HC Deb 02 December 1994 vol 250 cc1437-510

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wood.]

9.34 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

Today's debate on the policing of London gives me an opportunity to give an account of the objectives and achievements of the Metropolitan police over the past 12 months. I shall account for my objectives and achievements as police authority for the Metropolitan police. The debate also gives me an opportunity to take a step back and to take a more general view of what policing in London means for the people of London and what it should mean in the future.

Capital cities, particularly the larger ones, present special policing problems. Crime rates are always likely to be higher. Public order will always be a particular challenge. London is, however, a good deal safer than most other capital cities. International comparisons show that the chance of being violently attacked in Rome is three times higher than it is in London. One is 10 times more likely to be a homicide victim in Washington than in London. International statistical comparisons are notoriously difficult to make. Different countries classify crime differently. Statistics are not the only indicator. Just this week, the Evening Standard published the results of a poll which showed that London was voted the safest and cleanest city in Europe by a panel of 500 international executives.

The safety of London is to a very large measure to the credit of the Metropolitan police. The Met, so much larger than any other force in the country, is essentially organised in the same way as the smallest rural force. It does not have an elite core of specialised anti-riot troops. The men and women who are its constables do not return to a barracks where they are isolated from the world and become institutionalised into accepting some militaristic ethos. They go home at night to their families in ordinary communities. Successive Governments have thought it right to keep London's policing on the same fundamental basis set up by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. I agree, although I shall outline later one change that I intend to make to strengthen the arrangements.

In most of my speech, I shall be accounting for the recent work of the Metropolitan police. Before I do so, I want to place firmly on the record my vision for the London of the future. I want to see an even safer city, where safer streets improve the quality of life in London. I want to retain a visible, predominantly unarmed and approachable police service, providing a reassuring presence across London. I want to see more reductions in crime, not just in the petty burglaries that so besmirch ordinary people's lives, but in the drug-related crime that brings so much misery, and in street robberies, which make elderly people afraid to walk down the streets in which they have lived all their lives. That means establishing a clear view of the relative importance of policing tasks, responding to public concerns.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I very much welcome the sentence in which my right hon. and learned Friend said that he wished there to be a more visible police presence on the streets. In parts of Ealing, people are pressing for that strongly. They appreciate the good support that neighbourhood watch, for example, gets from the police. There is, however, a nervousness.

I have already had telephone calls this morning from elderly people. They fear that attacks on their homes, in the form of burglaries, will lead them to the reaction for which Mr. Ted Newbery was taken through the courts yesterday. He was fined for attacking someone who burgled him. Some of my constituents do not understand that. Can my right hon. and learned Friend marry the importance of getting our police on to the streets—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. This is becoming a speech rather than an intervention.

Mr. Howard

I understand, of course, the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has expressed, speaking, as he characteristically does, for his constituents. Mr. Newbery was not fined; he was ordered to pay compensation by the High Court. My hon. Friend knows the constraints under which I have to operate in commenting on decisions by the High Court, especially when, as I understand it, it is at least possible that there may be an appeal. I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed on behalf of his constituents, and especially the importance that he and they attach to the visible presence of the police on the streets. That, I know, is something to which the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis also attaches great significance.

I want to see a city where there is an active partnership between the police and the public, one that really flourishes, and where individual members of London's public know that they can make a difference by volunteering to support their local police in whatever way best suits their local needs. I want all that. To achieve that, I want, above all, the mutual trust between Londoners and their police, the Metropolitan police, to continue and to deepen. That is the best way in which to attack crime and to force the criminal on to the defensive.

That is my vision for London. Let me refer now to my immediate vision for the Met. That is set out in the statement of priorities for 1994–95, which I announced to the House on 7 February. The priorities take full account of the Government's key objectives for policing. Those objectives form the core of the annual priorities document, which is part of the Metropolitan police corporate strategy. The corporate strategy is, effectively, the policing plan which, under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, must be produced for every force outside London. I approved the Met's document in February and sent a copy to every right hon. and hon. Member with a constituency interest.

I want to spend a little time reporting progress on the main objectives. I start with the final objective on the list of priorities in the Met's annual document: to improve policing performance and quality of service by restructuring the Metropolitan Police". That is in many ways the most important of them all. The past year has been a time of great change and great progress for the Metropolitan police, as for other police forces. The police reforms being introduced elsewhere under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act are being applied in the Met as well.

The Commissioner, with my full support, has undertaken a thorough review of the Met's structure and organisation. The whole purpose of the exercise is to improve performance and quality of service. The aim is to achieve the most efficient and effective use of resources, to improve communication and decision making, and to remove unnecessary links in the chain. Through a reduction in the number of headquarters and central support posts, resources can be freed for operational duties at the front line. A number of important changes have already been made. The eight force areas have been reduced to five, each headed by an assistant commissioner. The rank of deputy assistant commissioner is being phased out and middle management slimmed down, with an expected saving of 450 posts at inspecting and superintending level through voluntary early retirement.

The Commissioner's restructuring review includes both headquarters functions and specialist units. Those units carry the Met's special national and international responsibilities. Naturally, there was concern about the future of some of those and I received many representations from right hon. and hon. Members about the future of the obscene publications branch. I am expecting the Commissioner's detailed proposals very shortly, but he has already assured me that the branch will continue much in its present form, and will continue to co-ordinate work against paedophiles at a national level.

The restructuring review has been intensive and far reaching. Inevitably, it has involved some uncomfortable questions and difficult decisions. It has presented the Met's officers with a considerable challenge. They are rising to that challenge and I am sure that benefits flowing from the exercise, which is now nearing completion, will be rapidly seen and widely acknowledged.

The first objective in the Met's priority list for 1994–95 was to deliver the standards defined in the Metropolitan police charter. The charter was launched in September 1993. It makes firm and public commitments to certain performance standards and targets for the force. Up to the year ending October 1994, all the targets had been achieved and, in several instances, exceeded.

The Met was able to reach the scene of more than 90 per cent. of all urgent incidents within 12 minutes, exceeding the charter standard. It answered 84 per cent. of 999 calls within 15 seconds, exceeding the charter standard. It attended immediately or very promptly to 83 per cent. of people calling at police stations, exceeding the charter standard, and it answered 89 per cent. of letters within 10 working days, exceeding the charter standard. Surveys of people requiring the services of the Met showed that 92 per cent. of crime victims and 94 per cent. of traffic accident victims were pleased with the service received, and 83 per cent. of people calling at police stations were pleased with the service that they received there.

Important as it is, public satisfaction cannot be the only yardstick to measure whether the police are doing their job. That is why two objectives, the second and third priorities in the Met's document, set specific and tough targets for dealing with crime, particularly burglary. Those are to increase the number of notifiable offences solved from around 150,000 to 190,000", and to increase the detection rate for burglary to 15 per cent. I am pleased to be able to report to the House that the Met looks set to meet both targets. Compared with the previous year, in 1993–94, reported crime fell by 5 per cent., to 895,894 recorded crimes, and the number of crimes solved increased by 6 per cent., to 159,993. The number solved in the half year from April to the end of September 1994 is 88,859—pretty much on target.

The Met's most notable success has been in tackling burglary. Operation Bumblebee, which had been successfully launched in north London in 1991, was extended across the whole of the Metropolitan police district in June 1993. Burglary is a priority because of its prevalence and because of the impact that it has on the lives of victims, the family and business. The figures for the first year of Operation Bumblebee are impressive. In the year to June 1994, burglaries fell by 14 per cent., and residential burglaries by 17 per cent., compared with the previous year. That means that there were 25,000 fewer victims of burglary in London last year than the year before. I regard that as a major contribution to the fight against crime.

I know that there has been some criticism of Operation Bumblebee. It has been suggested, for example, that it takes resources away from other crime problems. However, it was precisely because of complaints that the police were not giving enough priority to investigating burglary that Bumblebee was seen to be necessary. No one can seriously doubt that people want the police to act effectively against burglars, nor, indeed, does the evidence from independent research, commissioned from the London School of Economics and due to be published shortly, give any comfort to the armchair critics of the police who suggest that there has been some "displacement" of crime.

The armchair critics also say that Bumblebee is almost as much a media operation as a policing operation. To say that is to miss the point. The Met must publicise what it is doing in order to let burglars know that they will not be allowed to offend with impunity. The very substantial fall in the number of burglaries suggests that burglars are getting that message.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Everybody welcomes the improvements in clearing up burglaries and in that part of the police's work. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that this year the Metropolitan police said that, to do its job properly, it needed 150 more officers. Does the Home Secretary accept that the Met needs 150 more officers and, if he does, why was he not able to approve that request?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is a trifle behind the times because the position is that the Commissioner, in common with other chief constables under the new arrangements that we are putting in place for the police service across the country, will have the freedom to decide for himself how he can use most effectively the resources that are made available to him.

The settlement that I announced yesterday, together with certain other changes of which the Metropolitan police is able to take advantage, will ensure that the Commissioner, if he so chooses, will be able at least to maintain the number of police officers in London at its present level. It is for him to decide how he disposes of his resources. He has, of course, to satisfy a number of demands as well as those which can be identified simply by the number of police officers. However, it is for him to decide how to use those resources most effectively.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Since the Secretary of State has now turned to the issue of resources—

Mr. Howard

I shall turn to it in more detail later.

Mr. Straw

In that case, I shall make my intervention at that moment.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am, of course, coming to the question of resources in somewhat more detail later in my remarks. I was just responding to the intervention by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

I am not impressed by the criticism that the so-called secondary clear-ups—offenders owning up to other offences—should not count. Why not? After all, that is precisely the outcome one would expect from operations that target—and catch—professional burglars.

A further important objective for 1994–95, No. 5 in the Met's priorities document, was to improve performance against the criminal use of firearms. We cannot disregard the increase in the use of firearms against police officers. A firearm in the hand of a criminal is still relatively rare, but even one case is one case too many. Action against criminal use of firearms is a priority because of the potential harm to individuals and the impact on the safety of Londoners.

The Commissioner has responded in two ways. First, he launched a major publicity campaign, targeting the illegal possession and supply of weapons. Secondly, he increased the number of armed response vehicles from four to 12. I have also approved his request that their crews should be permitted to carry their sidearms openly and I have agreed that royalty and diplomatic protection officers on static duty may also do so when in shirt-sleeve order.

Those measures represent a balanced response to the firearms threat in London. They do not constitute, or even approach, routine arming of ordinary police officers. It is a fact that at the beginning of this year there were 631 fewer officers authorised for firearms than in 1991. The drop in the number of police officers in the Met qualified to carry firearms reflects the Commissioner's view that firearms capacity should be concentrated on a few specialist officers.

I referred earlier to my determination to make London an even safer city. I am equally determined to ensure, as far as I can, the safety of police officers as they face violence and threats. I do not think that anyone who holds my office could fail to be impressed by the dedication of police officers in placing their duty to uphold law and order above considerations of personal safety. That is a fact of their lives and a routine part of the job whether they patrol the streets or go to investigate a reported crime.

In the past year, I have had the melancholy duty of attending the funerals of two very brave officers who gave their lives in the battle against crime. Police Constable Patrick Dunne was shot dead after responding to a call to a domestic incident at a house in Clapham on 20 October 1993. Sergeant Derek Robertson was stabbed to death at the scene of a robbery at a sub-post office in Croydon on 9 February this year. No words are adequate to describe the debt of gratitude that we—all of us—owe them.

Sergeant Robertson and PC Dunne were far from being the only officers in the Metropolitan police to suffer from criminal violence this year. In 1993–94, 3,902 officers were injured as a result of being assaulted while on duty. That represents an increase of 15.8 per cent. over 1992–93. Firearms were involved in 41 assaults on police officers, compared with six in 1992–93, and in 23 of those assaults, firearms were actually discharged. Knives or other sharp instruments were used on 45 occasions compared with 49 in 1992–93. The police officers who suffered those attacks were prepared to put their own safety second to that of others. That makes it all the more important that everything possible should be done to protect them from the risks that they face.

The old-fashioned police truncheon has given good service; but with the greater risks that officers now face, we need to be sure that they have the best available equipment with which to defend themselves against attacks by criminals.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the police and the House will be grateful to him for the changes that he has made to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which now enable the police to search for knives in certain very limited and specific circumstances? That is a very substantial improvement and I hope that it will reduce the figure of 45 to which my right hon. and learned Friend has just referred.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The new power provided by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is important to protect the police in ihe context that we are discussing. It is also important to protect the public in a very real sense. The powers that the police previously had to search for knives and other weapons were inadequate and I know that they welcome the additional powers provided by the 1994 Act.

At the Commissioner's request, I have approved the use of a range of longer—22 in, 24 in and 26 in—batons. Scientific tests have shown that those batons have no more potential to cause injury than the traditional truncheon.

One absolutely vital piece of protective equipment on which a police officer relies is his personal radio. Because of the great importance that officers rightly attach to rapid and reliable communications, I have accepted the Commissioner's proposal that a new, more advanced UHF "trunked" radio system should be introduced. The new system will have many advantages over the old one, including better geographical coverage and greater adaptability and reliability. The contract for the new system was signed earlier this year, and it is expected to be fully operational across the Metropolitan police district by 1998.

So far, I have concentrated on the Met's objectives and its performance in the light of those objectives. Before I come to the important core functions of maintaining the Queen's peace and working in partnership, I want to say something about resources, in particular the level of central Government funding for the Metropolitan police.

For 1995–96, the Met will receive more money than it did the previous year. Over the period 1979 to 1994, expenditure on the Met increased by 60 per cent. in real terms. Next year, its allocation under the formula, plus the special provision which the Government judge necessary because of the Metropolitan police's unique national and capital city functions, will total £;1,628.56 million, compared with £;1,616.89 million in 1994℃95.

I am also revising the existing system of Home Office controls on Metropolitan police expenditure as part of my programme of police reform. The Commissioner sought financial flexibilities to match those available to forces outside London. I welcomed his proposals. They are eminently sensible and I have acted on them by arranging for the Met to hold cash reserves—which means that there can be more funds available for policing London in 1995–96, on top of the existing £;1.6 billion that it is getting under the settlement.

The quantum of the settlement, with those extra flexibilities and savings from the contracting out of court escort duties and from restructuring, will enable the Commissioner at least to maintain present numbers of police officers in London. I have not yet received his proposals on how he plans to spend his allocation, but I am confident that he will ensure that the level and quality of policing in the capital will remain the highest in the land. That is the challenge which the Commissioner faces. I am sure that he will rise to it.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

I attended the Operation Bumblebee roadshow the other day, which the police took to my constituency. Several police officers told me that they would like a permanent site, which could then be manned by civilians. That would release police officers for duty as the operation is extremely expensive in terms of manpower and resources. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider that as part of the possibilities for improving resources in London?

Mr. Howard

I am sure that the Commissioner will want to consider that suggestion seriously. It is entirely an operational matter for him and it comes well within his remit to decide on the most effective disposition of his resources. It is certainly an interesting suggestion and I am sure that he will want to consider it.

Mr. Straw

The Secretary of State was good enough yesterday to send me details of the police grant for next year. However, he will accept that there were no comparisons with previous years.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify for me whether, in practice, additional real resources will go to the Metropolitan police against the background of two points? The first is an admission by the Home Office in a press notice on Budget day that there would be an overall 3 per cent. decline in real resources for all Home Office expenditure. The second point relates to an analysis prepared by statisticians in the Library, which confirms the figure that the Secretary of State has just given of £1,628 million of total funding for next year. However, it says that net expenditure for this year would be £32 million higher rather than lower. On every comparison—standard spending assessments, police grant and net spending—it looks as if there will be a real terms reduction in funding. Is that because it is impossible to compare the new system with the old one, or will there be a reduction?

Mr. Howard

I have not seen the statistical exercise to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but let me see whether I can help him. Overall funding for the police will increase over the country as a whole by 3 per cent. next year. That is in excess of the net additional pay bill that results from the pay settlement for next year. There can be no question, over the country as a whole, but that enough money will be made available to the service at least to maintain the existing number of police officers.

As for London, I gave the figures on a strictly comparable basis just a couple of moments ago. Those are the figures for the budget. In order properly to assess the financial position of the Metropolitan police for next year, we must take into account some additional factors. First, as I said, court escort duties will no longer be the responsibility of the Metropolitan police; they are being contracted out. The £7 million cost of court escort duties is not being removed from the Metropolitan police; it will remain in the budget for the Metropolitan police to use as the Commissioner thinks fit. That must be added in order properly to appreciate the increase in the budget to which I referred a moment ago. That is the first important qualification and extra factor to be taken into account.

Secondly, there is the ability to carry over reserves from one financial year to the next, which the Commissioner has asked for and which I have happily been able to agree to. Last year, there was an underspend on the budget of £11 million, and that had to be surrendered because flexibility did not exist. In future, up to 2 per cent.—that is, up to £35 million—a year will be kept. The Metropolitan police will have power to keep it and to use it for spending in the following year. That is a significant additional resource which will be available to the Metropolitan police.

Thirdly, there are the consequences and the savings of the substantial restructuring exercise that the Commissioner has undertaken. I have referred to the saving of 450 middle-ranking posts. That frees up substantial resources. They are not being removed from the budget; they will be available for the Commissioner to use as he thinks best. All those factors must be taken into account in making a reasonable, proper and fair assessment of the financial position of the Metropolitan police next year.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I apologise for not being present at the beginning of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. Will he bear in mind the costs to the police of policing demonstrations on the streets of London and of the recent nonsense of motorway demonstrators trying to prevent lawful people from going about their business? Will my right hon. and learned Friend take action and introduce legislation to stop or reduce such occurrences and therefore save valuable police resources, so that they can be spent on matters that they should be spent on, such as fighting crime and protecting innocent people, and not be wasted on policing demonstrations?

Mr. Howard

I shall refer to public order in a moment or two, so I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. He will know that, in respect of demonstrations that take place in association with trespass, the new offence of aggravated trespass, which the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced, gives the police significant additional powers.

The extra money for the Metropolitan police, to which I have just referred, and indeed for the whole of the police service in England and Wales, shows yet again the Government's staunch commitment to supporting the police and to maintaining the Queen's peace.

Of course, maintaining the Queen's peace is a core function of the police. For the Met, more than any other force, that includes policing planned events in public places, including ceremonial and other high-risk occasions, and preparing contingency plans to deal with spontaneous disorder and major civil emergencies—precisely the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) makes.

The Met has had to face a number of public order challenges this year. In 1993, serious public disorder occurred on two occasions in Welling during protests against the presence there of the British National party's bookshop. On 8 May, 42 police officers and 13 members of the public were injured. On 16 October, 21 police officers and 42 members of the public were injured.

There were also demonstrations in opposition to the new Criminal Justice and Public Order Act while it was making its progress through this House and another place. On 24 July this year, the police succeeded in keeping the peace during a march from Hyde park to Trafalgar square. Despite a large crowd and some ugly scenes outside Downing street, on the whole the march was peaceful. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the march from the Embankment to Hyde park on 9 October. About 2,000 of the marchers refused to disperse at the end of the march and, disgracefully, attacked the police. At one stage, about 100 of that group broke away and attacked shops in Oxford street. There was further disorder on 20 October in the area around the House, when the police made 35 arrests, mostly for drunkenness and public order offences.

On all those occasions, the disorder was the work of a despicable minority intent on causing trouble and riding roughshod over the rights of everyone else, including those who came along to demonstrate peacefully. Their actions show more eloquently than words the wisdom of the House in supplying the police with the effective powers to which I referred in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard

I should give way first to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who attacked the police after those events. Indeed, I hope that he will take this opportunity to apologise for the remarks that he made then.

Mr. Corbyn

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. I am surprised that it took him six weeks to get his underlings to reply to my letter asking for a public inquary into the events surrounding the demonstration on 9 October and in which I told him that those who organised the march and rally were more than happy to co-operate with any inquiry. We had no wish to see any violence at the end of it.

What I questioned—I still do, and I shall raise it if I am called to speak—are the policing tactics that were used at the end of the demonstration, the lack of co-operation with the organisers of the demonstration who wished to avoid trouble, why Park lane was closed to all through traffic at the time, thus exacerbating the problem, and why there was no co-operation to ensure that the crowd were able to leave Hyde park by other exits to reduce the pressure of numbers in the area.

I get the feeling that the Home Secretary is glorying in this matter and is refusing to consider all the problems and the tactics that were later used by the police. The earlier policing tactics—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have had occasion to say before that long interventions are not appropriate. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch my eye, and he will be able to expand on his points if he so wishes, but not now.

Mr. Howard

One thing has emerged clearly in the past couple of minutes: any attempt by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to suggest that the hon. Member for Islington, North is alone when he attacks the police for those events would be entirely wide of the mark. Almost every Labour Member on the Opposition Back Benches supported what the hon. Member for Islington, North said in his intervention. That is the authentic voice of the Labour party when it comes to policing matters. There is absolutely no need for any inquiry.

Mr. Corbyn

Answer my point.

Mr. Howard

I am answering the hon. Gentleman's point. The only issues that arise in the context of those demonstrations—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) wishes successfully to catch my eye, I suggest that he keeps quiet now.

Mr. Howard

The only issues that arise in the context of those demonstrations are whether individuals broke the law. Those issues are determined by the courts of this land. No other issues arise. It is perfectly clear from some of the leaflets we have seen that there were those who came to the demonstration that afternoon determined to inflict violence upon the police. That is the essential truth of what happened that day, and the Labour party should face up to it.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, but I regret that in the last few moments he has descended from a general, non-partisan approach in his speech. Does he not realise that there is a difference—I know about the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) raised—between "attack", which is the word that the right hon. and learned Gentleman used, and a comment on tactics, which is always a useful exercise to engage in after the event?

Mr. Howard

When I used that word, I was referring to leaflets which had been prepared and distributed before the event and which clearly demonstrated that people came to that event determined to attack the police. That is the truth of the matter. [Interruption.] I did not accuse the hon. Member for Islington, North of physically attacking the police—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not know about the events that are being discussed, but we will have order in the House now.

Mr. Howard

The truth is very simple: there were those who came to the event planning to inflict violence on the police—to attack the police physically. There were also those, such as the hon. Member for Islington, North, who attacked the police after the event—not with physical violence—over their handling of the event. The hon. Gentleman has attacked the police over their handling of the event. He nods in assent when I put that proposition to the House again, and it is clear that he has widespread support in his attacks from the Back Benches of the Labour party.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Home Secretary understand once and for all that the organisers of the demonstration wanted a peaceful demonstration, and indeed were complimented by the police officers present on the organisation of the march and rally? We were critical of the policing tactics used after the rally had ended and of the absolute refusal of the senior police officers present to co-operate with the organisers, whom they had just complimented, by reducing the pressure of numbers around the Park lane area in order to avoid the very unfortunate and tragic scenes that followed the demonstration and march.

Mr. Howard

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's points. He used considerably more extreme language at the time. There is absolutely no need for a public inquiry into the events. What matters is whether people broke the law, and the courts have the power to deal with that issue.

The Metropolitan police were able to deal effectively with all those challenges to public order, and they deserve our thanks. I pay particular tribute to them for the way in which they policed another event: the Notting Hill carnival. The carnival is the largest outdoor public event in Europe. In 1993, more than 2 million people attended it over two days. The Commissioner deployed 8,300 officers to police the event and there were only 53 arrests, mainly for drunkenness. With an event of that size, I believe that that is a great tribute to the skill and commitment of the Metropolitan police, working in close co-operation with the organisers.

Mr. Dicks

How much did it cost?

Mr. Howard

Of course, it cost a good deal in police time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have certain views about seated interventions, which apply to both sides of the House.

Mr. Howard

That was a successful event, in which I believe that the whole community of London can take a good deal of pride, particularly in relation to the way in which it was policed.

Mr. Stephen

In addition to the incidents of public disorder that the Home Secretary listed, is it not also the case that his residence was attacked by so-called "demonstrators"? Is not that a fundamental attack not only on one of the Queen's Ministers, but upon our democracy? Should it not merit the strongest condemnation from every one of us, including the relevant Opposition Front-Bench spokesman when he addresses the House today?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his solicitude. That is one of the many occupational hazards to which I have become accustomed in this office.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

On the subject of policing public events, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the policing of football matches that occur regularly at scheduled times on a weekly or bi-weekly basis? The cost of policing inside the grounds is currently paid for by the football clubs, but the cost of policing outside the grounds, which can be very substantial indeed, is not defrayed in any way. Could the cost of that use of police resources, which can be considerable in central London, be met in some way by the financially successful clubs?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which has wider implications than those confined to the policing of football matches. I have no doubt that it will be considered carefully.

The second of the Met's core functions that I want to deal with—

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Before the Home Secretary leaves the issue of public order, will he tell the House the cost of the operation that took place this week in my constituency at Claremont road, in relation to the MI1 link road? The Department of Transport is to blame for that situation. Will he also explain why riot police officers have been present at that protest, as they have been present at other demonstrations in London, without numbers on their police uniforms? That seems to be a habit among the riot police. Will the Home Secretary do something about it?

Mr. Howard

What an astonishing intervention from the hon. Gentleman. Is he not prepared to condemn those who are breaking the law by trespassing on land and obstructing its lawful use? Does he not accept that any democratically elected Government have the right to decide, in accordance with proper procedures, whether a road should be built and that, when a decision has been taken with all the authority of the law, no one has the right to thwart that expression of the will of the people? Those are the actions which the hon. Gentleman ought to condemn. It is astonishing that he should rise and not condemn the activities which have led to that police action.

Mr. Cohen

I have discussed the matter with local police and even they recognise the people's right to demonstrate and protest, peacefully and legally, and resist the scheme every step of the way. It is their right to do so. The Home Secretary does not seem to understand that civil liberties are at stake. That is no surprise, because Mr. John Maples, vice-chairman of the Conservative party, gave the game away in a leaked memorandum in which he said, "Civil liberties don't matter; let's get rid of a few civil liberties to test whether Tony Blair will accept them in the House." That is how much the Tories care about civil liberties.

Mr. Howard

The cause of civil liberty is not advanced by the deliberate obfuscation of the clear difference between peaceful protest, which is the democratic right of people in this country with which we do not interfere, and the obstruction of lawful activities on other people's land. No civilised, democratic society should be asked to tolerate it. That is the key distinction which the hon. Gentleman totally fails to face.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on the activities of those who seek to persuade others to commit acts of public disorder, both by making racist speeches in universities, as HUT does, and by the spread of racist and anti-Semitic literature, which is a particular problem in north London?

Mr. Howard

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, and of course I share them. He knows that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act gives the police a number of additional powers and, in particular, for the first time makes distributing racist literature an arrestable offence.

One of the great problems that the police have always had in dealing with that particular mischief is the inadequacy of their powers to get at the people who are responsible. One of the deficiencies in the former arrangements was that the police did not have the power to arrest people who were engaged in the act of distributing the literature. That is cured by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I hope that it will prove to be of significant assistance to the police as they deal, I hope, more effectively than they were able to do in the past with such despicable activities.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The whole House will welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the new powers and provisions.

With reference to the two demonstrations in Welling about which my right hon. and learned Friend spoke earlier and to the Anti Racist Alliance meeting in Trafalgar square to protest against racism, does he agree that it would be helpful if the media spent as much time covering non-violent demonstrations as a constructive protest against racism, as they did covering the violence that we saw at Welling?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend encourage the media—I know that there cannot be a law on this—to make clear in advance of demonstrations organised by the Anti Nazi League or Youth Against Racism in Europe the links between those organisations and the Socialist Workers party and Militant rather than saying it only afterwards, when the violence has been associated with those groups?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend makes some valuable points. He rightly says that those matters cannot be dealt with through legislation. They are matters for the media. I hope that representatives of the media who take note of today's debate will pay particular attention to the important points raised by my hon. Friend.

The second of the Met's core functions is partnership. Partnership between the police and the public is, of course, no new thing. The very notion of policing by consent is based on it. In recent years, partnership has seen a steady development. It is not so long since we were introduced to the idea of neighbourhood watch, which has rapidly become an established part of the fight against crime.

We need to take the partnership approach further. I sought to do that in my "Partners against Crime" campaign, which I launched in September this year. Its purpose is to encourage individuals to help the police. First, it seeks to build on and expand the achievements of neighbourhood watch. Secondly, street watch encourages people to walk round their neighbourhoods keeping their eyes and ears open for anything suspicious. People who are able to make a bigger commitment can do so by becoming neighbourhood constables.

The Commissioner has responded enthusiastically to my initiatives. He is arranging for every division to have an officer ready to assist members of the public who may want to set up a street watch scheme and has pledged the Met's full co-operation and support for the other two tiers of the programme.

I am particularly pleased to report the development of the first neighbourhood constable scheme in Wandsworth, warmly supported, I know, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). The 60 to 100 neighbourhood constables that Wandsworth is looking to recruit will be special constables who volunteer to patrol their local areas. They will help to provide the visible police presence, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North spoke earlier, that is needed to reassure law-abiding people and to deter criminals.

What we are seeing with the scheme in Wandsworth is what I want to see happening throughout the country. 'The more people sign up as neighbourhood special constables, the more the police will be able to keep crime at bay.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The Home Secretary will know that I asked him a question earlier this week about stops and searches. I asked whether records were kept of those who are stopped and searched, but not arrested. The Home Secretary replied to the effect that that was a matter for the chief constable of each area. May I ask the Minister, as he is the police authority for London, specifically in relation to the Metropolitan police, whether records have been kept of those who have been stopped and searched, but not arrested and how those records are kept? Are they on police computers or are they written records?

Mr. Howard

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the new powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. They are not yet in force, so I cannot answer the question in the terms that he asks. Just as it is a matter for the chief constables of other forces, so it will be a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), may be able to add to that answer when he replies to the debate.

Some people seem to think that my partnership initiatives are irrelevant to the needs of high-crime areas. I suggest that they go to the corridors of Cowan court on London's Stonebridge estate in Harlesden. The graffiti on the walls have been replaced with neighbourhood watch signs and the corridors and walkways are now free of drug dealing. The community police constable puts that down to People working together and keeping an eye out for each other. It's about residents spreading the word and making others more confident about approaching the police". That is what my partnership initiative is all about. That is why everyone needs it. I am glad to see indications of assent from the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), in whose constituency the estate lies.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Home Secretary will know that I welcome greatly the direction in which he is taking that policy. It is the only way of achieving effective combating of much of the crime in inner London. Will he say that the implication of that policy is that privatising policing by handing it over to private security firms, particularly on council estates, and the setting up of alternative police forces by local authorities is far less acceptable and desirable, should not be necessary and should be resisted?

Mr. Howard

I have made it clear that the most effective way forward is that shown by Wandsworth. It involves not private policing of estates but recruiting members of the public to act as special neighbourhood constables in the closest co-operation with the police. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that neighbourhood special constables are police officers, trained, uniformed and with the powers that go with the office of constable.

Partnership goes wider than individual people getting together to help the police. It needs to involve the whole of society, including local authorities, Government Departments and local businesses, public and private. Two key problems in which partnership is of the essence are racial attacks and drugs. The Met co-operates fully in the Government's partnership initiatives to combat racially motivated crime, such as the Home Office-funded project in Newham. Racial incident units such as that at Plumstead lead the field in encouraging victims to report attacks, improving clear-up rates and offering support.

Local authorities, too, can play their part. The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea has developed an excellent range of measures against racial harassment. Its policy is to take perpetrators of racial harassment to court and to have them evicted. The borough works with the local police to increase protection of victims' homes. There are special turn-round times for erasing racial graffiti and micro closed-circuit television schemes in problem areas. That shows what can be done.

I am confident that the legal framework for dealing with that most insidious and unpleasant of offences is now adequate. I applaud the Met in its continuing vigorous efforts, working with local authorities and a host of other agencies, to eradicate racial harassment and attacks throughout London.

Drug-related crime and drug abuse also demand a partnership approach. A good example is Operation Welwyn in King's Cross. Here a partnership between the police, local authorities, British Rail, London Transport and the local community has had a dramatic effect on drugs and prostitution in and around King's Cross station. The effective policing methods used have produced reliable evidence, which has in turn secured a high conviction rate. At Crown courts, the conviction rate for those arrested in the area for supplying controlled drugs is 97 per cent.

The Met is not, and the Government are not, under any illusion about the continuing need to fight drug abuse and the effects of drug abuse in every possible way. The Commissioner, in a speech in September, said: the notion that decriminalizing any category of drugs would make the problem 'go away' is extremely dangerous and one that needs to be robustly countered". I do my best to counter it robustly at every opportunity and I am grateful to the Commissioner for his active support.

The Met's recent record is highly creditable and I shall consider carefully how we can refine the targets for next year to improve performance still further. In doing so, this year I shall have the benefit of independent advice.

I said earlier that the Government are seeking, as far as possible, to apply administratively to the Metropolitan police the reforms in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. For a number of good reasons connected with the force's unique position and special role, we decided after much consideration that the holder of my office should continue to be the police authority for the Metropolitan police and should, as now, be answerable to Parliament. That did not mean, however, that the existing arrangements could not be improved and I am appointing a new body—the Metropolitan police committee—outside the Home Office to advise me on matters for which I am responsible as police authority and to help ensure that Londoners get the best value for money from their force.

I am pleased to be able to announce that Sir John Quinton, formerly group chairman of Barclays bank, has agreed to be chairman of the committee. I very much look forward to working with him and his colleagues to try to ensure that the people of London have a police service that builds on its achievements and responds even more effectively to their needs.

I shall shortly be appointing the members of the committee, with Sir John's help, from the excellent field of applications that we received. Members will be selected for their abilities as individuals and not as representatives of particular groups.

Mr. Spearing

Does not the Home Secretary realise that that announcement and policy are the opposite to that of his predecessor and that in London the municipally elected borough councils might well be a much better way of achieving what he calls an advisory committee—they run the fire brigade—than the means that he has chosen? Appointment by the Home Secretary to the advisory body is contrary to the constitutional practices and precepts of this country and will be heavily criticised in debate in the House.

Mr. Howard

I do not accept any of that. I explained clearly when I announced my decision to have a Metropolitan police committee for London the reasons for doing so—the fact that policing in London has a national and international significance, which makes it different from policing in other areas and which makes it inappropriate to have the same sort of authority for London as we are putting in place elsewhere. I explained that fully at the time. I welcome the opportunity to explain it further to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to pursue the matter at any stage.

Mr. Cohen

How does board membership of Barclays bank make a person suitable to run a police authority for London? Will the bank put in any money to fight crime in London?

Mr. Howard

When the hon. Gentleman has had time to reflect on the matter and to look at Sir John Quinton's considerable record of public service in many areas, he will realise just how churlish his question is. I have every confidence that Sir John will be able to bring his considerable qualities, expertise and experience to those responsibilities and the people of London will benefit in consequence.

Mr. Carrington

I greatly welcome the appointment of Sir John Quinton, who will be an excellent chairman of the committee. Will my right hon. and learned Friend also consider the fact that the remit of the committee should be to co-ordinate closely with the network of police consultative groups around London, so that the input of ordinary people can be fed in and form part of the advice that is given to him, as the police authority for London?

Mr. Howard

I know that Sir John will want to do that. My hon. Friend is right in identifying those groups as having a very effective role in transmitting the views of the people of London to those who are responsible for policing it.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Will the Home Secretary advise the public in London that, despite the announcement of a ceasefire, there is still a threat from terrorism and that it could be some time before that threat to everyone in the London area goes away permanently?

Mr. Howard

Yes, I can indeed give the advice that the hon. Gentleman suggested is appropriate. We need to remain vigilant and keep up our guard.

Since the House last debated the policing of London, the Metropolitan police has had a new Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon. I pay tribute to the energy and commitment that he has shown during his first 18 months as Commissioner. I know that in the next 12 months he will be consolidating the changes that he has initiated and that he is as determined as I am to ensure that Londoners continue to get the professional service that they have come, rightly, to expect from one of the greatest police forces in the world.

10.34 am
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Throughout Britain, policing is a difficult and at times a dangerous task, but nowhere is it more complex than in the metropolis. Alongside the job of providing a peaceful environment for the capital's 7 million residents, the police in London also have to cope with the demands of 500,000 daily commuters and millions of tourists. When community care or the London health service fail, as they do all too often, the police become the social workers of last resort.

Most political demonstrations take place in London. It is the seat of government, and the home of the diplomatic corps and the royal family. It houses the headquarters of most of our businesses and social institutions, all of which places further burdens on the Metropolitan police.

On top of all of that is the alarming reality that, although the capital has only one eighth of our population and one fifth of the total police establishment of England and Wales, a huge proportion of the nation's serious crime occurs here—one third of all murders and rapes, half of all armed robberies, three quarters of all major frauds, an estimated three quarters of all illicit drug dealing and four in five of all terrorist offences.

First, I pay my tribute and that of my party to the Metropolitan police service, its Commissioner Sir Paul Condon and his 28,000 officers and 17,000 civilians for the exemplary way in which they carried out their tasks in the period covered by the Commissioner's report. In the course of their duties, one in seven officers in the London force has been injured. The number who were seriously injured increased 55 per cent. in the year in question.

The Home Secretary drew our attention to the fact that two officers, Police Constable Patrick Dunne and Sergeant Derek Robertson, lost their lives while trying to keep the peace for Londoners. We salute their work and bravery and express our condolences to their families, friends and colleagues in their bereavement.

The Secretary of State also referred to protection for the police and the development of side-handled batons and other matters that the Commissioner mentioned in his report, especially the use of protective vests and guns. None of us likes the fact that the old image of the London bobby is having to change. Some of us who are now in middle age grew up with that image. As far as we are concerned, however, the only considerations for determining whether side-handled batons, vests and other equipment should be used, are the twin and linked ones of the safety of officers and that of law-abiding members of the public.

The police in London face great and additional burdens, not least because most political demonstrations take place in the capital. I must deal with the matter that was the subject of some exchanges across the Chamber a few moments ago. I am in no doubt that the overwhelming majority of people who came to protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 did so with entirely peaceful intent, and peacefully. As far as possible, they sought to co-operate with the police. It may indeed be the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and his colleagues who helped to organise that demonstration, on the peaceful side, could be assisted if they spoke further to the Commissioner and commanding officer of the day about the tactics used.

No one with any knowledge of some of the groups operating in London can be in any doubt that a group was intent on attacking the police on that day, regardless of what the peaceful demonstrators intended to do. That is the reality. I have here one of the leaflets issued by Class War just before the demonstration, headed "Keep it Spikey", which reads: We should pick our own pitch for the battle … When throwing—throw well. Don't stand so far back that you are unable to reach your target"— the police— and your brick ends up cracking the back of someone's head. Resist arrests. Struggle … and call for help. If you see someone else getting arrested then try to wrestle them back into the crowd. The next passage will be of great interest to those who were organising the peaceful side of the demonstration. There are instructions to those supporting Class War to disrupt the peaceful demonstrators. The leaflet says: Ruffle the fluffies. There's people on the demonstration that think we should keep things calm or fluffy. These tossers were even considering spraying trouble causers with green paint to identify them to the police. They are scum, if they get in the way clout them … you know they won't hit you back as well.

Mr. Howard

In view of the Labour party's opposition to the changes made in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act to the circumstances in which comment can be made on someone's silence, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the next section of the leaflet. It reads: If arrested say nothing, do not make any statement to the police, don't get in to conversation with them. They only want a statement because they need it to get conviction against you or others.

Mr. Straw

I shall read the whole leaflet if the Home Secretary wishes, but I have no intention of going on for an hour as the Home Secretary did. There was a serious debate about the issue of the right of silence, and Labour supported the majority recommendation of the Royal Commission which required that there should be a pre-trial disclosure by the defence of their case. That is something that we still support.

As the Home Secretary is seeking to lower the tone of the debate—

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw

Yes, he is. I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is something of an inconsistency between his approach to the right of silence for those charged with criminal offences and to those facing allegations of serious misconduct or fraud in running certain councils.

Thirteen years ago at the time of the Brixton riots, police and community relations in London were far less satisfactory than today, as the Scarman report spelled out. More recently, Sir John Woodcock, when chief inspector of constabulary, described the problems in the Metropolitan police with which Sir Paul's predecessor Sir Peter Imbert had to cope as coming "close to disaster".

At that time, the Metropolitan police was known as a "force". Today, it is called a "service", and that simple change in title underlines a significant and commendable change in approach from both the Metropolitan police itself and the communities which it seeks to serve.

The key to that change has been the partnership which the Metropolitan police and elected local authorities and others in London have been able to develop. Many examples are listed in the Commissioner's report, such as partnerships in Southwark, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Newham and many other boroughs.

The Secretary of State himself referred to the Kings Cross area—straddling the border of Camden and Islington—and to Operation Welwyn, a joint programme by the police, the two local authorities and other agencies which was actively backed by the two local Members, my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). The programme achieved an enormous improvement in the quality of life for the area's residents by dramatic and sustained reductions in the levels of drug-dealing and of open prostitution.

Local authorities have worked actively with the police across London in measures on crime prevention and on key operations like the anti-burglary Operation Bumblebee. The partnership could be developed further. The Home Office recognised that in 1991 in its own official report, the Morgan report.

The report recommended that local authorities be given a statutory lead role in conjunction with the police to develop strategies of crime prevention. The case for implementing the Morgan report is, in our judgment, stronger than ever, and it was backed recently by a Coopers and Lybrand report produced for the Prince's Trust. It is time that the Home Secretary recognised the value of going down that road.

The success of the active partnership which has developed with all local authorities across London should have removed the last tawdry excuse for denying the residents of London some formal say on the way in which their police service is run. That is overwhelmingly desired by the people of London and by most of the police too.

Under the current arrangements, the Home Secretary is the police authority for London, and this debate is the only formal occasion on which the Home Secretary can be held accountable to this House for the discharge of his duties. The debate is supposed to be annual, but this is in fact the first such debate for more than two years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not have the good grace to refer to that, nor did he apologise.

Sir John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

Is it not possible for the matter to be raised every time that my right hon. and learned Friend answers questions?

Mr. Straw

I do not think that there could be any suggestion by holders of the office of Home Secretary that the chance of getting in once every four weeks during oral questions is in any sense a substitute for an annual debate on the report from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

During a period in which Parliament has been forced to take record holidays because of the paucity of the Government's legislative programme, there is no excuse whatever for an interval of more than two years between debates on policing in London. That must not happen again. The fact that the Home Secretary and those who run the business of the House can be so cavalier about the Home Secretary's responsibility to account to the House serves only to underline the wholly unsatisfactory nature of the current arrangements.

Eighteen months ago, the Home Secretary's predecessor—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—acknowledged that he recognised that it was time to change the arrangements for holding the police in London to account. It is worth recording that, while the Chancellor has done many pirouettes on issues during his colourful political career, he can claim some consistency on the need for democratically elected police authorities. He, after all, was the principal author of a Birmingham Bow group pamphlet calling for regional government, which was written shortly after he became the Conservative parliamentary candidate for his constituency. The pamphlet recommended for the whole country—including London—that responsibility for the police should be assigned to Regional Authorities which were to be composed entirely of elected full-time members.

Although he later diluted the principle of wholly elected authorities, the right hon. and learned Gentleman told the House: I have also re-examined the role of the Home Secretary in relation to the metropolitan police. I propose to establish for the first time a police authority for the Metropolitan police on the new national model separate from the Home Office and with essentially the same tasks as police authorities elsewhere." —[Official Report, 23 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 766.] Six weeks later, there was a new Secretary of State, and six weeks after that, the new incumbent came to the House to wholly reverse the policy of his predecessor. In a Government notorious for vacillation and failure of nerve, that was one of the fastest U-turns on record.

We know the real reason for that about turn. It is that a few Conservative Members with Greater London constituencies could not cope with the fact that, in ever growing numbers, Londoners were freely choosing to elect Labour rather than Conservative councillors. The difference was great last year, and it has become even greater since the London borough elections in May this year.

What the Government have done in place of that, and what the Home Secretary has proposed to the House, is what they always do when they want to bypass the democratic will. They have resorted to the wheeze and the device to which they are so addicted—the appointed body, or quango. We heard the truth last night from the blessed chairman of the Conservative party— whom God preserve— about how appointments to quangos operate. He simply confirmed what we already know; that the first question asked when it comes to appointments is, "Is this person one of us?"

This quango, the Metropolitan police committee, is one without any statutory powers whatever. There is not a single word in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act about this quango. It is entirely the creature of the Secretary of State, and it does not alter by one jot the Secretary of State's anachronistic legal power as the police authority for London.

No matter how good those appointed to this committee are, and I hope that Sir John Quinton does the job that the Secretary of State hopes he will, I very much hope that the Secretary of State will not follow the chairman of the Conservative party but that he makes sure that the people appointed to the body are drawn from a wider variety of Londoners than is normally the case. The simple fact is that if those 12 people are all appointed, they cannot achieve the broader local representation in membership which other police authorities, to a limited extent, will have. The Metropolitan police committee will lack the democratic representation of other authorities.

The local accountability so loudly trumpeted by the Home Secretary's predecessor will be greatly diminished. Time and again I hear the Secretary of State justifying the decisions that have been made on the basis that they were made by an elected Government. He prays in aid the elective principle when it suits him but he fails to understand that it should apply at not only the national but the local level.

Mr. Spearing

If, in two or three years, my hon. Friend became Home Secretary, is it not likely that, especially if the chairman of the Police Advisory Council for London were a former chairman of the Trades Union Congress, Conservative Members would believe that it was fixed in a certain building on Walworth road? Does not the politically neutral person at least suspect at the moment that everything might be being arranged behind the scenes in a building on Smith square?

Mr. Straw

That is of course the case, and my hon. Friend makes a powerful argument for the democratic principle. One should trust the people to elect their representatives; they can then hold their police force, or police service, to account.

A proper police authority for London would build on the good relationship between local authorities, local communities and the police, which has already developed in the capital in recent years. Labour will establish such an authority because we believe that it is right to do so and because, above all, it would greatly assist in maintaining public confidence in the police and public understanding of the problems and difficulties that London police face daily.

We shall use the period between now and the general election to consult widely on the composition of a proper police authority for London and we shall take full account of the views of the police, magistrates and voluntary organisations as well as those of local authorities and all political parties before we come to a decision.

When the present Secretary of State executed his volte face on a London police authority, he sought to justify his about-turn in the House on the ground that the Metropolitan police have "unique national responsibilities". He went on to declaim: the national interest in the work of the Metropolitan police makes it right that the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for London." —[Official Report, 28 June 1993; Vol. 227, c. 666.] Of course, the Metropolitan police have the functions of what amounts to a national police agency, distinct from their role as London's community police service. Those national functions should, in our view, remain the direct responsibility of the Home Secretary, properly accountable to the House.

However, that in no way undermines the case for the Commissioner to be responsible to a separate police authority for his running of Londoners' police service. The Home Secretary knows that practicable schemes to secure different arrangements for the Commissioner's accountability in respect of his running Londoners' local police service and its important national police agency functions have already been worked out by his Department and Scotland Yard and were perfectly acceptable to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor.

The Commissioner's report brought the welcome news of a 5.5 per cent. reduction in recorded crime in the previous year, including a 13 per cent. drop in reported burglaries, thanks largely to the success of Operation Bumblebee. Some people might have criticised the operation, but we did not because we believe that it has been a great success.

The good news, although welcome, should not lead to an outbreak of complacency because, despite the overall fall, recorded crime is still 60 per cent. above the 1979 level and violent street crimes continue to increase. How London compares with other capital cities is of interest but what is of principal interest to Londoners is whether crime has increased or decreased in their city and how that affects their families. The reality is that crime has got worse over the past 15 years.

The Commissioner records in his report that the number of highly publicised racial incidents over the past year shows the pernicious effect of racism. They include the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the violent attacks on Quddas Ali and Muktar Ahmed. The number of reported racial incidents increased by 18 per cent. to more than 5,000, or 100 a week. There is a new determination by the police to tackle racism inside and outside the service but it remains a mystery why the Home Secretary should have obdurately refused proposals from hon. Members of various parties to make racially motivated violence a specific offence.

Crime and the fear of crime remains the most pressing concern for all Londoners. That places a huge psychological burden on the police while the actual load on officers has risen rapidly, despite additions to their numbers. In 1979, there were 25 crimes per officer; the total is now up one quarter to 32 crimes per officer. That brings me to the issue of resources.

The Secretary of State's explanation that he offered today, alongside the letter and notes that he sent to me yesterday, remain unconvincing. I hope that he will place in the Library a detailed breakdown, using proper comparisons, of expenditure in previous years and expenditure in the future. I believe that I heard him say that, according to his figures, the total funding for the Metropolitan police from all sources would increase from £1,616 million this year to £1,628 million in 1995–96. I see that he agrees to that. If that is the case, it represents an increase of £11.67 million or 0.7 per cent. As the gross domestic product deflator—the amount that the Treasury allows for overall inflation in the economy—is likely to rise by more than 3 per cent., it is clear that, according to the Secretary of State's figures, there is to be a real terms cut of up to 2 per cent.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with ending the formula there. He will know from what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that the Metropolitan police will benefit from the funds at present used for escort duties. They will no longer be responsible for those duties but the funds will remain with them. They will also benefit from being able to carry forward any surplus from one year to the next, which is at present taken back by the Treasury. That means that two considerable sums of money must be added to the real increase to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Straw

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is some dispute about exactly how much the Metropolitan police will benefit. Evidence supplied by the Police Federation suggests that the cost of prisoner escorts under the contracting-out arrangements is higher than that of prisoner escorts provided directly by the police.

Mr. Howard

What conceivable relevance can that have to the point made my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant)? My hon. Friend's intervention was simple. He said that the Metropolitan police were being relieved of that responsibility but keeping the resources with which they were provided to discharge it. They are not having to pay for the contracted-out service so there will be a clear net advantage of £7 million to the Metropolitan police on that account. Surely even the hon. Gentleman can recognise the ineluctable logic of that proposition.

Mr. Straw

Even if that £7 million is available—it is a still a matter of dispute—it means that the increase in the total available spend will rise from 0.7 per cent. to 1.1 per cent., which is far below the 3 per cent. inflation rate forecast for next year. I take the Secretary of State's silence to mean that he accepts that assertion. I know that when the Secretary of State acknowledges the truth of what I am saying he remains completely silent. He was also silent on the important issue of the cost of contracting-out escort services to Securicor—£128 per prisoner movement is higher than the estimated cost of £105 if the Metropolitan police do it themselves.

Mr. Howard

No. If I rose to my feet every time that I disagreed with one of the propositions advanced by the hon. Gentleman, even he would rapidly tire of the number of times that he would have to yield to my interventions. I serve notice on him that he should draw no such inference from any failure on my part to intervene, either now or in future.

On that specific point, the hon. Gentleman fails completely to take into account the value of the new important flexibility that I mentioned in my speech, which I have been able to introduce in response to a specific request from the Commissioner, and which will enable him to carry forward to next year's budget as much as 2 per cent. —£35 million—from this year's budget.

Last year, as I said, £11 million had to be surrendered even though, no doubt knowing that they would have to surrender any unspent balance, the police made every conceivable attempt to spend it as the financial year drew to a close. They will not be under that pressure this year. There is therefore every reason to suppose that the resources that will be available to them next year will be added to, not only by the £7 million in respect of the court escort service, but by a substantial sum, probably approaching £35 million, which they will be able to use as a result of that new flexibility.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful for that explanation. If the Secretary of State wishes people to be less suspicious than they usually are about the figures that come from his Department, he ought to provide that type of detail when the initial announcement is made. None of that was clear from the letter that he sent me yesterday, setting out the funding of the Metropolitan police service. We shall examine with great care the funding of the service from all available sources.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I want to be absolutely sure, so that it is on the record, that the hon. Gentleman is aware, from the Home Office release yesterday, that that special grant of £130 million is being made available for special policing for the capital. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was going on to mention that, but I wanted to be certain.

Mr. Straw

That is not in dispute, and that is taken into account in the figure of £1.628 billion that the Secretary of State gave for the next year.

Mr. Shersby

Has the hon. Gentleman read point 6 of the explanation to editors accompanying the Home Office press release on Metropolitan police funding, which states: This includes the power to hold cash reserves and thus carry forward unspent funds from one financial year to the next. Anyone reading that sentence would immediately be able to relate it to the £35 million carry-over to which my right hon. and learned Friend has just referred.

Mr. Straw

I was referring to a letter that the Secretary of State sent to me. The Secretary of State did not send me his press notice. I have read it subsequently. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman sometimes receives the Home Secretary's press notices rather more swiftly than I do, although I was grateful to receive, on Tuesday, the one relating to the Budget, which showed an overall real terms reduction in resources to the Home Office of 3 per cent. during the two years 1994–95 to 1996–97.

Two matters could have a damaging effect on morale in the Metropolitan police service. The first is privatisation and so-called "market testing". The Commissioner himself records, at page 58, that, as a result of that, many staff are uncertain as to their future within the Service". Secondly, the core functions review and the imposition of, in our opinion, ill-thought-out indicators, is likely to lead to diversion of police effort and a distortion of their priorities. There is, for example, anxiety in the Metropolitan police service that the so-called "contracting out" of peripheral services, such as lost property and school visits, could lead to a reduction in contact with the law-abiding public and a corresponding decline in the trust that is so necessary for good policing. Trust lies at the heart of policing by consent, and is central to the partnership approach to solving problems and improving the quality of life in the community.

The Secretary of State referred to the fight against drugs. As I told the House at the beginning of my remarks, an estimated three quarters by value of all illicit drug dealing takes place in the Metropolitan police area. Not only do drugs blight the lives of many of their users, but drug dealing is at the root of much violent street crime and additional dangers from knives and guns that confront officers in tackling that menace.

In London, as elsewhere, the fight against drugs and gun smuggling is a joint one, the police working in close and effective co-operation with Customs and Excise. The drugs problem has never been greater. In spite of relatively high seizure rates, street prices of drugs remain low and purity levels high—sure signs that large quantities of drugs continue to find their way into the United Kingdom and are then traded, usually in London.

What is the Government's answer to the rising menace of drugs and drug trafficking? On Wednesday, we had one of the most comprehensively irresponsible announcements ever made by a Minister–that the number of front-line drug fighters in the Customs and Excise is to be cut by 500. The clearest message was sent out by Her Majesty's Government to drug cartels throughout the world, and to drug barons in this country, that Britain 's Tories are soft on drugs and soft on the smuggling of drugs. No wonder the permanent secretary to the Customs and Excise, Valerie Strachan, wrote to the Paymaster General before those cuts were made, to admit: Without doubt the tricky issue is the proposal to remove five hundred people from anti-smuggling [drugs] work. The Home Secretary knows how tricky that decision will turn out to be, for he was reported in the Daily Telegraph on Monday as writing to protest to colleagues at those cuts. The Daily Telegraph also said that he had asked an interesting question—what suggestions did his colleagues have on how ministers could square the cuts with the Government's law and order policies"? The Home Secretary got his answer on Wednesday. Cuts in the forces of law and order fighting the menace of drug trafficking and organised crime can no more easily be squared with the Conservatives' rhetoric on law and order than can the biggest tax hikes in peacetime history be squared with the Government's promises at the last general election to make tax cuts.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman ought not to take so seriously everything that he reads in the newspapers.

However, is not the hon. Gentleman's reaction yet another sign of the resolute refusal of the Labour party to contemplate any type of change in any sector? It refuses to contemplate even the possibility that it is possible to change the way in which we do things so that, more cost-effectively, giving better value for money, it is possible to maintain—or even improve—arrangements for tackling drug smuggling effectively, without necessarily keeping in place all the arrangements that have been there in the past.

Mr. Straw

Does the Home Secretary deny the report in the Daily Telegraph that he wrote to colleagues protesting at those cuts?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if we commented on every leak of every alleged document, we would be doing little else. I make it my practice not to do so. The hon. Gentleman should not take seriously what he reads in all the newspapers and, if he is serious about his approach to those issues, he should contemplate the possibility that one can introduce changes, without reducing effectiveness, that will increase the taxpayer's value for money. That is the Government's consistent approach to the discharge of their responsibilities. Obviously, the Labour party is not remotely interested in that.

Mr. Straw

That will not do. I heard what the Home Secretary said. I think that we are entitled to draw what is called an adverse inference from his failure to answer a direct question with a direct answer. He has now in practice confirmed—we all saw that he was extremely uncomfortable as he sought to answer my question—that he wrote that letter, protesting about those cuts.

The truth is that the Secretary of State's private position is the same as the Labour party's public position. He knows that the cut of 500 people in what amounts to Customs-police work to fight drugs will seriously damage the fight against, not only trafficking, but organised crime and street violence in our capital. The Secretary of State should have had the authority with his colleagues to ensure that those 500 cuts were not made. That also illustrates his declining influence with his colleagues.

Mr. Stephen

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the House is therefore entitled to draw adverse inferences from the failure of himself and his hon. Friends ever to cost the extravagant promises that they constantly make to the British people?

Mr. Straw

The complaint about the Labour party these days is that we are not making extravagant promises. We make no extravagant promises. Those promises that we do make are carefully costed. That has caused great disappointment in Conservative central office.

Speaking of Conservative central office, yesterday the Home Secretary was billed by the Conservative central office press office to make what it called a "keynote" speech to the Conservative party women's conference. However, the Secretary of State pulled out at the last moment and sent his hapless Minister of State. I am not surprised that he did that because I have had the opportunity to read some of the motions that were down for debate at that conference. The Orpington association submitted a resolution urging the Government to give urgent attention to strengthening at all levels the Customs and Excise in their front-line duties against the evil import of drugs. That is also our view.

However, more important than letting down delegates to the Conservative women's conference is the Secretary of State's betrayal of the victims of crime in London. He was right to say in September that victims have had a raw deal. They have indeed, and from his Government. That is because, first, the Government have presided over a 200 per cent. increase in violent crime in London since 1979 and, secondly, because they have cut the victims' compensation scheme.

They are making the victims of crime in London pay for the Government's inability to stop the rise in crime. No amount of relaunched hotlines or recycled headlines can hide that fact; nor can the Government hide the callous indifference with which many victims are still treated by the Secretary of State's Department.

A case that has recently received some publicity underlines the difficulty faced by victims in getting satisfactory answers from Whitehall. Mrs. Ann Shott watched an obsessed killer stab her husband to death 15 years ago. She has had to spend the last seven weeks in hiding because the killer, Hamish McPherson, was able to walk out of a psychiatric hospital in Beckenham. That was despite the fact that after a medical assessment, it was decided that, instead of being allowed to go free he should be returned to Broadmoor.

Since McPherson's escape, the Metropolitan police have printed numerous posters asking the public for information about his whereabouts. That is a great deal more than the Home Office has done. Mrs. Shott told me that she wrote to the Secretary of State on 4 November asking for official confirmation of Hamish McPherson's escape and an explanation of how it happened. She also sought assurances that every effort was being made to secure his capture.

Since then she has received just one perfunctory note from a Home Office official promising to look into her case. That was received on 17 November, two weeks ago, and since then she has heard nothing at all. That is unacceptable treatment of someone who was a victim 15 years ago and who is frightened to death because the man convicted of the killing is now free.

Crime is the single issue of most concern to ordinary Londoners. There will be no one in the capital who has not been touched by crime, either directly or through the experience of a close friend or relative, in the past 12 months. There can be no doubt about the commitment of the police in London to tackling crime, or about the professionalism with which they approach that difficult task.

The House wants to see the Secretary of State concentrating much more on long-term solutions to crime in London and rather less on short-term and unsuccessful populism. The long-term strategy requires us to work with local authorities and communities as well as with the police. Most of all, the Secretary of State should take the advice of the women of Shrewsbury and Atchan Conservative Association. Their resolution to the Conservative women's conference yesterday, which the Secretary of State dodged, stated, with heavy sarcasm: That this Conservative conference suggests that this Government wakes up to reality regarding law and order. It is time that they did.

11.13 am
Sir John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. In the good old days, we had regular debates on the whole spectrum of life in London. Unfortunately, over the years, that practice has fallen by the parliamentary wayside, but at least today we are debating an aspect of life in London which is of urgent and immediate concern to everyone who lives in the capital.

Nationally, Ministers rightly point to the decline in recorded crime. The latest figures show the largest fall for 40 years. However, in spite of the statistics, we must recognise that the public perception is rather different. From watching television, reading local newspapers and in conversations with friends and neighbours, we get the feeling that crime, especially burglaries and muggings, is relentlessly increasing. I appreciate that we are unlikely ever to achieve a feel-good factor on law and order, but we can, and must, provide comfort and reassurance, especially for the elderly who too often live in fear and foreboding.

One positive achievement to which we can rightly point, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has done, is Operation Bumblebee, the crackdown on burglary which was launched by the Metropolitan police in June last year. In the year before that operation was launched, there were nearly 200,000 burglaries in London; that is equivalent to more than 500 a day or one every three minutes.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, domestic burglaries in London fell by some 17 per cent. last year. That is a major achievement and, as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has said, Operation Bumblebee is a long-term strategy, which is about giving confidence to the law-abiding whilst taking it away from those who engage in burglary and related offences. I applaud that objective.

In my experience, it is difficult to describe one's feeling of horror and devastation on returning home to find that one's house or flat has been ransacked and one's privacy violated. It is not surprising that many people, especially women, feel unable to continue to live in homes that have been burgled, and those homes have to be sold. Domestic burglary is one of the most serious crimes in the book and successive public opinion surveys in London have confirmed the concern felt by most residents of London about that.

The Commissioner speaks about giving confidence to law-abiding people, and I have no doubt that he appreciates that that confidence can be most effectively secured by the physical presence of constables on the street—not in cars or on motor cycles but pounding the beat. That has been mentioned in the debate. That is why I welcome the civilianisation programme. Up to March this year, about 400 posts had been taken over by qualified civilian staff, and a further 400 posts are scheduled for civilianisation in the coming year.

It is important to ensure that police officers who have been released by that programme are transferred to visible street duties. In that respect, I make a special plea for the allocation of additional officers to the newly amalgamated Bromley division. In the recent past, Bromley has been adversely affected by the manpower allocation formula. Chief Superintendent Keith Charlwood informed me in a letter which I received about a year ago that his complement of officers at that time was 182 compared with 203 uniformed constables in 1988. That means that there was a significant and worrying reduction in police manpower in Bromley at a time when crime was escalating.

Mr. Merchant

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign in the Bromley area to increase police manpower. I assure him that he has the full support of all hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Bromley borough.

Sir John Hunt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the recent local problem of police manpower has caused great apprehension among his constituents and mine. That is because the level of protection being provided for them is less than is necessary. We hope that, as a result of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech and the Commissioner's new flexibility, more resources will be allocated to the Bromley area.

It is clearly right that police resources should be subjected to the same financial scrutiny and discipline as other areas of expenditure. Equally, I feel that any cost cutting by Government must not be at the expense of effective law enforcement. That is why I especially welcome the statement in the Budget of the Government's continued high priority for spending on law and order. I can tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the great majority of my constituents would attach much lower priority to tax cuts than they would to the maintenance of a strong and effective police force.

There is one other aspect of Metropolitan police work in London that I want to raise this morning, and it is the future role of the mounted branch. Disturbing reports have been circulating recently in my constituency that it is to be substantially reduced, especially in respect of safety patrols. For example, in Bromley there are many acres of commons and woodland where the presence of police officers on horseback is highly effective in deterring the incidents that can occur in such areas. Yet we are told that the core function of the mounted branch is to be mainly public order. That function is to be carried out with fewer horses, which in turn could mean the regrettable closure of stables in outer London, such as the Warren in my constituency, which has been part of the local community for many years.

The local assistant commissioner, Mr. A. J. Speed, tells me that a number of options are about to be discussed with his policy forum. Therefore, I hope that, before any final decisions are made, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will urgently press on the assistant commissioner and his colleagues the fact that the removal of mounted horses from my part of Greater London would be viewed by its residents as a worrying and unwise reduction in the necessary police presence in that area.

Another matter which I wish to raise relates to law enforcement and the motorist. As the Commissioner pointed out in his report, the enforcement of parking regulations in London has now been largely transferred to local authority parking attendants and the police are much less frequently involved in the clamping and removal of vehicles. That development is broadly to be welcomed as, I hope, it will enable more uniformed police officers to be released for other duties.

However, I am bound to say that I am worried by the increasingly heavy-handed and over-zealous way in which the clamping and removal of vehicles in London is carried out. Too often, cars which are harmlessly parked on a single yellow line or which have an expired residents' parking permit are subjected to clamping or removal, when a fixed notice penalty would suffice. I have a nasty suspicion that those who inflict such punishment on motorists derive a perverse pleasure from their work, and that a form of legalised sadism is operating on the streets of London.

I must make a special plea for foreign visitors and tourists who visit our city. They are often not familiar with our clamping and towing-away regulations. Therefore, they should be treated with particular understanding and flexibility, or I fear that they will take away a bitter souvenir of their stay in our country.

Mr. Carrington

As an inner-London Member, I can tell my hon. Friend that my constituents suffer considerably from illegal parking, which congests the roads and causes them great inconvenience. Surely he is not suggesting that visitors to London who park inconveniently and block the traffic should be allowed to leave their cars there while they transact their business.

Sir John Hunt

I am certainly not suggesting that. Any sort of deliberate obstruction should not go unpunished I am simply saying that sometimes foreign cars that have been parked on a single yellow line or in a parking bay, probably quite innocently, are towed away. In other capitals—such as Paris, which I know well—British motorists are treated leniently, and we should reciprocate wherever possible. Nevertheless, I take the point that where there is deliberate obstruction and foolish parking, a case can be made for towing away the vehicle. I should be grateful if some guidance could be given to local authorities and the Metropolitan police in that respect.

In his annual report, the Commissioner quoted part of his address to the community service volunteers conference in April this year. The key passage reads: Preventing crime is everybody's business. We in the police service cannot do it alone. The level of resources devoted to policing will never allow us to have an officer outside every door or on every street corner. And that, in all honesty, would be the only way to deter every incident of burglary or car theft. That plea has subsequently been reflected in the Government's partners against crime initiative, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred this morning. Each of us has a part to play—perhaps through neighbourhood watch; through pub watch, which operates in almost 2,000 premises in Greater London; through business watch, which has 82 schemes under way, and so on. Such schemes in the Bromley area are to be supplemented by the introduction of closed circuit television in the town centres and multi-storey car parks.

I hope that our debate will also play its part in informing and reassuring the public so that together we have the confidence and commitment to take on the criminals and ensure the safety and security of all those who live and work in our capital city.

11.25 am
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) about the time that it has taken to get a full and proper debate on policing in London. I also agree with him on the question of accountability. The current position is unsatisfactory because the Home Secretary is the sole police authority for London. The right hon. and learned Gentleman represents Folkestone and Hythe and I do not think that he knows very much about London—other than what he has read in the newspapers, and we all know what they say about inner-city areas. I suspect that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows more about Boulogne and Calais than about Battersea and Camden. The sooner we move away from a one-man band, the better. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, there should be proper consultation with the people of London.

One reason for change is the need for proper accountability in the Metropolitan police. It was with that in mind that I raise the question of the role of the police in stopping and searching people in London. I have used as my source the Home Office statistical bulletin "Operation of certain police powers under PACE, England and Wales 1993". It is issue 15/94 and the other bulletin references are 14/91, 15/92 and 21/93. I have also used an answer I received from the Home Office to a question that I tabled earlier this week.

The figures show that, nationally, 256,924 people were stopped and searched by police in 1990. Of that huge total, only 15 per cent. were subsequently arrested. That means that 85 per cent. of people were stopped unnecessarily. By 1993, the figure had risen to 442,801. The percentage of those arrested as a result dropped from 15 per cent. to 12.6 per cent. That means that almost 88 per cent. of those people were stopped unnecessarily by the police.

Mr. Stephen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the fact that a person who was stopped was not subsequently arrested and charged does not mean that it was unnecessary to stop him. Does he agree that every law-abiding citizen should be prepared to assist the police in detecting crime and arresting criminals, and should not mind being stopped, provided the officer carries out his duties in a proper manner?

Mr. Grant

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are all here to see that the police carry out their job properly. Citizens should, of course, work in conjunction with the police. However, as I go through my figures, the hon. Gentleman will find that in a number of cases, the behaviour of the police needs to be questioned.

There was an increase from a quarter of a million stops and searches in 1990 to almost half a million by 1993. In 1993, 385,908 people were stopped, possibly with little justification. Unfortunately, I do not have details from the police of their reasons for not arresting those people, so I have to assume that they were innocent. There has been an increase of 168,189 people—a 72 per cent. increase—in three years.

When we look at the new figures for the ethnic breakdown nationally of stops and searches, we see cause for concern. I appreciate the fact that we have those figures and I think that most people would be grateful that, for the first time, there has been an ethnic breakdown of the national stop and search figures. We have waited a long time for this and people are now saying that the figures are worth while because of what they demonstrate.

The figures are not, however, complete. Two police authorities, Gloucestershire and South Wales, have not produced any figures in relation to ethnic minorities. Five police forces gave an estimate of the various ethnic minority groups who were stopped rather than the actual figures. I do not know how the police are able to estimate what percentage of those stopped and searched were from ethnic minorities. Perhaps the Minister of State can explain the basis of the estimates. I should also like the Minister to tell me what action he will take against the forces that have not complied with the request to produce figures.

However unsatisfactory the figures may be, it is clear beyond doubt that Britain's ethnic minorities are stopped and searched disproportionately. There is also a strange method of compiling the figures. Normally, we have figures for a calendar year. In the case of ethnic minority breakdown, the Home Office has given us figures for the fiscal year 1993–94. In that fiscal year, 441,905 people were stopped and searched, of whom 110,522 were from ethnic minority groups. That means that 25 per cent. of the people stopped and searched in 1993–94 were from ethnic minority groups, yet ethnic minority groups are only 5 per cent. of the population.

That points to racial discrimination on a massive scale by the police and documents, for the first time, what ethnic minority groups have said for many years—that black and minority ethnic communities are picked on by the police in this area over and above other groups in society. The figures are consistent with figures on other parts of the criminal justice system, such as rates of conviction, the chances of getting a custodial sentence and the number of black people in the prison population. All those figures show a pattern of discrimination by the criminal justice system that is very disturbing.

The situation is more serious within the Metropolitan police area. The Metropolitan police area accounts for about 50 per cent. of the total number of people who were stopped and searched in the country as a whole and the rate is rising alarmingly. In 1990, 150,252 stops and searches were carried out by the Metropolitan police. By 1993, the figure had increased to 228,306, which is a 52 per cent. increase in three years.

At the same time, the number of arrests resulting from the stops and searches is decreasing as a percentage of the total stops and searches. In 1990, 15 per cent. of those stopped and searched were arrested. By 1993, despite an increase of 78,054 in the number of people stopped, the figure for those arrested had dropped to 11 per cent.; in other words, a staggering 202,901 persons were stopped and searched in 1993 in the Metropolitan police area for no understandable reason. That is the position before the additional stop and search powers contained in the notorious Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 have come into force.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham has been speaking about stops and searches under existing police powers. Is he aware that many people from minority ethnic communities who are stopped, especially for alleged motoring offences, often face passport checks and immigration checks which can detain them for several hours? Such parallel inquiries are hardly ever—perhaps never—made when white people are stopped on the same ground of suspicion by the police.

Mr. Grant

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the police stop a black motorist, a check is made automatically with the immigration authorities to discover whether the person is in the country legally. That does not apply, of course, to white people and it is an area of discrimination. I hope that the Home Office will examine the matter.

It concerns me that the Metropolitan police seem to have the time and resources to stop and search about 4,500 Londoners every week, after which they arrest only about 450 of them, yet people cannot get a policeman to come to their home when it has been burgled. It seems that the police are getting their priorities wrong. I am no expert in these matters, but a rate of return of around 10 per cent. , compared with the huge number of people who are stopped and searched, seems to be a little ridiculous. The police would be better spending their time on other matters of greater priority to the citizens of London.

When we consider the ethnic breakdown for the Metropolitan police area in the fiscal year of 1993–94, we find that no fewer than 95,751 people from ethnic minority groups were stopped and searched. That means that 42 per cent. of the total number of people who were stopped and searched in London were from black and minority ethnic communities. When we compare that with the population of London, where something like 8 per cent. of the population are from black and minority ethnic communities, we see the huge difference in how the police behave toward those communities. People living in black and minority communities are five times more likely to be searched. Would the Minister explain to the black and minority ethnic population of London what exactly is going on?

I would like hon. Members to do what I have done on a number of occasions—to observe, whenever they see the police stopping and searching either a motorist or someone in the street, what sort of person is stopped. Is it a black person or a white person? They will find, invariably, as I have found, that most of the people who are stopped and searched are black. I also want hon. Members to do what I do now—to get out of their car and ask the police officer why they are stopping or searching a person. Hon. Members will find that the police give some very strange responses.

I stopped the other day in Tottenham and asked a police officer why he had stopped a black motorist. He told me that he had stopped him because the motorist had taken a circuitous route to get from where he was to Tottenham high road. I thought that that was a little strange. I asked, "What do you mean?" The policemen said, "Oh, well, he went through all the back streets." I said that I did not know that it was against the law for someone to drive in the back streets. The young man piped up and said that the reason he went through the back streets was to drive by his friend's house and see if his friend's car was there. To the police, the fact that a black person was driving through the back streets in Tottenham was enough to stop and search that person.

On another occasion, I was told that the reason a motorist had been stopped was that his fog light had been on. On a third occasion, the police said that the motorist's L plate was displayed wrongly. I am at a loss to understand why someone's fog light being on is a reason to search that person's car. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but it does not, somehow, seem to add up that someone's L plate being in the wrong position should be a reason for stopping and searching that person.

When I looked at the Tottenham figures in particular, I found that, in the second quarter of 1993, 1,233 people were stopped and 124 people were arrested as a result. In the same period of 1994, that figure had risen to 2,403 people stopped and 205 people arrested as a result. In a period of 12 months, there was a 95 per cent. increase in the number of people who were stopped—almost double the number in the previous year. At that rate, in one year about 10,000 of my constituents in Tottenham will be stopped by the police, and searched, and the majority of them will be stopped for no reason.

I want to ask Home Secretary, what possible justification is there for that sort of police harassment of citizens in my area? Has there been an upsurge in crime, perhaps? No, we know from the Home Secretary's speech this morning that there has been a 5 per cent. decrease in crime in London as a whole. I know from interrogating the police superintendent in my area, before he was retired as a result of the new organisation, that, for a fact, crime in Tottenham decreased over that period. So we see on the one hand a decrease in crime, but on the other a dramatic increase in the number of people who are stopped and searched.

One begins to attach all sorts of motives to why the police are acting in this way in Tottenham and one remembers that in 1984–85, before and just after the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Tottenham was singled out as a experimental area in which to try out that Act. I hope that Tottenham is not used as another trial area, this time for the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I hope to hear assurances from the Minister on that in his winding-up speech.

We all understand the need to adopt a preventive approach to crime, but there is a balance to be struck between preventing crime and ensuring the civil liberties of my constituents in Tottenham and the citizens in Britain as a whole. On 7 November, I asked the Tottenham police for a breakdown of figures into ethnic minority groups, but I have not had a reply. I do not understand why it is so difficult to give me a breakdown of ethnicity because, of course, the Tottenham police must have submitted those figures and given that breakdown to the Metropolitan police for them to pass them on, as part of the Metropolitan police area, to the Home Office. I suspect that the police are dragging their feet in letting me have those figures on ethnicity because of the large numbers of people from minority ethnic groups who have been stopped, especially in Tottenham.

I believe that stopping and searching a person for no good reason is an abuse of that person's human rights. The Government are always going on about human rights in various parts of the world and they are involved in United Nations organisations, commissions and conferences on human rights, but we are seeing more and more that people's human rights are abused right here in the United Kingdom.

When the police stop and search someone in public, it is a humiliating experience and it causes enormous resentment. A young man told me that, during a period of three months, he was stopped 23 times by police officers and had to produce his various documents in police stations soon after. When people are stopped in public, their cars are stripped, they have to undergo great humiliation and it creates a lot of resentment. I cannot stress enough the resentment that those actions cause in many people.

Also, of course, stopping and searching people wastes time, because by the time the police run their checks on whether the car is stolen or whether the person is a legal migrant or not, often half an hour or three quarters of an hour has passed. The person stopped has to waste all that time, as well produce documents at the police station.

The Secretary of State must explain the figures today. As he is the police authority for London, he must tell us today how he intends to pick up a point made by one of his hon. Friends about the fact that police officers are expected to act in a reasonable and fair-minded manner. How is the Home Secretary going to safeguard people's rights and, in particular, the rights of people from minority groups in London? How is he going to safeguard their rights against the abuses of some police officers?

My final point for the Home Secretary relates to the collection of statistics by the police. Every year, nearly 500,000 people are stopped and searched in Britain. If a written account is made of every stop and search, where do those documents go? Are they destroyed or are they kept on a police computer? We want to know what has happened in relation to people who have been stopped and released without charges or any further action being taken against them. We want to know whether people's names, addresses and car registration numbers are being systematically logged in a police computer somewhere in the Metropolitan police district.

I am aware that the police have a difficult job to do and I believe that, in general, the Metropolitan police do a good job. However, I must question their behaviour in certain areas and, in particular, the way in which police have behaved at certain demonstrations and have used their powers of stop and search basically to intimidate certain communities in London. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of those questions today.

11.51 am
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this very important debate on the policing of London. I also welcome the opportunity to listen to my police authority speaking in the House. There is great value in the Home Secretary having the opportunity to come to the House to speak in this debate. The 84 Members of Parliament elected by the people of London also have the opportunity to come here, if they so wish, to speak and to question their police authority.

Mr. Corbyn

Where are they?

Mr. Shersby

As the hon. Gentleman points out, it is a pity that more of them are unable to be present today due to the pressures on all hon. Members' diaries to be here or in their constituencies.

I welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), as the Minister responsible for the police. I welcome the fact that he is a member of this House. I have always felt that, despite the great distinction with which his predecessors held that post, they were often in another place. It is particularly helpful that the Minister with direct responsibility for the police sits in this place.

The "Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis 1993–94" reveals a record of solid achievement by the Metropolitan police that should be welcomed by everyone living in the Metropolitan police district. My constituency of Uxbridge is in the Metropolitan police area and I therefore want to comment on behalf of my constituents on some of the achievements referred to in the Commissioner's report. At the same time, I must declare that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. My principal purpose today is to speak in the debate on behalf of the people who elected me to this House.

My first substantial duty in speaking in the debate is to join my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in saying, on behalf of my constituents, that we express our deep gratitude to two Met officers—PC Patrick Dunne and Sergeant Derek Robertson—who lost their lives while carrying out their duty of policing the streets of London.

As parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, I attended the funerals of both officers—as I always do on such sad occasions. Those funerals were quite outstanding and they made me feel that those two officers will be remembered by the people of London with pride and affection for many years to come. Their names will appear on the roll of honour of the police officers of the metropolis long after all of us have left this place and have been forgotten.

On behalf of my constituents, I want to record their sense of outrage about the number of assaults on police officers which have occurred in the past year and which have resulted in 3,902 officers being injured while doing their duty. Knives were used in 15.8 per cent. of those cases. That is a very serious matter and that was why I intervened in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to welcome the new provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which give the police the power to search for knives in certain very restricted circumstances. They have not had that power for more than 10 years. Such a power was desperately needed and I believe that it will result in a substantial reduction in the number of injuries inflicted on police officers.

The more serious of the assaults that the police have suffered resulted in a 55 per cent. increase in the number of officers being placed sick. The figure rose from 648 to 1,007. When we talk about police man and woman power on the streets of London, we must always remember that a number of them are unable to perform their duties because of the injuries that they have suffered.

I am therefore very encouraged to learn that the Met has now adopted and issued the new-style batons that are now in daily use by Met officers. I campaigned vigorously for the introduction of the side-handled baton and the new straight batons that are now seen on the streets of London. The fact that they are seen and in use has been made possible by the rapid decisions taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary immediately he took office, which enabled testing and approval of the new batons to proceed without delay and which enabled them to be issued immediately the tests were satisfactorily completed.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I would like to know what arrangements for high-quality training are being made for the use of the new batons in the Met area. I would also be interested to know whether the side-handled baton is to be used in the Met area in addition to the straight batons and, if so, what allocation of resources is being made for the training that is necessary to use that particular piece of equipment.

I also welcome the issue of stab-proof and dual-purpose body armour, which should play an important part in protecting officers from serious assault in future. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will also be able to tell us what progress is being made by the police scientific development branch in evaluating the effectiveness and safety in use of the pepper spray. Is that a piece of equipment that we shall see in use in this country? It has been in use in the United States for many years now, I understand with considerable success, and it would be interesting to know whether it is likely to be introduced in our country.

I was particularly glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement that a new trunked radio system is to be introduced for the Met. It is a very important system and it will be greatly welcomed by every serving officer. However, will that system be fully encrypted?

I ask that question because my home was burgled while I was attending the large police demonstration at Wembley stadium during the debate on the Sheehy report. Naturally, the burglary caused great amusement among not only the Opposition but the media. I voted in a Division at about 11 o'clock, and when I arrived home I was telephoned by a journalist from one of the national dailies who was formerly on the Uxbridge Gazette and who told me the most unwelcome news.

I asked how that information had come so quickly to that journalist's ears. Although it is a tradition that all good journalists do not reveal their sources, I have now discovered that it was probably picked up from local police radio transmissions. Like many other pieces of news which appear in the media and which sometimes are used by the criminal fraternity, they are picked up because police radios are not fully encrypted. I greatly support encryption, and I hope that it will be supported strongly by any other hon. Member who suffers the same fate as I suffered.

If we examine statistics dealing with violence against the person, we find that fewer than 2 per cent. of all offences involved a firearm. If, however, we look at statistics on offences involving assaults on police officers, we find that firearms were used in 41 assaults, compared with six in 1992–93, and that firearms were fired in 23 of those incidents.

That is a significant increase, although, in comparison with almost any other country, firearms were used on very few occasions. As a result of that, the Commissioner tells us in his report that a larger number of officers should be openly armed. He has also altered the arrangements governing the use of armed response vehicles so that officers can draw and wear their arms overtly when dealing with serious incidents in which firearms are likely to be used.

I know that the Commissioner is the first to realise that members of the public will be concerned about the increasing visibility and carrying of firearms by police officers. However, hon. Members who attended their party conference this year will agree that, far from feeling threatened by the overt carrying of firearms, one feels protected, because the officers carrying them are extremely responsible and highly trained. Their only purpose in carrying firearms is to protect innocent citizens and, when necessary, themselves.

I do not believe that we have reached or are even approaching a situation that would result in every police officer being armed as a matter of routine and wearing a sidearm as part of his or her uniform. I hope that that will prevail for many years. Instead, a very small number of officers carry firearms and use them in very limited circumstances. Obviously, that matter must be kept under review by the Commissioner and by hon. Members.

Another aspect of the use of firearms in the metropolis is, of course, the use of imitation firearms. Imitation firearms, as we know, can be purchased easily from several sources. Many are used for harmless purposes, such as starting athletic matches or playing war games. Many are simply collected. However, a considerable number have been used to threaten unlawful violence during robberies carried out on banks, post offices, building societies and similar establishments.

For that reason, I introduced the Fireanns (Amendment) Act 1994, which had the full support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the home affairs spokesmen of the other six parties in the House. The Bill achieved an unopposed passage through both Houses and it has now received Royal Assent.

I should like to express my gratitude for the support that I received from my right hon. and learned Friend, from the Leader of the Opposition when he was responsible for the Opposition home affairs portfolio, from my noble Friend Lord Kimball, chairman of the firearms consultative committee, and from Chief Inspector Colin Fry of the Dorset constabulary. The Act is a small but significant measure, which should help to reduce the improper use of imitation firearms in the commission of criminal offences.

Mr. Corbyn

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says about the need to curb the use of imitation firearms and the need for there to be an equivalent offence. However, will he go further and question the need for the manufacture and sale of virtually identical replica weapons which, to all intents and purposes, look, sound and act like the real thing? They are very easy to buy, they require no licence, and nobody can tell the difference until they are used.

Mr. Shersby

I have indeed asked myself such questions, and I have investigated them in depth, with the benefit of expert advice. I have also discussed them with my noble Friend Lord Kimball, in his important role as chairman of the firearms consultative committee. The difficulty is that millions of imitation firearms are in circulation. It would be very difficult to prohibit their existence and to attempt to recall them. We have to find another way of tackling the problem.

The way that was chosen was to make it a criminal offence to threaten unlawful violence with an imitation firearm and to stiffen the law relating to trespass so that if an individual is found with an imitation firearm in suspicious circumstances, it can be confiscated easily by a police officer. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), but it is probably impracticable to try to remove from circulation millions of pistols and other weapons such as machine guns and all the rest of the huge arsenal of imitation weapons that are sold quite openly. We shall have to keep that matter under review. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point, because it is important.

The debate provides an opportunity for the House to review the effectiveness of the Metropolitan police in dealing with crime in the capital. As my right hon. and learned Friend and others have said, it is extremely satisfactory to record that the incidence of burglary is down by 17 per cent. as a result of Operation Bumblebee. It is also satisfactory to record that there were 5 per cent. fewer notifiable offences in the year ended 31 March. As the Commissioner pointed out in his report, it is the first time since 1988 that there has been a fall in recorded crime. Every hon. Member who represents a London constituency should be pleased to read that statistic. At the same time, it is good to know that the Metropolitan police has increased the number of crimes solved by 6 per cent. to 159,993 and that it has set a target to increase that number even further.

My constituents in Uxbridge are particularly pleased about the success of Operation Bumblebee. They have suffered grievously from burglary in the past few years, as have those who are represented by other London Members. It is interesting to note from the Commissioner's report that in about a third of the burglaries in 1992–93 the burglar did not even have to break in but entered through an open door or window. An enormous amount can be done by every citizen to make sure that his or her home is more secure—for example, by fitting window locks and good strong deadlocks, and other such precautions that would dramatically reduce burglary statistics. The importance of crime prevention cannot be understated, and the Met should pay it full attention in the year ahead.

I suppose that one of the curses of living in modern society is the very unpleasant and upsetting crime which includes the theft and unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, theft from vehicles and aggravated vehicle taking, which accounts for a staggering 25 per cent. of all offences committed in the Metropolitan police area. I am pleased to see that the number of auto crime offences reported has reduced by 8 per cent. compared with the previous year.

I would like to speak about one aspect of auto crime that I do not think has been mentioned in the House before. It concerns the unauthorised taking of hire cars, which is a source of serious concern to rental companies. One such company, Eurodollar, is situated in my constituency. Its chairman, Mr. Freddie Aldous, tells me that the theft of hire cars is a serious and increasing problem.

It is therefore good to know that, as a result of the initiative taken by some motor manufacturers—particularly Vauxhall, which has won the annual award for safer cars several years in succession, and the Rover group—their attention to the security of vehicles is paying off and it is becoming more difficult to steal cars than it was in the past. I hope that other motor manufacturers, urged on by the insurance companies, will follow the lead of Vauxhall and Rover and make it even more difficult to steal, or steal from, parked vehicles in the Metropolitan police area.

I know that the House shares my concern that, in the robbery category, a 9 per cent. increase in robberies of personal property, or muggings as they are generally known, was mentioned in the Commissioner's report. Robberies of personal property accounted for more than 80 per cent. of the total of 24,593 offences. Although in 65 per cent. of cases there was no evidence of a weapon being carried, the fact that about 23 per cent. of cases involved the threat or use of a sharp instrument, such as a knife, and 9 per cent. involved firearms, is very worrying. In my judgment, it fully justifies the additional powers given to the police in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

When we consider offences such as burglary and robbery, it is encouraging to see from the Commissioner's report that the number of offences cleared up increased by 10 per cent. between April 1993 and March 1994, with the result that 3,443 robberies were solved. I suppose that that is still a modest number in comparison with the total, but the increase is encouraging.

The problem of domestic violence causes me great concern, as I am sure it concerns every other Member who represents a London constituency. Every time we organise a constituency advice bureau, we are made increasingly aware of the problem and of the fact that non-violent domestic disputes, which are closely related to it, account for many homeless people in our capital city.

More than half the additional 3,192 reported offences of crimes against the person were related to domestic violence. What is being done about that very unpleasant problem, which brings such misery to London households? In his report, the Commissioner tells us that London has 62 domestic violence units and that 126 officers provide the focal point for victims and all the other agencies involved in the prevention of the problem. I particularly welcome the examples of local initiatives that address the needs of victims of domestic violence and to which the Commissioner referred.

One of those initiatives is a joint project between the London borough of Hillingdon, local police and students from Brunel university. It provides a help line to supply details of local organisations that can offer support for victims of domestic violence and racial attacks, whether or not the matters are reported to police. Brunel university, which is situated in my constituency, is playing a valuable part in that project. I hope that the project will be a great success and that it may be expanded to other parts of Greater London.

I am the president of Uxbridge Victim Support, which, as hon. Members know, does excellent work in counselling victims of crime in the London area. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the financial support that the Home Office has provided to victim support organisations. While I suppose that there will never be enough money to satisfy the wishes of victim support schemes around London, nevertheless they are making a very valuable contribution. That is much appreciated and I pay tribute to them in the House today.

A particularly interesting aspect of the Commissioners's report, which I am sure that hon. Members who represent constituencies in west London will have noted, is the section which deals with the improvement of road safety. The constant reduction in the number of road deaths from 601 in 1984 to 311 in 1993 is greatly welcomed. In particular, the use of automatic speed enforcement cameras appears to have had a dramatic effect.

The selection by the police, in conjunction with the Department of Transport, of 21 sites on the west London approach roads to conduct a pilot scheme into the effectiveness of enforcement cameras has yielded some very impressive results. There have been 41 per cent. fewer fatal and serious accidents, 24 per cent. fewer accidents generally and a reduction in all casualties of 22 per cent. Hon. Members would have been astonished to contemplate such substantial reductions and such effectiveness of the equipment only a few years ago. The pilot scheme has saved at least 16 lives and prevented more than 200 accidents in the first year of its operation. It has also reduced traffic light violations by more than 50 per cent. in the same period.

It is interesting to note that the net reduction in accidents has saved £14.6 million, thus benefiting taxpayers and London council tax payers who have had to foot the bill. I think that we can derive great satisfaction from that section of the Commissioner's report.

I also record my appreciation of the steps that the police are taking to deal with the very worrying problem of trafficking in controlled drugs, which continues to be such a menace in our society. It is good to see that the number of people arrested for trafficking in controlled drugs increased by 3 per cent., from 1,935 to 1,984 in 1993–94.

I strongly support the partnership approach that was announced by the Home Secretary to raise awareness and stimulate action in dealing with the drugs problem in London. The police should be in no doubt that they have the full support of Parliament in their difficult and often dangerous job, particularly in tackling drug dealers who are frequently armed and very dangerous.

I conclude by referring to this year's settlement. I believe that the Metropolitan police will welcome the £1,628.56 million—an increase in cash terms of 0.7 per cent.—that they will receive from central Government in 1995–96. I believe that they will also welcome their ability to retain the £35 million underspend, which can also be retained in the future.

This matter resulted in an exchange between the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn. I have looked at the matter very carefully and, recognising as we all do how difficult it is for organisations such as the Metropolitan police to hit their budget exactly in terms of expenditure, I believe that it should be appreciated immediately that the ability to carry over the unspent amount of their budget each year—which is some £35 million this year—will be very valuable for future planning. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is to be commended for making that change.

I also welcome the fact that the cost of funding the privatised prison escort service will not be clawed back. As we have heard today, that is another £7 million which will remain in the Metropolitan police budget. As a result of studying the figures, we can be assured that there is no need on financial grounds to reduce the number of police officers serving in London. It is clear beyond doubt from the settlement that my right hon. and learned Friend has listened to those who have expressed fears about the possibility of the major cuts in funding that have been trailed extensively in the media. Those fears are now seen to be groundless.

I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I frequently have to ask myself whether the taxpayer is getting good value for money for a particular service under scrutiny. In the case of the Metropolitan police, there is no doubt whatever that they are providing excellent value for money. I quote one short passage from the Commissioner's report: Since 1990, the percentage of officers employed in operational posts has increased from 82.9 per cent. to 87.8 per cent. The civilianisation of police posts is also an important aspect of this process. In 1993/94, 403 posts were civilianised from a target of 550 and efforts are underway to fill the remaining 147 posts. By the end of 1994/95, we intend to release a further 400 police posts through civilianisation. This process confirms our determination to ensure that the optimum number of police officers is employed at the point of service delivery, on divisions, and that they receive the appropriate support. The House and my fellow members of the PAC will rightly conclude that.the.Metropolitan police are giving the people we represent not only excellent value for money but a first-class service tailored to the needs of London, and that we have in Sir Paul Condon a Commissioner who is well aware of the sensitivities of the people of London and who pays close attention to our remarks not only in such a debate as this, but during the valuable opportunity that London Members have once or twice a year to meet him and his senior colleagues to discuss matters that affect our constituencies so directly.

12.21 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I join other colleagues in paying tribute to, and thanking the police for, the work that they do on our behalf. I believe that we are united in doing that. It is only right that I should couple that tribute with tributes not only on my behalf but on behalf of my party to the two officers who died this year on duty in the service of the community in London. We owe a lot to police officers who go where others are unwilling or unable to go. If they make the supreme sacrifice, we must be greatly indebted to them, and we send their relatives and friends our condolences.

Today's debate is important. It was lamentable that we did not have it last year. The Minister of State is on the Front Bench—I welcome the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) to his job—but if the only occasion for full-blown accountability of the police authority for London to London Members of Parliament occurs once a year, the Home Secretary, whatever the other pressures on him, ought to be here for the whole debate. I know that we all have pressures on Fridays, but it is the only time in a year that London's police authority is held accountable. Every other police authority meets and is accountable to its public regularly.

Not only have we not had a debate for two years, which I hope will never happen again, but the Home Secretary has not remained for it. I hope that, in future, he will clear his diary, as he will always have the opportunity to discuss the business of the House with the business managers so that planning can take place. I hope that we can have a regular date for the debate that fits in with the pattern of the publication of the Commissioner's report and strategy documents so that the debate takes place as part of a regular cycle.

I welcome, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did, the opportunities during the year for Members of Parliament with constituencies within the Metropolitan police district to meet the Home Secretary as the police authority. I valued my recent meeting with him. That is an important constituency requirement. It is obviously also right that there is a regular meeting between London Members and the Commissioner and his senior officers.

As this is the first debate since the new Commissioner took office—it seems a long time ago and must seem so to him—I welcome him to his post. It was a good appointment. He came with a good reputation and record, and he has vindicated it in office already. We wish him well.

The two major political matters that have affected the Met in the past year, apart from funding and resources, with which I shall deal in a moment, are the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and, at the other end of the spectrum, the debates about criminal injuries compensation.

On the first, I state clearly that the Home Secretary was right to say that those who fomented the violent protests were a small minority who were entirely unrepresentative and clearly anarchistic. Many more people were unhappy about parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, as I was. Many people rightly protested, as they should have the right to do. I hope that we will never confuse the actions of small numbers of anarchists with the right to dissent and proper debate about the merits of the issue.

Mr. Stephen

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, for all practical purposes, it is impossible to prevent anarchists from mingling with otherwise peaceful demonstrators?

Mr. Hughes: It is impossible to prevent anarchists mingling with the hon. Gentleman. That is a rather silly question.

Mr. Corbyn

Would they wish to?

Mr. Hughes

Whether they would wish to or not. The police have intelligence about anarchists. That is part of the job of the police. Indeed, the security services also have intelligence about anarchists acting against the interests of the state. It is difficult to single out anarchists, but the police are trained to pick out and identify the troublemakers.

I have been on many demonstrations in my life. One can have difficulty in identifying everyone who is there to make trouble, but most people are not. I hope that the implication of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is not that there should not be an absolute right to protest, particularly against legislation proposed by the Government, especially when they are a minority Government in terms of their support in the country.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

And in the House.

Mr. Hughes

And, indeed, in the House. According to opinion polls, the Government are not supported by about 80 per cent. of the population. So the right to protest is hugely important. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, in every respect, that must be upheld as a basic civil liberty of all citizens at all times.

Mr. Stephen

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the right to protest does not include the right to intimidate or obstruct, nor does it include the right to bring the life of a great city to a standstill for eight hours or more whenever one pleases?

Mr. Hughes

On the first issue, no, it does not give one the right to break the law. Different police forces and officers respond differently. Some services and officers are better than others at coping with such issues.

The right to bring the city to a halt may be a consequence of the right to protest, just as a state visit, bad weather and traffic disruption often may have that consequence. Having the right to protest does not mean that one has any less of a right to bring the city to a halt than a foreign Head of State, whose visit closes many roads in our capital city.

Fear that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board will not adequately compensate victims has also caused anxiety. The hon. Member for Uxbridge expressed concern for victims of crime, and they must continue to be one of our principal concerns. They are badly represented in our legal system and often do not get a voice at inquests or trials. The Home Secretary's announcement that representations will be made possible is inadequate. We must seriously consider the way in which we can meet the worries of the bereaved and of victims who survive.

The good aspect of the past year was the fact that there was more collaboration between the police and local authorities and communities. That is improving all the time. In Southwark, for example, there have been two very effective campaigns, although they have not yet achieved all that we would wish for. One campaign is against racial harassment and has involved lots of posters and educative material to show that harassment is a crime; this has had some positive effects.

The other campaign is to get across the message that street robbers are normally cowards. Although this is not a London matter, that is shown in the way someone attacked a 100-year-old woman in Northern Ireland last night. How can people be in any way normal if they attack the elderly, frail and vulnerable? Older people and vulnerable people need the most stringent protection. It is normally young thugs who attack people in the streets and they need the severest penalty. I can say without qualification that they should be dealt with in the most severe way. One cannot argue against dealing ferociously with offences against the person.

In addition, in Southwark, after a spate of racial incidents on an estate near the Elephant and Castle, we achieved much good collaboration over the production of guidelines for those concerned about, or the victims of, racial attacks. The Rockingham estate now has an anti-racist group, which has led the work with the community and the police and been highly successful.

Only yesterday, at the invitation of the police, I went to see their junior citizenship scheme, in which children in their last year of primary school are monitored and tutored by young people at secondary school and professionals and given training in life experiences—including very real ones such as burglaries and robberies—and in what they should do. I pay tribute to that scheme.

May I say a word on behalf of the police on a matter on which they unfairly got a bad press? Colleagues will remember a controversial incident earlier in the year—I accept my part in the controversy—when an immigration service raid took place on Southwark council employees, agency employees and alleged employees, about 10 days before the local elections. The police were unhappy about the position that they were put in by having suddenly to detain many suspected illegal immigrants in police stations. They were seen to be the front-line force whereas it was an immigration service initiative. Such problems must be dealt with more accurately, honestly and satisfactorily. The problem was compounded when the immigration service issued a press release which was clearly untrue and added to the discomfort caused by the incident and its unfairness.

We use this debate to examine the Commissioner's annual report and consider the service's priorities. On the priorities formulated for next year, we welcome the fact that there is now an annual corporate strategy document and, as it were, a rolling corporate strategy priority document. We should include as a police priority an improvement in the detection of, and effective action against, not merely people with guns but those people involved in the criminal use of knives, which is growing apace. I hope that that will be a priority for the coining year. Combating racial attacks is another matter that is not a priority for this year, but ought to be for the next.

Perhaps the fact that drug dealing and combating it was not a priority this year may explain why the decision about Customs and Excise personnel was allowed to go through this week, but I shall return to that matter.

I hope that all our tributes to the police will not make them complacent. They should not feel that those compliments enable them to be. However good the charter figures may be—for example, the figure of 90 per cent. for arriving at an urgent incident within 12 minutes—there are occasions when things go badly wrong and the police do not appear, the phone is not answered and one receives no reply to a letter. For example, one of my Southwark councillor colleagues recently complained to me about the fact that it was weeks before he received any answer to a telephone call and his request for information. The police must remember that they, like us, are paid for through taxes and that they are locally accountable as a public service.

I shall deal with the funding issues, because we need to tie down the debate about funding. The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to that matter, but I want to ask the Minister some direct questions with which I hope he will deal when he winds up. The Commissioner made it clear that one of his purposes was to take officers out of Scotland Yard and put them on the streets, and he originally cited a figure of 700 officers.

In an answer to me, the previous Minister of State—now Under-Secretary for Energy and Industry—said: Extra resources made available for civilianisation of non-operational posts currently filled by police officers will enable 400 officers to be released for operational duties in 1994–95."— [Official Report, 21 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 637.] By the end of this year, how many officers will have been moved from desk-bound jobs to the street? Will it be only 400, or the 700 that was originally intended? Will the establishment of the Metropolitan police be the same as it is now—the Minister has asserted that it will be—or bigger next year? There have been statements that the 28,000-officer strength would be reduced by up to 2 per cent., and I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether that will be the case. We need to know whether the numbers have gone up.

A problem for the London police service is that the Home Secretary is a bit like the Lord High Everything Else in "The Mikado": he asks himself for more resources, and then refuses his own request. I understand that this year the Metropolitan police service—for which the Home Secretary is the police authority—asked for 150 more officers, and got none. In the previous year, it asked for 357 and got 50. It was only three years ago, when it asked for 22 and got 22, that it appears to have succeeded—probably because of its then much more modest bid.

If the Commissioner is saying this year that there ought to be more Metropolitan police, the words of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) ought to be heeded. It would cost £4.5 million to fund the extra police requested, and I believe that the public would wish that money to be spent on funding the police, rather than given back to them in tax cuts. I hope that the Government understand that that is certainly the message that I receive loud and clear from my constituents. I doubt if any hon. Members get a different message throughout the capital city.

Is the current strength of the Metropolitan police up to its establishment and, if not, by how much does it fall short? On funding, the hon. Member for Uxbridge said that there would be a 0.7 per cent. increase in the coming year. As that is less than inflation, I ask the Minister to confirm that in real terms there will be a cut in funding of the Metropolitan police service next year. If that is the case, it is regrettable, but we ought to be told the truth.

The Government and the Home Secretary have announced that they have been looking among police forces for a funding formula for the country, and that came from the legislation. There is also a funding exercise going on in London between areas and divisions. I would like to know how far that has proceeded.

Is it true—I have this on very high police authority—that there can be funding for CID operations which give them equal numbers of personnel in an area where there are three serious incidents to investigate and in an area where there are 33? Those were the figures given to me. I was told that, in my area, there are 33 serious incidents, but that we had the same number of CID officers as an outer-London area with three serious incidents on the books.

We need to know what the formula is, because, although I understand the arguments put on behalf of the citizens of Bromley—similar views were put last year by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant)—the incidence of serious crime is more concentrated in inner London than in outer London, and resources ought to be allocated accordingly. As a postscript, is the unemployment rate taken into account in the formula? If so, it is not possible for the Home Secretary to pretend that police resources and unemployment are unrelated.

The Home Secretary is the police authority. I accept that that will not be changed before the next election but hope that, if there is a change of Government, we shall have an elected and accountable police authority for London. My colleagues and I favour that proposition. Given that we are not to have a police authority now, however, I welcome the formation of a police committee and have no reason not to welcome the appointment of its chairman. I look forward to its composition being balanced in terms of age, sex and background and hope, in particular, that at least one young person will be included in order to represent the young people of London. The link between the advisory committee, the police and community consultative groups and the neighbourhood forums needs to be clearly established.

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the community consultative group's structure, but there is frustration at that level because often they are not consulted. For example, often an announcement is made about the Met on which they have not been consulted. The problem of resources is one such issue. The time for consultation on the new resource allocation formula for London had passed before the matter came to the consultative committee, which is nonsense.

As we have consultative committees we should use them. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) rightly pointed out their importance. They are groups of good people; they are willing to get on top of the issues and have good and honest dialogue with the police. At the moment, they provide good bottom-up information, but they are not much good at responding to top-down proposals and initiatives.

Who will service the advisory committee? It is important that it should not be civil servants accountable to the Home Office. The relevant people should be accountable to the Metropolitan police service and therefore independent of the Home Office and able to stand up to it if necessary.

The two big issues in my community at present are the policing of estates and neighbourhood noise. In general terms, the crime figures have improved. In Southwark, notifiable offences are down, the clear-up rate is up, residential burglaries and auto crime are down and there have been more arrests. However, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned generally, sexual offences and incidents of domestic violence are up. In addition, violence against the person, racial incidents and street crime are up. I endorse in particular what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of tackling the increase in domestic violence, which appears to be growing ineluctably.

The policing of estates and the way in which the police work with the community are, not surprisingly, engendering the biggest debate. This year, public policing has been under threat of being replaced by private policing. I believe that private security firms or forces are the least desirable form of policing our cities, town and estates, and local authority police, separately run and separately managed, run the risk of dividing the responsibility for law and order on the streets of London and elsewhere. I believe that the Home Secretary has the right policy and I strongly encourage him to develop it. The best way forward is to develop estate-based and community-based policing carried out by the police, special constables and ordinary people.

Last year, I was privileged to witness a successful similar scheme on the city council housing estates in New York. Police officers and the residents were together ensuring that those estates were among the most crime-free areas in New York. Officers who know the patch work with local people who live there, often acting as concierges in blocks, with radios, walkie-talkies, and so on. I have commended that approach to the Home Secretary and I believe that he is considering it. I commend it also to the Metropolitan police. I understand that there is a further successful model in Leicestershire, which is held up as an example by the Home Office.

If we are to have policing in London that is accountable, effective and enjoys the confidence of the community, we must have community-based and estate-based policing led by the Metropolitan police, not by private security guards. That is the only way that the robbers, the gangs, the burglars and the yobs will be tackled successfully—not simply moved on somewhere else, which is the risk otherwise.

I do not think that we have become tough enough on neighbourhood noise in the definition of what is criminal and what is not. We do not yet have the local authority or police resources to tackle it. We are conducting a big debate about that in Southwark at the moment, but the law needs to be improved.

Earlier this year, the Home Secretary received much flak for saying that he rejected the evidence in a survey commissioned by the Prince's Trust. He said that unemployment and crime were unrelated. I do not think that the experience on the ground is like that, and I ask him to reconsider, and not to wait two years before reaching a conclusion.

The Home Secretary received the most recent flak this week, when he and his colleagues in Government collectively decided that the Customs and Excise officers' numbers should be reduced, including a cut of 500 people working in drugs and other enforcement.

I think that the Government have got those two aspects of policy wrong. I ask them to reconsider both. If we can strengthen Customs and Excise to deal with drugs and other offences, and if the Government learn to accept the link between unemployment and crime, there will be an effective understanding of some of the other priorities that I hope the police will have in the coming year.

12.46 pm
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

I greatly welcome the debate because it has been far too long since we debated policing matters in London, and I was sorry that last year we did not have a debate on policing. My feelings go wider. We do not debate London matters enough in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That needs to be put right because the basis of London's local government—which I broadly support—of having local authorities without a London-wide government and without an elected London body, works only if London Members of Parliament are given the opportunity to debate in the House the issues of a wider London concern, which need be brought together.

I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the Metropolitan police, because it does an extremely difficult task which is important to all our constituents. My constituents repeatedly and consistently mention the fear of crime, the problems of law and order and their fear of being burgled or attacked in the street—fears which may or may not be justified, and which frequently are unjustified, but which nevertheless exist.

The problem confronting the police was highlighted by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), who is not in his seat at the moment.

Mr. Corbyn

He is coming back.

Mr. Carrington

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman is coming back.

We must balance the need for effective policing—sometimes heavy-handed policing—in London, which is necessary to combat crime, against the justified demand that all Londoners have for the protection of their civil liberties, and for people who are not suspected of a crime to be able to go about their lawful business without fear of being harassed.

The achievement of that light touch, which is extremely difficult for any police force, is perhaps best illustrated in relation to the great problem of tackling drugs, which is a problem from which all constituencies in inner London suffer, to a greater or lesser extent. My constituency of Fulham suffers badly from drug taking and drug dealing, which leads at times to levels of policing that cause considerable problems.

I give one example of the nature of drug dealers who create what can only be described as laboratories in the houses and flats in which they live. Such laboratories are difficult to track down, and the police have to raid them without warning and use considerable force. Unfortunately, the police sometimes get it wrong and the surprise and violence is used against innocent people who are living normal lives in areas where there is, unfortunately, a great deal of drug taking. Striking the right balance is difficult.

For obvious reasons there has been an increase in the use of surveillance cameras, not just in shopping centres or other enclosed places—quasi-private areas where one could make a case for them—but in public places such as streets. They have been introduced in west London to counteract drug dealing, and that is a reasonable use for them. But it raises serious problems about what happens to the surveillance tapes. Who has access to them and what is done with the information that is obtained in that way? That is worrying, but the Metropolitan police are feeling their way towards the right balance.

I welcome the reduction in crime. We have been given some figures about the overall reduction in London, and reported crimes in Fulham are down by about 16 per cent. I welcome that, but as we all know, reported crimes are not necessarily a reflection of criminal activity because crimes are reported, or not reported, for many reasons. Perhaps of more significance is the clear-up rate for burglaries as a result of Operation Bumblebee. That rate has increased by just under 20 per cent. year on year, and is down in the third quarter of this year. That shows that with the help of such operations, the police are at last getting on top of the professional organised criminals whom they can identify.

More worry, or at least as much worry, is caused to most people not by the organised criminal, the one who is carefully planning a burglary and about whom the police know because he is an habitual criminal, but by the opportunistic criminal who seizes the opportunity of an open window or an unlocked car. Such a crime also occurs when a young man is walking down the street alone and is set upon by other young men and mugged. Contrary to current mythology, that often happens.

The opportunistic crime is often the most feared, and great steps to reduce it have been made through crime prevention education. But such crime is difficult to stop and people must be reassured by the presence on the streets of those who will stop it. Such people may or may not be patrolling policemen. I hope that they will be, but it is unrealistic to expect policemen to be on the streets all the time. I hope that the climate of fear on our streets will be changed by the welcome steps taken by partnership against crime and street watch and by the other measures that are being used to get people more involved in their communities, looking after each other and taking cognisance of what is happening in their areas.

When a street is empty, people, rightly or wrongly, feel nervous about walking down it. The way to stop that is Ito ensure activity in the community, and the way to bring that about is to rebuild shopping centres and public houses and use community centres and so on.

Curiously enough, one of the by-products of controlled residents' parking, which is being introduced slowly throughout my constituency and which has given rise mixed feelings among the residents, is that, if it is properly maintained, traffic wardens patrol the streets. They pay for themselves by issuing tickets and they have the added advantage of being a uniformed presence. Although they may not be able to arrest people, they are a deterrent to the opportunistic criminal and in that sense they are an advantage.

I was very pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that there is no need for a reduction in Metropolitan police numbers this year. I and many other hon. Members have been concerned by the story circulating that there is to be a reduction in the number of active officers. Few people in London believe that there are too few officers in the Metropolitan police. Indeed, most of us want an increase in the number of active officers. That does not necessarily mean an increase in the number of people in the Metropolitan police; it means an increase in the number of policemen who are combating crime rather than doing the administrative and support duties that could be done by less highly trained people.

Equally, some of the traffic duties undertaken by the Metropolitan police could be handed over to people who are not as highly trained as the police officers who are combating crime. There is a case for having a separate traffic enforcement police force, but I shall not comment further on that because of lack of time.

I want briefly to comment on the proposed Metropolitan police committee and to reinforce what I believe to be vital: that it should be independent of both the police and the Home Office. I listened to what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about it being independent of the Home Office. I go one step further, because I believe that it should also be independent of the Metropolitan police. It should exist in the same way as, for example, Ofgas and Ofwat exist to watch over the privatised monopolies. Its role should be as the guardian of the way in which the police behave and to do that it must be independent.

The committee needs to be tied in closely with the work of police consultative committees which, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said, play an important role in feeding information up, but also in examining information fed down. They are non-political, committed to the community and involve a broad section of people.

It is vital that the new committee is not political, so I greatly welcome the fact that it is not to be established as an elected body. Because of the complexity and size of London, any elected body controlling London's police would make the police a political football, which we would all regret. The police do a tremendous job in London and they deserve our support.

12.57 pm
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

In September, the Minister announced with a great fanfare a welcome decrease of 5.5 per cent. in recorded crime over the past year. He described it as the greatest fall for more than 40 years and said that he hoped that it would reassure the public. The reality is—I quote the words used to express it: All the real evidence says to the voters that crime is getting worse. Those are not my words, but the words of no less a person than the vice-chairman of the Conservative party. That is the reality of crime in London.

The Home Secretary introduced this long-delayed debate and invited us to consider his achievements over the past two years. He would do well to bear in mind the perception of those whom we represent that crime remains a very real and growing problem and that the Government have not done enough to tackle it.

We support and work for the notion of partnership—a partnership between the police and the community and between the private and public sectors. There is all the evidence to show that the achievement in combating crime over the past months has resulted from just that partnership. If that partnership is to succeed and to deliver consistent results across the board in the fight against crime, it needs support from the Government, but the Government are not giving the partnership the support it requires.

Yesterday, the revenue support grants for London were announced. It is clear that, as a result of that dispensation, London and London local authorities will find that they are hard pressed in the coming year to maintain the existing level of services. It is also clear that some of the crucial areas in which there has been successful partnership between the police and the local authorities will be undermined by a lack of resources.

There are two areas to which we need to pay real attention in this debate. We have heard a lot about drugs; the cuts that have been made and the future cuts that are proposed in Customs and Excise staff will certainly impact adversely on the drugs problem in the capital. The problem goes beyond that, however. For there to be an effective partnership against those who peddle drugs and for there to be support and assistance for those who are vulnerable to their insidious influence, it is vital that there is an effective youth and community service on the ground working with schools to combat drug abuse. Thai is what the police, our local chief superintendents and local community bodies tell us.

My own borough of Brent, a Conservative borough, as a result of this Conservative revenue support grant, announced before the RSG statement yesterday that it intended, in effect, entirely to eliminate the youth and community service in the borough. That is an absolute scandal and will set back the work we seek to do in partnership in Brent. The local authority, the police consultative committee, the local voluntary, church and other youth workers and the statutory sector are trying to work in partnership to defeat the menace of drugs, but their work has been undermined by the Government's actions. It is no use the Home Secretary claiming in the House that there has been achievement in the area, when all the evidence tells us otherwise.

It is clear that the formula that is the basis on which the Metropolitan police is funded is flawed. It is also clear that the concerns expressed by the Association of London Authorities and others in the run-up to the RSG announcement were more than justified. The Home Secretary and the Treasury have, in effect, robbed Peter to pay Paul in their sums on the RSG for London. As a result of the resources that have been made available to the Metropolitan police, there is a clawback from other areas where there needs to be adequate funding for local authority services, but where there is not. That is not right, and it undermines the fight against crime.

We need cohesive and sustainable communities if we are to combat crime effectively. That is what the police want and that is what we want. We want a vibrant, active partnership between the local authority and the police, and between the voluntary and private sectors. Everything that the Government do undermines that, not only through the RSG but, importantly, through the imposition of a market ideology on policing.

Privatisation and the threat of privatisation have demoralised the police in London. They are concerned by the Home Secretary's focus on the core functions in his review of the Metropolitan police. There is an idea that helping an elderly lady across the road is not, somehow, a core function. Well, we, as Labour Members, are here to tell the Home Secretary that that is a core function. The police perform a vital service in reassuring the elderly of their presence.

It is vital that the police are not seen only as people who arrive at the scene of the crime in mechanised vehicles, but are seen to be out and about at work in the community; with time to talk to that small shopkeeper on the high street or on the estate who feels vulnerable, who feels threatened; with time to talk to that group of young people, who are not necessarily the tearaways, but who need to know that there is a police presence in their area. Is that a core function? The police officers who speak to me, young and old, at federated and non-federated ranks, say that they are desperately worried about creeping privatisation and civilianisation in the police force.

We want to see an end to market ideologies imposed on each and every sector of society. Policing and the market just do not mix. Policing is a service. It must be a publicly funded service; a properly resourced service; a partnership between police and public; a partnership between the voluntary and the private sector. That is what we, as Labour Members, are here to argue for. We argue that underpinning that partnership there needs to be genuine democratic accountability. There needs to be a police authority that is more than just another quango, which is capable of reflecting the needs and concerns of all Londoners.

The qualification to serve on that authority must not be the chairmanship of a company which is a major donor to the Conservative party, but that that person lives and works in London. The qualification must be to care about London and have roots in London. Party political affiliation is neither here nor there. What London wants and what London must get is a quality police service. From this Government and as long as the Conservative party occupies the Government Benches, that is what London will never get.

1.6 pm

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

At the outset, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the action that he has taken in the past 12 months to strengthen our police. He may not be flavour of the month with the liberal elite, but that runs in his favour because it means that he is clearly in touch with the views and aspirations of ordinary people in this country.

When it comes to the Metropolitan police, what my constituents want is simple: they want more powerful police and they want more powers for the police. By more powerful, my constituents mean that they want more police at the sharp end, patrolling the streets and available to help ordinary people. By more powers, they mean that they want the police to be able to get on with the job of cracking down on crime and not to deviate from that by having to spend a great deal of time on unnecessary paperwork or be too hidebound by regulation, and so on. In other words, they want a police force which gets its priorities right and is also more visible.

All that can be summed up in the old aspiration, undimmed by the passage of time and embodied in the simple phrase "More bobbies on the beat". That was often summed up by Lord Whitelaw, who used to go around repeating the phrase, "More police, more prisons, more police, more prisons."

It may have been a very simple remedy, but it was an effective one and he did much to strengthen the police in his time as Home Secretary. Today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has delivered as well and—I believe—impressively.

London's police force will have more powers thanks to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. London's police will have more resources in the front line thanks to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Both Acts will give the police better back-up through the criminal justice system. There is, of course, still more to be done in the toughening of prison regimes and sentences, and my right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear earlier that that is a priority this year. He also said that it is a priority in respect of speeding up the process of justice.

The police will be effective only if they have the full backing of the criminal justice system working properly and effectively. It is not only the public who want to see that; the police want to see it as well. Police morale can be badly affected if the police feel that, instead of getting on with their principal task, they are tied up in yards of red tape or buried under mounds of what they believe to be unnecessary paperwork and are therefore unable to get out on the streets.

The police also become demoralised if they feel that the courts are not acting by backing up their work through effective sentencing, or if the prisons are not delivering the goods and, at the end of the day, the criminal can turn around and laugh at the police.

I have met and know policemen who prefer to let offenders off rather than charge them because charging them takes so much time out of their working day with hours spent filling in forms and chasing up the evidence. As a result of that, they cannot operate as effectively as policemen on the streets. We must find ways to cut the laborious paperwork processes that are currently involved. I am aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering that point.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was able to chalk up another success yesterday. Despite a very tight spending round which has meant real cuts in many areas, he was able to announce a real increase in total police funding across the country of about 3 per cent. to about £3.67 billion. Of that, a huge £1.6 billion will go to the Met. In addition to its standard settlement, the Met receives a special payment of £130 million to recognise the capital's special requirements.

The Met will also benefit from losing court escort responsibility without losing the cash for that. With that, the Met will receive £19 million more than last year, but it will also gain from its new ability to roll over the money not spent this year into next year. The Met was unable to do that in the past. Previously, the cash was taken back direct to the Treasury.

That sum amounted to £11 million last year. However, it could be considerably more this year—perhaps up to £35 million. In other words, the important point is that the Met will gain this year by up to £65 million in its budget. That is a considerable increase which is equal to, or above, the projected rate of inflation.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) failed to follow the full logic of the figures. In his speech, he made it clear that he was not entirely sure about what the figures involved and he looked again at the text. I pay due credit to him here: I am not suggesting that he deliberatelly misunderstands the figures—he was simply unaware of the roll over of money and the amount that can be taken from one year to the following year, and he did not appreciate the impact of the police losing responsibility for the court escort service and the £7 million involved there. If the hon. Member for Blackburn realised those things, he would be aware that the amount of money that the police will receive next year is keeping pace with inflation.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was more guilty of an inexactitude with his numerals. He was clearly unaware that the real cash for the police next year is considerably more than the increase produced by the grant, due to the two factors that I have mentioned. It is most important to take that into account in making any proper and serious assessment of how police resources will work next year.

In addition to the extra cash, we must consider the change in rank structure, the impact of reorganisation in the Met and increasing civilianisation of the police—including, in certain boroughs such as mine, responsibility for parking being given entirely to local authority traffic wardens and removed completely from the police. All that will make the Met more effective at the sharp end.

Therefore, there is certainly no financial need for a reduction in police numbers, and we should not talk about such a reduction. I stress that only because some false rumours are circulating, giving the impression that there might be a cut in police numbers. That is completely unnecessary on financial grounds. Indeed, there is scope now for increasing the number of constables. I would certainly like to see such an increase. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) spoke of the importance of that in the London borough of Bromley, and I fully support him.

One way of bringing about an increase is through imaginative partnership schemes, opening the door for yet further funding. Section 24 of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 empowers boroughs to give police extra funding. The London borough of Wandsworth has already effectively gone down that route, with the co-operation and the full support of the Met, to provide extra special constables—community neighbourhood constables. I suggest that the London borough of Bromley should do the same.

To its credit, the London borough of Bromley has already done much on law and order. It has held a series of important public meetings, it has piloted thorough research into the impact of crime on the borough, and it has helped to institute closed circuit television deterrence, which is another important means of deterring and fighting crime. I hope that that will be followed by considering a new partnership with the Met to increase effective police manpower in the borough in a way that is tailored to the specific needs of the area. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) about the need for the police to be based in, to work with and to understand the community.

How far are local authorities empowered to go in respect of extra financing? That is an important part of an overall package for good policing in areas such as mine.

One of the difficulties facing the Met is that it is one force but has to operate in an extremely diverse area. The policing needs of Beckenham, for example, are a world away from those of Bermondsey, and the needs of Westminster are quite different from those of Bromley. I hope that that point will be fully taken into account by the Commissioner and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when they examine the funding of the Met in the future.

Quoting statistics about the number of police per head of population and so on does not give a balanced picture of the needs of London, because boroughs' needs are different. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned that point, and I certainly would not want to rob his constituency to improve cover in mine; nor would I want the needs of his constituency to have an adverse impact on the needs of mine. In other words, different areas of London need to be treated in different ways.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the two police stations in my constituency. I was shown around Penge police station by Inspector Stephen Hall, and around Beckenham police station by Inspector Dave Tompkins. I record my gratitude to those officers for the time that they took to educate me in the problems that they face. I also thank them on behalf of my constituents for the work that they and their team do in protecting people in my constituency. Apart from all the individuals whom they have helped, they have benefited the whole community by bringing down the crime rate. According to the latest figures, overall crime fell by 21 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement, and I hope that it will be repeated year after year.

I also take this opportunity to record my appreciation and that of the community which I represent for the various police consultative and discussion groups in the area. We have three: one covering the borough, one covering Beckenham, and one covering Penge. I pay tribute to the work of the chairmen of two of those bodies, Peter North and Bob Groves, who help to keep the police in touch with the community and vice versa. I also compliment all the citizens who involve themselves in neighbourhood watch, which is another important way of extending police-community liaison.

The public need the support and work of a confident police force, and the police need the confidence and support of the public and of their representatives in this place. The steps that the Government have taken in the past year contribute to achieving that aim, and I am delighted to see the work continuing.

1.19 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I have attended every debate on the policing of the metropolis since I was elected to the House and I have always been deeply frustrated by the lack of accountability of the Metropolitan police force and the unsatisfactory nature of the debates. Today's debate is no different from the others.

I have watched Home Secretaries come into the House and speak at great length—I do not complain about that, as they are reporting to the House and it is the only opportunity that the police authority has to report publicly—and then disappear immediately. Not one Home Secretary has stayed to hear the whole of the debate. I must put on record the fact that I deplore that practice and the fact that other hon. Members are not able to take part in the debate. [Interruption.] I do not know why Conservative Members are getting so excited: regrettably, it is a fact that no Home Secretary has stayed to hear the whole of a debate about the policing of London. After all, the Home Secretary is the authority of the London police force.

I also regret that the proposals which the Home Secretary has brought forward to "improve the structure of the police force in London", as he puts it, will actually do nothing of the kind. I used to think that it was undemocratic that the Home Secretary should he the police authority for London, but we are now to get something even worse—a quango on behalf of which the Home Secretary will speak in Parliament, rather than on behalf of the police force.

London needs an elected authority to cover the whole of the capital for reasons of planning, housing, health, transport, the environment and, of course, policing. Likewise, we need the development and continuation of local police committees. We need not only a central body, but also a local one.

The suggestion that those hon. Members who raise this question are somehow against the policing of London and have no understanding of the needs of London's police force is way off the mark. I represent an inner-city community which is tragically riddled with very high levels of unemployment, not very good housing—many people are on the housing waiting list—and a great deal of crime.

I cannot complain—nor do I seek to do so—about the co-operation that I get from the local police in my constituency. It is very good indeed. On the occasions when I have had to call out the police to attend incidents where I live, their response has been very good. I have meetings with them whenever I wish to discuss local matters. I have no complaints on that score. Indeed, I thank the Holloway police for the co-operation that they have given me whenever I have raised issues with them. Whether we finally agree is not the point—at least they are prepared to discuss matters openly.

However, I draw attention to the problems of crime in my borough. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has produced some very useful statistics about London boroughs and the crime that occurs within them. There were 3,190 violent crimes in the borough of Islington for the year ended June 1994. There were 1,894 incidents per 100,000 people, compared with a London average of 1,058 and a national average of 605. In the neighbouring borough of Hackney the figure is even higher—2,252 per 100,000 people. Examples at the opposite end of the scale were Kingston, with 746 violent crimes per 100,000 people, and Redbridge with 592.

The crimes to which I refer included acts of violence against the person, sexual offences and attacks, and racially motivated attacks. I suspect that the number of racially motivated attacks is a gross underestimate as many people are unable or unwilling to report what they believe to be a racially motivated attack. The local police are well aware of that fact, and Islington council and others have done a great deal of work to encourage people to come forward and report racially motivated attacks. It would help if the Government were to ameliorate what I believe are the many appalling sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 by including legislation to deal specifically with racially motivated crimes. That would help in putting a stop to the vile racially motivated crimes which are the scourge of our society.

I do not have much time, so I shall be brief. I have searched through the annual report of the Commissioner. Unless I have missed something, previous annual reports contained a detailed description of the number of firearms licences issued by the police force in London and the number of police who carry guns in London. I cannot be the only person who is deeply troubled by the growing incidence of the use of firearms and crime in London, the ease of getting a firearm by illicit means such as smuggling, by purchase through gun clubs, or whatever. The need to have a gun-free society is something that I take seriously. That includes not having an armed police force in London. I hope that the Home Secretary will publish the statistics for the number of firearms licences issued by the Metropolitan police in the past year. In previous years more than 700 licences were issued.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to replica weapons. I have raised that issue on several occasions. There is a gun shop not five minutes walk from my home. It sells absolutely identical replica weapons. I went in and bought a replica weapon for £65. The reason why I did so was that someone was killed by a police marksman in my constituency. He was holding a neighbour to ransom using a replica weapon. It was the second such incident in my constituency. The police had no way of telling that it was a replica weapon. I bought one of the guns and showed it to the Police Federation and we discussed the matter. When we fired the gun, it looked and sounded every bit like a real gun going off.

I recognise the problem that large numbers of replica guns are in circulation already, but we have to start somewhere. Perhaps we could license replica weapons as they come on to the market, or even ban the manufacture of new replica weapons. There is no justification for anyone walking around with absolutely identical replica weapons. The hurt, the danger and the deaths that have been caused make this a serious issue. In some cases such weapons have been used by people who are deeply disturbed and in need of much more community care and support than they are able to obtain. I hope that the Home Secretary will have the courtesy at least to read Hansard and understand the anxieties of those of us who represent inner urban communities.

I wish to raise several points about the Commissioner's report, but there is not enough time to raise all of them. One is about the number of deaths in custody. I draw attention to appendix 4.7, which refers to the death on 1 August 1993 of a 40-year-old female in Hornsey. I refer to the death of Joy Gardner, and I am not giving away any secrets when I say that. I seriously question the passage in the report which states: She resisted arrest, was restrained, collapsed and resuscitation was given. She was taken to hospital where she subsequently died. I believe that to be a breach of normal law in that the case is sub judice. The inquest has not yet finally concluded its decision as to how and why Joy Gardner died.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Two weeks ago, at Marylebone magistrates court, three officers were committed for trial in that very case, so it is, indeed, sub judice. Is my hon. Friend not surprised, as I am, that the Metropolitan police Commissioner has given a version of the death of Joy Gardner when the court has not decided on the cause of death?

Mr. Corbyn

I agree with the point that my hon. Friend has made. I am sure that it will be drawn to the attention of the representatives of the late Joy Gardner when the case comes to court. I ask the Home Secretary to examine seriously the wording used about the incident as it seems to be prejudicial to the course of justice at a later stage.

The other issue that I wish to raise, as it has been referred to by the Home Secretary and others, is that of public order demonstrations in London and the hidden agenda of many Conservative Members who keep on and on about the cost of policing political and other demonstrations. One Conservative Member raised the question of the cost of policing crowds outside football matches. The right of people freely to demonstrate their political or other views cannot be fettered by considerations of the cost of the policing operations. If one lives in a democracy in which there is a right to demonstrate and dissent, it has to be an unfettered right. I deplore what I believe to be the hidden agenda surrounding that issue.

Mr. Cohen

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would comment on my question to the Home Secretary, to which I did not get an answer, about the riot police not wearing identifiable numbers when they go into action. That was a problem when they policed the miners' strike and Wapping and it seems to be becoming common practice. Does my hon. Friend agree that it needs serious consideration, as it virtually allows the riot police to act illegally without being identified and prevents people who might be aggrieved at their actions and who might have been physically assaulted from making an official complaint?

Mr. Corbyn

Absolutely. My hon. Friend will recall that some years ago we were members of a Standing Committee when that issue was discussed. We were always assured that whatever uniform an officer wore, his identity number would appear on the outside, on the shoulder pads where the numbers normally appear. I deplore the apparent use at the M11 demonstrations of riot police wearing boiler suits and helmets without any identifying numbers so that no complaints can be made against officers. As everyone knows, to make a complaint against the police one must make a complaint against individual officers. Those are deplorable incidents.

I was involved in a some of the demonstrations against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The House should be aware that we should take notice if many thousands of people demonstrate against an Act of Parliament. We were demonstrating to defend the historic right of silence in criminal cases, the freedom to roam, and people's right to follow alternative life styles, which is important in a democracy. The people who turned out to demonstrate showed their concern for the libertarian traditions that were developed by people who were also prepared to defy laws in the past century and the centuries before that.

I addressed and chaired the rally in Hyde park at the conclusion of an enormous demonstration on 9 October. For the most part, the demonstration was good humoured and it was certainly peaceful and well organised. After agreement had been reached on the route to be followed, the police complimented the organisers on the stewards' handling of the demonstration.

After the rally started—shortly before the demonstration was due to end—trouble broke out around Marble Arch, some distance away. To prevent any trouble, the organisers and stewards immediately went to see what was going on and offered to co-operate with the police to ensure that there was no crowd build-up so that the trouble would not be exacerbated. The police officer in charge refused that co-operation and went on to close Park lane to the coaches that were arriving to take other people away and the situation went from bad to worse. None of the organisers of the demonstration wanted any trouble.

I wrote to the Home Secretary the following day, on 10 October, asking if he would be prepared to have a public inquiry into what went on and offering my co-operation. I was somewhat surprised that it took until 25 November for a reply to be given—not by the Home Secretary, but by the Minister of State, Home Office—saying that I should apologise to the police and that there would be no public inquiry. Why it took six weeks for the Home Office to respond to a perfectly reasonable letter from a Member of the House of Commons merits, in itself, some sort of inquiry.

I urge the Home Office to look through the reports of what happened at that demonstration. I refer to those in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and even The Sun, of all papers, as well as a number of others. No one wanted any violence. The organisers certainly did not want any trouble. We wanted to ensure that it was peaceful.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)


Mr. Corbyn

I will give way in a moment.

Police co-operation and intelligence might have meant that we could have avoided some of the trouble that followed. That is what we have been trying to point out for all that time. [Interruption.] I know that it is easier for Ministers to sneer than to listen, but I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman on this occasion.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman keeps stressing that no one who organised the demonstration wanted any trouble. He is conveniently glossing over the fact that a few hundred people from Class War and the Animal Liberation Front and some anarchists did want trouble. After the demonstration, Class War boasted in its newsletter: The police were swamped and we gave them everything: burning bins, sticks, bricks, paving slabs, park bench planks, cans filled with sand, bottles and scaffolding poles. But as ever shortage of ammunition was a constant problem …so cheers to those of you who kept us supplied on the day. Will the hon. Gentleman condemn that sort of behaviour as strongly as he seems to be condemning the police for their efforts to contain trouble?

Mr. Corbyn

The Minister knows perfectly well that all the organisers of the demonstration did not want or agree with any violence, and that they did condemn the violence. He knows all that, but he still fails to answer the question: why is he not prepared to have a serious discussion about the policing tactics that were used at the end of the demonstration, so as to avoid such problems in the future? Why did it take six weeks to reply to a letter pointing out seriously that there had been a breakdown in communications? The police chief superintendent who was on the spot absolutely refused even to discuss with the stewards—with whom the police had been happily co-operating for the previous four hours—any actions which might have been taken. I wonder whether there was perhaps some other agenda from the Home Office and whether it was perhaps not awfully convenient for the Home Secretary's speech at the Tory party conference two days later.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Perhaps I may jog my hon. Friend's memory. I recall that, at the time, my hon. Friend went on television and radio in relation to the demonstration and that he started off on every occasion by stating that he was totally opposed to violence, that he was in favour of a peaceful demonstration and that he had nothing against the police, who generally did a good job. Why does the Minister not praise my hon. Friend for making those statements? Why is he trying to link my hon. Friend with Class War and other organisations with which my hon. Friend is not associated? I challenge the Minister in his wind-up speech to congratulate my hon. Friend on being so reserved—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. That was a very long intervention.

Mr. Corbyn

I thank my hon. Friend, and 1 look forward to the Minister's reply to the debate, when he can set the record straight. He seems to be more interested in condemning people than in listening to what went on; indeed, he is not even prepared to discuss what went on.

There is not much time left, and I do not want to prevent other hon. Members from speaking, so I will conclude on this point. I found it extraordinary that, two weeks after the demonstration, the Metropolitan police decided to call a press conference to predict violence on a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration to which they subsequently sent 2,000 police officers. I am glad to say that there was no violence, and I believe that there was only one arrest during the whole demonstration. I got the impression, as did many journalists who attended the press conference, that it was designed to do two things—to deter people from coming to the demonstration and to talk up the prospects of violence on the streets of London. Nobody wanted that, and I am glad to say that there no violence.

Let us have some sense and accept the right of people to demonstrate peacefully in our capital city. We need an accountable police force to defend the liberties of the people of this country.

1.37 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

It is the duty of any Government, second only to the duty to safeguard these islands from external attack, to safeguard people from criminals within our own society. One reason why the entire western world—not just this country—has seen a rise in crime is that successive Governments in this and other countries have paid too much attention to the half-baked 1960s attitudes towards crime and criminals. We are now paying a heavy price for that.

It is true that my party has been in government here for 15 years, and it is also true that they have listened too much over the years to those half-baked ideas. But anyone who believes that, had the Labour party been in power during those 15 years, it would have listened less to those libertarian views will believe anything. Fortunately, today we have a Home Secretary who is determined to roll back 30 years of libertarian attitudes to crime and to put the civil rights of the victims and ordinary law-abiding members of the public first.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on two points. First, I congratulate him on having the courage to get the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on to the statute book substantially unamended, because it contains provisions that will protect our constituents and give the police the powers that they need to defend us against criminals. Secondly, I congratulate him on the recent financial settlement, involving an extra £180 million for the police. I am especially grateful to him for giving the Sussex force, a massive 10 per cent. increase, one of the largest in the country.

The London police have to cope with many specific problems, one of which is mass demonstrations, to which other hon. Members have adverted. No one would deny that the public have the right to protest; it is one of our democratic rights. People have every right to express their disapproval of anything that anyone in authority does in their name, but I maintain that the right to protest does not include the right to intimidate others who have different views or to obstruct others from going about their lawful business. As with anything in the real world, it is a question of balancing the rights of one group of people against those of another.

It may be said that people have a right to assemble in very large numbers in the centre of a city to express their views, but we must not forget the tens of thousands of other people who live and work in those cities—especially in London—and who have a right to go about their business and to get to and from their homes and places of work. There is a right for fire engines to attend to burning buildings, for ambulances to attend the sick and for police cars to attend to emergencies. Those rights are perhaps forgotten by those who hold it to be an absolute right to be allowed to assemble in very large numbers in urban areas to express their views. I maintain that there are no absolute rights in this world; it is always a question of balance.

If very large numbers of people are involved, the disruptive effect on a city is very much the same whether or not a demonstration is peaceful. Unfortunately, it is for all practical purposes impossible to prevent anarchists, to whom my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) referred, mingling with peaceful demonstrators. I pointed that out to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) whose response was particularly fatuous, even for him. It should be apparent even to him that the ability of an anarchist to mingle with an individual Member of Parliament—even himself—would not have the effect of turning a demonstration into a riot.

We are often reminded of the fact that, in centuries gone by, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the suffragettes and others demonstrated, chained themselves to railings or threw themselves under race horses. We should all be proud that they took those risks so that future generations might have greater freedom and wider democracy. However, in those days, women did not have the right to be represented in Parliament. There are two women currently in the Chamber who speak out fearlessly for the rights of women whenever they feel that those rights are under threat, which is right and proper, but when the suffragettes chained themselves to the railings there were no women in Parliament to argue on their behalf. Some men did, but women could not do so.

Similarly, in the days of the Tolpuddle martyrs, working men had no representatives in Parliament. They had no one to put their point of view, to put their arguments or to fight for their rights. That is not true today. As I sit in the House, I listen day by day to the representatives of working men and women arguing for their rights, putting their point of view. They do so with great skill and determination, and I pay tribute to them.

I believe that the type of mass demonstration that might have been necessary in an urban area in a bygone age is no longer necessary or desirable in the television age, because anyone who has enough support to stage a mass demonstration can obtain air time on television and radio and communicate his point of view to millions of his fellow citizens. In fact, the more anti-Government his views may be, the greater the opportunity that he will have to communicate them on television or radio. Therefore, mass demonstrations in urban areas, especially in London, are outmoded, and we ought seriously to consider placing a total ban on them.

A frivolous reference was made to the disruptive effect of a state visit. The two situations are totally different and, as I have said, anyone who wishes to persuade may communicate his opinion on television to millions of his fellow citizens. That will not enable him to intimidate his fellow citizens by creating a large crowd and threatening or obstructing people, but I maintain that the right to protest does not involve the right to intimidate or to obstruct. I doubt that any Member of the House would maintain otherwise.

If, at the time of the Park lane riot, the police had had the stop and search powers that they will shortly have under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, they might have been able to remove from the knapsacks of demonstrators the bricks, the CS gas canisters and perhaps, if we widened that section, even the literature to which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred, inciting people to violence. The responsibility for the violence which occurred is theirs alone, and anyone who suggests that it is the responsibility of the police, who were responding to a difficult situation that had been created, is, in my respectful opinion, utterly wrong.

One type of demonstration affects the House and our very democratic process. That is the attempt, which we have witnessed all too frequently in recent weeks, to lay siege to these very Houses of Parliament. Those demonstrations have prevented hon. Members from reaching the House to attend to their constituents' affairs, and even to cast their votes in important Divisions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. No hon. Member has been prevented from taking part in any Division, as far as the Chair is concerned.

Mr. Stephen

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that, on one occasion, Members had been unable to get here, and that one hon. Member had been knocked down and was taken to hospital, but the record will show whether that is correct.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman understands is not relevant to the statement he made that hon. Members were not able to take part in Divisions. The Chair received no complaints on the Divisions that took place that night.

Mr. Stephen

I am grateful for that advice but, to any of us who witnessed the demonstration outside, it must have seemed a miracle that any hon. Member was able to get through to take part in a Division. If that type of demonstration occurs in future, no one can guarantee that hon. Members will not be prevented from casting their vote in a Division.

Demonstrations of that type are not only a breach of the ordinary law but contrary to the Sessional Orders of the House, which require the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to keep the way clear for hon. Members to come to the House to attend to their constituents' affairs. The Commissioner failed in that duty. I am not criticising the Commissioner—he did his best, but he failed in that duty. He must revise his views as to how those matters are to be dealt with and he must reconsider the powers that Parliament has given him under the Public Order Act 1986.

I believe that the time has come to say that there shall not in future be any mass demonstrations within one mile of this place. In other legislatures—especially in Germany, I think—there is a rule that no demonstration shall take place within 1 km of the Parliament building. Such a rule should also apply here.

Such obstruction must not occur again, and the Commissioner must never again allow demonstrators to invade this Palace and sit on the roof of the building. That was an attack on our democracy. Another such serious attack was when the private residence of a Minister of the Crown was invaded. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made light of the attack on his residence, and I pay tribute to him for his fortitude, but the House cannot pass lightly over the matter. It was a fundamental attack on a Minister of the Crown who performs his duties to the best of his ability in the interests of all our people. Those who do not agree with the way in which he discharges his duties can say so through their representatives in Parliament, and they do so almost every day.

I shall turn briefly to one other important matter. Recently, there have been a number of cases in which householders have been confronted by intruders, and have tackled them and found themselves before the courts. Under existing law, a householder has the right to use reasonable force in self-defence, but we should look again at the case and statute law to see whether the right could be drawn more widely. I believe that, save in the most exceptional cases, a householder confronting an intruder should not find himself in court and be required to pay compensation to the intruder. That matter has outraged our constituents and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to look again at the law on the matter.

1.51 pm
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

Their time comes to those who wait. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, especially as the Home Secretary seems to have avoided having such a debate for more than a year and might not have had one today had the matter not been raised by me with the Leader of the House shortly before the House was prorogued.

The Home Secretary was quick to tell us that he is the police authority for London and that as such he is accountable to Parliament. Given the length of time that it has taken for this debate to be held, he obviously has a limited view of that accountability. When we consider the spiralling crime wave in London and the depth of fear of crime among Londoners, we should not be surprised that he wants to avoid public scrutiny and accountability.

The Government have presided over a near doubling of crime in our capital city. They promote policies that undermine the Metropolitan police and they have demonstrably failed to allow London to have its own democratically accountable police authority. When Home Office Ministers trumpet the 5.5 per cent. decrease in crime over the past year and try to reassure the public, it is difficult for us in London to take them seriously. We have had a 15 per cent. increase in violent crime in the past year and there was a 15 per cent. increase in sexual offences between June 1993 and June 1994. More than 160,000 burglaries were reported in London in the past year, robberies are up by 4 per cent. and one in 10 of all London crimes is defined as violent according to the Home Office classification. The cost in stolen property amounts to some £167 per head for every Londoner.

Perhaps the most devastating statistic is that 90 per cent. of Londoners are concerned about the level of crime and two out of three expect it to get worse. Next week the Association of London Authorities will publish a poll showing that 46 per cent. of Londoners rate crime as their top concern. What does the Home Secretary say they should do? He says that they should walk with a purpose. People in London are not over-impressed by that idea.

The Evening Standard said last week that people in London have no intention of walking with a purpose. The paper did a little detective work and found from police in Walworth, Stoke Newington, Southwark, Croydon and even Tory Bromley that there had been absolutely no response to the call to walk with a purpose. In my borough of Lewisham the police consultative committee, which is extremely active, said that there were simply no takers. In Islington, the chief superintendent described the response to the call as a disappointing zero. Another senior officer said, "We put a constable on probation for two years, with all sorts of training to ensure that he or she is able to cope on the beat. You just can't put members of the public in that position. No one is going to let me be a brain surgeon just because I fancy it." Perhaps we should not let people become Home Secretaries just because they fancy it.

Two people did respond to the call. One in Brixton said that he would like to walk with a purpose if he could go out and shoot people. Another in Twickenham was simply described by police officers as "unsuitable". It is no surprise that Londoners are not over-impressed by the Home Secretary's stewardship of London policing.

What could the right hon. and learned Gentleman have done? He could have supported the London authorities that are giving free home security equipment to some of their elderly population. He could have supported the safe travel group in Wood Green, the racial harassment project in Tower Hamlets and the Association of London Authorities' "Zero Tolerance" campaign—especially as the report by the Home Affairs Select Committee specifically recommended that the Home Office … fund a campaign designed to raise awareness amongst the public and in particular actual and potential perpetrators and victims of the criminality of domestic violence. But he did not do so.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman could have unequivocally backed the work of London's local authorities in community safety work, but instead he rejected every suggestion by Labour Members during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. In 117 clauses, there was only one reference to crime prevention. He could have fought for a better deal from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in determining the standard spending assessments and the capping levels in London. On all counts, it is London and Londoners who lose out.

I want briefly to comment on the policies that have undermined the police. First, there is the threat to police funding. It is not surprising that the police fear that they could lose up to 1,600 police officers and that stations will be closed. The dampening that has taken place as a result of changes to the formula simply delays the effect for a year. The police say that the cuts in police overtime will mean fewer bobbies on the beat and less patrolling.

In my constituency in Lewisham, four out of five crimes of violence against the person are cleared up, but fewer than four out of 10 sexual offences are cleared up. The police are understaffed and need more resources if they are to improve on those figures.

The police are also painfully aware that there is increasing evidence that Government policies are undermining their morale. Some 53 per cent. of police officers say that their morale is low; 62 per cent. would take another professional job if they could. The review of core functions combined with the threats to funding have been a major source of demoralisation.

Sir John Smith, the deputy Commissioner, who happens to have been brought up on the Downham estate in my constituency, has said that Government accountants ran the risk of removing all non-confrontational tasks from the police and that public trust would inevitably be lost.

The Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, is concerned about the Government's privatisation policy and said: it could undermine the quality and standards which underpin our relationship with the public. In Lewisham, Chief Superintendent Ken Chapman told me of his great concern about performance monitoring. He said with great emphasis that the police force is a service and that when the police help, for example, an elderly person who has had an accident in the home, and deal with him with such sensitivity and tact that he rings the next day to thank the officers concerned, they know that none of that will be taken into account when the performance targets are put in place.

The police believe that care in the community has increased their work load. If a member of the public sees someone walking around in a daze or hanging about at night, he is likely to call the police, who then discover that the suspect is mentally ill but that there is no place for him to be hospitalised. None of those examples would be taken into account in the targets.

Chief Superintendent Chapman has said that there is intense pressure on the police to perform to targets, which will not deal with the relationship which the police have with the public and on which they have been building for so long. Superintendent Doaks of the Catford division has said that the police are concerned about the changes Mat the Minister is making to the redundancy arrangements. They believe that they have been set up to make more police officers redundant in coming years. The police believe that the 4,000 redundancies among Customs and Excise officers are a first step towards swingeing cuts in the police and a Government attempt to lay off officers more cheaply and more expediently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has dealt with the setting up of a police authority more than adequately. I say simply that the people of London want such an authority and that the police in London want it. The only reason why we shall not have a police authority is that the Home Secretary does not want Labour councillors to have any say or influence in the way in which the police work in London, despite the fact that Labour authorities throughout London have worked positively in partnership with the police on all the community safety aspects that I mentioned.

Sir John Smith said: The community is our life-blood and we need to be, and be seen to be, accountable to it … There is a real danger of making detection the top priority for the police, with little regard for the preservation of peace or crime prevention … a comprehensive review of policing will need to be undertaken by an influential group which will support the continuation of the style of public policing which, while not yet perfect, is admired and emulated throughout the world. We agree with that. Without such policing, we shall accelerate, almost out of control, towards a future for policing that will in no way meet our needs. Londoners deserve better.

2.1 pm

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

This has been a good debate, which has been wide ranging in the number of issues covered. The debate is, however, long overdue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) on her efforts to ensure that we had the debate today.

Crime is a problem that blights the lives of Londoners. In a poll to be published next week, almost 50 per cent. of Londoners say that they rate crime as their top concern. That is no wonder. Since 1979, the rate of violent crime in London has risen by more than 200 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East said, almost 10 per cent. of all crimes in London are violent, which is the highest percentage in England.

Given the combination of crippling fear of crime and the crime figures themselves, it is no wonder that many pensioners are frightened to go out at night. How frequently have hon. Members addressed a pensioners' meeting or a pensioners' group in their constituency in the evening? I suggest that they have done so rarely, if at all. The tragedy of life today for many people in London who are elderly or vulnerable is that they are frightened to go out at night. They find themselves prisoners in their own home. Many women are frightened to come back unaccompanied at night. They sometimes find themselves at a destaffed British Rail station and they are extremely apprehensive. One of the great shames of our fine capital city is that many members of our black and ethnic minority communities are apprehensive of racial harassment.

Nor is the business sector exempt. The latest quarterly report of the Forum of Private Business shows that more than 43 per cent. of businesses surveyed in London described crime as a significant burden. That has serious implications in terms of the number of people whom small businesses employ. London ought to be a world-class capital. We want it to be a capital in which businesses flourish. Yet fear of crime and the crime figures themselves put a damper on that and hamper our business community in this great capital.

Very sadly, for too many people in our city, crime and the fear of crime stalk the streets in which they live and work. Against that background, the Metropolitan police service, under Sir Paul Condon, does an extremely difficult job very well indeed. We know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) pointed out, that the police, in very difficult circumstances and, often, tragically, at the risk of their own lives, put the interests of the citizens of London first. For my part, I would again like to put on record the high regard in which we on the Labour Benches hold the work done by the Metropolitan police in London.

The picture in London is not entirely gloomy. Initiatives such as sector policing, the PLUS programme and community policing initiatives in partnerships between the public, local authorities and the police are much to be applauded. Operation Bumblebee, which has been much spoken of this morning, started in my area of north London. It is an initiative of which we are very proud. It was taken not only by the police and the community, but by the local authorities. I am extremely proud that my own Labour local authority played its full part.

There is absolutely no doubt that that operation has helped to reduce incidents of burglary and catch the perpetrators. Let us make no mistake: burglary is not a minor crime. It is a very serious crime. It concerns not only property, but the invasion of people's homes, and the invasion of the right of citizens to enjoy the privacy of their own homes. The Metropolitan police, local authorities and the community have worked together and are to be congratulated.

We have heard about many other good initiatives. In my area, I know of school citizenship days organised by the local authority and the police, and of crime prevention schemes to reduce burglary in the south Hornsea area of my constituency. Reference has already been made to the excellent work around the King's Cross area, and to Operation Welwyn, in which my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) have taken part.

We would do well to remind ourselves, when we talk about such partnership schemes, of the comments of Commander John Townsend, the operational commander for Operation Welwyn: This working relationship between the council and the police to get things to happen in their respective organisations has been essential and the partnership would have failed without it. That is why we, as Labour Members, place so much emphasis on the tripartite relationship between the police, the public and local authorities because, between them, they can have an enormous effect on reducing the rates of crime. That is why we are so disappointed that the Government have not implemented in full the report of the Morgan committee, which the Home Office itself set up. As that report said: investing in crime prevention and safer communities is potentially an unparalleled way of improving the quality of life in many areas: it is also potentially one of the most cost-effective things it is possible to do. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), I note that a former Minister said that the partnership approach was the very "cornerstone" of the Government's policy. Labour Members would take that claim rather more seriously if the Morgan report were taken more seriously and implemented in full.

I want to draw attention to closed circuit television. It is now widely accepted that CCTV has proved to be a significant crime prevention measure. The evidence from cameras during the tragic Jamie Bulger case and in respect of the Harrods bombing proved invaluable in finding the perpetrators. Harrods pays for its own CCTV, but most shops cannot afford it. Many local authorities and police divisions are understandably keen to implement CCTV schemes in conjunction with proper consultation and accountability.

The local authority in my area installed CCTV in a local car park and the rate of crime there has declined considerably. However, we need money to implement CCTV schemes properly. The £2 million in 1994–95 is a pathetically small sum to invest in CCTV. We should compare that with the £5 million being spent by the Home Secretary on publicising his "walking with a purpose" scheme. What a waste of money. Let us have that money, but let us invest it in CCTV.

When applications arrive for such schemes, there should not be the bias against London that is revealed in the guidelines. According to the Evening Standard recently, London loses out in the TV blitz on crime". The Home Office has stated: the focus will be away from large towns and cities … Priority consideration will be given to smaller centres of population". Once again, we can see how lowly rated London is in respect of crime and crime prevention initiatives in our great capital city.

I want to refer to two important matters in relation to crime in London. The first is the appalling problem of racist attacks. It is clear from the figures that probably half the reported racist attacks nationally occur in London. That is a great challenge for us in this capital city. There are some very good initiatives on racist attacks—the Home Secretary referred to the initiative in Plumstead. I have seen it and I commend the officers involved. However, it would have been more appropriate and fitting if the Home Secretary had joined Opposition Members and some Conservative Members in pressing for a specific law against racial violence.

I want also to draw attention to domestic violence. I very much welcome the Government's campaign on domestic violence. However, it was very late and overdue when we consider that the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended such an initiative a considerable time ago. The Association of London Authorities introduced an excellent campaign on domestic violence—the "zero tolerance" campaign—long before the Home Office stirred itself.

We have had an interesting debate today, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) made some interesting remarks about stop and search and ethnic monitoring. Opposition Members also drew attention to the perhaps overriding strategic question in London—the lack of a police authority for London.

The argument for a police authority for London is not a new, fashionable or trendy argument. In 1888, the London county council called for such a body and many people have been lobbying for such an authority for many years. Some time ago, before the Home Secretary's predecessor said that there would be an elected police authority for London, I had the great opportunity in the Home Affairs Select Committee to question Sir Peter Imbert, the present Commissioner's predecessor, about an elected authority. He replied: I found the elected police authority in the Thames Valley very helpful. I would equally find, I suspect, an elected authority for London helpful in the same way. We know that senior police officers in London think that an elected police authority is a good idea and that it would positively help them in their work in the fight against crime.

For many people, including myself—I am certainly proud to call myself a Londoner—London is a wonderful and vibrant place in which to live and work. It is diverse and challenging. However, as hon. Members have said, the quality of life for Londoners is impaired by crime and by the fear of crime. London is a world-class capital, which deserves world-class policing. We have heard from the Home Secretary—doubtless we shall hear it from the Minister—information about resources. Let us judge the Home Secretary's announcement on funding not by what happens next year but by what happens in other years to come. I predict that there will be fewer police officers in our capital city.

The people of London want proper resourcing so that there are enough police officers to work in partnership with local authorities and others to prevent and fight crime. They do not want constant uncertainty and the undermining of the service. They want a democratic voice in the policing of their city, not a toothless quango to be ignored by Ministers. Judging by this year's election results, they want a Government who are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, not one who have let down the people of London and sold them very short indeed.

2.15 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I welcome the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) to the Dispatch Box and congratulate her on her appointment as an Opposition Whip. I am not sure whether I can welcome the rather radical innovation of a party which allows its Whips to speak in the House. The Conservative party will not do that. Perhaps the hon. Lady's training as a Whip does not permit her to be as forthcoming as she could have been when she quoted Sir Peter Imbert. The next line of his statement reads: It so happens the system we have actually works. I happen to agree with that.

The hon. Lady was right to touch on some important points. The fear of crime is very real. There is a duty on all of us not to make matters worse. That is why I deplore those who condemn and rubbish the latest figures which show the largest drop in 40 years—those people do not include the hon. Lady or the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—and say that crime is rising.

The hon. Lady referred to burglary. Some of her colleagues said, "They are having success only with trivial things, the things that don't matter. What about crimes of violence?" I condemn those words, because burglary does matter. For far too many people the crime of burglary is violent. I greatly welcome the hon. Lady's opinions on that matter, and I hope that they will filter through to all her hon. Friends. I hope that, if we and the 43 police forces in the country are successful, Opposition Members will welcome that.

The £5 million which has been spent on the partnership campaign should give us an extra 10,000 special constables, increase neighbourhood watch schemes to 200,000, and permit street watch schemes to start. If we have an extra 10,000 special constables, that will be the best investment that any Government could make.

We have had a thorough and wide-ranging debate. It has covered fundamental issues such as the constitutional position of the Met as well as detailed concerns about crime prevention, local initiatives and the deployment of officers. I, too, pay tribute to Metropolitan police officers who have been killed or injured in the course of their duty, serving the people of the capital. I pay tribute to the 28,000 others who, every day of the week, risk their lives in the same cause of keeping Her Majesty's peace in the capital.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House raised many points during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) mentioned the large drop in the number of burglaries in the Metropolitan police area, which has decreased by 14 per cent. The incidence of theft has decreased by 8 per cent. and total crime in the Metropolitan police area has decreased by 6 per cent. in the past 12 months. I pay tribute to the welcome that my hon. Friend gave to the partnership campaign.

My hon. Friend was concerned about police, not numbers, in Bromley borough. These are matters for the Metropolitan police Commissioner to consider, and I am sure that he will read the transcript of the debate carefully and pay attention to my hon. Friend's comments.

My hon. Friend was also concerned about the mounted branch. The Commissioner informs me that he has now considered the scrutiny recommendations and, in the light of these, he does not propose to make any significant reduction in the strength of the mounted branch. It has not yet been decided whether any change should be made to stabling arrangements. Of course, we will ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of the Commissioner.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) asked about stop and search. It is irrelevant whether a person is arrested: a written record must be made of all stops and searches by police officers. However, the method of the retention of such records is a matter for the chief officer of the force concerned. I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's claims of deliberate harassment of his constituents. The police must operate within the law.

I welcome the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Blackburn. He praised the Metropolitan police and said that it was good to see them tackling pockets of racism and taking the importance of impartiality very seriously indeed. I agree that the Metropolitan police are doing just that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) asked what batons the Metropolitan police would use. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has approved a range of batons as suitable for use by the Metropolitan police, and it is up to the Commissioner to decide which ones will be most appropriate for which circumstances.

Of course, there must be adequate training in the use of the batons; no chief officer wishes to issue any equipment to his officers without ensuring that training is adequate. I understand that it is envisaged that there will be about six hours training in the use of the new batons.

My hon. Friend asked also about pepper spray. He should know that my right hon. and learned Friend has commissioned research into the possible carcinogenic risks of the spray. We should examine the risks carefully. I know that many members of the police force are desperately keen to access this very useful defensive method if it is safe. However, we have a duty to undertake research to ensure that it is safe not just for the person in whose face it may be sprayed, but primarily for the officer who may use it over many years and therefore soak up a larger dose than anyone else. We expect to receive the report before the end of the year, but we must ensure that the research is thorough and adequate.

I understand that the technical specifications for the new radio system can include encryption, and that the Commissioner intends that all police radios should have this important protective device installed in due course.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked what the establishment figure will be next year. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), who gave an excellent explanation of funding and police establishments. If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had been in the Chamber, he would have heard that we do not intend to set police establishment figures in the future.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the present position. The current establishment figure for the Metropolitan police is 28,201 and the current strength is 28,079–99.5 per cent. up to the establishment figure. That is pretty good going. Of course, the hon. Gentleman must not read too much into the figures. Only one group of trainees needs to graduate from training school and suddenly the strength of the force is increased. If more people are waiting to go through training school, force strength may appear to be down. The levels fluctuate—admittedly, to a greater extent throughout the country than in the Met.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey suggested that the unemployment element in the formula undermined arguments that unemployment was not a cause of crime. Of course it is not a cause of crime. The unemployment portion of the formula is less than 0.4 per cent. That is a standard Department of the Environment calculation in the formula. It has existed for the rest of local government for many years. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that that is positive proof that unemployment is a cause of crime, even he would admit that that is pretty cockeyed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the raid on Southwark. He said that timing was a problem. I suggest that perhaps it was not merely the timing. Perhaps his remarks could have exacerbated the problem. He issued a press statement which said: for every illegal immigrant employed by Southwark Council, a local legitimate job seeker is deprived of a job". I am not sure how much that stirred the pot. Before the hon. Gentleman criticises immigration service or police tactics, he should pay careful attention to his own remarks.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) for his tribute to the Metropolitan police for their success against crime and his welcome of the partnership approach. I hope that he will suggest to Fulham council that it could follow the Wandsworth approach, which is an excellent way of acquiring more special officers in its area. Special constables wear the uniform of the regular police. They are trained as regular police officers. They are sworn as constables. They are the only ones to have the powers and duties of a constable. If Fulham follows the excellent example of Wandsworth, which is helping through advertising campaigns to fund more special constables, that would help solve its problems.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

No. I wish to deal with another point that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey raised. He mentioned that more officers were now working operationally. That is a key point. While the House tends to become obsessed with regular police numbers, we must not lose sight of the fact that what matters is the number doing operational duties.

However, it is worth comparing the overall numbers for 1979 and 1994. In 1979, there were 111,500 regular officers. There are now 128,000 in the country as a whole. In 1979, there were 16,000 specials. There are now 20,500. We hope to increase that to 30,000. Civilian strength was 35,000 in 1979 and is now 50,000. That is an increase of 46 per cent.

The Metropolitan police had 22,000 regulars in 1979 and has 28,000 now. It had 12,000 civilians then and has 14,000 now. So the House will see that throughout the country and in the Metropolitan police the Government have ensured through their funding of the police service an increase in regular officers, the special constabulary and the vital civilian support staff.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is not in his place. I must say to him—I hope that one of his hon. Friends will tell him—that there is no threat of privatising the police. Before he says that little old ladies will not be helped across the road and the police will no longer be able to get cats out of trees or perform other essential community policing tasks, I hope that he will read the core and ancillary tasks report. He will see that there is not the slightest suggestion of taking away from the police those vital community policing tasks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked whether local authorities could help finance the police. Of course they can, if they so wish. They can do so up to their capping limit but they can also give them support in many other ways. It is not just financial help. They can give support by helping architects to produce better design of housing estates, undertaking truancy initiatives in education and rehousing troublesome families. All those things can be done in conjunction with the police. Local authorities can help support advertising campaigns for more special constables. There is a host of things that caring and concerned authorities can do. I welcome that. I also welcome my hon. Friend's excellent exposition of the funding formula.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) made some valid points about the right to protest to which all people should pay careful attention. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) sought to ridicule street watch by quoting a study which found only one person in London willing to join it. Another wider survey, perhaps in Police Review—I am not sure—also sought to knock street watch. It said that only 17 per cent. of neighbourhood watch members would want to take part. Neighbourhood watch has 5.5 million members and that makes it almost 1 million members who would want to take part. If 17 per cent. of the 200,000 neighbourhood watch schemes that we hope to create participate in street watch, that will indeed be great.

I must conclude with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). It really is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to stand up in here and say, "Of course, I condemn violence and when I was speaking as a keynote speaker at the rally, yes, I condemned violence," knowing full well that, after his back was turned or he was safely tucked up in bed, violence broke out. It was organised by groups who publish leaflets months in advance to "Keep it Spikey", as the hon. Member for Blackburn quoted. The hon. Member for Islington, North might be regarded as one of those "fluffies" that the leaflet mentions. They are: "people on the demonstration that think we should keep things calm"—

and not have violence— these tossers … are scum. If they get in the way clout them. The hon. Gentleman made allegations about police tactics. Those are the same police—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Back to