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Column 1255construct. There are other ways of providing a visible police presence in a consumer-friendly way, and police shops might be one of them.
Mr. Shersby : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It is an interesting concept. I am not familiar with police shops, but I will make it my business to examine how they operate. They could point the way to more flexibility in the future.
I now refer to the size of the land bank that is presently owned by the Metropolitan police. In 1988, the Metropolitan police estimated the market value of their 29 sites at about £22 million. In some cases there have been no clear aims and objectives about the way in which such sites should be used. I do not want to pre-empt anything that the PAC may do on Monday, so I shall say nothing more about that matter. However, if, in future, the Met could make much better use of its assets, more money could be redeployed to provide better facilities and services for the force. I am encouraged to know that the Home Secretary has confirmed that new capital controls will be introduced with effect from 1 April 1990 that will provide an incentive to dispose of surplus assets by allowing free use of a specified proportion of receipts. That is a major step forward and I congratulate the Home Secretary on it. We all know from our experience of public life that there is little incentive to make better use of assets. The money goes into the common pot and those making the savings see little benefit from them. I hope that we can look forward to a completely different system.
I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that the commissioner's report is excellent. It deals, among other matters, with traffic. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) I am concerned that the strength of the traffic warden service declined in 1988 by almost 100 to 1,444. In addition, the reduction in the traffic division, which was carried out by a previous commissioner, is seen by many members of the Police Federation as reducing the Met's ability to combat traffic congestion.
In Uxbridge, which is in what some describe as outer London but should be described as being in the county of Middlesex, there are more cars per family than in any other London borough, and the need for traffic management schemes is urgent. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and I when the Home Office working party will report. I have been tabling parliamentary questions for the past year or so trying to obtain some information about what will be done.
I understand that primary legislation is needed if local authorities are to be able to employ traffic wardens and use the income from fines to finance more off-street parking. The need for that in outer London areas such as Beckenham and Uxbridge-- [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) makes the point that this also affects his constituency, and I am sure that it affects all of outer London. Action is urgently needed in all these areas.
It must be possible for local authorities to employ traffic wardens so that the chaos which becomes more evident as the weeks go by, can be dealt with. We must give some relief to the people who live in residential streets where parked cars make it almost impossible for municipal services to travel into and out of the streets.
Mr. Tony Banks : I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman's point. He demonstrates that there is concern on both sides of the House. I ask him to place it on record--it is important for a Conservative Member to do so-- that if borough councils become responsible for the warden schemes, they must have the resources to carry out their responsibilities efficiently and effectively. The Government frequently give more responsibility and place more duty on local authorities while at the same time taking more and more resources away from them.
Mr. Shersby : I take the hon. Gentleman's point. My local authority's view is that the operation could be financed from the proceeds of fines. However, it can do so only if the legislative changes to which I have referred take place. I hope that the Home Office will announce its decision before the recess because there is great agitation about this in London.
I shall refer to the sensitive and delicate issue of public order and the difficulties experienced by the Metropolitan police when handling the recent marches in opposition to the publication of "The Satanic Verses". A number of Metropolitan police officers are worried about what constitutes reasonable force when handling such a difficult matter. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will pay tribute to the way in which the Metropolitan police handled the incidents in its area, and I am equally sure that the Home Secretary will take account of the concern that exists. The Home Secretary referred to the recruitment of specials. I should like to make it clear to him that the Police Federation is not opposed to specials ; it believes that they have a role to play helping officers of the regular force, as they have done for many years. The federation does not believe that they can take over from the regular force, nor has the Home Secretary suggested that they should. The federation is worried, as my right hon. Friend knows, about the proliferation of private police forces in docks around the country, set up under the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, under which specials can be sworn in to replace regular officers. I am grateful for the way in which my right hon. Friend listened to the federation's views on this matter and for the steps that he has taken to consult the Secretary of State for Transport on whether we need to continue creating such private forces under a Victorian Act that was never intended for that purpose.
Hon. Members have referred to the need for private security forces to be regulated. As I understand it, Government policy so far has been to rely on self-regulation by those forces, but that will need to be kept under observation--to use the favourite buzz word, we shall need to monitor the position. In shopping malls in many towns there are now private security guards who deny access to people who want to go about their usual business, and that sometimes causes anxiety. In the recent European election campaign it was made clear that the candidates were not welcome in a shopping mall which I know. That raises questions that concern us all, and the matter needs careful and sensitive treatment.
I want to put down a marker about the policing of our streets. Many hon. Members on both sides will share my firm belief that the streets should be policed by the regular officers of the police forces throughout the United Kingdom. I do not want private gated streets policed by
Column 1257private police forces. I know that the Adam Smith Institute has advocated that, but it finds no support from me.
Another matter important to every London Member is the policing of the London Underground. I pay tribute to the 80 or so Metropolitan police officers who have been seconded to help the British Transport police in this difficult task, and I welcome the support that the Metropolitan police have given. It has reassured Londoners, and I hope that, if it proves necessary to strengthen the British Transport police in the future, that need will be accommodated in the overal policing structure of London. British Transport police play a valuable role and it may be necessary at some stage to supplement their ranks.
There has been some comment in the debate on racial incidents and attacks. I was glad that the commissioner's report referred to them. There has been an increase in such cases, but of less than 2 per cent. since 1987.
I did not read only the commissioner's report ; I had a look at the report on the policing of Uxbridge that was recently sent to me. In 1987, 17 racial incidents were reported, and 22 have been reported this year. Resulting from the 22 complaints, 14 people have been identified as suspects. There has been some difficulty gathering enough evidence to start prosecutions, and in other cases the victims have refused to prosecute. In eight of the incidents the suspects were not known or traced.
Not all coppers in London are brutal, racist and corrupt. They handle racial attacks very well and with great sensitivity and they should have the support of the House for the way in which they tackle those matters.
Mr. Tony Banks : That is a generalised statement. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the position in Uxbridge is markedly different from that in Newham. Although, according to the report, there has been only a 2 per cent. increase, that statistic masks the enormous upsurge in some areas of London--specifically, the east end--so the hon. Gentleman must be careful with it.
Mr. Shersby : One of the good features of a debate such as this is that one is constantly reminded of the great diversity in the population of London. I accept that there is a great difference between the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine, but the police have made a significant contribution to dealing with this problem. We have heard today about the community police consultative groups, one of which is in the borough of Hillingdon, in my constituency. The police in my area have drawn to my attention the difficulty in attracting young people to serve on those groups. I hope that the Home Office and the Met can do more to encourage young people to come forward so that they are constantly in touch with what is going on at local level.
I particularly welcome the paragraph in the commissioner's report dealing with victim care. I see that the force made over 100,000 referrals to victim support schemes in the past year. The hon. Member for Newham, North- West (Mr. Banks) will remember, because I recall his being in the Chamber when this matter was debated, that only a year ago we were pressing my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for financial assistance to make such schemes possible. They give great comfort to those who have the
Column 1258misfortune to suffer sometimes violent attacks and who are cared for and counselled by those who work on the schemes.
I must also mention the courts and the work that the London magistrates do in complementing the Metropolitan police in the policing of our capital city. The magistrates' courts around London are experiencing serious difficulties because of the shortage of court clerks. I have raised this matter in two Adjournment debates, one in 1972 and another this year. The problem can be tackled only if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can persuade my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make available additional resources for the recruitment, training and retention of good court clerks. If that does not happen, courts will be closed because they cannot function properly and that will make the policing of London more difficult.
I welcome the good relations between the Police Federation and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his officials. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has shown his willingness to meet officers and the federation in Surbiton soon. I pay tribute to Sir Peter Imbert and his colleagues and all the officers of the Metropolitan police for the excellent job that they do for all Londoners. We are proud of them.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I start where the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) left off, by paying tribute to Sir Peter Imbert. I am the chairman of the London group of Labour Members of Parliament and our useful meetings with the commissioner have shown him to be courteous, co-operative and constructive. However, our complaint is that they are not frequent enough. Although the relationship between Members of Parliament and the commissioner and senior police officers is all that one would expect, unfortunately that cannot be said as one works through the ranks and sees the breakdown of relationships between our constituents and police officers, both on the beat and in the station. I am glad that we have a good relationship with Sir Peter, but I am far more concerned about the relationship between my constituents and other Londoners and the ordinary police officers. Much needs to be done to improve that relationship.
I thank the Home Secretary for his meetings with us. At least he meets us, and, although there is no great meetings of minds, we have useful exchanges.
A number of hon. Members have complained about the absence of their colleagues. I shall certainly be sending a note to my Members in the London group pointing out that I should have expected to see rather more of them. [Interruption.] I cannot be responsible for Conservative Members, who are not here either but, unlike Conservative Members, I do not want to make cheap party-political points. I shall save those for later.
Many hon. Members do not regard our debates on policing London as quite the useful occasions that they ought to be. There is no great exchange of views but, merely a series of speeches. We have had an opener from the Home Secretary, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will do some fielding and no doubt introduce his own bit of party-political venom, as he always does. There will be a lot of heat but not a great deal of light.
Column 1259That is not the way to achieve accountability or a proper working relationship between Members of Parliament and the Metropolitan police. The Opposition want accountable police authorities set up in London on which elected members--MPs and local councillors--can debate and discuss and set police priorities on behalf of those whom they represent. We do not want them to control the day-to-day operations of the Metropolitan police--that is one of the grotesque caricatures that Conservative Members have drawn of our proposals for the public accountability of the police in London. We want to set police priorities, to serve the community and to allow the community through its elected representatives--with the ballot box as the arbiter--to decide exactly what should be done.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is contributing to a long-standing debate. He must understand that his proposal--that elected authorities should set priorities for the police-- goes well beyond anything in the Police Act 1964 and well beyond the powers available to police authorities outside the capital. The hon. Gentleman seems to advocate entrusting to local authorites--to police authorities or politicians--the setting of priorities, as between public order and the policing of the right to work, for example. That amounts to domination by politicians of the operational priorities of the police, and that is a proposition that we must contest.
Mr. Banks : I know that there will be no agreement between us on that point. The law will be there to be enforced by the police, no matter what the law happens to be. Of course the law will be much more enlightened under a Labour Government than it is under the Conservative Administration, whose divisive, controversial and essentially anti-union laws project the police into political situations. That is one highly contentious matter. Under a Labour Government those divisive laws will not be there to put the police into situations in which they cannot win. I do not like to use this expression, because I am a vegetarian, but at present the police are very much the meat in the sandwich. They do not like that, and no responsible politican would want to impose that burden on them. There is no reason why we should be frightened of police accountability and the setting of police priorities. The police are there to serve the community and they must be directly answerable to the community. They are not a law unto themselves. One of our great problems--especially with the Metropolitan police--is that they so often seem to be, and act as though they are, a law unto themselves. That is not acceptable to Londoners and it should not be acceptable to Members of Parliament.
The knee-jerk reaction from Conservative Members is that all police officers are wonderful and that there should be no hint of criticism. If Opposition Members say anything even mildly critical, however constructive, we are denounced as being anti-police. That grotesque caricature of our position does not serve the interests of democracy or policing.
I want the police to support the community and to have the support of the community, which is essential. I challenge any Conservative Member who talks about Labour being anti-police, because we are not. We are far more pro-police than Conservative Members are. We
Column 1260would give the police the necessary resources to carry out the policing priorities that we set. We are pro- police because the constituencies we represent in London are largely the areas of the greatest social and economic deprivation. We have far more of the problems on the streets, so we suport the police, but we want to ensure that the police support us.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why, if his party is so pro-police, several Labour-controlled local authorities do not co-operate with neighbourhood watch schemes and do not encourage the police to talk to school children?
Mr. Banks : If the hon. Gentleman had been here a little earlier he would have heard some of those points made. Since he makes the same tedious point, which is based far more on his imagination than the truth, I must point out to him that the experience around London of the relationships between the boroughs and the local police differs markedly. Some boroughs have good working relationships whereas others do not. However, the political complexion of the boroughs where there are good relationships can be identical with those where there are bad relationships. It is not a matter of Left and Right, but of the way the police operate. The hon. Gentleman always presents the matter as if it were the fault of councillors and as if they were anti-police. He knows little about the relationships between the local authorities and the police in certain areas of London where relationships have regrettably broken down. It takes two to tango. Those democratically elected local authorities have taken decisions on their experiences. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is speaking, as ever, far more from ignorance than knowledge. I will give way to a knowledgeable Member.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend makes the case for accountability. The Home Secretary has now left the Chamber. As well as being scathing about Labour's policy for improved public accountability for the police, he claimed that Labour wanted to interfere with the operational requirements of the police. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that is no part of Labour policy?
The Home Secretary also implied that Conservatives do not interfere with the operational aspects of policing. Will my hon. Friend cast his mind back to the miners' strike, when we saw the police suddenly adopt a range of powers that they had not used for years, including harassing people collecting for the strikers? Was that not Conservative interference with the operational aspects of policing?
Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I made the point earlier that through certain pieces of legislation the Government have put the police into a high profile political position. I might add that some police officers have applied themselves to the task with far more enthusiasm than is seemly. They should beware. If they are seen to be over- enthusiastic in the way they apply partisan and divisive legislation, they will further erode the confidence of Londoners in their ability to act impartially, as they should, to enforce the law. However, police officers would do far better to say on certain areas of law that for them to enforce such a law would only lead to more trouble than letting that law go by. I expect police officers
Column 1261to be able to make such judgments to the Home Secretary, but I suspect that if some did so, the Home Secretary would denounce them as being political.
Mr. Corbyn : Earlier, the Home Secretary said that he had a hands- off approach to the running of the police force and it was a matter for the police to carry out their policing duties. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) pointed out, during the miners' strike there was the greatest interference in policing and police tactics.
During the printers' dispute at Wapping there were daily statements from Ministers and from Tory Members saying what the police should be doing and encouraging them. Subsequently, Northampton police were asked to undertake an inquiry into the events at Wapping in January 1987, and as a result a number of officers have been suspended. We are still awaiting a statement about what charges will be brought and about the future of the officers involved. If there is to be any confidence in the Metropolitan police, there needs to be a clear statement of exactly what will happen to the officers involved in the disgraceful incidents at Wapping.
Mr. Banks : I agree with my hon. Friend. That case is another example demonstrating that the laws that the police have to enforce are socially divisive. I pay tribute to the Northampton police and Chief Superintendent Wyrko, who did a great deal of work and faced a great deal of obstruction from within the Metropolitan police in conducting his investigations.
I suspect that a cover up is going on and that there will be a whitewash. They are waiting and delaying for long enough so that the rules of evidence would point to there being no fair trial for any officers that are being accused. That is what is happening. We know precisely that that is the way in which the Government are trying to angle it. Where they are able to apply subtle pressures, no doubt they will do so. They cannot afford to allow the police officers who acted so brutally to be brought to account as that would cast doubts on the impartiality of the Metropolitan police and their actions at Wapping. It would throw into sharp relief the unpleasant nature of the legislation that involved the police in the first place and allowed people like Murdoch to sack so many good print workers and hard- working people who made a great deal of profit for that nasty little man.
I have to make progress as a number of Conservative Members still wish to speak. Turning to accountability, if we had a Grand Committee for London or a police committee sitting on a regular basis, we would not have to rely on this inadequate way of debating issues in a non-conclusive fashion. We would be able to talk to police officers and cross-examine the Home Secretary, and that would be far more satisfactory. It would not meet all the points that Labour Members have made about accountability, but it would be far better than the wholly inadequate system that operates at present.
The 9 per cent. increase in sexual crimes and sexual violence is wholly unacceptable. Although the police are handling such matters in a more sensitive manner, I suspect that they are still
under-recording the incidence of sexual violence which is predominantly and overwhelmingly against women.
Column 1262Crime on the Underground is getting worse. It is linked to lack of investment by the Department of Transport and by London Regional Transport in the Underground and bus services, as anyone who travels regularly around London will know.
Life in London today is more brutal and violent than it has been for many years. The social values of our society give the lead to that increasing brutality. I made the same point last Friday on the subject of litter, as these issues are linked. When the Government's philosophy is largely predicated on personal greed and selfishness, there must be a causal link between that philosophy and increasing crime, violence and brutality in our society. I blame Tory philosophy for the increasing incidence of violence in London. Public property is treated with contempt by the Conservative Government, who believe that private property is sacred but public property can be treated with contempt and abused. It is sold off or allowed to run down. That attitude spreads its disturbing way through society like an infection. People do not regard public property as theirs, because they are not encouraged to do so. They are taught by the Government, and particularly by the Prime Minister, that what is public is not good and what is private is sacred. The sense of community in London, as elsewhere, has been sorely damaged by the economic and social policies of this unpleasant and divisive Government.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that he did not welcome the idea of private roads and police forces, but that is inevitably the way that we will go. He might not like the idea, but I assure him that many Conservative Members do like the idea of private roads that can be shut off. Of course, those roads will be in the nicest areas and those in which the wealthiest people can afford private security guards. That is what is happening in the United States now. If hon. Members want to see what it will be like in this country in 10 years' time I suggest that they visit the United States.
The Opposition want proper policing and more resources for the police, but we want to ensure that the priorities of the police accord with the priorities of the communities that we serve. That is why, when we talk about setting police priorities, we do not mean interference with their day -to-day operational running ; we mean "These are the things that you must do, but, when we will the ends, we must then will the means." My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will be there in the Home Office as a Minister, so he will agree that a Labour Government would ensure that the police in London have the necessary resources to meet our demands on them on behalf of the people whom we represent.
I hope that the Minister will say something about the alarming growth in civil damages paid out by the Metropolitan police in cases where police officers have been accused of ill discipline or malpractice, and the police decide to pay out rather than have the matter go to court. That strikes me as being sinister. I know that the Minister is a lawyer and, no doubt, he will tell me that the rules of evidence in civil cases are far less demanding than those in criminal cases. That may be so, but the Metropolitan police would hardly hand out hundreds of thousands of pounds to those who make complaints against the police if senior police officers and the authorities concerned did not believe that there was more than a substance of truth in the complaint.
We want to know why the amount paid in civil damages has risen so much in recent years. We also want to know
Column 1263what happens to the police officers after those damages are paid. It is outrageous that London ratepayers have had to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds in civil damages for complaints against police officers, but in the end those police officers are left serving on the patches from where the complaints originated. It undermines confidence in the police to know that there is a growing number of bent coppers in the force. That is not something that one says with any great enthusiasm or pleasure, because if the confidence between the police and the community is eroded, that will damage all of us. If bent coppers are allowed to remain in the force, good policemen will also be damaged.
I would ask the Minister to comment on the Metropolitan police and the poll tax. Next year the poll tax will be introduced, but all the Home Office and the Metropolitan police receiver have said is that a set amount of the poll tax will go to the Metropolitan police. Local authorities have asked for full estimates to enable them to plan ahead, but they have not yet been given them. There could be two reasons for that. The first is that Whitehall and the police receiver have not yet got their act together and worked out the necessary sums. The second is that they might have worked out their sums, but they are keeping the figures quiet. The Government are far too frightened to release them, because of the increased costs that they will clearly impose on the London boroughs.
My borough has estimated that Newham will find that its contribution will rise from £6.4 million to more than £10 million, or perhaps as much as £12 million, for its contribution to the Metropolitan police. We demand the right to know those figures today.
I have already said that Newham has the highest police recorded level of racial attacks in London. I deeply regret to say that one in eight London incidents occur in Newham. The problem with racial attacks, as with sexual offences, is non-reporting. We estimate that, in Newham, only one in 20 incidents are reported to the police. In that context it is important to consider the quality of the police response. From 1985 to 1988 arrest rates in Newham have fallen by half and that clearly suggests why people under- report racial harassment incidents. In 1985 an arrest took place once in every eight police-reported incidents ; in 1988 it had fallen to one in every 17.
I acknowledge and pay tribute to the improvements that have been made. In north Plaistow we have the country's only action project, but more resources should be made available to the police in Newham so that they can deal with this worrying and disturbing increase in racial harassment.
Mr. Cohen : Is my hon. Friend aware that two years ago the police undertook a pilot project in Redbridge? It lasted for six weeks and the police issued lots of extremely good leaflets about racial attacks and the need to report them. The police had a good response and the pilot project was successful. The police showed themselves to be active in the fight against racial attacks. Does my hon. Friend have any idea why that pilot project was not put into action on a permanent basis in the East End and in other areas where racial attacks are a serious problem?
Column 1264We need a greater commitment from the Government through action and resources rather than through words. More resources would deal with the upsurge in racial harassment in the East End.
The safer cities initiative, which is part of the action for cities programme, is aimed at crime prevention. My council applied to be one of the areas to take part in that initiative, but it recently learnt that it has not been chosen. Newham has a higher than average crime rate, one of the largest ethnic minority populations in the country and the highest incidence of racial harassment in the country. My council has a proven track record of working with the police, the Home Office and local groups to eliminate crime. Why was my council bounced? Why was it not included in the safer cities project? My council could not have been rejected because it does not work closely with the police and the community. I have already described the economic and social deprivation of my borough and the crime level. What do we need to do to prove that we have a right to get those additional resources through the safer cities initiative? This debate has at least enabled us to raise some interesting points, but, frankly, it is not satisfactory. The Metropolitan police should be far more accountable and, if that accountability is to be through the Home Secretary alone, it is up to us here to improve the way in which it operates. A police committee in the House would not truly satisfy us, because we want proper police committees in London along the lines that I have described. I would settle for a police committee of the House, however, as the sparse attendance on both sides of the House suggests not the House's satisfaction with the Metropolitan police and the annual report, but our dissatisfaction with the wholly inadequate way in which Parliament attempts to exercise some form of accountability, through the Home Secretary, for the Metropolitan police.
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : The Home Secretary was wise not to display any complacency when he talked about the crime statistics. During the past two years the overall figures may have decreased, but violent offences are still increasing--by 19 per cent. this year, I believe. Every Londoner knows that we are nowhere near getting crime and lawlessness under control. The situation is absolutely appalling. The rate of street crime, such as stealing and breaking into vehicles, is terrifying in some parts of London. Burglary is still rampant and, in addition to crimes of violence, drug misuse and drug-related crime are increasing. We are about to suffer an appalling epidemic of drug misuse due to the consumption of crack. Police resources are inadequate to deal with the problem, which will take up much police time and resources to the detriment of their other work. For London alone, we can do much more by providing more resources and more policemen on the streets. Given the scale of crime, lawlessness and the need for enforcement of law and order and public order in London, we must have more than the current 28,000 police officers. We need at least 38,000, and perhaps 48,000, police officers to look after us in London.
The current organisation of police in London could be improved. I do not understand why so many minor police forces within the Metropolitan police area are not under the operational control of the commissioner. Why should there be a separate police force for the Underground? We
Column 1265are all aware that it is a source of crime. To the detriment of the Metropolitan police, the Home Secretary has arranged extra officers for London Transport police. We know that the scale and fear of crime are increasing on the Underground, and it is a public disgrace that the problem is as bad as it is. There should be sufficient officers to provide at least one policeman for each Underground station in London. Why on earth are London Transport police so undermanned, and why on earth does the commissioner not have operational control? Surely the commissioner is in the best position to react tactically to day-to-day demands. Why are the Royal Parks police not under the control of the commissioner? We must consider these problems and give the commissioner greater operational control, and preferably structural control.
As a large number of hon. Members have said, Londoners are fortunate to have a police force of such quality, efficiency and integrity. The Metropolitan police are extremely well led and a high proportion of their senior ranks are well-motivated officers who are dedicated to public service. It is little wonder that they provide recruits to senior posts in provincial forces. No matter how many police officers we recruit, however, and no matter the size of the force in London, we can touch only the surface of the social malaise. The lack of respect for other people, for public or private property and for authority lies at the root of our problems. If only we could change attitudes by increasing the number of police officers in London, and if only we could instill a sense of esteem among young people who misuse drugs.
Perhaps it is not surprising that attitudes are determined not by the police or the law but by people in authority and influence, who should and could set a better example. It is no wonder that poorer people imitate people in the City, who so easily, and with so little respect for others, acquire fortunes in an afternoon and so easily buy and sell firms without regard for their employees. When the Church spends so much of its time on its own domestic problems, such as the ordination of women, and when priests use their pulpits as political platforms, it is no wonder that so many people are confused about their moral duties.
The local environment is dirty and the streets in many London boroughs are strewn with rubbish. Anyone who, like me, has a constituency in south-east London and has to drive through Peckham and Lewisham is appalled by the rubbish that lies on the streets all the time, not just after a market. It must be infinitely depressing to live in such an environment.
Mr. Sheerman : I have enjoyed listening to many of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I agree with some. I hope that he is not being too politically partisan. When I am in London I live in the City and the squalor in some parts is appalling. During the Euro-elections, I spent some time in the Ilford area. I agree that there is appalling rubbish, litter and urban decay. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that this is a universal problem and not one based on the political complexion of the area through which he drives.
Mr. Stanbrook : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has introduced the element of politican partisanship into the debate. I am not talking about political parties, nor am I talking about any party that is in control in a particular
Column 1266area. There are London boroughs that neglect the public collection of refuse and allow their streets to be filthy. They may be controlled by different political parties. I know of areas in Westminster that suffer from this disease. I mentioned the route from central London to south-east London because that happens to be the one I take to my constituency. One passes through two boroughs. Although they spend money on things that I do not regard as essential services, they are content to allow their citizens to live, work and travel in squalor. It is a comparatively easy, efficient and cheap exercise to keep the rubbish off their streets. Enforcement of the law in this respect is important in giving assistance to the police. The police alone should not be responsible for enforcement of the law. They need the backing of the public and of councils. It has been said that some councils--I shall not say which political party dominates them--refuse to give police officers permission to enter schools to speak to children. It is desirable for the police to visit schools. Every school should have a police officer, preferably the local home beat officer, who drops in from time to time to take part in school activities and have chats with the children. Those authorities that refuse permission should be ashamed of themselves for not co-operating with the efforts of the police to produce a law-abiding society.
There should also be an improvement in the efforts of individuals. It should be a duty, especially for wealthy and powerful individuals, to set an example. It is disgraceful that Sir Terence Conran, a wealthy, apparently proud and arrogant man, has recently announced that his Storehouse group of firms will open on Sundays, in contravention of the Shops Act 1950. Not everyone agrees with that legislation--there have been debates in the Chamber and elsewhere about how we should amend the law--but it nevertheless remains the law. If Sir Terence Conran arranges for his shops to open, thereby deliberately setting out to break the law, not only is he setting a bad example to young people and other people who have less power and wealth than he has, but he deserves to be sent to prison until he learns to respect the law. It is disgraceful that Sir Terence Conran or anyone else, through the firms that they control, should contravene the law and encourage others to do so. How on earth can they expect humble people to respect the law and not commit petty offences when the rich and the powerful get away with it scot free? We need more policemen in London and we need more resources. The present allocation is not adequate. Much more must be done if Londoners are to be reassured and provided with the regime of law and order that the capital deserves. Above all, we need more discipline in society, more respect for the law and more determination on the part of politicians like us and other responsible citizens to enforce the law. Only then and by giving the police the moral backing that they deserve shall we begin to redress the balance.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On 16 February last year the Home Secretary, in a Written Answer gave the figure for the net revenue expenditure of the Metropolitan police in 1988-89 as £1,000,004,967. For the first time, the expenditure exceeded £1 billion. Obviously, the figure will have increased substantially this year. A great deal of that burden is placed on local authorities. Their ratepayers--and in future their poll tax payers--will have to fund that
Column 1267sum, but they have no democratic say. I shall not repeat the detailed arguments made by my colleagues today. However, there should be a democratic, London-wide police authority. The Home Secretary cannot be accountable, as he is not even a London Member of Parliament.
This is an unsatisfactory forum in which to debate the various issues relating to police and policing in London. Speeches in this debate must include various different issues. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who spoke as the paid representative of the Police Federation, does not have sole claim to speak on behalf of police interests or for the protection of the police.
I want to raise a point that the hon. Member for Uxbridge did not mention. We must consider prisoners and people in police cells who might be suffering from AIDS or HIV. That is a serious problems for the police. At the moment, the police have responsibilities, but those are of a general nature. The police general orders refer to people who require medical assistance and it sets out the responsibilities and duties of police to obtain medical treatment for people brought into police stations and those already detained. Often it may not be apparent that a prisoner is suffering from an illness. Some prisoners may try to conceal their illness or they may not be aware of their condition.
Often prisoners are admitted to the Brixton prison medical wing so that extremely sick prisoners are not detained for long periods in police or court cells. However, HIV sufferers are often not considered to be extremely urgent cases. There is insufficient accommodation in prison medical wings, and prisoners are often detained in police cells, which is a problem for local police forces.
To minimise risks to police officers, there should be a high standard of hygiene in cells. According to a report that was published this week, many problems in police stations clearly reflect the lack of hygiene. The Home Secretary should institute a major programme to improve the hygiene of police cells and to give proper advice to police officers. In spite of the precautions that are taken, each year many police officers seek medical advice after contact with infected prisoners who have bitten or scratched them or pricked them with needles. There appears to be a lack of action on the part of the Home Office to produce clear regulations on treatment for AIDS prisoners and to issue guidelines to the police to establish effective training for officers and assistance for officers who contract AIDS. That important issue has not been discussed in the debate. The Home Office is also ignoring its own health officers' advice on taking effective action to stop the spread of AIDS in prisons. The same criticism applies to police cells. Police officers are at risk, and the Government are responsible.
The Police Federation has expressed concern about burglaries. That matter was not referred to by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who is the Police Federation's representative. A recent report in "The Job" the Metropolitan police newspaper, pointed out that the police are upset about the Government's policy on burglary cases. The Director of Public Prosecutions is reluctant to prosecute burglary cases, even when the intruder's fingerprints are discovered, saying that they are not sufficient evidence. I agree that it would be difficult to rely on the fingerprints of a member of the family or a friend who visits regularly, but the fingerprints of an intruder into a burgled home are clear evidence and should
Column 1268be used in court. The DPP should not make that claim about insufficient evidence as a reason why a burglary case is not taken to court. I have written a strong letter to the Attorney-General backing the Police Federation on this important matter and I hope to see some strong action by the Government.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Will my hon. Friend join with me in congratulating our hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his occupation of the Opposition Front Bench and hope that his tenure there will be long and happy? In the run-up to the Notting Hill carnival, will my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) join with me in hoping that we have a crime-free, constructively policed carnival? Nobody wants crime and disorder at the carnival. The police have a role to play. Will my hon. Friend join with me in congratulating Mr. Frank Critchlow of the Mangrove association, who was recently acquitted of several charges? I hope that the Metropolitan police are as committed as Opposition Members are to keeping the Notting Hill carnival on the streets as a crime-free, happy and community-based event.
Mr. Cohen : I echo every one of my hon. Friend's words. The Notting Hill carnival is a great spectacle for Londoners. I also want it to continue to be successful and crime-free. I echo also my hon. Friend's comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). It was a timely intervention.
I shall mention racial harassment, although I do not wish to make a detailed speech on it. The House will know that I introduced the first and only Bill relating to racial harassment--my Racial Harassment Bill. The majority of measures in that Bill must be implemented if we are effectively to tackle racial harassment. However, I shall leave my speech on that for another day. The Government should have a debate on that subject, because they have published their own proposals on it.
In this debate we should have answers from the Home Secretary about the debacle involving Saatchi and Saatchi and the £35,000 worth of leaflets which went down the drain. What steps have ben taken to recoup that public money and, even more important, to re-publish the leaflets and have them properly distributed? Perhaps local authorities should be invited to tender for distribution of the leaflets, because they could obviously do a better job than a private company such as Saatchi and Saatchi.
There is a tendency for police action against racial harassment to slip down the list of priorities. The Home Office must bring legislation before the House to make racial attacks and harassment specific criminal offences. Until they do so, the ability of the police to take action is hampered.
I should like an answer from the Home Secretary about the recruitment procedure of the police force and whether the ethnic minority receives equal treatment. An article in The Independent on 24 April stated :
"The Home Office has refused to alter a police entrance test which is known to discriminate against blacks. 70 per cent. of white applicants in London sitting the Police Initial Recruitment Test are successful, but the ethnic minority applicants have only a 40 per cent. pass rate. The principal employment officer of the Commission for Racial Equality says the test relies on the literary ability of candidates and
Column 1269requires a knowledge of English phraseology which is not so understandable to those who have not been fully educated in this country.
A Home Office spokesman, admitting that the test is biased, said it would cost £170,000 to replace it but that the money wasn't available this year."
We are talking about a budget of well over £1 billion, but the Home Office will not get rid of the test and institute a fairer one because it would cost £170,000. Clearly, the Home Office does not want equality in recruitment practices if it cannot come up with such a paltry sum. I want an answer on that point.
I raised with the Home Office the matter, of the lay visitors scheme. Waltham Forest lay visitors' panel made a number of points in its recent report which I forwarded to the Home Secretary. It talked about conditions in police stations, and said that all stations had only one wash basin for detainees. It is vital to improve hygiene standards. The panel also talked about the lack of privacy, particularly for the occasional female detainee, and hoped that the Home Office would take steps to give such prisoners the facilities to wash privately.
The panel said that Leyton police station facilities were inadequate for longer stay prisoners. Leyton divisional chief superintendent sought approval from the Home Office for the provision of a shower which, in the circumstances, should have been given immediately. It also said that there were insufficient grounds and that steps should be taken to secure an area of the station grounds so that prisoners could take outside exercise. The panel also talked about the absence of in-house food and drink facilities, particularly when people were detained in cells after 9 pm.
The response by the Home Office when I raised these points about exercise and washing facilities was :
"The Prison Service have made funds available to provide the most essential facilities, such as access to toilet and washing facilities, at stations holding Home Office prisoners. However, only limited funds are available and have to be used where the need is greatest." Those limited funds amount to £50,000 per year, which is a pittance given the increasing need for hygiene in prison cells. The Home Office Minister must increase that amount enormously and immediately--
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : The hon. Gentleman has been talking about prisoners in police cells. He will be pleased to know that there were only 26 such prisoners in the Metropolitan area yesterday.
Mr. Cohen : I am pleased to know that, but we are used to that sort of information on the day before a police debate in the House. At other times the figure shoots up to well over 200. Nevertheless, I welcome the information and hope that there will be only 26 a day, a week and a year after the police debate--but somehow I doubt it. The lay visitors also mention duty solicitors' attendance. Many people in cells do not get the chance to speak to a duty solicitor, and sometimes solicitors will deal with cases only over the telephone, which is unsatisfactory. The Home Office view is :
"the Legal Aid Office would be interested to know of any instances".
That is not good enough. The lay visitors panel has clearly identified this problem and the Home Office should tackle it.