§ Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)
I beg to move,That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on increasing by almost 50 per cent. in real terms the resources available to the Police and on strengthening Police manpower by more than 11,000 since 1979, but notes with concern the far greater burden of reported crime, including crimes of violence and armed robbery, carried by individual Police officers in metropolitan areas as compared to the shire counties; and calls upon the Home Secretary to review further the needs of inner city Police forces for additional manpower and resources.In the Gracious Speech, the Government made it clear that in the life of this Parliament their plans to bring new life and new hope to inner cities would be central to their strategy and that inner cities would be given a new priority. As one who for 17 years has had the honour to represent a Greater Manchester constituency, I welcome that new priority. The regeneration of housing, business and jobs in the decaying and festering parts of our cities is urgent and overdue, but all efforts will be in vain unless those who live and work in the cities can walk the streets in safety and can feel secure in their homes. It is for that reason that, on learning that I had drawn first place in the ballot, I chose this subject for debate.
I am delighted to see the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) taking up his duties as shadow Home Secretary for the first time. I congratulate him on his new position. I venture to hope that, as someone who represents an inner-city area, I shall even enjoy some support from him today.
In metropolitan areas generally and in inner-city areas in particular, we face an alarmingly relentless upward surge in crime, combined with a critical shortage of police manpower and resources to deal with it. Our policy is to request the Government to undertake an urgent reexamination of resources. The police need help. I trust that my plea will reach the Home Secretary and that he will address the problem as a matter of urgency. Only if we get a firm grip on crime and violence in the inner cities can the Government hope their strategy to succeed.
Whatever the grants and other inducements to people to move into the inner cities to set up businesses and to open shops, they will not remain in an environment if they are frightened and feel threatened. That is why policing the inner cities is an essential prerequisite to the urban regeneration to which the Government are committed. It is absurd to imagine that people will invest in shops and businesses if they are regularly vandalised and if as a result insurance premiums are way beyond the rates thai they can afford.
There are some recent instances of shopkeepers in inner Manchester having to sleep in their shops permanently because they are so alarmed by the number of times that their shops have been broken into during a single year. The people who work in those shops are entitled to feel that they can go about without risk of being mugged, raped or subjected to other violent assault.
The Home Office and successive Home Secretaries have repeatedly laid heavy emphasis on the importance of the efficient use of police resources and manpower within individual police force areas. That is important, and I do not dissent from it in any way, but is it not even more vital to ensure that those resources are used to maximum effect on a national scale? There is clear evidence of 1393 maldeployment of resources in the fight against crime. Unless that is addressed decisively, the situation will get out of hand in the inner cities where crime rates are soaring and detection rates declining.
When I decided to propose this motion, I had a very strong suspicion that the metropolitan areas in general had significantly higher crime rates and commensurately fewer resources than the shire counties. I am appalled at the extent to which the surmise is borne out by the statistics and other research provided by our admirable Commons Library. I should like to thank in particular Robert Clements and Mary Baber in the home affairs department.
According to a working paper prepared by the Home Secretary entitled "Criminal Justice 1986",The number of offences recorded by the police in England and Wales has risen from half a million in the 1950s, a million by the mid-60s, 2 million in the mid-70s and over 3½ million in 1985.In other words, crime increased by 100 per cent. between 1955 and 1965, by a further 100 per cent. between 1965 and 1975 and by a further 75 per cent. in the last decade. This is a truly phenomenal rate of increase and is most alarming to our constituents throughout the land. It can only be a matter of great concern to us as legislators.
Generally, crime is not spread evenly throughout the nation—far from it. There is a stark distinction between the rural shire counties, where the incidence of crime is well below the national average, and the metropolitan areas, especially the inner cities, where the crime rate is well above the national average.
If one takes notifiable offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in 1985 and makes a comparison between the metropolitan areas and shire counties, a disturbing picuture emerges. The crime rate in the metropolitan areas was 61 per cent. higher for theft and handling stolen goods, 67 per cent. higher for homicide and attempted murder and 96 per cent. higher for rape. At the same time, there were more than twice as many burglaries, two and a half times as many offences involving firearms and no fewer than seven and a half times as many robberies in the metropolitan areas than in the shire counties.
The "British Crime Survey" second report states:Across the country some 4 per cent. of homes were burgled or were targets of attempted burglary in 1983. But the risks varied markedly. … Almost two-thirds of households fall in low risk' areas with rates for burglaries and attempts ranging from 1 per cent. in agricultural areas—one quarter the average—to 3 per cent. in areas of modern family housing … Multi racial areas and the poorest council estates show risks which are roughly three times above the average. Multiple victimisation was especially frequent in these high risk areas, with homes being burgled twice or more over the year; the burglary rate is thus higher than the percentage of victims: including attempts, the figures was as high as 19 incidents per hundred homes in the poorest council estates." That is terrifying.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
My hon. Friend might be interested to know that I recently took up the issue with the chief superintendent for Stockport. My hon. Friend might know Adswood, the worst council estate in the area. I asked about the incidence of crime at Adswood and whether much of the crime was perpetrated by people living on the estate. He informed me that 90 per cent. of all crimes in the worst area of Stockport were perpetrated by neighbours. Is that not an appalling statistic?
§ Mr. Churchill
I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that that situation is reflected in Trafford.
The report continues:Risks of burglary (and indeed other crime) were higher in the metropolitan areas, suggesting that there are particular features of large cities—deprivation being one—which heightens the risks of crime.One does not need a degree in sociology to appreciate that.
I seek to illustrate the general proposition which I have advanced by reference to the police force in the Greater Manchester area. Excluding London, Greater Manchester recorded 10.5 per cent. of notifiable offences in 1986, but it has only 7.5 per cent. of the police manpower. If police force establishments were related to crime—there is a strong case for believing that they should be—9,805 officers would be needed in the Greater Manchester force. That is an increase of 41 per cent. over the present establishment of 6,943.
Greater Manchester police force is the largest provincial force in the country. In 1986 it recorded 321,458 notifiable offences. I am sad to relate that Greater Manchester has the highest crime rate in the country. It is double that of areas such as Lancashire, Cumbria and Dorset, and almost three times the rate in Suffolk, Surrey and Dyfed Powys in Wales.
The force is divided into three crime areas, each of which is equivalent to a large county force. The western crime area covers Trafford, Salford, Bolton, Wigan and Bury and it incurred more notifiable crime than in 37 of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales.
The central crime area which covers the city of Manchester and the eastern crime area covering Ashton, Stockport, Rochdale and Oldham each incurs more crime than 35 provincial forces. The Salford division alone records more notifiable offences than 11 whole police forces, including the whole of Surrey. A notable comparison is that Surrey's establishment is 1,639 officers compared with the Salford division which has only 666 officers, although they have to deal with more crime.
In the 12 years between 1975 and 1986, crime within the Greater Manchester area increased by more than 111 per cent. with violence increasing by 76.4 per cent., house burglary by 234 per cent., robbery by 272 per cent. and criminal damage by 500 per cent. That means that each and every officer in the Greater Manchester force had on average to investigate 22 crimes in 1975 and 47 crimes in 1986. While crime has increased by 111 per cent. during that 12-year period, the establishment of police has increased by only 4.75 per cent. In other words, crime in Greater Manchester over the past 12 years has been outstripping the growth in resources by a factor of 20.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
How does the hon. Gentleman respond to the view expressed by a number of senior police officers—Sir Kenneth Newman certainly being one that I agree with—that increasing the number of police officers has little effect on the crime rate because policing is responsive? Should he not he looking at something other than the number of police officers if he is serious about reducing the crime rate?
§ Mr. Churchill
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am not suggesting that increasing the police force is the sole requirement, but we have got to such a critical state that we are even having to stack 999 calls because there is not the manpower to respond immediately. This is a horrifying state of affairs. I trust that my hon. Friend the 1395 Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will sit up and pay attention to this serious state of affairs. The Home Secretary has a responsibility for assessing the manpower of the Metropolitan police force in London. Compared to the Metropolitan police in London, the Greater Manchester force has to cope with 65 per cent. more crimes per officer. Our force has to deal with 47 crimes per officer whereas the Metropolitan force has to deal with only 28.5 crimes per officer. How does the Home Secretary justify this disparity of 65 per cent. in the workload between the Metropolitan force in London and the Manchester force?
It is clear that protecting the Royal Family, Ministers, and the diplomatic community places a heavy burden on the Metropolitan police, as do their own international and national obligations. However, if there were to be the same ratio of police to crime in Manchester, we would need an increase of more than 4,000 officers in the GMP, bringing it up to 11,286.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
It is interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman compare the situation in Greater Manchester with that in Greater London. Would he welcome the abolition of the police authority in Greater Manchester and the transfer of its powers to the Home Secretary, which is the situation that we have to endure in London? In making the comparison between Greater Manchester and London in terms of the incidence of street attacks on members of racial minorities, I advise him that in London, even with the police manpower as he has so correctly described, Asians are 50 times more likely to suffer from racial harassment or street attacks than whites, and Afro-Caribbeans are 35 times more likely to suffer from racial harassment or street attacks than whites. Those are Home Office figures. Does the hon. Gentleman have any comment?
§ Mr. Churchill
Every Member of the House would deplore that state of affairs and the racial harassment that undoubtedly occurs in the inner-city areas. The overwhelming majority of the community are wholly opposed to that sort of behaviour. My constituents and I would warmly welcome the same sort of resources in Manchester that the Home Secretary provides for the Metropolitan police force in London, but, that said, we are content to regulate our own affairs in Manchester. However, we cannot do it without the resources.
To give an indication of the level of overstretch that confronts us at present, I would merely cite the case of the town of Oldham within the Greater Manchester police area. At any one time, there is a maximum of five beat officers available in Oldham to patrol 1,000 miles of pavement in 54 square miles of town with a population of 221,000, 87,100 houses, 157 schools, 11,500 businesses, 2,200 shops, 392 public houses, 12 parks, 12 youth centres and two football clubs. Is this a realistic level of policing? If he agrees with me that it is not, I hope that he will press within the Home Office for an urgent review.
Mr. James Anderton, our chief constable, does a superb job in the city of Manchester. In his most recent report for the year 1986, he referred to the chronic shortage of police manpower. He said that there isa chronic shortage of manpower.It isseverely aggravated by unprecedented levels of crime";and it is 1396galling for police to have to operate a highly selective policy of law enforcement and public protection…they struggle to respond to well over a million specific calls for police assistance, including nearly 300,000 reports of crime.The situation is now so critical that 999 calls have to be stacked.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Are not those figures a typical Anderton-style pronouncement? The allocation of five officers to patrol 1,000 miles of pavement. surely is the responsibility of the chief constable of that very large force. When the Minister replies, perhaps he can outline what investigations there have been into the optimum number of beat police per five pavement miles over a week? Surely that is the criterion that the lion. Member should go for.
§ Mr. Churchill
I have every sympathy for the predicament in which our chief constable and I believe other chief constables find themselves with overstretched resources. My constituents all say that they want to see more bobbies on the beat. That is understandable. I fully accept that view. Policemen on the beat are least able to make an urgent response to a 999 call. There has to be a balance. It is more important that there should be a ready force available to move in swiftly whenever there is a reported incident or crime. An officer on foot or on a bicycle in most cases is not able to respond to reports of crime in the same way, given the vast areas that we are talking about, although I fully accept that they have a certain deterrent value and that we would all like to see more of them. However, that is not the be-all and end-all of policing in the inner cities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree.
The responsibility for this rests on three bodies: first, on Parliament for imposing new legislation without regard to the manpower implications that it has for police forces; secondly, on local government, which frequently in the inner-city areas is obstructive and even hostile to the police rather than supportive: and, thirdly, on the Home Office, on whose deaf ears our pleas for additional resources have fallen. The Government have given a high priority to policing. They have increased police resources by nearly 50 per cent. and police manpower by over 11,000. All credit to them for that. However, they should now devote more attention to the policing of the inner cities.
The chief constable referred in his report to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. He said:The requirements of the legislation have necessitated a programme of extensive structural alterations to most designated police stations…The average length of time taken to process prisoners has increased significantly, and the corollary is that officers engaged with prisoners are spending less time on operational duties.The chief superintendent in the Trafford division reports that thePolice and Criminal Evidence Act has resulted in a noticeable decrease in the overall number of persons arrested in the division. These figures were not wholly unexpected in view of the extra demand made upon police time and resources by this legislation.Indeed, that was backed up by the excellent report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary for 1986 which was published only two days ago.
There has been a significant erosion of police officer hours in the Greater Manchester area by the restriction of overtime. Between 1974–75 and 1986–87 the working week of detectives in the Greater Manchester police has dropped from 56 hours to 44 hours. That is a reduction of 21 per 1397 cent., or equivalent to losing 340 detectives. That is happening at a time when crime has more than doubled. In 1975, the Greater Manchester police had a detection rate of 50.5 per cent. Between 1975 and 1986 reported crime increased to over 300,000 and the overall detection rate fell by over 23 per cent.
§ Mr. Favell
My hon. Friend was talking about the time wasted by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Would he care to comment on or consider the time wasted taking prisoners to and from court when they are being remanded in custody? Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that there had been an increase of 1,000 in the number of prisoners remanded in custody over the past 12 months. That puts additional strain not only on the prison establishment, but upon the police establishment, because prisoners have to be produced in court and they have to be taken backwards and forwards. That results in a loss of time for our constables. Is it not time that we introduced the Scottish system throughout the country and not just in the three pilot areas?
§ Mr. Churchill
I agree 100 per cent. with my hon. Friend. I feel that those duties would be handled more appropriately by civilians rather than police.
The effect of increasing the allocation of annual leave by three days some three or four years ago was to reduce the manpower available within Greater Manchester by the equivalent of 400 or 500 officers. Chief constables were not consulted about that decision. Because of the escalating crime rate, there have been more injuries to members of the police force. The chief constable said:The number of days lost through injury on duty has doubled since 1981, and in 1986 no fewer than 670 officers were physically assaulted…The total loss of effective duty time through sickness and injury suffered by police officers in 1986 was equivalent to a reduction of 548 officers in the strength of the force.Manchester city council has been especially unhelpful to the police in their task. The far Left fanatics have been relentless in their hostility to the police, who they see as a class enemy and antagonistic to society. The agenda of the council's police monitoring committee for Monday of this week is illustrative. It deals with police weapons, which it opposes, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984, which it opposes, Chief Constable Anderton's report of which it is critical, and the incident at Manchester university involving the Home Secretary. The committee's attitude to all those matters has been insidious, objectionable, offensive, negative and downright anti-police.
§ Mr. Churchill
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own speech. I must get on
. The publication produced by Manchester city council police monitoring committee called "Police watch" is especially objectionable. It regularly attacks the police in their jobs and clearly there are certain people in high places in the city of Manchester—I venture there is the same in other inner city areas—who find it more fun to watch the police than the criminals. In the area that covers my constituency, the Trafford division, we watch criminals. We have blazed the trail for the country in terms of neighbourhood watch. We now have 2,000 schemes in the Trafford division alone. Of course, those on Manchester 1398 city council who involve themselves in these matters have resisted the spread of the neighbourhood watch schemes. They see them as spying on people. It is far from that. They said that they would never work in the inner-city areas with ethnic minorities, and so on. The ethnic minorities and people in the inner city areas welcome the schemes with open arms. They are the ones who have been terrorised by the wave of criminal violence and vandalism. The response has been enormous. In those areas of the Trafford division where the neighbourhood watch scheme has been working for one year or more there has been a 42 per cent. reduction in the number of house burglaries.
I should like to refer to the importance of building good relations between the police and the local community in inner-city areas. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary deplores the action of those who seek to drive a wedge between the police and the community they are there to protect. I have little doubt that he had the city of Manchester in mind when he said:in some of the very inner city areas where the spirit of cooperation between responsible agencies is most needed, the police have met with attempts, some of them politically motivated, to undermine these efforts and drive a wedge between police and community. It is vital that this should not be allowed to happen.I should like to make a brief reference to the wonderful work being done by the Greater Manchester police. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who told me of the wonderful enthusiasm with which members of the Greater Manchester police supported fund-raising efforts to send British competitors to the world special Olympics for the disabled. Of all the police forces in the country, none did more than Manchester police. They carried torches, literally, throughout their force area and raised £6,000—more than one fifth of the total. It was a triumph for their dedication and caring attitude. Therefore, we in Manchester all the more resent the anti-police attitude and the hyper-critical attitude adopted by Manchester city council.
Faced with the relentless rise in crime and critical shortages of police and CID manpower to cover this inner-city and metropolitan area, the chief constable of Greater Manchester has only this month renewed his appeal to the Home Office for more resources. This is now a matter of the greatest urgency. We need about 40 per cent. more police officers. We do not care how it is achieved, but there has to be a drastic rethink of the way in which the balance is apportioned between the shire counties, which have a relatively low level of crime, and the inner-city areas, which are fighting a losing battle. Urban deprivation and the special problems identified in policing such areas must be recognised at national level and accurate targeting of resources made a primary objective.
§ 10.9 am
§ Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on raising this issue. I am pleased that, for a Friday, there is a fair attendance in the House. It shows that it is right and proper that we should have time for a debate on the police. At the outset I should state that I have an interest, in that I have relatives who have served, or are serving, in various constabularies throughout the country. In my opinion, the police have been subject to unfair criticism, not only in London and Manchester, but in other areas of the United Kingdom, which has an insidious effect on morale.
1399 I give two lectures per year for the Police Federation, and lecture for the Durham police, as part of a senior officers' training course. I am always impressed by the dedication of the men who participate in those courses and by the fact that they avoid cynicism. Because of the pressures that are put on the police it would be easy for them to develop a cynical and indifferent attitude or an "us and them" complex.
We still have a citizen police force in this country. It is not a paramilitary force, although sometimes I think that it is getting close to that. We are all responsible for that civilian police force, although the degree of responsibility may vary. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) about the control of the police in the city of London, the former Greater London council area, where the position is deplorable. If the present Home Secretary does not grasp that nettle, a future Home Secretary will.
I should like to spend some time discussing the crimes that are being committed. Yes, there is violence and sexual assault, but nobody has yet told me the number of police man hours that are spent investigating the scale of fraud that takes place. We have no idea about that. We arc sometimes told the number of man hours that are used to investigate a major murder, but the number of man hours that are used on large-scale fraud investigations has never been revealed to the public. I hope that the Minister will consider that and conduct an investigation into, and issue a publication on. that aspect of crime, because it is one of the most insidious of crimes.
When I was a young lad, I remember that if someone was convicted of fraud, whether a local fraud that would be modest by today's standards, or a major fraud, that person's career would be over. Such a person would be separated from the rest of society. However, our society now looks with admiration on some of the fraudsters for their skill and daring. In the past few days a newspaper has praised the skill and initiative of the persons who broke into some safes and who, with their skill, gathered a large income of between £20 million and £30 million. Today, we look with admiration on such frauds and robberies. We must change our attitudes.
It is no accident that the United Kingdom is regarded as the dirtiest country in Europe. It is because we accept petty crime as inevitable. In the 1950s, the then hon. Member for Hexham, Sir Rupert Speir, introduced a private Member's Bill on the subject of litter. That happened 30 years ago, and we never hear of or see prosecutions for litter offences now. We must ask ourselves why so much litter is dropped and why there is so much graffiti and vandalism. It happens because of the attitudes that we ourselves adopt.
The class of society from which one comes is irrelevant. Attitudes in the home and parental attitudes are always a major factor in the increase in petty crime. We all turn our eyes from it. Every one of us has seen some petty crime in our time, but we never say to the young offender, "That is a damned silly thing to do," because we are afraid to do so. It takes courage to tell a person on the Underground, who has his feet on the seat opposite, to get his bloody feet off that seat. It takes courage, because one might be knifed or beaten up. Many youngsters these days feel that it is macho to knife somebody or to beat him up.
When such young offenders are arrested, to whom do the parents come about that "wrongful" arrest? They come to their Member of Parliament and say that he or she 1400 should take up the issue of their children being wrongfully arrested or wrongfully having to appear before the courts. That suggests that the parents themselves do not hake the courage to tackle their children about the offences that they commit. Therefore, we must begin a period of reeducation.
In the various ways that are open to us, we must adopt the approach of assisting, not antagonising, the police. Sometimes the police misbehave. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make a statement about the Holloway case. The mother of one of the police who was innocent and who was framed has approached me about that case because she is a Newcastle woman whose son serves in the Metropolitan police. All that I shall say about those crimes and that conviction is that the police officers involved did something terrible in indicting fellow officers who were completely innocent. When we think of the misery that was inflicted on those fellow officers, the anxieties of their wives and mothers and the suspensions that they have had to face, in my judgment that aspect of the crime has not been punished severely enough. However, my hon. Friend will deal with that at greater length.
I shall conclude by being parochial, and I apologise for that. The area of Tyne and Wear in Northumberland is served by the Northumberland police. Like the police force in Manchester, that force is first-class and is stretched beyond the limits. In our modern society, we created what was thought of as one of the first-class metropolitan transport systems in Europe. We put every crime detection device of which we could think into the Tyne and Wear rapid transport system. However, facts are facts—passengers are being threatened and assaulted and, in spite of the protective measures, damage is occurring. So, in our modern society, we must seek resources to employ police to look after a transport system of which the citizens should be proud. We, the taxpayers, not only in the House, but outside, are having to pay because young people are not accepting their responsibilities as young citizens or as future older citizens.
I ask the Minister to consider the Northumberland police's request for more resources to provide more police. If that wish is granted, I assure the Minister that those police officers will be doing a first-class and useful job. I am aware that when the request is granted police will not appear on the streets overnight. It takes almost three years to produce what one might call a competent policeman. Nevertheless, if there is the will to find the resources and to start a massive programme to re-educate the public about the costs of policing and the ways in which such costs could be saved, this debate will have served a useful purpose.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. A large number of hon. Members are seeking to participate in the debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) for setting an example in brevity.
§ Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)
As this is my maiden speech, I am pleased to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir John Osborn. I am sure that that tribute will be echoed throughout the House. The stewardship of 1401 the constituency was in his hands for over 25 years and during that period he was one of the most respected and valued Members of the House. His work on behalf of his constituents was renowned, and as one of them I can vouch for his efforts. As a Sheffield city councillor, which I remain, I was aware of how Sir John was closely involved in the affairs of the city and of the county of South Yorkshire. Many tributes to his work and efforts have been expressed to me during my period here by Members of all parties.
I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), in that I contend that they are trying to treat the spots of measles to cure our problems. During my period as leader of the opposition on South Yorkshire county council from the county's creation to its abolition—I hasten to assure the House that that is a record of which I am not proud—I worked closely with the South Yorkshire police. During that period of 12 years many changes took place in the support of the council and the public for the police.
Policing inner-city areas is not an easy task. As we have already heard, no two cities are the same. The problems in policing have been created by some of the great ideas that we had years ago, such as pedestrianisation, high-rise flats and estate design. Indeed, some decks and even bus stations are not dedicated highways, so are out of bounds to police patrolling.
A further retrograde step took place during the miners' strike, when authorities supported the miners by deed and action. The South Yorkshire county council was partially responsible for police funding and had its members as members of the South Yorkshire police authority. Some of the county council's actions, while not exactly denying funding or support to the chief constable, made the cash harder to obtain. The council furthermore decided that the chief constable should be answerable to it. In the language now fashionable, the council "decided" that the police and the chief constable should be "answerable" to it, and in the language of councilspeak, the police were to be "accountable" or "under democratic control". Other councils now echo those words, and from the seeds that were sown police monitoring panels have sprung up. The sole aim of the council is to obtain democratic control of the police.
Sheffield city council, as one would expect, has a police panel, a monitoring group and a magazine. In issue No. 1 the then chair of the police panel replied to the question, "Will the new police panel affect policing in Sheffield" with:Certainly the aim is to improve police accountability in the city.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Opposition Members say, "Hear, hear" and that is the difference between us. They see the chief constable as answerable to them. I thought that it was courteous during a maiden speech to be left slightly alone. Hon. Gentlemen will have a chance to take me on any time any day.
That same chair of the police panel was one of the leading councillors who invited those commemorating Bloody Sunday to hold their march in Sheffield. The day the march was held violent skirmishes took place between the marchers and a rival outfit, and some of my constituents could not go about the centre of Sheffield 1402 because of the eruption. Naturally, the jam in the sandwich was the police, who stepped in to protect innocent bystanders. Thanks to the Public Order Act 1986, such violence on the streets and the protection of vulnerable people is now possible.
Policing inner-city areas is not solely the responsibility of the police; it is everyone's responsibility. I am old enough to remember when policing local areas, such as Hillsborough—the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) the Opposition spokesman on police authorities comes from the same area and Hillsborough is his favourite shrine—which were not described as inner-city areas then, was done by a local bobby, a minister of religion, the head teacher, parents or guardians and local residents. They all kept an eye on their area and woebetide the law breakers.
With the loosening of family ties, the decline of the spirit of the community, the relaxation of discipline, the distinction between right and wrong becoming blurred and with respect for oneself and others not being taught or applied, lawlessness has increased in today's British society. Discipline is no longer a priority and efforts to rekindle values are often ridiculed. It is against that background that the rebirth of pride in our community has started.
Much has been done to police inner-city areas. More police manpower is available, more civilian staff have released trained officers from administrative work, more money has been used to fund the police centrally, more police from ethnic minorities have been recruited, and more police now patrol on foot. Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme said, in South Yorkshire we have what is known as response cars, and response cars respond. More emphasis is being placed on prevention and the handling of disorders and there is more effort to involve the communities. All those Government measures form part of a policy firmly based on the concept of community policing to ensure that the police are more effective. Even more effort is proposed to ensure that what we require is what we get.
The Government are worried about the widespread use of offensive weapons and action will be taken on the sale and possession of items which have no legitimate use and can be used to injure and maim. Action will be taken on lenient sentences, as proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill, and more action is proposed on crime prevention.
Earlier, I referred to the design of housing estates. The design of estates in the 1960s and 1970s has much to answer for. One right hon. Gentleman was in charge of the housing of one major inner city at that time. Those estates have created some of the problems of inner-city areas, including policing problems. In a debate it is easy to blame each and every ill of inner-city areas on unemployment, but in the 1930s, when unemployment was proportionately higher and was virtually unrelieved by benefits, crime figures were lower.
Earlier, I also referred to political interference in policing. In yesterday's Yorkshire Post Stanley Barrett, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary and a former chief constable in South Yorkshire, gave a warning in his annual report for 1986. One of the things that I was taught in South Yorkshire was always to get in first, otherwise someone else would. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme mentioned some parts, but not all, of the report. Mr. Barrett stated: 1403The comparatively low levels of disturbance were due to officers of all ranks seeking to build greater co-operation and good relations with the community…It is all the more sad to relate that, in some of the very inner city areas where the spirit of co-operation between responsible agencies is most needed, the police have met with attempts, some of them politically motivated, to undermine these efforts and drive a wedge between police and community. It is vital that this should not he allowed to happen.That reinforces my point.
I do not accept my hon. Friend's argument that to throw money at the police, however well intentioned, or to increase manpower, is the way forward. We must ensure that the proper equipment is provided. The hon. Member for Wallsend spoke about graffiti and litter. They add to the dereliction of an area and must be tidied up. We must instil a sense of pride in those who use and visit our cities and in the people who live in them.
The regeneration of our inner-city areas, including those in Sheffield, is required for them again to thrive and to become the commercial centres that they once were. Co-operation by all in the community and from every possible avenue and agency is essential to bring back respect, pride and industry to our inner-city areas and so to assist with the policing of those areas.
§ Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)
First, I compliment the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) on his competent maiden speech. I agree with him that we must tackle not only the symptoms of crime but the causes.
This annual debate takes place against the background of a report from the Metropolitan police commissioner, which follows the pattern of many previous annual reports. It talks about rising levels of crime and falling levels of detection. We are constantly being told that rising crime is not the fault of the Government, who rightly say that crime levels have risen consistently for many years. However, that is a far cry from what they said in 1979 when they promised the country law and order and claimed that their policies would stop rising crime as other policies could not. They should now have some humility, because they have failed in that task.
It is worrying that not only is the crime rate rising persistently but the fear of crime is increasing almost disproportionately. Many old people and younger women are beginning to feel that they cannot lead normal lives. They are afraid to go out after dark, and in some of the worst areas they are even afraid to go out during the day. Mothers are afraid to let their children go out to the local park to play for a few hours even on fine sunny days. We must consider not just crime and detection but the effect that fear of crime has on people's lives.
In recent weeks there has been much debate about whether officers on the beat are effective in detecting and reducing crime. I am open to persuasion on that. However, the officer on the beat is invaluable in alleviating the fear of crime. Old people feel safe to walk down the street when they see that familiar presence and women feel confident in allowing their children to go to the park, knowing that the policeman on the beat will be in the vicinity and will look in periodically. We must tackle not just crime and detection but the fear of crime, which is almost paralysing people's lives in some parts of the inner cities.
I take issue with the comments made earlier about the causes of crime. Opposition Members relate increased crime to unemployment, poverty and social deprivation. 1404 Our young people are without jobs, sometimes for a year or more, and it cannot be said to often that the devil makes work for idle hands. Conservative Members say that in the depression in the 1930s crime was not rampant although poverty was rife.
That is not a direct comparison.
In the 1930s everyone was hard hit by the depression. Even those in jobs fell on hard times. There was not the huge divide that there is now between the haves and the have-nots. Television screens were not advertising glossy cars or aftershave by showing young people at discotheques buying fancy drinks and having a whale of a time. That is rubbing it in for those young unemployed people who cannot afford to go out and live that sort of life. Times have changed since the 1930s and the distinction between the haves and the have-nots is very marked—nowhere more so than in our inner cities. In my constituency of Greenwich I have poor areas right next to affluent areas and the youngsters in one part of the constituency see the lives of those in the others. A father who has been out of work and cannot afford basic necessities for his children easily resorts to petty crime he pinches from areas where he thinks that very little will be missed. We should be clear that we are talking about a great increase in petty theft from homes and cars. I do not condone it. I would simply say that the parallel that the Government draw with the 1930s does not hold good and that we must consider the underlying causes of crime as well as crime itself.
I view with no sympathy local authorities which have undermined the authority of the police or the respect in which the police are held. I have worked closely with the police in Greenwich and I have found them to be dedicated, professional and caring. But I have felt that their position has been undermined by constant onslaughts on their integrity and their motives. Some local authorities have police support groups and police monitoring groups and Labour councillors in Greenwich did all that they could to inhibit the development of neighbourhood watch schemes. Such activities have created a barrier between the local authorities and the police and their effects have reverberated throughout the community. Some people do not know whether they should trust the police or not.
The majority of people in Greenwich and throughout the country want a responsible, competent and professional police force. They want to see more policemen on the beat and to know that law and order is being upheld. However, this is not a one-sided issue. The alliance has always stood firmly by the need for an independent police complaints procedure. It is very important that complaints are investigated fairly and are seen to be investigated fairly. I agree with Sir Kenneth Newman that an independent police complaints procedurehas clear attractions in terms of obvious even-handedness and saving of the police force'sWe own valuable resources." We should urgently and seriously consider such a procedure.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
Is not the hon. Lady aware that we have an independent police complaints authority? Has not she read its report? Does she not appreciate people's increasing confidence in its activities? Is she suggesting that that authority is not succeeding in its task?
§ Mrs. Barnes
I made no such allegation. I merely said that the investigation of complaints against the police should be completely independent of the police. It is unacceptable for one police force to investigate the activities of a neighbouring police force. The investigations need to be independent of the police.
Opposition Members attach great importance to community policing. I have already talked about the need for more policemen on the beat. Increased community policing will restore confidence in the police and improve relationships between the police and the local community. In that respect, housing for the police is critical—especially in London, but in other inner city areas, too. Increasingly, the police who serve Greenwich live miles away in the suburbs and in a different environment and come in each day to police the area. We need provision for adequate housing for the police in the community that they serve. It would break down the barriers between the police and the local community. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have talked about how policing used to be—when local dignitaries were involved in and kept an eye on the police. There was very much a community attitude on how the police should function, and those policemen were of the community and of the people. They did not come in from elsewhere.
This is linked to the inner-city regeneration programme which we hope that the Government will introduce. If the inner cities are made the desirable places to live that they should and could be, policemen will not feel the need to live elsewhere and to education their children outside the local education authority concerned. If we tackle the inner-city problem, policemen will be happy to live in the communities in which they work.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
The hon. Lady seems to ignore the fact that the Metropolitan police have always been unable to recruit all their men from the neighbourhoods. That is why some have had to come in from outside. If they could have recruited them locally, perhaps they would have done so.
§ Mrs. Barnes
There is some merit in the hon. Gentleman's point. I have spoken at length to the local police authority on the matter, and I understand that one problem is not just attracting the police in the first place but keeping them in the inner cities as their careers progress. As they get older and their families grow up, there is a great temptation to move to police authorities where the problems are not so severe, life is at a more comfortable pace and housing is cheaper.
§ Mrs. Barnes
I will have to carry on, or I will never get to the end of my speech.
The alliance has suggested some specific provisions to alleviate some of the problems, and I draw them to the attention of the Home Secretary. Our manifesto discussed what we called crime crisis areas, which should be defined by the police community liaison committees and the police authorities working with chief constables. Any chief constable could pinpoint the crisis areas with which he must deal. Several measures could be enacted to improve matters in those areas. Local police stations which have been closed should be reopened, or police posts could be made available where one or two policemen would always be stationed. As with many other aspects of life, police 1406 stations have become more centralised and the smaller local stations have closed. That is a mistake. People do not know where their police stations are. Stations are sometimes a long way from people's homes and people think that they can go there only to report a serious matter. They cannot pop in to discuss problems which could be nipped in the bud.
Many practical and fairly simple measures, including the provision of entryphones and security locks and better street lighting, could make life much easier for those who live in crime areas. Every local authority should be obliged to set up a crime prevention unit to advise people on the security of their homes and their general safety. Many Labour authorities could fund these by diverting money from their anti-police monitoring units. Money is available to fund police monitoring. Authorities should put that money into prevention, where it will have a positive purpose.
Another suggestion was to place a legal responsibility on British Telecom to maintain telephones in better working order than they are now. I hope that work is being done in this area. In areas of severe crime, where people are poor and do not have their own telephones, it is extremely important that they can get to a telephone when they need it and not, as happens now, go to the nearest four telephones and find them all out of order.
Hon. Members have also mentioned violent crime. In south-east London there has been a growing use of weapons, many of which are sold in martial arts shops. I have a list of them here, and I have never heard of some of these weapons. They include battle knives, knuckledusters, spike shoe straps and catapults. They are widely available. They have macho connotations and youngsters can pick up these weapons very easily. The temptation to use them then presents itself. Recently in south-east London there were two incidents of armed robbers being killed. They were examples of the serious intent to go out as armed robbers, but at the lower level those weapons are widely available. We must try to curb the use and sale of such weapons.
In one area, there is a direct correlation between unemployment and crime. It has been shown clearly that dependence on drugs or alcohol is far more prevalent among the unemployed, and the link between drug dependencey or alcoholism and crime is undisputed. We must consider the underlying causes and then the subsequent events. We are in a catch 22 situation: unless we tackle the underlying causes, our attempts to tackle the symptoms will be irrelevant.
I welcome the Government's commitment to inner-city regeneration and I hope that there will be serious changes. But their promises will be hollw without resources behind them. Anyone who spends any time examining the inner cities will know that good will, good intentions and the right words will not do. Housing is appalling and there has been a great deterioration in the fabric of the streets, lighting and pavements. Money must be spent on them. There is no sign as yet that the Government will back their claims on inner-city regeneration with the appropriate funds. Inner-city talk without inner-city money will mean nothing.
Conservative Members would be extremely disappointed if an alliance Member did not mention proportional representation. We are here only because the Home Secretary fulfils the role of police authority for the metropolis. There would be no need for anxiety about 1407 handing control of the policing of the metropolis to a properly elected police authority if it was elected by proportional representation, because any fear of extremism would be elminated.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
It is with great pleasure that I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). He is a worthy successor to our old friend Sir John Osborn. I was deeply impressed by the way in which he rebuked Opposition Members for their mumbling and grumbling while he made a speech which was slightly less than maiden in some aspects. He defended himself well by putting the knife into Opposition Members—although in the most delicate way—which bodes well for his future in the House.
I wish to raise two serious constituency problems. I am sure that the Minister will pay attention and that the Home Office will reach a solution for me. For once, these problems have nothing to do with additional resources. They relate to two flaws in the law that are stopping the police carrying out their duty. I should like the law to be changed to remove those flaws.
The first problem is that one of my wards in Streatham is infested with prostitutes. During the election my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited Streatham. I was fortunate enough to be able to introduce him to one of the policemen on the beat, who expounded strongly about the problem, and my right hon. Friend said that he would consider it. Indeed, I have written to him about it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will read the today's Hansard. So far this has been an interesting debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on introducing it.
One of the wards of my constituency is infested with prostitutes, and this is extremely disagreeable to the residents. There are many ladies on the streets and some 400 cars were clocked through in a two-hour period—400 cars cruising round and round.
The second problem in my constituency—it has already been mentioned—is the carrying of knives. This practice is becoming a spreading cancer in south London and the Government must act to do something about it. Today, about 35 per cent. of all robberies—the House is aware that a robbery is defined by the police as an attack in the street, a mugging—are carried out by youngsters carrying knives. Some 25 per cent. of such attacks in Streatham are carried out by youngsters. Knives also play a part in rape.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing number of flick-knives that are being imported into the country? Day-trippers or those who are on holiday in France smuggle back such knives and give them to their friends. That poses a serious problem.
§ Mr. Shelton
My hon. Friend is quite right, and I shall return to that in a moment.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) mentioned knives that are bought in martial arts shops. Perhaps the sale of such knives from those shops should be outlawed, but it is a marginal problem. The other day I was talking to one of the police chief superintendents in my area. He asked me whether I would like to see the knives that the police had taken from people, mainly 1408 youngsters, in the past three months. He brought over a huge plastic sack, turned it out on the floor and 30 knives fell out. Only three of those knives were of the type that can be bought in martial arts shops. All the rest, most horrible looking, were kitchen knives. Admittedly some of those knives had been sharpened. Anyone can buy a steak knife, and it would put the fear of God in me and make me run like a madman if I saw it coming at me. If we ban the sale of martial arts knives—probably we should—the youngster will go to the kitchen, open the drawer, take out the steak knife and go off.
Fines imposed on women who ply their trade are in no way a deterrent. The average fine in Streatham is about £30–£35 per arrest and conviction. When a lady makes some £200–£300 a night, she is quite prepared to be arrested every so often and pay £30. That fine is absolutely no use.
Let us consider the measures introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), what is now the Sexual Offences Act 1985, which is known as the kerb crawlers' Act. I hate to say this—I discussed the measure with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake last night—but the Act is ineffective. It does not work, because to get the Bill into law my hon. Friend had to allow the word "persistently" to be included. That word "persistently" means, according to the police officers of my constituency, that they cannot secure a conviction because they cannot show that the punter was persistently soliciting. If a kerb-crawler drives round and round, stops to pick up a girl and is then stopped by the police he can say, "I was not persistently soliciting. I just asked this girl to go for a ride with me." We must remove the word "persistently" from the Act. The Minister and the Home Office should consider whether what is occurring in Streatham is happening in other places. If that proves to be the case, when the next Criminal Justice Bill comes along—they seem to come along regularly every year—will the Minister please insert a one or two-line clause to remove the word "persistently" from the Sexual Offences Act and thus make it effective?
Section 1(1)(b) of the 1985 Act states that a man commits an offence if he causesnuisance to other persons in the neighbourhood.In Streatham we managed to obtain three convictions by getting about 30 residents to note down car registration numbers. The residents gave affidavits to the police, the motorists were stopped and they were convicted. It was a massive piece of work undertaken by the community. Convictions would be easier to secure if the word "persistently" was removed from the Act. For the sake of my constituents, who are living in the most unpleasant circumstances, I urge that something be done about this problem.
Incidentally, the local police in Streatham are taking legal advice as to whether they can write to people whose car registration numbers have been taken and ask why they were circulating round and round. Perhaps the Minister could look into that. I shall write to the Home Secretary to ask whether it is legal for the police to do that. I am sure that there must be some form of words that the police could use, and, with a bit of luck, the letter would be opened by the man's wife.
The second problem faced by my constituency is a cancer that is spreading across south London. It affects not only Brixton, but Streatham, Clapham and other parts 1409 of south London. The problem results from another failure in the law, and unless something is done this cancer will spread.
When the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—PACE as it is known—was introduced, section 25, quite rightly—I am not arguing about this—put an end to the stop and search law, what is called the sus law. The police were no longer able to stop and search on suspicion. They had to have reasonable grounds for that suspicion. However, the result of PACE has meant far fewer people being stopped and searched. The police officer can no longer stop a person because he is suspicious of that person's actions. He must have factual evidence to show to the magistrate.
If youngsters carry knives, the police now have to show that a person carried a knife with unlawful intent. It is very difficult for the police to do that. These youngsters are street wise. If they are stopped and found to be in possession of a large knife and are asked why they have it, the usual answer is, "I have to fix a light plug and I need the knife to cut off the end of the flex." Youngsters have been told that they can get away with that answer. It is too much to expect the police to take a person to court and show the unlawful intention of a suspect. How can a policeman do that?
The other day the Streatham police got a man for burglary. That man had on him 52 lock knives. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) mentioned flick-knives. With a flick-knife, the blade comes out when one presses a button; with a lock knife the knife is locked open. That man had 52 such knives in his possession. The police were unable to prosecute him for having those 52 knives. However, they did get him for the burglary.
The police took the 52 knives away, although they believed that they were probably acting improperly in doing so. I asked why that man had 52 knives in his possession. I was told that such knives are sold or lent to youngsters. Youngsters do a job, throw the knife away and go back to that guy, with his sack of 52, for another one. Something must be done about this. What can we do?
We cannot bring back the sus law. We must return to the position that we had under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, which obtains today in cases in which people have been convicted on drugs charges. Their money is taken away from them, unless they can show that they possess it lawfully. In the case of carrying knives, the person who is arrested and taken before a magistrate must be able to show that he was carrying the knife with lawful intent. It should not be for the police to prove that the person is carrying the knife with unlawful intent; the police cannot do that. If a guy has 52 lock knives on him, or an 8in steak knife on him, at 2 o'clock in the morning, he will have to show the magistrate why he had those knives. If he cannot do so, he should be convicted. It should not be for the police to show that he was earring the knife with unlawful intent. There is no way in which the police can do that. They are not mindreaders or hypnotists. We should reverse the burden of proof in cases involving knives.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Why does my hon. Friend think that there will be more convictions, either before magistrates or juries, merely because the burden of proof is shifted?
§ Mr. Shelton
I recognise that my hon. and learned Friend knows far more about the law than I do. My answer is that a guy may have 52 lock knives on him, but the police cannot prove unlawful intent, because he says that he bought them the other day to take to his shop to sell, and the police cannot even prosecute him. On the other hand, if he had to show why it was perfectly right and proper for him to be doing that at 2 o'clock in the morning—in other words, that he had lawful possession and no evil intent—he would find that rather difficult to do before a magistrate. For example, an 18-year-old is stopped with a steak knife sticking out of his trouser pocket at 2 o'clock in the morning. He says that he is going to repair a flex, and at the time the police must accept that. However, if the burden were the other way round and he told the magistrate that he was going to repair a flex, the magistrate would say that he did not believe him and would find him guilty. Something must be done, and if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has a better suggestion I should like to hear it. What I am suggesting would at least be a big step forward.
I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is taking advice from his Department on the points that I have been making. I ask him to examine the problem of prostitution and the use of the word "persistently" in the Sexual Offences Act 1985. I also ask him to look at the whole problem of knives, with a view to changing the law to lay the burden on the knife carrier. If the law is changed for knives—and here I am stretching things a bit—it might also apply to kerb crawlers. I see no reason why, if a man drives 30 times around a certain street at ten o'clock at night, he should not have to show why he was doing that, rather than police having to show that he was intending to solicit and causing a nuisance to neighbours. That might work in that case, too. The balance is wrong, and I want the Home Office to put it right.
§ 11.5 am
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
As a newcomer, may I add a word of congratulation to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), who threatens to take on allcomers. He is at all times very bullish, very Ollie North. We look forward to his future speeches in the House with great anticipation.
As a newcomer to the House like me, the hon. Gentleman will have been shown on the day that he arrived the pieces of red tape that hang beneath our coat hangers. When I asked what they were for, I was told that they were for our swords—for the weapons of men who, in generations gone by, found it necessary to hang up their weapons before they came in for fear that they might be tempted to use them in this place. We have now reached such a state in many of our inner cities that we will soon have to provide similar pieces of equipment in all places of public resort for young people, so much has this whole knife culture infiltrated our society. So many young people now carry knives as a matter of course. We must consider that seriously in the course of the debate. We must consider knives, the issue of drugs and the prevalence of a drug culture. We must also consider the prevalence of racial harassment. Those three things are a blot on the enforcement and maintenance of safety and security in our inner cities. We in this House and those in the wider community need to come up with some answers.
I cannot see any answer to those problems that does not involve a co-ordinated and—so far as is possible— 1411 unified approach by central Government—the legislative process—local government and the communities that they represent, and the police. Only in that way will we begin to be able to tackle the three significant problems that face us in inner city policing. If we tackle one of them but not the others, we are doomed to failure. Merely to call for more law will not in itself be enough. We need more than that.
The Government must take a lead. In recent years there has been welcome legislation enabling us to trace and recoup the ill-gotten gains of the drug barons. It was welcome and important legislation. However, there is and must be a role for central Government in attacking and seeking to come to grips with the culture and the set of social and economic circumstances that underpin the use of drugs and perpetuate the drug problem in all too many of our inner cities.
We need to examine the work that has been done in the United States and in mainland Europe—in Holland in particular—with addicts and with those who are likely to fall prey to drug abuse. We must begin that process in the schools. We must begin to educate people about the dangers and evils of drug abuse. That cannot be done merely by making speeches. It needs careful attention, and, above all, it needs resources, just as we need resources for the communities in sink housing estates and dead end roads, where all too often drug abuse takes place.
We need the resources to tackle such issues and the Government have a role to play in them. They also have a role to play in the problem of racial harassment. We in this House must make it crystal clear—I welcome the response of hon. Members in an earlier intervention on that issue—that racial harassment will not be tolerated. We must recognise that when we use language such as "swamping" and "alien wedge" we give a licence to those who try to perpetuate racial harassment in our communities. We have a special responsibility to guard what we say in these areas and to promote positive images of our multi-cultural society.
Sadly, that is a typical intervention by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). He should examine the Home Office statistics about street attacks. They clearly show that Asians in his constituency stand 50 times more chance than whites of being the subject of a street attack, and that black people stand 36 times more chance of being attacked on the street than whites. I condemn racial attacks from wherever they come and the hon. Gentleman ought not to seek to make such a point.
We should look at the responsibility of Government for coping with the problem of knives. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) touched on that. I have a certain amount of scepticism about his proposals for legislative change, but I recognise the spirit in which they were made. Clearly something has to be done, but what? I recognise the drafting problems in this area, but I hope that the Government will give urgent attention to dealing with the problem of the supply of knives at source. We must extend the definition of weapons that are regarded as offensive per se.
1412 The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) said that there was a problem about martial arts supply shops. She is right about that and that problem must be addressed. It is capable of being dealt with by legislation and it must be dealt with urgently.
Those are three areas in which the Government need to act. The other two sides of the triangle are the local authorities and the communities they represesnt, and the police. No one who cares about crime prevention believes that it is healthy or useful for the police, the local authorities and the people that they represent to be apart. We want to see them working effectively in a co-ordinated way. However, we must recognise the blocks and the obstructions that exist.
One of the great difficulties under which we labour in London is not shared by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who rightly wants to keep hold of his directly elected police authority. We in London want to have a police authority to hold on to. We recognise that such a directly elected police authority will provide a forum through which it will be possible to create effective crime prevention measures.
I watched the face of the hon. Member for Davyhulme and noted his body language during the course of the speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Hallam. The hon. Member for Hallam spoke at great length about the evils of Left-wing councils whose aim is to take over the police. He spoke about the sinister conspiracy that is supposed to exist to undermine policing and the terrible dangers of political policing. The hon. Member for Davyhulme was remarkably quiet during that speech. Was that because he recollected the example set by his right hon. and gallant grandfather? I wonder if he remembered his grandfather's role as Home Secretary. The people in the Welsh valleys have not forgotten it. What he said and did there could hardly by regarded as apolitical.
To pretend that the Home Secretary, in his role as the police authority, is not political, is nonsense. Perhaps the hon. Member for Davyhulme was remembering his right hon. and gallant grandfather's role in the siege of Sidney street. The hon. Gentleman should think about that. When one reflects on that incident in 1911 and looks at Hansard for that period, one sees that the Home Secretary was in the thick of it. He was not at the siege only for the purposes of a photo call. He was there to be part of the action arid was involved in the operation. As Mr. Lyttelton said at the time, he was there giving
some advice with regard to the firing".—[Official Report, 26 June 1911; Vol. 27, c. 248.]That is the sort of advice that we should like to give in Greater London. We are anxious to see the police doing a little less firing and would like to see fewer incidents involving the likes of Mrs. Cherry Groce. We do not want day-to-day operational control or to tell the police who to shoot or when to shoot, but we would like to have an overview of policy. That is right, and therein lies the difficulty. That is not political interference.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
If the hon. Gentleman is so anxious to have some influence on the police in London, why has he taken a stance absolutely against the police consultative groups set up under the Scarman arrangements and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?
§ Mr. Boateng
The reverse is true. We want to see effective community participation in policing strategy, but we do not see those consultative groups offering any real 1413 hope, of achieving that. Were they to do so, we would embrace them with open arms. They are mere talking shops that do not enable the police and the community to come together in terms of equality. That is another way, and we intend to pursue it because we are anxious to see more effective police operations.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Members for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) and for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) overlook the fact that at local borough level there is effective cooperation with the police? In the London borough of Lambeth there has been such co-operation about drug raids, an anti-knives campaign and child abuse. There has also been co-operation in the case about which the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) spoke of kerb-crawling in Becmead avenue. The leader of Lambeth council has been down to see what is happening there and to support the action taken by the police.
§ Mr. Boateng
Similar examples could be given about Brent and about boroughs all over London where good positive work is being dome. It is important that we recognise that. We must not get away from the responsibilities of communities in terms of policing. We can and must improve the law in relation to knives and the Government must take initiatives about drug abuse and racial harassment. Communities must identify these things as problems and isolate those who seek to peddle drugs and those who seek to make large sums of money out of the misery that drugs cause. They must deter those who seek to carry knives as a matter of course and who encourage other young people to carry them.
We must do to those who seek to perpetrate racial harassment what must be done. We must say to all such groups, "This is not on in our community." We must tell them that we do not intend to stand by and make excuses for them or to allow them to get away with it. Such people must be told that there is no place for them in our community. If there is not a willingness to isolate these forms of virulent anti-social behaviour, whatever laws are passed and whatever powers are given to the police we will not solve the problems.
One lesson that we have learnt over the past eight or nine years is that simply throwing power at the police does not work. That can be seen from the figures. We have to do more than that, but if we are to get the community behind us and to recognise the importance of supporting operations designed to deal with these problems, the operations themselves must be devised with community support. They must recognise the need for a degree of sensitivity. I am afraid that that is not always shown in the course of devising and implementing such operations. One has only to look at operation Trident in west London. That involves surrounding All Saints road, and it has been going on for several weeks. It has had the effect of alienating portions of the community across the board that cannot be defined by colour or age because of the way that it has been carried out, the numbers who are involved and the strategy that has been adopted. It has led to a situation in which the overwhelming weight and oppressiveness of the police presence has cause resentment and ill feeling at a time when it should be possible to 1414 mobilise support and feeling against those drug pushers who have come from outside the community to peddle their wares in All Saints road.
We should be encouraging the responsible elements in the community that exist in the Mango community association so that they feel that they are equal partners in the fight against that insidious form of crime and the development of that street. The street should not be flooded every night with droves of police officers. They have got it wrong, but it need not have been so if they had involved themselves in genuine consultation and had there been a structure in London whereby it would be possible actively to support and garner public support for police operations. That is what an elected police authority should provide.
Even at this late stage we look to the Government to do something about that. If they are not prepared to do it, they should at least follow the advice and recommendations of their Home Office working parties. In 1983 I had the privilege and pleasure of sitting in the Home Office with a wide cross-section of people who were concerned about training. We were a working party of the Home secretary's council on police training. It included the man who is to become Lord Knight, who made a particularly distinguished contribution. He has recently been elevated to the other place, and I am sure that, with his experience of the west midlands, he will make a contribution there.
The working committee made a number of recommendations about police training. What has happened to those recommendations? I fear that they are gathering dust on the shelves of the Home Office. At every stage in a police officer's career, up to the level of superintendant, there should be training in community and race relations. The success or otherwise of an officer in responding to that training should be regarded as an example of his effectiveness. That would involve resources, but it was a good idea. We had a united committee; we did not disagree on any of our conclusions. We want action because, if the Government are not prepared to give way on constitutional issues, they can give way on practical policies on which there is unanimity. By working together within the constitutional framework and with a recognition of our respective roles, there is hope of tackling some of the policing problems in our inner cities. We need to do that, and we need to do it now.
§ Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)
I was selected for my constituency on the Ides of March, a fateful day, this year. My relationship with my constituency has been a whirlwind romance. I find myself in this place with an increased Conservative vote, which is in no small measure a tribute to my predecessor, Mark Carlisle, who served his area for some 23 years. I am sure that he will be remembered with respect and affection by hon. Members.
My constituency runs in a broad sweep around from the tiny independent parish of Cuerdley through the new town of Runcorn, which is afflicted with all the inner-city problems that we see around our country, including those of crime, to the semi-rural charms of Appleton and Lymm.
The history of Warrington, South and Warrington has been carved largely by water. It was originally founded by the Romans, because it was the first place that they found to ford the River Mersey. The Manchester ship canal, 1415 which is a tremendous tribute to the early entrepreneural spirit of our country, bisects my constituency and Warrington itself.
I did not emphasise water to demonstrate that the present Member suffers from rising damp, nor to demonstrate that my constituents are watery; indeed, they are fired with dynamism at the moment. GM Health Care is constructing a hospital in my constituency. Recently, it wrote to me saying:We are developing in Warrington-Runcorn because it is experiencing the most dynamic and commercial growth in the north of England.That is not puff, but commercial hard-headedness, backed by the welcome figures for unemployment that we announced yesterday.
On 11 June this country had an opportunity to vote on the economic benefits that have been brought by Thatcherism and on the economic policies of the Government. The verdict was plain, but, as the economic benefits become more visiable and apparent, the deeper social problems that are inherent in our country become more evident. These deeper social problems essentially concern the responsibility that we owe to one another as citizens. It falls to this Conservative Government to resolve some of those deeper social problems with the kind of energy, commitment and resolution that the country has come to expect of them.
One of the most prominent examples of those problems is the growth in crime. It was referred to last Friday in a speech at Oxford by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) as:One of the greatest shortcomings of public policy.As I canvassed at the general election, the verdict on the Government of many of my constituents was that they could do better. As I was canvassing and wearing out shoe leather, two things struck me forcefully. There were an enormous number of dogs in the constituency, with all the attendant risks that that has for one's fingers and footwear. I noticed that in all the areas of my constituency from the inner city to the leafy suburbs, there were those little home watch scheme triangles in the windows. As I was trying to preach a message to my constituents, I realised that in fact they were giving me a message. The message was that they felt besieged in their homes by crime. To a certain extent they felt let down by their Government, and they had begun to deal with the problem by using their own resources.
I have not just crawled out from underneath a gooseberry bush, and I am not so naive as to think that the answer to the problem lies solely in more effective policing or in increasing the power of our criminal justice system, but that is part of the answer. More can and must be done to relieve the police of petty bureaucracy. I am in favour of more emphasis being placed on the civilianisation of our police forces and on the tape recording of evidence. More must and can be done for the police to enable them to concentrate on serious crime, rather than on petty offenders such as the motorist. I sympathise with the ordinary, law-abiding motorist who is tootling along on a clear road at 35 mph, but who finds himself pounced on, fined and frightened by the police. Yet the very next week, when he is mugged in an inner-city street, he cannot find a policeman for love nor money.
More can and must be done to restore the awful majesty of our criminal justice system, which depends essentially upon its deterrent power. That is why I personally support 1416 the reintroduction of the ultimate deterrent. It is also why I support the call so common among my constituents for sentences to mean what they say more than they do at present.
Having had the honour of serving on the local review committee of both Holloway and Pentonville prisons for some years, I have reached the mature view that both remission and parole are too freely given. Remission, which takes up to one third off the sentence, is too automatic. A prisoner has to do something pretty dreadful in prison to lose more than a few days of that remission. Parole can and often does provide up to a further one third off the sentence. It is supposed to be a privilege earned by good behaviour in prison, but sadly that is not the case, due to one very powerful argument that is used on local review committees. It is argued that it is far better for the criminal, having served part of his sentence, to go out into the community under supervision for a few months than to go out at the end of the sentence, less remission, without any supervision at all. That is a powerful argument., but it seems crazy that the Parole Board or the judges have no power, because I do believe in the principle of parole, to insist on some period of supervision during the period of remission or even afterwards.
In my view, it is sad that parole is not given on merit, but is given too automatically. The situation finds its greatest absurdity in what are known as the schedule 33 cases, in which members of the local review committee are given skimpy, inadequate notes and cannot possibly form a rounded view about the inmate concerned. As there is always a presumption in favour of parole in these cases, the committee ends up operating virtually as a rubber stamp.
Schedule 33 was devised as a means of emptying our prisons, and it certainly does so, But I strongly object to the application of that kind of attitude to the vast bulk of parole applications. Sadly, we are allowing the size of our prison population to dictate our criminal justice and penal policies. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog, and it should not be so. I had hoped and prayed that we would escape from that problem when we embarked on the greatest prison building programme this century., involving 20 new prisons, and it was with dismay that I heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announce yesterday his intention to free a further 3,500 or more prisoners by relaxing the remission provisions still further. I believe that that will dilute the deterrence of our criminal justice system. I ask my right hon. Friend to think again and to use his ingenuity to commission secure accommodation. I welcome the involvement of the private sector in the design and building of prisons, but more could be done. If the private sector were involved in the running of prisons, many of the staffing problems could be overcome.
I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to review the parole system. By a happy coincidence, the chairman of the review body will be my predecessor. the Right Hon. Mark Carlisle. I hope that that review will re-emphasise the proper purposes of parole and recommend against misuse of the parole provisions to make life easy for the prison service. We must return to the original intention that parole should be earned by good behaviour in prison and a good response to the penal regime.
I urge the Government to listen to the man in the street—not the hoary old prejudices of Tonypandy or Sidney street that we heard from the hon. Member for Brent, 1417 South (Mr. Boateng)—because the ordinary man in the street is imbued with hearty good sense. If our criminal justice system is weakened by failure to present an effective deterrent, the criminal will expand his activities and the respect that we have in this place and respect for our pillars of justice will be undermined, as will the good will of the ordinary citizen on which the power and authority of this place ultimately depend.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I have already apologised to the Minister for having to leave before the end of the debate. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will accept my apology with similar understanding.
My next, rather more pleasant, task is to congratulate, on behalf of the Opposition, the hon. Members for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). Both spoke with a clarity, certainty and confidence which more established Members will envy. It is not a cliché, perhaps too often repeated, when I say that I have no doubt that the House will look forward to hearing from them many times in the future, not least because both avoided the awful respectable convention of being uncontroversial in their maiden speeches. That came as no surprise to me from the hon. Member for Hallam, whom I have known in one way or another for more than 30 years. I believe that for two or three weeks—no more—we were both members of Sheffield city council. A further tenuous connection is that 40 or 45 years ago I used to be taken on days out to the house and gardens that he occupied before moving on perhaps to even more splendid premises.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to say something about the inner cities, although it has deprived me of the possibility of visiting the inner city that I represent as early as I had intended. If the Prime Minister and the Queen's Speech are to be believed, the topic is likely to dominate this Parliament. Today, we are asked specifically to consider the policing of the inner cities and by implication crime in the inner cities, but I must insist that that one aspect of inner-city life cannot be considered in isolation.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who initiated the debate, came close to treating the whole subject of crime in the inner cities as though it could be solved by increasing police numbers and police deployment. Those aspects dominated the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I must tell him that increasing police numbers or altering the deployment or working organisation of the police force will not solve, and may not even reduce, crime in the inner cities. To suggest that it will or might is superficial to the point of irresponsibility.
The crime problem within inner cities cannot be separated from inner-city unemployment, inner-city poverty, inner-city deprivation, and inner-city housing and public service shortages. It cannot be separated from the reduction in public services that has come about in inner cities, because the rate support grant cuts that have been endured by every authority within inner-city boundaries have hit the inner cities hardest. Deprivation breeds despair, and despair breeds crime.
I give a simple example from my own constituency, admitting that it is a dangerous example to give because it is open to interpretation, but it is a contemporary, 1418 immediate example. Young men in my constituency will soon be leaving school. They are warned that they are to anticipate three or four years' unemployment. They have been warned—it is a sign of institutionalised despair—by what used to be called career teachers, who have been retrained to perform a new task, namely, preparing their pupils, not for jobs, but for unemployment. This month, they will leave school expecting to be unemployed during the lifetime of this Parliament.
In the circumstances, I do not believe that we should be surprised if young people vandalise coin boxes. I do not condone their doing that. I heartily disapprove of it. When they are caught doing that, they must be prosecuted, sentenced and punished, but I am not surprised that young men who face such a prospect in life behave in exactly that way. That leads me to the certain conviction that inner-city crime will not fall unless inner-city unemployment falls and inner-city homelessness services improve. From my 20-odd years experience in representing an inner city, I have absolutely no doubt about that.
That being said, it is important not to suggest or even to imply, or to let it be thought that we are suggesting or implying, that a majority of inner-city dwellers are anything other than law-abiding citizens. Most inner-city families are victims of crime; they are not criminals. Most inner-city families are as enthusiastic as any hon. Member to see inner-city crime tackled. In my constituency there has been one demonstration concerning the police in the past 23 years. That was a demonstration demanding more police to be visible on the beat, immediately after the Handsworth riot. The demonstrators said that the police were ignoring the needs of that inner city, that they believed that crime and violence were acceptable there, and that the decaying central areas had been written off.
I make it absolutely clear that I believe that the demonstrators were wrong. The West Midlands police have an honourable and admirable record in their attempt to deal with inner-city problems, but I describe the attitude of my constituents because it demonstrates that, even though in that particular they were wrong, there is a generalised view in inner cities—not just in Birmingham, but throughout the country—that such areas have been written off by the Government, have been forgotten, and are areas about which there is no care and for which there is no real wish to provide adequate services.
Inner cities are becoming deeply alienated from the rest of society and are beginning to fear that the rest of society's rules and hopes do not apply to them. Frankly, that is hardly surprising. If I may take a personal example again, life in the Spark hill ward of the Sparkbrook constituency in Birmingham bears little resemblance or relationship to life in Solihull, only 4 miles further south. It is inevitable that young men and women in particular—the new generation born and bred there—should feel an enormous alienation when they see the difference between the life that is available to them and that which is available in more prosperous suburbs only a few miles away.
Of course, the greatest alienation—certainly the greatest potential alienation—is among the ethnic minorities. The problems of the inner cities will not be solved until the Government or, more likely, their successors, remove the laws and regulations that discriminate. against the black and Asian British and contribute to their feeling of alienation from society as a whole. But that matter is for later debates. Today, I merely 1419 say that it is essential that all inner-city families are encouraged to believe that society does not treat them all as second-class citizens.
I give two examples of how that feeling is being encouraged. One is the refusal by the gas and electricity authorities to install coin meters. In my experience, nothing causes law-abiding families living in a respectable road more anger and despair than the discovery that they are not entitled to have a coin meter installed because they live in a geographical area that is designated either by British Gas or the local electricity board as unsuitable for such provision. They say that it makes them feel ashamed to live in the area, that they are being treated like criminals and that, very often, it is unnecessary because there is no question of a meter being broken into and robbed.
The second example is the refusal of insurance cover at normal rates.
§ Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1986 thefts from coin meters went up by 23 per cent. in Birmingham in the west midlands. Therefore, it is not surprising that the statutory body concerned may be reluctant to install them. There was not only theft but wholesale damage.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I do not dispute the figures for a moment. I dispute the designation of whole areas as being responsible for such matters. The hon. Gentleman will not want to claim to be one of the more sensitive hon. Members, but if the West Midlands gas board wrote him a note saying that because of where he lived he was not entitled to the provision that was available to other people whom he knew in Birmingham, he would regard it as deeply offensive, and so do many of my constituents. The hon. Gentleman should not he surprised. He should not be surprised, either, that provision such as weighted insurance policies in areas in which it is not necessary for them to be weighted encourages individuals against whom the discrimination applies to believe that society as a whole applies different rules to them than to the rest of the community. They are bound to be offended and alienated by that.
I now refer to the police in particular, for it is that matter that we are debating, and it is on the subject of alienation and the police that I wish to spend most of my time. Certainly, I want to see more police in inner cities. Certainly I want to see more police on the beat, and visible, committed to and part of the inner cities that they police, and devoted to its interests and involved in its success. That is happening in Birmingham in general, and I hope that it can happen in other parts of the city also.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme talked about the attitude of local Labour authorities to the police and the troubles that they are causing. One of the examples that he gave was the resentment of some authorities and their opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. Nothing has so disturbed the relationship between police and public in my constituency as the arrival of police officers from outside the city, their interviews, entries into houses in connection with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, their arrest of a local psychiatrist under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, their detention of that psychiatrist for some weeks under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and her eventual prosecution and acquittal. The Prevention of Terrorism Act and its application within my constituency did more to disrupt the 1420 relationship between police and public than anything that has happened in the past five years. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to treat such matters seriously, he should examine the realities rather than the slogans that he was encouraged to use during the general election campaign.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's central thesis. We need more policemen on the beat in central areas. They should police those areas in ways that are sensitive in two particulars. First, the police must he seen to be even-handed between each group in the community. We pretend that what we know to be true is untrue if we do not accept that there is a real problem in some areas concerning the relationship between the police and young blacks—young West Indians and young men of Asian origin.
The fact that those young men—black British and Asian British—feel that the police discriminate against them is indisputable. The duty of the police and of the leaders of the communities in which such young men live is to remove that feeling of alienation. In many cases the facts of discrimination are indisputable. We have an absolute obligation to create the impression—and the reality—that all young people, standing on any street corner in any city, are treated with the same degree of police understanding, tolerance and operational techniques.
Secondly, to my certain knowledge the population are alienated by the police officer who turns up at the scene of a burglary, or some minor offence, or an assault, and says, "There's a lot of this about around here. I doubt whether we can solve the problem. We will take a statement, but it may not be possible to investigate much because this is the sort of area where such crimes occur." That is another example of the people in the inner cities feeling that they have been written off, and it is another example of what must he avoided if people are to work with the police. They will if they are offered that opportunity by individual policemen who are associated with, committed to and interested in the future of the area.
Nothing so disturbs the relationship between police and public in the inner cities as the new, perhaps young, police officer who is rushed in from outside in an emergency and who does not know the area or the area's problems If I said that in my constituency, it would be regarded as a statement of the obvious. All the councillors who represent the wards in Sparkbrook would say, "Of course we know that it is important for the police to work in partnership. Of course we know that it is important for individual policemen to be associated with the area. Of course we know how problems will arise if an outside force is suddenly asked to do some special and difficult job."
It is because the councillors in the area understand the problems and take them for granted that I want to see an elected police authority which can pass on that information, which is so obvious to me and others who know the inner cities, to the police authority itself.
I do not want an elected police authority to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the police force. I do not want the Home Secretary's representative guiding individual incidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) described Mr. Winston Churchill when he was Home Secretary with characteristic charity when he said that he did not turn up at Sidney street to have his photograph taken. But that is exactly what he did. He did turn up at Sidney street and have his photograph taken—and very successful he was, too.
1421 That is not how a proper Home Secretary should behave. A proper Home Secretary behaves in a way that allows a police force to form a partnership with the people of the area. That must involve the overall policy determination being at least influenced by the representatives of the people in that area.
I do not deny that sometimes a small minority of local authorities are foolish in their attitude to the police. I do not propose to pretend anything different when future incidents arise, but the fact that a tiny minority of authorities have taken decisions with which I deeply disapprove is not an argument that justifies the whole police service being outside anything like democratic control. An element of democratic control is essential for a partnership between the police and the public.
My final words are on the subject of partnership, in which I believe deeply. If we are to end crime in the inner cities, as well as ending despair by reducing poverty and ending alientation by reducing unemployment, we have to convince the people that the police are on their side and that they should work with the police. That is easier to do in some areas than in others, and that task has to be shared by Members on both sides of the House. I am perfectly prepared to say to those authorities that want to drive a wedge between police and public that they are wrong to do so. I hope that Government Members will reciprocate that dangerous broad-mindedness by saying that there are occasions when the behaviour of the police is something about which we have to take legitimate exception and which has to be improved and corrected.
One of the tragedies of the so-called law and order debate is that it has been projected that one party does nothing but criticise the police, and that the other party believes that the police are perfect in every particular. If we are to get it right, we have to steer a course between those two things. That course involves the police being in part responsible to an elected authority and behaving in a way that convinces the public that they are working with them and on their side.
It is that sort of proposition to which I hope to dedicate some of my time during the next four or five years. It is with apologies that I leave the debate early so that I can advocate that, not just in the House, but in the small area of central Birmingham that it is my privilege to represent.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity of making my maiden speech in the House. It is customary to refer to one's predecessor on such occasions and I am delighted to do so.
My constituency has a distinguished and colourful political tradition that can be traced back through Sir Tatton Brinton to Sir Gerald Nabarro and even further back to Stanley Baldwin. Mr. Esmond Bulmer, my immediate predecessor, was a worthy successor of that tradition. For nearly 14 years in the constituency he was assiduous, shrewd and well respected. In the House his grasp of business and industrial relations matters, his kindness, his generosity of spirit and his courtesy were of a high order. I am proud to succeed him.
While Wyre Forest is not an inner city, it is a microcosm of England. Besides 75 square miles of fertile countryside we boast a medieval town of Bewdley, as well as Stourport 1422 and Kidderminster, which are the centre of the nation's carpet-making industry. It is heartening that after a period of retrenchment not only can the Carpet Industry Trade Association magazine now talk of a renewed confidence within the industry but that engineering companies associated traditionally with the motor industry are now investing in the area, exporting and creating new jobs. Only last week I visited a firm employing 180 people making car trim for the motor industry which, besides doubling its work force over the past eight years, plans to double its work force again over the next two. As a result, unemployment in my constituency is falling and is less than the national average.
Against that background, it is possibly unsurprising that the rate of crime in the area is half the national average and that last year serious crime fell. That is no cause for complacency. Everybody in the nation, from wherever they come, has an interest in today's debate. That is because the rule of law in any society is indivisible. To allow lawlessness and violence in our major cities is to risk the fabric of that society everywhere.
I still serve on the Birmingham city council. Part of my ward is in Balsall Health where over the past five years I have had the opportunity to see at first hand the problems of policing of the inner city. I would like to make three points about that. First, good policing never loses sight of the fact that, despite stories about the crime rate, despite newspaper stories about violence and despite even rioting, as has just been said by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the vast majority of citizens in our inner cities are peaceful, law-abiding and considerate. We owe it to those people to ensure that their areas are policed, irrespective of social racial or emotional considerations or even the fear of civil disturbance, in a consistent, fair, even-handed and effective way. Nothing undermines that moral majority more than events such as two that have been witnessed in the ward over the past three weeks.
In the first event, 50 youths were openly dealing in drugs in daylight with only two police to intervene. When those police did intervene, one of them was stabbed in the face. Secondly, there was a shoot-out between competing groups of prostitutes' pimps which, sadly, was virtually unattended.
In the light of such events I strongly support the Government's actions on drug sentencing and the confiscation of the proceeds of drugs and what they are proposing to do to increase sentences for firearms, the use of which is sadly the norm in security van robberies in the west midlands. I urge that consideration be given to the individual licensing of shotguns, as is the case for firearms, and, where appropriate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said, to further increases in police officer numbers in the inner cities. Contrary to what was said by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, that is something that the people of Balsall Heath, whom I represent on Birmingham council, would very much welcome.
Peace in our inner cities is made more fragile by racial tension. There is no doubt that great strides have been taken and that enormous resources have been pumped in to police training, recruitment and multi-cultural activities of all sorts over the past few years in order to increase the understanding and confidence between different communities that live in our inner cities.
1423 There is no doubt that there is a new and virulent anti-racism abroad which proceeds from the premise that all white people are inevitably racist and that they must be purged of that by compulsory anti-racist training and positive discrimination. That attitude is divisive and is likely to heighten racial tensions and differences in the inner cities rather than reduce them. Not only is it condescending to black people but it isolates and balkanises the inner cities and makes their problems more deep-rooted.
One should not be controversial in a maiden speech and I shall confine myself to saying that it is sad to see the reaction of some London borough councils and councils in other areas to the Metropolitan police's anti-racial harassment campaign. Their attitude has not been helpful, nor has the attitude of people who are in charge of the race relations committee in Sheffield. When asked recently—I have a copy of the "Police Monitor" in Sheffield with me—whether the present chief constable was ideal, they replied, "Oh no, you've got to remember that he's in charge of a racist institution." Such comments and actions are not helpful.
It is helpful to support ethnic recruitment into the police force, which has doubled in the west midlands in the past two years. It is helpful to support police and community links, which bolster the position of moderate black people in the inner cities, and to encourage centres of excellence, whether they be technological, academic or sporting. They improve the self-confidence of black people in the inner cities and provide the role model for constructive behaviour.
It has been said that the best policing is not done merely by the police but with and by the people of the inner cities themselves. Crime prevention is not and should not be a middle class preserve. The more we enable people to own their own homes, the more we enable people to manage their own estates, and the more we enable people to be consulted on the refurbishment and design of the areas in which they live, the more will be their investment in their neighbourhood and the more will be their incentive and opportunity to ensure that the standards in those neighbourhoods are maintained.
In Birmingham we have already seen the formation of 700 neighbourhood watch schemes, which last year resulted in a 12 per cent. reduction in domestic burglaries. In the estates in which it is more difficult to set up neighbourhood watch schemes, Estate Action and the community programme, with their system of burglar alarm improvements and the provision of concierges for tower blocks—that is most important—have had a tremendous success, which I am sure will continue. There is a good case for extending tax and property tax reliefs for those inner-city dwellers who invest in burglar alarm protection for their homes.
Finally, there is one area on which group policing and all the initiatives that we have in the inner cities depend. It was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), and it is the attitude, self-discipline and responsibility of our young people. It is a sobering and frightening fact that the age at which the maximum number of offences is committed is 14 for girls and 15 for boys. All too often children have not received the type of guidance and lead on moral standards which they should and which should he a vital part of the hidden curriculum in our schools. I hope, and expect that the new Education Bill will lay down not only criteria for academic 1424 achievements for children during their school life, but clear standards and best practice for their moral and social education to encourage responsible behaviour and all that that entails. For, ultimately, the peace and order of our country, let alone the inner cities, depend on the attitudes, aspirations and sense of self-discipline of our young people.
§ 12.7 pm
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
It is a pleasure to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) on his maiden speech. He was perhaps not as uncontroversial as some maiden speakers, and I must confess that I cannot agree with his remarks about racism and the need continually to combat it in inner-city areas. However, he spoke with eloquence and confidence, and I look forward to hearing further from him.
I congratulate also the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) on choosing this topic for debate. It is an extremely important issue. The rise in crime, and above all the rise in the fear of crime, in our inner-city areas is not unrelated to unemployment, deprivation and the lack of adequate facilities, especially for young people in those areas. Indeed, that is one of the most important issues currently facing many of our constituents. The hon. Gentleman has done well to highlight that by his choice of subject.
For my constituents and constituency, the hon. Member has picked a peculiarly appropriate day for this debate. Yesterday afternoon, at the Old Bailey, five police officers were convicted of a variety of offences relating to an incident that occurred in my constituency. I want to spend some time on this incident and the case that followed because there are some important lessons to be learnt from it. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will respond to some of the specific points that I shall raise.
As most hon. Members know, the event took place in August 1983 when five young lads were walking home from a local fair along George's road, which is just off the Holloway road. It was a warm summer's evening and a vanload of police officers drew up alongside them. Several officers bundled themselves out of the van and brutally beat up the five young lads. They were entirely innocent youngsters and had done absolutely nothing to provoke the incident. They suffered broken bones, were badly bruised and were in considerable pain. Indeed, one still has an aggravated speech impediment resulting from the incident. It was an outrageous affair and one which all hon. Members will naturally regard as wholly unacceptable in a civilised society.
I am pleased that after four years justice has at long last been done and been seen to be done and that yesterday the judge at the Old Bailey sent a clear message to the public and police alike that when a relatively small number of police officers who engage in this sort of activity overstep the mark, they will be brought to account.
The primary lesson that must be learnt from the incident, however, is the need to review the methods and procedures of the Police Complaints Authority. A week or so after the incident I submitted to the then Police Complaints Board a complaint on behalf of some of the youngsters who had been assaulted. After the two and a half years of investigation, first by the Police Complaints Board and then by the Police Complaints Authority, the authority ended up producing a report in January 1986 1425 which stated that the incident had happened and it was disgraceful but that it could not identify the individual officers concerned. Two investigations in two and a half years were unable to identify either the van or the officers involved.
I ask the House whether the public can really have genuine confidence in a system of investigating complaints against the police when the Police Complaints Authority—the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) is technically correct in saying that it is independent—must rely on serving police officers to carry out the legwork of investigations. That is the key to the problem. So long as serving police officers investigate and interrogate the police, I do not believe that the public can have complete confidence in the independence of the procedure.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman makes an important and fair point which must be addressed. Does he agree, however, that the significance of this case is that it was the very same police officers who sought justice and obtained it by granting immunity to a police informant which allowed the prosecution to reach a conclusion? The hon. Gentleman appears to suggest an alternative, but where will we find these paragons of integrity who have the skills to enable them to bring these cases to a conclusion? That is the problem.
§ Mr. Smith
I was about to deal with the hon. Gentleman's first point. His second point is made continually. The argument is that only the police are capable of possessing interrogating skills. A large number of customs officers, Department of Trade and Industry and Inland Revenue officials and ombudsmen's staff have investigative and interrogative skills and use them to good effect. One does not need to be a police officer to interrogate or investigate. It is perfectly possible for an independent police complaints authority to have independent staff, answerable to it and to no one else, to carry out investigative work.
While that is not the case, the public will wish to ask questions. They will want to know how vigorous was the questioning during the two-and-a-half year inquiry period and how much allowance was made for the "clubability" of police culture, whereby police officers quite naturally stick together, and stick their story together, through thick and thin. They will want to know whether it is ultimately right for the police to police themselves. I do not believe that it is, and the Police Federation agrees with me. It wants an entirely independent police complaints authority. I believe that it would be in the interests both of the public and of the police to ensure a greater degree of independence.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Does not what happened in this case prove the importance of the police's working with the public and particularly with the media? The outcome of the trial resulted from the police working within the system with the help of ordinary members of the public and with the help of the media. Does not that vindicate the system rather than suggest that we should change it?
§ Mr. Smith
It does not vindicate the system at all. Had the system simply been left to operate as it normally operates, the Police Complaints Authority would have 1426 reported in January 1986, saying, "Yes. The incident happened; apologies all round. We have carpeted the 30 officers in the three vans that we think were in the area that evening, but there is nothing that we can do." It took three weeks of public outcry and concern to force the matter further into the open. The matter would not have been reopened without that public outcry, the campaign conducted by many people in the media and, I might add, a lot of pressure from me.
The second major lesson that needs to be learnt from this whole sorry affair is that we need to review police disciplinary rules. At the moment, to find a breach of discipline by a serving police officer the test of proof beyond reasonable doubt has to be applied—precisely the test that operates in a court of law. No matter who is up before a judge or jury, that test must be preserved in a court of law. However, in every other profession, for matters of discipline—not matters of criminal prosecution—the test is not proof beyond reasonable doubt; it is a balance of probabilities. Why is it that for the police, and the police alone, the stiffer test is needed? Why is it more difficult to take disciplinary proceedings against the police, when the police are in a position of far greater authority and trust in relation to the public than the members of any other profession? We need to reexamine the operation of the police disciplinary rules and the strength of the test needed to ensure that discipline can be exacted where necessary. There must be a balance between the natural and legitimate rights of serving police officers and the interests of the public to make sure that discipline exists. At present, that balance is not right and we must try to change it.
The third major lesson that I wish to draw is the need for proper control, supervision and record-keeping of the activities of district support unit vans. The van which carried the five police officers who were convicted yesterday was a district support unit van. I have been unable to establish who was in control of its operations that night. Was it the police station whence it came, or was it the police station and authority covering the patch in which it was operating, which was a completely different station? Who was in operational control of the activities of that van that night? Even more important, what records were kept by the occupants and driver of that van of where it went, what they did and what incidents it attended that evening? Very few records appear to be kept at present, and as long as no records are kept and there is no clear chain of control and command we will always be worried about what some of the occupants of the vans are up to.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I place on record the thanks and congratulations of many people in Islington for my hon. Friend's assiduous work in pursuing this dreadful incident, which happened in 1983, and in helping to ensure the conviction of those five police officers. Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that many people now believe that the special support unit van which carried those police officers was under the control of no one? There has been no evidence from Scotland Yard that it intends to do anything to rectify the command structure to ensure that such units come under much closer control.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
My hon. Friend mentioned a lack of records, but radio reports this morning give the impression that those officers had been on duty continuously for 36 hours, so some records must exist. Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that they had been on continuous service for 36 hours? One assumes that they accrued some overtime payment. What justification was there for it, and what purpose did it achieve?
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend has anticipated my next point.
The fourth lesson that I draw from the affair is that it must be unacceptable to place police officers in a position where they are working a 36-hour shift with a break of only four hours. They are bound to be tired and irritable having been cooped up in the back of a van on a warm summer night. It does not excuse for a moment what happened, but it may make us understand a bit more why it occurred. It is not a sensible use of scarce personnel and resources to have policemen on duty for that length of time. Why, when there was no immediate crisis—they were not rushing to an incident that needed an immediate response—were police officers being made to operate in such inhuman and unsafe circumstances?
The compensation which was awarded to three of the youngsters, which was agreed between the Metropolitan police and them not long after the incident occurred, was inadequate.
I hope that, in the light of what happened, the convictions yesterday and the public concern about the case, the Metropolitan police will see fit to be somewhat more generous than they have been to the youngsters. I ask no more than that they consider that request. Apparently, one young man has not yet reached a settlement. I hope that when he reaches a settlement with the Metropolitan police—I suspect that it will be on more generous terms than the others have already received—the relative generosity of settlement will be reflected in an ex gratia decision to make similar compensation available to the others who suffered in the incident. I do not want to labour the point, hut I hope that the message will get through to Scotland Yard. I believe that something should happen along the lines I have suggested.
I fear that the role of the Home Secretary in this affair has not been glorious. I give a degree of credit to Sir Kenneth Newman who decided, off his own bat, in February last year to reopen the inquiry and to make offers of immunity which eventually brought five individuals to justice. Throughout three weeks of public concern, the Home Secretary consistently refused to reopen the inquiry despite the repeated requests of myself and others. According to the Home Secretary, the matter was closed and there was nothing further to be done. We now know how wrong he was. We now know that when the inquiry was reopened individuals were identified and eventually the matter was brought to a head.
This incident raises questions about the role of the Home Secretary as the police authority for London. As long as the Home Secretary takes decisions in an atmosphere that is remote from Scotland Yard and even more remote from the concerns and needs of Londoners, 1428 I do not believe that there is any proper, democratic accountability. I certainly echo the calls of my right hon. and hon. Friends this morning for greater democratic accountability of the police as a whole and of the Metropolitan police in particular.
Of course, the Government will produce the old canard of so-called political control of police operational duties by nasty, Left-wing extremists. That is absolute nonsense. That is not what we want. We want the people of London to have a democratic say in the overall way in which London is policed. I would accept rather more readily some of the criticisms that Conservative Members level at some Labour-controlled authorities if they also considered the work that some Labour-controlled authorities undertake in close co-operation with the police.
My authority, Islington, is a precise example of such cooperation. For several years Islington has worked in close co-operation with the local police. It has a well-established police consultative committee. A lot of work is carried out, in a multi-agency manner, regarding the difficulties experienced in particular estates and neighbourhoods. There is a good, constructive relationship between the police and that authority. The authority is not uncritical nor adulatory. There are times when I believe that some Conservative Members believe that the police can do no wrong. What we need is a critical, but constructive working partnership among the local people, local councils and local police forces to ensure that proper crime prevention measures are taken and proper, good quality policing is practised in our inner city areas. That is the way forward.
I hope that out of the tragedy of this incident, which happened just off the Holloway road four years ago, the subsequent long, terrible saga and the trauma which five young men and their families had to go through, some lessons will come. I hope that something is learnt from those lessons not only by the Opposition, but by the Government. The lessons must be learnt if improvements are to be made and if we are to ensure that this sort of incident never happens again.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I know that many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. I know, too, that there are other debates, and it might be for the convenience of all if the next debate was called, so I shall try to confine my remarks to no more than 20 minutes. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not deal with all the points that they have raised in as much detail as I should like.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) for having introduced the motion. This has been a stimulating and useful debate, and my hon. Friend clearly described the problems that his constituents encounter, and the problems that are encountered in inner-city areas. The fact that he has initiated the debate enables us all to focus on what is undoubtedly a major problem, and we are grateful to him for that.
I hope to deal with the great majority of the points that have been raised. Before I do so, however, I want briefly to sketch the Government's broad approach to the problem of crime. This Government have dedicated more resources, energy and imagination than any other Government ever did to ensuring that we have a properly resourced law and order programme. Our policy breaks 1429 down into three parts: first, to ensure that the police have adequate resources; secondly, to ensure that the courts have adequate powers with which to deal with offenders; and, thirdly, to involve the public in a coherent crime prevention campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme gave considerable credit to the Government for the provision of police resources. I shall give a few basic figures. In 1987–88 we shall be spending about 45 per cent. more in real terms on the police service than was spent in 1978–79. There are now about 11,000 more police officers than in May 1979, and about 6,000 more civilian staff. That is a process of gradually building up the establishments that will continue, and my hon. Friend will recall that in May 1986 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced his commitment to a rolling programme of increasing police establishments. For example, the London Metropolitan force will have its police establishments increased by 300 a year over a period of four years, and, outside London, the forces will increase by 500 a year over the same period. At the same time, we are giving high priority to a process of increasing civilianisation.
§ Mr. Soley
The Minister is boasting of a Government who are spending more money than ever before on policing. That Government are boasting of more police officers than ever before, yet the crime rate has gone through the roof, the crime clear-up rate has gone through the floor and there are fewer police on the beat than ever before in recent times. What on earth are the Government so proud of?
§ Mr. Hogg
I do not understand the force of that intervention. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should not be concentrating on increasing the number of policemen? If not, his intervention has no value. I do not believe that we can solve the problem merely by increasing the number of police officers. However, that is an important element in our programme, and that is why I am doing it. I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is not suggesting that we should not increase police establishments. If that is his suggestion, I hope that he will be candid about it in the speech that I feel sure he is anxious to make.
That is the first aspect of the policy upon which I wish to expand. The second aspect is that we are determined to ensure that the processes of the law are adequate to detect, to try, to convict and to deal with offenders. For those purposes, over the period of the last two Parliaments we have made a substantial number of changes in the criminal law. We have introduced a new range of offences; for example, in the Public Order Act 1986. We have introduced new mechanisms for the detection of crime; for example, the serious fraud office. In a number of important areas we have increased the maximum sentence that can be imposed. As I think the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said, we have introduced a power to confiscate the assets of drug traffickers. That programme is designed to ensure that society has the law that it requires in order to keep the peace and punish the wrongdoer. We shall continue that process of increasing the powers available to society.
My final point on this aspect of crime prevention was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) and for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). 1430 They emphasised the very great importance of crime prevention, and they were right to do so. The campaign against the criminal cannot be left to the formal institutions of society. Society as a whole needs to be involved, partly because that is the nature of any campaign, and partly because crime itself is very largely opportunistic. Therefore, the Government have put forward—I think for the first time—a broadly-based and coherent programme of crime prevention. That programme included the neighbourhood watch schemes, the crime prevention panels, advertising, the use of the community programme and, of course, the funds in our inner-city programmes.
We have brought forward for the first time a coherent and co-ordinated crime prevention programme. Over the lifetime of two Parliaments the Government have, first, increased the resources available to the police; secondly, enhanced the powers of society to fight the criminal; and, thirdly, put together a wholly coherent and co-ordinated crime prevention programme.
I should like to turn from the generality to the particular and address the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme. Understandly, he is concerned about the policing needs of Greater Manchester, and he put the case for Greater Manchester in the eloquent way that I would expect of him. It would be helpful for me to emphasise a few points and a few facts.
First, I shall give some basic figures. On 31 May, there were 6,873 officers in the Greater Manchester area. That was an increase of 433 since May 1979, and I am pleased to see that the deficiency in establishment is reducing. In 1986–87 there was an average of about 178 vacancies on the force. I am pleased to see that that is now dropping, and I understand that by March 1988 it is hoped that the force will be up to establishment. Moreover, in addition to police strengths, there has been a substantial increase in the number of civilians in the force. On 31 May, the civilian strength was 1,837, an increase of 428 on May 1979. That is very important, because through the process of civilianising a force we free more policemen for operational duties. In the Manchester force at the moment the level of civilian strength at 18.5 per cent. is lower than the average of the civilian strengh measured in England and Wales generally. There is room for more civilianisation in the Greater Manchester force. I know that the chief constable is currently pursuing such a policy and I hope that he will continue to do so.
As to funding for the Greater Manchester force, I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set the expenditure level for the force at a point that will allow spending to be increased by 13 per cent. over budgeted expenditure for 1986–87. That will enable the force to undergo a period of positive growth.
My hon. Friend will no doubt say that that is not enough. I understand why he will argue in that way, but I hope that he will bear in mind some of the following points. I do not accept that the Greater Manchester force is undermanned to the extent that my hon. Friend suggested. He suggested that the force would have to be increased by 40 per cent., or about 3,000 men. I know of no compelling evidence to that effect. The police to population ratio in the seven metropolitan areas is better than the average police to population ratio of all the forces 1431 in England and Wales. Within the seven metropolitan forces, the Greater Manchester police force has the third most favourable police to population ratio.
I do not believe that the answer to crime is to recuit more highly paid police officers, although there is a need for more officers. That is not the sole answer, nor can it be so, if only because the cost of the operation would be so great. Each officer costs about £25,500 and, to get one additional officer on the street, force establishments must be increased by about five men. It follows from that that if one believes that one can tackle the problem of crime by substantially increasing the number of beat officers, one is thinking in terms not of hundreds, but of many thousands, and that is not a policy that I can put to the House.
What we must do is increase force establishments in a steady, evolutionary and progressive way and meet identified needs where they can he established, rather than say, "I shall commit a Government or Parliament to a manpower programme that is measured in thousands." There is no positive correlation between the number of police officers and the detection of crime. In the Metropolitan force there is a favourable police to population ratio, when measured against other forces, yet it has a low clear-up rate. The force in Northumbria is an example that points in the other direction, because it has a favourable clear-up rate, but its police to population ratio is not favourable in comparison with others.
§ Mr. Garrett
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not forgotten the plea that I made about the need to bring the Northumbria police force up to strength. If the hon. Gentleman reads my statement, he will probably agree that there is a good case for a few more officers.
§ Mr. Hogg
I never forget the hon. Gentleman; he is an unforgettable hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme said that we should transfer resources from the shire counties to the inner cities. In part, we have done so.
Since May 1979 we have increased establishment posts overall in England and Wales by 5,000, of which 1,226 have gone to the Metropolitan force and more than 1,000 to the remaining six joint metropolitan forces. But I cannot tell my hon. Friends who represent the shire forces that their needs are less important. The needs of the shire forces, though different, are often as great and compelling as those of the inner-city forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme well knows the anxiety about the level of the Sussex force. He will recall the debate organised and attended by his hon. Friends before the general election, during which the Home Office came under much criticism for failure to increase that force. Members representing the Thames Valley area will be seeing me next week, when they will no doubt say that the Home Office has been unduly neglectful of their interests. That is happening in virtually every area. One cannot say that the shire forces should be neglected in favour of my hon. Friend's area.
§ Mr. Churchill
I do not suggest that they should be neglected but that they should not be over-provided for while the inner city areas are under-provided for. With respect, my hon. Friend lays too much stress on the police to population ratio, when the police to crime ratio in my view is more important. In that respect, we are very badly provided for in terms of resources and manpower. As I have said, every police officer in Greater Manchester has to deal with 65 per cent. more crimes than his counterpart in the City of London.
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend makes his point clearly, but Members representing the shire forces will not accept that those forces are over-provided for.
My hon. Friend and the House generally should treat crime figures with some caution. Recorded crime is not the same as the actual incidence of crime. The report by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, published a few days ago, contains an interesting passage on page 1, in which the commissioner makes the following telling statement:there was an actual rise of 20 per cent. in domestic burglary over the period 1972 to 1983 while the number of recorded offences rose by over 100 per cent.One must clearly be extremely cautious about drawing too many general conclusions from the figures for recorded crime.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) for saying that we must assist the police. He then put in a promotion for his own force, which I entirely understand. The hon. Gentleman was wholly right in what he said, but he will forgive me for suggesting that he might seek to convince the many Labour Members and Labour local authorities who take a different view. I have in mind Manchester city council, Lambeth borough council, Haringey borough council——
§ Mr. Garrett
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker The Minister cannot implicate the people of Tyne and Wear and the north-east in any misdemeanours that may take place in London or Manchester. We are far from that level.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman personally says that it is important to assist the police, and I agree with him, but too many people in his party take a different view. I hope that he will seek to persuade them otherwise.
I congratulate my hon. Friend for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patrick) on an eloquent and distinguished speech which was marked by a degree of conciseness which the House would wish Ministers to emulate. He made a notable tribute to our friend and former colleague, and he will come to have the same respect in this place as his predecessor had. I agreed with my hon. Friend when he stressed the need to involve society as a whole in the policing of our country. He was right to emphasise the need to achieve proper design in the construction of estates. There is no doubt that one can design out crime, and one should do so in the early stages of any building scheme.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) made a contribution which, like most Liberal party contributions to the matter, was singularly immemorable.
1433 However, she made one or two points that I shall seek to wreck—[Interruption.] I shall seek to answer them. I do not accept the criticism about the Police Complaints Authority. It is an independent authority—as its investigation will show—which brings an independent judgment to bear on complaints about the police service. It would not be sensible or wise to provide it with an investigation branch outside the existing police service.
The matter of knives was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and by the hon. Member for Brent, South. I agree that it is a major problem. I hope that the Government will be able to come forward in the near future with positive proposals to deal with the sale of certain offensive weapons and also, I hope, though I give no commitment, with the carrying of them.
The hon. Member for Brent, South spoke about racial harassment. I entirely agree with what he said. Racial harassment is a serious offence, in that it undermines social cohesion and is wrong in principle.
§ Mr. Hogg
It is kind of the hon. Gentleman to wish to help me. I shall bear in mind, when next he rises, that he is likely to be helpful, but I shall not give way on this occasion.
I entirely agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, South about the need to combat racial harassment, and the Metropolitan constabulary is alert to that. It would be quite foolish to pretend that all officers within the police force are free of prejudice. Since I have held my office, I have noticed that, of all the formal institutions of society, the police have done more to put their house in order than any other that I can readily think of. Sufficient credit is not given to them for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) also made an eloquent speech. The House will be grateful to him for the tribute that he paid to our old friend and colleague, his predecessor Mark Calisle, who commanded respect and had great influence in the House. My hon. Friend is likely to inherit and earn that legacy. We were pleased to hear him speak today. I agree with his view of the necessity to ensure that criminal punishments contain an element of punishment, retribution and deterrence. That is right. The criminal law is about punishment, deterrence, and exacting retribution. That is proper. I was sorry to hear that we cannot agree with him on the matter of increased remission, though he will bear in mind that the maximum period of remission is two months.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made the kind of eloquent speech that one expects of him. Of course, he returned to the subject after four years, so one would not expect him to be wholly played into it. I agree with what he said about the need to be evenhanded in one's approach to policing in the community, especially in the context of ethnic minorities. The police are conscious of that and are seeking to ensure that the breaches and misconduct that have occurred in the past are eliminated.
1434 I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest on his contribution. He was right to congratulate Esmond Bulmer on being such a successful Member. It is clear that the new hon. Member for Wyre Forest will achieve a similar status. I was glad that my hon. Friend supported our policy on confiscating assets from drug traffickers. I understand his comments on shotguns, and I agree that there should be a place of security requirement, but I do not think that it would be right to extend the section I licensing system to shotgun control.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) made an important speech, not least because he dealt almost exclusively with the case which troubles us all, and which was reported in today's newspapers. I do not think that what happened points to a failure by the Police Complaints Authority. The cover-up concerns officers who were either involved in what happened or knew of it. There is no criticism of the officers involved in the investigation of the offence.
I do not think that criticism can be attached to the Police Complaints Authority, which I regard as an efficient and independent investigatory body. It would not be right to dilute the standard of proof currently required. In police discipline cases, serious consequences can flow, such as dismissal from the force, substantial fines and besmirchment of character. In such circumstances, I prefer the present standards of proof to be maintained. I do not deny that lessons can be learnt. We shall seek to learn them.
I am ashamed to say that I have overrun by six minutes the time that I had set myself. I can hear that some of my hon. Friends think that I should shut up and sit down. I propose to do both, but in the process of sitting down I want once again to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme for choosing this subject for debate. We have had a stimulating morning and many points have been made that the Government will wish to address.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. They have continued the new tradition of being controversial in their first speeches. That is good. because it means that an hon. Member gets everything off his chest and does not have to be so extreme in future. I look forward to new hon. Members adopting a more balanced approach to our problems.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), who has a distinguished record in winning the ballot. I am impressed by the self-flagellation of the Conservative party over its law and order policy. Such has been the failure of the Conservatives' law and order policy that they are in the "What's gone wrong?" phase and constantly looking at the problems afresh. I welcome that, because Conservatives made many simplistic and stupid statements in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, believing that they could do something about law and order by becoming tough, throwing police, officers at the problem, or using the police force as the Prime Minister's private army. The police force should not be used in that way. Law and order in Britain is a disgrace under this Government.
This morning, we have heard comments about some Labour councillors who have said or done certain things. No one should say that the exercise of free speech undermines the law. It does not. I shall tell the House what 1435 undermines the law sometimes. It is when people, particularly in places such as this, break the law. I will not accept from the Conservative party criticism of the type that it has made from time to time, because that party, in recent times, has set a particularly bad example in breaches of the law.
I am not in the business, and never have been, of rubbing people's faces in the dirt when they have committed an offence. The problem is that if the Conservative party accuses someone who is exercising the right of free speech of undermining the rule of law, it has to he sure that its own house is in order. The tragedy is that it has not been. I will accept from Conservative Members or from anyone else that some members of the Labour party have sometimes said things that were stupid, wrong or whatever, but they have a right to do that, even though I may think it is stupid and wrong. What none of us should encourage is breaches of the law, and that is where the Conservative party cannot hold a candle to the Labour party or any other party. If we do not understand that, we will reduce the debate to the level of hurling insults against individuals who have either spoken in a way that is unwise or behaved in a way that has brought them into direct and real conflict with the criminal law. That is what does the damage and that is what we must not allow to continue.
§ Mr. Patnick
I accept that I am a new boy. If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is saying that the party is to blame, not the individual. I said that it is individual councils and individual people who are to blame. If that is put on a reciprocal basis, I accept it, but for the hon. Gentleman to damn the whole party without illustrating that at all, I find is not worthy of those who sit on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman's point is right; but he has got it the wrong way round. I am saying that it is wrong to damn parties for the actions of individuals. That is precisely what his party has been trying to do. I urge him, not for the first time, to stop doing that. If the Conservative party will stop doing that, I will stop damning it for the actions of individuals because I have no desire—it is not in my background or training—to rub in the dirt the noses of individuals who have come into conflict with the law because of acts which have got them into trouble with the courts. The Conservative party must face that responsibility.
I want to make one or two passing points before I go on to the main issue of policing in the inner cities. The problem for the Conservative party, as the Minister stated beautifully in his speech, is that it knows that its current policy on law and order has failed disastrously. The Home Secretary and the Minister want to do something about it. However, at the same time, they want to placate those in the Conservative party who are calling for tougher measures. So we get the utter absurdity of a Home Secretary introducing a Criminal Justice Bill that will allow political pressure to be put on the Attorney-General to make lenient sentences longer. However, when that is done, the Home Secretary will let them out early. That is what he did yesterday—he gave remissions to several thousand offenders. He did not consider the conditional release scheme that I have been urging on the Government for some time, which would at least provide some sanctions if there were breaches of the law again. None of that was done.
1436 The Minister made a speech in which he indicated that he knew that it was a profound mistake to throw police officers and money at the problem in the belief that that would solve it. At the same time, he is hoist on the petard of going around year after year saying that we must have more policemen, that they are the thin blue line and all those phrases that are somehow supposed to solve the problem. That is one of the things that demoralised the police.
The Government told the police that they were the answer to crime. Of course, they were not, and they could not be. Sir Kenneth Newman and many other senior police officers recognise that they cannot be. The police force started from the position of believing that it was going to be used by the Government to deal with the crime wave, but suddenly it found the exact opposite—the crime rates going up, the clear-up rate falling and fewer police officers on the beat. Suddenly the police had to say to themselves, "We are not the answer." The Government, who were telling them that they were the answer, were saying, "You have to account for your money a bit better; we don't like the way that you are doing your job; you have to look at it differently."
The hon. Member for Davyhulme made the valid point that perhaps we should be looking at the number of police in relation to the number of crimes. However, even that is not good enough. The Government have failed to look at the way in which their general policies have created a crime wave in this country worse than under any other Government, Labour or Tory, and worse than any other comparable European country. There are policies, such as the board-and-lodging allowance which push young people into homelessness. The Home Office knows that homelessness is linked with drug addiction, alcohol abuse and crime, but no thought is given to crime prevention. Above all, there are cuts in the provision for crime prevention and in the victim support schemes that do so much to deal with the real problem of crime rather than simply responding to crime, which is a large part of the job of the police.
There is a large deterrent and prevention aspect of policing, but policing is largely about responding to events. There is a simple message here. Twenty years ago there was one police officer to every 603 citizens. There is now one police officer to every 394 citizens. We can go on down that road until we reach the situation where half the population are police officers and half are not, but the crime rate will still be going through the roof. We will not solve the problem unless we address crime prevention and victim support and stop cutting back on the services that prevent crime, which are provided largely, but not entirely, by local authorities. I do not want to speak about that any more today; I want to concentrate on a couple of specific issues related to policing.
The first issue which touches on prevention, is the use of weapons. People in my constituency raise, with me the use of knives. I was encouraged by what the Minister said, because it sounds as if he is moving in the direction in which I urged his predecessor to move some years ago. We need a committee or a group in the Home Office which is constantly reviewing the availability of weapons in society and making the recommendations and changes in the law that are necessary. It is a fast-moving area.
Stanley knives have only recently become a problem in cases involving the slashing of people. The problem is that one cannot stop the use of Stanley knives at the point of 1437 sale. I am in favour of stopping the Rambo knives and so on at the point of sale, and I have recommended that. I have also recommended clamping down on some of the magazines that promote such things. However, we cannot stop the sale of Stanley knives. Therefore, we should ensure, for a period of time, that they are sold only in containers that are difficult to open and that they have to be transported in the container. The makers are willing to do that.
There are other areas in which one can deal with the problem and I urge the Minister to look at them. It may be that a young person will carry a knife quite innocently. I used to walk around London with a knife when I was young. It was normal and part of our culture. It was perfectly legal to wear a sheath knife on one's belt. The problem is that at times one needs to be able to take that weapon off a person. Therefore, rather than make it easier to convict a person for carrying an offensive weapon, we need to make it easier for the police to confiscate the weapon and, if necessary, have some system whereby perhaps a parent or the person involved goes to a senior officer to claim the weapon back as long as there is no dispute about the use of it. The person may simply have been carrying the knife from one house to another.
We cannot legislate for these matters simply by saying that we will take away the intention to do some evil with a knife. If we do that, we put innocent people at risk; and the Minister, who is a lawyer, will appreciate that. I strongly suggest that we look at more sophisticated ways of crime prevention.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), who spoke about prostitution, is no longer in the Chamber. Southampton, a Labour-controlled council, has introduced one of the best methods of dealing with prostitution. Rather than explain it in detail now and take up the time of hon. Members, I recommend that people go and see what the Labour council has done to deal with one of the most difficult red light areas of the country. It is far better than simply having more laws in order to book drivers for driving around and picking up prostitutes.
The main aspect of policing to which we should be addressing ourselves, but are not, is training. It is grossly unfair to a young person, often in his or her late teens or early twenties, to be put in uniform on the streets of one of our inner cities with only the basic 20 weeks' training plus a couple of years' probation while doing the job. The probationary period varies greatly in quality. It could mean that there is virtually no supervision or that there is quite a lot of good supervision. In London, 80 per cent. of the police force comes from outside, so officers have little knowledge of the area that they are to police. We must extend and improve the training period.
A problem in the Islington case was that of a macho-closed culture. The way round that is to ensure that the training is carried out not only in police colleges, or in the colleges and universities where other courses such as social awareness skills are taught at the moment, but by placements in community groups of one type or another. That would mean that the experience of police officers would be more rounded and generally based in the community than at present. It would also mean, and above all, that we would not create an elitist force which works well when it functions at its best, but which, when something goes wrong, can be used easily as a cover-up.
1438 The Minister could quickly do something else for police officers as a result of today's debate. He could make sure that there is a system under which a police officer, who feels that a serious wrong has been committed, can go to someone, possibly outside the police force, to lodge his concern. We know that a problem for the police force during the past 20 years has been not that there are one or two bad apples in the barrel—we know that all professions have a bad apple in the barrel—but that the other apples did not do anything about it. One reason is that it is difficult to go to a senior officer and say that a certain man is breaking the law in some way because one then may become at risk. I do not mind whether we provide that system through the independent Police Complaints Authority, which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) so ably described, or through Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary. However, we need some such system.
We need also to create a career structure for the community police officer. If we believe that the beat policeman is important in reassuring the community, we should give him a career structure. At the moment the average length of time that is spent in that job is three years. If we wish to encourage an officer to do that job for longer, we must provide a career structure by either financial or career incentives. I understand that in one European country promotion is given but one is allowed to stay on the beat. For example, inspectors work on the beat. That would be one way of dealing with the problem, but I have suggested others on other occasions.
Police accountability has not been dealt with properly in the past. It is not only about the way in which the police do their job, although that is important. The crucial fact is that we cannot achieve good crime prevention unless the police, the community and the local authority work together. As the crime rate has increased in our inner-city areas some groups, especially the elderly and the isolated, have screamed for more protection. That is understandable, because they feel most threatened. However, the police have then gone in in ways that might have been inappropriate or even heavy-handed, resulting in precisely the problem that we witnessed the other day in Islington. If we are to deal with that problem, we need a perfectly normal local authority input—such as is provided for the social services, education or housing—for police accountability.
There will always be a duty to enforce the law. However, there should be a system such as I described when I was a Front-Bench spokesman, because although there is always the right to have the law enforced and to have minimum standards enforced by the Home Secretary, there should be stringent police inspectorate. All those things, if linked with a good crime prevention and victim support scheme, could begin to give us way back out of the dreadful wave of crime, the collapse in the prison system, and the riots that have occurred under this so-called law and order Government. There must be a way back. Indeed there is a way back, and we should take it.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
I am disappointed that the Minister decided to speak when he did. I am sure that he had a good reason for it, but to comment on some speeches and not leave himself the opportunity to comment on all of them is slightly insulting 1439 to hon. Members who have waited since 9.30 am to make speeches. I should have thought that at least he would listen, and comment on our speeches.
Opposition Members have spoken about the policemen who were sentenced yesterday. No Conservative Member would condemn them for that and certainly we are glad to see that justice was done, but it would have come over better if Opposition Members had also criticised what happened at Broadwater Farm when PC Blakelock was not merely beaten up, but stabbed dozens of times. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) actually said at the time that it was a good job and the police got a bloody good hiding. At that time Opposition Members did not condemn that incident. But I can tell the House that the police force in London recognises what is happening and knows where its friends are and, more important, where its enemies are.
I shall touch on three matters which cause problems in inner-city areas. The first is demonstrations. Week in, week out people take to the streets of our capital city and other major cities. We see long streams of marchers who make a political point but nothing else. Hundreds of policemen must be taken from crime prevention and detection to police those demonstrations.
§ Mr. Dicks
No. I do not intend to give way; I do not have time.
The morale of the police on those demonstrations is appalling. Normally it is those on the Left who want to waste ratepayers' and taxpayers' money because of this so-called democratic right. They do not recognise and do not want to recognise the right of ordinary people to go about their normal business. The sooner the Government consider the right to demonstrate, the better. I suggest that we make those who want to demonstrate responsible for paying for the demonstration.
§ Mr. Dicks
I do not intend to give way at all.
I am worried about the police monitoring groups. The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) was the chairman of the police committee of the Greater London council—one of the most obnoxious police monitoring groups that London has ever seen. Not a day went by without him condemning the police or their activities. He was the most careful police watcher and was most careful to turn a blind eye to what criminals were getting up to.
These monitoring groups look to protect ethnic minorities against the indigenous population. Whether hon. Gentlemen like it or not, that is the truth. That is how the normal everyday British person sees it. These dreadful police monitoring groups undermine the morale of the police. The police are constantly having to answer mainly false claims by them. That undermines police morale, takes up valuable time and takes them off the streets where they belong.
The most important aspect of our inner cities that we must face is what I call ethnic area policing. Opposition Members say that we must have an even-handed approach. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, 1440 Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who I am sure has gone off to the Gay Hussar or somewhere else, said that it was vital that we had ethnic area policing and that it must be evenhanded. I could not agree more. But then I wonder why on television this week policemen who police Brixton said that they could not make an arrest or take action because it was a West Indian area and there might be some confusion or even a riot. The police said on television that they must be more careful policing those areas than others.
My next subject is the Notting Hill carnival. If I wanted a carnival in my constituency which blocked the streets for three or four days and caused mayhem, and at which there were drugs and where petty offences occurred, my police authority would tell me that I could not have it But because we have a group of West Indians who live in that community they can block up the streets of Notting Hill for three or four days or as long as they like. The police on duty have been told by their senior officers to turn a blind eye to petty thieving and drug taking because otherwise problems may be caused.
§ Mr. Dicks
Constables were told, "If the girls want to dance, take your hat off and dance with them." In Hayes and Harlington that would not be allowed.
I, too, want even-handed policing. That means that if a crime is committed at Broadwater Farm, in St. Pauls in Bristol or in Brixton or anywhere else the police deal with it as a crime and treat the people involved as criminals, whether they are black, yellow, pink or blue. The vast majority of British people are sick and tired of listening to the begging and pleading for special consideration to be given to the ethnic minorities. Crime has to be prevented, and the sooner we have even-handed policing, the better. We must get down to this problem. We must examine the race laws and the intervention of the Commission for Racial Equality, which causes more trouble in race relations every day than most people cause in a lifetime.
§ Mr. Dicks
For as long as I can remember, and for many years before, it has been a tradition in this House that an hon. Member has a right to say anything he likes within the rules of decency and the customs of the House. I have criticised the CRE both inside and outside the House and I shall continue to do so. For the reasons that I have suggested, the morale of the police in our inner cities is very low. They are sick and tired of having to waste their time walking up and down the streets of our cities and having their status undermined by so-called police monitoring groups—bags of Lefties who want to do nothing else in life but hammer the police. The police are sick and tired of having to behave in a different way in Brixton from the way in which they behave in Hayes and Harlington. Those considerations have to be taken on board, and the sooner we do something to protect ordinary people, whether black or white, the better.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
That was one of the most scurrilous and racist speeches that it has been my misfortune to listen to for a very long time. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) should look to himself and to his own past. Many Indian people in London remember his disgraceful record as chair of housing of his borough council. They remember how he threw homeless people into taxis and sent them to the steps of the Foreign Office to show his contempt for homeless people and for people of different ethnic origins. His speech was a disgrace to himself and to this House——
§ Mr. Corbyn
Yes, to his party, too, although plenty of people in his party probably agree with him.
In the hon. Gentleman's speech I detected the seeds of something far more sinister than the nasty prejudices for which he is well known. His speech seemed to contain the seeds of a movement to ban free speech and the freedom to demonstrate one's political opinions in the capital. It suggested a discriminatory policy of preventing people of different cultures from taking part in cultural activities in our capital city. His party should examine carefully the speeches that he makes and the attitudes that he wants to bring to this Chamber. I am glad to see that he has now left the Chamber.
This debate is about policing the inner cities and the subject must be considered in the context of the lives of people in inner-city areas. The area that I represent is very much an inner-city area. It is poor and we have well over 20 per cent. registered unemployment. The poverty is enormous. About one third of the electors in my constituency depend on pensions or state benefits. We have a very high crime rate, and the clear-up rate is comparable to that in the rest of the metropolitan area. We have problems of attacks on the person, sexual and racial assaults, but also crimes against property—theft, burglary and damage to property. Insurance rates are very high. Indeed, in some parts of my constituency people who have had several break-ins find it almost impossible to get insurance for their goods and property. High crime rates affect the poorest people in the poorest parts of the country and that is why we are particularly concerned about them.
I read with interest the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. We must examine these matters carefully in the context of the clear-up rate of offences recorded by the Metropolitan police. According to Home Office figures, in 1986, there were 20,000 recorded cases of violence against the person; only 9,950 were cleared up. By the standards of the Metropolitan police, that is a fairly high clear-up rate. The police recorded 3,800 offences of sexual assault; 1,933 were cleared up. They recorded 16,000 offences of robbery, of which 1,900 were cleared up. There were 157,000 cases of burglary, only 16,000 of which were cleared up. These are staggering figures. For theft and handling of stolen goods, 413,000 cases were recorded and only 61,000 were cleared up. The clear-up rate is extremely low by any standards.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis frequently appears on television saying that he needs more manpower. I wish that he would not use that term, because we want to see more women constables as well as male constables in the police. As my hon. Friend the Member 1442 for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, increased manpower is not the solution to the problem. Merely increasing manpower, as the Metropolitan police have done consistently, has not increased the clear-up rate or reduced the rate of crime—apart from some marginal changes year-on-year. People may be surprised to know that the force establishment of 27,515 is an increase on the figure of 10 years ago, and in most years the force has been very near to total establishment. The police seem to wish to increase their establishment instead of considering more carefully the causes of crime in London.
I wish to draw attention to some areas where the police have a clear influence and where their advice and recommendations have had an effect. The number of violent crimes in London is related to the availability of knives and other weapons and to the issuing of firearms and shotgun certificates. There is a growing trend of people wanting to open firearms shops. We have discussed the matter with the Home Office, and delegations have met the Minister concerned to express their anxiety.
Someone who wishes to open a gun shop in an inner urban area of London cannot possibly say that the guns will have a legitimate sporting use anywhere in the area. Nowhere in my borough would it be remotely safe to use a gun for any purpose, because it is too densely populated. Indeed, there are only 180 acres of open space in a borough with a population of 186,000. It cannot be safe to sell guns there, and the same applies to neighbouring boroughs. Yet the number of firearms certificates held in the Greater London area increased from 8,957 in 1985 to 9,084 in 1986. The number of current certificates for shotguns increased from 37,147 to 41,814. There has been a slight decline in the numberr of registered firearms dealers from 288 to 287, but I suspect that that has more to do with the reduction in the number of arms fairs during the year than with a reduction in the number of dealers who are selling arms. Any examination of the cause of crime in London must consider the availability of guns, shotguns and weapons such as knives that can be used in offensive attacks.
I realise that there are great difficulties in controlling the sale of knives. Indeed, in some cases it is almost impossible to define the law in such a way as to prevent the sale of a particular type of knife. However, far more work and thought should be given to this matter, otherwise we shall see an outbreak of violent crime, using knives and the like, in the inner urban areas, which will make life difficult for the residents of those areas. The victims of such violence will suffer horrendously.
The police force in London was established in the early part of the 19th century. Since then, there has been little democratic control over that police force. Indeed, the only opportunity available to the elected representatives of the people of London to make any comments about the role of the police force in London is the annual debate on the policing of the metropolis. I understand that that debate will not take place until the autumn. That is not a satisfactory situation by any stretch of the imagination.
The Metropolitan police force is not a small body spending a small amount of money. It has a total expenditure of nearly £1 billion—£925 million in the current financial year. Of that total, £530 million comes from the Government and about £228 million from the ratepayers of London.
Hon. Members representing London strongly criticised the suggestion that there should be super policing arrangements—large police divisions in London. In the 1443 debates of the past two years, we made the specific criticism that we thought the inner-city areas of London would be treated as areas of frontier policing. The main head offices of the new divisional commanders would be set outside those inner-city areas. All those command posts of the divisional police forces, with one exception, have been established well away from the inner urban areas. The police headquarters for my constituency are situated in Chigwell, in Essex. From a social point of view that area could not be more different from the area of Finsbury park.
I strongly believe that we should change the structure of the Metropolitan police so that it is more localised. Above all, we should make the police force in London far more accountable.
The Greater London Council was destroyed by this Government because they did not like the proposals that the GLC put forward and the way it attempted to work on behalf of Londoners nor the elected representatives of the GLC. Every elected council that has elected Labour councillors in the majority and has sought to carry out the policies that were advocated, openly and freely, in democratic elections, have been rate-capped and had their powers severely curtailed. In London, more so than in any other part of the country, we have seen the centralisation of power. Power has been taken away from the people of London and put in the hands of the Government. In that context, it is even more important to consider the democratic accountability of the police force.
We should also consider the legislation that has gone through the House in the past five years and significantly increased the powers of the police—for example, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Public Order Act 1986. Those Acts, together with the Government's refusal to allow a Bill that sought to make racial harassment and racial crime a criminal offence, have illustrated that the balance of power has been taken from the people of London and given to the Government. That is one of the main reasons why I argue strongly for an elected police authority for London.
What response has the Home Office given to the London Strategic Policy Unit policy document by the police monitoring and research group on police accountability? I know that the Minister has already spoken, but I am sure that he could write to me about this. The policy document said:The Police Committee of the strategic authority would have the following powers and duties: to appoint and dismiss the Commissioner of Police … to give directions 'for the more efficient administration of the police', to give directions concerning the establishment of the Metropolitan Police, to approve police orders and regulations made by the Commissioner, to appoint the Receiver of Police and civilian heads of departments, to give directions to the Receiver of Police concerning police fund receipts … and a duty to keep itself informed as to the working of the police complaints system"—as per the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
The borough police committees, which would be for a more local area, would be involved in approving the appointment of borough commanders, approving orders and regulations on matters related solely to the borough, and being consulted by and advising the police committee of the strategic authority on policy matters of a London-wide nature. They would also require the borough commander to provide information and reports on any issue related to local policing, and be consulted on the Metropolitan police budget; they would oversee the 1444 general nature of complaints made in the borough and make arrangements for obtaining the views of the community concerning policing within that area, under part of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
The Government's continual attacks on labour-controlled local authorities that have tried to set up an elected police authority come ill from a Government who are so hell-bent on centralising everything around themselves. The issue of centralisation of power is important and serious. The Government's cheap attacks on labour-controlled authorities do them no good. M y own borough, for example, has worked extremely hard to reduce the crime rate in its area. It has worked hard on security in council estates, on the design of council estates, on giving advice on crime prevention and on how to follow up on crime. There is no way in which our borough council, or any other, supports crime; quite the opposite. It is the poorest people in the poorest parts of the inner-urban areas who suffer the most from that sort of crime. The policing direction of London is not helping the worst-off people of London. There seems to be an obsession within the police force with high-technology policing; incredible amounts of money are being spent on the police air arm, for example, and on high-technology radio equipment, and far less emphasis is placed on the day-to-day concerns of ordinary people and the crimes from which they suffer.
When the Minister thinks about all this afterwards, I hope that he will have a thought not only for the role of policing in the inner-urban areas but for the relationship between the police and the local community. If the police want the support and co-operation of the local community, is it really necessary for thousands of stop-and-search operations to be carried out, as they are all around London—the type of policing that is being conducted in All Saints street now, and that takes place regularly in parts of Haringey and Islington? Regular stop-and-search operations are carried out there, with all the intimidation implicit in them. That is not a recipe for solving crime or for good community relations. The best contribution to good relations between the police and the community would be a democratically accountable police force in London, with the people being able to elect their own police authority.
I ask the Minister to respond to another document produced by the London Strategic Policy Unit, which gives an account of the policing of the Wapping print. dispute during the time of the strike—or, rather, the lock-out of people from the News International plant in east London.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The document concerns the police methods of operation that were used there. I was at the Wapping plant on many occasions during that year-long dispute and I witnessed the sort of violence that went on. I witnessed times when the police were lined up in ranks, as in a medieval battle. If the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) finds that amusing, perhaps he has come to the wrong place. The front line of police consisted of officers with riot shields. They would separate, and snatch squads would rush from behind the line through the gap that had formed, into the crowd, and start picking people out. They would then separate out to the right and left and 1445 a new gap would open up, through which police officers would charge with truncheons flailing. People were seriously hurt and injured in those disputes on many occasions. All of that was filmed by police cameras high on the surrounding buildings and thousands of police were involved. That print plant was partly paid for by the people of London. Rupert Murdoch is not paying rates because the plant is in an enterprise zone. Workers were being thrown out of their jobs and the cowboy tactics of Rupert Murdoch were protected by the Metropolitan police who were present in huge numbers and perpetrated appalling violence during that dispute.
The Minister knows perfectly well the number of occasions during which representatives of the print unions met the police to discuss policing methods. On occasion they reached agreement about communications, but it became obvious to any of us at the Wapping plant on any of the Saturday evenings, or, indeed, on any of the other evenings, that many of the police officers were out of the control of their commanders. They were doing what they wanted to do and using the most appalling and indiscriminate violence against people who were there peacefully to protest about the loss of jobs and the destruction of the industrial economy of Britain.
The people of London expect better than yah boo sucks politics from a Minister who does not represent a London constituency and from a police authority for London that does not have a London Member. They expect some accountability from that police force. The people in the poorer inner-urban areas of London suffer most from high rates of crime and they need and expect a democratically accountable police force. There has been an unaccountable and undemocratic police force since 1829, and it is time for that to stop.
§ Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)
I should like to add my voice in praise of the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) and for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). They made excellent contributions, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest. I had the honour to serve for the same ward for which my hon. Friend currently serves in Birmingham, Moseley. He still makes a tremendous effort and expends a great deal of energy trying to solve inner-city education problems.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) called this debate. I was staggered and surprised by some of the speeches by Opposition Members, especially the speech by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), who seemed to want to do nothing other than cast aspersions on the grandfather of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme. My hon. Friend's grandfather had nothing else in mind but to back law and order in the Sidney street siege. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme also backs law and order. Other Opposition contributions showed a marked dislike of the police.
The speech by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) evokes the response that of course we condemn the actions of a rogue police commando. Everybody condemns such things, because they are extremely regrettable. However, we are pleased 1446 that in the British system such things happen very infrequently. As the commissioner for administration said on the radio this morning, it is difficult to know where else to look in convening a court of inquiry than to the training and resources of the police who are specifically dedicated to these purposes.
In highlighting the policing requirements of inner cities, one has to note the differences between different areas not even as far apart as Northumberland and London. They are not even as far apart as Sparkbrook and Solihull, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said. They can be close enough to be in the same police division. In Birmingham, Yardley the E division has three sub-divisions with totally different problems, though all have inner-city problems. One subdivision has large estates, both council and private, and fairly low unemployment. In the second sub-division there is older property, higher unemployment and more dereliction. In the third division, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, there is an almost unique problem, because the majority of the population are immigrants. That produces a different type and intensity of crime. There is nothing racist in my remarks.
We have had to try to adapt and deploy a police force whose levels of manpower have remained static to an ever-increasing crime rate. The last available statistics are from 1986, but there is another league table with which crimes can be associated, the table of notifiable offences. In the metropolitan district—these are the latest comparable statistics frm 1985—there were 732,559 notifiable offences. In Greater Manchester and Davyhulme there were 289,948 notifiable offences and in the west midlands there were 243,712. Those notifiable offences bear evidence to the fact that crime in the Manchester and west midlands areas compares favourably with the demand that is thrown up in the Metropolitan division of London. Regrettably, the police facilities and amenities are not the same. In 1981–82 they increased by 12 per cent., by 8 per cent. in 1983–84 and by 10 per cent. in 1985–86. In 1986 more than 250,000 offences were committed in the west midlands. The detection rate rose to more than 30 per cent., which is not a bad achievement, bearing in mind the available facilities.
Crimes that increased in my area were headed by dwelling house burglaries, which rose by 15 per cent. Theft from vehicles, which is a new form known as auto-crime, rose by 25 per cent.; criminal damage rose by 12 per cent.; aggravated burglary rose by 27 per cent.; and wounding rose by 5 per cent. The figures for wounding by knife are not given separately in the statistics. I hope that the Minister's earlier response does not demonstrate that our contributions will be considered at a subsequent date. The figures for wounding by knife cannot be evaluated. But surely there must be a case for a statutory punishment for a crime of this nature when it is on the increase. It commends itself to such treatment.
Other types of crime in the west midlands dropped during that period. Theft decreased by 19 per cent. Murder decreased slightly. Some 40 murders were committed during that period. In my division there were six murders, one of which regrettably has remained unsolved, as did an earlier murder.
The complexity, dimension and type of crime vary, as must the police response, from area to area.
The kind of crime manifestly evinced in the centre of Birmingham today involves predominantly juveniles going 1447 into the city centre to enjoy the "fun pubs" and nightclubs. At what is colloquially known a "throwing-out time" a type of violence is produced which demands a new form of police presence and back-up. That may have been the kind of operational unit involved in Islington. There is a clear case for at least 1,000 more operational uniformed police to be made available in the west midlands. Indeed, a year or two ago a case was made for some 7,200, but that figure has never been approached.
There are new types of crime such as that highlighted recently on west midlands radio. That case concerned the import from America of what I submit is a new type of firearm, although it may not be classified as such. The "stun gun" is apparently capable of delivering shocks of some 40,000 volts and paralysing people for at least 15 minutes. This weapon, imported by a northern Welsh gun shop, luckily remains undistributed, having been impounded in the Customs shed. I trust that that weapon will be classified appropriately and banned permanently. Weapons of that kind can only lead to further muggings, violence, rape and criminal abuse. I hope that they will be sent back to the country of origin. In the meantime, I suggest to the Home Secretary that he should consider carefully into which category such weapons are placed and thus the way in which the law will deal with them.
In relation to the different levels of crime, I draw attention to a statement made the day before yesterday and reported in the Birmingham Evening Mail. It comes from an individual who was one of the principal officers responsible for the introduction of unit beat policing in Handsworth. That officer saidthe gap between police and the Black community appears to have widened.That statement was made in his capacity as the area liaison panel chairman on the community relations council. In my view, it was a most frightening and unwise statement. He continued:A community policeman is much less likely to have bricks thrown at him if he regularly visits the youth clubs in his area.If he is in riot gear, however, he is a prime target for a brick.The morning after the Handsworth riots I was present when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited the area. My right hon. Friend was not in riot gear, but he was assailed by bricks.
The officer who made the statement that I have quoted had been primarily responsible prior to the riots for seeing that the prosecution of crime went ahead, but he dealt with it in such a soft manner that Handsworth almost became a no-go area in terms of the detection and punishment of crime. Regrettably, that allowed the mammoth increase in drug trafficking to continue. In 1986, trafficking in the west midlands increased by 50 per cent. for heroin, 100 per cent. for amphetamines and 900 per cent. for cannabis. In one arrest that year 2 kg of heroin were found, worth £1 million. The day before yesterday in my constituency £75,000 worth of cocaine was turned up by the police. There were five arrests.
There must be no no-go areas or differentiation in the policing applied to immigration or other areas. That would be counter-productive and would give rise to matters such as the rioting that took place in the past. We must impress upon people the necessity for making the punishment fit the crime. Therefore, I plead not only for the extra police who are needed in the west midlands, in uniform branches, in cadet training, in special constabulary, and in extra community watch schemes, excellent 1448 though the first 24 were in 1956 before their extension. I further plead for photograph identity cards that will protect the innocent and that only the guilty would have reason to fear. It could become a powerful weapon that the forces of law and order can use in the prevention arid detection of crime in the inner cities.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
This important debate, if it has proved anything, has proved that the Conservative party has forfeited the title "the party of law and order", if only because of the tremendous statistical contribution in the more serious part of the speech of the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill). The 1979–83 Government had the worst crime record of any Government since the war. Being an enlightened population, the British people gave the offenders yet another term in office to see whether the Government could do any better. Unfortunately, their record in 1983–87 was worse than it was in 1979–83. I hope that from 1987 onwards such recidivism will diminish and that the Government will bring about a society in which people can walk freely in any part of our cities, and our inner cities in particular.
Unfortunately, the record does not bear close examination. From 1979 onwards, inner-city riots began to develop as a feature of our society. Offences of all kinds were up by 41 per cent. and violent crime increased on average by 42 per cent. a year. There was a 52 per cent. increase in burglaries, and that was overtaken by a 73 per cent. increase in the incidence of vandalism and criminal damage. Unfortunately, that trend is broken by only one downward statistic, and that is the clear-up rate, Two out of every three crimes are never cleared up, and the offenders get away scot-free.
I was interested to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan). He referred to new crimes, such as the possession of stun guns, and so on. One new crime that is occurring in ever greater numbers under the Government is insider dealing in the City of London. The no-go area of financial crime is slowly being broken down. Even the Government now recognise insider dealing as a criminal offence.
The hon. Member for Davyhulme did an exceptional job as prosecuting counsel against his own Government and their record. His belief thatstreet crime is being reduced and public confidence improved in some of the worst inner-city areasis a contradiction of his earlier contribution. Those words were a direct quotation from the 1983 Conservative party manifesto. Conservative Members should consider those words and the statistics for crime carefully before making any pronouncements in the Chamber.
There is a fundamental flaw in the Conservative party's philosophy on law and order—it is narrow and concentrates on only one aspect of law and order. It is not so much about fighting and preventing crime as about what is to be done about alleged criminals and how long they must serve. The Conservative plan is to send more people to prison. The Home Secretary's statistics show that 58 per cent. of convicted criminals who are sentenced to three months imprisonment or more are back inside prison within two years. They show that 69 per cent. of young offenders taken into custody become recidivists and go back to prison.
1449 The Conservative philosophy is narrow. It relies essentially on the emotional feelings that we all have towards those who commit crime. The popularism with which Conservatives treat the issue might be beneficial electorally, but I am afraid that it does nothing, as we have seen, to reduce the crime statistics. It might make Conservative Members feel better, but it brings no comfort to the victims of crime and no succour to future victims of an ever-rising crime wave.
Conservatives treat the symptoms and present their view of law and order without tackling the causes that generate the illness. Specific Tory policies will make many types of crime more likely and weaken the community in its fight against crime.
Let us imagine how a perverse mind might devise a society in which crime would breed. To create that society we would abolish those things which support our community and which immunise and inoculate vast numbers of people against the temptations of crime. We might take away £20 billion in rate support grant, housing subsidy and other grants to local communities. That would stir the pot and encourage crime.
If we wanted to stoke up the crime wave, we would cut housing investment for local communities perhaps by two thirds in eight or nine years. We would throw in the slashing of public transport and reduce spending on health, education, pensons, child benefit and social security. That would give us the prime cocktail that would encourage crime. That is the Government's record. That is what Tory Members have supported night after night in the Lobbies since 1979. They have produced, not the economic climate which Conservatives so often mention, but the social climate in which crime can take root and flourish.
Local authorities are another example. They are denied sufficient resources adequately to light streets and ensure that dark corners on housing estates are illuminated. Housing cuts mean that individuals are forced to live in a place where they do not want to live and where the environment is not conducive to a better way of life.
On the Crabtree estate in my constituency it looks as though some mad experiment has taken place to design an environment to promote crime. That the majority of the people on that estate are law abiding, although they are the victims of crime—as the poor are so often in our society—is a great tribute to them. Cuts in spending and ceilings imposed on local authorities, notably the city council in Nottingham, means fewer caretakers, port-keepers and attendants to look after those public places where the incidence of graffiti and vandalism can grow. It means longer periods before graffiti and vandalised phone booths can be remedied. It means that the whole tone of an area degenerates.
That is the reality of the policies of the Conservative Government—they affect the environment in which crime can breed. When public transport is reduced, that, too, contributes to increasing crime. It means more people waiting around at isolated bus stops and stations, where they are targets for harassment and crime. Women in particular suffer when public transport is reduced. For those fortunate enough, it also means that more people use their own transport. That means more cars left unattended in dark places at night, and, again in Nottingham, a vast increase in the rise of autotheft and autocrime.
1450 It is not an apocryphal tale. We all say of either our own generation or of a previous generation that when we were young we could leave the doors to our houses open. In tough and hard areas of Nottingham, such as the Hyson Green area, where my family came from, that was always the case. In Stepney, where I was a councillor and chairman of the police committee, people say exactly the same, that they could walk out of the door and leave it open. They could do that because there was community spirit, because people looked after each other, because people were not isolated and because they made their community from the environment. Unfortunately, everything that the Conservative party has done has reduced that community spirit, increased individualism and isolation and thereby created a breeding ground for crime.
Those in our society without a secure and established place may see little reason to work with the rest of the community against crime. We must give them hope and a desire to be a part of and to work with the rest of the community. Nowhere is that more pressing than in crimes against children, which is one of the more horrendous crimes in the inner city. Each year 50 to 60 children die at the hands of their parents. Hundreds of children are physically injured by people close to them. One child in every 10 is sexually assaulted and three out of four assaults on children are committed by someone who knows the child.
I am speaking generally quite deliberately, because it is deplorable that certain Members in the House over the past few weeks have used the issue to enhance their personal publicity, if not their reputations. The present level of violence against children is a threat not only to the present generation but to future generations. Child abusers often tend to be people who suffered child abuse. People who are violent towards their families often come from violent families.
Just as the Conservative party has lost its title of the party of law and order, so it has lost the title of the party of the family. Policies for the family need more than just moral outrage when particular incidents occur. Policies for the family should bolster jobs, give adequate housing and be effective in meeting people's needs, be they for benefits for social security or public services that reduce the stress in family situations that contributes to crime and child abuse.
Practical policies for the family to end crimes against children are far more important than cashing in on the consequences of those crimes for party political purposes. Those policies should include giving all children aged three or four the chance of nursery education. It may be that the Conservative party would prefer another halfpenny or penny off income tax, but there is a different way in which the Government can exercise their responsibility.
They should ensure that children under the age of three have better access to good quality child care and provide parents with more financial support through increased child benefit and one-parent benefit. There should be greater practical help for parents in caring for their children from the community and the Health Service, including safe play facilities. There should be measures to ensure, perhaps expensively, but essentially for the wellbeing of our society, that children can be taught how to protect themselves from physical attack and sexual abuse, 1451 by including child assault prevention techniques in the school curriculum. We should encourage telephone hotlines for abused children.
Crimes against children are the most heartrending crimes in the inner city and elsewhere and we must take action to ensure that the incidence of them is reduced. We should encourage discussion between local education authorities, teachers arid the police about the appropriate relationship between the police and schools, with the aim of developing young people's understanding of the law, respect for the rights and duties of individuals and trust for the police. The police must earn that trust through their policies and practices to both children and the community. That, in my view, is where there is a clear distinction between a police service and a police force. We should ensure that the police work more closely with social workers in cases of child abuse and ensure that they are given special training in interviewing child victims.
A permanent advisory committee drawn from all agencies responsible for children should be set up to advise on further measure so improve the safety and welfare of children. We can all benefit by looking at the Scottish model, the children's panel, especially in individual child abuse cases. That panel is responsible for bringing together the professionals and making a proper assessment.
Without such policies, covering not just crime against children, but crimes across the board, the Government will continue to create the breeding ground for crime. They will not be directly responsible for individual criminals, but they will create the background and climate in which crime will flourish. Conservative Members cannot hide from their responsibility. Crime has its roots in our society. When confrontation is deliberately provoked, bitterness is stirred up and envy is aroused, and when more and more people are frustrated, living without hope and made to feel that society has rejected them, crimes of every sort are more likely to be permitted. We must give those people hope for the future. We must give people the opportunity and will to work with the community, not against it.
Under the Tory Government there is little ground for hope. Their answer to lawlessness is to give extra powers to the police and to change public order law. However, new police powers and new laws on public order offer no hope to those in the inner cities, black and white, with no prospect of a job, no opportunity for training and no chance of a decent home.
The aim of the Labour party is to bring the community together to achieve a free and orderly society where the need for order is accompanied by tolerance of the right to express dissent within the law. That involves the police working with local people to reduce crime and to help its victims. It means ensuring that people protect the lives and property of all other people and that the police uphold our liberty and are more integrated within the framework of democracy and the life of the community. Our aim is to make all of us partners against crime.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
In the closing moments of this debate, I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words about this subject. However, before I do so, I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) and for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), who made superb maiden speeches and contributed some telling and worthwhile points. I should 1452 like to thank and congratulate also my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulmc (Mr. Churchill) for choosing this subject and enabling us to have this debate. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, when I sit down, my hon. Friend will catch your eye so that he may make some closing remarks.
We have heard much from Opposition Members about their wish to see what they call a democratically-elected police authority in the Metropolitan police area. I have rarely heard more arrant nonsense about that subject than this morning. One would not have thought that there had been a general election only a month ago or that the Conservative party holds 58 of the parliamentary constituencies in London, with a mere 23 Socialist seals, many of which are marginals and will no doubt fall to us in the early 1990s. I remind the House that the Metropolitan police area extends beyond the area of the 32 London boroughs and includes nine outer districts, so that there are no fewer than 67 Conservative Members of Parliament representing constituencies that fall within the Metropolitan police area. To suggest that it would be possible to create what Opposition Members call an elected authority for such a large area is irrelevant arid unnecessary. Indeed, my 66 right hon. and hon. Friends who represent those constituencies have no wish for that and are perfectly satisfied with the special arrangements that exist for the police authority in the Metropolitan police area and with our relationship with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
We have discussed police resources. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), speaking for the Government, has made it clear that resources will be made available to the police when there is a valid and sensible reason for them. However, he also made it clear that the random and uniform patrolling by police officers will not have any influence on the reduction of the great mass of crime. He is absolutely right—it will not. As we know, at least 96 per cent. of recorded crime is against property; for example, motor vehicle or auto crime is committed against private property. Such crimes must be prevented by a crime prevention strategy. I endorse and support entirely my hon. Friend's comments about the Government's plans and intentions for that.
Both Labour and Conservative local authorities are increasingly beginning to prevent property crime. My own authority, the city of Westminster, ever innovative, has spent substantial sums of money—nearly £1.5 million during recent years—on fencing for its council estates, on security packages to improve lighting, on entry phones, on warden-call systems to protect the elderly and on the abolition of walkways. One of the most important keys to preventing this mass of opportunistic property crime is to allow people to occupy property which they control and over which they have influence. I am glad that local authorities throughout the country are beginning to do that.
I should like to speak briefly about armed robberies and guns. We shall not prevent armed robberies by having a firearms amnesty. That is attractive, and will bring people's unwanted firearms out of their homes. Although that may be a good thing, it will certainly not reduce the incidence of armed robberies. That involves detection officers in the boring, painstaking task of spending a great deal of time in pubs and clubs, collecting intelligence and 1453 information and putting it together to enable arrests to be made when these terrible crimes are about to be committed. There is no alternative to that.
I do not believe that we can have any influence over the control of armed robberies by introducing an extensive licensing system for shotguns. No armed criminal would find that a threat or a difficulty to overcome. It would take the time of the police in establishing yet another bureaucracy which is unwanted.
That leads me to make a quick point about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That Act was important to define the powers and responsibilities of the police and to ensure a balance of accountability. We have heard in the debate how some hon. Members wish to see the police made accountable. The Act achieves that balance and it can be irksome to the police in their work. Nevertheless, accountability requires some form of structure and control.
I would be much more comforted if the Opposition would abandon entirely their attack on the police which we see going on in many places. The Manchester area has "Police Watch". We saw what happened during the Wapping dispute and the miners' strike. At least nine of the Left-wing London boroughs continue to fund, through ratepayers' pockets, "Policing London". The latest edition for July and August has just come out and is yet another stream of attacks on the police as an institution. That does nothing to create or encourage a climate of opinion among the public towards crime prevention which is what we all want and what the most reasoned voices on both side seek to achieve.
The fear of crime is a concern and is partly met by uniformed police officers patrolling. To that extent, we all welcome the presence of the police on the beat. I hope that the police will be more selective in the use of their resources. We could suggest to the police that they should abandon using extensive police resources over many hundreds of hours to prosecute elderly ladies in Notting Hill who provide remarkable services for gentlemen who visit their property. I do not understand who the victim of that crime was. Apart from entertaining the nation at their breakfast tables in the morning as they read their daily newspapers, I fail to see what advantage there is to the public. I would prefer to see those police resources rededicated to street patrols and the investigation of armed robberies as I have described.
Sometimes the police fail to make the best use of their resources. We want to be constructively critical about the use of police time and resources and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will hear that point in mind when he next meets the Commissioner and his senior officers.
I know that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are at the end of a debate which has been useful and we have all profited from it.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I am grateful for the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the end of this debate because I spent three years at Oxford university researching the problems of policing ethnic minorities in Britain and of their relations with the police. I am watching the clock the whole time and I shall be brief.
Opposition Members, especially the hon. Members for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and for Nottingham, North 1454 (Mr. Allen), have blamed the Government for the increase in crime. That is incorrect. We would have had that crime increase anyway. I have consulted figures in the Library and calculated the growth rate in recorded crime in 14 major industrial countries. The figures show that the number of offences—usually serious offences—recorded in the national statistics for England, Wales and Scotland lies somewhere in the middle. The growth in crime since 1980 is in the middle of that range and the growth of crime in the 1970s is recorded as being very much the same.
For example, the annual average percentage increase in crime from 1970 to 1980 was 4.9. The growth rate was much higher in other industrialised countries. In Canada it was 6.3 per cent., in France 7.5 per cent., in southern Ireland 9 per cent., and in the Netherlands 10.3 per cent. It makes no sense at all to blame the Government for the increase in crime.
Although there has been a general increase in crime in the United Kingdom, under the Conservative Government crimes of violence have increased more slowly than under the Labour Government. Between 1979 and 1986 crimes against the person increased by 32 per cent., but during the previous Labour Administration they increased by 49 per cent. That suggests that the Government's extensive measures have had an effect in contrast to the policies and inaction of previous Labour Governments. In particular, I refer to the introduction of panda cars for the police under Roy Jenkins in the 1960s which caused tremendous problems. Secondly, the previous Labour Government ran down the police force so that we were 7,000 men short when we came to power, and that, too, caused enormous problems. The introduction of panda cars made the police much more remote from the people they serve. My wife has had an ex-panda car—a Morris Minor—for 15 years and it is a wonderful car. All that we have ever had to do is to take the blue flashing light off the top! I only wish that the policing system at that time had been as good as the car.
I had intended to speak on the subject of police consultative procedures and accountability, but unfortunately time does not permit it. However, the Opposition's claim that the police are not accountable is absolute nonsense.
In conclusion, I must say, with some regret, that to me the Opposition seem to want to put the handcuffs on the police and not on the criminal.
§ Mr. Churchill
We have heard three excellent maiden speeches. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), and for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler), whom I welcome as my immediate political neighbour on the banks of the Manchester ship canal. My hon. Friends have made a valuable contribution to our debate and the House will look forward to hearing from them in the years ahead.
I thank my hon. Friends for supporting me today and I thank Opposition Members for taking part in this lively and, I venture to say, worthwhile debate on a very important topic. I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for his reply and for undertaking carefully to consider the points that I have made. I ask him to explore with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the basis on which the authorised police manpower strengths are arrived at for 1455 the various police forces. It is not sufficient to rely on the relationship between the number of police, on the one hand, and the size of population, on the other. We should move towards a closer relationship between police strengths and the numbers of crimes committed.
The Government must tackle crime in the inner cities with new vigour and determination. I do not suggest that more police manpower is the only solution to crime in the inner cities, but it must be a key element in the regeneration of the fabric of society in the decaying inner cities, where we are trying—this is warmly applauded in the country—to bring new life to housing, enterprise and employment——
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.