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1.55 pm

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Some things are so important that they must be said at the beginning of a speech in case the Whips make sure that one does not get to the end. I begin, therefore, by expressing my thanks and those of the whole community of Brent for the lifetime of service to the police force given by the Brent borough commander, Chief Superintendent Paul Green. He has been an exemplary leader of the force and has brought openness and confidence to the dealings between the police and local community groups in Brent. His retirement will be a great loss, and I wish him and his wife Pauline all good things for the future. Commander Green developed a style of policing which was intelligence-led and based on resolving community problems, and that is what I want to speak about.

I confess to thinking that the local crime and disorder strategy is a misnomer because it should be the anti-crime and disorder strategy or the strategy for combating crime and disorder. It was proposed only after extensive consultation with the local community, which I welcome. The consultation showed that local people are concerned about violent crime to an extent that is disproportionate to their risk of being a victim of it, but although perception is not everything, it is a fact that those who seek to serve the community must always take into account.

Under the Conservatives, violent crime in London increased by 259 per cent. Last year, violent crime in the borough of Brent increased by just 2 per cent. I am the

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first to say that that figure is still moving in the wrong direction; I want it to go down, but it is clearly stabilising and that is critical to turning the figure round.

I speak in a week when my excellent local newspaper, the Wembley Observer, has as its headline "Mother shot". It is a tragic story of a young mother of three who was shot twice, in the head and arm, in my constituency in a long-running feud that appears to have started as a dispute over children playing. I extend my sympathy to the victim and her family, and I want to make two points about the incident.

First, it underlines the importance of reducing firearms incidents in the borough, which is one of the force's key target objectives under the strategy. It is absolutely right that guns must be made less freely available so that small incidents cannot escalate to that level of violence. Secondly, I point out that such incidents still make the front page of the Wembley Observer. They are news because they are so uncommon. People's fear of crime is of course heightened by such headlines, but they must realise that in many cities in north America or western Europe, such stories would never make front-page news.

What can the police do to make sure not only that people are safe, but that they also feel safe? Time and time again, residents associations and local neighbourhood watch schemes in my constituency tell me that they value above all else their relationship with their local beat officers. They are a vital human face in an increasingly high-tech police force.

I thank in particular the two sergeants at Wembley police station who are responsible for community safety, Richard and Geoff. They are a great double act in persuading local people to fight back against crime, and I enjoyed attending their presentation in Sudbury last week, where yet another neighbourhood watch scheme was established. It is communities that beat crime, and not coppers on their own. I commend all the beat officers, the residents associations and the neighbourhood watch schemes working in Brent, North to such good effect. They ensure that the fight against crime is truly an effort of the whole community.

Brent is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs, not only in London but anywhere in Europe. I cannot speak in this debate, therefore, without referring to the action being taken by the police in response to the Macpherson report. The issues of stop and search and the effect on street crime have already been fully discussed. I wish to focus on other sorts of crime and their differential effects on the black and Asian communities in Brent.

Whereas the average burglary rate for Brent residents as a whole is 8.5 per 1,000 population, if one is an Asian resident, it rises to 13.3 per 1,000. For black residents, the chance of being burgled rises still further to almost double the average at 15 per 1,000 population. The good news is that burglary in Brent has fallen by 15 per cent. in the past year, but the bad news is that black and Asian residents are more likely to be victims of crime. That must change. My local force in Brent has set targets to achieve that, and I commend it for doing so. However, I must circumscribe that praise with the harshest criticism and roundest condemnation of the lingering attitudes in the police service that Macpherson publicly labelled institutionalised racism.

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Yesterday, on the day of the Tottenham by-election, caused by the death of Bernie Grant, the magazine for the Metropolitan Police Federation, Metline, arrived in my office. The front cover is a full-page photograph of Lord Tebbit and the interview it contains is a panegyric to a politician who is remembered in the black and Asian communities in London for his remarks about the cricket test. Contrast that with the anonymous page three editorial, entitled "Bernie Grant MP is dead", which gloats about

The article is a disgraceful attempt to trash the work that Bernie Grant did for community relations in this country. It is in my view a disgraceful article that will be condemned, by every police officer who is working to heal the division between the police and the ethnic communities in our capital, as simply reinforcing the old stereotype of the police that good officers are striving so hard to do away with.

I value the close, cross-border co-operation that I have with my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). We work closely together, especially on the Kenton road, which borders our two communities, to ensure that community safety issues are examined by both boroughs and both sets of police. However, I would gently ask my hon. Friends to keep their prisoners out of my cells. I know that there is a shortage of cells in Harrow, but the transfer of prisoners stretches resources at Wembley, and I trust that they will attempt to increase the provision in Harrow itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) mentioned the Sheehy report earlier, to great effect, and the consequences that it had had on policing in London. I am delighted to add my welcome today to the remarks from the Home Secretary announcing the reinstatement of moneys to the police force which will do so much to increase recruitment and retention in the force. I also wish to express my delight that at the GLA elections the member returned for Brent and Harrow was Lord Harris, who will take an active role in the new police commission for London. I look forward to working with my noble Friend and the local community to do all we can to keep the crime figures in Brent coming down.

2.4 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I have not read or seen the article to which the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) referred. I am sure that we are all in agreement, and I remind him and the House that no article in any magazine is as disgraceful as the horrific murder of PC Blakelock.

We have had a lively and diverse debate as a result of the diversity of views on both sides of the House. More interesting, however, is the fact that hon. Members have reflected different issues in different areas in their constituencies. It is that diversity which makes the job of the Metropolitan police so difficult and such a challenge. I am not an official London Member, as my constituency is proud to be part of Essex. However, until this April the Metropolitan police looked after a large part of my Epping Forest constituency. We are now in the changeover period and I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to give my sincere thanks to the Metropolitan police who

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have looked after my constituency so well. The officers at Barkingside are highly respected and the work that they did and are still doing in my area is greatly appreciated.

Many Metropolitan police officers live in my constituency so, although I am not a London Member, I certainly have an interest in the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) made some extremely important points about the changeover from the Metropolitan police to police in the home counties around London. I shall not reiterate his points, as he made them so well, but I hope that the Minister will give them serious consideration.

I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of an extra housing allowance for the Metropolitan police, although I share the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. I note with irony, however, the concerns about affordable housing expressed by the hon. Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I agree with them, but the irony is that I have raised the issue on many an occasion as affordable housing in my constituency is difficult to find. I have raised the matter in connection with stamp duty and other taxes, for example, only to find that Labour Members simply laughed at my comments on house prices. The issue is important, and I hope that the Government will take it more seriously, now that it has been acknowledged by their own Members. I therefore look forward to the Minister's response.

The diverse duties of the Metropolitan police have been emphasised by those who have discussed the suburban, country and inner-city aspects of policing in London. My hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made those points extremely well. Most unusually--indeed, for the first time ever, I believe--I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer). I hope that he is not upset about that, but I agree with him about the benefits of police partnerships and community policing. The policeman whom he mentioned has done a lot of good work in my constituency, and I join the hon. Gentleman in commending him and his officers.

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a rightly concerned constituent, who told me that he was worried now that the Metropolitan police are not looking after Loughton in my constituency. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here--I understand why, of course, and am not criticising him--as I am referring to an area that he knows extremely well. Indeed, he was born and brought up there. I know that he cares a lot about it. My constituent told me that he was most concerned that Essex police might not have a wildlife protection officer which, previously, the Metropolitan police had provided for that part of Loughton. I thought that a wildlife protection officer might be needed for the deer in Epping forest, which are a protected species.

I discovered that the issue was the breeding of slow worms under carpets on the allotments of Loughton. Hon. Members may not be aware that the slow worm is a protected species, that it is rare and that it breeds very well under carpets on allotments. I had to ask Essex police to continue the important role of wildlife protection. I mention this to illustrate the diversity of what we expect of policing in London. One might imagine that the problems faced by the police are all to do with inner-city

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crime and the dramatic things about which one reads in the newspapers. But not so: the real problem with the slow worms is that they are being stolen by teenage boys.

We expect a lot of the police. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) paid tribute to the police, through his personal experience, and we are probably all pleased that he has been so well protected. The hon. Member for Deptford surprised me with her point about young people escaping on bus routes. It is amazing to hear--I do not make light of it--that the bus service in Deptford is so good that getaway cars are not needed. Every cloud has a silver lining.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), with his customary wit and eloquence, has drawn our attention to many issues concerning the inner cities. The House will agree that when he is no longer in his place, we shall miss him very much.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) addressed all of the key issues that face us, especially the 999 service. What he said was extremely worrying and I hope that the Minister paid attention and will answer his remarks in a few moments. My hon. Friend was right to emphasise the concerns of the new Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, which he expressed earlier this week.

We expect so much of the people who serve as police officers. They deserve our financial and moral support, and our confidence. Individual officers have told me--and, I am sure, other Members--how difficult their jobs have become; not because of rising crime, which they are trained to deal with, but because of increased bureaucracy, form-filling and overstated and sometimes misplaced political correctness which makes their jobs so difficult. I do not mean reasonable political correctness.

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