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House of Commons

Thursday 2 March 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Associated British Ports Hull Bill

(By Order)

Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill

(By Order)

British Railways Bill

(By Order)

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill

(By Order)

Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Bill

(By Order)

International Westminster Bank Bill

(By Order)

Isle of Wight Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

Wentworth Estate Bill

(By Order)

British Film Institute Southbank Bill

(By Order)

Bromley London Borough Council

(Crystal Palace) Bill-- (By Order)

City of London (Various Powers) Bill

(By Order)

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 9 March.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Crime (Greater Manchester)

1. Mr. Burt : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the figures for reported crime in Greater Manchester for 1988.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : We hope to publish the final crime figures for 1988 shortly. Current indications are that the figures for Greater Manchester are likely to show a drop of about 8 per cent. compared with 1987.

Mr. Burt : May I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply? Will he confirm that it seems that within those statistics, there will be a pleasing drop in robberies and burglaries, for which all those involved in neighbourhood watch should be thanked? Will he also note my constituents' concern about the continuing unwelcome growth in violent crime? What reassurance does he have for us in Greater Manchester that we shall see more bobbies on the beat?

Mr. Patten : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently ensured just that by allocating Greater Manchester an extra 45 police in his recent announcement, which is the second highest number given to any police authority. I also believe that the fact that burglary rates and property crime are declining so fast will continue to free more time for the police to concentrate on violent crime. The Greater Manchester police are already concentrating on various initiatives concerned with public disorder and I am sure that they will continue to have the desired effect.

Mr. James Lamond : Does the Minister realise that his rather complacent attitude will not go down well with the many thousands of pensioners who were represented in the House recently with a petition calling for more police in the Greater Manchester area? Although the Minister may boast that the Home Secretary has been able to allocate an additional 45 police men, that does not measure up well to the request by the Greater Manchester police authority for 258 extra police men, whom it needs to carry out its duties correctly. He gave less than one fifth of the number requested.

Mr. Patten : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not set greater store by first, the increased numbers of police my right hon. Friend has made available to the Greater Manchester force and secondly, the increased amount of time that that will make available for the investigation of serious crimes against elderly people. Thirdly, burglary rates and property crime are coming down so fast that the Greater Manchester police will have considerably increased time for the investigation of crimes against the elderly. Fourthly, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not welcomed the recent excellent initiative financed by the local gas, water and electricity boards in a specific crime prevention campaign aimed at helping the elderly in the Greater Manchester area.

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Television Companies

2. Mr. McCrindle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning the participation by non-European Economic Community nationals in the ownership and operation of United Kingdom television companies.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : We have received over 2,200 responses to our broadcasting White Paper, many of which touch on ownership questions. We propose to continue the prohibition on control of television and radio franchises by non-EC companies, except that we are considering further whether that restriction should apply to local delivery franchises.

Mr. McCrindle : Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the concentration in ownership of the media and, in particular, about the fact that, to a considerable extent, the printed media are in the same ownership? With the arrival of satellite broadcasting, should we not be considering the introduction of new safeguards to keep the matter under some control?

Mr. Renton : I understand very well my hon. Friend's point. In the White Paper we propose extensive and effective ownership rules against the excessive concentration of ownership. The White Paper sought comments on a set of principles on which such rules might be based and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Director-General of Fair Trading is currently considering the changes that have taken place in newspaper publishing in the past few years and the growing involvement in other media of leading newspaper groups.

Mr. Worthington : Given the wholly regrettable concentration of power in the newspaper industry, is it not clear that there should be no cross-ownership between the newspaper industry and television industries and no ownership of television companies by individuals or companies outside the EEC?

Mr. Renton : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. We are considering carefully the suggestions that have been made to us by those who say that newspaper interests in, for example, the ownership of regional Channel 3 licences, should be strictly controlled.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Can my hon. Friend assure the people of Britain that proper standards, in terms of the non-exploitation of violence and sex, will apply to the non-English channels as they come into this country?

Mr. Renton : Yes, Sir. We are, we hope, within sight of agreeing a convention in the Council of Europe and that is likely to be followed by an EC directive. The convention and the directive will set minimum standards of taste and decency and provide mechanisms for enforcing them. That will give some control over trans-frontier satellite channels not uplinked in this country.

Mr. Hattersley : Does the Minister recall that during our debate on broadcasting there was support on both sides of the House for the idea of the Government making a general reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the subject of television

ownership--particularly by newspapers and foreign companies? Are the Government prepared to make such a general reference?

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Mr. Renton : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, those matters are more within the remit of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The right hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that the Director-General of Fair Trading is reviewing the matter, taking into account the White Paper on broadcasting and the concentration of ownership of titles, as well as recent developments in newspaper wholesaling. Clearly, that is potentially a wide-ranging review.

Prisoners (Medical Treatment)

3. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what medical treatment is being given to Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, Gerard Conlan and Carole Richardson, currently in Her Majesty's prisons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : Specific clinical information relating to individual prisoners is confidential and is not normally disclosed. Appropriate medical treatment under the care of prison medical staff is available to all prisoners.

Mr. Corbyn : Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern among the families of the four prisoners convicted of the Guildford pub bombings about their medical condition? Paul Hill, who is in Albany prison, had to wait two years to have a saliva gland removed, and even then, the operation was only half done. Paul Hill is at least 3 stone underweight. The other three prisoners are all receiving various forms of medical and psychiatric attention. Is not that a condemnation of the prison service in which they have been held for the past 14 years?

In the light of that, will the Minister make arrangements to ensure that the four receive all the medical treatment that they require, that their mothers are allowed to visit them on Mothers' day next Sunday and that they are moved to London prisons, where it is easier to get medical support and where it would be easier for their legal representatives to visit them in the run up to the reference to the Appeal Court, which I assume is expected some time later this year?

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman and I corresponded about this matter last year and I looked into a number of the points that he raised then. I concluded that there was no ground for anxiety--indeed, two of his suggestions proved to be incorrect.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that every prisoner has a right to proper medical treatment. I shall examine the specific criticisms that he has made today to see whether I can satisfy myself on them and, if he would care to expand his criticisms in writing, I shall, naturally, give him a full reply.

Police Efficiency

4. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress is being made to improve the efficiency of police forces in England and Wales and to obtain value for money.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : The Home Office works with chief officers of police and local police authorities to secure value for

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money in the police service. Significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness have been achieved, with the encouragement and support of my Department and Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. Through the civilianisation of police posts some 3,900 police officers have been released for operational duty in the past five years. Procedures have been streamlined and unnecessary paperwork eliminated. Support services have been contracted out. Efficiency scrutinies have been carried through and much has been achieved through local initiatives. Still further improvements in value for money in the police service will remain a high priority.

Mr. Bennett : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Dyfed Powys police force which covers Pembrokeshire and which, yet again, has the highest clear-up rate in England and Wales and has been especially vigilant in catching a number of drugs-smuggling gangs in recent years? Does he share my concern that the clear-up record of a number of police forces is pretty poor? When does he intend to introduce performance indicators so that the police and the public may judge the records of individual police forces?

Mr. Hurd : I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Dyfed Powys on the achievements that he mentioned and on securing better value for money by bringing in divisional operational support units which release officers for operational work and provide a better service. One cannot be too mechanical about performance indicators as it is not easy to measure the value of police work, but Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary is working on it as an aid, but not a total answer, to the crucial job of ensuring value for money from the police service. It is worth noting that it now costs £2,000 to provide cover for any particular place by one uniformed police officer for one week. That is the measure of the cost and the reason why we have to emphasise value for money.

Mr. Duffy : Does the Home Secretary agree that two important steps that he could take to improve the efficiency of the police would be to adopt the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to end the disturbing under-funding of forensic services and to harness genetic fingerprinting?

Mr. Hurd : I need to study very carefully the Select Committee recommendations on forensic services. Forensic services have been through a turbulent and unsettled time with many inquiries, the reasons for which were analysed by the Select Committee. I hope that, under new leadership and with extra resources and staff, they are now emerging from that and will continue to provide a service of a quality which the Select Committee recommended and proclaimed. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of local Labour opposition, one of the greatest aids to police efficiency in Wolverhampton has been the introduction of video cameras? Wolverhampton is the first town in the United Kingdom to introduce video cameras and in a very short time there has been a dramatic reduction in criminality, which is now at an all-time low. In paying tribute to the police will my right hon. Friend consider recommending that other police authorities

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follow suit, particularly in inner-city areas that need a considerable police force to man the streets and town centres?

Mr. Hurd : The west midlands police force, which serves my hon. Friend's constituency, is certainly a pioneer in working out new techniques and methods of effectively using police officers. Her point about video cameras in public places aroused a certain amount of apprehension at first, but if they are properly placed and organised, the public regard them not as a menace to individual liberty, but as part of the protection of the citizen which they expect the police to provide.

Mr. Wigley : Is the Home Secretary aware that in the north Wales police force there has been a civilianisation of some 54 per cent. compared with an average of only 22 per cent. for all forces during the past 10 years, yet despite that the North Wales police force is still 120 men on the beat short of the figure that was established in 1972? Is he aware that that was the only force out of the 36 that applied for more policemen on the beat to be refused? Given the serious problems in north Wales, of which he is well aware, will he reconsider that decision?

Mr. Hurd : There has been a particular problem in north Wales which I shall not describe in detail today, in regard to the allocation of people for the new probationer training. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific point that he raised.

Mr. Rathbone : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the shortage of police in Sussex as well as in Wales. In an attempt to ease their burden, will he encourage greater recruitment and the use of special constables, who can perform a useful function particularly in rural areas?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend. One of our aims has been to encourage police forces throughout England and Wales to step up the recruitment of special constables. We held a conference on that matter in London not long ago. After a period of decline, I hope that people will come forward and that police forces will step up their efforts to recruit. A key element is sensibly to work out the exact tasks which special constables can do, and I hope that substantial progress is being made on that.

Police Manpower (Leicestershire)

5. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on the level of police manpower in Leicestershire.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : My right hon. Friend has approved an increase of 27 police posts in the establishment of the Leicestershire constabulary with effect from 1 April 1989, bringing it to 1,760 officers. Fifty four extra posts have now been approved for the force since May 1979. In addition, the chief constable has been successful in recent years in returning about 130 police officers to operational duties through civilianisation and other efficiency measures.

Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that in 1985, chief constable Goodson asked for an increase of 256 officers and got none? The following year, his successor, chief constable Hurst, asked for a total of 136 additional officers by this year. He got none in 1986, 1987 or 1988. The allocation of a total of 18 officers plus nine probationers

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this year is ridiculous, inadequate and ludicrous, when violent crime has doubled since the Government came to power, and all types of crime are still increasing throughout Leicestershire.

Mr. Hogg : I have increasingly noticed that the hon. and learned Gentleman is so excitable that he has a tendency to leave his judgment at home. That being so, I shall tell him a few facts which, if he cares to reflect on them, he will find rather comforting. For example, in 1978-79, £15.65 million was spent on his constabulary police force. Today, the figure is £52.77 million. The police and civilian strength of the force has been increased by 222. The chief constable has managed to bring 130 more officers on to operational duties by way of civilianisation, and he has identified a further 63. That is a considerable expansion in the number of policemen on operational duties.

Mr. Latham : Does my hon. Friend recall replying to an Adjournment debate which I introduced on this matter and which was supported by most, if not all, Leicestershire Members? Is he aware that Conservative Leicestershire Members do not speak in the dismissive way in which the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) speaks? We are glad that there has been an increase in manpower, but we look for further increases in years to come.

Mr. Hogg : I do, indeed, remember the Adjournment debate which was moved by my hon. Friend. He put the case infinitely more persuasively than the excitable question that hon. Members have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner).

Mr. Vaz : Is the Minister aware that his Department has just approved the establishment of a divisional headquarters in my constituency, at a cost to the taxpayer of £2.3 million, as a result of a campaign by local residents? Bearing in mind the figures that have been correctly put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), in real terms there are only a couple of officers available per subdivision. Sickness, training and other matters must be taken into consideration. How on earth will the Government assure my constituents that they take law and order seriously? Does the Minister suggest that the chief constable should order cardboard cut-outs of police officers and stick them in the windows of Hambleton police station? Would he be minded to have a cardboard cut-out of the Home Secretary, to enable him to go around the country, lecturing and frightening the Asian community?

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman might have spent some of the time on his feet doing some homework. I have a bit of good news for him. The clear- up rate for his force, at 44.7 per cent.--I am using the 1987 figures--is much better than the rest of England and Wales, and there are 37 other forces with poorer records than his.

Violent Crime

6. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to combat violent crime.

Mr. Hurd : Police manpower has been increased substantially, and we will add a further 1,100 officers in

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1989-90. We have increased maximum sentences and tightened up the law on the possession of knives and other offensive weapons as well as on under-age drinking. Last month, there came into force a prohibition on the private ownership of certain of the more lethal types of firearms such as the Kalashnikov rifle. Stricter controls on the issue of shotgun certificates and on the safekeeping of licensed firearms will follow later this year. We also introduced last month the new right of reference to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney-General of an over-lenient sentence.

Mr. Jack : Encouraging though that information is, my right hon. Friend would receive a different response from the members of the women's institute in my constituency in particular and from the women of Lancashire in general, who have vigorously campaigned to express their concern about the repugnant and violent crime of rape. What message does he have for them about the strong stand being taken by the Government on this crime? Can he reassure them that he will look again at the figure of eight extra officers in Lancashire next year and perhaps give us some more?

Mr. Hurd : I share the concern of my hon. Friend's constituents about rape. I hope that they will have noticed that in the last three years the sentences passed by the courts on convicted rapists have increased by 63 per cent., so that the average sentence is over six years. My hon. Friend will be aware that the clear-up rate for rape is relatively high at 71 per cent. As for police strength, Lancashire police force has 264 more officers than it had in May 1979, and we shall continue to consider the claims of Lancashire, as of other forces, as part of the substantial programme of further increases on which we are working.

Mr. Heffer : The Government say that we are now doing well, that people are better off than they ever were and that the country is doing better economically. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if that is the case, there is an increase in violent crime? Is it perhaps because of the nature of the society that has been created by Conservative Administrations in the last 10 years?

Mr. Hurd : There has been a decrease in some quarters in the total of recorded crime, and that decrease applies in Merseyside as well as in the country as a whole. But the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there continues to be an increase in the one in 20 crimes which are violent and which cause the most anxiety and anger. In the old days the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends attributed that--which of course has gone on for 30 years--to unemployment and poverty. Now he is attributing it to affluence and irresponsibility. I do not think that either explanation is right. But whatever is the right explanation, I am perfectly clear that given the drop in the total of recorded crime, we should concentrate increasingly--as the police will be able to do--on violent crime.

Mr. Wheeler : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why recorded crime is increasing is that we are much better at recording it and more welcoming to women who wish to report rapes? When my right hon. Friend next writes to the women's institute, will he explain that women are more at risk within the family, or between known parties, and not so much at risk from strangers outside their own homes?

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Mr. Hurd : Both of those points are correct. The police have altered the way in which they handle allegations of rape. They have followed a much more welcoming approach to the rape victim and that, as my hon. Friend says, has probably increased the number of recorded rapes and reduced the number which tragically happened but were not in the past recorded. My hon. Friend is right in the second part of his supplementary question, and the figures we published last week bear that out.

Mr. Randall : Is the Minister aware that while the Home Office has invited my city of Kingston upon Hull to participate in the safer cities initiative, which I support in principle, the Department of the Environment has slashed our inner-city money, which helps to reduce crime, by one third of a million pounds this year? How do the Government justify this Home Office initiative being undermined by the actions of another Government Department?

Mr. Hurd : I do not believe that it will be undermined. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's city has accepted my invitation to join the safer cities scheme. The whole point is that the schemes are inter-agency and involve different Government Departments, local government and voluntary agencies so that we can identify a local specific profile of crime and then a local specific answer to it.

National Identity Card

7. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the proposal for a national identity card ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : In addition to the advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee, I have received some 380 letters on the subject of a national identity card from hon. Members and from the general public ; most have expressed support for some form of identity card system.

Mr. Bellingham : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that before we get too carried away with the idea of a national ID card scheme, we should listen very carefully to the advice of bodies such as ACPO, which urge caution? Does he also agree that there are strong arguments for a voluntary scheme and does he have any ideas and proposals in that direction?

Mr. Hurd : I am certainly not carried away by the idea of a compulsory identity card scheme. But with regard to advice, my hon. Friend is right. When I asked the chief police officers and chief constables to update the traditional police view on this matter, they wrote back saying that there were pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages ; but they did not establish that there was a clear advantage as regards crime prevention in having an identity card scheme.

There would be some clear advantages in a voluntary scheme from the viewpoint of easy travel across Europe. There would be other advantages, too. We are considering whether a sensible scheme could be devised and put to the public and to Parliament.

Mr. Marlow : Would my right hon. Friend agree that without a compulsory national identity card scheme, it would be impossible to have a system of free movement

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between European countries and the United Kingdom for personnel, and that as there is not going to be a compulsory national identity scheme, we must continue to have frontier controls between the United Kingdom and other European countries?

Mr. Hurd : That is a wider question. Within the European Community, we are considering very closely what kind of checks would be sensible to carry out the declaration annexed to the Single European Act, which says that nothing in the Act should weaken our defences against the drug traffickers, terrorists and organised criminals.

Public Transport (Safety)

8. Mr. Graham : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure the safety of citizens travelling on public transport.

Mr. John Patten : The security of passengers and staff on public transport is central to the responsibilities of Government, public licensing authorities, operators and the police. I understand that London Underground Limited is implementing a range of passenger security measures financed by a £15 million grant from the Department of Transport. The complement of the British Transport police on the Underground has been increased twice since 1986. Good progress has been made in investigating recent serious incidents on the Underground and British Rail.

Mr. Graham : Is the Minister aware that a posse of American vigilantes is educating and training a group of young men and women called the Guardian Angels to protect the interests of the travelling public on the Underground? Is he further aware that the security of mind among the travelling public, especially the elderly, has been disturbed, as they are terrified at the Government's lack of action and commitment to ensure that law and order are restored to transport in Britain? Will the Minister ensure that the public do not need to rely on vigilantes to ensure their safety on the Underground in London?

Mr. Patten : It is for that reason that the establishment of the British Transport police is to be increased from 350 to 400. That is exactly why the Government are encouraging the British Transport Police Authority to consider changing its statutory authority so as to allow British Transport police to recruit special constables. We do not want individual private citizens to take up the policing of this country. We wish them to join the special constables, to get a proper training and uniform, and to do a proper job.

Sir Anthony Grant : Has my hon. Friend seen an article in today's Daily Mail referring to an internal report and inquiry by British Rail showing a great and disturbing worry about crime by riff-raff on the line between Cambridgeshire and Liverpool street? Will he urge British Rail to publish the report so that all the facts can be known? Will he have discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Transport to see what can be done to help British Rail to stamp out those pests?

Mr. Patten : I have not read or seen the report by British Rail, although I have seen the report in the Daily Mail. I

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shall pass on my hon. Friend's concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I am sure that British Rail is well aware that customers--as it increasingly refers to them, rather than passengers--need to feel safe and that if it wants to increase rather than decrease the number of its customers, it will need to address the issues firmly.

Mr. Darling : The Minister does not seem happy with his lot. As robberies on the London Underground doubled in the last three years, and the clear-up rate has fallen from 20 per cent. to 12 per cent., and bearing in mind the British Rail survey that showed that many women travel in fear on trains, will the Home Secretary lend more police to the British Transport police, or will his shoddy and short-sighted attitude towards spending public money where it is needed mean that more people will continue to travel in fear on the railways when, with a sensible allocation of resources, they would not need to do so?

Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the facts. An additional 50 police are going to the British Transport police. Before the establishment reaches the new level of 400, both the Metropolitan police and the City police are making available 80 of their own police forces to help. In addition, the considerable sum of £15 million for security measures in Underground stations, initially in some 13 stations on the Northern and Central lines, plus Oxford Circus, has been made available by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Metropolitan Police (Recruitment)

9. Mr. Jessel : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on Metropolitan police recruitment.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : A total of 2,160 officers were recruited to the Metropolitan police force during 1988, an increase of about 100 on the figure for 1987. On 31 January 1989 the strength of the force was 27,932, the highest ever and some 5,680 higher than in May 1979. The present establishment is 28,115 which could be reached by the end of March this year.

Mr. Jessel : Is my hon. Friend aware that those figures show an encouraging and welcome trend which is a considerable achievement both for the Metropolitan police and for the Home Office, considering all the other employment opportunities in the south-east? Does he agree that, as part of the fight against crime, the commissioner should aim to increase the number of police officers on the streets and on the beat in areas of outer London such as Twickenham?

Mr. Hogg : May I deal first with my hon. Friend's constituency of Twickenham? At the end of last year there were 349 police officers policing the Twickenham division, which was 18 more than in the previous year. I am aware that on 1 January the arrangements were changed and that my hon. Friend's constituency is now being largely policed from Richmond-upon- Thames station. Consequently, precise figures and comparisons are not possible. On the more general question, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that at the end of 1987 the number of days worked on street duty had increased by 13 per cent. compared with

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the end of 1986, and that during 1988 there was a further improvement of 7.5 per cent. in hours spent on street duty. That will continue.

Mr. Maclennan : Does the Minister believe that the Metropolitan police are satisfied with their resources to deal with white collar crime?

Mr. Hogg : I very much hope so, because when the hon. Gentleman's party, as it then was, was in power in 1978-79 it was spending £295 million on the Metropolitan force and today we are spending over £1 billion.

Police (Manning Levels)

10. Mr. Gow : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received as to whether the police manning levels which he has announced for 1989-90 are adequate to combat present and prospective rates of crime.

Mr. Hurd : I have received several representations from hon. Friends and hon. Members concerned about this announcement. Many of them have asked for more. The 1,100 extra police officers allocated this year will be followed by a further substantial programme of increases. Along with the other measures which we are taking, increases for 1989-90 will help to build on the recent welcome falls in total recorded crime so that we can concentrate more effectively on dealing with crimes of violence.

Mr. Gow : Despite greater police manpower and efficiency and better value for money than ever before, the reality is that crime in almost every part of the country is still increasing. Was my right hon. Friend's failure to meet the request from the chief constable and the police authority for a larger police establishment in Sussex due to the fact that he believed that more police men would fail to protect the innocent, or was it because he could not get any more money from the Chancellor?

Mr. Hurd : Although my hon. Friend's statement would have been true for almost all the past 30 years, it is not true now. The latest figures show a decline, year on year, across the nation of 3.7 per cent. in recorded crime. In my hon. Friend's own county of Sussex, where the crime level is well below the average, there has also been a very slight fall of about 1 per cent. Obviously, increasing the number of police officers is not in itself the whole answer to crime, but, nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that the 1,100 additional policemen that I have announced for the coming year is on top of a record series of increases which have increased total expenditure on the police by 52 per cent. in real terms. That is a bigger proportion than for any other major public service, and it will be followed by a further substantial programme of increases in which any further claims from Sussex will be considered.

Mr. Alton : Does the Home Secretary agree that in inner city areas, especially those such as Liverpool, a powerful pressure for crime is the low street value of hard drugs such as crack and heroin? Does he agree that, when considering the establishments for local police forces next year, he should reconsider the size of drug squads to ensure that their activities are better co-ordinated and that the powerful drug barons are apprehended?

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Mr. Hurd : Yes, indeed, I entirely agree with that. The building up of the drugs rings of regional crime squads has been a priority in policing. I am glad to say that they are increasingly effective and are gaining more and more accurate and timely intelligence from overseas. They will remain a priority.

Mr. Alexander : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the special constabulary has an important role in reducing crime? What reassurance can he give the House that its role will be expanded and recruitment to it increased?

Mr. Hurd : As my hon. Friend knows, we are certainly pressing for that. I hope that, after the conference on the subject that we organised in London and after the lead given by many chief officers of police, we shall see a steady build-up of special constables, not just in quantity but in the quality and importance of their work.

Mr. Corbett : Will the Home Secretary confirm that West Midlands police have received an increase of only 70 uniformed officers since 1981, despite a crime rise that has been faster than the national average and ever-rising levels of crime against the person? Will the Home Secretary further confirm that those 70 extra officers came in response to a plea for 350 extra places, and that for 1989-90 there will be only 62 extra officers although the police authority asked for 1,500 over the next five years? Why does the Home Secretary insist on denying the west midlands the police officers that it needs to prevent and combat crime more effectively?

Mr. Hurd : That is ripe coming from the hon. Gentleman sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, repersenting the party which left the police in such a state in 1978. The west midlands has shared fully in both the main developments in this field in the past two or three years : a steady increase in the size of the police force and a welcome fall in the total of recorded crime.

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