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Column 1475offence. However, will he go further and question the need for the manufacture and sale of virtually identical replica weapons which, to all intents and purposes, look, sound and act like the real thing? They are very easy to buy, they require no licence, and nobody can tell the difference until they are used.
Mr. Shersby: I have indeed asked myself such questions, and I have investigated them in depth, with the benefit of expert advice. I have also discussed them with my noble Friend Lord Kimball, in his important role as chairman of the firearms consultative committee. The difficulty is that millions of imitation firearms are in circulation. It would be very difficult to prohibit their existence and to attempt to recall them. We have to find another way of tackling the problem.
The way that was chosen was to make it a criminal offence to threaten unlawful violence with an imitation firearm and to stiffen the law relating to trespass so that if an individual is found with an imitation firearm in suspicious circumstances, it can be confiscated easily by a police officer. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), but it is probably impracticable to try to remove from circulation millions of pistols and other weapons such as machine guns and all the rest of the huge arsenal of imitation weapons that are sold quite openly. We shall have to keep that matter under review. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point, because it is important.
The debate provides an opportunity for the House to review the effectiveness of the Metropolitan police in dealing with crime in the capital. As my right hon. and learned Friend and others have said, it is extremely satisfactory to record that the incidence of burglary is down by 17 per cent. as a result of Operation Bumblebee. It is also satisfactory to record that there were 5 per cent. fewer notifiable offences in the year ended 31 March. As the Commissioner pointed out in his report, it is the first time since 1988 that there has been a fall in recorded crime. Every hon. Member who represents a London constituency should be pleased to read that statistic. At the same time, it is good to know that the Metropolitan police has increased the number of crimes solved by 6 per cent. to 159,993 and that it has set a target to increase that number even further.
My constituents in Uxbridge are particularly pleased about the success of Operation Bumblebee. They have suffered grievously from burglary in the past few years, as have those who are represented by other London Members. It is interesting to note from the Commissioner's report that in about a third of the burglaries in 1992-93 the burglar did not even have to break in but entered through an open door or window. An enormous amount can be done by every citizen to make sure that his or her home is more secure--for example, by fitting window locks and good strong deadlocks, and other such precautions that would dramatically reduce burglary statistics. The importance of crime prevention cannot be understated, and the Met should pay it full attention in the year ahead.
I suppose that one of the curses of living in modern society is the very unpleasant and upsetting crime which includes the theft and unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, theft from vehicles and aggravated vehicle taking, which accounts for a staggering 25 per cent. of all
Column 1476offences committed in the Metropolitan police area. I am pleased to see that the number of auto crime offences reported has reduced by 8 per cent. compared with the previous year.
I would like to speak about one aspect of auto crime that I do not think has been mentioned in the House before. It concerns the unauthorised taking of hire cars, which is a source of serious concern to rental companies. One such company, Eurodollar, is situated in my constituency. Its chairman, Mr. Freddie Aldous, tells me that the theft of hire cars is a serious and increasing problem. It is therefore good to know that, as a result of the initiative taken by some motor manufacturers--particularly Vauxhall, which has won the annual award for safer cars several years in succession, and the Rover group--their attention to the security of vehicles is paying off and it is becoming more difficult to steal cars than it was in the past. I hope that other motor manufacturers, urged on by the insurance companies, will follow the lead of Vauxhall and Rover and make it even more difficult to steal, or steal from, parked vehicles in the Metropolitan police area.
I know that the House shares my concern that, in the robbery category, a 9 per cent. increase in robberies of personal property, or muggings as they are generally known, was mentioned in the Commissioner's report. Robberies of personal property accounted for more than 80 per cent. of the total of 24,593 offences. Although in 65 per cent. of cases there was no evidence of a weapon being carried, the fact that about 23 per cent. of cases involved the threat or use of a sharp instrument, such as a knife, and 9 per cent. involved firearms, is very worrying. In my judgment, it fully justifies the additional powers given to the police in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
When we consider offences such as burglary and robbery, it is encouraging to see from the Commissioner's report that the number of offences cleared up increased by 10 per cent. between April 1993 and March 1994, with the result that 3,443 robberies were solved. I suppose that that is still a modest number in comparison with the total, but the increase is encouraging.
The problem of domestic violence causes me great concern, as I am sure it concerns every other Member who represents a London constituency. Every time we organise a constituency advice bureau, we are made increasingly aware of the problem and of the fact that non-violent domestic disputes, which are closely related to it, account for many homeless people in our capital city.
More than half the additional 3,192 reported offences of crimes against the person were related to domestic violence. What is being done about that very unpleasant problem, which brings such misery to London households? In his report, the Commissioner tells us that London has 62 domestic violence units and that 126 officers provide the focal point for victims and all the other agencies involved in the prevention of the problem. I particularly welcome the examples of local initiatives that address the needs of victims of domestic violence and to which the Commissioner referred.
One of those initiatives is a joint project between the London borough of Hillingdon, local police and students from Brunel university. It provides a help line to supply details of local organisations that can offer support for victims of domestic violence and racial attacks, whether
Column 1477or not the matters are reported to police. Brunel university, which is situated in my constituency, is playing a valuable part in that project. I hope that the project will be a great success and that it may be expanded to other parts of Greater London.
I am the president of Uxbridge Victim Support, which, as hon. Members know, does excellent work in counselling victims of crime in the London area. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the financial support that the Home Office has provided to victim support organisations. While I suppose that there will never be enough money to satisfy the wishes of victim support schemes around London, nevertheless they are making a very valuable contribution. That is much appreciated and I pay tribute to them in the House today.
A particularly interesting aspect of the Commissioners's report, which I am sure that hon. Members who represent constituencies in west London will have noted, is the section which deals with the improvement of road safety. The constant reduction in the number of road deaths from 601 in 1984 to 311 in 1993 is greatly welcomed. In particular, the use of automatic speed enforcement cameras appears to have had a dramatic effect.
The selection by the police, in conjunction with the Department of Transport, of 21 sites on the west London approach roads to conduct a pilot scheme into the effectiveness of enforcement cameras has yielded some very impressive results. There have been 41 per cent. fewer fatal and serious accidents, 24 per cent. fewer accidents generally and a reduction in all casualties of 22 per cent. Hon. Members would have been astonished to contemplate such substantial reductions and such effectiveness of the equipment only a few years ago. The pilot scheme has saved at least 16 lives and prevented more than 200 accidents in the first year of its operation. It has also reduced traffic light violations by more than 50 per cent. in the same period.
It is interesting to note that the net reduction in accidents has saved £14.6 million, thus benefiting taxpayers and London council tax payers who have had to foot the bill. I think that we can derive great satisfaction from that section of the Commissioner's report. I also record my appreciation of the steps that the police are taking to deal with the very worrying problem of trafficking in controlled drugs, which continues to be such a menace in our society. It is good to see that the number of people arrested for trafficking in controlled drugs increased by 3 per cent., from 1,935 to 1,984 in 1993-94.
I strongly support the partnership approach that was announced by the Home Secretary to raise awareness and stimulate action in dealing with the drugs problem in London. The police should be in no doubt that they have the full support of Parliament in their difficult and often dangerous job, particularly in tackling drug dealers who are frequently armed and very dangerous.
I conclude by referring to this year's settlement. I believe that the Metropolitan police will welcome the £1,628.56 million--an increase in cash terms of 0.7 per cent.--that they will receive from central Government in 1995-96. I believe that they will also welcome their ability to retain the £35 million underspend, which can also be retained in the future.
This matter resulted in an exchange between the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn. I have looked at the matter very carefully and, recognising as
Column 1478we all do how difficult it is for organisations such as the Metropolitan police to hit their budget exactly in terms of expenditure, I believe that it should be appreciated immediately that the ability to carry over the unspent amount of their budget each year--which is some £35 million this year--will be very valuable for future planning. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is to be commended for making that change.
I also welcome the fact that the cost of funding the privatised prison escort service will not be clawed back. As we have heard today, that is another £7 million which will remain in the Metropolitan police budget. As a result of studying the figures, we can be assured that there is no need on financial grounds to reduce the number of police officers serving in London. It is clear beyond doubt from the settlement that my right hon. and learned Friend has listened to those who have expressed fears about the possibility of the major cuts in funding that have been trailed extensively in the media. Those fears are now seen to be groundless.
I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I frequently have to ask myself whether the taxpayer is getting good value for money for a particular service under scrutiny. In the case of the Metropolitan police, there is no doubt whatever that they are providing excellent value for money. I quote one short passage from the Commissioner's report:
"Since 1990, the percentage of officers employed in operational posts has increased from 82.9 per cent. to 87.8 per cent. The civilianisation of police posts is also an important aspect of this process. In 1993/94, 403 posts were civilianised from a target of 550 and efforts are underway to fill the remaining 147 posts. By the end of 1994/95, we intend to release a further 400 police posts through civilianisation. This process confirms our determination to ensure that the optimum number of police officers is employed at the point of service delivery, on divisions, and that they receive the appropriate support."
The House and my fellow members of the PAC will rightly conclude that the Metropolitan police are giving the people we represent not only excellent value for money but a first-class service tailored to the needs of London, and that we have in Sir Paul Condon a Commissioner who is well aware of the sensitivities of the people of London and who pays close attention to our remarks not only in such a debate as this, but during the valuable opportunity that London Members have once or twice a year to meet him and his senior colleagues to discuss matters that affect our constituencies so directly.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): I join other colleagues in paying tribute to, and thanking the police for, the work that they do on our behalf. I believe that we are united in doing that. It is only right that I should couple that tribute with tributes not only on my behalf but on behalf of my party to the two officers who died this year on duty in the service of the community in London. We owe a lot to police officers who go where others are unwilling or unable to go. If they make the supreme sacrifice, we must be greatly indebted to them, and we send their relatives and friends our condolences.
Today's debate is important. It was lamentable that we did not have it last year. The Minister of State is on the Front Bench--I welcome the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) to his job--but if the only occasion for full-blown accountability of the police
Column 1479authority for London to London Members of Parliament occurs once a year, the Home Secretary, whatever the other pressures on him, ought to be here for the whole debate. I know that we all have pressures on Fridays, but it is the only time in a year that London's police authority is held accountable. Every other police authority meets and is accountable to its public regularly.
Not only have we not had a debate for two years, which I hope will never happen again, but the Home Secretary has not remained for it. I hope that, in future, he will clear his diary, as he will always have the opportunity to discuss the business of the House with the business managers so that planning can take place. I hope that we can have a regular date for the debate that fits in with the pattern of the publication of the Commissioner's report and strategy documents so that the debate takes place as part of a regular cycle. I welcome, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did, the opportunities during the year for Members of Parliament with constituencies within the Metropolitan police district to meet the Home Secretary as the police authority. I valued my recent meeting with him. That is an important constituency requirement. It is obviously also right that there is a regular meeting between London Members and the Commissioner and his senior officers.
As this is the first debate since the new Commissioner took office--it seems a long time ago and must seem so to him--I welcome him to his post. It was a good appointment. He came with a good reputation and record, and he has vindicated it in office already. We wish him well.
The two major political matters that have affected the Met in the past year, apart from funding and resources, with which I shall deal in a moment, are the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and, at the other end of the spectrum, the debates about criminal injuries compensation.
On the first, I state clearly that the Home Secretary was right to say that those who fomented the violent protests were a small minority who were entirely unrepresentative and clearly anarchistic. Many more people were unhappy about parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, as I was. Many people rightly protested, as they should have the right to do. I hope that we will never confuse the actions of small numbers of anarchists with the right to dissent and proper debate about the merits of the issue.
Mr. Hughes: Whether they would wish to or not. The police have intelligence about anarchists. That is part of the job of the police. Indeed, the security services also have intelligence about anarchists acting against the interests of the state. It is difficult to single out anarchists, but the police are trained to pick out and identify the troublemakers.
Column 1480I have been on many demonstrations in my life. One can have difficulty in identifying everyone who is there to make trouble, but most people are not. I hope that the implication of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is not that there should not be an absolute right to protest, particularly against legislation proposed by the Government, especially when they are a minority Government in terms of their support in the country.
Mr. Hughes: And, indeed, in the House. According to opinion polls, the Government are not supported by about 80 per cent. of the population. So the right to protest is hugely important. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, in every respect, that must be upheld as a basic civil liberty of all citizens at all times.
Mr. Stephen: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the right to protest does not include the right to intimidate or obstruct, nor does it include the right to bring the life of a great city to a standstill for eight hours or more whenever one pleases?
Mr. Hughes: On the first issue, no, it does not give one the right to break the law. Different police forces and officers respond differently. Some services and officers are better than others at coping with such issues.
The right to bring the city to a halt may be a consequence of the right to protest, just as a state visit, bad weather and traffic disruption often may have that consequence. Having the right to protest does not mean that one has any less of a right to bring the city to a halt than a foreign Head of State, whose visit closes many roads in our capital city.
Fear that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board will not adequately compensate victims has also caused anxiety. The hon. Member for Uxbridge expressed concern for victims of crime, and they must continue to be one of our principal concerns. They are badly represented in our legal system and often do not get a voice at inquests or trials. The Home Secretary's announcement that representations will be made possible is inadequate. We must seriously consider the way in which we can meet the worries of the bereaved and of victims who survive.
The good aspect of the past year was the fact that there was more collaboration between the police and local authorities and communities. That is improving all the time. In Southwark, for example, there have been two very effective campaigns, although they have not yet achieved all that we would wish for. One campaign is against racial harassment and has involved lots of posters and educative material to show that harassment is a crime; this has had some positive effects.
The other campaign is to get across the message that street robbers are normally cowards. Although this is not a London matter, that is shown in the way someone attacked a 100-year-old woman in Northern Ireland last night. How can people be in any way normal if they attack the elderly, frail and vulnerable? Older people and vulnerable people need the most stringent protection. It is normally young thugs who attack people in the streets and they need the severest penalty. I can say without qualification that they should be dealt with in the most severe way. One cannot argue against dealing ferociously with offences against the person.
Column 1481In addition, in Southwark, after a spate of racial incidents on an estate near the Elephant and Castle, we achieved much good collaboration over the production of guidelines for those concerned about, or the victims of, racial attacks. The Rockingham estate now has an anti-racist group, which has led the work with the community and the police and been highly successful.
Only yesterday, at the invitation of the police, I went to see their junior citizenship scheme, in which children in their last year of primary school are monitored and tutored by young people at secondary school and professionals and given training in life experiences--including very real ones such as burglaries and robberies--and in what they should do. I pay tribute to that scheme. May I say a word on behalf of the police on a matter on which they unfairly got a bad press? Colleagues will remember a controversial incident earlier in the year--I accept my part in the controversy--when an immigration service raid took place on Southwark council employees, agency employees and alleged employees, about 10 days before the local elections. The police were unhappy about the position that they were put in by having suddenly to detain many suspected illegal immigrants in police stations. They were seen to be the front-line force whereas it was an immigration service initiative. Such problems must be dealt with more accurately, honestly and satisfactorily. The problem was compounded when the immigration service issued a press release which was clearly untrue and added to the discomfort caused by the incident and its unfairness.
We use this debate to examine the Commissioner's annual report and consider the service's priorities. On the priorities formulated for next year, we welcome the fact that there is now an annual corporate strategy document and, as it were, a rolling corporate strategy priority document. We should include as a police priority an improvement in the detection of, and effective action against, not merely people with guns but those people involved in the criminal use of knives, which is growing apace. I hope that that will be a priority for the coming year. Combating racial attacks is another matter that is not a priority for this year, but ought to be for the next.
Perhaps the fact that drug dealing and combating it was not a priority this year may explain why the decision about Customs and Excise personnel was allowed to go through this week, but I shall return to that matter.
I hope that all our tributes to the police will not make them complacent. They should not feel that those compliments enable them to be. However good the charter figures may be--for example, the figure of 90 per cent. for arriving at an urgent incident within 12 minutes--there are occasions when things go badly wrong and the police do not appear, the phone is not answered and one receives no reply to a letter. For example, one of my Southwark councillor colleagues recently complained to me about the fact that it was weeks before he received any answer to a telephone call and his request for information. The police must remember that they, like us, are paid for through taxes and that they are locally accountable as a public service.
I shall deal with the funding issues, because we need to tie down the debate about funding. The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to that matter, but I want to ask the Minister some direct questions with which I hope he will deal when he winds up. The Commissioner made it clear
Column 1482that one of his purposes was to take officers out of Scotland Yard and put them on the streets, and he originally cited a figure of 700 officers.
In an answer to me, the previous Minister of State--now Under-Secretary for Energy and Industry--said:
"Extra resources made available for civilianisation of non-operational posts currently filled by police officers will enable 400 officers to be released for operational duties in 1994-95."--[ Official Report , 21 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 637 .]
By the end of this year, how many officers will have been moved from desk- bound jobs to the street? Will it be only 400, or the 700 that was originally intended? Will the establishment of the Metropolitan police be the same as it is now--the Minister has asserted that it will be--or bigger next year? There have been statements that the 28,000-officer strength would be reduced by up to 2 per cent., and I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether that will be the case. We need to know whether the numbers have gone up.
A problem for the London police service is that the Home Secretary is a bit like the Lord High Everything Else in "The Mikado": he asks himself for more resources, and then refuses his own request. I understand that this year the Metropolitan police service--for which the Home Secretary is the police authority--asked for 150 more officers, and got none. In the previous year, it asked for 357 and got 50. It was only three years ago, when it asked for 22 and got 22, that it appears to have succeeded-- probably because of its then much more modest bid.
If the Commissioner is saying this year that there ought to be more Metropolitan police, the words of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) ought to be heeded. It would cost £4.5 million to fund the extra police requested, and I believe that the public would wish that money to be spent on funding the police, rather than given back to them in tax cuts. I hope that the Government understand that that is certainly the message that I receive loud and clear from my constituents. I doubt if any hon. Members get a different message throughout the capital city.
Is the current strength of the Metropolitan police up to its establishment and, if not, by how much does it fall short? On funding, the hon. Member for Uxbridge said that there would be a 0.7 per cent. increase in the coming year. As that is less than inflation, I ask the Minister to confirm that in real terms there will be a cut in funding of the Metropolitan police service next year. If that is the case, it is regrettable, but we ought to be told the truth. The Government and the Home Secretary have announced that they have been looking among police forces for a funding formula for the country, and that came from the legislation. There is also a funding exercise going on in London between areas and divisions. I would like to know how far that has proceeded.
Is it true--I have this on very high police authority--that there can be funding for CID operations which give them equal numbers of personnel in an area where there are three serious incidents to investigate and in an area where there are 33? Those were the figures given to me. I was told that, in my area, there are 33 serious incidents, but that we had the same number of CID officers as an outer-London area with three serious incidents on the books. We need to know what the formula is, because, although I understand the arguments put on behalf of the citizens of Bromley--similar views were put last year by
Column 1483the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant)--the incidence of serious crime is more concentrated in inner London than in outer London, and resources ought to be allocated accordingly. As a postscript, is the unemployment rate taken into account in the formula? If so, it is not possible for the Home Secretary to pretend that police resources and unemployment are unrelated.
The Home Secretary is the police authority. I accept that that will not be changed before the next election but hope that, if there is a change of Government, we shall have an elected and accountable police authority for London. My colleagues and I favour that proposition. Given that we are not to have a police authority now, however, I welcome the formation of a police committee and have no reason not to welcome the appointment of its chairman. I look forward to its composition being balanced in terms of age, sex and background and hope, in particular, that at least one young person will be included in order to represent the young people of London. The link between the advisory committee, the police and community consultative groups and the neighbourhood forums needs to be clearly established. Like other hon. Members, I welcome the community consultative group's structure, but there is frustration at that level because often they are not consulted. For example, often an announcement is made about the Met on which they have not been consulted. The problem of resources is one such issue. The time for consultation on the new resource allocation formula for London had passed before the matter came to the consultative committee, which is nonsense.
As we have consultative committees we should use them. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) rightly pointed out their importance. They are groups of good people; they are willing to get on top of the issues and have good and honest dialogue with the police. At the moment, they provide good bottom-up information, but they are not much good at responding to top -down proposals and initiatives.
Who will service the advisory committee? It is important that it should not be civil servants accountable to the Home Office. The relevant people should be accountable to the Metropolitan police service and therefore independent of the Home Office and able to stand up to it if necessary.
The two big issues in my community at present are the policing of estates and neighbourhood noise. In general terms, the crime figures have improved. In Southwark, notifiable offences are down, the clear-up rate is up, residential burglaries and auto crime are down and there have been more arrests. However, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned generally, sexual offences and incidents of domestic violence are up. In addition, violence against the person, racial incidents and street crime are up. I endorse in particular what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of tackling the increase in domestic violence, which appears to be growing ineluctably.
The policing of estates and the way in which the police work with the community are, not surprisingly, engendering the biggest debate. This year, public policing has been under threat of being replaced by private policing. I believe that private security firms or forces are the least desirable form of policing our cities, town and
Column 1484estates, and local authority police, separately run and separately managed, run the risk of dividing the responsibility for law and order on the streets of London and elsewhere. I believe that the Home Secretary has the right policy and I strongly encourage him to develop it. The best way forward is to develop estate- based and community-based policing carried out by the police, special constables and ordinary people.
Last year, I was privileged to witness a successful similar scheme on the city council housing estates in New York. Police officers and the residents were together ensuring that those estates were among the most crime-free areas in New York. Officers who know the patch work with local people who live there, often acting as concierges in blocks, with radios, walkie- talkies, and so on. I have commended that approach to the Home Secretary and I believe that he is considering it. I commend it also to the Metropolitan police. I understand that there is a further successful model in Leicestershire, which is held up as an example by the Home Office.
If we are to have policing in London that is accountable, effective and enjoys the confidence of the community, we must have community-based and estate-based policing led by the Metropolitan police, not by private security guards. That is the only way that the robbers, the gangs, the burglars and the yobs will be tackled successfully--not simply moved on somewhere else, which is the risk otherwise.
I do not think that we have become tough enough on neighbourhood noise in the definition of what is criminal and what is not. We do not yet have the local authority or police resources to tackle it. We are conducting a big debate about that in Southwark at the moment, but the law needs to be improved.
Earlier this year, the Home Secretary received much flak for saying that he rejected the evidence in a survey commissioned by the Prince's Trust. He said that unemployment and crime were unrelated. I do not think that the experience on the ground is like that, and I ask him to reconsider, and not to wait two years before reaching a conclusion.
The Home Secretary received the most recent flak this week, when he and his colleagues in Government collectively decided that the Customs and Excise officers' numbers should be reduced, including a cut of 500 people working in drugs and other enforcement. I think that the Government have got those two aspects of policy wrong. I ask them to reconsider both. If we can strengthen Customs and Excise to deal with drugs and other offences, and if the Government learn to accept the link between unemployment and crime, there will be an effective understanding of some of the other priorities that I hope the police will have in the coming year. 12.46 pm
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham): I greatly welcome the debate because it has been far too long since we debated policing matters in London, and I was sorry that last year we did not have a debate on policing. My feelings go wider. We do not debate London matters enough in the House. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] That needs to be put right because the basis of London's local government--which I broadly support--of having local authorities without a London-wide government and without an elected London body, works only if London
Column 1485Members of Parliament are given the opportunity to debate in the House the issues of a wider London concern, which need be brought together.
I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the Metropolitan police, because it does an extremely difficult task which is important to all our constituents. My constituents repeatedly and consistently mention the fear of crime, the problems of law and order and their fear of being burgled or attacked in the street--fears which may or may not be justified, and which frequently are unjustified, but which nevertheless exist.
The problem confronting the police was highlighted by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), who is not in his seat at the moment.
We must balance the need for effective policing--sometimes heavy-handed policing--in London, which is necessary to combat crime, against the justified demand that all Londoners have for the protection of their civil liberties, and for people who are not suspected of a crime to be able to go about their lawful business without fear of being harassed.
The achievement of that light touch, which is extremely difficult for any police force, is perhaps best illustrated in relation to the great problem of tackling drugs, which is a problem from which all constituencies in inner London suffer, to a greater or lesser extent. My constituency of Fulham suffers badly from drug taking and drug dealing, which leads at times to levels of policing that cause considerable problems.
I give one example of the nature of drug dealers who create what can only be described as laboratories in the houses and flats in which they live. Such laboratories are difficult to track down, and the police have to raid them without warning and use considerable force. Unfortunately, the police sometimes get it wrong and the surprise and violence is used against innocent people who are living normal lives in areas where there is, unfortunately, a great deal of drug taking. Striking the right balance is difficult.
For obvious reasons there has been an increase in the use of surveillance cameras, not just in shopping centres or other enclosed places--quasi- private areas where one could make a case for them--but in public places such as streets. They have been introduced in west London to counteract drug dealing, and that is a reasonable use for them. But it raises serious problems about what happens to the surveillance tapes. Who has access to them and what is done with the information that is obtained in that way? That is worrying, but the Metropolitan police are feeling their way towards the right balance. I welcome the reduction in crime. We have been given some figures about the overall reduction in London, and reported crimes in Fulham are down by about 16 per cent. I welcome that, but as we all know, reported crimes are not necessarily a reflection of criminal activity because crimes are reported, or not reported, for many reasons. Perhaps of more significance is the clear-up rate for burglaries as a result of Operation Bumblebee. That rate has increased by just under 20 per cent. year on year, and is down in the third quarter of this year. That shows that
Column 1486with the help of such operations, the police are at last getting on top of the professional organised criminals whom they can identify. More worry, or at least as much worry, is caused to most people not by the organised criminal, the one who is carefully planning a burglary and about whom the police know because he is an habitual criminal, but by the opportunistic criminal who seizes the opportunity of an open window or an unlocked car. Such a crime also occurs when a young man is walking down the street alone and is set upon by other young men and mugged. Contrary to current mythology, that often happens.
The opportunistic crime is often the most feared, and great steps to reduce it have been made through crime prevention education. But such crime is difficult to stop and people must be reassured by the presence on the streets of those who will stop it. Such people may or may not be patrolling policemen. I hope that they will be, but it is unrealistic to expect policemen to be on the streets all the time. I hope that the climate of fear on our streets will be changed by the welcome steps taken by partnership against crime and street watch and by the other measures that are being used to get people more involved in their communities, looking after each other and taking cognisance of what is happening in their areas.
When a street is empty, people, rightly or wrongly, feel nervous about walking down it. The way to stop that is to ensure activity in the community, and the way to bring that about is to rebuild shopping centres and public houses and use community centres and so on. Curiously enough, one of the by-products of controlled residents' parking, which is being introduced slowly throughout my constituency and which has given rise mixed feelings among the residents, is that, if it is properly maintained, traffic wardens patrol the streets. They pay for themselves by issuing tickets and they have the added advantage of being a uniformed presence. Although they may not be able to arrest people, they are a deterrent to the opportunistic criminal and in that sense they are an advantage.
I was very pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that there is no need for a reduction in Metropolitan police numbers this year. I and many other hon. Members have been concerned by the story circulating that there is to be a reduction in the number of active officers. Few people in London believe that there are too few officers in the Metropolitan police. Indeed, most of us want an increase in the number of active officers. That does not necessarily mean an increase in the number of people in the Metropolitan police; it means an increase in the number of policemen who are combating crime rather than doing the administrative and support duties that could be done by less highly trained people.
Equally, some of the traffic duties undertaken by the Metropolitan police could be handed over to people who are not as highly trained as the police officers who are combating crime. There is a case for having a separate traffic enforcement police force, but I shall not comment further on that because of lack of time.
I want briefly to comment on the proposed Metropolitan police committee and to reinforce what I believe to be vital: that it should be independent of both the police and the Home Office. I listened to what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about it being independent of the Home Office. I go one step further, because I believe that it
Column 1487should also be independent of the Metropolitan police. It should exist in the same way as, for example, Ofgas and Ofwat exist to watch over the privatised monopolies. Its role should be as the guardian of the way in which the police behave and to do that it must be independent.
The committee needs to be tied in closely with the work of police consultative committees which, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said, play an important role in feeding information up, but also in examining information fed down. They are non-political, committed to the community and involve a broad section of people. It is vital that the new committee is not political, so I greatly welcome the fact that it is not to be established as an elected body. Because of the complexity and size of London, any elected body controlling London's police would make the police a political football, which we would all regret. The police do a tremendous job in London and they deserve our support.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): In September, the Minister announced with a great fanfare a welcome decrease of 5.5 per cent. in recorded crime over the past year. He described it as the greatest fall for more than 40 years and said that he hoped that it would reassure the public. The reality is--I quote the words used to express it:
"All the real evidence says to the voters that crime is getting worse."
Those are not my words, but the words of no less a person than the vice- chairman of the Conservative party. That is the reality of crime in London.
The Home Secretary introduced this long-delayed debate and invited us to consider his achievements over the past two years. He would do well to bear in mind the perception of those whom we represent that crime remains a very real and growing problem and that the Government have not done enough to tackle it.
We support and work for the notion of partnership--a partnership between the police and the community and between the private and public sectors. There is all the evidence to show that the achievement in combating crime over the past months has resulted from just that partnership. If that partnership is to succeed and to deliver consistent results across the board in the fight against crime, it needs support from the Government, but the Government are not giving the partnership the support it requires.
Yesterday, the revenue support grants for London were announced. It is clear that, as a result of that dispensation, London and London local authorities will find that they are hard pressed in the coming year to maintain the existing level of services. It is also clear that some of the crucial areas in which there has been successful partnership between the police and the local authorities will be undermined by a lack of resources.
There are two areas to which we need to pay real attention in this debate. We have heard a lot about drugs; the cuts that have been made and the future cuts that are proposed in Customs and Excise staff will certainly impact adversely on the drugs problem in the capital. The problem goes beyond that, however. For there to be an
Column 1488effective partnership against those who peddle drugs and for there to be support and assistance for those who are vulnerable to their insidious influence, it is vital that there is an effective youth and community service on the ground working with schools to combat drug abuse. That is what the police, our local chief superintendents and local community bodies tell us.
My own borough of Brent, a Conservative borough, as a result of this Conservative revenue support grant, announced before the RSG statement yesterday that it intended, in effect, entirely to eliminate the youth and community service in the borough. That is an absolute scandal and will set back the work we seek to do in partnership in Brent. The local authority, the police consultative committee, the local voluntary, church and other youth workers and the statutory sector are trying to work in partnership to defeat the menace of drugs, but their work has been undermined by the Government's actions. It is no use the Home Secretary claiming in the House that there has been achievement in the area, when all the evidence tells us otherwise.
It is clear that the formula that is the basis on which the Metropolitan police is funded is flawed. It is also clear that the concerns expressed by the Association of London Authorities and others in the run-up to the RSG announcement were more than justified. The Home Secretary and the Treasury have, in effect, robbed Peter to pay Paul in their sums on the RSG for London. As a result of the resources that have been made available to the Metropolitan police, there is a clawback from other areas where there needs to be adequate funding for local authority services, but where there is not. That is not right, and it undermines the fight against crime.
We need cohesive and sustainable communities if we are to combat crime effectively. That is what the police want and that is what we want. We want a vibrant, active partnership between the local authority and the police, and between the voluntary and private sectors. Everything that the Government do undermines that, not only through the RSG but, importantly, through the imposition of a market ideology on policing.
Privatisation and the threat of privatisation have demoralised the police in London. They are concerned by the Home Secretary's focus on the core functions in his review of the Metropolitan police. There is an idea that helping an elderly lady across the road is not, somehow, a core function. Well, we, as Labour Members, are here to tell the Home Secretary that that is a core function. The police perform a vital service in reassuring the elderly of their presence. It is vital that the police are not seen only as people who arrive at the scene of the crime in mechanised vehicles, but are seen to be out and about at work in the community; with time to talk to that small shopkeeper on the high street or on the estate who feels vulnerable, who feels threatened; with time to talk to that group of young people, who are not necessarily the tearaways, but who need to know that there is a police presence in their area. Is that a core function? The police officers who speak to me, young and old, at federated and non- federated ranks, say that they are desperately worried about creeping privatisation and civilianisation in the police force.
We want to see an end to market ideologies imposed on each and every sector of society. Policing and the market just do not mix. Policing is a service. It must be a publicly funded service; a properly resourced service; a