§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McNulty.]9.33 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
It is a real delight to open today's debate on the policing of London. As I do, I should make to the House an apology that has already been communicated to the Opposition, which is that I shall leave after the Opposition Front Bencher has spoken. I hope that the House will accept in mitigation the fact that my attendance in the House has been fairly regular—in fact, this is the fifth occasion on which I have spoken from the Dispatch Box this week. [HON. MEMBERS: "More—not enough."] I thank my hon. Friends, but it is quite enough for me.
The debate comes at a pivotal moment in the history of London's policing, for, on Monday, the Metropolitan Police Authority is to be launched and the following week, on 3 July, the authority will formally assume its legal responsibilities. That will, in a sense, complete the first 171-year chapter in the history of the Metropolitan police. The change comes at a time of other fundamental reforms amounting to the biggest programme of change in the history of the Metropolitan police service. The focus of those reforms is improved performance and service delivery, especially in crime reduction. The new Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, has pledged to make London the safest major city in the world.
Such a goal is realistic today only because of the Met's long and distinguished history. The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 provided for the setting up of the Met—the nation's first police force. That Act set in train legislation soon afterwards to empower and later require local government elsewhere to establish police forces throughout the country. The most distinguished of my predecessors as Home Secretary, Robert Peel, showed great foresight in setting up the Metropolitan police service, but that was not immediately appreciated at the time. Known because of the colour of their uniforms as "raw lobsters" or "blue devils", one historian has noted that hostility to the new London police was "immediate and universal". They were the butt of endless abuse from the public and the press and bitterly criticised for their alleged infringement of people's freedoms. None the less, by the end of the 1850s, they had gained the public's affection and, in the latter half of the 19th century, they proved instrumental in the steady fall in the capital's crime rates.
I shall deal later with matters of pay and recruitment in today's Metropolitan police service, but disputes over such matters are not new. In 1872, 180 officers mutinied 556 over pay, and pay and appalling living quarters were major causes of the 1918 and 1919 police strikes, in which more than 1,000 striking officers were dismissed. The collapse of the 1919 strike led to the outlawing of industrial action by the police and the formation of the Police Federation, better to represent police officers. Throughout its history until now, the Met has been the responsibility of the Home Secretary, who has acted as its police authority. That arrangement ends on 2 July.
Over the past year, the Met has continued its record of operational success. The millennium night celebrations saw the successful policing of an event involving more than 3 million people. At the May day demonstrations, the police defused a potentially explosive situation and kept disruption and damage—unacceptable though any such behaviour was—to a minimum. Meanwhile the Met has continued to improve its use of resources, for example, through cutting sickness absence, which has resulted in absence falling from an annual average of 14 and a half days per officer in 1997–98 to nine and a half days now. That is lower than the average across England and Wales and equivalent to putting almost 200 officers back on duty each day during 1999–2000.
The previous Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, was, of course, responsible for the millennium policing. I paid tribute to Sir Paul's outstanding record of achievement during last July's debate on the policing of London, and I do so again today. I am sure that the whole House joins me in congratulating his successor, Sir John Stevens, and his officers and staff, on their further successes and in thanking them for their continued dedication to duty.
In the past year, the Metropolitan police have made considerable progress in implementing the action plan on the recommendations of the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In particular, the Met has concentrated on improving its approach to diversity. Through its establishment of the racial and violent crime taskforce, the service has made great strides in combating racist and hate crimes. It is a huge compliment to the work of Assistant Commissioner John Grieve and his colleagues that, in the space of two years, the Met has developed such a reputation for the investigation of such crimes that people outside London now call for John Grieve's force to be brought in, the better to investigate such crimes—indeed, that demand was made during a recent demonstration in difficult circumstances. That is a real compliment to the service.
The Met has taken active steps in adapting its use of stop-and-search powers, in line with recommendation 61 of the Lawrence inquiry. The Government wholeheartedly support the use of stop and search, as did the Lawrence inquiry. Those powers are plainly important for the detection and prevention of crime. There has been a drop in the numbers of searches made in the past year, and there have been some ill-informed claims that the rise in street crime in London is attributable to officers not using stop-and-search powers for fear of being accused of racism. However, the research evidence shows that those claims do not stand up. It is simplistic and statistically unsustainable to make a direct connection between the falling number of stops and the rising number of crimes.
We have put in place an extensive programme of research with the Met to improve our understanding of stop and search and better to inform decisions about its fairness and effectiveness. Everyone wants to see fewer stops that do not reveal evidence of crime, and more stops 557 that result in the arrest and conviction of those who prey on law-abiding citizens, but everyone needs to recognise that police officers are faced with difficult and near-instantaneous decisions. They are not clairvoyant and they are bound, by definition, sometimes to stop people who are entirely innocent and sometimes to make mistakes. Where those mistakes come within a reasonable range, we should support the police and not be overly critical of them.
Over the past 10 years, crime has fallen in London. Between 1992–93 and 1999–2000, discounting the changes in counting rules, crime fell by 8.6 per cent., but it has risen by about 11 per cent. in the past year. There is a mixed picture across the country. Crime fell in 23 of the 43 forces, according to the figures made available about six months ago. A similar pattern is emerging from the figures that are due to be published in mid-July.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
I accept what the Home Secretary said a moment ago about the need for research into the effects of stop and search, but does he concede that there is at least a prima facie possibility that the backwash of Lawrence and what has flowed from that, and the change in the pattern of police behaviour, may well have contributed to the increase in crime in London that he has just outlined? If that is the case, or even if it were possibly the case, can the Home Secretary give an undertaking that the research will be completed quickly, so that we can resolve the matter and give the police the freedoms that they require?
§ Mr. Straw
The research is being conducted as quickly as possible. Like all research, once it has been properly evaluated—not by Ministers, but by independent peer reviewers—it will be made publicly available. Of course we should draw whatever lessons are to be drawn from it. I understand—it would be idle to pretend otherwise—that the Lawrence inquiry process and the report's conclusions were traumatic for many police officers in the Metropolitan police service, particularly those who felt that they had been doing a decent and impartial job. I understand that.
Also I am wholly unapologetic for the fact that I felt it necessary to establish the Lawrence inquiry. There may be those who feel otherwise, but I do not believe that they are very many. I ask people to think for a moment what would have happened if that incredible resentment, not just of the Lawrence family but of the entire black and Asian community, had continued without any proper and legal focus.
There has been some increase in street crime in other metropolitan areas, so the phenomenon is not confined to London. We must identify the causes and above all—this is what the Commissioner is doing—implement Lawrence, put behind us the temporary trauma of the Metropolitan police and support the Commissioner in his determination to get street crime down.
§ Mr. Straw
I will of course give way to the hon. Gentleman, but first I want to make a little progress.
558 Over the past year in London there has been a significant rise in robbery especially, which is up by 36 per cent. for the period April 1999 to March 2000, compared with the previous year. Thefts of mobile telephones have been a major factor in this increase. They account for up to a third of robberies in some boroughs, many of them committed by schoolchildren against other schoolchildren.
The increase in robbery is disappointing after three successive years of falling figures. The bulk of the increase was contributed by "hot spots" in eight boroughs, mainly in inner London. I shall return to two important steps that we should take with respect to robbery.
We should keep London's crime rate in perspective. London is still a remarkably safe city by international standards. Murder is one of the most reliable offences with which to make international comparisons and a good indicator of the general level of violence in society. London's homicide rate is roughly one fifth of New York's, a little over a quarter of Amsterdam's, and lower than that of most European capitals, including Madrid, Paris, Helsinki, Berlin, Dublin, Lisbon, Budapest and Prague.
Stemming the increase in street crime is a high priority in the coming year. Under our crime reduction strategy, the Met has set challenging crime reduction targets for the next five financial years, including a 15 per cent. reduction on the 1999–2000 levels of street crime. The targets also foresee a 10 per cent. reduction in domestic burglaries, and a 31 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime—that is, 7,500 fewer domestic burglaries and 50,000 fewer vehicle crimes.
To bear down on street crime, the Commissioner has launched the safer streets initiative, which began last month in Lambeth and will roll out progressively to other boroughs. It is an initiative led by individual borough commanders, who will liaise with partners and communities to develop street crime intervention plans, tailored to meet local needs. Boroughs will have access to specialist support in key areas such as intelligence gathering and analysis, surveillance and the investigation of offences. It is still early days for the operation in Lambeth, but the initial results are encouraging.
The Government are particularly keen to help the Met in its fight against robbery, which everyone understands is one of the most distressing of crimes for its victims. Last week—
§ Mr. Straw
In a moment, but I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
Last week we announced an extra £20 million of funding to help the police fight robbery in the five big cities where it is on the increase, and £9 million of that will go to the Met.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not dissent at all from the Home Secretary's proposition that London is much safer in terms of serious crime than many other cities, and the objective should be to make it safer still. Will he report on two matters? First, what is happening to the attempt to increase the clear-up of serious crime, particularly 559 murder? There have been a number of murders over the years that have not been cleared up and the Met was going to make a particular effort to do so.
Secondly, will the Home Secretary think again about crimes that have not been solved, about which there is a feeling of great injustice in parts of the community, geographical or otherwise? Many people would welcome an independent examination of how those crimes were investigated, as in the Lawrence case.
§ Mr. Straw
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, following the Lawrence inquiry the previous Commissioner and the present Commissioner allocated hundreds of officers to the investigation of serious crimes. I believe the figure is 350, but if I am wrong, I will correct it during my speech.
On the second point, if there are specific crimes that have not been cleared up and about which the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I shall follow the matter up. However, I do not believe that a full-blown judicial inquiry of the kind that I established into the death of Stephen Lawrence is a mechanism that should be used other than very sparingly, for the most obvious of reasons, but there are occasions when other investigations need to take place. For the longer term, we are committed to establishing a much more rigorously independent complaints system, with an independent team of investigators, for the investigation of serious complaints.
§ Mr. Davies
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. First, does he know that in Croydon we have the largest population of 10 to 17-year-olds, and there has been a large growth in the incidence of thefts of mobile phones, Pokémon cards and so on in that age group? Will he factor that into resourcing and strategies? Secondly, I have written to my right hon. Friend about considering stop and search in respect of people carrying spray cans, in view of the massive increase in graffiti. Has he reflected on that?
§ Mr. Straw
As my hon. Friend knows, the allocation of resources in the Met is a matter for the Commissioner. I have no doubt that the new authority will also take a close interest in it. It is inevitable that there will be arguments between areas; it was ever thus, and that will continue, whoever is Home Secretary. I understand the anxieties in Croydon and I am delighted to know about several initiatives there, not least the Croydon against shop theft initiative which was launched recently.
§ Mr. Straw
May I finish the point first? The second point that my hon. Friend made was about spray cans. I have already replied to him; I took a lot of trouble over the reply. My hon. Friend asked whether paint spray cans could be placed in the same category as glue, which is prohibited from sale to over-18s—
§ Mr. Straw
Sorry, under-18s. Lord Patten and I and other hon. Members worked together in the early 1980s 560 and were instrumental in introducing the change about the sale of glue. My hon. Friend will understand that, given the wider lawful use of spray cans, it is much more difficult to prohibit their sale to under-18s. I said that in my reply to him. However, as ever, we keep those matters under review.
§ Mr. Heald
There is anxiety about the acceleration of the increase in crime. Is the Home Secretary right to say that the rate of increase in crime in London is 11 per cent.? In an answer on 15 May the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said that the figure was 12.6 per cent. Has the Home Secretary given us good news—that the figure has fallen—or is his figure wrong?
§ Mr. Straw
Both the figure that I gave and that which my hon. Friend provided are correct, but in different ways. [Interruption.] There is a straightforward explanation for that. Early on in my post as Home Secretary, I agreed with recommendations from the police and statisticians that we should change the counting rules to increase the total number of recorded crimes. It was not a self-serving change; indeed, it was the reverse because the change in the counting rules is one of the reasons for the significant increase in the number of recorded crimes of fraud and forgery.
In the past, the theft of a cheque book counted as one theft. Now the use of the cheques in the book amounts to 15 or 20 thefts. If an individual broke into a secure car park and broke into 15 vehicles in the car park, it counted as one offence. Under the new rules it counts—in my view, rightly—as 15 offences. However, the figures for robbery have risen because robberies have increased, and some crimes, such as burglary, have been unaffected by the change in the rules.
The statisticians have made comparisons between the figures that did not take account of the rule change and those that did. The figure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State gave–12.6 per cent.—took no account of the effect of the rule change and is correct; my figure–11.2 per cent.—is also correct and took account of the change. I hope that that is a satisfactory explanation.
Let us revert to the issue of robbery. We want to send a clear message to violent criminals that they can expect the stiffest penalties if they commit robberies or other street crimes. In recent years, the general response of the courts, especially to violent crime, has been to send greater numbers of offenders to prison, for longer periods. For example, the custody rate for offences such as wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm increased from 76 per cent. to 90 per cent. between 1992 and 1999, with average sentence lengths increasing from 36.5 months to 46 months. The trend is similar for other violent and sexual offences.
The one exception appears to be robbery. While custody rates for robbery offenders of all ages have remained static, average sentence lengths, especially for adults, decreased by 9 per cent. between 1999 and 1999. They have decreased from more than 39 months seven years ago to 35.7 months. There has been an increase in life sentences for robbery, possibly as a result of the mandatory life sentence on conviction for a second serious offence, which we implemented in 1997. However, for the vast bulk of robbery offenders there seems to have been a decline in the length of the prison term to which they are sentenced.
561 I see no obvious justification for that. More to the point, neither does the Court of Appeal. In a series of appeals before it by the Attorney-General against unduly lenient sentences for robbery, the Court of Appeal significantly increased the sentence of the original court. On Monday, Lord Justice Rose increased from six months to three years the sentence for two defendants—Mullins and Edwards—who had robbed a student in Bristol city centre. So far this year, the Court of Appeal has increased the sentences in each of the nine unduly lenient robbery appeals it heard.
Robbery is a serious offence and extremely distressing to its victims. I am sure that that view is shared by every Crown court sentencer. However, it is important that they take full account of the clear guidance now emanating from the Court of Appeal that sentences should be severe. When courts are tempted to impose a lenient sentence, they should recognise that the Attorney-General is prepared to appeal those sentences and that the Court of Appeal has usually accepted those appeals.
I hope that the courts will also take into account the need to take serious and prolific offenders out of circulation while they await trial. There is nothing more disheartening for the police than to spend weeks tracking down prolific street robbers or burglars, many of them addicted to drugs, and some with 20 or more offences to be taken into consideration, only to see them walk straight out of the courtroom door on bail. There is a serious problem in several metropolitan magistrates courts which do not take proper account of police and prosecution representations on granting bail. The number of cases that I see from time to time of people who have committed offences on bail beggars belief.
I hope that the courts will begin to take the representations into account and recognise that it is distressing to the victims, and deeply demoralising to the police officers if they go to a lot of trouble to apprehend a prolific offender only for that person to walk out of court. Everybody knows, except, apparently, the court, that such offenders will commit more offences until they are convicted.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only previous victims and the police are frustrated and incredulous, but subsequent victims who, when they discover what has happened, ask, "Why on earth were these people let back out into the community to perpetrate an offence on me?"
§ Mr. Straw
I agree entirely. If such cases are brought to the attention of hon. Members of all parties, I hope that they will write personally to me about them. The more detail they can provide, the better. I shall raise them with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. We have asked the courts to get a serious grip on the problem. Ensuring that persistent offenders are remanded in custody, when there is every possibility of their committing further offences if they are released, will make a significant difference to the instances of crime, especially street crime and burglary, in our capital.
Let us consider resources for the Met.
§ Mr. Straw
The purpose of the targets, which the Metropolitan police service agreed, is to try to tackle some of the serious crimes, including robbery. I have great respect for Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, but, without knowing more about the context, I cannot say that I wholly share his view. We have agreed a robbery target, among others, with the Met to get robbery down. Officers in the Met fully support it and we are backing the target with money.
Until the early 1990s, the Met was the beneficiary of its history when it came to setting budgets, because each year's allocation between forces was largely based on what they had got the year before. However, a series of tight financial settlements in the 1990s and the new specific police grant based on a needs formula led to a tight squeeze on the Met and a reduction in officer numbers of some 1,800 between 1992–93 and 1997–98.
From the first budget that I set in 1998–99, I have endeavoured to ensure that sufficient funds are available at least to maintain existing strength. In the event, that has not proved possible. Despite a 4.1 per cent. budget increase in 1998–99, there was a reduction of 144 officers in that year, and there have been further reductions since then. In general, that has not been for want of funds, but principally because of recruiting difficulties.
The Metropolitan police budget for 2000–01 has been set at £1.842 billion. That includes a significant increase of 40 per cent. in the so—called special payments since 1997–98 to £182 million, which recognises the special demands of policing the capital and seeks to redress some of the anomalies inherent in the needs formula. The Commissioner intends to maintain overall police numbers at around 25,600 throughout the financial year 2000–01.
I am taking action in two ways to address the issue of police numbers in London. First, the crime fighting fund provides a guarantee that the police in England and Wales will have the resources to recruit 5,000 more police officers than they would otherwise have recruited over the next two years. The Met's allocation is sufficient to fund 1,113 additional front-line officers over the next two years.
Secondly, and perhaps even more important, there is no doubt that officers recruited to the Metropolitan police service since 1994 have been hit hardest of all by the double whammy of the loss of housing allowance, which followed the Sheehy report in 1994, and more recently by the rising housing costs in London.
I am therefore pleased to announce to the House today that the pay of all officers in the Metropolitan police service who joined on or after 1 September 1994 and who receive no housing allowance will increase from 1 July—next week—by £3,327, or £64 a week. That is a significant increase in their pay, and they deserve it. It means that post–1994 recruits and officers in the Met will be paid significantly more than other comparable public sector workers.
The £3,300 increase in pay for officers recruited on or after September 1994 will bring the starting salary of a constable up to £22,635. With five years' service, he or she will get £27,609. There is also sometimes substantial 563 overtime, which on average amounts to between £4,000 and £5,000 a year for London constables, although that can vary between one constable and another.
The £22,600 starting pay for new constables in London compares well with the starting pay for a good honours graduate teaching in inner London, of £18,366. After a period of years, such teachers can earn a maximum of £26,374 and then be eligible for performance bonus.
This is a good pay package, which, I am pleased to say, has been warmly welcomed in a statement this morning by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. He said:I believe this award recognises the loyal service of officers already working in London and will help both to increase recruitment and to prevent officers leaving the Metropolitan Police Service.The tribunal decision, which I have accepted and on which this award is based, makes it very clear that there appears to be a worsening situation among post-Sheehy officers, but that there isno real problem at the present time in the pre-Sheehy groupwho, before the award that I have just announced, had a differential in their pay of, on average, £5,500.
The award will take the total London lead over officers outside London to £6,000 per year—£120 a week. It will substantially bridge the gap between them and those officers doing the same job who joined before 1 September 1994.
§ Mr. Edward Davey
May I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement, which restores to post-Sheehy London police officers the housing allowance which the Tories effectively abolished? However, may I ask him to keep this matter under review, because housing costs are a major factor for all public sector workers in London, particularly the police? Will the extra reward be funded with additional funds to the Metropolitan police service or will it have to come out of existing budgets?
§ Mr. Straw
We keep these matters under review, and there is a proper negotiating process for them. It is unlikely that I shall be able to persuade my colleagues in the Treasury to find an increase of another £3,300 very quickly. It shows the importance that we place on the work of London police officers that the starting pay of London police officers is now substantially more than, for example, another important group—I say this as a governor of a London school—namely, teachers in inner London.
§ Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)
Although the increase will be welcomed by Metropolitan police officers, what assurance can the Home Secretary give about the effect on recruitment and retention of officers in other forces, such as that in Surrey where my constituency is?
§ Mr. Straw
I have just been reminded that I have not answered the second point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). Most of the additional cost, which is, from memory, £24 million in a full year, will be paid by funds from money that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget on 21 March. A small proportion will come from the existing resources of the Metropolitan 564 police service, but the Commissioner is satisfied that the additional moneys can be found—it amounts to £2 million or £3 million out of a budget of £1,800 million.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) asked me about the effect of the pay rise on recruitment in Surrey. We cannot say for certain; there is a continuing debate about the effect of higher—in this case, significantly higher—pay in London on public services in outer London. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), has already met chief constables from the home counties forces. If good evidence is put before us of serious recruitment problems in those forces, we will take that into account and look at it. Discussions are continuing.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary.
As the discussion about numbers and resources will continue, despite the announcement that the Home Secretary has made today, which of course I welcome, can he say whether the figure of £25,600—the target figure—is post-realignment of the boundaries?
§ Mr. Heald
The Home Secretary must know that we are well below that target, with the latest figure being £25,480. Will he comment on Sir John's comments yesterday? He said that although he welcomed the reinstatement of a form of housing allowance recommended a couple of days ago,quite honestly, I do not believe this will be enough to attract the quality applicants we need.Has something changed since yesterday, as this seems to be the package that the Home Secretary has just announced?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman would have to ask the Commissioner, rather than me. What has changed is that I have made the announcement, which I had not done yesterday. I believe, on any basis whatever, that this increase £3,500—£64 a week—is bound to make a difference to the attractiveness of the police service in London. It should be welcomed, and was unequivocally welcomed this morning by the Commissioner.
I am not announcing a pay rise that might happen some time in the future; this increase will be earned by officers from 1 July—next week—and those officers have welcomed it very much indeed. The Met's problem has been not in getting sufficient interest in recruitment—the number of people who express interest in recruitment has remained stable at about 40,000 to 45,000—but in closing the sale and getting those who express an interest into the recruiting schools. This award is bound to make a difference, along with other changes introduced by the Metropolitan police service.
565 I shall now make progress because many other right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. Of course we want to increase numbers in the Metropolitan police service, and I have announced the ways in which we are seeking to do that. However, as we know from other public services, numbers are by no means everything. Each of us has had experience of good schools and less good schools, good hospitals and less good hospitals, which get the same resources for the same kinds of people and problems, but do remarkably different things. The same is true in London.
It happens that London enjoyed its sharpest fall in crime when the Met suffered its sharpest fall in numbers. I do not say that a reductio ad absurdum is involved; I simply make the point that the relationships between police numbers, overall resources and effectiveness are complicated. We are committed to increasing Met numbers, but we are also committed to ensuring that the police right across London work to the level of the best divisions and police officers.
I shall briefly deal with the restructuring of the Met. Sir Robert Peel showed extraordinary foresight in 1829 by establishing geographical boundaries for the Met that were far greater than those of the then metropolitan city. They were still three times the area of the city administered by the London county council on its establishment in 1888, and even extended well beyond the boundaries of the Greater London council in 1964. At least a third of Surrey and significant parts of Hertfordshire and Essex were, until the beginning of April this year, policed by Met officers.
Following representations from hon. Members for those areas and from local authorities, I took the opportunity of the creation of the new MPA to re-align the Met's boundaries with those of the MPA and the new Greater London Authority. That will ensure that there can be borough policing in each of the 32 boroughs, which, in turn, means a reduction in the number of local operational command units from 60 to 32.
The Commissioner is building on those objectives with the agenda for action reform programme. Those reforms have removed a tier of management, resulting in savings of more than £4 million, and have transferred funding for 445 posts from central budgets, with the effect that, by the end of this financial year, an extra 300 officers will be put on the beat. There has also been a reduction in the number of senior officers. There used to be five areas—each of which was bigger than most police forces outside London—each headed by an assistant commissioner. Sir Paul Condon reduced those areas to three, and Sir John has abolished them entirely. Management is now much more streamlined between New Scotland Yard, at the centre, and the 32 boroughs responsible for delivering policing to local communities.
Those reforms will be greatly aided by the inception of the new Metropolitan Police Authority. I have long believed in the key role of police authorities in ensuring police accountability. You will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you were elected at the same time, that back in 1979, just after I entered the House, I introduced a ten-minute Bill—the Police Authorities (Powers) Bill—which proposed, among other things, a properly representative and democratic police authority for 566 London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you, but I failed. A year later, I introduced the Police Bill—again, without success.
All that those Bills did was to enhance my reputation as a dangerous left winger, who wished to hand over the operation of the police service to politicians—a reputation, of course, that I continue. One of the delights of being Home Secretary is being able to put into law ideas that one had 20 years ago. I was glad that we were able to do that under the Greater London Authority Act 1999.
My argument is the same today as it was 20 years ago—it was frankly an impertinence for one man, with many other and conflicting duties, to seek to represent the people of London on policing matters. Therefore, we now have a new police authority with a similar structure and virtually the same powers as those outside the capital.
Let me make it clear that the creation of the MPA and the election of a Mayor and the Assembly do not in any way erode the operational independence of the Commissioner. Neither the MPA nor the Home Secretary or the Mayor has the right to direct him on how he conducts operations. The Commissioner is accountable for his decisions. After any major event or incident, the MPA, and in some cases the Home Secretary, can order a report on what happened and on the lessons to be learned. That post hoc scrutiny is important, but it does not detract from the independence of the police in handling incidents at the time.
Although the MPA will not affect the Met's operational independence, it will of course have a major impact on the policing of London. It will have to work with the Met to deliver a first-class policing service, taking responsibility for the budget and securing best value, consulting local people, setting objectives, working with crime reduction partnerships and playing a significant role in the appointment of senior officers.
The 23 members of the MPA have now been appointed–12 are from the Assembly, seven are independents and four are magistrates. I am pleased that seven of them are from the black and Asian communities. I am particularly keen that the MPA should build on the links that the Metropolitan police already have with the diverse communities of London.
The duty of best value, which came into force on 1 April, will have a major impact on how all police authorities operate, including the MPA. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary still has the power, under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, to set a minimum budget for the MPA if he or she considers that the one set by the Mayor and Assembly is too low to maintain an efficient and effective police force. I assure the House that I will use that power if I have to. The Home Secretary also retains powers to ensure that the Met continues to perform its national and international functions, such as counter-terrorism and protection, to a satisfactory standard.
The Home Secretary will make recommendations to Her Majesty on the appointment of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, given the national and international importance of those posts, as well as their importance to London as a capital. When major events 567 occur, I have no doubt that I shall be expected to, and will, report to the House, as I have done in the past, in my capacity as Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
In view of all the powers that my right hon. Friend is retaining, will he give an assurance that there will continue to be an annual debate in the House on policing in the metropolis and that it will not be shuffled off to the Greater London Authority?
§ Mr. Straw
I have no objection to there being an annual debate on policing in London, but that is a matter for business managers, as my hon. Friend knows. We must recognise that the House has voluntarily agreed to transfer to the new police authority some of the responsibilities that I hold as the current police authority.
§ Mr. Straw
I assure my hon. Friend that my powers are fairly limited. The main power is to ensure that a maverick Metropolitan Police Authority could not cut the budget of the Metropolitan police service and hand it over to some fanciful occupation. I do not think that that will happen, but I thought it necessary to take that power, as well as others in respect of national and international policing. If it is the will of the House, we can communicate my hon. Friend's view, and that of the House, to business managers.
I am sure that the whole House joins me in extending best wishes to the members of the Metropolitan Police Authority as they get to grips with their new role.
The Metropolitan police was the first police service in the country, and it has always played a leading role in the development of our very successful systems of policing. I am confident that, with proper resourcing, Sir John Stevens's programme of reform and the launch of an independent MPA, we can ensure that it continues to play that role and to win the fight against crime and that it continues and enhances London's reputation as one of the safest cities in the world.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)
I agree with the Home Secretary that this is an historic moment. For more than 100 years, Home Secretaries have acted as the police authority for the metropolis, and I echo his comment that the new Metropolitan Police Authority should have our best wishes. We hope that it will do a good job for London.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the men and women of the Metropolitan police service. They perform a difficult and dangerous task, which should not be underestimated—I do not believe that it is in the House. I thank him for making proof copies of the final version of the Commissioner's 2000–01 plan available to right hon. and hon. Members before the debate.
Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) opened the debate for the Opposition. He said that, as a former Metropolitan police officer, he felt honoured to do so. I have never been a police officer, but I feel that it is a privilege to speak for the Opposition today.
568 I pay particular tribute to all the front-line crime fighters in London, from the specialist squads who are involved in some of the most high-profile cases, to police constables. They all do an excellent job in difficult circumstances. I was struck by what Sir John Stevens said yesterday:We have some incredibly courageous and breathtakingly brave officers doing amazing things, but we see so little of it in the press.It would be good to see more of the tremendous work done by the Metropolitan police reflected in media comments.
I echo what the Home Secretary said about the retirement of Sir Paul Condon and the appointment of Sir John Stevens. I, too, pay tribute to Sir Paul's work. As we have already seen, Sir John has adopted a distinctive, radical and hands-on approach to many aspects of his job, and we wish him well.
Times are changing. We live in the world of the Macpherson report and the Human Rights Act 1998, and we shall soon have the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. Officers must be aware of all their implications. They have been providing, and will continue to provide, particular challenges for the Metropolitan police, but progress is being made. I know that the Metropolitan police feel that very strongly. I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary repeat a point that has been made numerous times, but is nevertheless important: that the right of officers to stop and search should not be curtailed for other than operational reasons.
I have no doubt that the Metropolitan police will meet the challenges of the future as they have met those of the past, but there is a worry about morale in the force, which is reflected in recruitment. Last year, a survey of 6,000 serving officers produced separate results for the Metropolitan police. Eighty-seven per cent. of Met officers could not say that morale was high, and 78 per cent. said that they would take a job outside the police service with the same pay if it were offered to them. Sir John said yesterday:We have taken one hell of a battering over the past two years.
In a debate on police numbers on 3 May, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who is present, said:The council tax payers of Hillingdon want to know why, in the past three years, their precept for the Metropolitan police has gone up by 36.29 per cent., yet they are getting fewer and fewer police officers for their money. Four police stations in Hillingdon are now closed to the public or operate restricted schedules, with opening hours that generally do not include weekends, bank holidays or any hour after 6 o'clock in the evening … Only Uxbridge police station is open to the public for 24 hours a day.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 3 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 47WH]
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
I am afraid I have some bad news. Uxbridge police station is now closed between 2 am and 6 am. No police station front desk in the Hillingdon division is now open during those hours.
§ Mr. Heald
That reinforces the point that my hon. Friend was making on 3 May. There is real concern about access to the police at the times when people are most worried about crime, and most fearful.
We should not ignore that public concern, and the issue of numbers is crucial to it. It is the cuts in police numbers in London that have led to the cuts in police stations, and 569 in the hours for which they are open. The numerical strength of the Met—the number of officers available, rather than the budgetary strength—has taken a battering recently. When the Government came to power in 1997, it was 27,166. Yesterday, Sir John said that the figure was 25,480. That is a drop of nearly 1,700 in just over three years. The thin blue line is becoming ever thinner. That is just the figure for the Metropolitan police; the City of London police have lost more than 100 officers in the same period.
Sir John has said that he needs to maintain at least 25,600 officers if he is to police London properly. He says thatif numbers continue to dwindle we're in trouble, make no mistake. We have reached a point where I am going to have publicly to say that we don't have enough officers to police London properly … We do not have enough officers to police London with confidence.Those words speak for themselves. I believe that they are of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and especially to the police and the public in London. We have falling police numbers; we have what the Commissioner himself has described as a crisis in recruitment, and the impact of that has been plain on the streets of London. The chairman of the Police Federation, Glen Smyth, put it in a rather pithy phrase:You've got to have feet on the beat to put hands on collars.That is an amusing way of putting it, but it is a good point. If we have not got feet on the beat, we are not going to catch people.
Will the Minister tell us what analysis the Home Office has made of the impact on recruitment, and the number of extra feet on the beat, of an official offer to increase London weighting, which the Home Secretary announced today?
§ Mr. Straw
As I said, we are of course concerned about the reduction in numbers, and have introduced significant measures to ensure that they return to where they should be.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that about a third of the reduction that he mentioned is accounted for by the transfer of officers from London to Essex, Kent and Surrey? Will he also acknowledge, in a spirit of non-partisanship, that the Metropolitan police suffered a serious squeeze between 1992–93 and 1997–98, when it lost 1,700 officers? Since then I have sought, with only relative success, to stabilise numbers. We have seen nothing like that decline in the last three years.
§ Mr. Heald
I think the Home Secretary will recognise that there was a background of organisational changes in the force between 1992 and 1997, as in almost every other walk of life. Middle management was removed. It is true that police numbers fell slightly across the country, but there were 2,500 extra constables; and in London, although there was a small fall in the number of constables, it was nothing like the number quoted.
§ Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)
The last Government announced their response to the Sheehy report in October 1993. The figure for April 1995 shows a drop of 1,178 in Metropolitan police numbers in 12 months, and a national 570 drop of 2,069. That was the impact of Sheehy, from which we never recovered. Metropolitan police numbers in London peaked just before Sheehy.
§ Mr. Heald
I do not accept that the one follows the other. The fact is that a reorganisation was taking place—[Interruption.] There was a reorganisation, which meant that chief inspectors were no longer appointed and there were cuts in middle management. The present Government have taken no steps to reverse that.
If the hon. Gentleman feels that the numbers that existed under the Conservatives—which, after all, had increased across the country by 15,000 since 1979—were not satisfactory, how must he feel now? Even according to the Home Secretary's figures, if we take full account of secondments to Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey, London numbers have fallen by 1,200 in three years, and it looks as though that fall will continue.
Let us examine the way in which the crime fighting fund is alleged to work. I understand from written answers given by the Minister that over the next two years the Met will recruit, or have transferred in, a total—this is the base figure—of 1,068 officers. Over the same period, 2,700 Met officers will leave the force or transfer out, making a net loss of 1,632 officers. Since then, a growth in the crime fighting fund has been announced, which should result in 1,113 recruits over two years. However, the Metropolitan police, despite the much-vaunted crime fighting fund, will lose 519 more officers between now and March 2002.
I am trying to discuss these matters in a non-partisan way by simply setting out the arithmetic contained in parliamentary answers. However, the Met has already lost 1,200 officers—taking account of secondments—and will lose 519 more. In addition, the City of London force has lost more than 100 officers. That is far from satisfactory.
§ Mr. Efford
The April edition of the police magazine, The Voice of the Service, contains an article headlined "Sheehy's chickens come home to roost". It states:The "substantial savings" that resulted from the Clarke/Sheehy/Howard era have already inflicted great harm on the police service.The service is fed up with being a political football. We must accept that mistakes were made in the past and that the Government are addressing them by tackling housing allocation.
§ Mr. Heald
Let us take this matter seriously. If one makes a decision on day one, and 30 days later something has happened that changes circumstances for the future, 571 one was not wrong in the first place but must be sensible enough to change one's mind. We have made it clear that we are willing to reconsider housing allowances, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made clear to the Police Federation conference. I do not accept the admonitions offered either by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) or the Home Secretary.
It is worrying that the position—the hon. Member for Eltham agreed that it was unsatisfactory—will get worse.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
§ Mr. Heald
That is no good: even on the right hon. Gentleman's own figures, 519 more officers will be lost. That will be the overall effect of the crime fighting fund. If he says that he is introducing measures to improve recruitment, we shall welcome it. However, he is not budgeting for a return to the figures he inherited when the Government came to office. Over this Parliament, there will be a massive reduction in the number of officers available.
The effects of all that are being felt in London. Crime is rising—in London, it rose by 12.6 per cent. in the past year.
§ Mr. Geraint Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there would have been a reduction of 519 officers whether or not there had been an announcement today of the extra £3,500? If so, is he against that increase?
§ Mr. Heald
The Met is budgeting for a further loss of 519 officers by March 2002. The situation would have been far worse than that, however, because the Met has found itself unable to recruit necessary officers. Instead of losing 1,700 officers over the course of this Parliament, the force would have lost far more. Some people suggested that the Met would have had 23,000 officers available for ordinary duty–2,600 less than the figure identified as the absolute minimum by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The danger was that instead of the disaster of losing a further 519 officers, there would have been a catastrophe as numbers fell too far to allow any sensible policing of London. The Government are merely papering over the cracks, not sorting out the real problem—that numbers need to rise to the level in place at the 1997 general election.
§ Mr. Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that today's announcement will make no difference to the projected number of police officers? Surely there will be more money for the police and per police person.
§ Mr. Heald
I certainly welcome that, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to read what Sir John Stevens had to say yesterday. He welcomed reinstatement of the housing allowance, but added that he "quite honestly" did 572not believe this will be enough to attract the quality applicants we need.It is a step in the right direction, but will it be enough to reverse the position that the Home Secretary has created in London during the past three years?
The effect of cuts in police numbers and the number of stations open has been that crime rose by 12.6 per cent. last year. Street crime went up by 36 per cent. in 1999–2000. On four of the five main indicators, public satisfaction with Metropolitan police performance has fallen. Sir John is making every effort to reverse those trends, but he is not helped by the legacy of underfunding for police numbers during the past three years. Nor is he helped by policies such as the early release scheme, under which 811 robbers have been released early.
In an earlier intervention, I quoted Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, who said that young criminals are feeling more confident. They know that there are fewer police officers and that a large number of people convicted of robbery have been released early. The chairman of the Police Federation has said that there is a crisis of no cash, no confidence and no colleagues. It is welcome that the Home Secretary is starting to address serious issues, but he is too late to reverse the trend quickly. Once young people become confident that they can commit offences without being caught or without serious penalty, a culture develops in which there is lax law and order.
§ Mr. Gardiner
The hon. Gentleman spoke about a crisis of cash and a lack of funding. To some extent, it is admitted that the lack of funds stems from the Sheehy changes of 1994. We have heard today about the increased funding that the Government propose for the police. What increased funding would the hon. Gentleman's party give to the police in London to address the very problems that he has discussed?
§ Mr. Heald
The Home Secretary can ask that, but it will clearly depend on when the Conservative party retakes office—[Interruption.] The way things are going, it will not be that long.
The Prime Minister denied that policing was in crisis on the same day that the Home Secretary spoke at the Police Federation conference under a great big placard—"Policing in Crisis". I suggest that the Government ask police officers what they think. It is easy to talk about police stations closing without fully realising the impact, but the people of Biggin Hill, Chislehurst, Westcombe Park, Collier Row, Lee Road and Barnes will realise it because their stations have closed during the past year. In addition, stations at Muswell Hill, Highgate, St. Ann's, Brockley, Banstead and Tooting have had their hours reduced. Other stations have closed or had their hours reduced, too. That causes concern and anxiety, of which the Home Secretary should be aware.
§ Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the police station at Collier Row had closed. I can assure him that it has not.
§ Mr. Heald
If that is so, the hon. Gentleman might tell the Minister of State, who said in an answer to me: 573The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs me that six police stations closed during 1999.—[Official Report, 15 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 59W.]One of the stations named was Collier Row. Perhaps the Minister needs to get out a bit more. He could visit Collier Row, if it is still open.
§ Mr. Heald
Our point is that the previous number of police officers has to be restored. Those police stations are not able to offer the service that they once did because there are not enough police officers to man them.
The detailed policing of London is always, of course, a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the authority. We are making the point that, with the size of police cuts that we have had since the general election, fewer open police stations and reduced hours are inevitable. If the Home Secretary thinks that that point is wrong, I am very willing to allow him to intervene. It must be right that, if one cuts officers, the service offered to the public will be cut.
§ Mr. Heald
No, not now; I should like to make a bit of progress.
The point that the Home Secretary made on the establishment of the first Metropolitan Police Authority and the end of his role in the job needs a little further examination. [Interruption.] If the Minister could listen for a moment, I should like to make a point that he might deal with in his reply. Will he comment on the very public intervention by the Mayor of London in the Lawrence family compensation case? I ask him to comment not on the details of the case itself, but on the Government's attitude to that type of intervention by the Mayor in Metropolitan police affairs. Surely the Metropolitan Police Authority is not the same thing as the Mayor. I should be grateful to know how the Minister thinks that the interaction between the Mayor and the authority will work.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
I shall deal with that matter in my reply. Now, however, I shall simply say that responsibility for policing London is the Commissioner's and the Metropolitan Police Authority's, not the Mayor's. That is absolutely clear.
§ Mr. Clarke
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I do not speak for the Mayor of London on anything, and that, in a long political history, I never have?
§ Mr. Heald
I fully accept that. I know that the hon. Gentleman certainly does not speak for the Mayor in that 574 sense—far from it—but perhaps he could outline a little more fully how he sees things working in future months and years, as the issue has been widely commented on in recent days by both the public and the media.
The matter of the equipment available to the Metropolitan police—such as the Metropolitan police vehicle fleet—is also causing concern. In answers to questions that I tabled, the Home Secretary revealed that, in March 2000, about one quarter of the Metropolitan police vehicle fleet was taken off the road for repairs and was out of action. Why was that? Can the Minister give any assurance that, in future, police will have vehicles that work? How has the Met been coping with the decline in the number of available vehicles? What impact would he say that has had on street patrols?
The Minister will also be aware that great concern has been expressed about 999 calls. He will have seen the Evening Standard article on that matter, which made it clear thatScotland Yard is in danger of being overwhelmed with emergency calls amid a staffing crisis and a surge in the number of people dialling 999 …Many emergency calls to the police are now met with a recorded message telling people they are in a queue and will be answered shortly. Senior officers say they are coping with the surge in calls but one 999 operator told the Standard: "We are basically losing it. On one recent shift 20 to 30 calls were being held in a queue.
Will the Minister comment on that? For members of the public who are in fear or desperately worried about a relative or a crime victim, one of the most worrying things imaginable must be to ring 999, only to hear a recorded message and discover that they are in a queue. Is that the type of service that the Minister wants to be provided? If not, what will he do about it? It is just not good enough.
I should also like to deal with the recent report, "Winning Consents", into the Met's investigation of murders. The Commissioner's and the Home Secretary's responses to the report are welcome and thorough. However, does the Minister agree that the report shows that senior investigating officers have a very heavy work load of murder cases, and that their work load is heavier than those in any other part of the country? Does he think that the action that has been taken so far is adequate to deal with a very difficult problem?
Will the Minister also comment on liaison on state visits? When the Met admitted the difficulties that occurred during the visit of President Jiang Zemin of China, it seemed to emerge that the Home Office had had barely any involvement in discussions on operational policing matters for the visit, and that the work had been done by the Foreign Office. Could the Minister explain that, and also the overlap of responsibilities? As he will know, there is considerable public concern about the way in which that particular visit was policed, and about the fact that the Foreign Office, rather than the Home Office, seemed to be doing the liaison. In a letter to the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary admitted that Home Office officials were not involved in liaising with the Foreign Office on planning policing of the state visit. It would be good to know which part of the Government deals with that matter, and that the issue is being addressed.
It is clear from this month's edition of the Police Federation magazine that one thing causing concern and some offence to police officers is the public's inability to 575 visit as they wish the memorials to brave police officers. One result of the closure of Muswell Hill police station seems to be that the memorials to PC Nat Edgar, who was shot in 1948, and to PC Keith Blakelock, who was killed in the Broadwater Farm riot, are no longer accessible to the public. Could the Home Secretary look into that matter, and mention it to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner? The matter is obviously causing concern to police officers.
Will the Minister join me in applauding the work of the men and women of our capital's police service? They keep us safe and make many sacrifices—personal, financial, and sometimes even the ultimate sacrifice. I pay tribute to their work. I look forward to the force—under Sir John's leadership, and in the new era of the Metropolitan Police Authority—adding to its already considerable achievements. Long may they continue. I hope that the whole House will join me in sending a message of good will to the Metropolitan police on this traditional annual debate. From what we have heard, this may be the last such debate.
§ Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)
Crime and community safety are probably now at the top of my residents' list of concerns. I therefore very much welcome this debate on the policing of London, which is being held before the change in responsibilities that will introduce to the Met a long overdue element of local democratic accountability.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to assure me that he will ignore some of today's comments by Conservative Members—who, in recent years, cut police numbers; after Sheehy, removed the recruitment incentive of the housing allowance; and are now claiming that they have set themselves targets to restore police numbers which are completely incompatible with their tax guarantee.
I should like to make three sets of points. First, I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Commissioner on holding firm in the face of criticism from parts of the media, and defensiveness from some parts of the Met itself, in the wake of the Lawrence report. I know that the report's aftermath, and implementation of the changes that it requires, must have been very painful for the service—most of whose members have a sincere commitment to responsive and effective policing. However, change was, and is, necessary to build a service that can command the support of a wide range of London's diverse communities.
I deplore the hysteria with which negative stories about crime and policing have been reported in the past year, as though a commitment to anti-racist policing were completely incompatible with the fight against crime. I believe that the opposite is true and that we can tackle crime and anti-social behaviour effectively only by building a service that has the support of the whole community. The truth of that cannot be demonstrated in a matter of months. It will take years to establish, but I believe that the overwhelming majority of police officers know it to be true.
The use of stop-and-search powers has been at the forefront of that debate. Tiresome though it is to state the obvious, no one—certainly no one on the Labour Benches—objects to the use of stop and search. It is a vital element in the fight against drugs and the carrying of weapons in particular, but the powers must be used thoughtfully and the Metropolitan police service must be accountable for their use.
576 There was clearly a defensive reaction against the use of stop and search post the Macpherson report, although it is coming back into balance. However, attempts, including by Conservative Members, to draw a correlation between the worrying rise in street robberies and the decline in stop and search are part of the backlash against anti-racist policing and should be resisted.
I am indebted to the Kensington and Chelsea police consultative committee for its comments on that issue. Chairman Peter Bull points out thatThere has been a very significant change in practice under Steve Otter,who is our borough commander and whom I hesitate to commend to my hon. Friend the Minister as a truly outstanding police officer because I am terrified that he will be poached. The police consultative committee letter states that, under his command, there has beena huge drop in the number of Stop and Searches and a sharp rise in the number of arrests as a percentage of the searches. In other words, more intelligent policing and no racial prejudice: the percentage figure for arrests is broadly similar across the ethnic groups. That is most encouraging.That demonstrates that, in practice, on the ground, intelligence-led policing can both tackle the problem of discriminatory use of stop and search and be effective in the fight against crime.
§ Mr. Geraint Davies
Does my hon. Friend accept that concern over stop and search in the community is as much, if not more, to do with the manner of stop and search—police officers should be polite and give respect to our community—than the number of stop and search incidents? The community respect the fact that stop and search is a necessary tool available to the police force to prevent crime.
§ Ms Buck
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. He must have read my speech because I was about to come on to the fact that, as part of the welcome change post the Lawrence report, reflecting the attention on the operation of stop and search, complaints against the police in central London have dropped sharply. Since 1998, there has been a 13 per cent. fall in complaints on the grounds of harassment and unlawful arrests. In my borough of Kensington and Chelsea, there has been a 43 per cent. fall and a 34 per cent. fall in complaints on the ground of incivility. That is part of the same argument. The police have learned an important lesson about the operation of stop-and-search powers. That is to their credit and will help in building the confidence of the community and in tackling crime.
I welcome the new seriousness with which public agencies are responding to racial incidents and commend the work of Chief Superintendent John Grieve in particular. Since 1998, there has been a fivefold increase in reporting of racial incidents in Westminster, and a fourfold increase in Kensington and Chelsea. We have yet to establish whether that is worrying because it shows a dramatic increase in racial incidents, or pleasing because it shows greater responsiveness by the agencies and a willingness to report, but surely those matters are far better out in the open, where they can be tackled, than hidden away.
Secondly, I commend the Home Secretary for his success so far in winning the resources for the crime fighting fund and for today's announcement, but there is 577 a need to strengthen his arm in negotiations with the Treasury on the comprehensive spending review, so that we can continue to move forward in tackling the recruitment crisis in the Met and in building on the success of the crime reduction initiative.
The 1,113 additional officers allocated to the Met through the crime fighting fund are welcome, but, again, in my local boroughs establishment figures are well down on 1998. The latest figures are that Kensington and Chelsea is 31 officers down and Westminster is 43 officers down. Westminster's establishment has declined from 1,708 to 1,622 since 1998.
Although I am assured that front-line strength will be maintained—I pay tribute to the management skill of both borough commanders in ensuring that resources will be directed to the front line—I am unhappy about that fall in numbers, which will, happily, be at least partially offset by a share of the 1,113 extra officers, but there is a real issue: residents, particularly in the areas that I represent in the north of those two city boroughs, do not feel that they are getting the visible policing that they want to give them confidence. The early indications are that those two boroughs will not do as well from the 1,113 as other boroughs. I fully understand and appreciate the need for the Commissioner to establish priorities, but again when I go to the estates of north Kensington and north Paddington, I have to account for the needs of those communities. They want visible and responsive policing.
I am aware of the fact that, whatever the establishment figures, we must recognise the recruitment crisis. I am delighted with the Home Secretary's announcement recognising the problems that police officers post-Sheehy have had with housing costs, in the light of London house prices increasing by almost half over the past couple of years. We need to do more. We should tackle that not simply through the money that we pay to police officers, but by pursuing what should be a classic example of joined-up thinking. The Home Secretary should be working with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to ensure that we tackle London's housing crisis.
We have 42,000 families living in temporary accommodation in London. The supply of affordable housing has fallen very sharply over recent years, again as a result of a long-term trend—the failure over many years to invest in affordable housing. Unless we create homes for rent and shared ownership homes throughout London, even with the welcome additional housing allowance for police officers we will not be able to ensure that our key public sector workers have the opportunity to live in the city and to have the family homes that they want to bring up their families.
The housing crisis in central London is, to go off at a tangent, an issue not just in the recruitment of police officers. It has a direct knock-on effect on the problems of crime and anti-social behaviour. It is worrying. Hundreds and hundreds of people with severe mental health problems and personality disorders live in bed-and-breakfast and temporary accommodation because we do not have the supply of affordable housing to deal with them. Therefore, I urge the Minister to do all he can to secure not just resources for the police, which he has 578 already shown he can do, but the related resources to help us to tackle the housing crisis in central London for public sector workers and for others in housing need.
Thirdly, I speak in support of—and, naturally, ask for more of—some of the excellent crime prevention initiatives that are being developed to help us to be tough on the causes of crime. This year, the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea's community safety team bid successfully for £117,000 for closed circuit television in north Kensington—it made two bids to supplement police efforts to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. That will build on successful schemes elsewhere in north Kensington.
CCTV does not solve all our problems. It is not a panacea, but the recent evaluation of a major scheme in my constituency has shown—I quote from the evaluation report:it is achieving its main aims in terms of reducing crime, providing a deterrent to crime and reducing the fear of crime, with a 19 per cent. reduction in total recorded crime during the evaluation period last year—nearly double the divisional average.More than half the residents surveyed said that the scheme had increased their sense of security. We should be very pleased with the CCTV schemes and welcome the additional investment that has already been made, but if we ensure that the scheme rolls forward and helps us to tackle further problems on our estates, car parks and city centres, it will be extremely welcome.
I for one regret the fact that Westminster, which covers half my constituency, has so far concentrated CCTV bids—I am sure with good cause—on the city centre, which is represented by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The north Westminster estates have not benefited from the schemes, despite the fact that there is real fear—and experience—of street crime, and car crime in particular, in those communities.
Finally, I want to commend two important prevention schemes being developed, thanks to the Government, with single regeneration budget funding. The New Life for Paddington neighbourhood warden scheme, the first of its kind in London, will concentrate on community development, environmental improvement and crime prevention through visibility in the management of public spaces.
Early consultation on the scheme confirms the huge gap between the existing means of discussing policing and safety with the public and the public's needs and perceptions. We have a long way to go to convince people that we are recognising their fears, but schemes such as this, which complement the work of the police, make a valuable contribution to the process.
The other scheme is being funded through the single regeneration budget award to Golborne United in north Kensington. The community reward scheme, the brainchild of inspirational youth worker Barran Hulme from the Wornington green detached youth project, offers reward points to young people for their involvement in community projects such as graffiti clearance and gardening for housebound pensioners. The points can be exchanged for trips and activities. I gather that a day's jet skiing is one of the latest options.
The scheme is brilliant in its simplicity and I hope that the social exclusion unit will come to see it and hold it up as an example of good practice in involving young 579 people and offering a deterrent to crime, making people feel that our young people are an integral part of our community and not a source of fear, which is unfortunately often the case at present.
We are running some excellent schemes, backed by Government money. Government investment in policing and the crime fighting fund is extremely welcome. We must continue to sell its benefits and to extend it into other needy and pressurised communities. The Mayor and the police authority must now take up the challenge of working with the Metropolitan police service to complete the process of change and convince all Londoners that we are tackling crime and policing for all our diverse communities. I wish them luck.
§ 11.2 am
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and I will return later to her central point—the need for affordable housing in London for people in the public service. I share her view on that absolutely, and we need to go much further in public policy.
Since before I was elected, I have campaigned for London to have a democratic police authority, so it gives me pleasure to think that this is the last of these debates when the Home Secretary is the police authority and that next month there will be a transfer of power to the Greater London Authority. I pay tribute to the Government for implementing that commitment.
One of the reasons why that is important is that it is nonsense to have a system whereby the police authority is not present for the whole of the annual debate on policing. I know how often the Home Secretary is at the Dispatch Box, because I am normally here when he is, but the move to an accountable authority is welcome. In passing, I thank those in the Home Office who have supported Home Secretaries past and present, and look forward to working with the Mayor, the GLA and the police authority in the months ahead.
The Met police have wanted an accountable police authority for many years. At last, London will have a voice that is properly independent of Government and will put the case to Government. The failure in London has been the inability to speak independently to the Home Secretary and the Government with the same effectiveness as elsewhere in the country.
I thank those who were doing Met work outside the Greater London Authority boundaries before the handover to the three county forces. Again, that was a completely logical move and it is right for Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex to do their own policing. I am glad that the change has taken place.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to Sir Paul Condon for his work as Commissioner. He bemoaned the fact that, as the longest-serving Commissioner of the previous century, he lost 2,000 police officers—not, I might say, through any lack of effort on his part. He certainly kept up the pressure on Government to ensure that London was given the resources that it needed. We welcome his successor equally strongly. He has started well, has the confidence of his force and is ensuring, as he said at the Press Gallery lunch yesterday, that the voice of London and its policing needs will not go unheard.
580 In the year since we last had this debate, I have had exceptional reasons to be thankful to the Met police. As the Minister knows, for the first time in my life I suddenly found that I needed police protection in the way that normally only people such as Home Secretaries need it. Following the three or four months when the Met police accompanied me pretty well everywhere, looked after my home and guaranteed my security, I can testify to their competence, professionalism and dedication.
That experience was a very useful way of catching up with the issues of concern to special branch and others in the police and gave me the opportunity to check my presumptions about them. I had people with me 24 hours a day who were competent to talk about those matters. We owe an especial obligation in London to special branch officers, who play a background role but do it with thorough professionalism. I am personally very grateful to them.
The backdrop to today's debate is, first, the amount of crime in London and, secondly, whether we have the resources to deal with it. On the first, the sad reality is that crime figures in Europe's largest capital are still going up. Last year, we reached for the first time the sad figure of 1 million recorded crimes. That is just about a fifth of the recorded crimes in the country as a whole. That is not a trend with which any of us can be happy.
Crime is not the police's but society's fault. Unless we prevent and deter it, we have a hopeless task. We must also note that violent crime is the area about which people are rightly most concerned. The Home Secretary was right to say that stop and search is important in dealing with that. That is why I asked about the clear-up rate for murders. There was an inspectorate report in January about how murders and serious crimes have been dealt with in the Met. They have not been given the resources in the past that such crimes in other areas have got, probably because there are more of them, so they get downgraded.
I cannot stress too strongly that when murders are committed in London, as they are only too often, it is vital that they are given the necessary resources. Killings—murders or manslaughters—must be perceived to be as important here as they are in the rest of the country. More police are needed in big cities because there are higher rates of violent crime.
I have never moved from the position that, if the police have to put more officers in certain areas or communities in London because certain crimes are more common there than elsewhere, they must have our support in doing that. They must not be held back. A member of one of the neighbourhood consultative groups in my constituency, now a pensioner, whom I respect highly, complained that he got the impression that often the media, by hyping up particular issues, prevent the police from getting involved.
My constituent chose the example of the arrest of Neville Lawrence. That was a wrong stop, but the way in which it was reported carried the danger of making the police feel unable to go about their job. We must not be overly sensitive. The police must be able to operate without fear or favour. If people get stopped, so be it, provided that the way in which that is done is properly monitored and managed.
The other big issue is the fall in police numbers, which fell significantly in the last five years of the Conservative Government. During Sir Paul Condon's tenure, they have gone down by about 2,000. The Commissioner has made 581 it clear that the numbers have sunk below a level that is acceptable and that allows him to do his job properly, and they are still going down.
The decrease has had an effect throughout London. Over the past eight years, the number of officers in each of Islington's police stations has gone down: in Holloway the number has decreased from 260 to 226 and in Islington it has gone down from 287 to 284. The same is true of the borough in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and other outer London boroughs such as Bromley. In my borough, the number has decreased from 900 in 1990 to 851 in 1999.
What do we do about that? Yesterday, the Commissioner said that there are three issues to be tackled: bad morale, bad perception and bad pay. The last issue is important in dealing with the others, so the Home Secretary's remarks today are welcome. Rightly, he speedily accepted the arbitration proposal, and it will make a significant difference although the Commissioner said that it will not be the answer. We have to make sure that police pay in London is kept at the level necessary for recruitment.
That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. Whatever one-off pay increase we make, we will be unable to get public sector workers to stay in London if the city does not have a decent quantity of affordable housing for them. That is an absolute priority. The public policy position is that 25 per cent. of development in inner London boroughs, and certainly in constituencies such as mine, should be affordable housing, but I think that the proportion should be 50 per cent.
If the three main parties were to reach a consensus on that and were able to persuade the Government and the Greater London Authority of that view, we would begin to be able to persuade people who are making large profits by building homes—often second or third homes—for people on large incomes that meeting demand is not as important as meeting need. We cannot run a capital city unless we have a police service and the civilians to support it. Many of those people have to work anti-social hours at weekends and at night; they have to get in very early before public transport is running and they have to stay late.
One of last year's amusing episodes was when the Home Secretary miscounted extra police numbers and his Bournemouth conference speech had to be revised. In the process, he happened to leave out all the people being trained at Hendon. I am not sure who did the tallying up and was responsible for Hendon being discounted, but it was rediscovered. The only problem is that Hendon is not full of police trainees; there are many spaces because it is not getting enough recruits.
I have a proposal that I want Ministers seriously to consider, although I realise that the responsibility will move, in part, to the Metropolitan Police Authority. They should do as the armed services and industry have done and give young people a financial incentive to join by sponsoring them during their post-16 training in A-levels or City and Guilds and then at college or university. That could be done through public money or through the private sector. In return, those young people would be 582 required to stay in the service for, say, 10 years. Such sponsorship persuaded many people to go into the services and into big firms such as ICI.
We need to consider ways of recruiting not just more people, but people of the quality that the Met needs. Policing needs people with good A-levels and degrees and those without. No academic background should disqualify someone from having as successful a career in the Met or another police service as they would have anywhere else. The Met does not consist of a few elite managers who are academic and who have done degrees and everyone else who is straight out of school with no qualifications. It needs a mix, and it needs to offer in-service training. Londoners want that because, at the moment, every London council tax payer is paying more for less: the council tax and the precept go up and the number of police goes down. Given the crime figures, that does not reassure people.
Over the past year the Met has done many things very well, such as policing the millennium, although it was not reimbursed for the cost of that. It managed the May day demonstration well, although there were criticisms. It did not handle the Chinese President's visit well, and we have had an explanation for that, but I hope that in future there will not be behind-the-hand briefings from Government Departments which mean that people's civil liberties are not respected. However, the Met has responded well to the Macpherson report on the Lawrence inquiry.
Many police officers were unhappy about the previous Commissioner's policy on tenure, which meant that they were moved around a lot. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North made a similar point about a senior police officer. We understand the dilemma because there is a career structure for police officers, but that tenure policy is not good for community policing. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), whose constituency is next to mine and has the same problems, knows that an area gets a community police officer who is well respected and manages their local team well, and then suddenly they are moved.
Many officers were told that they could do a particular job, in firearms, special branch or CID, for five years and then they would have to do something completely different for which they were not skilled. We need a career structure that makes use of expertise but takes account of the fact that the police are a public service for individual communities, so people cannot be moved around without consideration.
I turn now to my own patch. Southwark has suffered from the reduction in numbers, which is the unhappy and unpopular consequence of police stations having their hours cut, and being rationalised and closed. The test of that policy will be whether people get more responsive policing and more police on the ground. Our local police know that people are watching them like hawks to ensure that we do not lose local police stations, which does not help to reassure the public, and that the police respond speedily enough.
We must ensure that police attention continues to be focused on the area. There was a murder in Rotherhithe, which was then heavily policed, but the pressure on the police means that they may have to move on and the problems will reappear. The police, with the help of the public, must reassure every part of the community in Greater London.
583 I pay tribute to the police because their comments on asylum seekers, refugees and the people begging on our streets have been much more sensitive and intelligent than those of the tabloids and the rest of the press. My constituency has many refugees and asylum seekers, and there are hundreds in one building. The police said that if they had put some 700 male police officers aged between 18 and 30 into one place, left them without work and without anything to do all day and given them £40 a week or nothing at all, there would have been far more trouble than there has been from the asylum seekers who are waiting for their cases to be dealt with.
Of course there are problems, but we must realise that the police and the community can deal with them. London has had supportive policing and very little trouble from asylum seekers or refugees. There has been little trouble from beggars, although the police have had to deal with spates of aggressive begging, particularly in the middle of London. Westminster police indicated that most of those beggars do not come from outside the UK.
As Parliament loses control of the Met to the Greater London Authority, we wish them well. Police officers have our support because they do a very difficult job extremely well. We want more of them, and we want people to believe that it is a good career because the capital is still under-policed. London needs to be better policed by more officers if Londoners' wishes are to be met in the year ahead.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
The fear of crime and the reality of crime are potent forces in my constituency, as undoubtedly they are throughout London. In the 13 years that I have been in the House—mainly, of course, under the previous Government's tenure—I have seen a rise in crime, a rise in the fear of crime and a loss of confidence in the police and, because one third of my constituents are from ethnic minorities, the latter has been especially important.
Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we have seen dramatic improvements. Much remains to be done, and none of us can be complacent about the terrible levels of crime that we still experience. None the less, there is a new mood in the community and a new sense that we are going in the right direction.
In the past, I felt that the police often had no idea how to develop a strategy for preventing and tackling crime, and that every crime was dealt with piecemeal. My constituency contains a block of flats primarily occupied by pensioners and I repeatedly had constituency cases from there. Eventually, the tenants association met me to discuss the problems that pensioners had with crime in that block. I was amazed to find that some individuals had been burgled as many as seven times. However, when I talked to the local police, they had no idea that they were dealing with such a huge number of crimes in one specific location. In truth, there was a complete lack of intelligence-led policing. The police recorded the figures manually and sent them to headquarters, but they did not examine them locally and nothing came back that would enable them to develop a proper strategy for preventing further crimes.
It is clear that great change has been required in the policing of London. It is our Government who have begun the process of new partnerships and innovation which is 584 making the new strategy much more effective. I pay tribute to my borough commander, Mike Humphrey, who has embraced the new philosophy—which has been led by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—and has made effective partnerships with the local authority, the London borough of Lewisham, and with other key players in the communities. He has done so against a background of some difficulties—which other hon. Members have mentioned—not least, in our case, the lack of decent working accommodation for our police service and the critical need for a new police station to be built in Lewisham.
Staffing problems have also dogged the borough commander throughout the year. At one point, the police were 50 officers short, which is an unacceptable situation. I am glad to say that the shortfall has now been reduced, and I am confident that the problem is being addressed. However, as other hon. Members have said, numbers matter and we have to ensure sufficient resources for policing this capital city.
Despite the problems, the borough commander considers that the service has had a successful year, and I wish to record the fact that Lewisham is near the top of the Metropolitan police league table for the clear-up rate for robbery, burglary and vehicle crime. However, in two of my wards—Pepys and Drake—burglary is still more than twice the national average rate. That is why I am delighted that under round 2 of the reducing burglary initiative, we have been granted £143,800 for a project that will fund not only new security for homes, but the installation work, which has not been the case in previous projects. It is the most vulnerable and needy residents who are so frequently the targets and victims of burglars, and that project will be directed at their needs.
Last year in this debate, I referred to what was then the experimental ringmaster scheme. It is essentially a giant telephone tree which draws together people in localities so that the police can share with them information about matters such as a spate of a certain crime or an appeal for witnesses to a particular crime. In the beginning, we had 4,000 participants in that scheme, but today we have 22,000—a remarkable achievement. It has even drawn in some subscribers—and their families—who have been arrested and convicted of crimes in the past. It is an enormous and worthwhile initiative, with promising early results.
I also praised last year the work of undercover officers in policing Millwall football matches, which I know are regularly attended by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), as well as myself. Those undercover officers are doing an intelligent and effective job, and I can report that 15 arrests have been made for racism and that 14 people have already been convicted. That is crucial to building confidence in my community.
Overall, the most disappointing aspect of crime in the area, as in the rest of London, is the rise in street crime. However, the local police are considering how to tackle it in a more effective and intelligent way. They have analysed the crime patterns and found that a large percentage of the crimes are gang-related, and occur within a narrow geographical corridor which reflects the bus routes. Some 75 per cent. of the robberies lie along five bus routes. That information has led to the formation of a new partnership between the police, London Transport Buses and our local CCTV team. Lewisham 585 racial equality council, school heads and an independent advisory panel have been consulted about how best to tackle the problem. Some 40 officers are being used in a high-visibility operation on a daily basis, and the early results are promising.
That scheme has led to a determination to achieve a new partnership between London Transport Buses and the police authority against fare dodgers and criminals which will lead, we hope, to the installation of CCTV on selected buses in the autumn. That will have the benefit of catching those criminals perpetrating street crimes and riding on the buses to get away from the scene of the crime, and it will also help with the anti-social elements among schoolchildren, who have become a real nuisance on buses in the mornings and afternoons, especially to elderly passengers.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the issue of stop and search. For many years, the use of stop and search powers in my constituency led to much suspicion and anger among the black community, which had a huge sense of unfairness—much of it justified. After the Macpherson report, the situation has been uncertain and Lewisham police have been sensitive to that, as well as to the rise in street crime that we have all recorded. In response, the police have piloted a fairness health check, which examines fairness and proportionality across a range of police functions, including stop and search. All the police and the civil staff have received training in the investigation of racial incidents, in stop and search, and in race relations.
Those internal changes would not be enough if the new procedures could not be shared with the local community. The Lewisham community consultative group set up with the police a sub-group to examine what was happening because of the changes in stop and search and the new training. The group has worked effectively with the police and built new confidence in doing so, both within the group and in the police procedures. The group has concluded, as all hon. Members have done, that stop-and-search powers are important for the prevention and detection of crime.
The group has several recommendations to make. It believes that the Macpherson report recommendation on recording voluntary stops needs to be clearer. It believes that proper recording is necessary for vehicle stops, which are very contentious, and that ethnic data recording in relation to those stops is essential. The group also suggests the production of a booklet, which lays out the powers of the police and the rights of citizens and the appropriate behaviour for both parties, and which would be available to the community at large and not just to young people. I know that such a scheme has been piloted elsewhere in London. That information should also be part of citizenship teaching in schools, and police action should be underpinned by better communications with the community. Attempts to build more trust will be assisted by transparency, especially about the data collected.
I can report, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), that there has been a drop in stop and search. At the same time, the proportion of arrests has increased, which means that we have better targeting and more sensitive policing.
586 I note that racially motivated crimes and racial incidents in my borough, as in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, have risen. In my borough, they have risen from 411 in 1998–99 to 794 in 1999–2000. Once more, we are uncertain whether that is a genuine rise or, as the police believe, the result of increased confidence, leading to more people coming forward and better detection. The clear-up rate has gone up from 18 per cent. to 26 per cent. which, again, can only increase confidence.
I want to pay a brief tribute to three police officers who have contributed substantially to the black community's growing confidence. Detective Chief Inspector Peter Newman and Detective Constables Graham Aylett and Peter Burns have undertaken day-to-day work in the new investigation into the New Cross fire, which caused the deaths of 14 young black people in my constituency 19 years ago. Assistant Commissioner John Grieve is overseeing the investigation and I would remind him, as I would my hon. Friend the Minister, that we are now in the third year of the re-opened investigation. The families and survivors are desperate for the matter to be concluded. Excellent work has been done, but it must be brought to a conclusion, especially as many of the victims' parents are now quite elderly.
In conclusion, I want to join the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North in addressing the housing dilemma. There can be no doubt that this is an issue that affects not only the recruitment of police officers in London, but retention. People would like to become home owners and settle with their families close to where they work. As the Evening Standard revealed this week, the average house price in London has reached £185,000, which is an impossibility on the modest salaries of many of our public service workers. I therefore make an additional plea for more attention to be given to the problem and for new solutions to be found for affordable housing in the rented sector. The private sector, of course, will always depend on market value. We must acknowledge what is happening in London and address the need for decent, affordable family accommodation.
I believe, as others do, that we are now facing an important new development in London with the creation of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Having campaigned for such an authority throughout my political life in London, I, too, welcome its existence and the fact that it is democratically controlled; a major partnership now exists between the Government, the new authority, Members of Parliament and all our communities. We are in a new era in which partnership, innovation and intelligence-led policing will meet the needs of our communities, if we all continue to put our energies behind it.
§ Mr. John Horam (Orpington)
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who opened the debate for the Opposition, quoted from a speech made by the chairman of the Police Federation as recently as 17 May. The chairman said that the police service isfacing a crisis of no confidence, a crisis of no cash and a crisis of no colleagues.587 The police seem to have picked up the knack of putting things succinctly these days and, undoubtedly, that is the core of the matter. The chairman went on to say that there isa sense of disorder and anarchyin urban areas. He also said that people in many rural areas feel that they areunable to rely on the police.
I am glad to be speaking in this debate as I wish to express the concerns of London's suburban areas. A crisis of confidence in policing affects them just as much it does inner-city and rural areas. I accept that control is changing, but no doubt the Government will still have considerable influence in such matters. Will the Minister reassure us that London's suburban areas will receive fair treatment in the handling of Metropolitan police resources? I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) is here, as he pointed out in a previous debate that our residents feel that they are paying more and more for the police precept, yet are getting fewer and fewer resources. I therefore seek from the Minister a clear assurance that suburban areas will get proper treatment and that the present limited and decreasing coverage will not be reduced to even more exiguous levels.
The situation in suburban areas is deteriorating. Reported crime figures for Bromley for the past six months show an increase of 6 per cent. in overall crime. I am glad to say that there has been a 17 per cent. reduction in burglary, but there has been a 48 per cent. increase in street crime. I listened to the Home Secretary open the debate, but I am afraid to say that ordinary people are not convinced by the statistical machinations in which he indulged. People do, in fact, make a link between the lack of stop and search and the increase in street crime. Indeed, ordinary people's perception of that is more accurate than the Home Secretary's statistical analysis.
There has been an increase of 15 per cent. in criminal damage. In Orpington, which is the southern sector of the borough of Bromley, there has been a 7 per cent. increase in overall crime. There has been a 2 per cent. reduction in burglary, but there has been a 42 per cent. increase in street crime and a 15 per cent. increase in criminal damage. More worryingly, the offence clear-up rate has gone down dramatically. In 1994–95, that rate was 23 per cent., which is incredibly low. However, this year, it is down to 14 per cent., which is a significant reduction. I should be interested to know what the Minister makes of that because, in many ways, that figure is more telling than police numbers and other considerations.
Areas of my constituency which, hitherto, have been relatively crime free are now experiencing quite serious levels of crime. In Petts Wood, for example, seven cars were burned out and the lives of two young boys put in danger in a recent night of arson. One of my local papers said:Once upon a time you would have said Petts Wood and Orpington were relatively safe areas … But it seems you are not safe anywhere these days.
Crime is not the only problem. There is also the element that we generally label anti-social behaviour. One of my constituents wrote to me:We are getting large numbers (40–50) teenagers who are congregating on the green creating a nuisance, many who are under age, drinking alcohol and smashing the bottles in the road, and boys urinating in public and on private property in the area.588When we request Police assistance, we get a car, if and when one becomes available, sometimes a considerable time later, which merely cruises around the area and drives off. This gives the teenagers the impression that it's OK so they carry on.
Another local resident has written to me to say:we have had cars vandalised, house and shop windows broken, local library windows broken, flower containers upturned and stolen, bottle banks overturned, paper banks emptied—apart from cars racing round the roads driven by under-age, unlicensed, uninsured drivers.Some people in my constituency and others in London live in a daily hell as a result of anti-social behaviour.
Yet another local resident writes:In the year we have lived here, we have endured threats, things thrown at the our window, our back door kicked in, a fear for me to venture out with my children without my partner. My car windows were smashed and the car was then set on fire and the fire brigade had to be called. My mother came to see me and her car was stolen.That is happening daily in suburban and inner London areas.
Another lady writes:I called the police … The police had 15 calls on standby, and it would have taken them until midnight to get to me!That is a common problem.
In a graphic e-mail I received yesterday, a resident said:Without exaggeration, pretty much every other day I return to St. Mary Cray station from working in London, a column of black smoke is visible across the other side of Cray Valley in the Star Lane area. This is obviously another car that has been torched. We need police in this area, we need cameras in this area, offenders need punishment that will act as a deterrent to prevent future offences.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) referred to the situation on the buses. Drivers refused to work after 7 o'clock for several weeks because they were fed up with the behaviour of young people. Fortunately, the police were able to sort that out.
The problems in my area are made worse by the fact that we have a large group of travellers living on a site, and they have spread into adjoining streets—some to housing association houses and some to private houses. As can be well imagined, that does not help the problem of anti-social behaviour—it considerably worsens it. Local people feel that the police are not in control of the situation.
The Government are putting regeneration funds into the area but the money will be wasted if the fundamental problems of law and order are not tackled. People want and need, and believe that they are paying for, effective and visible policing to deal with the problem. The first requirement is proper numbers of policemen on the ground—on the streets of our suburban areas.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire has said, police numbers in London are down by 1,200. In Bromley, the police are under strength. In Orpington, police stations have been closed to the public, and beat officers and the time they spend on the beat reduced to almost non-existent proportions. The police are rarely seen now, unlike several years ago.
The chairman of the Police Federation has said that there has been the largest fall in actual police numbers since the crisis days of the mid-1970s; and only yesterday Sir John Stevens said that numbers in London were at their lowest since the 1970s, and outlined the problems of retention and recruitment. It seems that every time we 589 have a Labour Government, we have a crisis of this kind in the police. [Interruption.] That is absolutely true, I am afraid.
§ Mr. Horam
One of the reasons I left the Labour party was because it could not deal with these things.
We need an absolute increase in numbers on the ground floor. Equally, we need effective support for proper policing from the top. The unfortunate fact is that the very top of the pyramid is occupied by the metropolitan intellectuals who largely run the Government. Their main concerns seem to be political correctness and the rights of minorities. The fact is that the way they have handled the Macpherson report has damaged morale.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire was right to point out that an opinion poll of policemen has indicated that 78 per cent. of them would rather now be doing something else—a frightening percentage. That is the consequence of the attitude of Ministers. The Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), is at it again this week with his comments on the probation service.
To use one of the Government's phrases that the Deputy Prime Minister thinks they should abandon, it is time to think about the concerns of the many and not just the political correctness problems of the few.
The Government have an attitude problem, as well as an experience problem. One of the most telling facts is that none of their leading members has spent a single day in a commercial organisation. Frankly, that shows, because they have no idea how to deal with the problems that they face, or how to get the right sort of management tools into place. They believe that it can all be done by central diktat and bureaucratic regulation.
It is quite clear that we need to devolve as much as possible to those on the ground floor, trust them and back them when they make mistakes—something that ordinary people feel has not been done. Many individual policemen have suffered in their careers as a consequence of making one very public mistake when they have not been backed up by their officers.
§ Mr. Edward Davey
The hon. Gentleman's criticism of Government centralisation is correct in matters such as education and health, but one cannot say that with respect to policing in London. The new Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, has taken out a middle rank of officers and now local divisional commanders have greater powers than before.
§ Mr. Horam
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me at least about health and education. I would argue that the trait is common throughout the Government in all of their policies—not least that on the police. They believe that top-slicing resources and centralised target setting are important. It is a disaster.
We must look at the record of the Home Office team. They started with the fiasco of the Passport Agency and the chaos at Croydon with the immigration service. They then moved to the mess with asylum seekers and got into 590 difficulty with e-commerce. Most recently, we have seen the football hooligans and the blatant political manoeuvring over fox hunting. Underneath all that, we have the worsening crime figures and policing.
I have been in this House off and on since 1970 and this is the worst set of Home Office Ministers that I have ever come across, although I will pay them one compliment—they are good at talking. I am not surprised that the Home Secretary has been wheeled out for the fifth time this week to calm down the House of Commons. The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), is becoming an accomplished parliamentary performer. However, it is all talk, as people up and down the country are recognising. There is no action and, frankly, that is a tragedy for the people of London.
§ Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)
First, I apologise for not being here throughout the debate and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your kindness this morning. I have an eye infection and I had to go to the doctor to try to sort it out.
This is a timely debate. The creation of the Metropolitan Police Authority is welcome and will help the police and London's leaders to focus on the real priorities in the fight against crime in the capital. I hope that the new authority will help to strengthen links between the Metropolitan police and individual boroughs, because in that way we can do most to fight crime locally. To contradict the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), I believe that the devolved schemes that are currently developing have helped most of our constituents over the past two years. Now that boroughwide policing has become the norm, police and local authorities can work in close harmony on setting local priorities and can embark on joint local initiatives.
In my borough, Merton, we have had a boroughwide division for years and it has brought many benefits. Merton is not a high-crime borough; in fact, compared with other south-west London boroughs, it is a very low-crime area, with below average rates of nearly all categories of crime. The exceptions to that rule are racially motivated crime, of which the incidence in Merton is 28 per cent. above the south London average, and car crime, of which we have 17 per cent. above average incidence. Thankfully, we have recently had good news on both fronts. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has awarded funding to target and reduce racially motivated crime in Merton. That money will be used to identify and prosecute offenders, establish outreach teams to work with young people, establish a new neighbourhood warden scheme and make 591 environmental improvements to enhance community safety. Car crime has been reduced from 4,755 reported incidents in 1988–99 to 4,042 last year.
The key to success is working in partnership—partnership between the police and the council, and between local people and the organisations and agencies working on their behalf. The police are at the heart of that approach, and I am pleased that in Merton there is an excellent relationship between the police and local agencies. That is paying off: in Merton last year, burglary declined by 21 per cent. and car crime by 15 per cent. In fact, over the past three years, Merton has achieved its best-ever performance, reducing overall crime by 2 per cent.
In addition, for the first time in years, there has been no reduction in police numbers, thanks to the additional funding that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary awarded the police from the crime fighting fund. Even so, it is important to remember that police numbers alone do not automatically lead to crime reduction. It is how the police use their officers that really matters. My local divisional commander recently wrote to me saying:I believe that we are proof of the Home Secretary's claim that it is not numbers of officers that make a difference in reducing crime, but the local leadership, officer commitment and our use of intelligence-led policing initiative to target criminals. All of these things make a difference and really can reduce crime and improve the quality of life in the borough.
At the heart of today's debate lies the question how the police can be enabled to tackle those crimes that seriously diminish the quality of life of many people. The hon. Member for Orpington cited many examples of such crimes, which include so-called petty, non-violent crimes that can make life intolerable—graffiti, fly-tipping, nuisance neighbours and abandoned and untaxed cars cluttering up residential roads. None of those crimes is ever likely to feature on "Crimewatch UK", but, as every Member of Parliament knows, it is such problems that our constituents queue up at our surgeries to complain about.
That is why I take this opportunity to draw Ministers' attention to a bid by Merton council's partnership against crime to set up an anti-graffiti pilot project, involving young offenders in clearing up the offensive and often racist graffiti which have become increasingly prevalent in our streets. That is another example of the partnership approach. Only by joining up the experience and resources of the council, police and probation service can a solution to a serious social problem succeed.
Another exciting local initiative is the e-radicate project, which will allow the public directly to access council and police services via the internet and to report abandoned cars, graffiti and so on. That service will be free of charge and will be available in supermarkets, libraries and other public buildings. In addition, people will be able to access up-to-the-minute advice on crime prevention. The success of the bid depends on an initial allocation from the Government's invest to save fund, and I warmly commend it to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education and Employment and the Cabinet Office.
Such initiatives led my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to recommend the Merton partnership against crime as an example of good practice. I am sure that every Member of Parliament can tell of similar exciting and innovative schemes springing up all over London. I hope that the new Metropolitan Police Authority will be a place where best practice can be shared and spread.
592 Let me close with a word of caution. As I said, I welcome the introduction of the new MPA—I believe it will help in the fight against crime. However, I should like to offer a word of warning to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and his colleagues on the Greater London Authority and the MPA: they should not forget that London is a very big city and that there is more to it than the glamour of the west end or the terrible deprivation of many large estates. We all know that the incidence of crime and disorder is greater in inner London and that the problems facing our colleagues there are immense, but suburban outer London, where most Londoners live, has its problems as well. I, and all outer London Members of Parliament, will be keeping a close eye on the workings of the MPA to ensure that the issues affecting outer London and the needs of the area are not overlooked.
§ Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), voiced the feelings of all of us in suburbia, which cannot be emphasised too strongly.
I always enjoy the Home Secretary's preamble to these debates and today was no exception, especially in the light of his references to the historic early days of the police force. I was surprised to hear that the term "blue devil" was regarded as derogatory; I think it rather fitting to the Conservatives, as we become increasingly blue devils in the fight against the red lobsters.
I pay tribute to the divisional commander in Hillingdon, Alan Matthews, and all those police officers and civilian staff who give of their best and are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. I also thank the Hillingdon community and police consultative group. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)—who cannot be present today, as he has to attend a funeral—my close neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), and I are beginning to get a consensus going on ensuring that desperately needed police resources come Hillingdon' s way. Sadly, despite our best efforts, that does not seem to be happening.
I have repeatedly raised the problems affecting us. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, I recently had a meeting with the new Commissioner, who assured us that there would be no further reductions in the number of police officers in the Hillingdon division. That is true, according to the figures that have now been given for the establishment. However, the Commissioner omitted to say that there would be a further reduction in civilian posts.
The Commissioner was, understandably, very careful in what he said. The number given for the establishment was 380, but because of the problems of recruitment and retention, about which we have heard time and again, the actual number of officers is 356. To try to fill some of those roles with civilians, four officer posts have effectively been swapped for eight civilian posts. I hope that that is only a temporary measure and that we will not lose four officer posts.
As I commented to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), the position regarding police stations in the Hillingdon division is 593 worse than it was on 3 May. There is now no police station with a front desk open between 2 am and 6 am. That reinforces the worries of local residents. Although Hillingdon is not a high crime borough in statistical terms, the local authority's annual survey of local residents has consistently shown crime to be the No. 1 issue of concern.
One of the figures that concerns me greatly and which I do not think is generally known yet to the residents of Hillingdon is the clear-up rate. A parliamentary answer in the Official Report on 22 May this year shows that the clear-up rate in 1995–95 was 23 per cent. The figure rose to 24 per cent. the following year. In 1999–2000, incredibly, the clear-up rate for crimes in the Hillingdon division is 12 per cent. If that is not an indictment of the ever-falling number of police officers, I do not know what will get the message across.
Recruitment and retention is, of course, a serious problem. I welcome the news today about the housing allowance. As an employer, I worry about the retention of officers who are pre-Sheehy, who may see that as slightly divisive. I understand the difficulties involved in such a decision, but I say to the Minister that although the increase may encourage new recruits, it may also make some older officers feel that they are not quite as well regarded as they should be.
Not only my constituents, but businesses throughout the area, are worried about the increasing level of crime and the apparent difficulty in getting a police response. As we heard earlier, the problem is not just the time taken to respond to a 999 call, but the difficulty in getting through to the emergency services on 999.
If the situation were not so frightening, it would almost be farcical—the idea of someone dialling 999 and being greeted by a message saying, "I'm sorry, we are busy at the moment. Your call is held in a queue", or perhaps, with modern innovation, "Press 1 if you are being attacked; press 2 if you are being burgled; press 3 if you are lying in a pool of blood." However, it is not funny. It is one of the most nightmarish situations imaginable. People think that if they are the targets of crime, they can summon help by dialling 999. I can imagine nothing more awful for many vulnerable people than not being able to get through.
I understand the problems. I know of one case in which a constituent rang 999 to find out what happened to his correspondence with the Commissioner. I recognise that the system is abused, but we must ensure that those who require the service get an instant response.
In Hillingdon, and especially in the community and police consultative group, we feel strongly about permanent beat officers. The number of those officers has been cut, and they constitute one of the elements that have often been targeted. Reports from so-called experts state that bobbies on the beat are not efficient in catching criminals or deterring crime. However, police officers who know their patch and the people on it are essential to developing effective policing and good police-community relations, which are vital.
Such officers do not have to walk up and down the streets all the time, but local people must know that there are officers whose job is to take an interest in the area. Those officers can meet local residents, go into schools, make local contacts and gather intelligence. Those are 594 essential parts of community policing. In the light of those observations, will the Minister tell me—in his winding—up speech or later—whether the Home Office has undertaken any research on the role and effectiveness of permanent beat officers? If it has not, perhaps there is scope for commissioning such research.
Is there any evidence that community policing helps or hinders the recruitment and retention of staff? If there is no answer because no one has looked into the matter, perhaps that, too, could be researched. Is there any scope in the current crime reduction programme for grant aid to local projects, which could test the benefits of community policing while acknowledging that there may not be an immediate reduction in crime statistics?
Hillingdon has faced repeated cuts in resources in recent years. As several of my hon. Friends have said, the precept has increased and residents do not feel that they get anything like value for money. We realise that resources for the Metropolitan police are allocated on a national basis and that the Met then has an allocation. Various formulae are used. We consistently ask for an explanation of the basis of allocation at London level. What is the magic formula? Is it on the back of a cigarette packet somewhere? If so, we shall never find out what it is.
Another factor that affects Hillingdon and that should be taken into account is that, although crime levels are important in allocating resources, the size of a place should also be considered. Hillingdon is the second largest borough in London, and the police have to cover huge distances to get to scenes of crime. There are some rural areas in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood. Many of the suburban issues that we have discussed apply to rural problems. The Government have considered that problem, and, for various reasons, rural policing is beginning to come into line. I have a nasty feeling that, once again, suburbia, or even semi-urban areas, will miss out because we will be squeezed between the inner city and rural areas.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be brief. Pensions have not been mentioned. At some point, a Government will have to face up to that problem. It is a time bomb, and if the nettle is not grasped, our debates, whatever their form in future, will become increasingly difficult for the Home Secretary, whoever he will be. The fire service and the pensions issue will probably cause us more problems than anything else.
The major concerns of my constituents are the fear of crime and the visibility of the police. I urge the Minister to take note of the views from suburbia.
§ Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to this debate. I shall be brief because I am acutely conscious that a significant number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall raise a couple of local issues and a couple of initiatives that are crucial to policing in my constituency of Hammersmith and Fulham.
I am pleased to report that there is an increasingly close working liaison between the police and the local authority, which continues to go well. May I take this opportunity publicly to thank our local borough police commander, Chief Superintendent Anthony Wills, for his strong commitment to a partnership approach with all the 595 relevant major local agencies, such as the health authority, the business sector and the local council? Their work, with the support of volunteer, residents and tenants groups, has led to successful partnership initiatives to fight crime and disorder, and to build an environment in which a spirit of community and neighbourhood renewal is possible. I recall the bad days of the 1980s, when the police and the local council were continually at war. They refused to consult each other and spent their time issuing increasingly negative public statements about each other. The effect of such a dire relationship between those two important bodies was that our residents, especially those in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the community, suffered. Now, a new environment of trust and tolerance exists. It is important that we continue to build on that relationship for the benefit of the people whom the council and I were elected to serve, and on whose behalf the police are paid to carry out their duties.
The House has already debated football hooliganism this week, but I want to discuss briefly the policing of football matches. Hammersmith and Fulham police division is unique in being the only police command in the United Kingdom—and probably in the world—to have three professional league clubs within its borders. Those are Chelsea, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers football clubs. Last season alone, 92 matches were played within the borough, including in the European Champions league, the FA Cup, other cups and the league. Those matches were policed by a total of 6,749 officers, many of whom came from other divisions in the capital. Inevitably, that creates a tremendous demand on the division, in both managerial and operational terms. However, the local police have had considerable success in meeting their crime objectives and deserve to be congratulated on their performance.
Over the past three years, because of efficiency measures and the remarkable success of police operations, it has become possible to reduce staff levels. However, I am reliably informed that there is now little scope for further reductions. I am concerned that the extra £80,000 awarded to the local police last year to deal specifically with football-related policing has been cut from the budget for next year. Although £80,000 from Hammersmith and Fulham's budget of more than £30 million may seem irrelevant, my hon. Friend the Minister will understand that the vast bulk of that budget is taken up by salary costs, and that the flexibility available in the budget to the senior management is extremely limited. Indeed, the entire overtime budget is less than £500,000, and it should be possible to review the decision to cut the extra resources that have been available to police football matches locally.
Although no responsible or sane person would wish in any way to condone the disgraceful scenes of English thugs causing mayhem and violence at Euro 2000 that we have witnessed on our TV screens—especially in the "Panorama" programme, which many hon. Members will have seen—one fact remains unchallengeable: the high-quality, intelligent and experienced policing of football matches in England is directly attributable to our going a long way to eradicate the appalling scenes of hooliganism at football matches that take place in England, London and Hammersmith and Fulham. That eradication is of course to be welcomed, but it comes with the price of often heavy policing to ensure that civil unrest and disobedience are not allowed to occur.
596 The same category C thugs who organised the orchestrated violence in Euro 2000 are present at all our football league grounds. There are certainly some at Chelsea, Fulham and QPR every week. We should all remember who has the job of controlling them every week, and what a successful job they do, but I reiterate that that costs money.
I also draw to the attention of the House the ward-based policing initiative in Hammersmith and Fulham, which has proved to be especially successful. Each of the borough's 24 wards now has a dedicated community police officer to respond directly to local policy issues and build strong relationships with the community. An inspector oversees two wards and, following widespread local consultation, ward-based objectives specific to that particular area have been agreed.
Those objectives deal with problems such as graffiti and young people causing vandalism and disorder, which tend to be the ones mentioned most often by the local community as adversely affecting the quality of life and to which many hon. Members have referred. There is no doubt that that genuine exercise in community action has allowed police locally to devote more time and effort to the issues of principal concern to local residents.
In the truancy watch scheme being operated in my constituency, Hammersmith and Fulham police, working with their partners in the education department, are now utilising recent Government legislation to combat truancy. There is a clear link between absence from school and young people's involvement in crime and disorder, and the truancy watch initiative is intended to reduce the number of young people who become involved in anti-social behaviour.
Several of those operations have taken place and the last truancy watch was on 8 June 2000, when there were five joint patrols between police, education and social services departments. Four primary schools, as well as secondary schools, were targeted and a considerable number of young people were spoken to, including 30 who were stopped and questioned about why they were not at school.
Such co-operation and collaboration is another excellent example of partnership working in practice to deal with a perennial problem in a new, imaginative fashion, and all those working together should be congratulated on introducing yet another successful new initiative locally.
§ Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)
The police service is essential, as are nursing and the fire service, and should be valued as such. Unfortunately, just being valued is not enough; it does not buy homes for police officers. They should be paid a salary that allows them to cope with the cost of living in London.
We face difficulties in retaining police officers and recruiting new officers to the service. A decade ago, there were more than 28,000 police in London, but there has been a steady decline in numbers since then. In the early 1990s, the previous Government set up the Sheehy inquiry into police pay and structure. Although many factors contribute to those recruitment and retention problems, Sheehy has brought specific difficulties to the Met. I shall illustrate them.
597 Two of my constituents are serving Metropolitan police officers. One told me that he pounds the beat in central London with a colleague who joined the police force after he did. My constituent joined before Sheehy came into force in 1994. They do exactly the same job, but my constituent earns £4,600 a year more than his colleague. Another constituent came to London from Northumberland. He is a post-Sheehy officer, and cannot afford to remain in London. He is now looking for jobs in other forces.
Pre-Sheehy figures for the last decade show a steady decline. The peak in London was at 28,455 in 1990. By 1993, the figure had dropped below 28,000, to 27,867—a fall of 592. The Government published their response to Sheehy in October 1993; its main findings were to be implemented on 1 September 1994. March 1994 saw a drop of 173. By the end of March 1995, six months after the implementation of the Sheehy findings, the London figure had dropped by 1,178.
The pattern is similar in England and Wales. The peak occurred in 1993, at 126,164—an increase of 606 on 1992. By March 1994 the figure had dropped by 351, but by the end of March 1995—again, post-Sheehy—it had dropped by 2,069. After that there was a significant increase, due largely to a massive recruitment drive in the capital to stop the decline. Overall, the figure for England and Wales increased by 1,071 in 1996, but most of that is covered by an increase of 889 in the Metropolitan police. The figure fell in London, however—by 628 in 1997, and by a further 583 in 1998—although the overall figure for England and Wales remained static, in that it rose by 243 in 1997 and fell by a similar amount in 1998.
More recently, the recruitment problem has increased again, and the Metropolitan force is bracing itself for a large number of resignations. Joining the police is not an attractive option for many people. It is not just a problem of pay; serious problems were created in London by the removal of the housing allowance and the implementation of Sheehy, and the force has not recovered from that.
The earnings survey shows that police salaries have kept pace with other public sector salaries. They increased by 25.7 per cent. for all non-manual staff between 1993 and 1999, and police salaries in general increased by 20.1 per cent. The increase for other public sector workers was 18.5 per cent., however.
Our problem in London and the south-east is caused as much by the strength of the economy as by housing difficulties. The strong economy is creating opportunities outside the police force. As those opportunities increase, and as confidence grows, pay cannot keep pace with private sector salaries, and more and more officers are being attracted to other jobs. That is causing a growing recruitment and retention problem.
New recruits earn about £16,500. They receive a London allowance of £1,011, and London weighting of £1,662. That brings their salary up to £19,300. I understand from my local police force that the average basic pay of officers who have served for 10 years—who make up the bulk of the service—is about £24,306. In London especially, it is difficult to retain officers, who find that they cannot earn enough to buy a house and provide for their families.
598 My local force also tells me that it has not been uncommon in the past for serving officers to receive family credit. As the economy forges ahead, the pressure on the Government to deal with the problem of salaries will increase. I think that it needs urgent attention. There is no doubt that recruitment problems can be traced back to the implementation of Sheehy. In addition to the problem of the cost of living in London, there was the disastrous decision to remove the housing allowance and the freeze applied to officers serving from before 1 September 1994. The Government are right to address those problems. History shows that the Metropolitan police has attracted officers from outside London, and the housing allowance has allowed them to come here. Its removal has prevented such recruitment—people who would come to London are choosing not to.
Attitudes towards the police are also a problem. There have been many problems in that area over the years, notably, though not only, the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) referred to compensation for the Lawrence family. The impact of the Macpherson inquiry on the Metropolitan police has been highly negative. I do not agree with everything said by the Mayor of London, and I will doubtless disagree with him in future, but he was right to say that we must draw a line beneath the Lawrence inquiry if we are to tackle underlying dissatisfaction. The police are not attractive to many people. A realistic settlement with the Lawrences to compensate for how the police treated them after the murder of their son should be achieved.
Several other high-profile cases have made the police unattractive to many people. There were areas of corruption in Westminster police and problems with Kent police. There has been racism and the Michael Menson and McGowan family cases. Each of those issues calls into question the standing of the police in the eyes of the public. They have brought about large-scale dissatisfaction, and they lead to problems of recruitment.
Several notable initiatives have been taken in my constituency. Greenwich police has led the way in racial awareness training through partnerships with local youth services and the local authority. That has allowed the police to bring young people—those whom the police confront on a day-to-day basis—into training sessions at which they can discuss problems. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies): young people do complain, not about being stopped and searched, but about the police taking the attitude that they are guilty before they are searched. Those people do not think it unreasonable that they should be stopped, but the manner in which it is done and the way in which they are spoken to are issues that the police must resolve.
Greenwich is about to lose 28 extra officers provided to deal with anticipated problems arising from the millennium experience. Those problems have not transpired, but the officers have been effectively used across the borough. High-visibility patrols have been provided, and partnerships in the community were created. Those officers have worked closely with the local authority.
Statistics for Greenwich show the difference that they have made. Burglary is down by 8 per cent., while it has increased across London by 4 per cent. Street crime is down 4 per cent., but across London it has risen by 36 599 per cent. Arrests for intent to supply drugs rose by 20 per cent. in Greenwich, but there was a 20 per cent. reduction across London. In April and May, car crime was cut by 20 per cent. while London's figure remained almost static, and street crime fell by 17 per cent. and burglary by 30 per cent. Overall, notifiable crime was down by 8 per cent. in Greenwich.
I asked a local inspector how he would account for that. He said that we need good partnerships with the local community and officers to do the job. Today's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will start to address the decline in the number of officers, but whatever we do in future must ensure that we have enough officers to allow the police to do their job.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), my immediate parliamentary neighbour, opened the debate from the Back Benches, and I agreed with a great deal of what she said. I geographically have been bracketed on the Opposition Benches by my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). Now, I speak for the heart of the capital.
It is a pleasure to follow directly the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), who, if I may say so as a Londoner, always speaks most effectively on London problems. It is a genuine privilege to speak after him.
The Home Secretary opened his speech on the cusp between the first 171 years of the Met's history and the new era which is now opening out. Veterans of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 Standing Committee—whom I have seen in the Chamber today from all three parties—will remember our debates on the very provisions that are now being introduced. The template of legislation for rural forces obviously had to be significantly modified for the Met and for the special problems of Greater London.
I wish the Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority well, as I do Sir Paul Condon. I saw him on new year's eve. It was an evening when the Government set some of us a challenge by telling us to dress appropriately for one of their events. In Sir Paul's case, there was no problem, for he was in uniform. It is a great pleasure that that particular night passed off so well at the end of his career. I wish well, too, Sir John Stevens, with whom I had connections in Northern Ireland.
Inevitably, there is a constituency tendency to this debate. However, I should like to open with one or two general London and pan-London issues. I congratulate the Government genuinely and sincerely on the working of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and on the spirit of collaboration with local government that they have inspired by that. The Association of London Government has welcomed borough-based policing, and hopes that borough-based recruitment initiatives can be developed.
In that context, it is worth remarking on the subject of ethnic minority recruitment, for which the targets are well known. The general officer commanding, London district wrote to a number of London Members with large ethnic minority communities in their constituencies on the subject of recruiting ethnic minorities into the armed forces. Although not all of those Members acceded to his 600 request, he has paid tribute to the quality of advice and help that he received from hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is an initiative that might have relevance to the Met as well.
I do not want to dwell at length on the issues of attraction, motivation and retention, very important though I recognise them to be, for they were dealt with at considerable and admirable length by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). On the other hand, although of course we welcome the Government's housing announcement, which has been foreshadowed in the past couple of days, and has now been announced in this debate by the Home Secretary—I genuinely admire the way in which the Home Secretary deflected the Commissioner's thoughtful reaction to the announcement, which was quoted by my hon. Friend, the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—we shall need to continue to watch the practical effects of that housing announcement.
We cannot forget—I am talking about history, not seeking to make a partisan point—the loss of experienced police sergeants around the age of 35 that we sustained in the 1970s, until the Edmund-Davies report was introduced, and subsequently implemented by the incoming Conservative Government. The Met paid a very heavy price in the quality of officers that they lost in the middle of the 1970s. There is, therefore, a concern to see how that particular initiative works.
There is a genuine problem that effective policing can lead the commanders of those particular borough forces not to be reinforced, as there are greater problems elsewhere, which obviously creates problems for morale in the forces under them. There is no doubt at all that concern about police numbers is being reflected at sector working group meetings in south Westminster, as well as in the constituency of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. It is being noticed and then reflected in comment.
Still at the pan-London level, there was concern on the Standing Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill about the police community consultative groups' statutory cover being removed in that legislation. Westminster has always had strong groups, with three groups throughout the city and sub-groups on specific issues such as homelessness and licensing. I suspect that, over the years to come, one of the most valuable developments in that sector will be new sub-groups looking at specific issues such as licensing and homelessness, as the new sector working groups, of which there are 15 in Westminster, themselves gather strength in working within the community on the ground.
As I have mentioned homelessness and licensing in that context, let me dwell briefly on them in a police context. I am an admirer of the integrated approach to issues of rough sleeping, led by Louise Casey, but derived from earlier work. In the past year, that has been deployed effectively in Westminster, as it had been in Camden and Lambeth.
In terms of licensing, the police community consultative sub-committee, which is chaired by a notable west end licensee, my constituent Matthew Bennett, produced a very good report and has since taken central Government officials around Soho at three and four in the morning, which, I will remark neutrally, has had the effect of opening eyes. Of course, one can build in conditions 601 for licences, and licence holders can make commitments when they are securing their licences, but if, overall, three times as many licensees are operating in the west end compared with 20 years ago, and the number of police monitoring them remains static, inevitably, the quality of monitoring must fall.
Licensing takes one with natural elision to the Government's enthusiasm for a 24-hour city. Let me make it clear that I realise that a lot of crime, especially robbery, occurs on commercial premises and in entertainment outlets. I salute the work in collaboration with Westminster city council and the police to prevent and to make crime less likely through a series of management initiatives on those premises, but, necessarily, entertainment outlets feel less responsibility for their patrons once they have left their premises. That is where much of the problem can occur, which makes for sleep-disturbed nights for local residents.
I am told that there are more people in Leicester square at 3 am than there are at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. There is a real risk of the police losing control of order in those circumstances. Westminster city council has already had to have second thoughts about pedestrianisation schemes in Soho. It is bound to have third, fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts about the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar square. It is close to Leicester square. The record thrower of a cricket ball in cricket history could just about cover the distance between Leicester square and Trafalgar square, but if there are potential problems in losing control in Leicester square, they are a fortiori worse in a space as large as Trafalgar square.
It can be safely policed on great occasions, but, if it is pedestrianised, we are talking about a 24-hour city, 365 days a year. It took three deaths at a Garibaldi demonstration in Hyde park in 1862 to persuade the then Government to create the narrower focus of Speaker's corner. The scale of space does matter.
I am conscious that the nature of my constituency in several ways—the size of the non-resident population and its high profile—attracts crime. In 1978, Home Secretary Lord Merlyn-Rees warned me when I visited him to discuss the El Al shootings in Mayfair that I had to expect at least half the terrorist crime in London to occur in the constituency. He and the Commissioner were extremely good in their response to a major street prostitution problem in Shepherd Market in the same year, to which 24 women police constables were posted for a prolonged and effective period. Prostitution is an activity that has been subject to local displacement throughout London's history, which one can trace in Stephen Inwood's new book.
In paying contemporary tribute to the Home Secretary and the Commissioner for the resources that have been put into combating street trading in drugs in Soho, I note that exactly the same displacement effect is occurring—which is at least a temporary index of success and effectiveness—and moving the problem to the top end of the Charing Cross road, which brings the London borough of Camden into the issue. I hope that the Met can continue to sustain the campaign, with all its implications for the tourism industry.
The same collaboration with the private sector to which I referred in connection with robbery also relates to the work in designing out crime, as previously done in 602 housing estates, which is now being done on major thoroughfares in the west end, under the auspices of Sir John Wheeler, a most distinguished former Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.
The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North referred to closed circuit television in the west end. Of course, that played a significant part in the nail bombs detection and the Soho drugs campaign. The Minister of State is always good enough to write and tell me about CCTV developments in my constituency. However, as with police speed cameras monitoring motorists, running costs are a problem and CCTV's effectiveness necessarily depends on its being switched on.
I want to say a quick word about drunks in custody. My constituency is not immediately affected by the current trend towards joint custody suites shared by more than one station, as mentioned in the Evening Standard. Given the problems of both cost and nimbyism surrounding detoxification centres, on which there have been no swifter developments under this than under the previous Government, I am delighted that the Kent experiment of having resident nurses on duty to help with drunks in custody is now being tested at the Met's Charing Cross police station. It will be interesting to see how it develops.
The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North referred to the commander in the royal borough. The last time she spoke in such a debate, she referred warmly to the commander in Westminster, Bob Currie. He is about to retire after 32 years in the police service, initially in Cumbria and latterly—and for a long time—in the Met. Westminster is grateful to him for his leadership.
§ Mr. Brooke
It adds pleasure to the event that I have stimulated that intervention from the hon. Lady. The fact that Bob Currie is to be succeeded by a Deputy Assistant Commissioner is a neat compliment to the national aspects of Westminster's policing, as well as the local ones.
I spoke about the City of London police at greater length in the two previous debates on London policing. I pay tribute to them today in recording the 1998 level of public satisfaction with them, reported by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, at 84 per cent., the highest for any force in the country with foot and mobile patrols.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire drew attention to that force's loss of personnel. I realise that that is due significantly to the ceasefire in Northern Ireland, but I hope that the loss would be swiftly corrected if, heaven forfend, Irish terrorism in the capital were to resume.
§ Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). I, too, served in Committee on the Greater London Authority Bill, and I had the pleasure of hearing many of his contributions, liberally sprinkled with historical and literary quotations which amused many of us.
603 I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his announcement today, which will go a long way towards addressing many of the issues about policing that have been a constant theme in many of the speeches in this debate. Decisions such as the one taken by Sheehy as long ago as 1994 have long-term effects that cannot always be seen in the first months or even years. Today's announcement is welcome, but its benefits will come through in years rather than months. London has enormous problems in the recruitment and retention of police, so it is good that the Government are attempting to address that.
I emphasise the importance of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which has significantly influenced the improvements in policing throughout the Metropolitan police area. There are always difficulties, as we hear from constituents who have not had an adequate response from the police, but generally the figures show that there is high satisfaction with the Metropolitan police, and they provide good service throughout London. The Act will continue to have a lasting and beneficial influence, and increased resourcing of local partnership will lead to even greater success.
By resourcing, I do not necessarily mean additional funding for the Metropolitan police service, although it will always welcome that. In my constituency, the local authority's adverse financial position means that it is unable to contribute to and participate in local partnerships as effectively as we would like. The 1998 Act places important obligations on local authorities which require adequate resources if benefits are to be forthcoming.
I can give a positive example. In Havering, the local community safety strategy, developed as a result of the 1998 Act, involves the police and the local authority working towards reducing injury in road traffic accidents. That is, admittedly, a small component of the strategy, but it illustrates my point. Community police officers and local government officers visit schools and emphasise the need for improved road safety. They concentrate, in part, on the need for seat belts. My young son, who attends a local school, had the benefit of one of those visits, and I can see by his actions that it has impressed on him the urgent need to belt up as soon as he gets into the car.
The important point is that since that strategy was introduced, there has been a 55 per cent. reduction in in-car injuries, and it is mostly young children who have benefited. There are also the knock-on effects of fewer visits to accident and emergency departments and fewer days off school. Community police officers and the local authority have worked together to deliver positive results. From talking to the local police and other members of the partnership in Havering, I know that they would like to develop other initiatives, but they are restricted by local authority resources. I am sure that many other benefits would flow from such work.
There are similar problems in dealing with youth crime. It is recognised locally that street crime, anti-social behaviour and vandalism can be targeted through better youth provision and the use of outreach workers. However, cuts made to those services, largely during the 18 years of Conservative Government, cannot be restored, so there is a lack of local youth provision. In my view and that of the local partnership, that is a contributory factor in youth crime.
604 Some projects remain. My constituency has the particular problems of motorcycle theft and of motorcycles owned by young people being ridden over local fields, causing disturbance and nuisance. A motorcycle project is being developed through single regeneration budget funding. The local police participate in that and encourage disaffected young people, and those with records of offending, to participate. The police run training schemes and identify areas where the motorcycles can be used under supervision. The scheme has helped to reduce accidents and associated crime. Constituents are enthusiastic about the scheme, and when they see the benefits from it they wish that it could be extended elsewhere.
Funding is not the only issue. Londonwide, and indeed nationwide, the crime statistics and the Audit Commission's performance indicators clearly demonstrate that benefits accrue to policing by means other than additional funding. The key question from the performance indicators is why there are such large variations in performance between similar police forces. An example from the indicators is that in the west midlands—which also has a metropolitan police force—the clean-up rate is more than a third higher than that of the Metropolitan police. However, because of the change in the rules for counting crimes, it is difficult to compare the performance of individual forces over the past few years.
The Metropolitan police service has the highest number of police officers available for ordinary duty per 1,000 population at 3.2, when the national average is 2.1. However, the London figure has fallen since 1994-95 by 0.4 per cent., the largest decrease nationwide. The announcement today will, I hope, address that decline. At the same time, expenditure on the Metropolitan police per head of population is approximately £220, but the national average is £118. Again, the Met has seen the largest reduction in the years since 1994–95 of approximately £12 per head.
Almost all police authorities increased their expenditure, adjusted for inflation, over the past five years, but the Met has reduced expenditure by 5 per cent. That reduction has had a debilitating effect on the outer-London divisions, such as Havering, with lower police numbers and some reductions in services, including reductions in police station hours. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) mentioned the Collier Row police station, which was highlighted for closure. After an effective campaign, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mrs. Gordon)—who is unable to be present for the debate—the police station remains open, albeit with reduced hours.
I congratulate the local borough commander, Chief Superintendent Bob Youldon, and, in my own constituency, Sergeant Walford, who is responsible for community policing. I receive significant support and assistance from those officers in dealing with constituency complaints and inquiries.
During the year, the Havering police continued to respond to the many demands made on them. The borough, and Romford town in particular, continued to attract growing numbers of visitors to the many social activities and shopping facilities available, which inevitably has contributed to the increase in reported crime, especially street crime, vehicle-related crime and violence against the person. However, Havering is one of 605 London's safest boroughs and the need to reassure and effectively communicate the actual levels of crime to the public is highlighted in the local crime and disorder audit.
The success in reducing residential burglary has been offset by the increase in the number of non-residential offences so that overall there has been a 5 per cent. increase in the total number of burglaries committed. Operation Arrow, a pro-active initiative funded by challenge money, was established to stem the increase and had a significant effect during the second half of the year, when non-residential burglaries were reduced by 22 per cent.
Street crime has shown a significant percentage increase, especially in the Romford town centre area, but that needs to be put into its true perspective in that the actual number of offences—an average of 20 a month—is the lowest of all London boroughs. Vehicle crime increased by 2 per cent., with areas in and around Romford town centre, and Harold Hill in my constituency, being identified as hot spots.
The offences of drug supply and of possession with intent to supply are measured by the number of judicial disposals. That number fell last year, and one probable cause was the deterrent effect of the positive action taken, with the management of late-night licensed premises, to identify and arrest drug abusers as they enter night clubs. That is another example of a good working partnership, and similar examples involve other agencies in the judicial process.
Crimes and other incidents with racial elements increased last year, with recorded offences at levels double those of the previous year, although improved public awareness and greater confidence in reporting crimes were almost certainly factors in the rise. The commitment to meet the challenges involved in all aspects of hate crimes or of crimes committed against vulnerable groups will place greater demands on police and community safety unit staff.
My regular meetings with chief superintendent Bob Youldon and his team are also attended by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) and for Romford. They have proved positive and beneficial.
This is the third debate of this Parliament on policing in London. Even though the Greater London Assembly and the new Metropolitan Police Authority have roles to play, I believe that these debates should continue. Members of Parliament will continue to receive representations from constituents, and it is useful to be able raise in debate concerns about police issues in the Greater London area, as hon. Members of all parties have experience in this important area of public life and service.
I congratulate Sir John Stevens and all Metropolitan police staff on their achievements. I wish the new MPA and the GLA all success in the work that they are about to commence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I cannot impose a time limit on speeches by Back-Bench Members at this stage in a debate, but if hon. Members can try to keep their remarks to about 10 minutes in length it will be possible for everyone to contribute.
§ Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)
I rise to speak in this debate as a Surrey Member of Parliament. A significant part of the Metropolitan police was transferred back to the county of Surrey this year. Some years ago I was a London councillor and I represented an area that stretched as far as Paddington Green, in which there were several police section houses. I have followed the fortunes of the Metropolitan police very carefully over the past few years.
In his opening remarks, the Home Secretary spoke about the recruiting difficulties faced by the Metropolitan police. His observations contrast with what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told a debate in Westminster Hall. Only two months ago, on 24 May, he said about the Metropolitan police,retention in the police is not a major problem.He went on to make a favourable comparison between turnover in the Metropolitan force and in the economy as a whole, and he cited Confederation of British Industry figures for 1998–99. Clearly, the Home Secretary will have more up-to-date information, and one wonders whether the new recruiting difficulties that he has described stem from problems that have developed and grown since.
§ Mr. Edward Davey
I happen to have the Hansard report of the debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Although it is not my job to defend the Financial Secretary, I can tell the House that, immediately after the sentence to which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) referred, he went on to say:However, there have been recruitment difficulties, which are being dealt with through the police negotiating board.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 24 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 225WH.]
§ Mr. St. Aubyn
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Financial Secretary said that retention of police was not a problem.
Clearly, there have been growing difficulties in the past year. Why have they developed? The problem seems to be about more than money. House prices and the cost of living in the capital have risen dramatically over the past eight years, but the really decisive problem over the past year or two has been the deterioration in morale in the Metropolitan police.
Recently, I attended a meeting with the Surrey police authority at the Surrey police headquarters at Mount Browne in my constituency. We were informed of the very low morale in the Metropolitan police. There is no doubt that a key reason for that drop in morale is the impact of the Macpherson report. The problem has to be dealt with sensitively and carefully, but we must address it in this debate. In 1988, the number of stop-and-search operations undertaken on a quarterly basis by the Metropolitan police was 85,000; by the middle of 1999, the number had dropped to only 60,000. During the same period, street crime rose by 30 per cent.
Some of the more recent recruitment difficulties for the Metropolitan police have reflected the serious consequences of the change in operational performance and the constraints that the police feel that they are now under.
§ Mr. Heald
Was my hon. Friend making a distinction between retention and recruitment? Does he agree that 607 about 6,000 officers a year are leaving the police service in Britain? Does he agree that that high figure is one of the reasons why measures such as the crime fighting fund will not achieve all that is hoped for them?
§ Mr. St. Aubyn
I agree and I feel that the Financial Secretary was being complacent in his remarks about the retention problems in the police force. I shall explain how retention in the Surrey police will be seriously affected by today's announcement by the Home Secretary, however well intentioned it may have been.
Clearly, the Macpherson report was well intentioned, but it has not achieved the results meant for it. In January, Sir Paul Condon said that police officers' lives had been damaged in a way from which they would never recover. The report was an attempt to address a real problem in the police—the problem, arguably even a culture, of racism. However, it was going too far to state that there was institutional racism. No one here would want to condone racism. I spent nearly a year living and working in Soweto in the era of apartheid. That was institutional racism. The Metropolitan police did not face a problem of that scale. Evidently, the way in which the problem was described had an impact on morale at a time when the police were already trying to deal with the problems in their ranks.
The new arrangements for post-Sheehy officers in the force are part of the price of failure that we have to pay for the Macpherson report and its consequences, and there will be a knock-on effect on other police authorities. In Surrey, we have a particular problem because part of Surrey's responsibility was taken over in April this year from the Metropolitan force. For a handover period, officers are being seconded from the Metropolitan police to Surrey. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify the precise status of those officers and whether they are post-Sheehy officers, in terms of today's announcement.
If those officers are to be awarded the extra £64 a week on top of the existing differential over the Surrey officers with whom they will be working, that will highlight a discrepancy. If they do not receive the extra award of £64, they will find that they face all of the difficulties of their former colleagues—as very few of them will have moved house since they were seconded to Surrey—without any of the new help announced today by the Home Secretary.
That is a pivotal example of a wider problem that will face us in Surrey. Up until now, we have had a differential between Surrey and the Metropolitan police of around £3,000 a year. Following today's announcement, that will go up to £6,000 a year. The same will be true of the other home counties. I was grateful that the Home Secretary recognised the scale of the problem, which was expressed to me during the recent meeting at Mount Browne. The size of the differential has grown so much that there will be a transfer of police officers from Surrey and other surrounding forces, meaning that the recruitment problem has not been solved, but merely transferred. We fear that, at the same time, some of the problems of morale will be transferred, because we have discovered from London's experience of the past few years that it is one thing to lose morale, but a far harder thing to rebuild it.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier, I am discussing the matter with the chief constables of the forces concerned. However, does 608 he believe that, for that reason, my right hon. Friend's announcement today should not have been made, or does he think it should have been made but more should be done? I should be grateful for clarification on that point.
§ Mr. St. Aubyn
I think that, as the Minister responsible for all policing in this country, the Home Secretary should have made an announcement that encompassed all policing in this country and not confined his remarks to the Metropolitan police. Of course, the Met will welcome the award and I acknowledge that there is a job to be done to rebuild the morale, effectiveness and success of the London force. The Home Secretary made the comparison between a London police constable of five years' experience who will now earn £27,600 a year and a London teacher of many years' experience who will earn only £26,300 a year and expressed the hope that that will attract more people into policing. However, the problems in policing cannot in the long term be addressed at the expense of other public services, so his approach is short-sighted.
The real problem at the heart of police and public service recruitment in London is the skills gap, represented by the fact that there are now in our economy 1 million vacancies, many of which are in the London area. That is the highest number of vacancies recorded at any time in the past 10 years or more, and it has serious consequences for the economy. In my opinion, it reflects directly the Government's failure to maintain the number of people going through college, especially further education colleges, that the Conservatives had achieved by the time they left office in 1997. Cumulatively, since 1997, 500,000 fewer students have completed FE courses. The knock-on effect of that is the growing skills gap. That, in turn, has affected recruitment to the police and other public services as private sector employers have used their flexibility to raise salaries. As a result, the police are now being forced to raise their salaries in London and I predict that there will be knock-on consequences for forces elsewhere in the country.
I am mindful of your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have appreciated the opportunity to participate in a well-informed debate and to hear the speeches of other hon. Members. I hope that the Minister will deal with the points that I have raised when he replies the debate.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
To be able to speak in this important debate and reflect the views of my constituents, I have not gone on a visit to Northern Ireland with the Select Committee on Defence.
I recall a former Conservative Home Secretary meeting a group of Labour Members of Parliament and telling them that crime had a connection with enterprise. His audience was deeply unimpressed with that complacent excuse for the huge rise in crime recorded under Conservative Administrations. Crime doubled under the Conservatives: in London, violent crime increased by an astonishing 259 per cent. To an increasing extent, young offenders got away with their crimes; if they were caught, it took an age to get them to court. Nothing was done to tackle anti-social behaviour, including the vicious racial attacks that ruined many decent people's lives. In the capital, between 1993 and 1998, the number of police fell by almost 2,000. The right hon. Member for Maidstone 609 and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), then a Home Office Minister, promised 5,000 more police officers, but instead delivered that reduction.
Turning around that legacy of lawlessness is a difficult task, but I appreciate that the current Government are making relentless progress. Crime has fallen by 7 per cent., and the Government are well on the way to fulfilling the Prime Minister's election pledge to halve the time taken from arrest to sentencing of persistent young offenders. In London, the time taken getting them to court was reduced by 35 per cent. between 1997 and 1999. Laws have been passed making racial violence and harassment crimes—something I first proposed to the House in 1985—and enabling local authorities to evict anti-social neighbours. Anti-social behaviour orders and detention and training orders are now available to the courts, and youth offender teams have been set up in many communities.
The Government have allocated cash to recruit an extra 1,113 police officers for London over the next couple of years. That is in addition to the Commissioner's plans. The Met has been set a target to increase the number of its ethnic minority officers from 865 to 6,526 to match the proportion in the local population. It is right to do that.
Targets have been set to reduce vehicle crime by 31 per cent., burglary by 10 per cent. and robberies by 15 per cent. in London over the next five years. Crime reduction partnerships have been set up, involving the police, local authorities and other key players. Those are up and running in every part of London.
Despite such programmes, there is a crime wave in my constituency. It is one thing to have the various youth offence orders in place; it is another thing to catch the youths in the first place. The 7 per cent. crime reduction is welcome. For some crimes, such as burglary, there has been a substantial reduction, but for others, such as vehicle and street crime, there has been an increase. In some parts of the country, there has been a big reduction in crime, which is welcome, but in other parts an increase has taken place. That seems to be the case in Leyton and Wanstead, and neither I nor my constituents like it.
There have been some horrendous exceptional crimes recently in my constituency: a murder, a robbery with a sawn-off shotgun, another robbery in which a security man almost lost his hand, a sniper with an air gun—I pay tribute to the police who apprehended the sniper—and a vicious racial attack. On top of that, there has been a high tide of youth crime, in which youngsters are the perpetrators as well as the victims. That spills over into the rest of the community. In some cases adults are the victims, and a fear of crime builds up as a result.
I know that the Commissioner has set up a safer streets programme, but it has not yet reached Leyton and Wanstead. What is it? When will it apply? That is the Commissioner's first real test, and my constituents are waiting to see whether he will pass it.
I refer the House to some comments from my recent constituency casework. A woman came to my last advice surgery from the Avenue estate, Leytonstone. She told me about a roaming bunch of youths, some as young as eight, who were very much into car crime. At 12.30 pm one day they were setting out to torch a car—a petrol can was found on the scene—but, fortunately, they were disturbed.
610 The head of Norlington school in Leytonstone, Mr. Neil Primrose, telephoned me only yesterday and spoke about muggings having reached crisis levels and impacting on the performance of the children at his school. He said that whereas there used to be one or two muggings in a whole term, on Monday evening alone there were four. He has called a public meeting on the subject, which I shall have to attend.
Gill Morley of Voluntary place, Wanstead wrote to me, stating:Wanstead has no wish to become a crime "hot spot".Christchurch Green has, in particular, turned into a late night meeting ground and walking along the High Street after dark usually means hearing screaming, shouting and the sound of fights. The park in daylight looks like a war zone—lights torn down, trees, benches and anything else to hand are trashed.Would you please make every effort to ensure Wanstead has an efficient and energetic police presence.
Mrs. S. J. Bass of Dangan road, Wanstead, a resident for 27 years, also wrote about the problems of Christchurch green and the George green, and listed a litany of crime and vandalism. She wrote:My home is located near Christchurch Green. I am appalled to see that this precious and valued green area which has for many years been used for the recreation and enjoyment of local people old and young has now become the chosen "hang out" for the ignorant and uncouth … Large groups "hang out" on the green at night and are very threatening.She continued:Petty crime and petty vandalism if ignored and tolerated eat their way through an area and it becomes a bad place to live.
Mr. and Mrs. Green of Spratt Hall road came to my advice surgery. They have been residents for 20 years and said that crime levels were the worst that they could remembers. They called for a visible police presence patrolling locally.
Mr. Baptiste of Warren road in Wanstead also visited my advice surgery. He has been a resident for 30 years and is shocked at the current position. He said:Wanstead is being targeted as a soft touch because there is no police presence.That situation cannot be allowed to persist.
The safer streets programme must become effective; police must be around to capture youths so that the relevant orders can be implemented. The courts and the authorities must act because long-term, generalised plans alone are no good. There should be foot patrols and a car presence when needed—for example, at night and at weekends. Response times must be faster. The police charter talks about police responding to 80 per cent. of calls in 12 minutes. That is not being achieved. One Wanstead family who were threatened with violent assault by a gang who were stealing the wheels off their car in broad daylight waited 28 minutes for the police to arrive. The criminals were long gone by then.
I support the provision of CCTV for small shopping and business areas, and the campaign by the local Guardian. However, I suspect that the Government would not. They emphasise large shopping and business centres, not smaller ones. There is also a problem of matching funds: it is more difficult for smaller businesses to contribute. However, smaller urban centres are important. The Government's priorities for CCTV should change to help them. I have written to the Chancellor urging a tax break and an insurance premium break for those who install CCTV and take other security measures.
611 The number of police for normal borough policing should be increased. Police are currently siphoned off for other purposes, which are perhaps laudable—for example, to supplement murder teams and murder review teams, and to go on secondment to the home counties. However, the Government should tackle the problem. I am pleased that they have made a start with today's announcement of a £64 a week pay rise for junior officers. Police numbers must increase, and that must permeate to the boroughs.
Let us consider small police station closures and limited opening times. My constituents argue strongly that Wanstead police station should be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Monday to Friday opening, from 10 am to 6 pm, is the plan. Even that is not achieved because of the inability to recruit suitable reception staff. A sergeant and two officers are based there. My efforts have led to the appointment of another two officers, but they cover a slightly larger area. The assumptions about the closure programme for small police stations should be reconsidered. Closures are made on the basis of cost and on the presumption of faster response times, which are not happening. The closures and run-downs make areas such as Wanstead vulnerable to crime.
Small urban shopping areas are like rural areas, but it is easier for the villains to gain access to them and to get away from them. The Government are trying to improve the policing of rural areas; they should do the same for smaller, urban parts of London. I note that there was no Conservative commitment to reopening police stations that have been closed or to opening them for longer.
The Tory years emphasised consumerism and instant gratification, without having to earn it. The Tory Government ignored young people: they did not listen to them, they took away their training and education opportunities, they did not provide proper work for them, and they closed down their youth clubs. That has created a yobbish culture, which is a serious problem at home and abroad. It shames Britain, as happened in Brussels last week. That is compounded by allegedly pro-British boorishness, lack of civility, xenophobia and racism, and the belief that other races and other nationalities are less human and can, therefore, be disrespected.
The Government have acted on several fronts, some of which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. Youth employment has been a particular achievement. We need to tackle the youth issue from several directions. The general plan of anti-crime partnerships must result in sustained action on the ground. That is not happening yet.
The Home Secretary should set up an urgent inquiry to ascertain what more needs to be done to turn the tide. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should loosen his purse strings to implement its recommendations, which I would expect to include more youth clubs, more mentors and ways to utilise our youth as an asset to the community, rather than a threat. Obviously, there must also be more effective policing throughout London.
Crime gets people down; the Government must get crime down. I know that Ministers are determined to do that.
§ Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)
May I put on record my thanks to, and admiration for, the Metropolitan police in general and, in particular, every single police officer working in Kingston division? They 612 are ably led by Chief Superintendent Alan Given, Chief Inspectors Keith Free, Paul Dowell and Nick Jupp, and DCI Kevin Hurley. Many PCs, such as Robert Newman, are embracing some of the new ideas and opportunities provided in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. They are doing a very good job and are committed to policing the streets of Kingston.
However, all the innovation in the world cannot make up for the lack of numbers, which is a serious problem in Kingston division. It suffered cuts in the run-up to the last election and has suffered cuts since, and now finds that it cannot even recruit to the establishment numbers that the Commissioner has allowed.
Recruitment has been the theme of this debate, but it is in real crisis. The Home Secretary made a welcome announcement at the beginning of the debate, but the question for the House and for the Government is whether the measure goes far enough to meet the extent of the recruitment crisis facing the Metropolitan police. I do not think it does.
The number of recruits going to the training colleges is down. The number coming from the training colleges to Kingston division has been down this year—the division has not had a new recruit for the past three months and is not expecting one until August because of the reduced number going through the training colleges. The increased salary allowance will be helpful, as it will presumably attract new recruits. The question is, is it large enough? Before the police arbitration board reached its conclusions earlier this week, the figures that were being discussed were significantly higher—we were looking at 5,000 and 6,000.
Another question is whether the pay award is wide enough. It is being made only to post-Sheehy police officers. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, the morale of pre-Sheehy senior police officers may be damaged by the fact that they are not covered by the award. Let us remember that they have withstood a lot of pressure over the past few years as numbers have dropped because of the Sheehy reforms. It is they who have stood by and taken on the extra work load. They have borne the brunt of the pressures, but their loyalty and commitment are not being rewarded. The Government must look after the pre-Sheehy Metropolitan police officers as well.
An awful lot of recovery is needed from the damage perpetrated by the Tories with the Sheehy reforms. That damage is severe, so it will take a good many measures from the Government to heal it. It will not be healed simply by a housing allowance or the future provision of houses; any measures must be wider than that to ensure that a career as a Metropolitan police officer is attractive and regarded as worthy and respectable. I cannot emphasise that point enough.
May I exemplify how the shortage of police officers has affected conditions in Kingston? Morale has fallen because of various changes that have been forced on the divisional commander as a result of the lack of police officers. For example, the division has had to move from a shift of five to a shift of four, which has meant that officers who are already under pressure now have more night duties and fewer weekends off. That has an effect. Unless more officers are recruited, morale cannot be raised and we cannot get out of the vicious circle and into a virtuous one.
613 All that must be viewed in the context of a group of officers in Kingston who are trying to do everything that the Government have allowed them to do. They have entered partnerships with businesses. New business watch schemes have been set up in Kingston, New Malden, Surbiton and Chessington. There is a pub watch and an industrial estates watch in Chessington. The police have joined the safer stations initiative, which I set up. They are responding to ideas that I proposed, such as a school safety net, borrowing an initiative that was used in Hillingdon division. The police communicate with the schools in the borough, using e-mail as a rapid messaging system to ensure that if there are problems—for example, with potential sexual offenders, child molesters or drugs—messages can be communicated to schools so that they are aware of those problems and are linked to the police.
Such initiatives are very effective in tackling crime, and they are being embraced. Officers in Kingston are being more productive—to use an economics term—in tackling crime, but the problem is that there are just too few of them. It takes the police longer to respond to 999 calls for help made from the perimeters of Kingston division.
Low-level crime has increased significantly in the past two years, primarily because of the cuts. Graffiti, which hon. Members have mentioned, are rife in Kingston. The police are taking an anti-graffiti initiative and working with the local authorities and the probation service. The youth offending teams are tackling graffiti, but this is a real problem and the reduction in police numbers that has taken place over the past five years is one of the major contributory factors to its being so severe.
I make no apology for pressing the case for having more officers in the Metropolitan police overall and in Kingston yet again in this annual debate. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) was right to argue that the Chancellor needs to make that a priority in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. The Metropolitan police service has suffered significantly in the past 10 or 15 years. Its share of the national police budget cake has declined, and it is time that decline was reversed significantly.
I have some good news for the House from my patch in Kingston. Because of the campaign that my colleagues and I have waged and because of the excellent leadership of Chief Superintendent Alan Given, the police station in New Malden, which has been closed for some time, will now be the home of the dog-handling section for south London. I welcome that important development, which will guarantee that station's future. It will not be sold off in the Metropolitan police force's efficiency programmes. Moreover, it means that many marked police vans will move in and out of the station and that those police officers will be able to respond to emergency incidents in the Kingston division.
Kingston division has implemented the diversity strategy. We want the divisional commanders to respond to the Macpherson report, and that has been done remarkably well in Kingston, where a comprehensive strategy has been set out. Officers have been designated to deal with certain race and hate crimes and the police are liaising with the local authority to enhance emergency rehousing for victims of race-hate crimes. There is a 614 determined recruitment drive, with a long list of activities by Kingston college, Kingston university and so on to try to recruit members of the ethnic minorities to the local police force.
The strategy includes providing religious support for Muslim prisoners and victims of crime at Kingston station. The Korean business community watch has been developed, which is a welcome initiative. All that has happened under the scope of the diversity strategy for Kingston. Some of the best practice in the Metropolitan police service is being developed in Kingston, and I recommend it to Ministers in the Home Office and the Commissioner.
We have had to form a community team in Kingston because of the lack of resources and the need to respond to all those challenges. It pools the nine or 10 beat officers who remain in Kingston—five years ago there were about 30—to try to ensure that they focus on particular crime hot spots. The arrangement has worked very well in the case of the truancy patrols that were mentioned earlier and in the attempt to focus on groups of youths who have caused problems in certain communities such as the Sunray estate in Tolworth, the Verma Drive estate in Surbiton and the Chessington Hall estate in Chessington. It has been effective in tackling the surge in youth crime in my area.
The problem is that there are still too few police. Chessington, which has a population of more than 10,000, has half a beat officer.
§ Mr. Davey
I mean half the officer's time. For the other half of her time, the lady officer concerned has to join the community and become involved in various programmes and initiatives elsewhere in the borough.
Chessington therefore does not have the beat officer cover that it needs. We have the smallest possible number of officers, and we need far more. Not only do we need to engage properly in the fight against crime in order to reduce the number of offences—incidentally, the number increased by 11 per cent. last year in the Kingston division—but we need to respond to the public's desire to see beat officers on the streets, and that will be possible only if the Government provide resources to give communities such as mine the support that they need.
I would have liked to make many more points on behalf of local residents and Kingston police, but I am conscious of the time. Let me ask the Minister a final question. During a recent debate on graffiti, he referred me—and other hon. Members—to, I think, section 12 of the London Local Authorities Act 1995, saying that it gave local authorities power to try to clean up graffiti. My local authority, with which I have discussed the issue, tells me that although the power is welcome, it takes a long time to use it, and that the costs involved make it prohibitive for a cash-strapped authority. I do not expect the Minister to reply today, but perhaps he will consider whether that welcome power could be altered to make it more effective and more easy to use.
I end by praising the officers of the Kingston division.
§ Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) sneeringly referred to what he called the cosmopolitan elite on the Government Front 615 Bench. It is deeply ironic that someone like him should make such a comment. He used to represent a working-class constituency in the north-east. Working-class men and women put him here, but what did he do when he got down here? He kicked the ladder away, joined the Social Democratic party and then disappeared. I am sure that those people were glad to see the back of him, given that they had not seen the front of him too much for the previous few years.
The last royal commission report on the police was published in 1962. Since then, both society and the police have changed almost beyond recognition. There are now 4 million illegally held handguns in the country. A range of statistics demonstrate a clear link between crime involving drugs—especially class A drugs—and other crimes. There is a huge network of motorways that did not exist in 1962, which has enormous implications in terms of car crime.
Even in the supposedly leafy borough of Havering, which I represent, and in the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill), who spoke earlier, drug crime, gun crime and knife crime combine to constitute a serious problem. Although it is not given a great deal of attention by the media, there is an enormous problem in outer London generally. The media tend to focus on what happens in inner London, but outer London contains pockets of severe deprivation. I want to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to the fear that outer-London boroughs will suffer if officers are drawn from outer London and concentrated in inner London. There is fear in Havering that that will happen—it has happened in previous years, and there is a danger that it will happen again.
There is no substitute for bobbies on the beat. All sorts of attempts have been made over the past 30 or 40 years to come up with substitutes for officers on the beat. It does not work. Investment in CCTV and information technology is welcome, but those things complement people on the beat; they do not replace them. We need people on the beat to reassure our constituents.
Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the work of police officers—in my case, those in Havering. Chief Supt Bob Youldon, the borough commander, has done a terrific job. Since he and his team arrived in Havering a couple of years ago, the profile of community policing has increased enormously, and partnerships of the kind envisaged in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 have been established. Other boroughs were already pioneering such partnerships, and arrangements of the kind had been made for many years. In Havering, they simply did not exist, and much pioneering work has now been done.
I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster about the pathetically inadequate standard spending settlement that the Government have provided for Havering. That hits a range of public services, particularly the police. Partnerships cannot be properly fulfilled and community policing is put under enormous pressure as a result of cuts in social services and other services. The SSA is made under a formula introduced by the previous Government, but we'have persisted with it. Discussion of SSAs is not directly in order for this debate, but the system has direct relevance to how the police conduct themselves.
Recruitment is a problem in the whole of London. There is no shadow of a doubt about the key factor in the Metropolitan police's inability to recruit more officers— 616 the Sheehy proposals of 1994 and the abolition of the accommodation allowance. I welcome wholeheartedly my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's announcement today, which will go some way to repairing the damage inflicted in the early and mid-1990s by the previous Conservative Administration. The hon. Member for Orpington was completely wrong to say that the Labour Government had damaged the police—the Labour Governments of the 1970s implemented the Davies report, which gave one of the biggest-ever lifts in police pay.
The police have suffered more under Tory, and even Liberal, Administrations than at any other time; we should not forget that the police strike of 1919 was broken by Lloyd George. He had the leaders of the strike in and made a deal with them, then he stabbed them in the back by making the strike and their union illegal. The Police Federation that has existed for the past 80 years was the result.
The federation has called for a royal commission to investigate the state of the service, and there is a case for doing that. The bottom line is that we need more resources for the police and public services. We always hear that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has billions at his disposal, and he must open the coffers and sink a lot more money into the police. Moves are being made in the right direction, but much more money is needed for the police service and public services in general.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
In deference to Labour Members who wish to speak, I shall give the potted version of my speech, and shall try to do so quickly. I wanted to add my voice to the sentiments expressed this morning by saying that although there is much in life that is not just about numbers—class sizes, for example—the number of police officers is extremely important. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) has just said so, and so did most of his hon. Friends. It is equally evident to the citizens of London.
Rather than developing the argument, I shall simply put to the Minister a few simple questions. Could the Minister please tell us exactly how many Metropolitan police officers are currently available for ordinary duty? Can he tell me the current wastage rate and, therefore, how many officers he projects will be available for ordinary duty over the next three to four years? Those are very simple and straightforward questions, and it would be helpful to have answers to them.
I should like to mention—in passing, but only because of time, not because of a lack of importance—the closure of police stations. I have had one police station closed, in Chislehurst, which, for understandable reasons, has caused much local disquiet. Police stations are a visible sign of police commitment to the local community and are a reference point for that community.
Police have tried to explain the closure of my police station and to make substitute or alternative arrangements, but the local community is not and will not be satisfied. The community believes that the disappearance of the police station is a symbol of how much the Government do or do not care about what is happening locally. It can be no coincidence that, since 1997, two police stations in the borough of Bromley—one at Biggin Hill, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), and one in mine at Chislehurst—have closed. I should love to hear the Minister's explanation for that.
617 It is one thing to talk about the incidence of crime, but another to examine clear-up rates—which best reflect the police's perceived and actual effectiveness and affect us most. The figure that I have on the Metropolitan police area clear-up rate is 16 per cent. If that figure is correct, it is scandalous. However, it is supported by the figures that I have for Bromley.
I have glanced through the latest figures that I have on the Bromley division's clear-up rates, and they vary from as high as 30 per cent for violence against the person, and 26 per cent for sexual offences, to as low as 13 per cent for robberies, and 6 per cent. for burglaries. On the figures that I have, the overall clear-up rate is 14 per cent. I do not want to blame my excellent local police service for that—it has my admiration for what it does—but, with those clear-up rates, I should think that the unease felt in Bromley and across London is very understandable.
I should like to add to the comments of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on the huge distress caused in our communities by anti-social behaviour, neighbour problems, property damage and extreme misbehaviour, very often by very young people. We really have to find a way of dealing with that. The types of measure that the Government have introduced recently are simply not working. It seems that, for whatever reason, police and local authorities are not yet prepared to use the powers available to them to try and demonstrate that we really have to get to grips with the problem.
All London Members must be aware of the distress caused daily—usually to elderly, vulnerable and frail people, even in their own homes—by the type of anti-social and violent behaviour that can be caused by a small number of very disruptive people. We have to find a way of getting a grip on that. If we do not, it would be unforgivable. I shall give whatever support I can to police, local authorities and the Government in introducing measures to deal with the problem.
I am grateful for the opportunity to put those few points on the record. The brevity of my remarks should not be taken as an indication of any intention to skip over them. However, I want to give as many Labour Members as possible an opportunity to contribute to the debate.
§ Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for his brevity. It is nice to hear him talking about local issues in his constituency.
I pay tribute to the quality of policing in my part of London, which I think can be attributed to four factors. The first is the strong sense of partnership between police, council, health authority and probation service in working together on an effective crime reduction strategy.
The second is the community's active involvement in the neighbourhood watch and Battersea crime prevention panel, which raises huge sums to pay for summer schemes for young people—this year, the Home Secretary opened the scheme—and to provide security locks for the elderly.
The third is community policing, which began many years ago in Battersea and has ensured that we now have many police officers with knowledge of the community that they serve.
618 Fourthly, leadership has been shown by the borough commander Brian Wade and by Battersea's former divisional commander Mike Fuller. They have done a lot to reduce burglaries and to fight auto crime, drug crime and especially racial crime. I do not think that they can be blamed if they are suffering from the Londonwide problem of a rise in street crime. The figure for April was 156, nearly twice what it was in the same month a year ago. It is often 10-year-olds robbing nine-year-olds in what are essentially designer crimes. It used to be trainers, mountain bikes and scooters; now it is mobile phones and Pokémon cards.
Local crime reduction strategies alone cannot always solve such crime surges. The mobile phone industry might be able to do a lot more. It could learn from the car industry, which has been working in partnership with police and the Home Office to deliver the Prime Minister's target of a 30 per cent. reduction in auto crime. The mobile phone industry could lend its mind to that problem.
In such a debate—I am keeping my eye on the time—we should look beyond crime fashions of the day and local issues to the underlying problems of London policing. I see those as essentially recruitment and retention. The Macpherson report was right to identify ethnic minority recruitment as a vital issue. A community that is 25.5 per cent. ethnic minority cannot be policed with a police force that is only 3.9 per cent. ethnic minority. That is why the advances being made are so important. The Met deserves to be congratulated on passing the 1,000 mark; it had 1,015 ethnic minority officers at the end of April.
The Met is putting huge efforts into not just recruitment, but retention. The unit that co-ordinates that effort, the positive action team, is concentrating on ways in which to improve the retention rate, especially among ethnic minority police officers with nought to five years service—which is the most vulnerable period—and to improve the progression of ethnic minority officers through the ranks of the service. After all, the promotion of ethnic minority officers will do most to encourage people in the ethnic minorities to join in the first place. The promotion of our former divisional commander Mike Fuller is a great encouragement to many serving black officers.
The issue is whether the police force is representative of the community that it polices. That is a much wider question than ethnic minority recruitment. On the latest figure, the Met takes 56 per cent. of its recruits from outside London. That has significant consequences for the police, the community and, indeed, criminals. It means that the police will never fully understand the community that they are policing. Even recruits from the home counties, who form a quarter of the Met's intake, live in a completely different world, which is 3 per cent. ethnic minority, not 25 per cent. It means that the police will never be an integral part of the community, as they are in many other parts of the country.
If people live in London, certainly if they live in inner London, they can discount the possibility that their neighbour, or the man sitting at the next table in the pub, will be a police officer. It simply does not happen. That means that the whole community feels less protected and that the criminal has more air in which to breathe.
619 Many very good officers in my area live in Surrey and come in every day, mainly for reasons to do with the cost of housing. One or two do live in the constituency and on their beat. It may be uncomfortable for them sometimes to live among people whom they have arrested, but I salute their dedication and determination to make community policing a living thing.
That is why it is important that the Met is coming home to London. On 3 July, the Metropolitan Police Authority will be established, ending an injustice that has been tolerated for 171 years and giving us what the rest of country has taken for granted for at least 100 years: a police force that is accountable to the community that it serves.
The first thing that the MPA will want to see is a Met that is largely drawn from the ranks of Londoners. It will not need to convince the Met itself of that. It is already committed to it. In a recent Home Affairs Committee report on police recruitment and training, the Met says:it remains our clear intention to draw recruits from London communities, who have had exposure to the nature of London life and understand the local issues. Applicants from beyond the Metropolis are likely to be less well equipped to deal with all the different features of the London environment and are less likely to reflect the diversity of our public.
The Met does not lack the will, although it may lack the money. In that context, the extra £3,327 allowance offered to post-1994 recruits is extremely welcome. It is a clear sign that the Government understand the problem and are prepared to do something about it. Some will say that it is not enough, because finding a flat in inner London is still likely to be beyond the realistic reach of a new recruit.
Most people can afford to live in inner London only because they already do so. They have already bought their house or qualify for social housing. New people coming in on salaries of £22,635, for example—which I understand will be the salary—will often fall between the two stools, earning too much to go on the waiting list but too little to qualify for a mortgage. It is a crying shame that the Met was allowed to sell off so much of its police accommodation in London. We could desperately do with it now. Housing is important for the Met to allow it to attract new recruits from other professions such as teaching and nursing.
It is well known that the northern police authorities practically encourage applicants to go and join the Met and then to go back up north when they are trained. A leading police officer in the north said:We quite often used to say to candidates that they would have more of a chance if they got some experience in one of the bigger city forces, such as the Met, and then they could transfer back.That was Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, who is well known to Ministers. That is why an increasing proportion of the Met's premature wastage—up from 14 per cent. to 17 per cent.—is caused by officers transferring back to provincial forces. The reasons are always the same: cheaper housing, lower cost of living and better quality of life.
I am saying not that the Met should not accept good applicants from the north—we have many good officers from the north in my area—but that we need people who know or can get to know the area, who stay with the problem and integrate with the community. The whole point about modern policing methods is that we must 620 enlist the help and support of the community to win the fight against crime. The best policeman is the guy next door, because people are more likely to listen to him and tell him what they know. Somebody who comes for a short time and goes on somewhere else does not have the chance to win the confidence of the community.
We are beginning to get a change towards preventive policing, with success no longer measured by the number of arrests but by the actual crime rate. The police's job is seen as the prevention of crime, rather than screeching around on two wheels, sirens blazing, to the next emergency.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is using his budget to fund some very imaginative projects. In my constituency, we have had £73,000 for CCTV in Battersea park and, recently, £19,000 for a burglary reduction initiative in the area that we now know as New Balham.
In contrast to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, I do not think that the number of officers is the key issue. So often in crime prevention people concentrate on the wrong issue—the number of arrests, the prison population or police numbers. The issue is the reduction of crime.
Of course, increasing police numbers has a part to play, but we should never forget the fact that under the previous Government police numbers were increased from 110,000 to 125,000 between 1979 and 1992, during which time crime doubled. Over the next six years, under the same Government, the number of police officers in the Met fell by 2,000 and, for the first time, crime was reduced. To base a policy on the assumption that police numbers are the key to solving crime is completely wrong; indeed, history seems to indicate the reverse. We must keep our eye on the essential ball—the number of crimes.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Some things are so important that they must be said at the beginning of a speech in case the Whips make sure that one does not get to the end. I begin, therefore, by expressing my thanks and those of the whole community of Brent for the lifetime of service to the police force given by the Brent borough commander, Chief Superintendent Paul Green. He has been an exemplary leader of the force and has brought openness and confidence to the dealings between the police and local community groups in Brent. His retirement will be a great loss, and I wish him and his wife Pauline all good things for the future. Commander Green developed a style of policing which was intelligence-led and based on resolving community problems, and that is what I want to speak about.
I confess to thinking that the local crime and disorder strategy is a misnomer because it should be the anti-crime and disorder strategy or the strategy for combating crime and disorder. It was proposed only after extensive consultation with the local community, which I welcome. The consultation showed that local people are concerned about violent crime to an extent that is disproportionate to their risk of being a victim of it, but although perception is not everything, it is a fact that those who seek to serve the community must always take into account.
Under the Conservatives, violent crime in London increased by 259 per cent. Last year, violent crime in the borough of Brent increased by just 2 per cent. I am the 621 first to say that that figure is still moving in the wrong direction; I want it to go down, but it is clearly stabilising and that is critical to turning the figure round.
I speak in a week when my excellent local newspaper, the Wembley Observer, has as its headline "Mother shot". It is a tragic story of a young mother of three who was shot twice, in the head and arm, in my constituency in a long-running feud that appears to have started as a dispute over children playing. I extend my sympathy to the victim and her family, and I want to make two points about the incident.
First, it underlines the importance of reducing firearms incidents in the borough, which is one of the force's key target objectives under the strategy. It is absolutely right that guns must be made less freely available so that small incidents cannot escalate to that level of violence. Secondly, I point out that such incidents still make the front page of the Wembley Observer. They are news because they are so uncommon. People's fear of crime is of course heightened by such headlines, but they must realise that in many cities in north America or western Europe, such stories would never make front-page news.
What can the police do to make sure not only that people are safe, but that they also feel safe? Time and time again, residents associations and local neighbourhood watch schemes in my constituency tell me that they value above all else their relationship with their local beat officers. They are a vital human face in an increasingly high-tech police force.
I thank in particular the two sergeants at Wembley police station who are responsible for community safety, Richard and Geoff. They are a great double act in persuading local people to fight back against crime, and I enjoyed attending their presentation in Sudbury last week, where yet another neighbourhood watch scheme was established. It is communities that beat crime, and not coppers on their own. I commend all the beat officers, the residents associations and the neighbourhood watch schemes working in Brent, North to such good effect. They ensure that the fight against crime is truly an effort of the whole community.
Brent is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs, not only in London but anywhere in Europe. I cannot speak in this debate, therefore, without referring to the action being taken by the police in response to the Macpherson report. The issues of stop and search and the effect on street crime have already been fully discussed. I wish to focus on other sorts of crime and their differential effects on the black and Asian communities in Brent.
Whereas the average burglary rate for Brent residents as a whole is 8.5 per 1,000 population, if one is an Asian resident, it rises to 13.3 per 1,000. For black residents, the chance of being burgled rises still further to almost double the average at 15 per 1,000 population. The good news is that burglary in Brent has fallen by 15 per cent. in the past year, but the bad news is that black and Asian residents are more likely to be victims of crime. That must change. My local force in Brent has set targets to achieve that, and I commend it for doing so. However, I must circumscribe that praise with the harshest criticism and roundest condemnation of the lingering attitudes in the police service that Macpherson publicly labelled institutionalised racism.
622 Yesterday, on the day of the Tottenham by-election, caused by the death of Bernie Grant, the magazine for the Metropolitan Police Federation, Metline, arrived in my office. The front cover is a full-page photograph of Lord Tebbit and the interview it contains is a panegyric to a politician who is remembered in the black and Asian communities in London for his remarks about the cricket test. Contrast that with the anonymous page three editorial, entitled "Bernie Grant MP is dead", which gloats aboutThe controversial left-winger who appeared to moderate his views.The article is a disgraceful attempt to trash the work that Bernie Grant did for community relations in this country. It is in my view a disgraceful article that will be condemned, by every police officer who is working to heal the division between the police and the ethnic communities in our capital, as simply reinforcing the old stereotype of the police that good officers are striving so hard to do away with.
I value the close, cross-border co-operation that I have with my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). We work closely together, especially on the Kenton road, which borders our two communities, to ensure that community safety issues are examined by both boroughs and both sets of police. However, I would gently ask my hon. Friends to keep their prisoners out of my cells. I know that there is a shortage of cells in Harrow, but the transfer of prisoners stretches resources at Wembley, and I trust that they will attempt to increase the provision in Harrow itself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) mentioned the Sheehy report earlier, to great effect, and the consequences that it had had on policing in London. I am delighted to add my welcome today to the remarks from the Home Secretary announcing the reinstatement of moneys to the police force which will do so much to increase recruitment and retention in the force. I also wish to express my delight that at the GLA elections the member returned for Brent and Harrow was Lord Harris, who will take an active role in the new police commission for London. I look forward to working with my noble Friend and the local community to do all we can to keep the crime figures in Brent coming down.
§ 2.4 pm
§ Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
I have not read or seen the article to which the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) referred. I am sure that we are all in agreement, and I remind him and the House that no article in any magazine is as disgraceful as the horrific murder of PC Blakelock.
We have had a lively and diverse debate as a result of the diversity of views on both sides of the House. More interesting, however, is the fact that hon. Members have reflected different issues in different areas in their constituencies. It is that diversity which makes the job of the Metropolitan police so difficult and such a challenge. I am not an official London Member, as my constituency is proud to be part of Essex. However, until this April the Metropolitan police looked after a large part of my Epping Forest constituency. We are now in the changeover period and I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to give my sincere thanks to the Metropolitan police who 623 have looked after my constituency so well. The officers at Barkingside are highly respected and the work that they did and are still doing in my area is greatly appreciated.
Many Metropolitan police officers live in my constituency so, although I am not a London Member, I certainly have an interest in the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) made some extremely important points about the changeover from the Metropolitan police to police in the home counties around London. I shall not reiterate his points, as he made them so well, but I hope that the Minister will give them serious consideration.
I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of an extra housing allowance for the Metropolitan police, although I share the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. I note with irony, however, the concerns about affordable housing expressed by the hon. Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I agree with them, but the irony is that I have raised the issue on many an occasion as affordable housing in my constituency is difficult to find. I have raised the matter in connection with stamp duty and other taxes, for example, only to find that Labour Members simply laughed at my comments on house prices. The issue is important, and I hope that the Government will take it more seriously, now that it has been acknowledged by their own Members. I therefore look forward to the Minister's response.
The diverse duties of the Metropolitan police have been emphasised by those who have discussed the suburban, country and inner-city aspects of policing in London. My hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made those points extremely well. Most unusually—indeed, for the first time ever, I believe—I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer). I hope that he is not upset about that, but I agree with him about the benefits of police partnerships and community policing. The policeman whom he mentioned has done a lot of good work in my constituency, and I join the hon. Gentleman in commending him and his officers.
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a rightly concerned constituent, who told me that he was worried now that the Metropolitan police are not looking after Loughton in my constituency. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here—I understand why, of course, and am not criticising him—as I am referring to an area that he knows extremely well. Indeed, he was born and brought up there. I know that he cares a lot about it. My constituent told me that he was most concerned that Essex police might not have a wildlife protection officer which, previously, the Metropolitan police had provided for that part of Loughton. I thought that a wildlife protection officer might be needed for the deer in Epping forest, which are a protected species.
I discovered that the issue was the breeding of slow worms under carpets on the allotments of Loughton. Hon. Members may not be aware that the slow worm is a protected species, that it is rare and that it breeds very well under carpets on allotments. I had to ask Essex police to continue the important role of wildlife protection. I mention this to illustrate the diversity of what we expect of policing in London. One might imagine that the problems faced by the police are all to do with inner-city 624 crime and the dramatic things about which one reads in the newspapers. But not so: the real problem with the slow worms is that they are being stolen by teenage boys.
We expect a lot of the police. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) paid tribute to the police, through his personal experience, and we are probably all pleased that he has been so well protected. The hon. Member for Deptford surprised me with her point about young people escaping on bus routes. It is amazing to hear—I do not make light of it—that the bus service in Deptford is so good that getaway cars are not needed. Every cloud has a silver lining.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), with his customary wit and eloquence, has drawn our attention to many issues concerning the inner cities. The House will agree that when he is no longer in his place, we shall miss him very much.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) addressed all of the key issues that face us, especially the 999 service. What he said was extremely worrying and I hope that the Minister paid attention and will answer his remarks in a few moments. My hon. Friend was right to emphasise the concerns of the new Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, which he expressed earlier this week.
We expect so much of the people who serve as police officers. They deserve our financial and moral support, and our confidence. Individual officers have told me—and, I am sure, other Members—how difficult their jobs have become; not because of rising crime, which they are trained to deal with, but because of increased bureaucracy, form-filling and overstated and sometimes misplaced political correctness which makes their jobs so difficult. I do not mean reasonable political correctness.
§ Mrs. Laing
My right hon. Friend says that there is no such thing. I appreciate the importance of the Lawrence report, but it is simply not fair to ask a police officer to operate with, metaphorically speaking, one hand tied behind his back with the other filling in forms instead of getting on with the job of policing.
§ Mrs. Laing
I am sorry but I do not have time to give way. I want to leave enough time for the Minister to answer the important questions that have been asked.
We ask police officers to face danger and take risks. A young lady who lived in my constituency, WPC Nina Mackay, was tragically murdered about two years ago during a drugs raid. She and many other members of her family, including her father, devoted their lives to the police service. Too often, we get carried away with our criticism and forget the heroism of those who serve us as police officers.
Sometimes, I am ashamed when I hear Members of Parliament complaining about the unsocial and long hours that we have to devote to working in this place. When we are here at midnight or in the early hours, we are sitting on these comfortable—well, relatively comfortable—green leather Benches and we can go and have a cup of tea if we want. We ask police officers to work extremely 625 unsocial hours and think nothing of it. I am ashamed when Members of Parliament do not take their public duty more seriously—
§ Mrs. Laing
Our constituents expect of us as much as we expect of those who serve as police officers and other servants of the community who work seriously unsocial hours in risky and dangerous conditions.
The Home Secretary said that London compares well with other capital cities. I am sure that the House will give the new police authority and those who police London our confidence and our support, in the hope that London continues to compare well.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
First, I should like to say how strongly I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that the debate has been an extremely good one. We have debated for five hours, in which time 17 Back Benchers have contributed. I note all the tributes to the police expressed by Members on both sides of the House and associate the Government with them. That the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made the shortest speech in the debate might be an historic first—I shall ask the Library to check—but we all appreciate that he did so. Every speaker, with the exception of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), who made a poisonous and insubstantial speech, made a substantive point that requires a response, and I shall go through them as rapidly as I can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) made powerful points about CCTV and affordable housing. We issued new guidelines recently on the use of CCTV. They prioritise, first, parades on the outskirts of cities where people congregate, but which have not been a priority for inner-city funding; and, secondly, transport—the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) mentioned his involvement in safer station schemes. We have tried to shift CCTV into areas where it will make a real difference, and there is a rolling programme for bids and applications, so there are no deadlines. I hope that people will see the potential and bid for resources to enable them to achieve the provision they want. I agreed with my hon. Friend's comments about affordable housing, but, owing to pressure of time, I cannot accept the invitation to discuss in detail that important issue here and now.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised the question of tenure—I am surprised that that important issue did not come up more often in the debate. The Commissioner is currently consulting widely with colleagues in the Met on an interim policy to provide a significant step toward succession planning. The purpose is to ensure that periods of time in post are made more flexible to take account of the nature of the role and individual circumstances—for example, shorter times in stressful roles and longer periods in which there is considerable investment in training or in community relations and other, less stressful, roles. I believe that that positive approach to the issue will strengthen community policing.
626 I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) focused on intelligence-led policing, which is key to our whole approach. She will be aware, but other hon. Members may not be, of the recent decision following the Budget to allocate resources to Operation Lion, which is being piloted in Lewisham. It is designed to improve communication between partners under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and the 12-month pilot study is designed to examine the way in which local authorities, the Metropolitan police and the fire service share data, and to move the whole programme forward. That sort of intelligence-led approach, advocated by my hon. Friend, is essential if our efforts to reduce crime are to be effective.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made a powerful speech. She is right to emphasise organisation on a borough basis and, with that, the change to the borough boundaries which is taking place. It is a pre-condition for effective partnership organisation and for transparency in public debate about police performance and crime reduction, which is a key element in raising standards. I was glad that my hon. Friend drew attention to those important aspects. It is only a recent development, as was clear from the debate, but over time it will lead to a steady improvement in the quality of policing throughout the capital.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) raised a number of points. With regard to the basis for allocating resources across London, which has been raised by other hon. Members as well, the distribution of resources is a matter for the Commissioner, as has been acknowledged, but needs are assessed using an apportionment process known as the resource allocation formula.
The five key policing functions on which the formula is based are identified as 24-hour response, tackling crime, maintenance of the Queen's peace, community safety and partnership, and traffic management. I understand that the Met acknowledges that the resource allocation formula is slower than it should be to respond to operational needs, and it is continuing to refine the formula. No doubt the various points made in the debate will be noted. I am well aware of the suburban point, so to speak, which has been powerfully expressed in the debate and previously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) made several important points, but I shall comment particularly on the truancy watch initiative and the key need to develop a much more powerful relationship between police and schools. We are examining the matter closely, partly because, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, much of the street crime that has been described takes place among young people, often outside school gates, and involves mobile phones, among other things. We need far stronger relationships between police and schools, and the truancy watch initiative is part of that. We are actively examining further steps that could be taken.
If I may say so, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) made the most learned speech of the day, on the subject of pay, reviewing the issues in detail. My right hon. Friend's announcement today will go some way towards dealing with the points that he raised. I acknowledge, as does my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend's close interest in the subject.
627 I appreciate the comments of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). He made a number of points—for example, about licensing—which are important. Our recent announcement of an initiative concerning prostitutes' cards in call boxes, which my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North has pressed, is important for the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and other city centre areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) made an important point about partnerships. In several respects, partnerships are patchy. They do not have the necessary involvement of education, social services, health and so on, as my hon. Friend said. I draw attention to the fact that funding is available from the invest to save programme for local authority systems in England to develop partnership approaches. The Metropolitan police, for example, have submitted a bid in a partnership with the Crown Prosecution Service to support joint administration of the criminal justice system, and I gather that in Sutton, there has been a joint local authority-Met bid to build resources. I hope that we can direct more resources to the development of those important partnerships.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) made some significant points. Let me clarify my right hon. Friend's announcement today, in response to the hon. Gentleman's specific question. The Met officers seconded to shire forces as a result of Metropolitan police boundary changes will qualify for the pay award announced today where appropriate—that is, post-Sheehy officers. Those who have been seconded retain their Met terms and conditions. On the more general issue of the police authorities' attitude around the capital, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, we are discussing that actively with them and we will examine the evidence as it comes through.
§ Mr. Clarke
I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. I must respond to a large number of points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) raised the safer streets initiative. All borough commanders have been required to develop a street crime intervention strategy. Boroughs with the most significant problems of street crime will receive additional support from the Met's specialist operations division. We will gradually spread that out. I hope that, over time, the policy will tackle some of the points that my hon. Friend raised.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton made several points. We have discussed graffiti previously, and I shall consider the legislation, as the hon. Gentleman requested. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) made one of the few references to drugs in the debate. It is surprising that so few references were made to that subject. He was right to raise it; it is a critical issue, which is at the top of our agenda.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will excuse me if I reply to his particular questions in writing. It would take too long to answer them now. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) made an important point about recruiting ethnic minorities and police who reflect the communities that they serve. That is a priority for the Metropolitan police, and requires a series of different sorts of changes.
628 My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) was the final Back-Bench speaker. He made a crucial point about violent crime. We are tackling that issue urgently because trends show that, while we are moving in the direction that we want on burglary, vehicle crime and so on, we are not doing that on violent crime. There are several important explanations for that, including statistical factors, and the fact that we want more reporting of violent crime, which means that the figures will increase. However, my hon. Friend highlighted major issues, and I want to assure him that we are tackling them urgently. I hope that we shall make public announcements on that soon. I am glad that my hon. Friend gave it priority in his comments.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made several serious points, to which I shall respond as rapidly as I can. He mentioned the 999 service. The Met is currently experiencing a substantial increase in demand. Calls were increasing at 6.3 per cent. a year, but, since March 1999, growth has shot up to 22 per cent. a year. The early months of this year suggest that the growth in demand is more than 20 per cent. higher than in 1999. Analysis by the Met revealed that more than half the calls were not about police business and only half required immediate deployment.
New working practices and shift patterns have been introduced, together with additional staff on Friday and Saturday evenings to cope with identified peaks. Extra recruiting for people to work on the service is being undertaken. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's point about the seriousness of the issue.
Beyond that, we have a major control communications and information project, the contract value of which is approximately £1 billion over 10 years, to modernise the whole system. Responsibility for signing the contract will fall to the Metropolitan Police Authority. We are currently considering that in great detail.
If the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will excuse me, I shall write to him on his point about the car fleet rather than go through it now because of constraints of time. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Chinese state visit. Discussions between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the police are a standard part of preparations for state visits. We have learned a lot from the visit to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and future discussions are being minuted to try to avoid the sort of behind-the-hand comments, which were mentioned.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned memorials. I am advised that PC Keith Blakelock's memorial will be relocated to Hornsey police station when it has been refurbished, and people will be able to pay their respects there.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the role of the Mayor. I should love to give that a lot of time, but in the two minutes available to me, suffice it to say that the Metropolitan Police Authority holds the Commissioner to account for securing an effective and efficient police force, best value in policing, setting targets, consulting Londoners and playing a major role in the appointment of senior Met officers. The Mayor's role in policing is much more limited than that of the MPA. Subject to the Home Secretary's override power, the Mayor, in discussion with the London Assembly, sets the budget of the MPA. He also appoints 12 Assembly Members to the MPA. However, he has no direct powers over the Metropolitan 629 service. The Commissioner is accountable to the MPA, not the Mayor. I wanted to clarify that in view of the anxieties of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.
I intended to say more about numbers and morale, but we have debated those subjects widely elsewhere. I want to comment briefly on murder. For me, the most shocking part of the Macpherson inquiry was that on murder. The Commissioner has responded positively by allocating significantly more staff to murder inquiries, providing an enhanced response, maximising forensic opportunities, increasing the use of intelligence, and improving the training and usage of house-to-house staff. The number of staff of all ranks and grades who investigate murder has increased from 816 before April 1999 to 1,020 in that month. In May 2000, the figure was 1,105. There has been a massive increase for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman identified. It is an important matter, which the Home Office will consider closely.
In a short time, I have tried to respond to as many of the points as possible. I am sorry that I have not spoken about some of the more substantive issues on police numbers and morale, which we debated previously. I hope that the statements that have been made today will play some part—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.