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Column 1239the police to be seen to be doing something positive where and when they are needed. There are fewer complaints that the home beat officer is never seen.
However, there are still management problems. The Metropolitan police are well funded, but as the Audit Commission report makes clear, they are often bad managers of their funds. For example, some initiatives that could be very good are hampered. I understand that a neighbourhood watch scheme set up by the tenants association on the Silverlock estate at Rotherhithe did not have enough money to provide the stickers for the doors and the signs for the lampposts and communal entrances. The whole purpose of neighbourhood watch schemes depends on showing that they exist. Otherwise there is no deterrent value. The idea was fine, but there were no locally available resources to implement it. Therefore, we need more resources and more staff time spent on initiatives dedicated to crime prevention, particularly in the inner city areas, where burglary, mugging and graffiti are still too prevalent, to the detriment of the environment.
I support the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Westminster, North, who speaks for London Conservative Members, about the extent of drug abuse in London. Since within a week or so of my election six years ago, I have regularly expressed concern, in many ways, about the massive amount of drug -related activity. Drug users and pushers still abound on some estates in Southwark, and there are many complaints about this. These people cause harm to the users and the often young victims, and there are all the knock- on effects. Because people need the money to buy drugs, they burgle, often stealing from their families, and a pattern of criminality develops. Local people are afraid that their youngsters will become hooked into the drug subculture. This is made worse because every day, when one walks down the street or up the staircase in an estate, one sees the evidence--silver paper, needles and sometimes people abusing drugs. Southwark has been working hard on this, across all the agencies and without party political problems, but we still need a greater emphasis on tackling the prevalence of drugs in the inner city. They are a debilitating and sad indictment of our society.
I have already referred, in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North, to the fact that another of the ways in which police service in the community and trust of that can be increased is by the police force losing its image of a private club. I pay tribute to the commissioner's antipathy to freemasonry, but there are still freemasons in the Metropolitan police and so long as they remain the effectiveness and impartiality of the force will be impaired. We need more stringent measures to stamp out freemasonry in the force. We must discourage young officers from joining the freemasons and encourage older officers who are freemasons to leave. Although there are clear indications that the most senior people are not freemasons, there are allegations--supported by evidence--that a considerable number of freemasons remain. That is not acceptable, and should be dealt with.
A similar concern has been expressed about police officers retiring, allegedly on medical grounds, when in fact there is considerable doubt about their probity. That is disgraceful. It is a matter of public record, for example, that concern has been expressed about former Superintendent Lumley.
Column 1240My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) has asked me to raise another matter. In March 1987, Daniel Morgan was murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion public house in Sydenham in south London. His family comes from Powys, which is why my hon. Friend has taken an interest. Daniel Morgan's brother has pursued extensive inquiries in this case. With a man called Mr. Rees, Daniel Morgan was a partner in a private detective agency. It is clear that at least one present and former police officer was and is involved in that agency--both as a serving police officer and as a recently retired police officer who even took part in the investigation of the murder complaint.
That matter has already once gone to court and has in some sense been resolved, so it is not sub-judice, but a number of unresolved matters have yet to come before the court. It is entirely unacceptable and does untold damage to the police service for any of its officers to lead that kind of double life. As I indicated, I have read the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and I know that the police service has admitted that fact. It is unacceptable for a police officer to be involved in a private detective agency, to retire early when something goes wrong and then to end up working for the agency full-time. I realise that the Select Committee on Home Affairs cannot deal with specific cases, but we need the most thorough investigations by the appropriate authorities of all allegations that lack of probity has led to officers retiring early. I ask the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency to address the question of private security firms and their relationship with the police. It does the police service no good if it is thought of as a shelter for people who have been involved in such an underworld existence, and who go on to make more money out of it when they retire. The case of Daniel Morgan gives me great cause for concern. I believe that police involvement with the private security firm in this case was extremely wrong and a corrupting influence which had a direct link with the death of Daniel Morgan in south London two years ago.
Like other hon. Members, I have read the National Audit Office report, which has just been produced, which makes it clear that the police need to be moe effective in putting their own house in order. It is interesting to look back on previous debates on policing in London. We last had a debate last year and some of the points that arose then, arise again today. The Government often criticise the Inner London education authority, which is soon to be abolished as a result of the Government's decision, and London local authority social services departments for overspending. Yet the police in London spend far more per capita than those other agencies do. We should therefore get an extremely good service. Of course the costs in London of a community and social service such as policing are high, but the National Audit Office report revealed failings in management, in the use of property and revenue accounting, and so on. We need to get to grips with those failings so that all the resources can be used for proper front-line services.
At my meeting with the Home Secretary I raised the question of improving the public appearance of police stations, many of which are extremely uninviting. One often goes into a very small space to a counter and when one rings the bell someone may or may not immediately come to help. Police stations are not user-friendly and we urgently need substantial improvements.
Column 1241There is another scandal. As a Southwark councillor my brother is a lay visitor of police stations. He and others with similar duties--I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that London's record is better than that of other areas--know well that the number of remand prisoners in police custody actually rose last year. It is no fault of the police--they do not want them there at all --but the number of people on remand in police stations in our capital city peaked at 1,296 one night last year, although it has fallen since then. Such people are often kept in appalling conditions. The cells are overcrowded and ill-ventilated and the prisoners are not given adequate exercise or washing facilities. There is no bath or shower, for example. There is often poor food or cold food and sometimes there is no food. That is not at all the fault of the police, but it is very bad news for police morale and the proper use of time and money. We need to deal very differently with the whole question of remand prisoners and where we put them rather than simply landing them on the doorstep of the police, who cannot cope.
I said earlier that I would refer to the position of the police in London. I pay tribute to the work that they have done. One area, in particular, remains on the agenda from last year. The police do not know the outcome of the cases in which they are involved. Last year I said that because prosecutions are now in the hands of the Crown prosecution service, the police officers who initiate prosecutions never know the result. That is demoralising because police officers do not know whether their efforts have brought any reward. I hope that we can make some improvements so that police officers feel more involved in the whole process from beginning to end. Perhaps if that happened and if stations were better equipped and not under such pressure from remand prisoners and had a better front-of-house atmosphere, we should not have such wastage and we should be able to recruit more people. At the moment, wastage is huge and we do not recruit nearly enough Londoners, let alone black Londoners. We are still failing to hold on to police officers and we often hear people complain that no sooner does a community get to know its new police officer than he leaves. That has a very unsettling effect on a huge force which, although it is the training ground for forces elsewhere in the country, is above all a police force for our communities, which are as much communities as those anywhere else. In London, as elsewhere, people want to live in communities. The changes that I have described would help this and be welcomed.
There is still concern that the process of police accountability depends on the goodwill and response of the police force rather than its structure. The debate has been marked by the underlying debate about the accountability of London's police. I share the view of Opposition Members who have spoken that, until we have a democratically accountable police force, we shall not have a properly accountable police force. I know the history of the Metropolitan police. It is not inconsistent to say that the Home Secretary could have special responsibility for London policing as well as there being a police authority in London, as there is everywhere else, which can look day by day into matters of cost, financing, staffing and other areas.
Column 1242We may have an annual debate, but it is only a consultative exercise. We may have a meeting with the Home Secretary, which I value, but these are only consultative exercises. We may have opportunities to use the Committee system, but that does not provide the same degree of supervision--I do not use the word control, because that would be inappropriate--and the ability to render the police force in London as accountable as are forces elsewhere. It cannot be argued that the idea of a democratic police authority for London is invalid in principle simply because the Metropolitan police operate in the capital city. I know that the capital city has special characteristics, but in its ordinary activities it has the same characteristics as elsewhere.
I hope therefore, that the Government will see in due course that we must have a more properly, conventionally accountable police force in London. I also hope that Labour Members realise as the hon. Member for Huddersfield recognised, that they have a long way to go in engaging their people in the existing consultative processes from which they have so often withdrawn. There are still five boroughs in which Labour councillors do not participate in the police consultative committee and that does no good.
Mr. Hughes : I will name the boroughs. They are Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth. The reason why the previous hon. Member for Vauxhall did not sit on the Lambeth committee was that his local Labour party asked him not to and that is on record. There may be reasons why one has complaints against the police, but that is all the more reason to participate and to voice them publicly. It is about time that the other members of the Labour party recognise that they have to play their part in consultation, as hon. Members on the Labour Front Bench do.
Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Gentleman has changed his tune slightly. He said earlier that Stuart Holland was instructed. I made it clear that Stuart Holland was not instructed and he was not the sort of person who could have been instructed in those circumstances. Stuart Holland goes along with the policy of Lambeth borough council for reasons that he himself came to in consultation with his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman must understand that those councillors are elected. There are circumstances in which policing in particular parts of London is not as good as it is in other parts. Democratically elected councillors who are answerable to the people in their area are fully entitled to make a policy decision.
Mr. Hughes : I agree with that, but--it is an important "but"--one does not improve the performance of public servants by not talking to them. Police officers will become more alienated and less likely to be responsive. I know that because I have regularly talked to them about it. They sometimes do not feel that they are in a dialogue with people who are elected. When we are elected, we may have to talk to many people with whom we would rather not talk, but, as elected representatives, whether locally or nationally, we have a duty to have a proper dialogue with those who, on our behalf, carry out the policing of our community. I hope that the response in the next year will be that the boroughs where Labour representatives are still
Column 1243lagging behind will change and I hope that in return the Government will feel that we can move towards a more democratic police authority for London.
Democracy works because the police, one of its agencies, police with the consent of the people. People have to express that consent to help the police to do an even better job. The police have made substantial progress. I hope that they will continue to make that progress with full co-operation on all sides.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate with an optimistic speech. I agree with him that the Metropolitan police are better managed, better organised, larger and better funded than they were a few years ago. However, it is sad that the commissioner's admirable report is still packed with depressing statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) referred to the drug menace and the dire possibility that we shall be infected by the crack epidemic that is making such ravages in the United States of America. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also made a largely constructive speech and concentrated on the drug problem. I felt that the most depressing statistic in the annual report was on page 28, where the commissioner pointed out that firearms were used or fired in 2,298 crimes in London in 1988. I have looked back at the commissioner's report for 1958, which was the first full year I spent in this House. I note that in 1958, the then commissioner recorded with some alarm that there had been 35 armed robberies in London that year compared with 20 in 1957 and that there were another 14 cases in 1958 in which burglars appeared to have carried firearms, but could not be proved to have done so.
The 50-fold increase in the use of firearms in the past 30 years--
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : My hon. Friend makes a serious point, but it isa tribute to the police, as I am sure he would agree, that weapons were fired by police officers on only two occasions in 1988.
Sir Philip Goodhart : I support my hon. Friend's observation. The police response to the enormous increase in the use of firearms by professional criminals has been immensely restrained and they have shown great courage, as well as great restraint, in the face of that increase.
I believe that the increase has been brought about largely by the abolition of the death penalty. While that penalty existed, professional criminals did not carry or use firearms. Now, they carry firearms and are clearly prepared to use them to avoid arrest. There has been an immense increase in serious violence and in casual violence. However, I note the astonishing fact that in the past 30 years, the streets of London have become safer for the ordinary citizen. The increase in casual violence has been matched-- indeed overtaken--by a spectacular decline in the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents in London. In 1958, a total of 765 people were killed in traffic accidents on London's roads ; in 1988 that figure had dropped to 488--a decline of 277 deaths. That reduction almost exactly equals the number of people killed in the Lockerbie and Clapham
Column 1244disasters. In the same 30 years, the number of people seriously injured in traffic accidents on London's roads has declined by some 2,000. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who, largely constructively, opened the debate for the Opposition, takes a keen personal interest in traffic safety.
All that has happened despite, or perhaps because of, the huge increase in traffic in the metropolis. As the traffic grinds to a halt, at times it becomes increasingly difficult for a motorist to build up enough speed to squash a cyclist or pedestrian. However, two Acts passed by the House in the past 30 years have contributed notably to the decline in death and injury on our roads. The first was the breathalyser Act, which has always been associated with Barbara Castle, and the second was the seat belt Act, which has also saved a great many lives and limbs.
The North report on road traffic law reform proposes to make it much easier for the police to use speed radar cameras to trap speeding offenders and drivers who tend to ignore traffic lights. I hope that in the next Session there will be no delay in presenting and passing a Bill based on that important report. I hope that the commissioner is already making plans to use those new devices as soon as he has the power to do so. If that is done, there may well be a further substantial cut in London's road toll.
Traffic congestion is also important. Too many times during the past year London has nearly come to a grinding halt when added pressure is put on our roads by strikes, demonstrations or just plain, ordinary bad weather. That problem has not been helped by the fact that the traffic warden force, controlled by the commissioner, has declined by 100 in the past year and is now 25 per cent. under strength. One of the reasons whey we do not have sufficient traffic wardens is the long-standing and unresolved argument about whether traffic wardens should be controlled by the police or by the London boroughs. If we are to resolve the traffic problems in central London, we shall have to have a sensible city wide parking policy. I believe that the control of traffic wardens in inner London must remain with the commissioner. In outer London, there is a strong case for giving additional powers to the London boroughs, but I am convinced that in inner London the commissioner must retain control.
The Treasury must agree that the money raised through fines and traffic penalties should be put back into the traffic warden force so that it can recruit adequate numbers and offer adequate pay. If we are to unclog London's traffic arteries, we must be prepared to concentrate London's traffic wardens on our main roads. I and a substantial number of Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies, particularly those who represent south London constituencies, believe that certain main roads should be classified as "red routes" and should be subjected to much higher parking penalties and much stricter enforcement. The fines should be five times heavier than normal and there should be five times the volume of enforcement so that illegal parkers on a red route would know that there was a high risk of being caught.
One of the most congested routes in London is the south circular road. The Department of Transport has commissioned a firm of consultants to produce a variety of plans for easing congestion on the south circular. Two of the proposals put forward by the consultants involve building new highways through part of my constituency.
Column 1245The cost of those new highways, if either plan were adopted, could run into hundreds of millions of pounds and the dislocation would be immense.
Sir Philip Goodhart : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Some of my constituents had their homes blighted by those unnecessary schemes. I hope that the Department of Transport will soon announce that those plans will be dropped, but I also hope that parking restrictions on the south circular will be enforced.
On a Friday afternoon some weeks ago, I drove six miles from the edge of my constituency to Wandsworth bridge along the south circular road. In those six miles I saw 143 illegallly parked vehicles and not a single traffic warden. It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on new roads to relieve congestion on a highway which is used as an illegal parking lot. London's traffic problems can be made a great deal easier if Ministers take the essential first step of making up their minds about the control of traffic wardens and if they can persuade the Treasury to recycle the money raised through traffic penalties into providing an adequate force of traffic wardens.
Finally, I note that the debate has been particularly ill-attended. Apart from the Ministers, the Whips and the PPS, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, who made such a notable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) who has such a powerful voice in the Police Federation, and my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate), hardly anyone has been present. I welcome the scant attendance in some ways because it shows that there is considerable satisfaction on the Government Benches about the way in which the commissioner is carrying out his duties. On the other hand, I noted that, apart from the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey and for Huddersfield, who opened for the Opposition, the only other Back Bench Member present during the first half hour of the Minister's speech was the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). I, as a citizen, am glad because that must mean that the London Labour party's assault on the Metropolitan police, which has had such a rancid effect in recent years, has come largely to an end.
As a politician, I must say that I regret that, because I believe that the anti-police antics of the London Labour party over the past years have played notably into our hands in terms of public support.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I freely admit that I was one of those Members who were not present at the start of the debate. I was negotiating my way on my bicycle through London traffic. That should appeal to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), if nothing
Column 1246else. I thought that is was a disgusting place through which to cycle with all the dirt, danger, pollution and the abuse that one receives from motorists for having the temerity to ride a bicycle through London. I shall be returning to that subject later. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary has just left the Chamber. It must have been something that I said--unless he has gone to sort out the traffic problems of London.
Mr. Tony Banks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, when the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who ended his speech on a highly contentious and misleading note, chose not to. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the hon. Gentleman drew the conclusion that large numbers of his colleagues were not here because they were wholly satisfied with the performance of the Metropolitan police, but he did not appear to believe that that might be the reason for the absence of Opposition Members. If, however, he had drawn such a conclusion, I would not have agreed with it. Many hon. Members do not come here for the simple reason that it is, frankly, a charade and a farce if we are trying to suggest that this is the way we hold the Metropolitan police accountable to the people of London through their Members of Parliament.
Mr. Corbyn : I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. What he said was important and timely. The Opposition are as concerned as everyone else about the levels of crime. Crimes, such as street crime, harassment, violence, burglary, robbery and rape, happen not only in London, but in the communities that we all represent and in which we live. We have no interest in seeing high crime rates in London or dangers to people walking legitimately round the streets at night, but we want to see an effective police force that combats those problems in our communities. The idea that somehow we are anti the Metropolitan police and in favour of high crime rates is ridiculous and rubbish. Every year during the police debate we get the same kind of tirade from Conservative Members suggesting that we do not care about the problems in our communities.
I say sincerely to the House that my constituency suffers as much as any hon. Member's--probably more than most--from all kinds of inner-city problems and multiple deprivation, which are so often spoken about in the House. We have no interest in doing anything other than eradicating crime, making the streets, estates and playgrounds safe and our communities clean and decent places in which to live. That is what I, my local authority and our discussions with the police are committed to doing.
I want to open my speech by putting on public record my deep thanks to officers from Hornsey road police station of the Holloway division for the great bravery and courage that they showed last week, with representatives of the London fire service, when there was a terrible fire in a council flat on the Andover estate. A police car was driving by, and the two police officers saw the fire and ran into the house. They were burnt in the process and were unable to get two of the small children out. The fire service eventually went in and brought out the bodies of two children aged three and two. I attended their funerals yesterday, together with those police officers. The Andover tenants' association is shocked and horrified by the incident--as we all are--and arranged a local collection to
Column 1247help the family of the dead children. It wanted me to put on record my thanks to the local police for all that they did in that terrible incident. That incident has cast a pall and a blight on the entire community. It was absolutely devastated by the deaths of those children. To attend the funeral of small children is very distressing for everybody and I was grateful to the police for attending and so, too, were the family concerned. I readily put that on the record because we should be appreciative of what the police have done. I have recieved--as presumably other hon. Members have--the local divisional reports of police station areas. I have been carefully reading through the report from the Holloway division about the area covered by the Hornsey road station. Clearly, it is situated in a mixed area with multiple problems. Many of the problems that Members of Parliament, local councils and the police have to face are not of our making, but are imposed upon us. The vast amounts of traffic flowing through my constituency are something over which the police and councils have no power, yet they are expected to solve the problems created. Likewise, Highbury stadium is in my constituency. Every fortnight during the football season it has an enormous attendance--as one would expect for the club that has just won the league championship. Obviously difficult policing decisions must be made in policing that stadium. It must be said that there has been little trouble outside Highbury stadium--apart from at the Millwall game last year--which is to the credit of many people. However, considerable disruption is caused by the presence of the stadium in my constituency.
The introduction of a membership identity card scheme will do nothing to improve the situation, but will create far more problems as everyone living around, or working near the stadium, or supporting Arsenal, knows. That is why they are so adamantly opposed to the membership scheme. I should have thought that Conservative Members, especially those representing the interests of the Police Federation, would at least recognise that the Police Federation also feels--I understand so, too, do the police generally --that the introduction of that scheme will not solve the problems of crowd violence, but will merely push those problems on to the street. I hope that those of us who represent constituencies with major stadiums in them will be recognised as having a legitimate interest in the matter and as understanding the problems.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : My hon. Friend will know that the Police Federation is strongly opposed to the football ID scheme. Does my hon. Friend have any idea of how the federation's representative in the House voted on that scheme.
Mr. Corbyn : I have examined the Official Report and I discovered that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) voted according to his party Whip for the introduction of the scheme, against the express wishes of the Police Federation.
Mr. Shersby : The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I did not vote for the Bill against the express wishes of the Police Federation. On the contrary, I voted for it because the Police Federation, being a responsible organisation, recognises that there is a need for such a scheme. At the same time, however, it has also said that it does not believe that the scheme likely to emerge as a result of the deliberations of the Football Membership Authority will
Column 1248necessarily control the problem of violence outside the ground. The hon. Gentleman made that point and it is a fair one. He should, however, take careful note of the points I made in my speech when I said that the Police Federation recognises the need for a scheme and the contribution that it could make, but that it believes it is vital for it to have an opportunity to make an input before the FMA produces the scheme. If the hon. Gentleman reads my remarks in Hansard he will know that I made it clear that unless the intended scheme was one which could command the support of the Police Federation I would vote against it when it comes before the House later this year.
Mr. Corbyn : I have noted carefully what the hon. Gentleman has just said and what he said a few days ago and I believe that he is trying to have it both ways. It is clear to me that the Police Federation is against the existing scheme, but the hon. Gentleman voted for it. It is up to him to sort out his relationship with the Police Federation, but we should remember that the hon. Gentleman voted for the introduction of the identity card scheme as proposed by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) have already drawn attention to the problems associated with this debate and with the accountability of the local police forces. We have had the usual tirade from the Home Secretary who claimed that London boroughs are doing nothing to consult the police, nor are they working with them locally. He knows that that is not true and that it is a lot of nonsense. If we had an effective local evening newspaper in London that was prepared to report what was going on locally instead of reporting whatever the Tory party says, it would be obvious that, in every London borough, there is some form of co-operation and consultation with the police by the local communities. That co-operation varies from borough to borough.
The Home Secretary must be aware, however, that each year the London boroughs feel a sense of frustration when they are landed with the responsibility of collecting a great deal of money to pay for the Metropolitan police without any say in how that money is spent or how the police service is administered in London. We are told by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) that what passes for accountability is the fact that, in 1828 when the London police force was originally established, its importance was such that it was put under the control of Parliament because it was thought to be the least corrupt body at that time and was capable of setting up that police force. It was not right then to have no elected local government in London and nor is it right not to have an elected authority in London now. That elected authority should be returned to London and it should include an elected police authority.
Mr. Tony Banks : My hon. Friend should bear in mind that there is one police authority in London, the City of London, which is one of the 33 London boroughs. Why does the City of London have responsibility over its police force, which the other boroughs do not?
Mr. Corbyn : I should imagine that it is because of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the City of London and because it is a Tory-run authority. Responsibility for the police in the remainder of London rests with the Home
Column 1249Secretary who represents Oxfordshire. It is not good enough to describe that as accountability. We are on a motion to adjourn the House because we happen to be talking about the police.
We are told that the Public Accounts Committee may peruse the accounts of the Metropolitan police. It can produce a report, rebuttal and critique of those accounts, but it cannot force any change of strategy or direction. The Met is not democratically accountable. All we have is the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, being good enough to come to the House of Commons to discuss the police. He has personal control of more than £1 billion expenditure of public money. That is not a satisfactory form of accountability of the police force. The Metropolitan police must recognise that, because of the amount of money that they have spent on public relations, on the Wolff Olins report and on other matters of legitimate and genuine concern. When the Minister replies I hope that he will take note of what has been said and of disturbing matters relating to the administration of the police.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to freemasonry within the police force which was mentioned last year. I have read the statements made by the commissioner and by the Home Secretary and one way or another they do not support police officer membership of freemason lodges. They have not, however, eradicated freemasonry from the police force. Membership of a freemason lodge is incompatible with membership of the police force. The Minister should make it absolutely clear that police officers in London should no longer be freemasons. He can do that as he has direct control over the police force in London.
I am concerned about racial harassment and the reporting thereof to the police. The 1985-86 Home Affairs Select Committee report, "Racial Attacks and Harassment", made the following recommendations : "1. All police forces covering areas with appreciable ethnic minorities should make clear that tackling racial incidents is regarded a one of their priority tasks
3. Specific instruction concerning racial incidents should be included in police training courses
6. Police forces should make it their practice always to keep victims of racial incidents informed of subsequent action". I have read the statistics that have been prepared and submitted by the police on this matter and it is disturbing to discover that there has been an increase in the reporting of racial incidents. The difficulty is what definition is given to that racial incident when someone arrives at a police station to report it.
As I understand it, under the terms of the force order, when a victim arrives at a police station and informs the police that he believes himself to be a victim of a racially motivated assault it must be recorded as such. I wonder whether every police station is fully informed of that practice, as I believe that there is a great amount of under-reporting of racially motivated incidents. I take that matter seriously and I hope that my concern is shared by the police force.
In area 1 of the Metropolitan police, which includes my local police force, there were 334 reported racial incidents in 1987 ; in 1988 that figure had risen to 356. I have no way of telling whether there are many more incidents that go unreported, but I suspect that there are and I suspect that
Column 1250that is the case in all parts of London. I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that a clear instruction will be issued to every police station to make it specific that a person reporting a racially motivated incident should have it reported as such. If that does not happen we will have no idea of the size of the problem. In the Islington divisions of the Met 101 racial incidents were reported last year, but they resulted in only four arrests and 33 cases were cleared up. It is clear, therefore, that many cases are unresolved and the same pattern emerges from an examination of the statistics for London as a whole. I hope that the Minister will deal with this problem in the way intended by the Home Affairs Committee and I hope that he will ensure that such matters are followed up. I am concerned that little progress has been made on the implementation of the domestic violence force order. Local police forces are reluctant to become involved when women report that they are being subjected to domestic violence. The police usually say, "That is a family or domestic matter." Under the calm surface of complacency, the most appalling domestic violence is occurring. To whom are the women who are the victims of domestic violence to turn? If there is a women's refuge in their community, clearly they can go there or get in touch with it. However, there are not women's refuges in every community. Many of them are over- stretched, over-burdened and unable to cope with the demands placed on them. If the police show a lack of sympathy, the plight of victims is made worse, more desperate, more dangerous and isolated.
It is difficult for men to understand the fear that many women experience when they suffer from domestic violence. The problem requires the clearest instruction and training of police officers to deal with first inquiries, in addition to counselling and follow up. If the first inquiry is not dealt with helpfully or sympathetically, the woman might ring off and not further pursue the matter. I hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that there is an improvement in the take-up of training to deal with domestic violence. I understand that only 5 per cent. of Metropolitan police officers have been trained to deal with sexual offences, which is a low figure.
Mr. Corbyn : I am pleased to learn that that number of officers have been so trained, but clearly that is a small proportion of the total number of police officers in London. I am sure that the Minister will understand that greater emphasis should be placed on such training in normal police training courses, not only in special training courses.
The hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned traffic-related offences in London. It is obvious that traffic in London is rapidly grinding to a halt because of the inadequacy of public transport, the promotion of private commuter motoring in and out of London, which blocks roads, and because of the lack of enforcement of the lorry ban and other traffic regulations.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend mentioned the lack of enforcement of the lorry ban in London. When I and other Labour Members asked the commissioner about the police not enforcing the lorry ban, he said that the difficulty is the
Column 1251lack of proper road signs restricting lorries passing through residential areas at night. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department of Transport has just issued a glossy leaflet--as it would, spending much public money--on new signs for motorists. I asked whether signs would be upgraded to enforce the Londonwide ban, and it said no. Is it not a public scandal that it has refused to take the opportunity to improve road signing so that we can have a proper lorry ban that the police can enforce?
Mr. Corbyn : The police did not agree with those who campaigned for the Londonwide lorry ban. They said that it would be hard to implement and pointed out all the difficulties that they foresaw. We succeeded in getting a partial lorry ban throughout London, but I see little evidence of the police enforcing it. We require the strictest possible enforcement of the ban, because it is not good enough to have 25 to 40-tonne trucks driving through London causing danger and pollution. At the heart of the problem is the profits of operators being put before the interests of London residents. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the police could contribute to the safety of Londoners by strictly enforcing the lorry ban and by absolutely strict enforcement of the bus priority measures that have been introduced. In many areas, cars are not removed from bus lanes when they should be. Any bus that is held up means that between 40 and 60 people are delayed, whereas if a car is held up only one person is delayed for a few minutes. Public transport should be the priority rather than the commuter motorist.
There is the further question of the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. The amount of traffic in London is making life more dangerous for them. I hope that the police will ensure that they protect them and strictly enforce the lorry ban.
Yet again, we are having a debate on the police force in London, which is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with police matters in London. It will fall to a Labour Government to introduce a democratically elected authority for London, so that its people can put forward their views on their city and the police direction that they want, instead of the nonsense of an annual debate without a vote or detailed perusal of estimates.
I find the commissioner's report interesting, but it lacks detailed statistical evidence. Such evidence does not appear to be available from the Vote Office. I do not know what has happened to it, but it is unsatisfactory to have a debate without the necessary information and the power radically to change anything put forward by the commissioner or the Home Secretary.
As my constituency is within the Metropolitan police area, I have a special interest in everything that happens within the Metropolitan police. Although Uxbridge is situated in the county of Middlesex, it falls within the London borough of Hillingdon. I hope that, with the demise of Greater London, we shall one day revert to the Middlesex borough of Hillingdon rather than the London borough of Hillingdon, which seems to be something of a misnomer.
Uxbridge is proud to be policed by the Metropolitan police, which is the largest of the 43 forces of England and
Column 1252Wales. We are particularly lucky to have one of the newest police stations, which was built and opened before I took up my appointment as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
I welcome the debate, which on the whole has been good, but I am sorry that we were given only a week's notice of it. I suggest to the Government's business managers, who I hope will pick up this point, that longer notice should be given of these debates. When the allocation of private Members' time is being considered, perhaps notice could be given of when these debates will take place so that we have a much better turnout of London Members.
Many of the hon. Members who are absent do not lack interest in the police. I am sure that they have other pressing constituency engagements that they could not avoid.
As Members, we are fortunate in that every day we come into contact with officers of the Metropolitan police who serve in the Houses of Parliament. I pay tribute to them for the unique job that they do for all the people in the Metropolitan police area. Despite the many difficulties that they encounter daily, they have just cause to be proud of the achievements of the force during the past year. For example, there appears to be a downward trend in offences against property in London, especially burglary and car theft. There is no cause to be complacent because much progress must still be made. That trend is due, in part, to good policing, including the encouragement given by the Metropolitan police to citizens to protect their homes better. It is due also to the tremendous success of neighbourhood watch schemes throughout the Metropolitan police area. There is no doubt that there is a better clear-up rate, which is very encouraging.
On the other side, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, there has been a worrying increase in crimes of violence against the person and reported sexual offences. Regrettably, this trend seems to be evident not only in London but in most of the capital cities of western Europe and North America. Some hon. Members have suggested that it may be highlighted by the greater willingness of women to report such assaults, and there is quite a lot in that. There is no doubt that women are now much more willing to report those assaults, which helps the police in dealing with this particularly horrible crime.
As the crime figures have been debated at some length and are well known to hon. Members, I shall tell the House about some of the problems of policing London as seen through the eyes of the Metropolitan police officers who are members of the Police Federation. One of the main problems that concerns the Met is the wastage of trained officers who wish to transfer to other forces. The Met loses about one third of its recruits during the first two years of service. It has been calculated that it takes seven years to recoup the cost of training a constable.
As London Members, we all know that living in or around London is expensive. The attractions of transferring to other forces in pleasant country areas are self-evident. That is why the London allowance introduced as part of the Edmund Davies formula was so important. It was intended to attract and retain recruits to the Metropolitan police. Although police pay over the past decade or so has increased in accordance with the Edmund Davies formula, there has been no increase in the London allowance for about seven years. That matter has been raised with me by officers of the Police Federation.
Column 1253The forthcoming change in the rent allowance will have a significant effect on the living standards of Met officers, depending on where they live. Another big problem that the Met, and indeed every public service faces is the demographic downturn. The shortage of young people available to join in the coming decade could result in the force experiencing serious recruitment and manpower problems, as it did during the 1960s and early 1970s. We must all take account of that. It affects the police service, the National Health Service, industry and commerce alike. Great ingenuity must be deployed in dealing with that problem until more young people are available to serve in those important public services. For those and many other reasons, it is vital to maintain the Edmund Davies formula for pay, including a realistic London allowance and London weighting, if the Met is to get the manpower and womanpower that it needs.
Accommodation is another important issue. I should like to comment on some items in the report of the National Audit Office. I am in some difficulty in doing so because, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, with my colleagues I will be taking evidence on the report on Monday next. In a way, it is a pity that this debate has taken place before the PAC has taken its evidence. However, the report exists and it is proper that I should comment on it. Paragraph 1.42 of the National Audit Office report states : "The National Audit Office noted that in the period 1980-87, the vacancy levels in married quarters often exceeded 15 per cent., with a peak of 26 per cent. in 1984. Vacancies in section houses show a similar pattern ; actual vacancies have at times risen to double the targeted figure of 250. As at February 1988, 482 married quarters out of 3,059--16 per cent.--and 864 section house rooms out of 3,331--26 per cent.--were unoccupied."
That is serious and the Public Accounts Committee will undoubtedly want to consider it next Monday.
The need to provide housing for married and single officers arose originally from the powers of chief constables to require their officers to live in the areas that they serve to ensure rapid deployment. Operational necessity meant that officers were expected and sometimes compelled to live in police accommodation. However, better transport and communications and the general trend towards home ownership have led to the Metropolitan police gradually relaxing their requirements for officers to live close to their place of duty.
Nevertheless, the Met believes that the residential estate continues to offer a number of benefits. Those benefits are highlighted in the NAO report and include the easing of recruitment problems in high-cost housing areas ; helping to retain young married officers ; enabling some officers to live close to their work ; and, finally, helping to resolve welfare problems.
The condition of the residential estate, as highlighted in the NAO report, is very important. I hope that the PAC will investigate that matter closely. The NAO report states :
"There was very little co-ordinated management information about the condition of the residential estate as a whole. There had been only limited surveys since the late 1970s, other than for section houses the current high level of vacant properties cannot be re-let until maintenance and decoration have been completed".
Column 1254Although the figures in the NAO report may be a little overstated because they include section houses that are undergoing major amelioration as well as those allocated to recruits for passing out, I believe that they are still too high. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Met will consider that problem promptly. Those very valuable quarters, whether for single or married officers, must be put to good use if we are to recruit and retain the police officers we need, particularly to work in central London. As paragraph 2.12 of the NAO report makes clear, there is no formal strategy on the future need for and uses of headquarters accommodation. That causes me considerable concern. Paragraphs 2.22 and 2.23 of the NAO report make it clear that although attempts have been made by employing consultants to overcome the short-term difficulties, the consultants recently completed the condition survey of the operational estate at a cost of £168,875, but that did not produce significant results. No doubt it will become apparent when the PAC reports in due course that the Met must take urgent action to deal with the problem. The Wolff Olins report makes a good point about presentation. It states :
"The physical identity of the Met emerges through its buildings, vehicles, the uniforms and equipment used by its officers and so on."
The report goes on to mention the rundown state of many police stations. It states :
"The physical state of many police stations is run down. Public areas such as receptions, waiting rooms and so on, look neglected. There exists what we have described elsewhere as a sellotape culture' in which notices and signs are stuck up at random. All this contributes to an atmosphere of shabby confusion."
It goes on in a similar vein.
One of the most important pieces of information to emerge from the National Audit Office report is the state of police stations in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) has already referred to that. I draw the attention of hon. Members to table 2 on page 12 of the report, which makes the point that, today, 62 police stations are classed as vulnerable and 40 are classed as irrecoverable. The report clearly illustrates that 36 of the 62 vulnerable stations were built pre-1914, and that 39 of the irrecoverable stations were built pre-1914. We know that not all London police stations were purpose-built. Many of them were acquired at one time or another and had originally been designed for a quite different purpose.
The National Audit Office makes it clear that the maintenance budgets that are vital for keeping police stations in good condition have been directly raided to finance extra pay commitments. That is quite wrong. I realise that the Home Secretary has his annual problems in funding police pay awards and that difficult discussions take place with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers, but surely it is wrong to raid the maintenance budget to finance pay awards. I hope that that will not happen again, because it has contributed to the run-down state of London's police stations.
Mr. Tony Banks : We have just opened a police shop in Newham. What does the hon. Gentleman think about having a police presence within the community, but not necessarily in purpose-built police stations? Whatever else one says about them, police stations are expensive to