Column 1489partnership between police and public; a partnership between the voluntary and the private sector. That is what we, as Labour Members, are here to argue for. We argue that underpinning that partnership there needs to be genuine democratic accountability. There needs to be a police authority that is more than just another quango, which is capable of reflecting the needs and concerns of all Londoners. The qualification to serve on that authority must not be the chairmanship of a company which is a major donor to the Conservative party, but that that person lives and works in London. The qualification must be to care about London and have roots in London. Party political affiliation is neither here nor there. What London wants and what London must get is a quality police service. From this Government and as long as the Conservative party occupies the Government Benches, that is what London will never get.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): At the outset, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on the action that he has taken in the past 12 months to strengthen our police. He may not be flavour of the month with the liberal elite, but that runs in his favour because it means that he is clearly in touch with the views and aspirations of ordinary people in this country. When it comes to the Metropolitan police, what my constituents want is simple: they want more powerful police and they want more powers for the police. By more powerful, my constituents mean that they want more police at the sharp end, patrolling the streets and available to help ordinary people. By more powers, they mean that they want the police to be able to get on with the job of cracking down on crime and not to deviate from that by having to spend a great deal of time on unnecessary paperwork or be too hidebound by regulation, and so on. In other words, they want a police force which gets its priorities right and is also more visible.
All that can be summed up in the old aspiration, undimmed by the passage of time and embodied in the simple phrase "More bobbies on the beat". That was often summed up by Lord Whitelaw, who used to go around repeating the phrase, "More police, more prisons, more police, more prisons."
It may have been a very simple remedy, but it was an effective one and he did much to strengthen the police in his time as Home Secretary. Today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has delivered as well and- -I believe--impressively.
London's police force will have more powers thanks to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. London's police will have more resources in the front line thanks to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Both Acts will give the police better back-up through the criminal justice system. There is, of course, still more to be done in the toughening of prison regimes and sentences, and my right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear earlier that that is a priority this year. He also said that it is a priority in respect of speeding up the process of justice.
The police will be effective only if they have the full backing of the criminal justice system working properly and effectively. It is not only the public who want to see that; the police want to see it as well. Police morale can be badly affected if the police feel that, instead of getting
Column 1490on with their principal task, they are tied up in yards of red tape or buried under mounds of what they believe to be unnecessary paperwork and are therefore unable to get out on the streets. The police also become demoralised if they feel that the courts are not acting by backing up their work through effective sentencing, or if the prisons are not delivering the goods and, at the end of the day, the criminal can turn around and laugh at the police. I have met and know policemen who prefer to let offenders off rather than charge them because charging them takes so much time out of their working day with hours spent filling in forms and chasing up the evidence. As a result of that, they cannot operate as effectively as policemen on the streets. We must find ways to cut the laborious paperwork processes that are currently involved. I am aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering that point.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was able to chalk up another success yesterday. Despite a very tight spending round which has meant real cuts in many areas, he was able to announce a real increase in total police funding across the country of about 3 per cent. to about £3.67 billion. Of that, a huge £1.6 billion will go to the Met. In addition to its standard settlement, the Met receives a special payment of £130 million to recognise the capital's special requirements.
The Met will also benefit from losing court escort responsibility without losing the cash for that. With that, the Met will receive £19 million more than last year, but it will also gain from its new ability to roll over the money not spent this year into next year. The Met was unable to do that in the past. Previously, the cash was taken back direct to the Treasury.
That sum amounted to £11 million last year. However, it could be considerably more this year--perhaps up to £35 million. In other words, the important point is that the Met will gain this year by up to £65 million in its budget. That is a considerable increase which is equal to, or above, the projected rate of inflation.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) failed to follow the full logic of the figures. In his speech, he made it clear that he was not entirely sure about what the figures involved and he looked again at the text. I pay due credit to him here: I am not suggesting that he deliberately misunderstands the figures--he was simply unaware of the roll over of money and the amount that can be taken from one year to the following year, and he did not appreciate the impact of the police losing responsibility for the court escort service and the £7 million involved there. If the hon. Member for Blackburn realised those things, he would be aware that the amount of money that the police will receive next year is keeping pace with inflation. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was more guilty of an inexactitude with his numerals. He was clearly unaware that the real cash for the police next year is considerably more than the increase produced by the grant, due to the two factors that I have mentioned. It is most important to take that into account in making any proper and serious assessment of how police resources will work next year.
In addition to the extra cash, we must consider the change in rank structure, the impact of reorganisation in the Met and increasing civilianisation of the police--
Column 1491including, in certain boroughs such as mine, responsibility for parking being given entirely to local authority traffic wardens and removed completely from the police. All that will make the Met more effective at the sharp end.
Therefore, there is certainly no financial need for a reduction in police numbers, and we should not talk about such a reduction. I stress that only because some false rumours are circulating, giving the impression that there might be a cut in police numbers. That is completely unnecessary on financial grounds. Indeed, there is scope now for increasing the number of constables. I would certainly like to see such an increase. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) spoke of the importance of that in the London borough of Bromley, and I fully support him.
One way of bringing about an increase is through imaginative partnership schemes, opening the door for yet further funding. Section 24 of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 empowers boroughs to give police extra funding. The London borough of Wandsworth has already effectively gone down that route, with the co-operation and the full support of the Met, to provide extra special constables--community neighbourhood constables. I suggest that the London borough of Bromley should do the same.
To its credit, the London borough of Bromley has already done much on law and order. It has held a series of important public meetings, it has piloted thorough research into the impact of crime on the borough, and it has helped to institute closed circuit television deterrence, which is another important means of deterring and fighting crime. I hope that that will be followed by considering a new partnership with the Met to increase effective police manpower in the borough in a way that is tailored to the specific needs of the area. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) about the need for the police to be based in, to work with and to understand the community.
How far are local authorities empowered to go in respect of extra financing? That is an important part of an overall package for good policing in areas such as mine.
One of the difficulties facing the Met is that it is one force but has to operate in an extremely diverse area. The policing needs of Beckenham, for example, are a world away from those of Bermondsey, and the needs of Westminster are quite different from those of Bromley. I hope that that point will be fully taken into account by the Commissioner and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when they examine the funding of the Met in the future. Quoting statistics about the number of police per head of population and so on does not give a balanced picture of the needs of London, because boroughs' needs are different. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned that point, and I certainly would not want to rob his constituency to improve cover in mine; nor would I want the needs of his constituency to have an adverse impact on the needs of mine. In other words, different areas of London need to be treated in different ways.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the two police stations in my constituency. I was shown around Penge police station by Inspector Stephen Hall, and around Beckenham police station by Inspector Dave
Column 1492Tompkins. I record my gratitude to those officers for the time that they took to educate me in the problems that they face. I also thank them on behalf of my constituents for the work that they and their team do in protecting people in my constituency. Apart from all the individuals whom they have helped, they have benefited the whole community by bringing down the crime rate. According to the latest figures, overall crime fell by 21 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement, and I hope that it will be repeated year after year. I also take this opportunity to record my appreciation and that of the community which I represent for the various police consultative and discussion groups in the area. We have three: one covering the borough, one covering Beckenham, and one covering Penge. I pay tribute to the work of the chairmen of two of those bodies, Peter North and Bob Groves, who help to keep the police in touch with the community and vice versa. I also compliment all the citizens who involve themselves in neighbourhood watch, which is another important way of extending police-community liaison.
The public need the support and work of a confident police force, and the police need the confidence and support of the public and of their representatives in this place. The steps that the Government have taken in the past year contribute to achieving that aim, and I am delighted to see the work continuing.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I have attended every debate on the policing of the metropolis since I was elected to the House and I have always been deeply frustrated by the lack of accountability of the Metropolitan police force and the unsatisfactory nature of the debates. Today's debate is no different from the others.
I have watched Home Secretaries come into the House and speak at great length--I do not complain about that, as they are reporting to the House and it is the only opportunity that the police authority has to report publicly--and then disappear immediately. Not one Home Secretary has stayed to hear the whole of the debate. I must put on record the fact that I deplore that practice and the fact that other hon. Members are not able to take part in the debate.
[Interruption.] I do not know why Conservative Members are getting so excited: regrettably, it is a fact that no Home Secretary has stayed to hear the whole of a debate about the policing of London. After all, the Home Secretary is the authority of the London police force.
I also regret that the proposals which the Home Secretary has brought forward to "improve the structure of the police force in London", as he puts it, will actually do nothing of the kind. I used to think that it was undemocratic that the Home Secretary should be the police authority for London, but we are now to get something even worse--a quango on behalf of which the Home Secretary will speak in Parliament, rather than on behalf of the police force.
London needs an elected authority to cover the whole of the capital for reasons of planning, housing, health, transport, the environment and, of course, policing. Likewise, we need the development and continuation of local police committees. We need not only a central body, but also a local one.
Column 1493The suggestion that those hon. Members who raise this question are somehow against the policing of London and have no understanding of the needs of London's police force is way off the mark. I represent an inner-city community which is tragically riddled with very high levels of unemployment, not very good housing--many people are on the housing waiting list--and a great deal of crime.
I cannot complain--nor do I seek to do so--about the co-operation that I get from the local police in my constituency. It is very good indeed. On the occasions when I have had to call out the police to attend incidents where I live, their response has been very good. I have meetings with them whenever I wish to discuss local matters. I have no complaints on that score. Indeed, I thank the Holloway police for the co-operation that they have given me whenever I have raised issues with them. Whether we finally agree is not the point--at least they are prepared to discuss matters openly.
However, I draw attention to the problems of crime in my borough. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has produced some very useful statistics about London boroughs and the crime that occurs within them. There were 3,190 violent crimes in the borough of Islington for the year ended June 1994. There were 1,894 incidents per 100,000 people, compared with a London average of 1,058 and a national average of 605. In the neighbouring borough of Hackney the figure is even higher-- 2,252 per 100,000 people. Examples at the opposite end of the scale were Kingston, with 746 violent crimes per 100,000 people, and Redbridge with 592.
The crimes to which I refer included acts of violence against the person, sexual offences and attacks, and racially motivated attacks. I suspect that the number of racially motivated attacks is a gross underestimate as many people are unable or unwilling to report what they believe to be a racially motivated attack. The local police are well aware of that fact, and Islington council and others have done a great deal of work to encourage people to come forward and report racially motivated attacks. It would help if the Government were to ameliorate what I believe are the many appalling sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 by including legislation to deal specifically with racially motivated crimes. That would help in putting a stop to the vile racially motivated crimes which are the scourge of our society.
I do not have much time, so I shall be brief. I have searched through the annual report of the Commissioner. Unless I have missed something, previous annual reports contained a detailed description of the number of firearms licences issued by the police force in London and the number of police who carry guns in London. I cannot be the only person who is deeply troubled by the growing incidence of the use of firearms and crime in London, the ease of getting a firearm by illicit means such as smuggling, by purchase through gun clubs, or whatever. The need to have a gun-free society is something that I take seriously. That includes not having an armed police force in London. I hope that the Home Secretary will publish the statistics for the number of firearms licences issued by the Metropolitan police in the past year. In previous years more than 700 licences were issued.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to replica weapons. I have raised that issue on several occasions. There is a gun shop not five minutes walk from
Column 1494my home. It sells absolutely identical replica weapons. I went in and bought a replica weapon for £65. The reason why I did so was that someone was killed by a police marksman in my constituency. He was holding a neighbour to ransom using a replica weapon. It was the second such incident in my constituency. The police had no way of telling that it was a replica weapon. I bought one of the guns and showed it to the Police Federation and we discussed the matter. When we fired the gun, it looked and sounded every bit like a real gun going off.
I recognise the problem that large numbers of replica guns are in circulation already, but we have to start somewhere. Perhaps we could license replica weapons as they come on to the market, or even ban the manufacture of new replica weapons. There is no justification for anyone walking around with absolutely identical replica weapons. The hurt, the danger and the deaths that have been caused make this a serious issue. In some cases such weapons have been used by people who are deeply disturbed and in need of much more community care and support than they are able to obtain. I hope that the Home Secretary will have the courtesy at least to read Hansard and understand the anxieties of those of us who represent inner urban communities. I wish to raise several points about the Commissioner's report, but there is not enough time to raise all of them. One is about the number of deaths in custody. I draw attention to appendix 4.7, which refers to the death on 1 August 1993 of a 40-year-old female in Hornsey. I refer to the death of Joy Gardner, and I am not giving away any secrets when I say that. I seriously question the passage in the report which states:
"She resisted arrest, was restrained, collapsed and resuscitation was given. She was taken to hospital where she subsequently died." I believe that to be a breach of normal law in that the case is sub judice. The inquest has not yet finally concluded its decision as to how and why Joy Gardner died.
Mr. Bernie Grant: Two weeks ago, at Marylebone magistrates court, three officers were committed for trial in that very case, so it is, indeed, sub judice. Is my hon. Friend not surprised, as I am, that the Metropolitan police Commissioner has given a version of the death of Joy Gardner when the court has not decided on the cause of death?
Mr. Corbyn: I agree with the point that my hon. Friend has made. I am sure that it will be drawn to the attention of the representatives of the late Joy Gardner when the case comes to court. I ask the Home Secretary to examine seriously the wording used about the incident as it seems to be prejudicial to the course of justice at a later stage.
The other issue that I wish to raise, as it has been referred to by the Home Secretary and others, is that of public order demonstrations in London and the hidden agenda of many Conservative Members who keep on and on about the cost of policing political and other demonstrations. One Conservative Member raised the question of the cost of policing crowds outside football matches. The right of people freely to demonstrate their political or other views cannot be fettered by considerations of the cost of the policing operations. If one lives in a democracy in which there is a right to
Column 1495demonstrate and dissent, it has to be an unfettered right. I deplore what I believe to be the hidden agenda surrounding that issue.
Mr. Cohen: I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would comment on my question to the Home Secretary, to which I did not get an answer, about the riot police not wearing identifiable numbers when they go into action. That was a problem when they policed the miners' strike and Wapping and it seems to be becoming common practice. Does my hon. Friend agree that it needs serious consideration, as it virtually allows the riot police to act illegally without being identified and prevents people who might be aggrieved at their actions and who might have been physically assaulted from making an official complaint?
Mr. Corbyn: Absolutely. My hon. Friend will recall that some years ago we were members of a Standing Committee when that issue was discussed. We were always assured that whatever uniform an officer wore, his identity number would appear on the outside, on the shoulder pads where the numbers normally appear. I deplore the apparent use at the M11 demonstrations of riot police wearing boiler suits and helmets without any identifying numbers so that no complaints can be made against officers. As everyone knows, to make a complaint against the police one must make a complaint against individual officers. Those are deplorable incidents.
I was involved in a some of the demonstrations against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The House should be aware that we should take notice if many thousands of people demonstrate against an Act of Parliament. We were demonstrating to defend the historic right of silence in criminal cases, the freedom to roam, and people's right to follow alternative life styles, which is important in a democracy. The people who turned out to demonstrate showed their concern for the libertarian traditions that were developed by people who were also prepared to defy laws in the past century and the centuries before that.
I addressed and chaired the rally in Hyde park at the conclusion of an enormous demonstration on 9 October. For the most part, the demonstration was good humoured and it was certainly peaceful and well organised. After agreement had been reached on the route to be followed, the police complimented the organisers on the stewards' handling of the demonstration.
After the rally started--shortly before the demonstration was due to end-- trouble broke out around Marble Arch, some distance away. To prevent any trouble, the organisers and stewards immediately went to see what was going on and offered to co-operate with the police to ensure that there was no crowd build-up so that the trouble would not be exacerbated. The police officer in charge refused that co-operation and went on to close Park lane to the coaches that were arriving to take other people away and the situation went from bad to worse. None of the organisers of the demonstration wanted any trouble.
I wrote to the Home Secretary the following day, on 10 October, asking if he would be prepared to have a public inquiry into what went on and offering my co-operation. I was somewhat surprised that it took until 25 November for a reply to be given--not by the Home Secretary, but
Column 1496by the Minister of State, Home Office-- saying that I should apologise to the police and that there would be no public inquiry. Why it took six weeks for the Home Office to respond to a perfectly reasonable letter from a Member of the House of Commons merits, in itself, some sort of inquiry.
I urge the Home Office to look through the reports of what happened at that demonstration. I refer to those in The Daily Telegraph , The Guardian , The Independent , The Times and even The Sun, of all papers, as well as a number of others. No one wanted any violence. The organisers certainly did not want any trouble. We wanted to ensure that it was peaceful.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) rose --
Police co-operation and intelligence might have meant that we could have avoided some of the trouble that followed. That is what we have been trying to point out for all that time. [Interruption.] I know that it is easier for Ministers to sneer than to listen, but I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman on this occasion.
Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman keeps stressing that no one who organised the demonstration wanted any trouble. He is conveniently glossing over the fact that a few hundred people from Class War and the Animal Liberation Front and some anarchists did want trouble. After the demonstration, Class War boasted in its newsletter: "The police were swamped and we gave them everything: burning bins, sticks, bricks, paving slabs, park bench planks, cans filled with sand, bottles and scaffolding poles. But as ever shortage of ammunition was a constant problem . . . so cheers to those of you who kept us supplied on the day."
Will the hon. Gentleman condemn that sort of behaviour as strongly as he seems to be condemning the police for their efforts to contain trouble?
Mr. Corbyn: The Minister knows perfectly well that all the organisers of the demonstration did not want or agree with any violence, and that they did condemn the violence. He knows all that, but he still fails to answer the question: why is he not prepared to have a serious discussion about the policing tactics that were used at the end of the demonstration, so as to avoid such problems in the future? Why did it take six weeks to reply to a letter pointing out seriously that there had been a breakdown in communications? The police chief superintendent who was on the spot absolutely refused even to discuss with the stewards--with whom the police had been happily co-operating for the previous four hours--any actions which might have been taken. I wonder whether there was perhaps some other agenda from the Home Office and whether it was perhaps not awfully convenient for the Home Secretary's speech at the Tory party conference two days later.
Mr. Bernie Grant: Perhaps I may jog my hon. Friend's memory. I recall that, at the time, my hon. Friend went on television and radio in relation to the demonstration and that he started off on every occasion by stating that he was totally opposed to violence, that he was in favour of a peaceful demonstration and that he had nothing against the police, who generally did a good job. Why does the Minister not praise my hon. Friend for
Column 1497making those statements? Why is he trying to link my hon. Friend with Class War and other organisations with which my hon. Friend is not associated? I challenge the Minister in his wind-up speech to congratulate my hon. Friend on being so reserved--
Mr. Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend, and I look forward to the Minister's reply to the debate, when he can set the record straight. He seems to be more interested in condemning people than in listening to what went on; indeed, he is not even prepared to discuss what went on.
There is not much time left, and I do not want to prevent other hon. Members from speaking, so I will conclude on this point. I found it extraordinary that, two weeks after the demonstration, the Metropolitan police decided to call a press conference to predict violence on a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstration to which they subsequently sent 2,000 police officers. I am glad to say that there was no violence, and I believe that there was only one arrest during the whole demonstration. I got the impression, as did many journalists who attended the press conference, that it was designed to do two things--to deter people from coming to the demonstration and to talk up the prospects of violence on the streets of London. Nobody wanted that, and I am glad to say that there no violence. Let us have some sense and accept the right of people to demonstrate peacefully in our capital city. We need an accountable police force to defend the liberties of the people of this country. 1.37 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): It is the duty of any Government, second only to the duty to safeguard these islands from external attack, to safeguard people from criminals within our own society. One reason why the entire western world--not just this country--has seen a rise in crime is that successive Governments in this and other countries have paid too much attention to the half-baked 1960s attitudes towards crime and criminals. We are now paying a heavy price for that.
It is true that my party has been in government here for 15 years, and it is also true that they have listened too much over the years to those half- baked ideas. But anyone who believes that, had the Labour party been in power during those 15 years, it would have listened less to those libertarian views will believe anything. Fortunately, today we have a Home Secretary who is determined to roll back 30 years of libertarian attitudes to crime and to put the civil rights of the victims and ordinary law- abiding members of the public first.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on two points. First, I congratulate him on having the courage to get the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on to the statute book substantially unamended, because it contains provisions that will protect our constituents and give the police the powers that they need to defend us against criminals. Secondly, I congratulate him on the recent financial settlement, involving an extra £180 million for the police. I am especially grateful to him for giving the Sussex force a massive 10 per cent. increase, one of the largest in the country.
Column 1498The London police have to cope with many specific problems, one of which is mass demonstrations, to which other hon. Members have adverted. No one would deny that the public have the right to protest; it is one of our democratic rights. People have every right to express their disapproval of anything that anyone in authority does in their name, but I maintain that the right to protest does not include the right to intimidate others who have different views or to obstruct others from going about their lawful business. As with anything in the real world, it is a question of balancing the rights of one group of people against those of another.
It may be said that people have a right to assemble in very large numbers in the centre of a city to express their views, but we must not forget the tens of thousands of other people who live and work in those cities-- especially in London--and who have a right to go about their business and to get to and from their homes and places of work. There is a right for fire engines to attend to burning buildings, for ambulances to attend the sick and for police cars to attend to emergencies. Those rights are perhaps forgotten by those who hold it to be an absolute right to be allowed to assemble in very large numbers in urban areas to express their views. I maintain that there are no absolute rights in this world; it is always a question of balance.
If very large numbers of people are involved, the disruptive effect on a city is very much the same whether or not a demonstration is peaceful. Unfortunately, it is for all practical purposes impossible to prevent anarchists, to whom my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) referred, mingling with peaceful demonstrators. I pointed that out to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) whose response was particularly fatuous, even for him. It should be apparent even to him that the ability of an anarchist to mingle with an individual Member of Parliament--even himself--would not have the effect of turning a demonstration into a riot.
We are often reminded of the fact that, in centuries gone by, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the suffragettes and others demonstrated, chained themselves to railings or threw themselves under race horses. We should all be proud that they took those risks so that future generations might have greater freedom and wider democracy. However, in those days, women did not have the right to be represented in Parliament. There are two women currently in the Chamber who speak out fearlessly for the rights of women whenever they feel that those rights are under threat, which is right and proper, but when the suffragettes chained themselves to the railings there were no women in Parliament to argue on their behalf. Some men did, but women could not do so.
Similarly, in the days of the Tolpuddle martyrs, working men had no representatives in Parliament. They had no one to put their point of view, to put their arguments or to fight for their rights. That is not true today. As I sit in the House, I listen day by day to the representatives of working men and women arguing for their rights, putting their point of view. They do so with great skill and determination, and I pay tribute to them.
I believe that the type of mass demonstration that might have been necessary in an urban area in a bygone age is no longer necessary or desirable in the television age, because anyone who has enough support to stage a mass
Column 1499demonstration can obtain air time on television and radio and communicate his point of view to millions of his fellow citizens. In fact, the more anti-Government his views may be, the greater the opportunity that he will have to communicate them on television or radio. Therefore, mass demonstrations in urban areas, especially in London, are outmoded, and we ought seriously to consider placing a total ban on them.
A frivolous reference was made to the disruptive effect of a state visit. The two situations are totally different and, as I have said, anyone who wishes to persuade may communicate his opinion on television to millions of his fellow citizens. That will not enable him to intimidate his fellow citizens by creating a large crowd and threatening or obstructing people, but I maintain that the right to protest does not involve the right to intimidate or to obstruct. I doubt that any Member of the House would maintain otherwise. If, at the time of the Park lane riot, the police had had the stop and search powers that they will shortly have under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, they might have been able to remove from the knapsacks of demonstrators the bricks, the CS gas canisters and perhaps, if we widened that section, even the literature to which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) referred, inciting people to violence. The responsibility for the violence which occurred is theirs alone, and anyone who suggests that it is the responsibility of the police, who were responding to a difficult situation that had been created, is, in my respectful opinion, utterly wrong.
One type of demonstration affects the House and our very democratic process. That is the attempt, which we have witnessed all too frequently in recent weeks, to lay siege to these very Houses of Parliament. Those demonstrations have prevented hon. Members from reaching the House to attend to their constituents' affairs, and even to cast their votes in important Divisions.
Mr. Stephen: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that, on one occasion, Members had been unable to get here, and that one hon. Member had been knocked down and was taken to hospital, but the record will show whether that is correct.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: What the hon. Gentleman understands is not relevant to the statement he made that hon. Members were not able to take part in Divisions. The Chair received no complaints on the Divisions that took place that night.
Mr. Stephen: I am grateful for that advice but, to any of us who witnessed the demonstration outside, it must have seemed a miracle that any hon. Member was able to get through to take part in a Division. If that type of demonstration occurs in future, no one can guarantee that hon. Members will not be prevented from casting their vote in a Division.
Demonstrations of that type are not only a breach of the ordinary law but contrary to the Sessional Orders of the House, which require the Commissioner of Police of
Column 1500the Metropolis to keep the way clear for hon. Members to come to the House to attend to their constituents' affairs. The Commissioner failed in that duty. I am not criticising the Commissioner --he did his best, but he failed in that duty. He must revise his views as to how those matters are to be dealt with and he must reconsider the powers that Parliament has given him under the Public Order Act 1986. I believe that the time has come to say that there shall not in future be any mass demonstrations within one mile of this place. In other legislatures-- especially in Germany, I think--there is a rule that no demonstration shall take place within 1 km of the Parliament building. Such a rule should also apply here.
Such obstruction must not occur again, and the Commissioner must never again allow demonstrators to invade this Palace and sit on the roof of the building. That was an attack on our democracy. Another such serious attack was when the private residence of a Minister of the Crown was invaded. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made light of the attack on his residence, and I pay tribute to him for his fortitude, but the House cannot pass lightly over the matter. It was a fundamental attack on a Minister of the Crown who performs his duties to the best of his ability in the interests of all our people. Those who do not agree with the way in which he discharges his duties can say so through their representatives in Parliament, and they do so almost every day. I shall turn briefly to one other important matter. Recently, there have been a number of cases in which householders have been confronted by intruders, and have tackled them and found themselves before the courts. Under existing law, a householder has the right to use reasonable force in self-defence, but we should look again at the case and statute law to see whether the right could be drawn more widely. I believe that, save in the most exceptional cases, a householder confronting an intruder should not find himself in court and be required to pay compensation to the intruder. That matter has outraged our constituents and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to look again at the law on the matter.
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Their time comes to those who wait. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, especially as the Home Secretary seems to have avoided having such a debate for more than a year and might not have had one today had the matter not been raised by me with the Leader of the House shortly before the House was prorogued.
The Home Secretary was quick to tell us that he is the police authority for London and that as such he is accountable to Parliament. Given the length of time that it has taken for this debate to be held, he obviously has a limited view of that accountability. When we consider the spiralling crime wave in London and the depth of fear of crime among Londoners, we should not be surprised that he wants to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. The Government have presided over a near doubling of crime in our capital city. They promote policies that undermine the Metropolitan police and they have demonstrably failed to allow London to have its own democratically accountable police authority. When Home Office Ministers trumpet the 5.5 per cent. decrease in crime over the past year and try to reassure the public, it
Column 1501is difficult for us in London to take them seriously. We have had a 15 per cent. increase in violent crime in the past year and there was a 15 per cent. increase in sexual offences between June 1993 and June 1994. More than 160,000 burglaries were reported in London in the past year, robberies are up by 4 per cent. and one in 10 of all London crimes is defined as violent according to the Home Office classification. The cost in stolen property amounts to some £167 per head for every Londoner.
Perhaps the most devastating statistic is that 90 per cent. of Londoners are concerned about the level of crime and two out of three expect it to get worse. Next week the Association of London Authorities will publish a poll showing that 46 per cent. of Londoners rate crime as their top concern. What does the Home Secretary say they should do? He says that they should walk with a purpose. People in London are not over-impressed by that idea. The Evening Standard said last week that people in London have no intention of walking with a purpose. The paper did a little detective work and found from police in Walworth, Stoke Newington, Southwark, Croydon and even Tory Bromley that there had been absolutely no response to the call to walk with a purpose. In my borough of Lewisham the police consultative committee, which is extremely active, said that there were simply no takers. In Islington, the chief superintendent described the response to the call as a disappointing zero. Another senior officer said, "We put a constable on probation for two years, with all sorts of training to ensure that he or she is able to cope on the beat. You just can't put members of the public in that position. No one is going to let me be a brain surgeon just because I fancy it." Perhaps we should not let people become Home Secretaries just because they fancy it.
Two people did respond to the call. One in Brixton said that he would like to walk with a purpose if he could go out and shoot people. Another in Twickenham was simply described by police officers as "unsuitable". It is no surprise that Londoners are not over-impressed by the Home Secretary's stewardship of London policing.
What could the right hon. and learned Gentleman have done? He could have supported the London authorities that are giving free home security equipment to some of their elderly population. He could have supported the safe travel group in Wood Green, the racial harassment project in Tower Hamlets and the Association of London Authorities' "Zero Tolerance" campaign--especially as the report by the Home Affairs Select Committee specifically recommended that
"the Home Office . . . fund a campaign designed to raise awareness amongst the public and in particular actual and potential perpetrators and victims of the criminality of domestic violence." But he did not do so.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman could have unequivocally backed the work of London's local authorities in community safety work, but instead he rejected every suggestion by Labour Members during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. In 117 clauses, there was only one reference to crime prevention. He could have fought for a better deal from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in determining the standard spending assessments and the capping levels in London. On all counts, it is London and Londoners who lose out.
I want briefly to comment on the policies that have undermined the police. First, there is the threat to police funding. It is not surprising that the police fear that they
Column 1502could lose up to 1,600 police officers and that stations will be closed. The dampening that has taken place as a result of changes to the formula simply delays the effect for a year. The police say that the cuts in police overtime will mean fewer bobbies on the beat and less patrolling.
In my constituency in Lewisham, four out of five crimes of violence against the person are cleared up, but fewer than four out of 10 sexual offences are cleared up. The police are understaffed and need more resources if they are to improve on those figures.
The police are also painfully aware that there is increasing evidence that Government policies are undermining their morale. Some 53 per cent. of police officers say that their morale is low; 62 per cent. would take another professional job if they could. The review of core functions combined with the threats to funding have been a major source of demoralisation.
Sir John Smith, the deputy Commissioner, who happens to have been brought up on the Downham estate in my constituency, has said that Government accountants run the risk of removing all
non-confrontational tasks from the police and that public trust would inevitably be lost.
The Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, is concerned about the Government's privatisation policy and said:
"it could undermine the quality and standards which underpin our relationship with the public."
In Lewisham, Chief Superintendent Ken Chapman told me of his great concern about performance monitoring. He said with great emphasis that the police force is a service and that when the police help, for example, an elderly person who has had an accident in the home, and deal with him with such sensitivity and tact that he rings the next day to thank the officers concerned, they know that none of that will be taken into account when the performance targets are put in place. The police believe that care in the community has increased their work load. If a member of the public sees someone walking around in a daze or hanging about at night, he is likely to call the police, who then discover that the suspect is mentally ill but that there is no place for him to be hospitalised. None of those examples would be taken into account in the targets.
Chief Superintendent Chapman has said that there is intense pressure on the police to perform to targets, which will not deal with the relationship which the police have with the public and on which they have been building for so long. Superintendent Doaks of the Catford division has said that the police are concerned about the changes that the Minister is making to the redundancy arrangements. They believe that they have been set up to make more police officers redundant in coming years. The police believe that the 4,000 redundancies among Customs and Excise officers are a first step towards swingeing cuts in the police and a Government attempt to lay off officers more cheaply and more expediently.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has dealt with the setting up of a police authority more than adequately. I say simply that the people of London want such an authority and that the police in London want it. The only reason why we shall not have a police authority is that the Home Secretary does not want Labour councillors to have any say or influence in the way in which the police work in London, despite the fact that Labour authorities throughout London have worked positively in partnership with the police on all the community safety aspects that I mentioned.
Column 1503Sir John Smith said:
"The community is our life-blood and we need to be, and be seen to be, accountable to it . . . There is a real danger of making detection the top priority for the police, with little regard for the preservation of peace or crime prevention . . . a comprehensive review of policing will need to be undertaken by an influential group"
"will support the continuation of the style of public policing which, while not yet perfect, is admired and emulated throughout the world."
We agree with that. Without such policing, we shall accelerate, almost out of control, towards a future for policing that will in no way meet our needs. Londoners deserve better.