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Mr. Straw: I was referring to a letter that the Secretary of State sent to me. The Secretary of State did not send me his press notice. I have read it subsequently. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman sometimes receives the Home Secretary's press notices rather more swiftly than I do, although I was grateful to receive, on Tuesday, the one relating to the Budget, which showed an overall real terms reduction in resources to the Home Office of 3 per cent. during the two years 1994-95 to 1996-97.
Two matters could have a damaging effect on morale in the Metropolitan police service. The first is privatisation and so-called "market testing". The Commissioner himself records, at page 58, that, as a result of that,
"many staff are uncertain as to their future within the Service". Secondly, the core functions review and the imposition of, in our opinion, ill- thought-out indicators, is likely to lead to diversion of police effort and a distortion of their priorities. There is, for example, anxiety in the Metropolitan police service that the so-called "contracting out" of peripheral services, such as lost property and school visits, could lead to a reduction in contact with the law-abiding public and a corresponding decline in the trust that is so necessary for good policing. Trust lies at the heart of policing by consent, and is central to the partnership approach to solving problems and improving the quality of life in the community. The Secretary of State referred to the fight against drugs. As I told the House at the beginning of my remarks, an estimated three quarters by value of all illicit drug dealing takes place in the Metropolitan police area. Not only do drugs blight the lives of many of their users, but drug dealing is at the root of much violent street crime and additional dangers from knives and guns that confront officers in tackling that menace.
In London, as elsewhere, the fight against drugs and gun smuggling is a joint one, the police working in close and effective co-operation with Customs and Excise. The drugs problem has never been greater. In spite of relatively high seizure rates, street prices of drugs remain low and purity levels high--sure signs that large quantities of drugs continue to find their way into the United Kingdom and are then traded, usually in London.
What is the Government's answer to the rising menace of drugs and drug trafficking? On Wednesday, we had one of the most
comprehensively irresponsible announcements ever made by a Minister--that the number of front-line drug fighters in the Customs and Excise is to
Column 1462be cut by 500. The clearest message was sent out by Her Majesty's Government to drug cartels throughout the world, and to drug barons in this country, that Britain's Tories are soft on drugs and soft on the smuggling of drugs. No wonder the permanent secretary to the Customs and Excise, Valerie Strachan, wrote to the Paymaster General before those cuts were made, to admit:
"Without doubt the tricky issue is the proposal to remove" five hundred
"people from anti-smuggling [drugs] work."
The Home Secretary knows how tricky that decision will turn out to be, for he was reported in the Daily Telegraph on Monday as writing to protest to colleagues at those cuts. The Daily Telegraph also said that he had asked an interesting question--what suggestions did his colleagues have on how
"ministers could square the cuts with the Government's law and order policies"?
The Home Secretary got his answer on Wednesday. Cuts in the forces of law and order fighting the menace of drug trafficking and organised crime can no more easily be squared with the Conservatives' rhetoric on law and order than can the biggest tax hikes in peacetime history be squared with the Government's promises at the last general election to make tax cuts.
However, is not the hon. Gentleman's reaction yet another sign of the resolute refusal of the Labour party to contemplate any type of change in any sector? It refuses to contemplate even the possibility that it is possible to change the way in which we do things so that, more cost- effectively, giving better value for money, it is possible to maintain--or even improve--arrangements for tackling drug smuggling effectively, without necessarily keeping in place all the arrangements that have been there in the past.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if we commented on every leak of every alleged document, we would be doing little else. I make it my practice not to do so. The hon. Gentleman should not take seriously what he reads in all the newspapers and, if he is serious about his approach to those issues, he should contemplate the possibility that one can introduce changes, without reducing effectiveness, that will increase the taxpayer's value for money. That is the Government's consistent approach to the discharge of their responsibilities. Obviously, the Labour party is not remotely interested in that.
Mr. Straw: That will not do. I heard what the Home Secretary said. I think that we are entitled to draw what is called an adverse inference from his failure to answer a direct question with a direct answer. He has now in practice confirmed--we all saw that he was extremely uncomfortable as he sought to answer my question--that he wrote that letter, protesting about those cuts.
The truth is that the Secretary of State's private position is the same as the Labour party's public position. He knows that the cut of 500 people in what amounts to Customs-police work to fight drugs will seriously damage
Column 1463the fight against, not only trafficking, but organised crime and street violence in our capital. The Secretary of State should have had the authority with his colleagues to ensure that those 500 cuts were not made. That also illustrates his declining influence with his colleagues.
Mr. Stephen: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the House is therefore entitled to draw adverse inferences from the failure of himself and his hon. Friends ever to cost the extravagant promises that they constantly make to the British people?
Mr. Straw: The complaint about the Labour party these days is that we are not making extravagant promises. We make no extravagant promises. Those promises that we do make are carefully costed. That has caused great disappointment in Conservative central office. Speaking of Conservative central office, yesterday the Home Secretary was billed by the Conservative central office press office to make what it called a "keynote" speech to the Conservative party women's conference. However, the Secretary of State pulled out at the last moment and sent his hapless Minister of State. I am not surprised that he did that because I have had the opportunity to read some of the motions that were down for debate at that conference. The Orpington association submitted a resolution urging the Government "to give urgent attention to strengthening at all levels the Customs and Excise in their front-line duties against the evil import of drugs."
That is also our view.
However, more important than letting down delegates to the Conservative women's conference is the Secretary of State's betrayal of the victims of crime in London. He was right to say in September that victims have had a raw deal. They have indeed, and from his Government. That is because, first, the Government have presided over a 200 per cent. increase in violent crime in London since 1979 and, secondly, because they have cut the victims' compensation scheme. They are making the victims of crime in London pay for the Government's inability to stop the rise in crime. No amount of relaunched hotlines or recycled headlines can hide that fact; nor can the Government hide the callous indifference with which many victims are still treated by the Secretary of State's Department. A case that has recently received some publicity underlines the difficulty faced by victims in getting satisfactory answers from Whitehall. Mrs. Ann Shott watched an obsessed killer stab her husband to death 15 years ago. She has had to spend the last seven weeks in hiding because the killer, Hamish McPherson, was able to walk out of a psychiatric hospital in Beckenham. That was despite the fact that after a medical assessment, it was decided that, instead of being allowed to go free he should be returned to Broadmoor.
Since McPherson's escape, the Metropolitan police have printed numerous posters asking the public for information about his whereabouts. That is a great deal more than the Home Office has done. Mrs. Shott told me that she wrote to the Secretary of State on 4 November asking for official confirmation of Hamish McPherson's escape and an explanation of how it happened. She also sought assurances that every effort was being made to secure his capture.
Column 1464Since then she has received just one perfunctory note from a Home Office official promising to look into her case. That was received on 17 November, two weeks ago, and since then she has heard nothing at all. That is unacceptable treatment of someone who was a victim 15 years ago and who is frightened to death because the man convicted of the killing is now free.
Crime is the single issue of most concern to ordinary Londoners. There will be no one in the capital who has not been touched by crime, either directly or through the experience of a close friend or relative, in the past 12 months. There can be no doubt about the commitment of the police in London to tackling crime, or about the professionalism with which they approach that difficult task. The House wants to see the Secretary of State concentrating much more on long-term solutions to crime in London and rather less on short-term and unsuccessful populism. The long-term strategy requires us to work with local authorities and communities as well as with the police. Most of all, the Secretary of State should take the advice of the women of Shrewsbury and Atchan Conservative Association. Their resolution to the Conservative women's conference yesterday, which the Secretary of State dodged, stated, with heavy sarcasm:
"That this Conservative conference suggests that this Government wakes up to reality regarding law and order."
It is time that they did.
Sir John Hunt (Ravensbourne): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. In the good old days, we had regular debates on the whole spectrum of life in London. Unfortunately, over the years, that practice has fallen by the parliamentary wayside, but at least today we are debating an aspect of life in London which is of urgent and immediate concern to everyone who lives in the capital.
Nationally, Ministers rightly point to the decline in recorded crime. The latest figures show the largest fall for 40 years. However, in spite of the statistics, we must recognise that the public perception is rather different. From watching television, reading local newspapers and in conversations with friends and neighbours, we get the feeling that crime, especially burglaries and muggings, is relentlessly increasing. I appreciate that we are unlikely ever to achieve a feel-good factor on law and order, but we can, and must, provide comfort and reassurance, especially for the elderly who too often live in fear and foreboding.
One positive achievement to which we can rightly point, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has done, is Operation Bumblebee, the crackdown on burglary which was launched by the Metropolitan police in June last year. In the year before that operation was launched, there were nearly 200,000 burglaries in London; that is equivalent to more than 500 a day or one every three minutes.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, domestic burglaries in London fell by some 17 per cent. last year. That is a major achievement and, as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has said, Operation Bumblebee is a long-term strategy,
"which is about giving confidence to the law-abiding whilst taking it away from those who engage in burglary and related offences." I applaud that objective.
Column 1465In my experience, it is difficult to describe one's feeling of horror and devastation on returning home to find that one's house or flat has been ransacked and one's privacy violated. It is not surprising that many people, especially women, feel unable to continue to live in homes that have been burgled, and those homes have to be sold. Domestic burglary is one of the most serious crimes in the book and successive public opinion surveys in London have confirmed the concern felt by most residents of London about that. The Commissioner speaks about giving confidence to law-abiding people, and I have no doubt that he appreciates that that confidence can be most effectively secured by the physical presence of constables on the street--not in cars or on motor cycles but pounding the beat. That has been mentioned in the debate. That is why I welcome the civilianisation programme. Up to March this year, about 400 posts had been taken over by qualified civilian staff, and a further 400 posts are scheduled for civilianisation in the coming year.
It is important to ensure that police officers who have been released by that programme are transferred to visible street duties. In that respect, I make a special plea for the allocation of additional officers to the newly amalgamated Bromley division. In the recent past, Bromley has been adversely affected by the manpower allocation formula. Chief Superintendent Keith Charlwood informed me in a letter which I received about a year ago that his complement of officers at that time was 182 compared with 203 uniformed constables in 1988. That means that there was a significant and worrying reduction in police manpower in Bromley at a time when crime was escalating.
Mr. Merchant: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign in the Bromley area to increase police manpower. I assure him that he has the full support of all hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Bromley borough.
Sir John Hunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the recent local problem of police manpower has caused great apprehension among his constituents and mine. That is because the level of protection being provided for them is less than is necessary. We hope that, as a result of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech and the Commissioner's new flexibility, more resources will be allocated to the Bromley area.
It is clearly right that police resources should be subjected to the same financial scrutiny and discipline as other areas of expenditure. Equally, I feel that any cost cutting by Government must not be at the expense of effective law enforcement. That is why I especially welcome the statement in the Budget of the Government's continued high priority for spending on law and order. I can tell my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the great majority of my constituents would attach much lower priority to tax cuts than they would to the maintenance of a strong and effective police force.
There is one other aspect of Metropolitan police work in London that I want to raise this morning, and it is the future role of the mounted branch. Disturbing reports have been circulating recently in my constituency that it is to be substantially reduced, especially in respect of safety patrols. For example, in Bromley there are many acres of commons and woodland where the presence of police
Column 1466officers on horseback is highly effective in deterring the incidents that can occur in such areas. Yet we are told that the core function of the mounted branch is to be mainly public order. That function is to be carried out with fewer horses, which in turn could mean the regrettable closure of stables in outer London, such as the Warren in my constituency, which has been part of the local community for many years.
The local assistant commissioner, Mr. A. J. Speed, tells me that a number of options are about to be discussed with his policy forum. Therefore, I hope that, before any final decisions are made, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will urgently press on the assistant commissioner and his colleagues the fact that the removal of mounted horses from my part of Greater London would be viewed by its residents as a worrying and unwise reduction in the necessary police presence in that area.
Another matter which I wish to raise relates to law enforcement and the motorist. As the Commissioner pointed out in his report, the enforcement of parking regulations in London has now been largely transferred to local authority parking attendants and the police are much less frequently involved in the clamping and removal of vehicles. That development is broadly to be welcomed as, I hope, it will enable more uniformed police officers to be released for other duties.
However, I am bound to say that I am worried by the increasingly heavy- handed and over-zealous way in which the clamping and removal of vehicles in London is carried out. Too often, cars which are harmlessly parked on a single yellow line or which have an expired residents' parking permit are subjected to clamping or removal, when a fixed notice penalty would suffice. I have a nasty suspicion that those who inflict such punishment on motorists derive a perverse pleasure from their work, and that a form of legalised sadism is operating on the streets of London.
I must make a special plea for foreign visitors and tourists who visit our city. They are often not familiar with our clamping and towing-away regulations. Therefore, they should be treated with particular understanding and flexibility, or I fear that they will take away a bitter souvenir of their stay in our country.
Mr. Carrington: As an inner-London Member, I can tell my hon. Friend that my constituents suffer considerably from illegal parking, which congests the roads and causes them great inconvenience. Surely he is not suggesting that visitors to London who park inconveniently and block the traffic should be allowed to leave their cars there while they transact their business.
Sir John Hunt: I am certainly not suggesting that. Any sort of deliberate obstruction should not go unpunished. I am simply saying that sometimes foreign cars that have been parked on a single yellow line or in a parking bay, probably quite innocently, are towed away. In other capitals --such as Paris, which I know well--British motorists are treated leniently, and we should reciprocate wherever possible. Nevertheless, I take the point that where there is deliberate obstruction and foolish parking, a case can be made for towing away the vehicle. I should be grateful if some guidance could be given to local authorities and the Metropolitan police in that respect.
Column 1467In his annual report, the Commissioner quoted part of his address to the community service volunteers conference in April this year. The key passage reads:
"Preventing crime is everybody's business. We in the police service cannot do it alone. The level of resources devoted to policing will never allow us to have an officer outside every door or on every street corner. And that, in all honesty, would be the only way to deter every incident of burglary or car theft."
That plea has subsequently been reflected in the Government's partners against crime initiative, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred this morning. Each of us has a part to play--perhaps through neighbourhood watch; through pub watch, which operates in almost 2,000 premises in Greater London; through business watch, which has 82 schemes under way, and so on. Such schemes in the Bromley area are to be supplemented by the introduction of closed circuit television in the town centres and multi-storey car parks. I hope that our debate will also play its part in informing and reassuring the public so that together we have the confidence and commitment to take on the criminals and ensure the safety and security of all those who live and work in our capital city. 11.25 am
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) about the time that it has taken to get a full and proper debate on policing in London. I also agree with him on the question of accountability. The current position is unsatisfactory because the Home Secretary is the sole police authority for London. The right hon. and learned Gentleman represents Folkestone and Hythe and I do not think that he knows very much about London--other than what he has read in the newspapers, and we all know what they say about inner-city areas. I suspect that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows more about Boulogne and Calais than about Battersea and Camden. The sooner we move away from a one- man band, the better. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, there should be proper consultation with the people of London.
One reason for change is the need for proper accountability in the Metropolitan police. It was with that in mind that I raise the question of the role of the police in stopping and searching people in London. I have used as my source the Home Office statistical bulletin "Operation of certain police powers under PACE, England and Wales 1993". It is issue 15/94 and the other bulletin references are 14/91, 15/92 and 21/93. I have also used an answer I received from the Home Office to a question that I tabled earlier this week. The figures show that, nationally, 256,924 people were stopped and searched by police in 1990. Of that huge total, only 15 per cent. were subsequently arrested. That means that 85 per cent. of people were stopped unnecessarily. By 1993, the figure had risen to 442,801. The percentage of those arrested as a result dropped from 15 per cent. to 12.6 per cent. That means that almost 88 per cent. of those people were stopped unnecessarily by the police.
Column 1468it was unnecessary to stop him. Does he agree that every law-abiding citizen should be prepared to assist the police in detecting crime and arresting criminals, and should not mind being stopped, provided the officer carries out his duties in a proper manner?
Mr. Grant: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are all here to see that the police carry out their job properly. Citizens should, of course, work in conjunction with the police. However, as I go through my figures, the hon. Gentleman will find that in a number of cases, the behaviour of the police needs to be questioned.
There was an increase from a quarter of a million stops and searches in 1990 to almost half a million by 1993. In 1993, 385,908 people were stopped, possibly with little justification. Unfortunately, I do not have details from the police of their reasons for not arresting those people, so I have to assume that they were innocent. There has been an increase of 168,189 people--a 72 per cent. increase--in three years.
When we look at the new figures for the ethnic breakdown nationally of stops and searches, we see cause for concern. I appreciate the fact that we have those figures and I think that most people would be grateful that, for the first time, there has been an ethnic breakdown of the national stop and search figures. We have waited a long time for this and people are now saying that the figures are worth while because of what they demonstrate.
The figures are not, however, complete. Two police authorities, Gloucestershire and South Wales, have not produced any figures in relation to ethnic minorities. Five police forces gave an estimate of the various ethnic minority groups who were stopped rather than the actual figures. I do not know how the police are able to estimate what percentage of those stopped and searched were from ethnic minorities. Perhaps the Minister of State can explain the basis of the estimates. I should also like the Minister to tell me what action he will take against the forces that have not complied with the request to produce figures.
However unsatisfactory the figures may be, it is clear beyond doubt that Britain's ethnic minorities are stopped and searched disproportionately. There is also a strange method of compiling the figures. Normally, we have figures for a calendar year. In the case of ethnic minority breakdown, the Home Office has given us figures for the fiscal year 1993-94. In that fiscal year, 441,905 people were stopped and searched, of whom 110,522 were from ethnic minority groups. That means that 25 per cent. of the people stopped and searched in 1993-94 were from ethnic minority groups, yet ethnic minority groups are only 5 per cent. of the population.
That points to racial discrimination on a massive scale by the police and documents, for the first time, what ethnic minority groups have said for many years--that black and minority ethnic communities are picked on by the police in this area over and above other groups in society. The figures are consistent with figures on other parts of the criminal justice system, such as rates of conviction, the chances of getting a custodial sentence and the number of black people in the prison population. All those figures show a pattern of discrimination by the criminal justice system that is very disturbing.
The situation is more serious within the Metropolitan police area. The Metropolitan police area accounts for about 50 per cent. of the total number of people who were
Column 1469stopped and searched in the country as a whole and the rate is rising alarmingly. In 1990, 150,252 stops and searches were carried out by the Metropolitan police. By 1993, the figure had increased to 228,306, which is a 52 per cent. increase in three years. At the same time, the number of arrests resulting from the stops and searches is decreasing as a percentage of the total stops and searches. In 1990, 15 per cent. of those stopped and searched were arrested. By 1993, despite an increase of 78,054 in the number of people stopped, the figure for those arrested had dropped to 11 per cent.; in other words, a staggering 202,901 persons were stopped and searched in 1993 in the Metropolitan police area for no understandable reason. That is the position before the additional stop and search powers contained in the notorious Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 have come into force.
Mr. Corbyn: My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham has been speaking about stops and searches under existing police powers. Is he aware that many people from minority ethnic communities who are stopped, especially for alleged motoring offences, often face passport checks and immigration checks which can detain them for several hours? Such parallel inquiries are hardly ever--perhaps never--made when white people are stopped on the same ground of suspicion by the police.
Mr. Grant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the police stop a black motorist, a check is made automatically with the immigration authorities to discover whether the person is in the country legally. That does not apply, of course, to white people and it is an area of discrimination. I hope that the Home Office will examine the matter. It concerns me that the Metropolitan police seem to have the time and resources to stop and search about 4,500 Londoners every week, after which they arrest only about 450 of them, yet people cannot get a policeman to come to their home when it has been burgled. It seems that the police are getting their priorities wrong. I am no expert in these matters, but a rate of return of around 10 per cent. , compared with the huge number of people who are stopped and searched, seems to be a little ridiculous. The police would be better spending their time on other matters of greater priority to the citizens of London. When we consider the ethnic breakdown for the Metropolitan police area in the fiscal year of 1993-94, we find that no fewer than 95,751 people from ethnic minority groups were stopped and searched. That means that 42 per cent. of the total number of people who were stopped and searched in London were from black and minority ethnic communities. When we compare that with the population of London, where something like 8 per cent. of the population are from black and minority ethnic communities, we see the huge difference in how the police behave toward those communities. People living in black and minority communities are five times more likely to be searched. Would the Minister explain to the black and minority ethnic population of London what exactly is going on?
I would like hon. Members to do what I have done on a number of occasions-- to observe, whenever they see the police stopping and searching either a motorist or someone in the street, what sort of person is stopped. Is it a black person or a white person? They will find, invariably, as I have found, that most of the people who
Column 1470are stopped and searched are black. I also want hon. Members to do what I do now--to get out of their car and ask the police officer why they are stopping or searching a person. Hon. Members will find that the police give some very strange responses.
I stopped the other day in Tottenham and asked a police officer why he had stopped a black motorist. He told me that he had stopped him because the motorist had taken a circuitous route to get from where he was to Tottenham high road. I thought that that was a little strange. I asked, "What do you mean?" The policemen said, "Oh, well, he went through all the back streets." I said that I did not know that it was against the law for someone to drive in the back streets. The young man piped up and said that the reason he went through the back streets was to drive by his friend's house and see if his friend's car was there. To the police, the fact that a black person was driving through the back streets in Tottenham was enough to stop and search that person.
On another occasion, I was told that the reason a motorist had been stopped was that his fog light had been on. On a third occasion, the police said that the motorist's L plate was displayed wrongly. I am at a loss to understand why someone's fog light being on is a reason to search that person's car. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but it does not, somehow, seem to add up that someone's L plate being in the wrong position should be a reason for stopping and searching that person.
When I looked at the Tottenham figures in particular, I found that, in the second quarter of 1993, 1,233 people were stopped and 124 people were arrested as a result. In the same period of 1994, that figure had risen to 2,403 people stopped and 205 people arrested as a result. In a period of 12 months, there was a 95 per cent. increase in the number of people who were stopped--almost double the number in the previous year. At that rate, in one year about 10,000 of my constituents in Tottenham will be stopped by the police, and searched, and the majority of them will be stopped for no reason.
I want to ask Home Secretary, what possible justification is there for that sort of police harassment of citizens in my area? Has there been an upsurge in crime, perhaps? No, we know from the Home Secretary's speech this morning that there has been a 5 per cent. decrease in crime in London as a whole. I know from interrogating the police superintendent in my area, before he was retired as a result of the new organisation, that, for a fact, crime in Tottenham decreased over that period. So we see on the one hand a decrease in crime, but on the other a dramatic increase in the number of people who are stopped and searched.
One begins to attach all sorts of motives to why the police are acting in this way in Tottenham and one remembers that in 1984-85, before and just after the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Tottenham was singled out as a experimental area in which to try out that Act. I hope that Tottenham is not used as another trial area, this time for the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I hope to hear assurances from the Minister on that in his winding-up speech.
We all understand the need to adopt a preventive approach to crime, but there is a balance to be struck between preventing crime and ensuring the civil liberties of my constituents in Tottenham and the citizens in Britain as a whole. On 7 November, I asked the
Column 1471Tottenham police for a breakdown of figures into ethnic minority groups, but I have not had a reply. I do not understand why it is so difficult to give me a breakdown of ethnicity because, of course, the Tottenham police must have submitted those figures and given that breakdown to the Metropolitan police for them to pass them on, as part of the Metropolitan police area, to the Home Office. I suspect that the police are dragging their feet in letting me have those figures on ethnicity because of the large numbers of people from minority ethnic groups who have been stopped, especially in Tottenham.
I believe that stopping and searching a person for no good reason is an abuse of that person's human rights. The Government are always going on about human rights in various parts of the world and they are involved in United Nations organisations, commissions and conferences on human rights, but we are seeing more and more that people's human rights are abused right here in the United Kingdom. When the police stop and search someone in public, it is a humiliating experience and it causes enormous resentment. A young man told me that, during a period of three months, he was stopped 23 times by police officers and had to produce his various documents in police stations soon after. When people are stopped in public, their cars are stripped, they have to undergo great humiliation and it creates a lot of resentment. I cannot stress enough the resentment that those actions cause in many people.
Also, of course, stopping and searching people wastes time, because by the time the police run their checks on whether the car is stolen or whether the person is a legal migrant or not, often half an hour or three quarters of an hour has passed. The person stopped has to waste all that time, as well produce documents at the police station.
The Secretary of State must explain the figures today. As he is the police authority for London, he must tell us today how he intends to pick up a point made by one of his hon. Friends about the fact that police officers are expected to act in a reasonable and fair-minded manner. How is the Home Secretary going to safeguard people's rights and, in particular, the rights of people from minority groups in London? How is he going to safeguard their rights against the abuses of some police officers?
My final point for the Home Secretary relates to the collection of statistics by the police. Every year, nearly 500,000 people are stopped and searched in Britain. If a written account is made of every stop and search, where do those documents go? Are they destroyed or are they kept on a police computer? We want to know what has happened in relation to people who have been stopped and released without charges or any further action being taken against them. We want to know whether people's names, addresses and car registration numbers are being systematically logged in a police computer somewhere in the Metropolitan police district.
I am aware that the police have a difficult job to do and I believe that, in general, the Metropolitan police do a good job. However, I must question their behaviour in certain areas and, in particular, the way in which police have behaved at certain demonstrations and have used their powers of stop and search basically to intimidate certain communities in London. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of those questions today.
Column 147211.51 am
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this very important debate on the policing of London. I also welcome the opportunity to listen to my police authority speaking in the House. There is great value in the Home Secretary having the opportunity to come to the House to speak in this debate. The 84 Members of Parliament elected by the people of London also have the opportunity to come here, if they so wish, to speak and to question their police authority.
Mr. Shersby: As the hon. Gentleman points out, it is a pity that more of them are unable to be present today due to the pressures on all hon. Members' diaries to be here or in their constituencies. I welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), as the Minister responsible for the police. I welcome the fact that he is a member of this House. I have always felt that, despite the great distinction with which his predecessors held that post, they were often in another place. It is particularly helpful that the Minister with direct responsibility for the police sits in this place. The "Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis 1993-94" reveals a record of solid achievement by the Metropolitan police that should be welcomed by everyone living in the Metropolitan police district. My constituency of Uxbridge is in the Metropolitan police area and I therefore want to comment on behalf of my constituents on some of the achievements referred to in the Commissioner's report. At the same time, I must declare that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. My principal purpose today is to speak in the debate on behalf of the people who elected me to this House.
My first substantial duty in speaking in the debate is to join my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in saying, on behalf of my constituents, that we express our deep gratitude to two Met officers--PC Patrick Dunne and Sergeant Derek Robertson--who lost their lives while carrying out their duty of policing the streets of London. As parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, I attended the funerals of both officers--as I always do on such sad occasions. Those funerals were quite outstanding and they made me feel that those two officers will be remembered by the people of London with pride and affection for many years to come. Their names will appear on the roll of honour of the police officers of the metropolis long after all of us have left this place and have been forgotten.
On behalf of my constituents, I want to record their sense of outrage about the number of assaults on police officers which have occurred in the past year and which have resulted in 3,902 officers being injured while doing their duty. Knives were used in 15.8 per cent. of those cases. That is a very serious matter and that was why I intervened in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to welcome the new provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which give the police the power to search for knives in certain very restricted circumstances. They have not had that power for more than 10 years. Such a power was
Column 1473desperately needed and I believe that it will result in a substantial reduction in the number of injuries inflicted on police officers.
The more serious of the assaults that the police have suffered resulted in a 55 per cent. increase in the number of officers being placed sick. The figure rose from 648 to 1,007. When we talk about police man and woman power on the streets of London, we must always remember that a number of them are unable to perform their duties because of the injuries that they have suffered.
I am therefore very encouraged to learn that the Met has now adopted and issued the new-style batons that are now in daily use by Met officers. I campaigned vigorously for the introduction of the side-handled baton and the new straight batons that are now seen on the streets of London. The fact that they are seen and in use has been made possible by the rapid decisions taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary immediately he took office, which enabled testing and approval of the new batons to proceed without delay and which enabled them to be issued immediately the tests were satisfactorily completed.
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I would like to know what arrangements for high-quality training are being made for the use of the new batons in the Met area. I would also be interested to know whether the side-handled baton is to be used in the Met area in addition to the straight batons and, if so, what allocation of resources is being made for the training that is necessary to use that particular piece of equipment.
I also welcome the issue of stab-proof and dual-purpose body armour, which should play an important part in protecting officers from serious assault in future. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will also be able to tell us what progress is being made by the police scientific development branch in evaluating the effectiveness and safety in use of the pepper spray. Is that a piece of equipment that we shall see in use in this country? It has been in use in the United States for many years now, I understand with considerable success, and it would be interesting to know whether it is likely to be introduced in our country.
I was particularly glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement that a new trunked radio system is to be introduced for the Met. It is a very important system and it will be greatly welcomed by every serving officer. However, will that system be fully encrypted?
I ask that question because my home was burgled while I was attending the large police demonstration at Wembley stadium during the debate on the Sheehy report. Naturally, the burglary caused great amusement among not only the Opposition but the media. I voted in a Division at about 11 o'clock, and when I arrived home I was telephoned by a journalist from one of the national dailies who was formerly on the Uxbridge Gazette and who told me the most unwelcome news.
I asked how that information had come so quickly to that journalist's ears. Although it is a tradition that all good journalists do not reveal their sources, I have now discovered that it was probably picked up from local police radio transmissions. Like many other pieces of news which appear in the media and which sometimes are used by the criminal fraternity, they are picked up because police radios are not fully encrypted. I greatly support
Column 1474encryption, and I hope that it will be supported strongly by any other hon. Member who suffers the same fate as I suffered. If we examine statistics dealing with violence against the person, we find that fewer than 2 per cent. of all offences involved a firearm. If, however, we look at statistics on offences involving assaults on police officers, we find that firearms were used in 41 assaults, compared with six in 1992-93, and that firearms were fired in 23 of those incidents.
That is a significant increase, although, in comparison with almost any other country, firearms were used on very few occasions. As a result of that, the Commissioner tells us in his report that a larger number of officers should be openly armed. He has also altered the arrangements governing the use of armed response vehicles so that officers can draw and wear their arms overtly when dealing with serious incidents in which firearms are likely to be used. I know that the Commissioner is the first to realise that members of the public will be concerned about the increasing visibility and carrying of firearms by police officers. However, hon. Members who attended their party conference this year will agree that, far from feeling threatened by the overt carrying of firearms, one feels protected, because the officers carrying them are extremely responsible and highly trained. Their only purpose in carrying firearms is to protect innocent citizens and, when necessary, themselves.
I do not believe that we have reached or are even approaching a situation that would result in every police officer being armed as a matter of routine and wearing a sidearm as part of his or her uniform. I hope that that will prevail for many years. Instead, a very small number of officers carry firearms and use them in very limited circumstances. Obviously, that matter must be kept under review by the Commissioner and by hon. Members.
Another aspect of the use of firearms in the metropolis is, of course, the use of imitation firearms. Imitation firearms, as we know, can be purchased easily from several sources. Many are used for harmless purposes, such as starting athletic matches or playing war games. Many are simply collected. However, a considerable number have been used to threaten unlawful violence during robberies carried out on banks, post offices, building societies and similar
For that reason, I introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1994, which had the full support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the home affairs spokesmen of the other six parties in the House. The Bill achieved an unopposed passage through both Houses and it has now received Royal Assent.
I should like to express my gratitude for the support that I received from my right hon. and learned Friend, from the Leader of the Opposition when he was responsible for the Opposition home affairs portfolio, from my noble Friend Lord Kimball, chairman of the firearms consultative committee, and from Chief Inspector Colin Fry of the Dorset constabulary. The Act is a small but significant measure, which should help to reduce the improper use of imitation firearms in the commission of criminal offences.