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House of Commons

Friday 30 June 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


9.34 am

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I wish to present a petition, which reads as follows :

"To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The Humble Petition of supporters of Burnley Football Club and members of the Burnley Football Supporters' Club, Sheweth. That we condemn the proposed legislation to force football supporters to carry identification cards, and we believe that a system of identity cards will have little impact on the problem of football related violence, will hinder football's attempts to attract a new generation of supporters and will lead to the eventual demise of the game as a spectator sport.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will urge the Government to bring forward proposals which will have the support of genuine football supporters.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray." The petition is signed by 1,963 signatories and has my full support.

To lie upon the Table.



Mr. Harry Greenway presented a Bill to make provision for the punishment of persons who blaspheme against certain religions : And the same was read the First Time ; and ordered to be read a Second Time on Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 171.]

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Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have read the reports in the newspapers of 26 babies dying because of ministerial incompetence in failing to warn expectant mothers of the risk of listeria. We expected that there would be a statement at 11 o'clock, but nothing has yet appeared on the annunciator screen. Can you say whether Ministers have asked you whether they may intervene at this stage? If they have not, may I say, through you, that we would expect such a statement at 11 o'clock?

Mr. Speaker : I have so far received no notification but notifications can be made at any time before 10 o'clock.

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Policing (London)

[Relevant document : Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Cm. 670)] .

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

9.36 am

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I am sure that hon. Members will agree that since we last debated the policing of London the Metropolitan police have made important progress. I can speak today of continuing falls in total levels of reported crime, of better links between police and community, and of continuing measures to improve the service that the Metropolitan police deliver to the people of London.

Crime has not yet been decisively beaten ; these developments are only the first glimpses of success and the Metropolitan police are clear that there is plenty of scope for further improving their performance, but I hope that throughout this debate we shall all bear in mind that we place heavy duties on our police and remember that, to carry out their duties, officers need the underlying support and positive help that they expect from the public. One of the purposes of this debate is to enable me, as the police authority, to renew my pledge of that support and help.

Recorded crime figures do not tell the whole story, but they give an indication of what is happening. In his annual report for 1988, the commissioner reported a 2 per cent. decrease in recorded crime over the year. The latest figures, for the 12 months to the end of March show a 4 per cent. fall. Over the past two years, recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district has declined by 6 per cent.--a modest but very welcome reversal of earlier trends. It means, for example, that many Londoners were not burgled in 1988 who would have been burgled if the earlier trend had been maintained, although of course people do not see it that way.

This good news hides some disturbing undercurrents. Offences of violence against the person rose by 19 per cent. in 1988. The number of homicides fell by 46--23 per cent.--but violence resulting in slight or no injury--as in eight out of 10 violent offences--rose by more than 20 per cent. This includes crimes such as sexual offences and domestic violence, which are are now being reported, whereas before the victim would have kept quiet. Even so, there is a savagery and brutality in some crimes today which anger all of us and create an outward ripple of fear.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend so early in his speech. Does he agree that a major difficulty in overcoming public violence is the trend with new roads and the adaptation of existing roads to put in subways and remove surface crossings? Is he aware that in my constituency at the Target roundabout on the A40, which everybody knows, there have been two or three attempted rapes in a month and other serious acts of violence? Old people and young mothers are too terrified to use subways generally, and that is understandable.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend has given an example of an important point, which is that the design of, for example, lighting and the placing of subways and crossings can be crucial in preventing or encouraging crime for years ahead. The Metropolitan police are trying to insert their skill and advice into the planning and design of projects such as the

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one my hon. Friend has in mind. Without knowing more about that project, I cannot comment further. However, effective thinking about crime at the point of design is extremely important for good or ill thereafter.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : I welcome the emphasis the Home Secretary puts on design in relation to crime prevention. Does he accept that design, the environment and the whole culture in which particular communities live and work have an impact on the effectiveness of crime prevention? Will he undertake to meet his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment so that greater assistance can be given to the estates where crime is a particular problem because of design, and so that poor design features can be unravelled and the estates made more sustaining places in which to live? I am thinking especially of the Stonebridge estate in my constituency. There is also the problem of the design of some police stations. Harlesden police station, which was referred to specifically by the National Audit Office, dates back to the beginning of this century and provides the police with wholly unacceptable conditions in which to work and carry out their functions. Will the right hon. Gentleman put his money where his mouth is on this issue?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman has now made his speech and I am sorry that I gave way to him. He is right on the need for the redesign of some housing estates, and the Estate Action programme of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the Environment is designed to achieve that. He is also right to say that there is a long way to go before we have the well -designed and modern police stations required in the Metropolitan district.

I was talking about the outward ripple of fear caused by the savagery and brutality of some crime today. An especially threatening form of crime to many people is the street robbery of personal property after a sudden attack. In 1988, the number of those crimes was about the same as in the previous year, whereas the latest 12-month figures to the end of March show a 3 per cent. fall. The commissioner, with my full support, is determined to reduce street robberies. The campaign against street robberies in the worst affected divisions continued last year with considerable success. One of the tactics used against street robbery is to deploy extra uniformed and plain clothes officers for set periods, targeting known trouble spots and suspects. A particularly successful example of that in 1988 was Peckham division, where that tactic, combined with posters and leaflets led to a 26 per cent. drop in street robbery and a 48 per cent. reduction in theft from the person.

Offences of violence remain a serious and growing problem. It is encouraging to see the commissioner's commitment to their reduction beginning to be reflected in the statistics. In 1988, the number of robbery offences cleared up rose by 7 per cent. and there was a 27 per cent. increase in the number of offences of violence against the person cleared up, while the clear-up rate for those offences rose from 53 to 57 per cent. I hope that those indications of growing police success in the clear-up of violent crime will help to bring about a fall in such offences. A violent offender does not offend while behind bars and the more likely he is to be caught, the less likely it is that he will try it on in the first place.

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It is encouraging to see that domestic burglary continues to fall, now by 6 per cent. a year. That must in part be due to the 1.25 million households in the Metropolitan police district now involved in neighbourhood watch schemes. Theft of or from a motor vehicle has fallen by 9 per cent. Those are usually preventable crimes. It is too early to be certain, but it looks as if the message promoted by the police, Government and volunteers in the community is achieving its aim. Despite the efforts in Labour boroughs such as Lambeth to hold up this progress and to keep police and community apart. I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will show some faint sign of recognition and perhaps even of pleasure at what is being achieved.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Will the Home Secretary deal with two other significant areas? The commissioner's report dealt with alcohol-related offences. What is noticeable by its absence from the report are offences that have a racial element. Will the Home Secretary comment on trends in those areas?

Mr. Hurd : I am coming on to the matter of racial attacks. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the heavy weight of stupid drinking and, in some cases, illegal drinking by minors, in the crime figures. As he knows, we have stiffened the law on that and we are encouraging police and magistrates to make greater use of their powers than they have done in the past.

A particularly worrying form of burglary is that in which the burglar poses as a representative of an agency or company in order to gain access to a house. The elderly are especially at risk and 3,500 such offences were recorded in London last year.

The northern area of the Metropolitan district has been concentrating resources on the investigation of these offences, in parallel with an Age Concern campaign to warn elderly people of the dangers. Arrests have been made of burglars posing as social workers, police officers and Department of Social Security officials. One man, who posed as an electricity board official, was recently convicted of 400 such offences and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. That is just one example, but I could have given hundreds of examples of the way in which the Metropolitan police are working hard to tackle crime better.

The reform of the police to which I referred last year has continued.

The Metropolitan police are far more decentralised than they were three years ago. Since 1986, headquarters strengths have been reduced by 400 officers. That means that more of the extra officers whom I have authorised can be deployed on divisions for operational purposes, rather than being diverted unnecessarily to desk work and administrative duties. The fruits of the policy are seen in the 1,300 additional officers now on areas and divisions and in the 23 per cent. rise in street duty hours over the past two years.

It is a better planned force. The annual strategy sets out policing priorities and major issues, and divisional objectives are published after extensive consultation with local communities. It is a better-managed force. There is a problem of attitude, in that there is a natural tendency for officers to resist being labelled as "managers", with connotations of being part of a desk-bound bureaucracy. However, there has been a growing realisation in the

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Metropolitan police and throughout the police service that without management skills, the police cannot make the best use of the resources they are given. These are important steps in the right direction, but we still have some way to go before we can be satisfied that value for money is being fully achieved.

In the foreword to his annual report, Sir Peter Imbert pointed out the dangers of trying to measure the efficiency of a police force as if it were a steel mill or an oil refinery. Of course he was right to do that, but I am pleased to note his commitment to applying modern business methods to the police, where they fit. Policing is not a business, but it certainly needs to be businesslike.

We are talking about a £1 billion organisation, employing over 40, 000 staff, and it is not enough to rely upon the traditional policing and detective skills of the Victorian officer. The Met is a big buyer, a big caterer, a big computer organisation, a big forensic science service, a big training facility, a big vehicle fleet operator, and many other things. Each Metropolitan police officer, with the back-up services which the organisation provides, represents some £35,000 of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money each year.

There is no need to apologise for that figure, because a properly paid, adequately equipped police force costs money. Part of the job of the police authority is to make sure that resources are used to the best effect. There is now an understanding throughout the Metropolitan police force, among the officers and the civil staff, that service delivery and the delivery of value for money go hand in hand. We cannot have a good police service in 1989 without good management ; nor can we accept large sums of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money without having to show that it is being used properly.

Priority continues to be given to going ahead as fast and as radically as possible with a programme of civilianisation which releases more police officers for operational duties which they alone can perform. Since May 1986 when we announced the civilianisation programme, more than 300 posts have been civilianised, releasing as many officers for operational duties. Provision is being made to civilianise another 200 posts in this financial year.

An annual programme of efficiency scrutinies, first introduced in 1985, has resulted in significant savings and management improvements. For example, the scrutiny on overtime has led to a reduction of 10 per cent. from £6 million a year, in the overtime budget, and £450,000 a year is to be saved as a result of the scrutiny of the Metropolitan police band. A recently completed scrutiny of civil staff recruitment and retention should lead to considerable improvements in the management and use of civil staff. A scrutiny of abstractions from duty, aimed at improving the proportion of time each officer spends on operations, is due to report later in the summer.

Improvements have been made in resource management. Changes were made to the system of estimating, monitoring and controlling expenditure, to enable thorough probing of all bids for expenditure. The Commissioner is committed to the development and wider use of a range of output measurements and performance indicators.

In line with other parts of the public sector, I have asked the Met to consider whether any of its functions of the organisation could be better performed if contracted out. Some 660 cleaning posts have been contracted out. The contracting out of wheelclamping has resulted in a

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fourfold increase in clamping activity. The Metropolitan police will shortly be testing the market for contracting out a part of their catering operations.

Accountancy advice has been brought into the Met finance department, and a new computerised accounting system is being introduced. Devolved budgets have been introduced on divisions in three of the eight areas of the Met, and it is planned to extend this to all areas by next year. In these and other ways, the Met is improving the use of its resources.

I have dwelt on those improvements in practical terms, giving examples, because I am a little worried and irritated when some critics of the police from all parts of society, but particularly in the quality press, write as if nothing is being done and no steps are being taken to provide value for money, and as if we are simply pouring additional money into the police without having any understanding or assurance of how it is spent. That is not so. The changes that I have mentioned are very important and are continuing. There is some way to go, but they are designed to ensure that the unprecedented increases in men and money which we have authorised in the huge organisation which is the Metropolitan police are being used for the better protection of the citizens of London.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Hurd : No. I should like to get on. The hon. Gentleman may intervene just before I sit down.

There is still more to be done. The report by the National Audit Office, to which the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), referred just now, and which was published earlier this week, drew attention to the poor condition of police stations and to the need for better planning and management of the Metropolitan police estate. My Department and the police will be examined on this by the Public Accounts Committee on Monday next.

The capital programme is now focused on operational buildings and in particular on modernising police stations. The planning and management of the estate is being improved, but a great deal needs to be done to ensure that the resources of the Metropolitan police are used to provide the efficient and effective policing which the people of London expect and which the commissioner wants to provide. There is a role for external scrutiny--people looking from outside. I was able to report last year that for the first time, at the commissioner's invitation, Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary had undertaken an independent inspection in the Metropolitan police. A new inspector was appointed on 1 April to help with the increased burden which inspections of the Metropolitan police will place on the inspectorate. Two inspections, one of 8 area--the City of Westminster--and the other of the use of firearms by the police in London are being undertaken during the remainder of this year. Those inspections will continue at about two each year and will augment the existing internal system of inspection in order to measure force efficiency. I can announce today that, in common with inspection reports on provincial forces, Her Majesty's inspectors' reports on the Metropolitan police will be published from next year. Like the prison service, the police service is opening itself up for public discussion and examination to an unprecedented extent. I encourage that trend and I

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hope that the House will bear it in mind when it hears the next routine diatribe about the secretiveness of this Government. The mixture of skills needed by the police makes the job of an officer difficult. The hot-blooded boldness needed to tackle a criminal-- possibly armed--in mid flight might produce just the wrong result if an officer is called upon to cool the tempers of angry or frightened members of the community. The more one thinks about that and has experience of it, the less wonder it is that officers and their spokesmen sometimes complain that nowadays the public expect too many difficult things of the police and too wide a range of skills and attitudes. Anyone who is seriously acquainted with the police in London and throughout the country will sympathise with that concern, but policing must deal with a massive range of human problems. That requires a wide range of techniques if they are to be successfully resolved.

Imaginative policing is required and is carried out increasingly in London and elsewhere in the country. It is based on the partnership between the police and the community, without which crime cannot properly be controlled.

The Metropolitan police have to work with other agencies to ensure that the best possible service is provided to those who are vulnerable as victims of crime in our community. Last month my Department published the report of the interdepartmental racial attacks group. The report commended the work of the Metropolitan police in tackling racial incidents, citing in particular the best practice guidelines issued in 1986. The Met is already taking part in a project in east London in which the local agencies are working with each other and with the community to tackle racial harassment. Women and children are also especially vulnerable as victims of crime. The Metropolitan police now have seven special victims' examination suites where women can be taken for examination, interview and, most important of all, advice and support. The Metropolitan police were also pioneers in the inter-agency investigation of child sexual abuse. Many of the techniques in joint interviewing with the social services which were developed in the special unit at Bexley are now being incorporated as part of good practice throughout England and Wales.

Hon. Members may know from recent television programmes of the initiatives to help women who are victims of domestic violence. Following the introduction of a new force order requiring a more positive response to domestic violence, a specialist unit was set up at Tottenham police station. That has now been followed by 14 other units within the Metropolitan police district. Each of those specialist units collates reports of domestic violence, even where the woman withdraws her original complaint. In every case she is offered practical advice and support. She may be referred to a refuge or given help with finding emergency accommodation for herself and her children. If she wants to pursue her complaint, she will be offered support and advice through the court proceedings and beyond if necessary.

That is all relatively new. It responds to the complaints that the police pass by on the other side and that the less they are involved in domestic violence, the more they are pleased. The traditional attitudes were understandable. It is difficult for a police officer to get involved in domestic brawlings and in accusations of sexual offences within a family. It was understandable that in the past it was

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thought that a fairly narrow line should be taken. However, that attitude is changing. That may produce an immediate increase in the numbers of recorded crimes, because crimes will get on to the books which previously would never have been recorded. That is a tiny price to pay, if the police are helping, with other agencies, to get people out of some morass of misery and despair in their homes.

All those initiatives show the style of policing that the Metropolitan police are seeking to develop. It must be firm in a city such as London, but it is becoming increasingly compassionate. That is not a word of which they or we should be ashamed to use in those respects. It responds to the needs of the local community, and I have given the example of domestic violence. It goes beyond the bounds of traditional policing to co-operation with other agencies in serving the needs of victims.

The Metropolitan police have joined in our Home Office safer cities initiative. That is a further example of the need and the willingness of the police to work with others. The first two London projects, in Lewisham and Tower Hamlets, are now established. I can announce today that Islington and Wandsworth boroughs have agreed to join the safer cities programme, and I wish them every success.

The press reported--it may be wrong--that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was yesterday saying something in deprecation--he was almost sneering--of crime prevention activities and was accusing us of bypassing local authorities. The safer cites initiative is based on co-operation between the Home Office and local authorities. The boroughs that I have named in London, and the boroughs and cities involved in other parts of the country, show that we are not bypassing local authorities, and that local authorities controlled by the hon. Gentleman's party are coming forward and are accepting our invitations to join in.

I hope, therefore, that the Opposition Front Bench and the parliamentary Labour party will bring themselves up to date on those matters. There are things going on that are immensely helpful and useful, although there is a great deal more to be done. However, those developments correspond to the needs of their constituencies as well as to ours. There is no reason for the Opposition to be grudging, sneering or to be taking the lead from, say, the London borough of Lambeth, rather than from the interests of their own constituencies.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : Yesterday, at the conference on crime prevention and the local authority role, I was not sneering. I was saying that the Government, who have taken billions of pounds away from local authorities and then, in the safer cities campaign, given £250,000, are not doing very much for the real demands--for example, for the modification and better lighting of high-rise buildings. We were saying that we wanted a positive partnership between local authorities, the local communities, and the police. We believe that the Government have not given a strong enough lead or the resources needed.

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman will know what he said. I read only a press report, according to which he accused us of indulging in simply public relations activities and bypassing local authorities. The safer cities programme refutes those accusations.

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Mr. Harry Greenway : When the Labour party says that it wants to promote a partnership between local authorities and the police, why can boroughs such as Lambeth, which has been mentioned, and Ealing, refuse to join the established consultative police groups, which would promote more co-operation between the councils and the police than anything else?

Mr. Hurd : The Labour party is still living in that old world where it thinks that there is support and votes to be gained by rubbishing the police. I accept that there have been changes and developments, but that is all the more reason why people who purport to be speaking for the Labour party as a whole should not fall back into that old vocabulary. They should treat those disruptive dinosaurs in the London boroughs with the contempt that they deserve. The Leader of the Opposition lamentably neglected the chance to do that during the Vauxhall by-election.

One element of the police-public partnership that deserves particular mention is the special constabulary. The public want to help to make London's streets and the Underground safer, and that is why so many people greeted the arrival of the Guardian Angels earlier this year. I welcome the willingness to help that that shows, but I do not believe that it is sensible to build up the use of unofficial and unaccountable squads in front-line policing.

I urge all those whose interest and enthusiasm were kindled by the opportunities offered by the Guardian Angels to consider joining the special constabulary. I believe that everyone will accept that sometimes in the past the specials have felt like Cinderella. It is now pretty well acknowledged within the police service that the specials have not always been treated or deployed as well as they might have been. However, that is changing. Following an efficiency scrutiny of the Metropolitan special constabu-lary last year, a wide range of measures are being brought in to improve the effectiveness and the attractiveness of the Metropolitan specials. A new recruitment campaign will begin this summer, training has been improved, and divisions are being encouraged to use their special constables on a wider range of duties.

An example of what can be done is Tooting division. Between August last year, when there were 20 specials, and today, the division has tripled its number of specials. They are attached to regular police reliefs, and they play an important supporting role in policing the community. Such initiatives are being encouraged throughout London, and I hope that many more active and responsible citizens will take advantage of them.

I am aware, too, of the ideas that the commissioner is considering to harness the enthusiasm of members of the public for a range of community projects not requiring police powers. I have no objection to pilot projects along those lines, under police supervision.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that valuable though specials can be in certain circumstances, they are no substitute for regular, full-time police officers? Does he recognise, too, that some of the proposals that have been floated in recent months by senior officers of the Metropolitan police--for such things as blue angels and similar ideas--are far from being welcomed by the regular police force in London?

Mr. Hurd : I know that the Police Federation has to be persuasively urged down the path that I have been

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describing, which is reasonable. My hon. Friend was right to say that the specials are not a substitute, but they can be an important supplement to the work of the regular police. That is a point that came up at the annual conference of the federation, which my hon. Friend and I recently attended. I hope that the federation will give some leadership in that direction and will not allow traditional anxieties, which I believe are now out of place, to dominate their feelings for those initiatives. All those matters need to be tested, but the example I gave of the Tooting division shows that that can be done with the support of the regular police.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : I apologise to my right hon. Friend for missing his earlier remarks, because I was participating in a broadcast. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the specials would have a helpful supplementary role--I agree with his adjective--in dealing with the scourge of racial harassment and attacks?

Mr. Hurd : Yes, I think so. I see one of the possible roles of the specials as being a supplementary link between the regular force and the community. If we are increasingly successful--as the Met is--in recruiting people from the ethnic minorities, such a link in dealing with racial attacks could be especially helpful in parts of, say, the east end or the north-east of London or, for all I know, in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Any imaginative organisation committed to public service will always want more resources. There is nothing unusual about that and it is a good sign. Hon. Members, in common with me, will be familiar with the Metropolitan police officer who tells us that if he only had a few more officers, a car or a computer he could provide the community with a better service. I entirely understand that ambition and that is why we have increased the establishment of the Metropolitan police to the record level of 28,415-- more than 5,000 higher than it was 10 years ago. During the same period the Met's budget has grown by 60 per cent. in real terms. There are few major public services that can show anything like that increase and it reflects the priority that we give to policing in London and elsewhere. Further increases in the Met's establishment and in the supporting resources are planned.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The Home Secretary has referred twice to resources and to personnel. He will be aware that one of the abiding problems faced by the Met is the retention of people in the force. One of the causes of that problem is the difficulty that people face when living in London because of house prices and the like. What does the right hon. Gentleman believe can be done this year to recruit more Londoners into the police force and to hold them, once recruited?

Mr. Hurd : The Met has a tradition of recruiting widely, including people from the provinces, who eventually go back to the provinces, and there is nothing wrong in that. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under -Secretary replies I shall ask him to deal especially with retention of staff which, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has shown, is extremely important.

Quality of service and professionalism are the key standards by which the police are judged. It is fundamental

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to the professionalism of the force that the service they provide is that required by the public in all its diversity. In turn, the support of the public helps the police to provide a better service to them. But it is a process to which all of us can contribute. Recently the Commissioner has published his "Statement of Common Purpose and Values" for the 1990s. In that statement Sir Peter tried to set out in simple and direct terms the underlying and enduring principles to which all employees of the Met should be committed. That is a difficult exercise, particularly perhaps for the commissioner of the Met. It is easy to laugh at it as an endeavour at window dressing or preaching against sin, but I believe that that statement fits. It is a brave enterprise to acknowledge and rectify the shortcomings in the service provided by the Met.

We all hear deserved compliments about the Met, but there is a steady trickle of complaints about the behaviour of Met officers. Those complaints are usually not about gross misconduct, but about discourtesy, off- handedness, a touch of arrogance or lack of interest. That kind of complaint, often trivial, can cause disillusionment among the public and it eclipses the first-class service provided by the majority of officers and makes those officers feel defensive and, at times, isolated. All Members, particularly those representing London, can do something about that.

The commissioner has established a team dedicated to converting that "Statement of Common Purpose and Values" into action. He, in common with everyone else, realises that it is by action that the programme will be judged. The staff associations of the Met, the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association are to be congratulated on backing up the programme. The House should do the same. It is not every organisation that, in the middle of doing a difficult and dangerous job, acknowledges its occasional faults and publicly commits itself to doing better.

The commissioner has the support of the great majority of Londoners in building on the traditions of the police to provide a service of which we can all be proud. Many problems remain, but the courage and the skill of the Met are qualities of which Londoners and the country can be proud.

10.14 am

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : The Opposition approach this important debate in a constructive and positive manner. I was slightly concerned that the Home Secretary, in an otherwise positive and thoughtful speech, saw fit once again to try to stereotype the attitude of the Labour party and Labour local authorities as being negative towards the police. It is a cheap shot to mark off one particular local authority, which represents a tiny minority, when the majority of Labour local authorities and other local authorities display a positive attitude to the police. We want to promote that constructive partnership and not to dwell on the tiny minority who choose a different path.

The citizens of London desire a police force that is efficient, corruption- free and treats the public with sensitivity and respect. They want a police force that actively promotes crime prevention and community safety, and which successfully pursues the perpetrators of crime. We believe that we have an extremely good police force in

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London, but, like Sir Peter Imbert, we believe that it could be markedly improved by better management, better training and by a clear, democratic link with Londoners. The desire for such a Metropolitan police force is held by most people in the country and by the House.

We know that the Met is good, but we also know that to rest on our laurels and not to push for change means that problems will arise. It is a year since our last debate on this matter and it has been a highly significant year for the Met. We have had a swathe of reports and investigations, and 1988-89 must represent the most active period of investigation of the Met, by others and by itself. It is all good stuff and most interesting.

The Wolff Olins report, "A Force for Change" was published last autumn. It was commissioned by the Met, and, in part, it was highly critical of the force. The report referred to the Met's uncertainty about its role, to a lack of common purpose, internal division and a lack of support for those who are in contact with the public. It also referred to the need for improvement in training and management. It described the Met's wary attitude towards the world and referred to a minority of police officers

"who are too free with their language, and who adopt an aggressive attitude in their relationship with people in the street. This minority, who are rude or insensitive, create an atmosphere for the whole of the Met which deeply embarrasses the majority."

The report stated that the force's communications with the outside world were poor and, as has been mentioned already today, it said that the physical state of many police stations was run down. The report stated :

"All this contributes to an atmosphere of shabby confusion." The report concluded that for the Met to be more effective it should first feel more united, secondly improve leadership, thirdly adopt a positive attitude towards the concept of service to the public, fourthly become less defensive and isolated, fifthly improve its communications and, lastly, improve its appearance. It emphasised the need for all in the Met to feel that they are part of a public service.

We must congratulate Sir Peter Imbert on publishing such a report. To his credit, he has worked speedily to respond to the criticisms and to bring about the change of direction proposed by it. He has introduced the Plus programme accompanied by the internal document, "Making it Happen". The commissioner has emphasised the importance of service to the public time and again on radio, television and in other media. The Plus programme is designed to produce a united force providing a quality service to the public. It recognises the importance of those who work in direct contact with the pulic and talks of introducing an effective rewards and sanctions system. It will further improve communications, buildings and equipment. The Plus programme is designed not as a policy statement but as a mechanism to introduce and sustain change. It is a major attempt to alter the culture of the Metropolitan police. We must debate the Plus programme in depth because the crucial question is whether the changes that it proposes will take place on the ground. The criticisms made in "A Force for Change" and the attempts to change how the Metropolitan police work are not new, but will Sir Peter Imbert's determined efforts work in practice? Are local chief superintendents taking notice of them? It has been suggested that the responses from some areas have been rather bland. Does the Home Secretary

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intend vigorously to ensure that the programme succeeds? Some of the remarks that he made towards the end of his speech encourage us to believe that he does. Hon. Members and the public will need to see a vigorous Home Secretary giving Sir Peter Imbert the support that he deserves in making the fundamental changes that are necessary. The chances of the programme succeeding depend on the Metropolitan police's previous decentralisation work, much of which started under Sir Kenneth Newman. Has there been devolution of power from the centre? Has the programme been effective not only in moving bodies out of New Scotland Yard but in devolving power? The management of many commercial organisations has improved as a result of decentralisation, and if the Metropolitan police are to experience the same success the power to take decisions must be decentralised. It is refreshing to see change and a positive commitment to change, but change should not be made for its own sake and it must be evaluated. It is no good introducing programmes for change unless they are closely evaluated. Evaluation must be part of the programmes for change so that in a year or two we can ask how effective the changes have been, but alter course or tack if they have not been so effective as we thought that they would be.

The Commissioner is to be commended on opening up the Metropolitan police to other forms of scrutiny. More information is now flowing to consultative groups and the lay visiting programme, which I believe is the most robust in the country. However, 1989 has seen the production of a highly significant document on the CID. I had hoped that the Home Secretary would make more mention of it. The document, which is known as the Crime Investigation Priority Project document, has been made available to me. It reflects uneasiness about the behaviour and attitudes of the CID, and is critical of part of it. It refers to a lack of clear purpose, inappropriate organisational structures, confusion over supervision and a lack of accountability among senior management for their juniors. If something goes wrong, the junior always seems to carry the can. The report says that more concern should be expressed for victims, and states :

"A substantial proportion of uniform officers attending as the First Officer at the scene of a routine crime are unclear as to what to do to answer either the needs of the victim or the requirement of the Force for information."

The report also states that training is inadequate and that it "cannot be considered sufficient when only two hours were given to Constables to teach them how to investigate rather than report crimes and CID officers can receive no training for the last 20 years of their service."

The report makes 143 recommendations for change, which hardly inspires confidence in some CID activities. I hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that the proposals for change are implemented and monitored.

I ask the Home Secretary to give a little more detail about the crime reporting and information system, which he dealt with briefly. It is an important advance in technology for the police. When will the system be operated force-wide, and is he satisfied with the way in which it is currently developing? There have been reports of problems and teething troubles with it, so will he make some further comments on that?

I want to make my speech in a positive spirit, but we believe that there are problems with crime screening. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to comment on the

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