but on what are euphemistically described as management issues. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the overall results of those exit interviews need to be made public so that we can understand some of the problems in the Metropolitan police service, especially as regards retention?

Mr. Field

I shall certainly take that on board and I hope that the Minister will have some thoughts on the matter. For obvious reasons, some management-related information would properly need to remain confidential.

One problem relates to one of my earlier points. There is a significant number of extremely young officers in London, many of whom are probationers and trainees. Achieving the correct balance between probationers and experienced officers often means that junior officers feel that they are not getting the on-the-job training that they might receive in other parts of the UK.

I feel strongly about key worker housing, especially in central London. We must try to ensure that key workers, whether in the public or the private sector, are given preference in central London. I appreciate that that is a much broader problem than can be answered in this debate but I wanted to raise it as an important factor. I suspect that there is no political divide on this matter. We all realise that in central London there is a massive polarisation between individuals who are wealthy enough to live in the area and those who qualify for social housing. Unfortunately, that means that the people who are the glue of our society—the people who become shopkeepers, police officers or nurses and who do everything in day-to-day society—do not have the opportunity to live in central London.

I should like some more imaginative thinking to be done on the matter. The Mayor of London, Mr. Livingstone, has put together a rather prescriptive policy that ensures that 50 per cent. of new build will be earmarked for social housing. However, the danger is that a too-prescriptive policy will put developers off building in central London, with the result that we miss out on opportunities. I want the Greater London Authority and local councils to have more leeway when it comes to the allocation of scarce resources.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

The hon. Gentleman may not like my question, but does he agree that the £27 million owed to Westminster as a result of the homes-for-votes scandals, if we are successful in recovering it, should be directed towards increasing the stock of affordable housing?

Mr. Field

I had a feeling that that might be the hon. Lady's line of questioning, but I should prefer to draw a slight veil over that matter. An amount of money is due to Westminster city council, which is taking action to recover the funds. Clearly, that money would make some difference.

I turn now to the important question of national pay bargaining. The London weighting is totally inadequate to take account of the cost of living in London. Far more significant premiums should be paid, and I know that London Members have been asked in the past few weeks to make representations to the GLA about London weighting. The debate should cover quality-of-life issues as well as the expense of housing and transport, although I accept that the Home Office has moved in the right direction in relation to transport costs in the past few years.

As a central London Member, I know that many of my constituents owe a great debt to the increased numbers of officers on anti-terrorist duty since 11 September. Clearly, though, having more police on the streets of Westminster and the City of London has been to the detriment of many suburban areas.

I appreciate that the debate is about the Metropolitan police, but my constituency also covers the City of London, and I wish to devote a brief aside to the City of London police, who are under intense pressure. Although the 3 per cent. capital city allocation in the Metropolitan police budget recognises that extra resources are needed to provide national and capital city functions, as well as to police the very shop window of what is a large part of central London, it is wholly inadequate. That was true even before the heightened tension of the international terrorist crisis.

The City of London police's anti-terrorism responsibilities are of a continuing nature, as is the international remit involved in the protection of the constant stream of VIPs who come to the City for both business and ceremonial purposes. However, I share the disappointment felt by many central London Members at the one-size-fits-all approach to the entirety of London policing adopted by the Metropolitan police authority when it comes to calculating its resource allocation formula. That approach fails to recognise the different strains felt by different parts of London.

I am also very concerned at the zero-sum game that effectively means that central London must suffer if the suburbs are to get more money. I hope that the Metropolitan police authority and the Home Office will ensure that London gets the larger slice of the financial cake that is its right.

There has also been insufficient recognition of the fact that London is the economic powerhouse of the country. The city also makes enormous earnings from international investment and tourism. Mayor Livingstone is proposing additional burdens for the Metropolitan police, who are expected to transfer scarce resources to the enforcement of the new bus lanes. The police will also have to enforce the congestion charging zones, assuming that the scheme comes into force as planned from next February. We must get the priorities right, as the relatively modest 3 per cent. increase in the Metropolitan police funding has been accompanied by a whopping increase of 41 per cent. in the demands on the force's headquarters.

Above all, Londoners deserve better. Public services such as health, transport and policing are deteriorating while London tries to perform a role as a truly global centre. As I said, London is the economic powerhouse of the country, and central Government should ensure that we are rewarded for the important role that we play.

Slightly parochially, I wish to speak about a police section house in Soho called Trenchard house. Not everyone in the district, or beyond, will be familiar with it, but the Metropolitan police authority wants to sell it off, for short-term financial reasons. I do not expect the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, who will respond to the debate, to comment now, but I hope that he will come back to me about the matter at another time.

I recognise that that is not, strictly speaking, a Home Office matter, as I wrote to the Minister in November and received a reply in those terms. However, given the housing shortage in central London, it is a source of great concern that Trenchard house could be disposed of. That would fly in the face of what the police are trying to achieve in other ways with regard to retaining staff.

Since 1995, the number of police officers in Westminster has fallen by some 28 per cent., or about 600. That compares to a drop of about 7 per cent. in the number of officers in London as a whole. The residential population in the city of Westminster, which covers a large chunk of my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, has risen by some 30 per cent. in the past seven years. There has also been a 12 per cent. rise in net employment over the past five years. Some 900,000 people come to work in my constituency every day of the working week.

The current police work force in Westminster is about 1,513 officers. The proposal is that, as of the end of March, the figure will rise to about 1,650, although that depends on the Mayor of London delivering the 1,000 or so additional officers that he has proposed. However, a strict application of the resource allocation formula that applies to the whole of London policing suggests that Westminster is entitled only to 1,418 officers. It has been agreed that there will not be a reduction in the number of officers in Westminster, but the 1,418 figure will be used as a baseline for future reference.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with increasing hidden fury. He is making his case for Westminster, and I hope, if I catch your eye later, Mr. Stevenson, to make some points about Barnet at greater length. In Barnet, we have twice Westminster's residential population, but only a third as many police officers. The geographical area in Barnet is such that the whole of Westminster could fit into two of my council wards. The hon. Gentleman is somewhat over-pleading his case.

Mr. Field

In a sense, that is my role, and I suggest that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) would probably have made a similar case before May 1997, when he was a city councillor in Westminster. However, my argument is that there should be a bigger cake, and I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should get furious at what I am saying.

I do not believe that we should be playing a zero-sum game, so I do not suggest that funding should be taken away from the suburbs, which I fully appreciate face some major policing problems. We need considerably more police throughout London. Central Governments, both before and after 1997, have benefited from the party-political squabbling among hon. Members with London constituencies. I think that we should all work together in this matter.

The current formula gives considerably greater weight to the perception of need than to demand. That puts inner London at a strong disadvantage. For example, the capital city allocation is very much top sliced rather than needs driven. That allocation should reflect the special circumstances of policing in central London, taking account of state visits, ceremonial events, state security, and all the royal and diplomatic protection that has to be provided.

At present, the allocation offers only an additional 360 officers for Westminster as a whole. That does not cover the enormous task of managing the streets in the face of weekly demonstrations and the very real late-night disorder that officers encounter. Hundreds of often inebriated revellers remain on the streets of places such as Soho and Covent Garden because they are unable to get home.

Central London also plays an important role in implementing some very high-profile and labour-intensive schemes such as the rough sleepers initiative. I appreciate that extra Government funding has been made available for some of those tasks, but they are massively labour intensive. I have spoken to Superintendent Burman and Inspector Walsh at the Belgravia station, who have played an important role in developing that initiative.

I should also mention Operation Lilac, in which Westminster works alongside Camden. I spent half a day at Savile Row station with Superintendent Ingledew and saw how hard the officers there work. Such initiatives are high profile and trend setting, and are enormously labour intensive. The necessary funding has to be available. Exceptions must therefore be made for London as a whole, and for central London in particular.

I appreciate that several other hon. Members would like to speak, so I shall wind up my speech by making a few comments. All that I have said must be viewed in the light of the determination in central London to create a better quality of life, not just for the residential population—important thought that is—but for the 900,000 workers who come here every day and, indeed, the tourists who spend enormous sums each year to ensure that we have a thriving economy.

I have worked with Westminster city council, alongside my Labour counterpart, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. We have individually undertaken large-scale consultation exercises with the public in the past year, and local policies have been developed in the light of many of those results.

An integral part of the civic renewal and regeneration of each of England's cities involves rapid and firm action against antisocial behaviour, which requires labour- intensive policing. We need sufficient resources for effective policing, as well as concrete policies to compensate adequately for the much higher living costs in the capital and to ensure that we have good and stable levels of staffing in our police service.

I would plead that urgent action needs to be taken by the Home Office to ensure that Londoners get a fair deal. I draw the Government's attention to the demographic time-bomb, which is likely to result in the significant departure of many senior police officers in the next five to 10 years, and ask for an assurance today that well-thought-out steps will be taken to ward off what could be a very problematic development.

Finally, I welcome the high-profile initiatives mentioned in the national news last week. Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, is ensuring that 315 traffic police will be redeployed to front-line street duties, but that is a drop in the ocean in relation to London. I reiterate the fact that we are roughly 3,000 policemen short and crime—more importantly, the fear of crime—grows almost daily for many residents.

11.22 am
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on securing this debate. I share many of the concerns that he has expressed, which I shall deal with a little later, but I shall concentrate my remarks on three things. First, I want to comment on the level of policing in London, and I will support and underpin what he has said about that in many ways. Secondly, I shall talk about the impact of the resource allocation formula on Westminster. Thirdly, I shall talk about the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour, the responsibilities and duties of the local authorities and the way in which the Government have sought to support Westminster council and Kensington council in doing that work, and I have a couple of criticisms to make of the local authorities in that respect.

I should like to place on record my warm congratulations to the police teams in Westminster and the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea on the work that they have done over the years, especially since 11 September. One of Britain's major mosques—the Regent's Park mosque—and the Muslim cultural heritage centre are in my constituency. I have heard nothing but praise from the directors of both those organisations for the way that the police responded swiftly and thoughtfully to the events of 11 September. Since then, the police have worked closely with the local communities in monitoring the risk of racial incidents and in helping to defuse any of those tensions, and it is right to praise them for their work.

I should also like to praise the work of my local police teams in the general fight against crime and antisocial behaviour, which is a serious problem on my constituency's streets and estates. There is no doubt that crime and the fear of crime, and antisocial behaviour, which are distinct but related issues, represent the top or the second from top concern of almost all my constituency's residents.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster talked about the case for London, and I strongly support that case. It is on record that police numbers have declined to a most unsatisfactory level during most of the past decade, although the figures are now rising again, and I shall refer to that fact in my closing remarks. We should be pleased that the tide is definitely turning, but the decline has been substantial and long term. It is undoubtedly the case that police on the beat may not always represent the most effective way to stop crime and catch criminals, but it is none the less true, as policing since 11 September has confirmed, that high-level, visible policing is greatly appreciated by communities and has a knock-on consequence for people's sense of care for their community and in reducing the fear of crime, so allowing more people to go out and about without fear.

I fear that, for many years, London's special needs have not been fully recognised in the funding of the police service, as the hon. Gentleman has said. London has extraordinary costs, especially in relation to housing. That has been mentioned, so I shall not go into detail, but I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments on the recruitment and retention difficulties in the London police service, and housing costs are a key part of that.

We have had rapid population growth in the past few years, as a consequence of which our communities are extraordinarily diverse, which is a challenge for every public service—health, education and policing. That diversity is exciting, but it undoubtedly presents a challenge and involves several cost pressures.

I ask the Minister to consider—I have told the Metropolitan police authority about this, and I believe it to my core—that we need to address more seriously the fact that London, and central London in particular, has the highest incidence of mental ill health in the country. It is a recorded fact that Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority has the highest incidence of mental ill health, especially psychotic illness, in the country. There is no question but that mental ill health is closely related to the pressures on police services. It is about time that all the agencies involved began to collect systematic and comparable data on mental health services and their implications for policing, so that we have an indicator that would be of considerable benefit to virtually every part of the London police service.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I, too, was a little disappointed by this year's settlement for the Metropolitan police service. Although I am sure that there is scope for further efficiency savings, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will use his powers with the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review to urge for a better deal for the police service, especially the Metropolitan police service, in the forthcoming spending round. Further settlements along the lines of that which we have had will not be sustainable. That has been underpinned by Ian Blair, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police service. In giving evidence on the budget to the Metropolitan police authority, he said that, although he can manage with the budget proposed for this year, any further reduction or additional non-Treasury-funded expenses would be impossible to manage. It is clearly not the case that this year's settlement has been generous, and we need to press the case for a more generous settlement for the Metropolitan police in future.

Mr. Edward Davey

I agree with the hon. Lady's point about the comprehensive spending review settlement for the Metropolitan police, but does she agree with the bid submitted by the Metropolitan police authority for the forthcoming budget for the 2002–03 financial year, in which they have asked for £97 million to assist in the extra work that they need to undertake next year to tackle the capital's extra security problems? We need an early decision on that request; we can wait no longer. The Home Office needs to assure the Metropolitan police authority and the Greater London Authority that £97 million will be forthcoming, so that, on 13 February, the GLA can set the budget with some certainty that it will have that Home Office grant.

Ms Buck

I am certainly happy to support the principle that there should be an early decision. I have not gone through the budget in detail, so I cannot say whether I would agree with every dot and comma, but I certainly agree that the earlier that decision is taken the better.

My second set of comments is on the resource allocation formula. I hit the roof when I saw the first draft—I think it was a leaked draft—of the resource allocation formula figures, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has also outlined. I am afraid that the resource allocation formula process was not handled well. Lessons need to be learned from that, because much misinformation was put out. People were allowed to panic when they saw the first draft and before they were reassured that the process was a consultative one. That was deeply regrettable.

I welcome the fact that, as a result of the consultation process, the worst-case figures were to some extent ameliorated. The "pure" resource allocation formula for Westminster began with the figure of 1,410 and ended up with 1,541. In Kensington, it began with the figure of 498 and ended up with 544. We finished better off than we first thought and with no loss against the highest point figures for 2001.

I have spoken to borough commanders about the issue on a number of occasions, and the borough commander of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea is not dissatisfied. He would happily support claims—I am sure that this is true of others—for additional policing resources, but he is certainly not saying that the final settlement in the resource allocation formula is unsatisfactory.

However, I am afraid that I will now come close to terminating a 20-year close personal friendship with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) by saying that central London has a powerful case, and we sought to make it when we clawed back on the worst figures in the resource allocation formula. However, that case has not been properly accommodated, given the high crime figures in central London and the high day-time and night-time populations in central Westminster. They are the result of the tourist trade, on which criminals seeks to prey, and the fact that people congregate in licensed establishments at night.

The crime figures in themselves justify a much higher level of policing in central London than in many other areas. It is completely counter-intuitive for the resource allocation formula not to have supported claims for additional policing, given the extent of crime in central London.

There is also the popular assumption that Westminster and Kensington are uniformly prosperous boroughs, and they do indeed include some of the most prosperous areas in the country. However, there are also high levels of deprivation in both, and they are almost exclusively in my constituency. As on so many other issues, we suffer from the tyranny of the average, whereby acute pockets of deprivation do not always receive the attention and the resources that they deserve because of the way in which the prosperity of Belgravia and Knightsbridge flattens out the borough-wide figures. In the arguments about the resource allocation formula, it was pointed out that deprivation is an indicator for police resources and that people from deprived areas come to central London and Westminster to take advantage of the presence of the large day-time population there.

As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster pointed out, Kensington and Westminster have taken a disproportionately large cut in police numbers over the last decade. To my intense dissatisfaction, that fact was initially denied when I made representations on the resource allocation formula and was told that there was no evidence that Westminster and Kensington had received a larger cut than anywhere else.

However, I received an answer to a parliamentary question at the end of October last year and it demonstrated that in 1993, which is when the decline set in, the City of Westminster had 1,901 police officers but only 1,642 in September 2001. Kensington had 655 police officers in 1993, but only 577 last year. The fall in numbers in those two areas was significantly higher than the fall in numbers in the Metropolitan police as a whole. The position has been worsened by the fact that police strength is significantly lower than the numbers for the work force that have been budgeted for, which means that in practice significantly fewer police are available for duty on the streets and estates than there should be.

Although I am not as unhappy as I was when the resource allocation formula first came out, I cannot claim to be satisfied with the level of police services in Westminster or Kensington. I would strongly support any arguments in favour of additional resources for the Metropolitan police authority as a whole and for central London to have its share of those resources.

Although police numbers are rising—that is extremely welcome—it is obvious that, no matter how many police we recruit, it is unlikely that police officers will be available on the streets when most crimes are committed. We know the figure for the chances of a police officer stumbling across a crime being committed. We must therefore ensure that policies and strategies are set in place to reduce the incidence of crime. The Government have done a great deal on that and helped the local authorities that have a critical front-line role in helping to tackle crime. For example, Westminster received a grant of just under £2 million to help it to tackle—I am afraid I am straying into the hon. Gentleman's constituency—crime in the Charing Cross area. It has suffered seriously as a result of the drugs trade and associated crime.

More locally, Westminster and Kensington have both received Government funding from the neighbourhood renewal fund, which has been directed towards helping to improve security and tackling crime in the deprived areas of the boroughs. The councils also received a 7 per cent. increase in their general funding this year, which is the equal highest in the country. The local authorities have had the assistance that they need—I accept that there is always a case for more—to tackle the causes of crime. They have introduced practical security measures and have attempted to divert young people at risk of offending by providing alternative activities for them.

My criticism, however, results from the fact that Westminster council in particular has a deplorable record on that front. Its youth service was a disgrace and Ofsted strongly condemned it. In practical terms, in most areas of the constituency there is little or nothing for young people to do and there has not been for years. That is beginning to change but almost exclusively because of central Government support through single regeneration budget funding and the neighbourhood renewal fund.

Mr. Mark Field

I cannot resist the temptation to defend the honour of Westminster council. Clearly, it is well appreciated that its youth department has suffered difficulties as a result of the borough's geography. However, in fairness, as the hon. Lady knows, education results have improved in the past two or three years and it must be pointed out that social services—.

Mr. George Stevenson (in the Chair)

Order. We do not want to get into a debate on education or social services. Will the hon. Gentleman make his point briefly in his intervention?

Mr. Field

I just wanted to say that the social services department has received a benchmark award in recent years. Although I do not suggest that everything is wonderful, there have been positive developments. The department is making its contribution to the quality of life issues that we are debating.

Ms Buck

I will not argue about that, but my central point was that the council's record on youth services has been absolutely deplorable. Young people excluded from school are on the streets, and there is a long way to go before the situation is turned round.

I know that other Members wish to speak, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. However, I must point out that on a cluster of estates—the Amberley estate, the Lydford estate, the Avenue Gardens estate, the Hall Place estate, the Church Street estate and around Scott Ellis gardens and the Lisson Green estate—we face serious problems with what is usually lower-level crime and antisocial behaviour. That is directly linked to the failure to sort out the services, support and intervention for young people at risk of committing crime.

Street lighting services, which can also help to prevent crime, are appalling in some areas of the borough. Last year, Westminster council had to admit that it had lost control of the street lighting contract, plunging areas into darkness and creating a muggers paradise. I live in north Westminster in what is virtually tunnel, so I can substantiate that point from my experience. Local authorities can do a great deal through environmental and social measures to prevent crime at every level, but Westminster council does not do anything like enough on that. To coin a phrase, we have to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Local authorities are at the forefront of that and not doing a terribly good job.

In summary, I am delighted that police numbers in London as a whole are rising after many years of decline. There is a strong case, which I support, for more police overall. There is also a strong case for additional police resources in Westminster and Kensington because of our high levels of crime, the day-time population and the deprivation in parts on those boroughs. That has not been properly accommodated in the resource allocation formula, and I will continue to make that case. The local authority can do much more to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour.

I strongly support the Commissioner's proposals to introduce auxiliary support to help the police in their work. There is a great deal that the police can do to free up police officers for a front-line policing role by using people to act as their eyes and ears in the community. I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster on securing this helpful debate.

11.41 am
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on giving us another opportunity to discuss police resourcing and the wider issues of policing in London.

I often find myself whingeing on in Westminster Hall and the House about what we want in Hillingdon. As that makes me sound a bit more like Victor Meldrew than I should, let me start by saying that the previous formula for resourcing was incomprehensible and what we have now is a vast improvement—but I would think that because the London borough of Hillingdon is a winner. However, that is relative because it was a loser for so long, with a constant erosion of police officers. We need an extra 93 officers to reach a target strength of 463. That might, on the surface, seem a good target and it is welcome, but it should be seen against what we have lost over the years. People in Hillingdon are happy to have those extra officers, but it does not mean that the problem is solved.

My hon. Friend referred to the danger of party political squabbles, and it is fair to pay tribute to my two colleagues whose constituencies are also in the London borough of Hillingdon—my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). We have put aside party political matters to work together with the London borough of Hillingdon and the excellent police consultative committee. I hope that our unified front has helped us to obtain the increase.

In addition to the constant erosion of police numbers in Hillingdon, the civilian work force has been cut by 30 per cent. so we still have many gripes. Staffed front counters are virtually non-existent in police stations— not that there are many in my borough. It is difficult to find a front counter in West Drayton that is open for more than a couple of hours a week, which is a source of great annoyance to my constituents. There has also been a huge increase in the precept that we have to pay.

I do not want to enter into an argument in which the suburbs and the centre of London square up against each other, although Labour and Conservative MPs are present in roughly equal numbers today. The point has been made that we should all argue strongly for increased funding for the Metropolitan police because London is a diverse and special case. It is not just the centre that has problems; the suburbs also have peculiar problems. My borough is diverse. It covers a large area and it is important to recognise its problems.

I want to draw the attention of hon. Members to an excellent pilot scheme that started last Friday evening, when I went out with the local police force. It is trying to be more visible and a large number of vehicles and officers were on the streets to stop antisocial behaviour. It was interesting to discover that many of the people who were involved in under-age drinking were known to the police as burglars and petty criminals. There is a strong tie between the two. People ask whether tackling under-age drinking is a priority—it should be because it is where crime can start: we picked up a young 13-year-old with a knife, and there were other incidents.

I know that most Members of Parliament go out with their local force and it is a real eye opener. I was struck by the sheer size of the division. When a call comes in, it could be for eight or nine miles away. The traffic in the borough, even in the evenings, is not conducive to getting there quickly, which is another source of great annoyance to the public.

The problem with the increase in police numbers in Hillingdon is that it is a target. I emphasise the need for recruitment and retention. We have problems similar to those in central London. The price of housing in suburbia is sky high. There is a great temptation for officers, once they have trained with the Met, to go to other forces where they have a better standard of living. They want to be in the Met, but the housing problem puts them off. I acknowledge that a Conservative Government sold off the housing stock. In retrospect, that was possibly an accountant's move and it has been a problem. Although there has been a climbdown on the Golden Jubilee medal, the five-year service cut-off is a source of great annoyance. At a time when we are trying to recruit and retain people, such small things add up and cause more frustration.

Hillingdon has started a scheme to use street wardens. Although it is welcome in some ways, the police told me that it creates serious problems. The police receive, as I saw at first hand, little respect from certain sections of the community and the street wardens will have even less. Indeed, the police were recently called out to rescue them from an unpleasant incident.

I should like to know how the recruitment of special constables is proceeding. Two specials were on the exercise that I attended and it was interesting to hear their views. One WPC said that she was happy in her usual job, but going out with the specials at the weekend was the highlight of her week. The sergeant who was with her was working hard to recruit her for the regulars and I hope that that works out. That must be a good way to get people into the force so that they can see what it is really like.

I make one plea, which I have made before, on behalf of a Cinderella part of the Metropolitan police. The wildlife service investigates wildlife crime. Although that might seem insignificant, much of that crime involves unsavoury people and is often linked to organised crime. It does not sound as serious as the major incidents that we hear about, but the department must not be forgotten.

I hope that we do not divide ourselves into suburbia and central areas and that we fight hard together, whatever Government are in power, to ensure that we get more funding for the Metropolitan police and more police officers on the beat who are visible to our constituents.

11.49 am
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on securing this important debate. I should declare an interest in that the Police Federation is a client of my law firm; however, the views I express may not coincide with its policy, as I have not discussed them with the federation.

I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall): we should not turn this into a suburbs versus inner-city debate. I hope that my remarks will be seen in the context of needing more police officers in London as a whole, as well as the resources to pay for that. To some extent, the changes to the resource allocation formula have been a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I shall focus on that aspect.

I was pleased with the original draft of the resource allocation formula, because it would have resulted in a significant increase in the number of police officers in Barnet—the original allocation approached 600. I am therefore horrified that the net result has been, in effect, a transfer of the proposed increase in numbers from Barnet and other suburbs to inner-city areas, no doubt after special pleading from the two MPs for Westminster, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). The formula has not dealt fairly with inner and outer London. Under the "pure" RAF formula, Westminster would have had 1,410 officers, but under the "no losers" formula, which rigs the system, it ends up with 131 more officers than it is justified in having, and those officers to some extent come at the expense of outer London.

I emphasise the capital city formula, which includes an extra 360 officers for Westminster and 50 for Kensington and Chelsea but does not prevent demands being made on outer-London boroughs for additional police officers to support special operations. My chief superintendent told me this morning that only last night, at the drop of a hat, local police were asked to provide one sergeant and six constables from the late turn—one third of the officers available for patrolling in our borough—to support special operations. Given all the additional officers they have received, it is a bit rich for other forces to expect us to provide even more for special operations.

I am pleased that the number of officers available in Barnet is to increase by 50 from a low of 485 in April last year. With a target of 535, we now have 522.79 officers. My borough commander took some trouble to explain to me how it is possible to have 0.79 of an officer; I am still not sure I understand, but I am sure that there is a logical reason. None the less, with the police college in Hendon full to the seams with recruits, it is somewhat irksome that the patch in which it is situated is short of police officers. I also question the use of the commissioners' judgment formula, which strikes me as a bit of a fiddle. It seems that numbers are just thrown up in the air, and decisions are made on the final outcome, irrespective of analysis.

The net result is two-tier policing in London. I have experience of policing in Westminster and in my Hendon constituency. If I call the police from my Westminster flat, they will arrive in two or three minutes if the call is urgent; if I make the same call from my flat in Burnt Oak, I am lucky to get a turnout within half an hour. That is not an unusual result from a comparison between outer and inner-London. It is wholly unacceptable that such two-tier policing is developing.

Mr. Mark Field

Might that have something to do with the fact that the hon. Gentleman was more respected as a councillor in Westminster than he is as an Member of Parliament in Hendon?

Mr. Dismore

That may be so, but I dispute it. I never plead rank when I call any of the emergency services, and it would be wholly improper to do so. I doubt that the person who answers the 999 call knows me from Adam.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about the threat of terrorism, he ignores reality. I believe that Hendon has suffered more bomb attacks than any other constituency. Last year, there were two bomb attacks in Hendon. Recent years have witnessed the bomb attack that blew up the flyover at Brent Cross and one on Mill Hill barracks. To suggest that terrorism is confined to inner London is wrong. Resources to fight terrorism should be allocated more fairly across the city.

We must bear in mind the geography of outer London compared to that of inner London. The central activity zone of Westminster covers about half a square mile—an area that would fit into a polling district in my constituency. The whole of Westminster would fit into two of my wards, yet we have only a third of the number of police officers to police the same area with twice the night time population. Geography creates serious problems for officers trying to get from one end of the borough to the other. That, too, leads to two-tier policing.

It is important to examine the reforms that are to be made. Auxiliaries are an interesting and welcome idea which builds on the neighbourhood warden services which are growing throughout London. The hon. Member for Uxbridge commented on his local service, but I have nothing but praise for the system introduced by the London borough of Barnet. We have a growing neighbourhood warden service, which has been well received by the local community, at a price of 14p a week on the council tax. The service works well with the Metropolitan police and has already scored some remarkable successes, even though it has been going for only a few months.

We should consider the extent to which jobs done by uniformed officers could be carried out by civilians. Those civilian workers should be paid properly. I have been told by my local police station that there is a freeze on recruitment of civilians. That is a false economy. We should also examine the issue of long-term sickness and recuperative duties. This morning, my chief superintendent told me that 50 of her officers—10 per cent. of the total officer force potentially available to her—are currently either long-term sick or on recuperative duties.

I welcome the decision in the short term to transfer traffic officers to the boroughs for front-line policing, but I hope that in the long term it will be possible to replace those officers on traffic duties. Perhaps we might establish a traffic police force, building on the traffic warden service, using people who are traffic wardens but training them properly to carry out more traffic enforcement activities, which are an important task. I do not want people to have to consider whether it is better to be mugged than to be run down by a speeding motorist, which is the sort of decision that we might have to make.

A traffic police force might be a welcome long-term development. All of us have been told by police officers that when they catch someone for speeding they are often asked, "Why aren't you out catching burglars?" A traffic police officer could respond, "It's not my job to catch burglars. I catch speeding motorists."

We should also examine police service shift patterns. I know that a lot of work has been done in that respect lately. Negotiations are under way with the Police Federation and the Metropolitan police to ensure that police are on the street at the times they are needed, not at the times the shift pattern dictates they should be there.

We must recognise that the police cannot do everything. We impose unreasonable demands on our police service, whether through people making daft 999 calls, or expecting them to investigate trivial crimes to the nth degree. Barnet police service has taken wonderful strides to target policing and concentrate on crime hot spots, and it has reaped dividends from an intelligence-based approach. We expect too much from our police, and not only in the light of resources, although more resources are needed throughout London. We must be realistic and fair about what we expect them to do.

In closing, I pay tribute to Chief Superintendent Akers, my borough commander, who has worked hard to build links with the local community and ensure that local police priorities reflect the needs and demands of the community. I also pay tribute to her hard-working and overstretched officers, who provide an excellent service despite all the demands on them, which, in some cases, are somewhat unreasonable.

11.58 am
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on securing this helpful debate. I also congratulate Sir John Stevens and his team at New Scotland Yard: whenever I have had dealings with them, they have been both courteous and extremely helpful. Finally, I congratulate Commander Brathwaite, who leads the Kingston division. I have met and spoken with police officers in my area and I am amazed by how overstretched they are. They have to make difficult decisions and fine judgments. My conversations and meetings with them fill me with admiration for their work. That is why debates such as this, and their tenor, are welcome.

The debate has focused on resources for the Metropolitan police. There are two sources: the Home Office and council tax payers in London. I want to have a pop at the Home Office, because I do not believe that its grant to the Metropolitan police authority is sufficient.

I suspect that all hon. Members would agree that there is a case for a larger Home Office grant. Under the Conservative Government in 1995, an adjustment was made to the formula between the different constabularies. I hope that the Minister can assure us that we will not see the like of that again. There is supposed to be one more round of transitional adjustment to implement that 1995 decision, which would work against London, but I hope that the Government will cancel it and reconsider the issue. London's share of the overall cake is not sufficient.

In speculating about how that problem has come about, I wondered whether it was because London has only one voice on the Association of Chief Police Officers, and whether the greater number of chief constables in other parts of the country has outgunned Sir John Stevens and his predecessor, good though they may be at arguing London's case on that body. Will the Minister ensure that in future we do not allow that weighting against London on ACPO?

The evidence from the front line is that London is under-policed, and I am sure that that is felt in all our constituencies. I sometimes wonder whether there is greater inefficiency in constabularies in other parts of the country.

I am delighted that we now have a Metropolitan police authority that can argue London's case. That is an important development, but the authority needs to work with London Members to ratchet up the call for a better deal for London.

In my intervention on the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), I mentioned the MPA's bid to the Home Office for another £97 million for 2002–03 to take account of the extra activities that are having to be undertaken to deal with the terrorist threat. The MPA is still waiting for an answer from the Home Office, even though it must set its budget as soon as the middle of February. It would be nonsense if the Government could not give the MPA an answer on that, and I hope that they will agree to that bid in full, so that London has the Home Office support that it needs to deal with that threat.

Other issues relating to the Metropolitan police could do with proper funding from the Home Office. Negotiations on pay are taking place, and we do not know how that will work through. There is a legacy of Home Office inefficiency with regard to the MPA. It is interesting talking to colleagues on the MPA and the Greater London Authority. When they began to scrutinise what has been going on in the Metropolitan police service, they discovered the inefficiencies and inadequate accounting practice that were allowed to continue when the Home Office was in charge.

The Home Office should be careful when it decides whether to give the MPA less money, because it should apologise for its lack of scrutiny of the Metropolitan police service and its failure to get greater efficiency. At least in the short term, while the MPA is doing its job of scrutinising the service, the people of London should not lose out due to long-term Home Office inefficiency in managing the Metropolitan police service's budget.

I am concerned about how the Government are sorting out the funds for front-line policing. There was a 6.1 per cent. increase in the police budget from the Home Office, but police authorities across the country are getting 2.8 per cent., so a lot of money is being held back centrally. We see that in public service after public service. That does not create stability or get money to the front line, and it results in little pots of money that police authorities and other public services have to bid for, which is a terribly inefficient way of delivering those services.

The Minister may tell me that I am factually wrong, which would go against what police officers have told me, or, like his colleagues in other Departments, he may now see the error of his ways. He should ensure that the money is out there and not put in a central pot for that inefficient bidding process.

Council tax receipts make up the other side of the resource equation. People in my area say that they pay more and get less. That is a real problem. I shall deal with the resource allocation formula in a second, but if people are asked to pay more by the Mayor and the Greater London Authority, they want to get more as a result.

The Mayor's budget proposals are being analysed by the GLA and the MPA. I have sneaked a look at the report. We will discover what the different parties on the MPA say about the proposals. I was concerned about what happened last year when the GLA had this debate. To try to get a lower council tax precept, Conservatives on the GLA voted against £48 million for the Metropolitan police service budget. I hope that they will not do that again this year. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster rightly argued, the MPS needs extra resources.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Will my hon. Friend join me in adding further issues to the list of items that the Government should consider? For boroughs such as his and mine, there will be no increase in numbers next year. A system in which people pay considerably more of their local tax through council tax undermines their willingness to contribute towards better policing in London. That problem needs to be examined.

There is a list of matters for which the Government have principal responsibility in addition to those that my hon. Friend has mentioned. They include whether forces such as the Metropolitan police that train a huge number of people who then leave within 10 years should be able to recuperate a training levy for doing all the work. The latest figures show that about 40 per cent. leave to go to another force.

Before we debate the police reform legislation, we should consider the general formula for allocating resources around the country, and decide whether to revisit the division between what is expected to come from the council tax and what from the Home Office allocation. As my hon. Friend said, there was a 6.1 per cent. increase for policing, but less than 3 per cent. of that was allocated.

Mr. David Amess (in the Chair)

Order. This intervention is turning into a speech.

Mr. Davey

It was an exceptionally good intervention, and I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said.

Reform of the resource allocation formula has taken up a lot of my time and that of other hon. Members. Although the process could have been improved, the reforms have resulted in a more transparent formula that has enabled us at last to ask some intelligent questions about how the police cake in London is carved up. I hope that the new resource allocation formula will be revised fairly soon. I am told by people on the MPA that that may come in the next two years. From my constituents' point of view, it could not come soon enough. Significant mistakes have been made, which I have brought up with the people in charge on the project board.

PA Consulting, which was hired to do the research, based its weighting and its results on a regression analysis. It is all in the report. When I raised this matter at a seminar with the analysts who carried out the research, they said that I had a good point. My point was that the data that they used in a least squares regression analysis was for one year. They used one year's data to work out the relationship between crime in different boroughs and police officer allocation. One does not need to be Einstein or a great mathematician to work out that one year's data in one regression analysis is not a strong basis on which to build a case for a formula. We must seriously examine that analysis on which so much weight has been placed to see whether it is stable over time and sensitive to changes in the data. I doubt that it is, and am concerned that the whole resource allocation formula debate is based on inadequate analysis.

Another major concern about the resource allocation formula, as it relates to my constituency, is the new and welcome opening-the-shop component, which recognises the fixed costs involved in providing the police service. In small boroughs such as Kingston, Richmond, Sutton and one or two others, those fixed costs can take a significant slug of the resources for policing. The opening-the-shop component is supposed to recognise that, but unfortunately it is far too small. When that formula is revised in two years' time, that component will need to grow.

My second point about the resource allocation formula and the review process is that it considers only territorial police officers, so large parts of the Metropolitan police service budget are not taken into account. Who decides how many police officers go into the territorial force and how many come out of it? That fact did not emerge from the review. I hope that the MPA will look at that division, because the centrally provided services may well be getting too many officers, some of whom could go to the front line. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, Sir John Stevens almost admitted that when he decided last week to transfer officers from the traffic police to other duties. I think that the results would be better if that decision-making process were closely scrutinised.

The hon. Gentleman's point on retention is crucial. We have to solve the retention problem, and on that point the current debate on police reforms is important. The proposal to reduce overtime pay may well affect London officers more than those in any other area. Their pay could fall steeply, which could severely undermine efforts to improve retention. While the Government are in debate with the police negotiating board, the Police Federation and other bodies, they must bear it in mind that their proposed pay reforms could have different effects in different parts of the country. Given that London has a huge retention problem, can the Minister assure me that any reform of overtime pay will not hit London as badly as I fear that it might?

12.11 pm
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster on securing this debate, which I understand is his second in two weeks; he obviously has a knack that has eluded me. He addressed many important issues and raised the spectre of dispute between London boroughs. Several hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have referred to the need to avoid that, and as I do not represent any part of London, I have no intention of entering into any dispute.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

On that point, does my hon. Friend recognise that certain outer London boroughs, such as Havering, have specific problems? Havering comprises three constituencies, including Romford, which has the highest concentration of nightclubs in the entire Metropolitan police area, excluding the west end. The police in Havering face great demands, and that leaches manpower from Upminster. Often on Friday and Saturday nights, there are no police at all on duty in Upminster. That situation should be reflected in the resource allocation to the London borough of Havering.

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend is right, and I am sorry that she did not have the opportunity to make her points more fully.

There are big question marks over the resource allocation formula. I do not feel competent to enter into the detail of how it needs changing, and I certainly do not intend to do so in the short time that is left. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) emphasised parts of the formula that need to be reconsidered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) mentioned the problems of the police requirement where there are many nightclubs, and I suspect that when the police reform Bill is introduced we shall debate whether there should be a mechanism for charging for a private sector activity that places huge demands on the police. We have introduced such a mechanism in football, and some senior officers demand that we consider charging for policing in areas with a high concentration of nightclubs or similar establishments.

I know that many hon. Members will want the Minister to respond fully to the debate, so I do not want to take up too much time. We must reflect on what the Home Secretary has said in the past few months. Listening to him, one would assume that the whole of Labour's first term in government had been wasted as far as policing and crime are concerned. There is ample evidence of that in London, where there have been huge increases in crime. Robbery has increased by 56 per cent. and violent crime by 23 per cent. since 1998–99, when the method of calculation changed.

In the most recent year, up to November 2001, just two months ago, the figures are even more stark. The total number of offences has risen by 9.2 per cent., and robbery has increased by 50 per cent. In only one London borough was there a reduction in robbery in that year; other boroughs recorded increases in robbery of more than 100 per cent. There is a serious issue to be dealt with, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, according to those up-to-date figures, a Londoner is five times more likely to be the victim of violent crime than somebody who lives in New York, despite the Prime Minister's assertions to the contrary last week.

Unsurprisingly, the trend in police numbers is the converse of that in the number of crimes. Police numbers are down, and before the Minister chides me for ignoring boundary changes, I point out that even when one allows for the notional reduction of 887 in the Met establishment because of boundary changes, there are nearly 1,000 fewer officers than there were in 1997. As my hon. Friend rightly reminded us, even the 1997 figure is lower than those from earlier in the 1990s.

In March 1997, there were 356 officers per 100,000 head of population in the Met, but by last September, that figure was down to 353.5. That was an improvement on the situation a few months earlier, which is welcome, but it is still lower than the figure with which we started under the present Government. At the end of November, only four boroughs had experienced an increase in the number of officers.

I am sure that the Minister will refer to the fact that the Mayor is now primarily responsible for funding. No doubt he will seek to blame the man who in many Labour circles is considered a rogue mayor. However, the Minister should not be too quick to blame the Mayor because to his credit—I am not one to give the Mayor credit often—he has set out to try to increase police numbers. He has asked the MPA to budget for an extra 1,000 officers a year. In the past four years, expenditure on the police in London has gone up by 20 per cent., but the council tax element of that expenditure has gone up by 141 per cent. There has been a clear shift to the council tax payer, even though there has been only a very small increase in funding. As someone said, we are paying more and getting considerably less.

I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to those figures. He needs to understand, however, that it is not inputs that matter to people. They do not listen to how many millions or billions of pounds are being put into a service—that does not mean much to the average person. What matters to them is outputs—what is being achieved by that money. We are considering police numbers, but we are primarily looking at crime and people's experience and perception of it. It is clear that there has been no improvement; indeed, the situation is worsening.

Only yesterday, a senior police officer told me that the police periodically have to decide not to arrest people who are committing crimes on a large scale, during festivities for example, because if they did they would denude the streets of officers, who would all be back in the station doing the paperwork. Although the Home Secretary has made many noises about paperwork and set up another taskforce, he seems to have ignored the fact that a Cabinet Office report on that subject, called "Making a Difference", was published two years ago. We are told that the Cabinet Office will publish another report this year. It is time that we stopped commissioning reports and started reducing paperwork so that police officers can stay on the streets and do their job more effectively.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Paice

No, I am sorry, but I want the Minister to have his full allocation of time.

There is no doubt that reform of the police is necessary not only in the Met area but throughout the country. Opposition Members will support many of the proposals in the White Paper, but there are others against which we will argue most strongly. We welcome the increases in officers that are beginning to occur, even though most of those increases are a promise rather than a reality. The clear message from hon. Members of all parties in this debate is that the Government have a great deal more to do if the Metropolitan police are to be able to deliver the service that the people of London want and, perhaps more importantly, are increasingly being asked to pay for.

12.19 pm
The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on securing this useful debate. The odd element of partisanship has crept in, but it can generally be described as a pro-London and pro-police debate, which all contributors will welcome. Depending on the business managers, there will be an opportunity in the not too distant future for the annual debate on the police funding settlement as a whole, but we have had a useful chance to look at the situation in London.

I took comfort from the widespread recognition, implicit and explicit, that the Government have got to grips with the situation and are turning things round after many years of decline. Everyone has been honest enough to acknowledge that the decline in Metropolitan police numbers began a long time ago, back in the early 1990s under the previous Administration. During the period in which the Conservatives were in power, crime nationally doubled. So far, the present Administration have achieved significant falls in recorded crime as measured by the British crime survey which shows that the chance of being a victim in England and Wales is the lowest since the survey began. There have been falls in crime in London in recent years. Recorded crime in London fell by 2.2 per cent. in the year to March 2001, and burglary alone came down by 3 per cent. in 2001 compared with 1998. Of course, we have a problem with street crime and robbery, which we have acknowledged in recent weeks and to which I shall return. Our response is under way, but more needs to be done.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Denham

Will my hon. Friend allow me to continue for a moment?

We need more police officers. As I have said, we are increasing police force numbers in England and Wales, and London as well. Recruitment is going well, as I shall explain. We need to ensure that resources are used in the most effective way. I shall not get involved in the borough by borough debate that we have had, but everyone will accept that it is important to deploy police officers where they will be most effective in catching persistent offenders, and in tackling and reducing crime and the fear of crime. To do so, we need to make the best and most effective use of the increasing number of police officers; that is what police reform is all about. It is about cutting bureaucracy and red tape, enabling people to spend less time in the police station and making better use of civilian staff, both in patrol duties and in police stations.

Bob Spink

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Denham

I shall finish dealing with this issue, then give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) and the hon. Gentleman.

Police reform is about improving performance. Everybody accepts that if one compares basic command units within London with those in other parts of the country, performance varies from one place to another. The new standards unit is finding out what works most effectively in tackling crime and making sure that standards are raised everywhere. Police reform is about tackling long-term intractable problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) spoke about long-term sickness; it is for precisely that reason that we need a national occupational health strategy in the police force so that people do not suffer long-term sickness and can be helped back into policing duties. Police reform, in London and elsewhere, will help to underpin the changes that need to be made.

Harry Cohen

The Minister mentioned the problem of street crime and the need to tackle it, for example in our high streets. Will he comment on the impact of closed circuit television? The Government have had an important programme of boosting CCTV installation. Can we have a renewed programme for CCTV concentrated mainly in city centres, but in other areas of London as well? Will he press for tax incentives for small business and shops to install CCTV? Can it also be installed on the underground and bus and rail stations in London?

Mr. Denham

In looking to expand the CCTV programme, I am sure that my hon. Friend has in mind areas such as Leyton and Wanstead.

We have allocated £36 million to about 80 schemes in London in the past couple of years; some of those cameras are in place and others are being installed. They play an important role in tackling a wide variety of crimes, including street robbery, especially where their use is well co-ordinated with targeted police activities. The funding for next year's safer communities initiative is still being worked on, but there are opportunities under the communities against drugs funding to use CCTV in a wide range of crime prevention. I can therefore tell my hon. Friend that there are already opportunities in the system worth exploring, but we are obviously looking at future streams of funding.

Bob Spink

The Minister has been characteristically generous in giving way. He mentioned bureaucracy. No doubt he accepts that 20, 30 or 40 per cent. of police time could be released if bureaucracy could be cut, enabling the police to get on the streets and do what the public want to see them doing. Is he aware that the Government promised IT computer systems to help cut police bureaucracy? Those systems are now years overdue and chief constables are anxious to get hold of them to help cut bureaucracy. When will they be available?

Mr. Denham

Systems such as case and custody, which are being tested now, are an important part of custody and bureaucracy. We are anxious to roll them out to the police force, but want to do so when we are confident that they will deliver what we have promised they will deliver. However, I recognise the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Turning to funding, last year, overall expenditure on the police increased by 10.1 per cent and in the coming year it will increase by 6.1 per cent. That comprises money that goes to police authorities as police grants; in the unique case of London, it forms part of the overall funding to the Greater London Authority for all its services. Overall funding for GLA services increased by just over 4.1 per cent, although it is not necessarily expected that the police will receive that; that is for the GLA to decide. As part of the increased grant, there are allocated sums of money for expenditure on front-line services, most importantly the crime fighting fund, which funds the cost of additional recruits and police officers who are trained out on the streets. The fund is earmarked, and clearly delivers front-line services; £43 million will be paid into it this year, and there will be an increase next year of £19 million.

Although yet to be announced in detail, additional capital funding will be made available to police authorities, including the Metropolitan police authority. A further element is the special payment in the Metropolitan police service grant allocation in recognition of national and capital city functions, which has increased from £151 million in 1998–99 to £191 million in 2001–02; the year after, it will be £197 million. The funding of the Metropolitan police is more complex than that of other police authorities because decisions have to be taken by the GLA and the Metropolitan police authority about the overall allocation of funding to different services. However, there is no doubt that there has been a much more significant increase in Government funding for the police service in London, both last year and next year, than was the case under the previous Administration.

Mr. Mark Field


Mr. Denham

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have already given way a couple of times.

The MPS is recruiting strongly and on track to take on the full allocation of crime fighting fund recruits this year. Indeed, it is sufficiently successful for me to agree that the Metropolitan police can bring forward to this year 50 recruits for whom it had been allocated funding next year. That is a measure of the Metropolitan police's success in recruitment.

Retention is an important issue and one reason why this Administration have significantly increased the allowances payable to officers in London and support for travel costs. While it has always been the case that some officers leave London to work elsewhere, it is equally true that others migrate to London, especially from neighbouring south-eastern areas. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) said that we need to look at exactly why people leave. Where there are management issues rather than other issues, we need to make sure that they are effectively addressed.

We are delivering extra resources and extra police numbers. Police reform will ensure that those officers are used effectively and, as the commissioner has recently set out, well supported by the deployment of civilian staff.