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Column 550ideas, and if we are to have the social programmes that the Commissioner proposed, which seemed today to receive a half-hearted endorsement from the Home Secretary, there must be a formal relationship between local authorities and the police and an obligation must be placed on local authorities to pursue sensible crime prevention programmes.
The best local authorities do that already, but some do not, and one reason why they do not is that, not being a statutory duty, crime prevention does not carry grant. If the Home Secretary wants local authorities to do the things that he has commended today, the law must be changed to require the worst of them to do them. I hope that, having taken advice on a previous point, the Under-Secretary will also take advice on that one and that he will give me an answer in his reply.
I want to make it absolutely clear that, next year, when the Labour party is in government, we shall impose a duty on all local authorities to work with the police in implementing crime prevention programmes. In the light of that, let me comment on one or two specific proposals and ask several questions concerning the recommendations made in the Commissioner's report.
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : The right hon. Gentleman has made a significant public expenditure pledge on behalf of his party. Before he gives a detailed analysis of what he would like to be done, can he give the House an estimate of the extent to which public expenditure will be increased as a result of his pledge?
Mr. Hattersley : Yes. I have no doubt that the aim could be achieved within the present Home Office budget. I shall refer in a moment to some of the ways in which money in that budget is wasted. A typical example, and one directly relevant to London, is the enormous amount now being squandered on the excessively expensive practice of holding prisoners in police cells. The Commissioner's office tells me that it costs rather more to hold a remand prisoner in a prison cell than it would to keep him in the Savoy hotel. Enormous amounts of money could be saved from the Home Office budget and it is important to start using that money for sensible projects. Having dealt with that point, let me move on to more sensible matters.
First, let me congratulate the Commissioner on one aspect of last year's report and on the information that he has given us on the way in which it has been implemented during the year now under review. I refer to the Commissioner's initiative on racial assaults and racial violence, which the Home Secretary has already mentioned, telling us about the increase in the number of recorded incidents.
I do not want to sound even more complacent than the right hon. Gentleman, but I share the Commissioner's view that the recording of extra incidents is probably in part the result of the extra attention focused on the problem in the report. Whether that is right or wrong, it is certainly the case that a large additional number of men and women have been caught and convicted in respect of such offences. That is absolutely right and I congratulate the Commissioner on the clear way in which he has focused the capital's attention on those crimes and on his continued commitment to reducing their incidence.
Column 551relations work--there is still significant under-reporting of racial attacks in London? Therefore, while I welcome the fact that the police are now taking such crimes more seriously, I think that we still have a long way to go, especially in encouraging desk constables and sergeants immediately to ask the person reporting an assault whether he or she believes it to have been racially motivated. That is the basis of the definition according to which reporting should take place.
Mr. Hattersley : I agree with my hon. Friend--indeed, I hope that my agreement was implicit in my point that the apparent increase in recorded incidents is due to the fact that the question should be asked and is being asked. I am sure that he and I would also agree that it is right to offer our congratulations to the Met for beginning to face up to the problem and trying to overcome it if it possibly can.
I also commend and congratulate the Commissioner on the paragraphs of his report in which he expresses his belief that the Metropolitan police should play a proper part in the creation of a multiracial society. The increase in recruitment of officers from the ethnic minorities is warmly to be welcomed. I understand that such officers now represent about 9 per cent. of the intake, and that applicants represent an even larger percentage. The Commissioner says in his report that he hopes that more and more of the black and Asian British will look upon policing as a worthwhile occupation. For what it is worth, I want to add my urgings on that very point. If the police are properly to represent all sections of society, two things must happen. First, the police must understand their role in a multiracial society. That is happening more and more. Secondly, members of the minorities must apply to join the police in greater numbers. I certainly hope that they will and I urge them to do so. Let me now deal with a related matter--the proposals and suggestions made tentatively by the Commissioner on the subject of marches undertaken with the intention of malign provocation. The Commissioner is understandably frustrated by the activities of what he describes as organisations which "lay a siege from within" to the community but do it in such a way and do it with such comparatively small numbers that he is not justified in calling for the prohibition of the activity but nevertheless has to use large numbers of officers to hold down what is certainly racial provocation.
As the Commissioner rightly says, although the officers can prevent a breach of the peace, they cannot prevent the racial disturbance that inevitably results. I understand exactly why the Commissioner proposes that some special action might be taken. I also understand why he states at the end of his recommedations that civil liberty questions need to be answered. For my part, I hope that the discussions that he proposes will take place, in the hope that we shall be able to do something to end such activities without the unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.
Part 1 of the report is devoted to the PLUS programme, which seems to me admirable, both in concept and execution. That programme, too, is related to partnership within the community. The idea of partnership is set out in the statement of common purpose and values, and it is
Column 552important that we should give the Metropolitan police the opportunity to implement the provisions of that statement and the resources that they need for that purpose.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will answer a specific question on that subject. Some devotees of sector policing within the Met advocate with great enthusiasm the idea of having teams of officers responsible for an area continually for 24 hours, but they are now expressing doubts about whether sufficient manpower is available to operate such a system.
Will the team approach to a sector mean that officers are not available for other essential duties particularly emergency calls? Will the Home Secretary tell us something about that, particularly as I understand that, last week, he announced an extra 1,000 police officers--I was going to say to be recruited, but I am not sure whether that is so, because the Home Secretary has a habit of renouncing earlier announcements of extra police officers. With regard to recruitment, unless extra resources are made available, many police authorities, as is now the case, will not expand up to establishment because they will not be able to afford the cost. However, I understand that, of those 1,000 extra officers, none are for the Met. If the Minister can confirm that, I hope that he will also tell us whether he believes that the PLUS programme can be carried out without extra resources.
The PLUS programme relates to the Met in particular because there are areas where the concept of staffing allocation is beginning to worry the local communities which co-operate strongly and enthusiastically with the police. I have been told that the consultation group in Holloway, which rejoices in its success in co-operating with the police, is depressed by the fact that a 10 per cent. reduction in crime has also resulted in a 10 per cent. reduction in resources available to fight crime. If the Minister can tell us something about the general staffing levels and the pressure, we might-- although I am not altogether convinced that we shall--be reassured.
I want to raise several other questions before I refer to a subject which, having been mentioned in passing last year, excited more attention than anything else that we debated when we considered this subject last year. Can we hear something about the use of police cells for remand prisoners? A chief constable to whom I spoke this year said that he welcomed his cells being used for remand prisoners, because the Home Office pumped so much money into his authority for that purpose that he received it in the form of revenue rating ; he urged me not to criticise the proposals because he needed the money-- [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is aware of whom I am speaking. When pressed, that chief constable agreed that that was a scandalous waste of money. Almost every police authority considers it to be an equally scandalous diversion of scarce manpower. That is not a job that police officers do well. They do not want to do it and they should not be required to do it. They are not turnkeys and they do not have the expert eyes to be professional prison officers. How many remand prisoners are being held in London police stations? What does that cost? Although it seems almost inconceivable--I have been assured that this is true, and I simply ask the question because the likelihood is so horrific that I hope the allegation will be denied--is pressure on London police stations with remand prisoners to be relieved by postponing various improvements
Column 553scheduled for Brixton prison? Will those improvements be postponed to put remand prisoners back in those completely intolerable conditions?
On page 20 of his annual report, the Commissioner refers to pressure on resources. As the Home Secretary would not do this formally to the House on Monday, will he tell us something about the proposals for docklands police? Are they to be privatised in some way? Are they to be handed over to the new independent private authority? Are police officers to be replaced by security guards who are badly trained, badly paid and without the necessary powers and qualifications?
Mr. Simon Hughes : I intended to raise that point. One of the straightforward aspects of docklands is that the population of residents and business people has increased considerably. If the answer to the question raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is that there are no extra police for London, the implication for greatly expanding communities is very serious.
Mr. Hattersley : I am sure that the House will want to allow the Minister as much time as he needs to answer those very important questions, and I am sure that he will be specific when he refers to police numbers and to the plans for docklands. The idea of a police force without the training, professional skills and powers of police officers in charge of that area is completely intolerable and should not be acceptable in our society.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about the proposals that relate to the port of Tilbury, as I suspect he is? That is important and I am glad that he has raised the matter. He will be aware that there are two aspects of docklands--the London docks and Tilbury. Tilbury is a separate port and is in Essex.
Mr. Hattersley : I am talking about Tilbury initially, and I fear that the practice with Tilbury might spread. A concept that we have debated in this House in relation to other subjects is creeping privatisation. What might happen in Tilbury could happen elsewhere. I have seen it happen in ports outside London. I visited a port where the police have been replaced by a private security organisation. I met a lady sergeant in charge, and she was kind enough to conduct me around with the management. I asked her how she became a sergeant and she told me that she had become a sergeant because she had done two weeks' training. When I asked her what she had done before her two weeks' training, she told me that she had been on the checkout at Woolworths. That seems inadequate preparation for being a non- commissioned officer in a police force. I do not want that to spread from the provinces into London.
Mr. Hattersley : I am glad that we did not miss that point. No one doubts the necessity of diplomatic and royal protection being carried out to whatever level or extent is necessary to preserve life and safety. However, the Commissioner's report refers to the enormous increase in
Column 554manpower involved in such protection over the past year, which I fear, although I hope that I am wrong, will continue.
The Home Secretary must consider whether that protection is a proper charge to be made in any degree or to any percentage on the local authorities which pay towards the upkeep of the Met. Will the Minister tell us whether he believes, as we believe, that the time has come for that charge to be accepted nationally in full rather than for any percentage of it to be placed among the responsibilities of the boroughs concerned?
I want to conclude, with some trepidation, on a point that produced such an avalanche of letters last year ; I look forward to my postbag with great disquiet. I refer to traffic movement in London. There are two points about traffic movement in London that are noticeable to those of us who live in the boroughs. The first is the efficiency with which the meter system operates. Those of us who have residents' parking permits are aware that, if we stay on a yellow line after 8.30 or remain by a parking meter after 9.30, we will receive a ticket within 20 minutes and will be clamped within half an hour. I make no complaint about that today, although I have complained about it at 8.30 and 9.30.
The second point that we notice is that, while the meter system operates so efficiently, when we drive through London's arterial roads, we are constantly blocked by commercial vehicles parked on single yellow lines, double yellow lines and traffic junctions which are loading or unloading or dropping passengers. They are now a major cause of traffic jams.
Two thousand years ago, the Romans required carts to be within the city walls only between sunset and sunrise. I do not suggest that that should now happen in London, but a tougher line must be taken against drivers who wilfully park in a way that prevents traffic flow along arterial roads.
Mr. Hattersley : It is much more than the red route concept. I want to consider the yellow box concept : we could go through the entire spectrum before the debate ends. More action must be taken about the blocking of junctions. I am almost willing to give a prize to any hon. Member who has seen someone prosecuted or stopped for parking on the yellow hatchings in a juction. That is one more thing which is bringing the capital's traffic to a halt.
I make that point with trepidation because I know that the flood of support --not that that is in any way unusual for me--that I will obtain for that idea will make life in my office intolerable next week. However, the point is important for two reasons--the technical necessity of keeping London traffic flowing and the relationship between the people of London and the police. One of the things that irritate the London citizen about police officers whom he or she sees walking along the road is why they are not doing something about those cars. If we are to have the relationship which the Home Secretary and I want, that minor irritation could well do with removal.
I end my remarks as I began, by offering the Metropolitan police the Opposition's congratulations on what, in adverse circumstances, has been a successful year. I promise the Metropolitan police force that, not this year
Column 555but in the year beginning, say, early May 1992, there will be resources and support to let it have an even more successful year than it has had until now.
Mr. Kenneth Baker : The right hon. Gentleman is promising more resources in the event of a Labour Government winning the election. When he was a member of the previous Labour Government, when he sat in Cabinet discussing police resources, he actually reported an under-resource for the Metropolitan police, and left the Metropolitan police 4,500 officers under establishment. That was his record in office. That is what the country should remember.
Mr. Hattersley : It was because we believed that there had to be a reorganisation of police pay and police numbers that my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary and I jointly set up the inquiry into police pay, which was our legacy to the incoming Conservative Government. That inquiry and report were ours. It is an absolute feature of the Home Secretary and his party that they want to fight the battles of 15 years ago--which I suppose is better than losing the battles of next year. If he wants to fight the battles of 15 years ago, I stand absolutely by our record. Our record is crime at half the level that it is today. We will stand by that record.
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : I shall take up some of the points that were made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but first I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in welcoming Sir Peter Imbert back to the commissionership of the Metropolitan police. He is innovative and he commands enormous respect among the people of London as well as members of his own police force.
I welcome this annual debate on policing in London. At the outset, it is important to remind the House that, when we consider the police in London, we naturally think of the Metropolitan police with its record high establishment of 28,364 police officers and its 16,720 civilian staff who are responsible for policing 799 square miles, including the 32 London boroughs and some outer districts as well as Windsor castle. The Metropolitan police force costs an enormous amount of money. The total cost today is £1,286 million and the greater part of that sum comes from the Treasury through the taxpayer.
The other police services of London include the efficient City of London police, with its establishment of 798 police officers and 433 civilians. The British Transport police force is responsible for policing the London underground and it deserves particular credit for an excellent record in crime control and crime prevention. Although overall crime levels in the Metropolitan police area have risen recently--up 9 per cent. in 1990-- statistics for crime on the underground show a fall for the third successive year, most notably in categories involving violence. They are down 23 per cent. on the 1989 figures. Within that category, robbery fell by 12 per cent., assaults by 13 per cent., indecent assaults by 11 per cent. and other sexual offences by 59 per cent.
Crime on the underground needs always to be considered in the context of the numbers travelling. With nearly 800 million journeys every year, the chances of
Column 556becoming involved in an incident are extremely small. In 1990, fewer than two incidents per 1 million passenger journeys involved violence. It is particularly important to set out that record, because it reduces the sometimes irrational fear of crime on the part of people who use the underground system.
I also pay tribute to members of the Royal Parks constabulary for their excellent work in the royal parks. I know from my experience in the city of Westminster how splendidly they serve a very large tourist population as well as the local residential community. I now refer to the Labour party's absurd proposition that there should be an elected police authority for London which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook again confirmed today. [Interruption.] I say "absurd" because there is absolutely no evidence of any demand from the public for an elected police authority within the areas of responsibility of the four police forces that I have mentioned. The ambiguity of the Opposition's case for that proposition is remarkable. They have not made it clear whether they envisage their so- called elected police authority being responsible for all police activities in what I presume to be the area of the 32 London boroughs, the City of London and the eight outer districts in the home counties, as well as the Royal Parks police and the British Transport police.
The Labour party must make clear its definition of the composition and responsibility of that supposed police authority. Given that 90 per cent. of expenditure on the police comes from the taxpayer via the Treasury, it is difficult to imagine what the authority would do.
Outside London, police authority arrangements provide for a committee composed of two thirds local government councillors and one third justices of the peace. They are in no way responsible for operational matters ; nor can they give directions to chief officers of police. They have a limited responsibility for aspects of the efficient administration of the police service, but even that is questionable and is carried out only in conjunction with the Home Office. Moreover, the police authority system has had a pretty chequered history. There is no evidence that such an authority has even identified or stopped bad working practices or operational failings. This failure to provide objective oversight is most marked when considering the recent West Midlands crime squad saga and the overall incompetence of the Derbyshire police authority.
That the Labour party wants to replicate those arrangements in London is absurd. There is no compelling evidence that the police service arrangements outside London engender any greater confidence in the work of the police ; rather, the increasingly effective police consultative arrangements provide that essential local link between the police and the public. The 74 Metropolitan police divisions all have access to the police consultative arrangements and they report increasing public participation in discussing the problems of a local community and the desired style of policing.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the relationship between the local authority and the police in the City of London, which is a police authority, works very well?
Column 557another Labour party pledge--is a unique government unit with a special responsibility. We know very well that we are not comparing like with like in any sense. There are other arguments against an elected police authority--
Based on the costs of the London borough elections in 1986, the likely cost of holding elections for the 32 London boroughs alone would be about £3 million. The overall turnout in the 1990 London borough elections was 48.2 per cent., but that average masks substantial variations from area to area. At borough level, turnouts ranged from 59.7 per cent. in Richmond to 36.1 per cent. in Hackney. At ward level, turnouts ranged from 68 per cent. in the Barnes ward in Richmond to 18.1 per cent. in the Liddle ward in Southwark. It is likely that the turnout for an unwanted election for an authority for which the public have made no demands at all would be even less. The absurdity of the Labour party's proposal is thus manifest for all to see.
Mr. Simon Hughes : The hon. Gentleman's argument suggests that both Opposition parties--supported as he knows, by many Londoners--have argued for a separate election for a police authority. But that is not what happens in the rest of England. Members of police authorities are elected at the same time as the members of the other strategic authorities for that area. As it is not a question of separate elections, the hon. Gentleman's argument in his last few sentences was completely specious.
Sir John Wheeler : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman speaks for the Labour party on this point. The opposition parties have not made that point clear ; nor have they said whether they envisage all four police service functions in London coming within the jurisdiction of the proposed authority. In addition, they have not made clear the area for which the authority would be responsible. The issue is a good deal more complicated--
Mr. Tony Banks rose--
Sir John Wheeler : The hon. Gentleman can make his speech later. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also referred to crime in London. It is a matter of some concern that recorded crime within the Metropolitan police area increased by 11 per cent. in the 12 months from April 1990. The rise is lower than in many police force areas around London, notably Essex, which in June announced a 25 per cent. rise in crime.
It is important to keep the figure in perspective. Recorded crime has increased by an average of 5 per cent. per year since 1970. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the increase in recorded crime since the end of the second world war. Some of the increase is due to an increase in the proportion of crimes reported to and recorded by the police. That is particularly true of some violent crime. It should be remembered that that type of crime, which is the most worrying for the public, represents a very small proportion of all recorded crime
Column 558--about 5 per cent. in London. The vast majority of offences are against property--over half the crimes recorded in London were theft or handling stolen goods.
The increase in recorded crime in London is not the result of any slackening off of police effort--far from it. There have been some significant police achievements over the 12 months covered by the statistics. A higher proportion of rapes have been cleared up. Police operations against street crime have led to a 5 per cent. reduction in such offences. The police have made it a priority to protect the public from serious, predatory crime. It is reasonable to expect the public also to take some responsibility for protecting their property from opportunist theft and vandalism.
It is important to remember that 94 per cent. of the crime problem in London relates to property and especially the motor car. Only one in six offences of violence against a person involves members of the same household, but, significantly, the majority of victims of violence were in some way known or associated with the attacker. The more effective recording of sexual offences reveals that two thirds of the women raped knew their attacker and just under half the women indecently assaulted had a previous acquaintance with their attacker. It is very important for the public to understand the facts. London remains one of the safest cities in the world.
Street crime, such as muggings and bag snatchings, are distressing for the individual and sometimes cause media reports that are either dishonest or selective in their statements and can be the cause of a great deal of fear, especially to elderly women. It is very important for the public to know that two thirds of all mugging victims are male and that male youths in particular account for a large proportion of victims of such crimes. Elderly women are the least likely victims of mugging. Most of those offences take place in the early to mid-afternoon and not after dark as is often supposed. As my right hon. Friend said, the Metropolitan police are increasingly successful at detecting crime. No. 1 area, which I visited recently to discuss with the deputy assistant commissioner his own success story there, has carried out several operations with remarkable results. The DAC told me that those achievements were made only because of the total co-operation of the local community in all its forms and were especially due to the high morale of the Metropolitan police officers. The notion that the police are in any way lacking in morale is absolute humbug. Their record of achievement would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of the police themselves, or without the increasing support that they receive from the civilian members of their staff.
Car crime is a particular problem. The Metropolitan police say that more than 75,000 cars are taken and driven away, of which half are fairly easily recovered. The problem is that a quarter of those vehicles are taken and the contents stolen because the driver had not locked the doors. While there is increasing effort on the part of motor manufacturers to improve car security, the public are often careless in the treatment of their possessions. More must be done to deal with car crime.
The costs to the taxpayer of car crime are enormous and are not effectively calculated. I refer, for example, to the correlation between car thefts and accidents. In December 1988, the Home Office working group on car crime recommended some analysis of that point. I understand from the Department of Transport that some
Column 559data are being analysed at the moment and that the first results should be available in a couple of months. I am sorry to find that no work has been done by academics on that aspect of car crime, yet there are clear costs to the health service and the insurance industry and a great deal of misery to the public.
It is difficult to give a clear figure of the costs of car crime and I am not aware of a direct updating of the 1984 British crime survey estimate that the net loss sustained by the private motorist from car crime was £270 million. The Home Office produces annual estimates of the value of property stolen in crime recorded by the police. The latest figures for 1989 show that the value of property stolen as theft of a vehicle or from a vehicle totals £1,099 million, of which about £620 million is recovered, leaving a net loss of £471 million. Insurance claims for motor theft in the United Kingdom in 1989 totalled about £291 million. But because such crime is unrecorded the overall net loss to the public may be in the region of £550 million to £600 million. I welcome the fact that 1992 is to be car crime year. We require an innovative-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members seem to think that car crime is amusing. I think that we require an innovative approach--
An innovative approach should be taken to the problem. Most such crimes are committed by a minority of youths. The clear-up rate is low and one way to improve it might be to make the service provided by scenes of crime officers a contracting one. For a modest fee of about £25 such a service could provide an avalanche of forensic information which, through the use of information technology and computerisation, could provide the police with a welter of intelligence.
Mr. Simon Hughes : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have been given any sign that--if not now, at the end of business--there might be a statement from a Transport Minister on how the Government propose to respond to the letter from the European Environment Commissioner and the consequence for the seven projects that the European Commission believes contravene European law and environmental policy?
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As Member of Parliament for the district in which one of the projects is located may I re-emphasise the fact that the House expects to hear, either today or in the remaining days of this Session next week, how the Government intend to respond. This is one of the last chances to save Oxleas wood and some of the other projects.
Sir John Wheeler : I am on the point of concluding my proposal on how to improve the clear-up rate of car crime, which represents about one third of crime in this country. We need an improvement in forensic evidence to enable
Column 560police to make arrests through the better use of the skills of scenes of crime officers. If that evidence were available, the police would be given a welter of information which would give them the opportunity to improve the clear-up rate as it is only a minority of youths who are responsible for the large number of car crimes. Bold thinking is necessary to deal with car crime. The traditional approach which fails to place greater emphasis on the responsibility of the vehicle's user must be the right way forward.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : I do not think it is possible for us to discuss law and order, justice and policing today without reflecting on the sombre backdrop which overshadows the debate. When I was at school I was brought up to believe that British justice was the best and finest in the world and the envy of people of other lands, but I have been shocked to discover that that is no longer true. There has been case after case involving appalling miscarriages of justice, and innocent men and women being imprisoned for many years. How fortunate it is that we do not have the dealth penalty. How fortunate it is for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six that we do not have the death penalty. In those cases, crucial alibi evidence was withheld from the defence, police concocted statements, suppressed interviews and produced false confessions, the forensic evidence was useless and senior judges ended up with egg on their faces. All of that must shake confidence, and there are other similar events lodged in the public psyche.
The case in the west midlands that has been mentioned involved 52 officers who were purged as a result of allegations of malpractice. Evidence was fabricated by their serious crimes squad, which had to be dismantled. In Kent there was doctoring of crime clearance figures. There are worries about the influence of freemasonry. There were criticisms of the Taylor report on the policing of the Hillsborough disaster. We cannot deny that such incidents have a cumulative damaging effect on trust and confidence.
Another factor that has caused damage and in which I am sure that the police would have preferred not to be involved has been the role that they have played in industrial disputes. Until the 1970s the police role in industrial disputes was confined to preserving peace and upholding the law. The police were supposed to be impartial and to show no bias for employers or employees. If substitute labour was needed, troops were called in. In the ambulance dispute, however, police were called in to replace ambulance men. That has worrying implications for the independent status of the police and raises substantial legal problems.
Another factor involved the use of police in the mining dispute, particularly at Orgreave, where the South Yorkshire police have paid £500,000 in damages and costs to 39 miners whom they injured outside the Orgreave coking plant. No policemen were prosecuted. At Wapping, investigations by Northampton police led to charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and accusations of various assaults and brutality. On the grounds of what I believe was described as "delay" the case was discharged, and there were no prosecutions. Patently, justice was not seen to be done. All such incidents drive a wedge between the police and the public.
Column 561Mr. Tony Banks : In relation to Chief Superintendent Wirco of the Northampton police, who conducted the inquiry and the ensuing "delay", was not that delay caused by the police refusing to give evidence to their own officer investigating the case?
Mr. Leighton : I believe that that is so. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) gave evidence to the inquiry and, certainly, justice was not seen to be done. The matter was well summed up be a senior police officer, quoted in the Observer on 8 September this year, who said :
"I know from talking to my own children and those of my colleagues just how deep the animosity goes. I think we may be reaping the results of our own mistreatment of the young in the 1970s and 1980s : we were too hostile, too aggressive, too islolated. Then we did begin to get our act together after Brixton, but we spoilt it again with the miners' strike and Wapping.
We were placed in hostile confrontation with the public. The new emphasis on service that you see in initiatives like the Met's Plus Programme is an attempt to close the gulf. But it is going to be a long job."
This week saw the publication of a book by Robert Reiner, a London School of Economics law lecturer, who interviewed 40 of the 43 chief officers. In it he says that one of them said to him :
"The miners' strike did more harm for police-public relations than many people would be prepared to admit to. The main reason was the public getting used to seeing police officers in riot gear, facing the people'.
They saw police officers being injured, they saw police officers inflicting injuries and it's commonplace now."
Policing is becoming increasingly complex. It is important in our modern industrial societies that we maintain law and order and have an effective police service. I believe that there is widespread support and respect for the police, and I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said on the subject. I also support the police. However, it would be unwise complacently to ignore the trend in some quarters where there is an erosion of that respect and confidence. It would be unwise to ignore the perhaps growing minority who no longer place complete trust in the police. I have explained some of the reasons for that, and there are others.
We meet some of the disenchanted people in our surgeries. Many of those who come to see me believe that police performance against crime is poor--they are referring to the low clear-up rate. Many people tell me that in the east end of London they think it is hardly worth reporting crimes, including robberies, to the police because the response is either inept or inadequate. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction among constituents. There is also a virtually complete lack of faith in the police complaints procedure. I have not met one constituent who is happy with the result after he or she has made a complaint.
I shall now move on to the present wave of crime. At the last election, the Conservative party masqueraded as the party of law and order, trumpeting simplistic nostrums. It claimed that it knew how to crack down on crime and promised to do so. It must now be cringing with embarrassment as it recalls its bogus prospectives of 1979. The only growth area of the economy has been in crime. The 12 years of Conservative rule have produced the circumstances which have led to the worst crime wave in British history. Of all the Tory failures, this must be among the biggest and we are all paying the price.
Mr. Soley : I also remember the Tory promise, "We must cut crime", which appeared on posters in my area. It is interesting to note that at that stage and, indeed, during the past three general elections they constantly blamed criminals and others in society whereas now, as we heard today from the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), they blame the victims for not doing enough to look after their property and themselves. It is the victims' fault. That is an incredible failure.
Mr. Leighton : As usual, the Government blame the victims. They scapegoat parents or schools. They blame everyone but themselves, yet they have been in office now for 12 years. What have they achieved? The doubling of crime : in 1979 there were 2.2 million recorded offences, but 5 million are projected for 1991. That is the steepest increase in crime in history. It is an epidemic. We have had two years of 18 per cent. increases and there is no end in sight. On Wednesday the Police Federation said :
"Britain is in real danger of losing the battle against crime." Metropolitan police Sergeant Alan Eastwood, the chairman of the federation representing 147,000 police officers, said :
"It took 20 years for the crime rate to rise from one million to two million offences a year. It has taken just 10 years"-- 10 years of Conservative Government--
"for the figure to go from two to five million."
For 12 years the Tory party worshipped a Prime Minister who said that there was no such thing as society but only individuals--it was everyone for himself. The rich have been loaded with wealth, but those at the bottom have been shut out, excluded and left to rot. Britain is divided as never before between conspicuous wealth and chronic poverty and despair. Those are the conditions which breed crime, and they have.
The Conservatives are creating just such a society, inflicting chronic mass unemployment and are depriving hundreds of thousands of young people of hope and a future. Yet they expect sweetness and light. How can they think that mass unemployment will have no effect on crime? Only the stupid would think that mass unemployment would have no effect on crime. Of course mass unemployment undermines and destroys the fabric of society. One has only to look at what mass unemployment is doing in east Germany. Only a Conservative like the Home Secretary would think anything else. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, all the research shows a correlation between the increase in property crime and the increase in recession.
The 1980s were a Tory decade when for the first time the Government held out no hope for millions of people. Many people's incomes and benefits did not keep up with inflation. After 12 years, people are worse off in absolute terms. They are kept in poverty while others enrich themselves. For the whole of the 1980s we had more than 2 million unemployed. People say that we had unemployment in the 1930s and that it did not lead to crime, but in the 1930s finding a solution to unemployment was at the top of the political agenda. Under the Thatcher Government we were told that unemployment was a price well worth paying. The attitude was different. When the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer
Column 563he said that if it was not hurting it was not working. As a result, we have an underclass who have little to lose by committing crime. Crime is not prevented by having lots of policemen. The inhibition to crime is social control. People do not want to commit crimes and be convicted because of what other people may think. What will people think of them at work? Will they lose their job? But if they do not have a job, have never had a job and will never get a job, they think, "What the hell--what does it matter?" Those people have no perspective on the future, so it does not matter.
It does not surprise me that in those circumstances there are riots every summer. The only surprise to me is that we do not have more. The police understand this even if the Home Secretary does not. Lord Scarman reported on what he described as the tinder in our inner cities waiting for a spark. Kenneth Newman spoke of the volatile vapour of social discontent hanging over the city, looking for a spark to set it off--usually an innocent or inept act by the police. Unfortunately, the police are often seen as the enemy--the representatives of the system. It is not the fault of the police --it is the fault of the Government.
Even Members of Parliament tend to get fractious at the end of the summer, and they go on holiday. How many of the kids who took part in the riots had a holiday? They do not get one. That is part of the reason for the riots.
More than a decade ago, when unemployment first reached 1 million, I thought that there would be disturbances. When unemployment rose to 2 million I heard a Labour Member say that it was unacceptable. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) replied that it was not unacceptable because it was being accepted. He suggested that we did not have to worry that we had 2 million unemployed. He was wrong. We have had riots every summer when there has been a spark. We also have what I would call a slow riot, a sort of permanent slow riot where the tinder does not explode but smoulders. The word to describe that is "crime"--the present crime epidemic is a slow riot.
In the 1930s the perception was that everybody was suffering and that we all suffered together. Everybody was in the same boat. Now, areas of poverty and unemployment with an alienated, excluded underclass are surrounded by areas of relative affluence and car ownership. That is the difference between now and the 1930s. Obviously, there is a connection between unemployment and crime. Crime has increased most in areas where employment has collapsed. If hon. Members do not believe that, they should ask the insurance companies. The insurance companies know where crime is highest, so insurance premiums are highest in the poorest areas.
What can we do to help the police? One idea stands out immediately. The Home Secretary referred to the PLUS programme. Commander Alec Marnoch of Scotland Yard's PLUS programme, which aims to achieve better relations with the public, said :
"An elected authority is a logical extension of the partnership and co- operation that has been going on at borough level. We would welcome such a body, which could reflect the priorities of the community."
That is the view of the senior Scotland Yard officer and of all the senior police officers with whom I have discussed the matter. That is the quickest single thing that we could