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Column 1225slight but welcome reduction in some crimes in the Metropolitan police area, but violent crime is still increasing. According to polls, violent crime causes most concern to London residents. We understand the Home Secretary saying that the reduction in crime is welcome. However, he mentioned domestic and sexual violence--violence directed against women--and said that the number of cases being reported may have increased but suggested that it might not be the crime itself that has increased but rather the reporting of it. We understand that some of the new techniques of crime screening being used may lead to crime not being reported. The decline in burglary and some other offences may reflect the fact that crime screening is having an impact on the public. The Home Secretary looks unclear about this, so I shall be more specific. Clearly, the police must prioritise their work. No doubt screening has been going on unofficially for many years, but there is a worry that it may lead to loss of confidence in the police. The Metropolitan police estimate that only 15 per cent. of allegations will be screened. Clearly, public awareness of screening policy may lead to cynicism and could dry up the flow of information that is so vital to police work. It appears that screening has had an effect on the number of cases reported to the police. If the public believe that nothing will be done, they will not report an incident. It will be fascinating to know how much of the drop in burglary rates in London can be attributed to the effects of screening. I therefore point out, again in a positive spirit, that screening could lead to under- reporting. It is important that individuals are handled sensitively by the police, and screening could be a problem in that regard. If an offence is screened out, the victim may be upset that positive action is not to be taken. That brings me back to the theme of behaviour of individual officers and the need to ensure that they are all sensitive to the needs of victims and the public.
From talking to senior officers, I understand that the police are unhappy about screening. The CIPP report says that screening, as currently operated, is
"discouraging first officers from investigating crimes fully ; failing to provide sufficient information for a proper screening decision to be made : involving experienced detectives in the investigation of mundane crimes."
We need to take a fresh look at crime screening. Does the Home Secretary intend--or has he done so already--to ask the Home Office research unit to study screening and its effects? The results of such a study would benefit hon. Members.
The Home Secretary mentioned crime prevention and seemed to object to the positive conference that Labour Members held on crime prevention and the role of local authorities yesterday at Church house. Increasingly, crime prevention is being recognised as being of central importance to the police and the community. The Government have spoken about crime prevention at length, but we believe that their approach is deeply flawed. First, the Government's economic and social policies have had a devastating effect on inner-city areas such as those in London. Unemployment, particularly among young people, and deteriorating conditions and services have had a direct impact on offenders. Secondly, the resources put
Column 1226into crime prevention are woefully inadequate. We have said that to the Home Secretary many times, but he has never answered our questions.
Of course, we want safer cities campaigns, but they must be properly resourced. We estimate that the £250,000 for each campaign is the cost of modifying the front entrance doors of five high-rise blocks of flats. That is not enough in an evironment in which crime has escalated in the past 10 years. Those sums pale into insignificance when contrasted with the massive loss of resources that local authorities have experienced.
The Home Secretary should consider the French experience of the e te jeunes programme in which the French authorities have recognised the growing rates of burglary and petty crime by people as young as 15. The French have recognised that resources must be invested in employment, training and creative leisure initiatives. We cannot have safer cities without greater resources flowing into the key element--the democratically elected local authorities.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : My hon. Friend is making a very apposite point about safer cities. My borough of Newham, which is the second most deprived local authority area in England and Wales and desperately needs resources, applied under the safer cities campaign and was rejected by the Government. My borough has one of the highest crime rates in London and the highest incidence of racial harassment, yet we were refused. How do the Government work that out?
Mr. Sheerman : It is rather mysterious. The Secretary of State chose to mention the matter two or three times. Only after some pushing from us and our discussions about why Islington had a committee promoting a safer city but no local authority representative were two people appointed to the committee.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I thank my hon. Friend for referring to Islington. Islington borough council has done much to make housing estates safer and has participated closely with tenants associations and the local police in making the borough safer. The council undertook a thorough crime survey, which it published and which was used extensively by many people considering the problems caused by the misery of living in areas of great danger.
We do not want to have a row every time we debate this matter, but a partnership which excludes the local democratically elected element will not work. The stimulus for a positive crime prevention initiative should come from the police, local councils, the private sector and local communities working in harmony. Without the local democratically elected element, there will be problems with non-accountability, vigilantes and direct citizen action, and all the other aspects that none of us wants.
I beg the Home Secretary to consider that positive partnership, to stop slagging off the odd local authority that he does not like and to start working positively with the majority of local authorities. If he will give them a leadership role and the necessary resources, they will be able to deliver.
Mr. Corbyn : Before leaving this important general point, would my hon. Friend care to reflect that one problem in debates about London police and crime is that the Metropolitan police are fundamentally undemocratic? It is not satisfactory that the only public accountability of the Metropolitan police is through this debate, which happens just once a year. No vote is taken, there is no perusal of the Estimates and there is no serious discussion about force orders. All that we have is the good will, or otherwise, of the Home Secretary.
Mr. Shersby : The hon. Gentleman will know from his experience as a member of the Public Accounts Committee--albeit for a short time before his elevation to the Labour Front Bench--that the Metropolitan police undergo considerable scrutiny of their expenditure and operational policing by that Committee. Scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee, on which both sides of the House are represented, is very effective. The hon. Gentleman will know that all London Members are invited by the commissioner several times a year to discuss with him operational policing in London. That does not happen in the other police forces, so London Members of Parliament are in a uniquely privileged position.
Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no substitute for a positive link between the local community and its police force. The citizens of London should enjoy what the rest of the country enjoys.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman's plea is for greater co-operation between local government and the police in preventing crime. He has glossed over the story in London. Until recently, a considerable number of boroughs have been obstructing the police and trying to make relationships between the police and the community difficult. I readily acknowledge that, under pressure, that is changing--but the change is far from complete. The efforts of the Metropolitan police, and my own efforts since I have been Home Secretary, have been directed towards taking the political poison out of the situation and creating co-operation in London and elsewhere.
Obviously, the local housing or education authorities in most parts of the country have a crucial role to play in crime prevention. That is what the safer cities campaign is about. Crime prevention requires of local London politicians a much greater sense of responsibility than some of them have hitherto shown.
Mr. Sheerman : The Home Secretary should stop living in the past. First, his allegations about London authorities are inaccurate. Secondly, only a tiny minority have shown a lack of co-operation. The Opposition expect the Home Secretary to look positively towards a good relationship on which to build a better future, not to keep dragging in any little item from the past that he thinks will reinforce a political stance which will impress the blue-rinse spasm at Conservative party conferences.
Mr. Simon Hughes : On this issue I side with the Home Secretary. I have a salient example. I spent the Vauxhall by-election in Lambeth. As of today, Labour in Lambeth does not have a representative on the police consultative committee. The former Labour Member, Stuart Holland,
Column 1228was not allowed to do so because he was mandated not to. I do not know whether the new Labour Member will be allowed to do so. There are authorities in London which do not allow their members to sit on the police consultative committee. Until they do, people will not be represented by the Labour party in dialogues with the police.
Mr. Sheerman : The local authority to which the hon. Gentleman referred has a democratic right to co-operate or not. My honest view would be to recommend any local authority to sit on police committees and have a positive partnership with the police and the other authority.
Mr. Sheerman : Of course we use our influence, but we must recognise people's democratic rights. That is what democracy is about. Some Opposition Members, including some on the Liberal Benches or whatever they are called now, sometimes want democracy only when it produces the answers that they like. I am a realist and I know that some Labour-controlled local authorities sometimes make decisions that I do not like. That is the nature of democracy.
Mr. Banks : I am telling the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, through my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), that what he has just said is untrue. Stuart Holland did not sit on that committee not because he was instructed not to do so but because he thought that it was not performing its functions in the way that it should. That was his democratic right.
Mr. Sheerman : My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) knows more about what goes on in London than I do and I am glad that he has been able to correct a false allegation. I have given way several times, in keeping with the nature of this debate, but I hope that we can return to the main thrust of my points about crime prevention.
The involvement of local authorities in crime prevention is crucial because so much crime prevention work lies within their remit. The hostility that the Home Secretary has shown is clearly shown in the Islington experience. Initially the Home Office did not want any local councillors on the steering committee, despite Islington council's proven record in that area. It has now agreed to two local councillors on a steering committee consisting of between 12 and 15 people.
I do not want to bore the House by pursuing the theme of the need for positive partnership, but it is astounding to find when I speak to senior policemen at the level of chief constable, that they are far in advance of the Home Secretary in terms of seeking the right relationship and positive partnership with local authorities. Their best practice and the kinds of relationships that they enjoy around the country are far better and are leading the Home Secretary by example. The Home Secretary is coming around lamentably slowly to understanding the need for that partnership which the police and local authorities already recognise.
Column 1229With regard to finance, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Met's estate was published this week. That report shows an incredibly low level of financial accountability and the House must have some cause for concern about the report. The Met does not have a capital account and it does not account for the capital values of its land. Nor does it have an inventory of its properties. What do the Home Secretary and the receiver intend to do about that report? The CPAG's report also highlights the appalling conditions of many police stations. One in five police stations is said to be so substandard and cramped as to represent a severe handicap to effective policing. Similar points were made in the Wolff Olins report and they come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Met police stations. However, the capital programme operated through the Home Office appears to be excessively bureaucratic and slow. Will the Home Secretary comment on the resources that he intends to allocate to rectify those appalling conditions, which are unacceptable for the staff and for the public? How does he intend to speed up the bureaucratic process which is becoming so notorious in his Department? Will he consider ending Crown immunity for police stations? Lay visitors say that that is a major factor behind the squalid conditions in many police stations.
The physical state of police stations is linked with an inhospitable attitude to the public in many stations. Reading between the lines in many of the reports to which I have referred this morning, it is clear that we should make police stations user and consumer friendly. The vast bulk of people do not enter police stations in handcuffs to be charged with offences. They visit as members of the public in a positive spirit wishing to help. They should be treated in a civilised fashion in a pleasant environment. They should not be intimidated by some aspects of police stations. The Home Secretary believes strongly in civilianising certain aspects of the police. However, many of us believe that it would be a wholly retrograde step if a member of the public met a civilian instead of a uniformed police officer when he visited a police station. Many of us believe that the relationship with the police is most important and people in police stations who deal with the public should be police officers and not secretaries or clerks. The Home Secretary may disagree with that, but that is not a political view. We believe that this point should be considered thoroughly before a decision is taken. Many people in the police force would agree with that view.
The physical state of police stations could be rectified relatively quickly if the Home Secretary would put his shoulder to the wheel and support the desire for change at the head of the Met. It is also interesting to note that researchers who visited police stations recently in London and New York--we should remember that New York has a vastly different crime problem from that in London--reported that the atmosphere in New York police stations was far more relaxed and friendly with less emphasis on security than stations in the Met-- [Interruption.] The junior Minister, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, is doing his old Etonian act. I remind him that this is the House of Commons, not
Column 1230the Eton debating house. We can learn something from the United States in these matters and the Minister's snorting and carrying on at schoolboy level is quite wrong.
The financing of the Met reveals Government hypocrisy about policing. We should consider the financing squarely and honestly. We hear continuously that the Government back the police and about the extra police that are provided. However, in London the slippage of expenditure away from central Government and on to local authorities has been extensive. Last year, the precept increased by 14.4 per cent. and that increase was due almost entirely to the reduction in block grant from the Government. In other words, local authorities are footing more and more of the bill for the Met and are being forced to raise their rates to compensate for that outlay. London local authorities perceive the Home Secretary to be either weak in Cabinet or the tool of the Treasury if he cannot support Met expenditure coming from central Government. He can hardly be said to be standing up for the Met now. Does he intend to continue to shift expenditure on to local authorities or will he this year match his public pronouncements on policy with the cash that is urgently needed? That reinforces our desire that the local authorities, which pay so much towards their police forces, should have a democratic voice in connection with the running of their police forces. There are other reforms about which I want to ask the Home Secretary's views. The first reform concerns the Police Complaints Authority. The Wolff Olins report causes concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House and among the public. It refers to the complaints system as
"a major focus of dissatisfaction."
That dissatisfaction affects confidence in the police. What action does the Home Secretary intend to take about that? A close examination of how effectively the Police Complaints Authority is working is necessary. We must also consider whether it should be far more independent and powerful.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : As the hon. Gentleman has referred to the independent Police Complaints Authority, I am sure that he is aware that some of his colleagues and Conservative Members in the Select Committee on Home Affairs are examining the work of that authority and will report to the House and to the Home Secretary in some detail on how we see its work progressing and how it may be further sustained.
Mr. Sheerman : I thank the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) for his intervention. We hope that the Home Secretary will carefully examine the evidence submitted and the Select Committee's conclusions.
What action will the Home Secretary take to end the scandal--it is a scandal and we cannot sweep it under the carpet--of officers taking early retirement on health grounds to avoid disciplinary hearings? It is a matter of great concern. The Home Secretary should react positively to the concern being expressed by the public. It is not amusing to see on television a police officer running the London marathon or another marathon the day after taking early retirement on medical grounds. There is
Column 1231something wrong when many officers evade the disciplinary system by taking early retirement. The Home Secretary should concentrate his attention on that.
There is growing concern about the expansion of the private security industry, which is encroaching on areas previously the domain of the Metropolitan police. It is clear that that industry needs to be regulated, but the Government pervesely fail to take account of the views of the public and of the police. When will the Home Secretary decide that that industry will never satisfactorily regulate itself and that there should be an independent regulatory body?
What action does the Home Secretary intend to take about the growing number of immigration prisoners held on remand in police cells? Lay visitors have expressed grave concern about the matter. I do not believe that the Home Secretary has reacted positively to complaints.
Will the Home Secretary enlighten the House about where responsibility lies in the racial harassment guide distribution fiasco? We have not had a satisfactory reply. About £300,000 of public money seems to have been wasted in the non-distribution of an important booklet on racial harassment. Saatchi and Saatchi were given the contract for distribution, but many citizens have not received the booklet. When will the Home Secretary demand repayment from Saatchi and Saatchi for non-distribution of the booklet? Traffic regulation enforcement is another matter of great public concern. Over the past few years, traffic regulation enforcement for important offences such as drink driving and speeding has decreased as a result of the rationalisation of police efforts, yet the North report showed that the public regard some of those traffic offences very seriously indeed. They are clearly related to many deaths and injuries. Opposition Members regard such matters seriously and believe that the priorities should be reversed.
There has been a lot of soul-searching by the police. The openness and honesty about the need for change have been refreshing, but will they be reflected on the ground? Will there be greater emphasis on public service? Can the Met restrain the minority of officers who can undo months of good work by one ugly incident? Will the Home Secretary end the absurdity of the capital's police force being accountable to him alone and establish a police authority for London? The open analysis and assessment of the Metropolitan police that have taken place over recent months are refreshing, but we must now press for the rigorous implementation of Sir Peter Imbert's reform throughout the force.
An answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) causes me a little concern. The danger is that if reform is too difficult or even too uncomfortable, the Government will not implement it. There would then be a temptation to resort to an even larger slice of the public relations pie, in the hope that people will be placated by the image rather than by the reality of a better service to the public. From 1979 to 1980 the Met public relations budget went from £759,000 to £3,397,000. I understand that police must have good public relations, but we want to see the very refreshing initiatives under Sir Peter Imbert resulting in a fundamental shake-up in the Met rather than greater spending on public relations.
Column 1232Opposition Members agree with Sir Peter Imbert's recent comments in the Sunday Times that the Met must be accountable to the public, but that accountability must be based on a democratic foundation. 10.55 am
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the policing of London. It is a matter of concern to hon. Members who represent London constituencies, and it is also a matter of national importance.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) raised several points, one of which was the accountability of the Metropolitan police. The hon. Gentleman is fundamentally wrong. He does not know the history of the police and he does not understand the character and nature of liberty and how it is preserved in this country. The Metropolitan police were established under the control of Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State, the Home Secretary, in 1829 because Parliament took the view, which it substantially still holds, that the purpose of the force is so important that it should ultimately be accountable to the House. That means that the force is accountable not only to the Home Secretary but to Committees of the House, including the Public Accounts Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is accountable also through its relationship with the 32 London boroughs, the eight outer districts that make up the Metropolitan police area, and even Her Majesty the Queen, as it is responsible for policing the royal castle at Windsor. It is responsible for policing activities outside London which are national if not international in character. For those reasons, the force has always been deemed to be a responsibility of the House and of the Home Secretary.
"That this House do now adjourn."
We are debating the policing of London. There will not be a vote at the end of the debate because there cannot be. We are discussing not accountability, but consultation with the police authority in London, who happens to be the Home Secretary, who happens to be here. We want people elected by the people of London to be able to scrutinise everything that the police do and to have some power over them.
Mr. Shersby : Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of London elect hon. Members who are able to play their part in scrutinising the work of the Metropolitan police, through their membership of parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee and so on? Hon. Members have every opportunity of scrutinising in minute detail the expenditure of the Metropolitan police and all their activities. They also have the opportunity to debate such matters in the House and refer them to the police authority who is here today. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) knows that, if he wishes to vote on these matters he can participate in Committees or in debates in the House.
Mr. Wheeler : My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is absolutely right. There are 84 Members of Parliament who represent London. I wonder whether the public would be greatly comforted by knowing how few of them, particularly Opposition Members, are present. Nine Members of Parliament represent the outer districts. The nature of the Metropolitan police is the concern of the whole nation. That is the principle to which I have been referring. Policing London represents a far bigger task than the size of its population would indicate. As the commissioner of Police of the Metropolis observed in his 1988 annual report, London attracts 75 per cent. of the illicit drugs market in the United Kingdom, 75 per cent. of major frauds, more than 50 per cent. of armed robberies and one third of all murders and rapes. Policing London is a matter principally, but not exclusively, for the Metropolitan police, and this debate is about policing in London. While I shall concentrate my remarks on the work of that force, we should not neglect the valuable role of those other forces that police London, including the corporation of the City of London police force, ably directed by its own commissioner--
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At 9.30 am I said that the Opposition expected a statement at 11 o'clock about the Government's failure to give early warning to pregnant women about the 30 per cent. fatality risk from listeriosis. No such statement seems to be forthcoming and neither of the Ministers responsible is here--I assume that they have gone into hiding for the weekend. As two Cabinet Ministers have bungled and 26 babies have died unnecessarily, the Opposition have no intention of allowing the scandal to die and will return to it on Monday.
Mr. Wheeler : As I was saying, the policing of London is not entirely a matter for the Metropolitan police. This House recognises the valuable work done by the other forces. I was referring to the City of London police force, under the able direction of its own commissioner, Mr. Owen Kelly. We also have the British Transport Police and the Royal Parks constabulary, which renders such valuable service in my own constituency and elsewhere in the City of Westminster.
Any view of policing in London must inevitably focus on the Metropolitan police, which is by far the largest of the United Kingdom's 52 police forces. It will cost more than £1.1 billion in national Government grants and local authority precepts in 1989-90. It controls and manages an estate valued at about £1 billion, employs more than 28,000 police officers and more than 13,000 civilians. Above all, it serves and protects a large and heterogeneous community which has the right to expect both value for money and effective policing. That provides a great challenge to the Metropolitan police and, above all others, to the commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert. I have every confidence in his ability to meet that challenge.
Today, I wish to draw attention to some matters of particular concern : the financial management of the force, the doubts expressed about the probity of some police officers, to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred, changing levels of recorded crime, police public relations and the serious problem of drugs.
Column 1234In recent years, much attention has been paid to improving the professional standing of police officers by substantial salary increases and enhanced opportunities for career development. Sadly, in the Metropolitan police district there has not been a matching allocation of resources for the police stations within which their better rewarded officers work. Moreover, the condition of many stations must have a negative impact on members of the public who may wish to seek assistance at one of the 188 police stations in the Metropolitan district.
In its recent report, the National Audit Office noted that 102 of the stations were graded in the two lowest "C" and "D"
categories--either as substandard or at the end of their working life. Only 20 stations are ranked as grade "A", with first-class, long-life expectancy, modern buildings. Including the 188 police stations and other sites, the Metropolitan police force is a large London property owner. The National Audit Office found that the Metropolitan police estate occupied 1.14 million sq m of floor area and required an annual revenue and capital expenditure of nearly £100 million. As the National Audit Office correctly notes, the Metropolitan police must develop a more efficient and effective strategy for managing this estate.
Given the enormous value of property in London, there must be some scope to exploit the potential that the Metropolitan police property offers. In this context, I particularly welcome and commend to the Home Office, as the police authority for the Metropolitan police, the National Audit Office suggestion that the Metropolitan police could adopt.
"a more commercial approach to resolving their funding difficulties (which) could include joint ventures with the private sector on the development of valuable vacant sites and the construction of premises incorporating police stations as part of a wider development." Now that these issues have been crystalised in the NAO report, I expect the report to be followed up energetically by both the Metropolitan police and the Home Office.
Steps to improve the management of the police estate in London will fit in with the trend of Metropolitan police policy. The force is endeavouring to instil a greater sense of financial accountability. Civilianisation continues to contribute to improved value for money. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, in 1988 a total of 134 posts were filled by civilian staff, releasing a similar number of police officers for operational duty. A pilot study of divisional budgeting was introduced in number 5 area in April 1988. Evaluation of the scheme indicated that it had enabled officers to exercise more effective control over the use of resources at local level, which is so important. I look forward to the introduction of divisional budgets in all eight areas in 1990 to enable financial accountability to be brought down to the lower level.
If financial affairs represent a challenge to the leadership of the Metropolitan police, fears of police partiality and incompetence provide a different, but equally important challenge. Sir Peter Imbert has provided sound leadership in this matter. Unease has been expressed, both in the House this morning and through an early-day motion, about corruption in the Metropolitan police, and one case in particular.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs, which I have the honour to chair, is conducting an inquiry into the annual report of the independent Police Complaints Authority and has examined some aspects of the problem.
Column 1235There has been understandable disquiet about the premature retirement on medical grounds of an officer facing serious disciplinary charges. From the evidence that we have received from the commissioner and others, I am confident that the incident arose from the operation of the regulations and procedures relating to such cases, rather than any desire for a cover up on the part of the Metropolitan police. I am glad to be able to say that today. I welcome the willingness of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the commissioner to look carefully at the relationship between the medical retirement and pending disciplinary hearings. My Committee will make representations on this point before the summer recess.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I have read the minutes of the Select Committee's relevant debate and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is more than one such case causing concern. If called to speak later, I shall allude to that. In the deliberations before his Committee completes its report, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that all the current cases of concern are thoroughly addressed so that the matter can be passed to the relevant authorities for proper investigation and, if necessary, further criminal investigation?
Mr. Wheeler : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Select Committee's function is not to investigate individual cases, which would be wholly wrong. We are not a final court of appeal for either side. Our function is too look at the important matter of policy and principle and seek to advise not only the House but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the best way to ensure that these complicated and difficult problems are satisfactorily resolved in a way that commands the support of the general public, whose interest we serve, as well as those of the House. I beg to suggest that my Committee will seek to do that.
On an operational level the Metropolitan police have had some measure of success, as shown by the latest crime statistics for the first quarter of 1989. They show a welcome fall of 28,000 notifiable offences, or 4 per cent., over the 12 months to March 1989. This fall can be partly attributed to the work of the police and to the crime prevention initiatives which they have supported and which so many Government Departments have encouraged.
An undeniable concern to emerge from these figures is the continuing rise in the level of recorded violent crime. Even this increase, however, may reflect the success of the Metropolitan police, who have consciously set out to encourage victims--particularly female victims--to report sexual offences and domestic violence that might hitherto have gone unreported. It is encouraging to note that the clear-up rate for sexual offences against women rose by 8 per cent. and that the number of cleared-up cases of domestic violence rose by 83 per cent. in 1988.
As to the vexed question of opportunist and random violence in the street, often called mugging, it seems to me that when the police carefully target likely offenders and concentrate their forces deliberately rather than randomly they can have a remarkable impact on the extent of these crimes, which cause so much public disquiet in some parts of London. I refer especially to the welcome work done by Inspector Barry Webb in Battersea, where at one time he
Column 1236achieved a 60 per cent. reduction in this sort of street crime. That is what the public want, and the police can do it when they think through the issues and plan accordingly.
Success in the fight against crime will always be the best way to improve police-public relations, but other aspects are also relevant, including police accountability, which can take many forms. In part, it can derive from debates such as this and from the work of the Committees of the House to which we have referred. It can also come from the local level. There are consultative committees in each of the 32 London boroughs, although the commissioner notes in his annual report that the majority political parties in Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth still do not participate in those committees. This is not a political point ; it is a matter of fact taken from the Commissioner's report. It is a matter of great regret that the people in these London boroughs are ill served by the Left-wing Labour councillors who persist in this old war against the police. Community or neighbourhood policing has often been advocated as providing an important form of local police accountability. However, as is shown by the excellent report by the Police Foundation on the neighbourhood policing experiment in Notting Hill between 1981 and 1986, the Metropolitan police and the cosmopolitan populace of the capital face deep-rooted problems when forming partnerships in pro-active policing schemes. Neighbourhood policing can be effective only if the objectives to be achieved are properly and clearly defined.
The Police Foundation report raises important general questions about the management of change in this extremely large police force. Police canteen talk already refers to the eight area deputy assistant commissioners as the eight ayatollahs. The Metropolitan police need to consider carefully how the management of change can best be achieved. To serve the citizens of London well in the 1990s, some radical organisational changes may be needed.
The Police Foundation report shows how vital it is to involve all ranks in this process, from the commissioner to the newest police constable, so that the senior management in Scotland Yard is not allowed to be insulated from the realities of policing at the operational level.
A continuing menace facing the Metropolitan police is that of illicit drugs. I said earlier that 75 per cent. of the illicit drugs market in the United Kingdom is to be found in London. If that continues to be so and if the drugs market increases in line with the worst expectations, London faces a terrifying prospect in the next few years.
Last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee visited the United States, where we saw the devastating social impact of drug misuse and of the purified form of cocaine known as crack. If crack addiction develops in London the cost to the National Health Service and to local social services and the human suffering and deprivation will be enormous. In these circumstances it is better to be willing to invest now in programmes designed to limit the spread of crack in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The work of the central drug squad of the Metropolitan police, of the regional crime squads and of the Customs and Excise may reduce the speed with which crack penetrates the British drug market, but the central lesson of the United States experience is that the most effective way to prevent drug trafficking is to reduce the demand for
Column 1237drugs by education. Law enforcement may slow their spread, but it is only one part of the strategy needed to prevent crack from spreading in London.
It has been suggested that organisational change in the police is required to meet these challenges. Ideas of a British FBI have been mooted. The abiding lesson of my visit to the United States was that the multiplication of enforcement agencies does not work. I am surprised that the central drug squad is not part of the organisation of the regional crime squads, co- ordination of which is essential to law enforcement among drug dealers and importers.
The Metropolitan police continue to perform their demanding task with professionalism and commitment. They are well led and they continually strive to improve. If, for the reasons that I shall develop when my Committee has an Estimates day debate next week, there are to be organisational changes in British policing, the Metropolitan police may well offer a model for regional police forces throughout Great Britain in terms of what can be achieved by the concentration of resources and of what administrative difficulities arise in a large and complex organisation.
Those of us who serve London constituencies are rightly proud of the work of the Metropolitan police and of the other police forces that serve the people of London. They are well on course to achieve what people want--the reduction of crime--and they grow ever more confident and effective in the use of their resources, manpower and money. I am glad to say that in the House today.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I shall start in the vein in which the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) ended. I pay tribute to the way in which the Metropolitan police have tried to come to grips in a new way in the past year or so, with the demands of policing the capital. I pay tribute to the Commissioner, who has got a grip on the force, to his officers in the London divisions, and to the police in my area who have consistently co-operated with my colleagues, my constituents and with me when their co-operation has been sought. There are, of course, times when the police must be criticised--they do not do everything right and the management has yet far to go, as it recognises--but if the people at the top appreciate the need for change, that filters through and attitudes and understanding are seen to be different.
I have been more grateful to the police than usual in the past year because my house has been burgled three times, and I have needed to call the police for my personal advantage. They were extremely helpful. Just in case burglars read these debates as well as police officers, I should point out that my home is now far better protected than it was a year ago and, I hope, much more secure against such intrusions.
The general improvement that has been identified and spoken about has been prompted by such initiation as the Wolff Olins report and the willingness to address the need for management change. Emphasis on service to the public has to be uppermost in the minds of all police officers and all civilians working in the police forces. There are now thankfully many more civilians doing jobs that they should always have been doing, but which, until recently, police
Column 1238officers did. However, that emphasis on service is made difficult by any increase in crime, which makes the police in turn more aggressive because it means that they simply move from one tense event to another. Therefore, the continuing downward trend in crime is helpful.
The police must now be aware of the advantage in preventive activity and encouraging people to take preventive action, whether in securing homes or vehicles or in making sure that when they walk about the streets, they do not do so in a way that invites crime. That is crucial. We cannot expect the police to be our sole protectors. We have to protect ourselves and learn how to do that effectively.
In spite of the general declining trend in London crime figures, there are alarming upward trends, the most alarming of which is in violent crime. That is an extremely unsettling element of criminality in London. Increasingly, its consequence is that people have great fear of crime even if they are unlikely to be victims of it. The elderly are the obvious example, particularly the elderly on their own. Most violent crimes are committed not against them but by young people against each other outside a pub on a Friday night. However, if the perception is that violent crime is increasing, as it is, then the fear in which people live also increases.
The fear in our inner cities and on the estates is often the most debilitating feature of peoples' lives. Liberty is reduced every time someone is afraid to live their life as he or she would choose. That is the cancer at the heart of urban life. Therefore, I hope that we can counter the increases in violent crime so that those statistics go down and people gradually begin to feel more secure. I shall later look at some ways in which this can be addressed, because it involves structure and participation as well as the way in which the police carry on their activities.
I pay tribute to the noticeable fact that there are fewer complaints about inactivity or lack of responsiveness by police. These have gone down from 703 complaints in 1987 to 637 in 1988, or from 12.6 per cent. to 12 per cent. That is a gradual rather than a huge and sudden decrease, but it is important. At the same time, it is satisfying that M division in Southwark has put four more officers on the beat. Again, not an enormous change but an improvement. Fewer officers are lost to other activities away from their territory, which is encouraging. It would be helpful if more police were put on bikes. Most people can get further more quickly with a bike than on two feet, and police therefore could be more effective when they chase after criminals to catch them. Bikes also give police officers the chance to catch up with someone running away who is fitter than they are.
A good development is Pubwatch, formed by 15 Southwark licensees to help to prevent handbag snatching and other crimes in pubs and other licensed premises. There is now an initiative called Thameswatch to counter crime on the river. Another welcome initiative in Southwark is the increase in estate patrols which people on estates can call when they have a problem, such as dealing with an anti-social gang which is hanging around. These patrols consist not of the home beat officer but of a committed group of people dedicated to that task. They concentrate on an estate until it is no longer a place in which the problem persists.
I pay tribute to one scheme above all--the one developed with the Manpower Services Commission in which police have been putting decent locks on the homes of the elderly, the disabled or the vulnerable. This allows