Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn :-- [Mr. David Davis.]
Madam Speaker : I have to announce to the House that because of the great interest in this subject I shall have to place a 10-minute limit on speeches between 11.30 am and 1 pm. As we have a statement today, I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the need for brevity.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : The basis for our debate on the policing of London is the Commissioner's annual report for 1991-92, which provides a comprehensive account of the work of the Metropolitan police service, the successes that it has achieved and the difficulties that it has encountered.
This is the last report to be made by Sir Peter Imbert, who will retire from his post as Commissioner on 31 January 1993. I am very glad to be able to announce that the Queen has appointed Paul Condon, the present chief constable of Kent, to succeed Sir Peter. As Sir Peter makes clear in his report, he inherited from Sir Kenneth Newman a service that had decentralised operational decision making to areas and divisions, but Sir Peter recognised that cultural changes needed to be made if organisational changes were to be effective. The Plus programme resulted, with a complete reappraisal of the fundamental purpose of the service. The statement of common purpose and values was an early part of the process, which has continued through a series of initiatives, including, in February this year, the publication of the first five-year corporate strategy.
Those developments in the leadership and management of the service have placed the Metropolitan police in the forefront of the moves to develop quality of service as the main aim for the police throughout England and Wales.
Against that background, I suspect that Mr. Condon, as the new Commissioner, would agree with me that he has a hard act to follow, but he will be able to build on the firm foundations that Sir Peter has laid. The present Commissioner, who is admirably supported by his deputy and the rest of his top management team, has focused the attention of the Metropolitan police on the high standard of service that their officers must provide to maintain the trust that must exist between the police and the community. In my judgment, Paul Condon has shown the same commitment to similar ideals in his management of the Kent constabulary, where he has been hugely successful. I have no doubt that under his leadership the Metropolitan police will continue to make significant improvements in their relationship with the public and in their effectiveness in meeting the ever-rising demands
Column 674placed on them. Paul Condon will prove to be a very forceful and dynamic successor to a distinguished Commissioner.
Part of the foundation on which Mr. Condon will be able to build are the strategic intentions of the Metropolitan police set out in the corporate strategy to which I have just referred. This reflects the commitment to increase consultation with the public and their representatives, to inform and to respond to their views. The Metropolitan police have therefore been moving towards a borough-based service, with divisional boundaries aligned to the London boroughs. This complements the service's move to sector policing.
Borough-based policing will make the consultative arrangements established under section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 more effective and will enable the police to work more closely with borough authorities and community groups. There are now 41 consultative groups in the Metropolitan police district, and all 35 London boroughs have functioning consultative groups. This now includes the direct involvement of Hackney borough council. There are signs that that is contributing to improved relations between the police and the community in the borough. I regret to say that Lambeth is now the only borough where councillors are not involved, although at least we have moved to the stage where meetings of the consultative group are being held in the town hall. I hope that councillors in Lambeth will soon make use of the opportunities which their colleagues elsewhere in London, of all parties, have found available.
There was a time when there was a tradition among the left of the Labour movement in London of positive hostility towards the police. As the Labour party has gone through a process of mild reconstruction, I think that I see that tradition vanishing slightly, and I hope that the last traces will disappear in Lambeth.
Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : I think that the Secretary of State slightly underestimates the speedy move taking place at the moment towards Lambeth becoming officially part of the police consultative committee. I am president of the consultative committee, and the Members of Parliament involve themselves. Next week, there will be a top-level meeting between all chief superintendents, the district commissioner and the leader of the council. Quick moves are being made now, and I hope that we shall move forward in Lambeth to ensure that the police service is responsive to the people there, and that our borough is involved in the process.
Mr. Clarke : I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am sure that all three Members of Parliament from the borough have been encouraging the council to develop proper links with the police. I am sure that the Metropolitan police, for their part, will respond by trying to build a proper relationship and to be better informed about the views of the borough and the style of policing required there.
I have been impressed by the obvious wish of the police service to develop a more open approach to its public responsibilities--the Plus programme is a good example of the work that has been done. All that came before our citizens charter initiative, but the Plus programme and the citizens charter are complementary and embrace many of
Column 675the same principles--consultation with the public, openness and accountability, and the achievement and publication of standards of service.
The charter and the police service's quality of service initiative emphasise the importance of measuring performance and service delivery in so far as that is possible. After all, how can the police or the public know what quality of service is being offered if there are no means of measuring and comparing one part of the service and another? The standard of service will not in the end be measured by impressions, by anecdotes or by our individual personal experience. It is possible to devise clear and precise indicators that accurately measure the services provided and which way they are moving with regard to quality.
The Audit Commission, following the remit given to it by the Local Government Act 1991, has now published a formal consultation document containing proposals for performance indicators for policing. Those were prepared after consultation with the police service and Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary.
I am anxious that when we introduce performance indicators as a management tool they will be a useful way of measuring standards of performance which mean something to the public and to the average policeman. By the end of this financial year, a set of core indicators will be in place. They will be applied from the beginning of 1993, leading in 1994 to the publication of force performance in aspects which we will all be able to understand and appreciate, such as the time of response to emergencies, crime rates and detection, the composition of the police force--specifically, the numbers of police officers who are women or who are members of ethnic minorities-- and complaints against the police, as well as the cost of providing a police service.
All that published information and performance indicator information made available to us will play an important part in stimulating an informed and intelligent dialogue about the police, setting out much more clearly than before what the police can reasonably be expected to achieve. I have made it clear that I expect the Metropolitan police to provide the same information as the other police forces in the country, and I shall ensure that it is all published.
The Met is, of course, only one force within the police service in England and Wales, although it is by far the largest. I should briefly say something about broader issues affecting the police service generally, which I shall be considering over the coming months and which, as I shall explain, will reflect upon the Met as well.
I shall look with especial care at the way in which police authorities work. They should be a key influence on the style of policing, because it is their job to determine, with the chief constable, how the funds available should be deployed locally. It is to the policy authority that the chief constable should be primarily accountable. At present, there is a strange balance between the local powers of a police authority and my central powers in the Home Office. I have total power over the size of the establishment--the number of uniformed officers--in each police force throughout the country and direct powers over capital allocations. On the other hand, some aspects are very decentralised under the control of the policy authority,
Column 676and in different parts of the country there is a varying relationship between the authority, with its responsibilities, and the chief constable with his responsibility for operational matters.
It is time to take a fresh look at my own powers and at the role and composition of police authorities, and to come to judgments about responsibilities and accountability. Chief constables should be clearly responsible for managing their forces effectively in the light of local needs. I expect them to be called to account by the police authorities, and on some issues by the Home Secretary, on how they do so. [ Hon. Members :-- "The Met?"]
I am about to relate that point to London.
In reviewing the role of police authorities, of course that has implications for the very different sort of police authority which we have in London. In the rest of the country, we have a tripartite system--Home Secretary, local police authority and chief officer of police. In London, we have what I suppose could be called a bipartite authority ; the Home Secretary acts in effect as the police authority. Some features of the present structure for London may be right. There are bound to be some differences in the oversight of the capital city's policing compared with that of provincial forces. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Clarke : I was about to say that, when I consider the arrangements for police authorities across the country and the proper accountability of provincial forces, I shall certainly not rule out the present arrangements for the Met and I shall want to see to what extent any measures that I may introduce in the rest of the country could usefully be applied or adapted to the Met and to London.
Mr. Soley : Many of us are puzzled by what the Home Secretary has been saying, because we do not have a police authority in London. This is supposed to be the half day in the year when there is some accountability. If the Home Secretary is telling the House that what happens is unsatisfactory, and that there should be some accountability through a local elected authority, that is welcome. We have been putting that idea to the House for 10 or 12 years. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make himself clear? Will London have some form of elected authority for policing? That is what many people feel that it needs.
Mr. Clarke : We have just heard about the welcome progress being made in Lambeth towards having a dialogue with the police and being prepared to allow a consultative committee to meet in the town hall, but there have been times when I have doubted whether Lambeth was quite ready for self-government. It is improving all the time, but I do not think that we are yet ready to have an elected police authority for the Met. What I said was carefully phrased : I am undertaking a review of the responsibilities of police authorities and the accountability of chief constables to their police authorities, and I do not rule out the possibility of change in the Met. However, I
Column 677was certainly not announcing a move to an elected authority. I propose that during the debate hon. Members give their views on the police authority--
Mr. Clarke : Yes, hon. Members have been doing that, and some have been putting forward the idea of the London branch of the Labour party that there should be an elected authority to share the running of the police with the Commissioner. I am not instantly attracted to that idea.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the vast majority of the people of London were delighted when the Greater London council was abolished and that in subsequent elections they have confirmed their faith in the party which got rid of it? They do not want to see it reappear under any guise.
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) rose--
Mr. Blair : With all due respect, it is a bit much for the Home Secretary to put that teaser into his speech and then refuse to answer questions about it. I am not sure whether we are getting a ministerial statement. I understand--perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell me whether I am right--that he is making two points, the first of which is that he will review the procedures for police authorities throughout the country but that he will want to keep some form of elected police authorities in the rest of the country. Secondly, he seems to be saying that he wants to examine whether he will bring the metropolitan arrangements into line with those for the rest of the country. Is that right or not? If that second point is right, will he tell us what range and type of elected authority he is considering for London?
Mr. Clarke : Yet again, the hon. Gentleman has done what his hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) did, which is to rephrase and paraphrase my suggestions. All I said was that I was working inside the Home Office on the role of police authorities, the extent to which they discharge their present responsibilities, the extent to which the chief constable is properly accountable to them and the extent to which the system is working in the best way to produce a clear policy for policing. I wanted to tell the House that that was under way, as I have said publicly, so that I could invite the views of others. I have no doubt that the Labour party and chief constables have views on the role and composition of the police authorities, so I am flagging the fact that I am considering those matters and, no doubt, will in due course come to conclusions. I will welcome proposals from others.
The idea that I am making a statement announcing that I am instantly changing the nature of police authorities in
Column 678London or in the rest of the country is wrong. I look forward to hearing in due course the views of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on police authorities.
Mr. Blair : We should have the matter cleared up a little. I am not suggesting that the Home Secretary has come to an instant view. I had always understood that his party had ruled out entirely any change in the arrangements whereby the Home Secretary has direct responsibility for the police in London. Is he saying to us that he is prepared at least to consider that the position will change and that there may be some form of police authority for London? That is not an unreasonable question.
Mr. Clarke : What I said was as plain as a pikestaff. I said that I was considering the role of police authorities, and, while I do that, I do not rule out thinking about the arrangements in London. At present, I am wholly satisfied with my role as the police authority in London. I will now proceed, if I am allowed to, to discharge that responsibility by making progress in the debate.
Mr. Clarke : No. I want to move on to the subject of sector policing which is designed to enable the service to respond more closely to the needs of the community. It is now firmly in place in many divisions and will be introduced throughout the Metropolitan police district by the end of March 1993. Groups from all sectors of the community have been involved with the police in developing effective sector policing, and benefits can already be seen in the improved links with local communities.
The service recognises that it must be able to evaluate any improvements that are being made in the quality of service provided and the Metropolitan police are committed to developing and extending the use of performance indicators.
In 1991, the police have been trialling customer satisfaction surveys in part of the Metropolitan police district and, from 1 January 1992, the surveys have been introduced in all divisions. The surveys seek the views of the victims of crime, road traffic accident victims and even those who call at police stations for a variety of purposes. In most police stations in London, one now finds questionnaires on the counter which ask people to make comments about the service provided by the police in the course of their call. I am glad to say that early returns show that there is a high level of satisfaction among those completing the questionnaires with the quality of service provided to victims.
Those initiatives should not be seen in isolation from other work being done to ensure that we have a police service that can operate more effectively than ever before. They show the commitment by the police to demonstrating their desire to raise the quality of service to the public and I seek to reinforce that.
I see the work being undertaken by Sir Patrick Sheehy's inquiry into police responsibilities and rewards as part of a whole. The inquiry is considering rank structure, pay, allowances and other rewards, and relevant aspects of conditions of service. Recommendations will be made on
Column 679what changes, if any, should be made to ranks, roles and rewards, and whether additional flexibilities are required with regard to pay and related matters.
I have made it clear that I expect the inquiry to have regard to the different circumstances in which police officers have to carry out their duties in different parts of the United Kingdom. I expect the inquiry to consider especially the responsibilities of the Metropolitan police.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : I cannot understand the logic of why the Home Secretary has excluded from the Sheehy inquiry the much-valued and respected British Transport police and the Royal Parks constabulary who have an increasing role in the metropolis. On 1 January, they will take over responsibility for Hyde park, in addition to their other duties. It is an unnecessary affront to those police officers that they should have been excluded from the Sheehy inquiry, which we have not been able to debate in the House because of the inordinate and indefensibly long summer recess.
Mr. Clarke : I am glad to make it clear that their exclusion is not regarded as an affront to those police services. I do not regard those services as second-class services. They are at the front rank of police services in the country. The reason why I excluded them and others who might have been included was simply to make the inquiry manageable and able to deliver its report in a reasonable time. If one opens up questions of pay and rewards in any organisation, it causes great uncertainties as everyone gives their views and waits to see what will be arrived at. To sustain the high morale necessary in the police service, the inquiry should not be an extended and intractable process ; it should be completed in a reasonable time. I told Sir Patrick that I would like his inquiry to make recommendations by May next year. If the inquiry had investigated other police forces, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) suggests, the timetable would not have been practicable. The inquiry is obviously aware of the particular problems of people such as the Royal Parks constabulary and I have no doubt that the recommendations of Sir Patrick's team will be studied by those responsible for those police forces and will have some bearing on them.
I have asked Sir Patrick to bear in mind the particular responsibilities of the Metropolitan police. We all realise that policing in the capital has its own problems. I am sure that he will do so.
Each year there is a demand for more police officers. I referred earlier to two developments : the publication of the first five-year corporate strategy and the measurement of performance and service delivery. I regard the aims of the corporate strategy and the information about measurements of performance as critical in establishing the level of resources and manpower needed to deliver a service that meets the needs of the people of London at an acceptable cost.
The manpower position is that the Metropolitan police are now recruiting up to their authorised establishment and there are now more than 28,000 police officers, supported by 14,500 civil staff and 1,700 traffic wardens. Through a vigorous programme of
civilianisation, more police officers have been released and made available for policing duties--operational duties. Some 1,326 posts
Column 680have already been civilianised and a further 520 are planned this year. That means that there are now more than 6,000 more operational police officers in London than there were in 1979. There are 3,762 female officers and 580 from ethnic minority groups.
The Metropolitan police have begun a pilot part-time working scheme, I am glad to say, to provide greater flexibility, especially for working parents. As new shift patterns develop, the benefits of allowing part-time working become more apparent, especially when new arrangements such as sector policing place the emphasise on meeting needs rather than forcing them into the straitjacket of the relief system.
Mr. Clarke : I want to get on, because we are having timed speeches in this debate. I do not want my speech to take too high a proportion of the time, as I am sure the hon. Member for Sedgefield agrees. We should recognise also the valuable contribution made by the 1, 440 members of the Metropolitan special constabulary, of whom 186 officers, or 12 per cent., come from ethnic minority groups. Between them, they performed more than 300,000 hours of operational duties in 1991.
Mr. Boateng : Does the Home Secretary recognise, in dealing with the role and numbers of police officers, that, increasingly in the capital and certainly in my borough, in the night hours the police are required to perform what is essentially a social services function in relation to not only battered women but increasingly, sadly, children? What steps does he propose to take better to equip them and to assist them in performing a difficult function which the social services should carry out if they were properly funded?
Mr. Clarke : The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks are right. The demands placed on policing cover a wide range and go well beyond the investigation of straightforward crime. I am glad to say that on my visits to police stations I now frequently encounter officers who are specialising in domestic violence cases. I am sure that the police find increased numbers of child abuse cases. Again, their training and focus of operations are turning to such cases. I am sure that the process will continue under the new Commissioner and that the style of policing will be adapted to the varied demands that are made on the police nowadays.
There are, of course, huge pressures on the social services. I referred to the hugely increased level of resources available to the police over the past decade. That is matched by large increases in the resources available to social services departments, although demands in those areas always increase. Each year, the demands that we make on the police continue to grow. We expect them to work in a hostile environment, and rely on them to maintain the peace on our streets so that the people of London can live their lives without fear. The Commissioner rightly regards that duty as fundamental to his policing strategy.
There is a personal cost in all this. Since our debate 12 months ago, two officers have been murdered--Sergeant Alan King and Detective Constable Jim Morrison. Both acted in the highest traditions of the service, putting their duty before their own safety. Each day, officers in all parts
Column 681of London are putting themselves at risk. Each day, an average of eight officers are assaulted, of whom nearly a quarter are placed on the sick list. Every day, a further 23 officers will be injured on duty, of whom six will be taken off duty as a result.
Recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district increased by 11 per cent. in 1991-92 to 945,300 reported incidents. It is worth recording the fact that the majority of those crimes were against property, with about a quarter of all recorded crime involving theft of and from vehicles. Twenty- one per cent. of crimes are burglaries. The total number of burglaries was 194,900, and in nearly 30 per cent. of cases, the perpetrator was able to walk into the property without needing to make a forced entry--something that I find rather extraordinary. Clearly the tradition of leaving the house unlocked is not confined to rural villages. We are now stressing the importance of taking crime prevention precautions to protect cars, and we should also stress the need to protect property.
Recorded crime is increasing at a slower rate in London than elsewhere--a state of affairs that has been maintained for a number of years. Offences of violence against the person remain only a small part of all recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district, and sexual offences remain at less than 1 per cent. of all notifiable offences.
A number of initiatives show that the dedication of police to specific areas of crime, with public support, can have a dramatic effect on levels of crime. I am impressed by Operation Bumblebee, which has continued to have an impact on residential burglaries in north London, where the increase of 2 per cent. compares with a force average of 11 per cent. and a national figure of 18 per cent. Since the start of the campaign in 1991, there have been more than 3,300 arrests for burglary in north London. Support in reporting suspicious persons loitering in residential areas has greatly helped and more than 51 per cent. of the arrests were made as a result of calls from the public. Operation Bumblebee has been such a success that it has now been extended to south and south-west London. I have pointed out that theft of cars and from cars accounts for 25 per cent. of recorded crime in London. The Metropolitan police are involved in a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the problem, and divisional crime prevention officers are encouraged to get involved with local prevention activities.
More than 20,000 Londoners are involved in "Vehicle Watch", a scheme whereby participating motorists may indicate to the police by means of distinctive stickers that their cars will not normally be on the road late at night. Labelled cars which are seen during the voluntarily established curfew period may be stopped and checked. The service is also supporting the secured car parks scheme which encourages operators and users to pay attention to the security of car parks, where about 20 per cent. of car crime takes place. A bogus callers campaign has given extensive publicity to warning people about the dangers of callers posing as officials from the utilities, tricking their way into a house and stealing money or goods while the occupant is distracted. So far, nearly 3,000 offences have been cleared up in the fight against this scourge--a 58 per cent. increase. The campaign is now being extended across a wider area of London.
There is a tradition of community-based policing in London and I believe that sector policing will build on experience and increase the opportunities for officers to
Column 682work in partnership with the community. It will also increase the opportunities for external agencies, local authority departments and community groups to work closely with the police.
The partnership approach to crime prevention is of particular importance for the inner cities where high crime levels, fear of crime and social deprivation seriously affect the quality of life. The police have been working closely with local authorities, voluntary agencies and residents through the Department of the Environment's city action and urban programme which has provided central funding to tackle some of the underlying factors which influence crime. This has helped with the refurbishment of estates in Enfield and Deptford : lock-fitting schemes for the elderly and vulnerable groups in Haringey and Hammersmith and Fulham ; and lighting improvements in Kensington and Chelsea.
The Department of Trade and Industry's task forces also continue to play a very important role. They and city action teams have helped in a wide range of improvements ranging from increased security, to youth activities and employment opportunities.
The service now has 40 crime prevention design advisers--one for each borough--who are tasked with influencing the way in which car parks, subways, leisure centres, housing and so forth are designed so that crime is designed out and improvements are made to the whole environment.
The number of racial attacks continues to be a matter of serious concern to everyone and, in the corporate strategy, the Commissioner has committed the service to supporting initiatives to respond to attacks upon, and harassment of, all minority groups. The service has introduced a new procedure for recording all incidents in which there is any suspicion, however slight, of racial motivation. I am glad to say that that has resulted in an increase in the number of incidents reported--from 2,908 in 1990 to 3,373 in 1991. That could indicate an increase in the number of racially motivated attacks, although I very much hope that it does not. It probably signifies the increased willingness of victims to come forward and report such incidents to the police, and their increased confidence in doing so.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : Will the Home Secretary comment on the case of my constituent, Mr. Natt, who was arrested, then physically abused and racially abused in the most outrageous manner? There is no dispute about the facts, because Mr. Natt happened to have a recorder in his pocket, as the Home Secretary knows. Those responsible were fined or one day's pay was stopped. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs? Would the Home Secretary care to apologise to Mr. Natt for that behaviour?
Mr. Clarke : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not wholly satisfactory. I hope that the House will bear it in mind that I do not have the facts in front of me, but my recollection is that Mr. Natt was convicted of assaulting a police officer, and that it was after his arrest that that unfortunate incident took place. It should not have taken place.
Like many other people, I heard the tape recording on the radio. It appears that the officers admitted the disciplinary offence, and the matter was dealt with locally, as a result of which the full facts were not known. I do not
Column 683think that those who imposed the penalty of one day's loss of pay had heard the tape recording. I have appeared on a platform with the Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, who also expressed his
dissatisfaction with the outcome of the case. I repeat that I wholly agree with him. Such incidents are serious disciplinary matters, and I am sure that both the present and the new Commissioners will ensure that they are regarded as such throughout the Metropolitan police service.
I am happy to report--admittedly, somewhat hastily because time is pressing --on a number of the achievements of the Metropolitan police in 1991 and the first part of 1992. There is a sense in London that the Metropolitan police are making progress. There is increasing confidence in the effectiveness of policing in the capital and in the much better style of service being delivered.
Those achievements have been made in partnership with the people of London. Policing policy is emphatically not a matter for the police service alone. The strong tradition of policing by consent is important, and partnership between the police and the community that they serve is prospering.
The Commissioner and I are determined that, through the initiatives being taken both within the Metropolitan police and nationally, the force should provide an even better service to the people of London, and even better value for money. Sir Peter Imbert has provided an extremely firm foundation for future achievement. From February next year, we shall have a new and enthusiastic Commissioner to continue that work, and I believe that the public of London will give him, and all his force, their wholehearted support.
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : The purpose of the debate is to review the operation of the Metropolitan police over the year and to analyse with care the current state of the capital's policing. We welcome the appointment of the new Commissioner, Mr. Paul Condon, whose first challenge will be to prevent the number of crimes in London passing the 1 million mark this year, for the first time in the capital's history.
The challenge for the Government is not to pass the buck to the Commissioner, but to honour their promise to cut crime with the necessary action. Mr. Condon is highly regarded. He is experienced with the work of the Metropolitan police. Above all, perhaps, he can be relied upon to build on what are acknowledged as the achievements of the current Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, and of his deputy John Smith who I believe has played a very big part in the development of the Metropolitan police over the past few years.
Sir Peter Imbert arrived at a time when, according to chief inspector of constabulary Sir John Woodcock a few days ago, the problems in the Met had "come close to disaster." Sir Peter had the intelligence to realise that the Met had to change and the vigour and clarity of purpose to carry that through. However, the background of rising crime against which the changes in the Met have been carried through has not improved. In summary, as with so
Column 684much else in London and the rest of the country, crime has become worse. However, at least it is possible to see the beginning of a clearer and better framework for the future.
The rise in crime has been rapid and seemingly inexorable. As the Secretary of State said, there was an 11 per cent. increase in notifiable offences last year. As I have said, it is possible that notifiable offences will pass the 1 million mark this year. Robberies have increased 21 per cent. Thefts are up 11 per cent., burglary up 10 per cent. and criminal damage up 12 per cent. None of that takes account of the numerous, but unquantifiable examples of harassment, abuse and petty vandalism which have become part of the daily lives of many Londoners. A few weeks ago I read a survey in an Islington local paper which found that more than half the women on a local housing estate would not use public transport at night for fear of being attacked and that an even larger number were afraid to walk down local streets after dark. Young people are routinely subjected to threats and assault and some elderly people are afraid to venture outside their doors or even to stay inside.
That situation is wholly unacceptable. The right of people to go about their business free from the threat of crime is an essential part of the civil liberties of this country and it is currently under threat.
Mr. Corbyn : My hon. Friend has clearly read that survey with some care. Is he aware that a large number of the people who are afraid to go out at night or who have been attacked on the streets at night, particularly bearing in mind racial and sexual attacks, feel that there is no point in reporting such incidents to the police? That is one of the problems with the reporting of crime statistics in surveys and the statistics produced by the Metropolitan police. There is a problem in terms of the need to increase people's confidence in the ability of the police to do something about such attacks.
Mr. Blair : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People's confidence to come forward to the police about such attacks is an essential element in being able to curb them. Partly because of the changes that have taken place in the Met over the past few years, I hope that people will feel confident and do that. Building up that confidence over time is essential so that they can enjoy the freedom from such attacks that they should be able to enjoy.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : Will the hon. Gentleman please put his comments in context? Although it is right to refer to fears when those fears are genuine and justified, one section at least of London's transport has shown a dramatic reduction in crime. That section is London Underground. The hon. Gentleman should pay tribute to the management and staff of London Underground for their work with cameras and staff training to reduce crime on the underground which has reassured the travelling public.