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1.41 pm

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Like many hon. Members, I welcome the opportunity to speak. Those Members who hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be pleased to hear that I shall keep my remarks fairly brief. Some hon. Members may be wondering why I, as a Scottish Nationalist Member, want to speak in a debate about police and policing primarily in England and Wales, but as the Minister will be aware, given our earlier exchange, the important issue of police pay and conditions has an impact on police in Scotland. Negotiations continue to be conducted on police pay and conditions at a United Kingdom level. Happily, other policing matters are now devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

I am surprised and disappointed that no Member from any other party in Scotland representing a Scottish constituency has sought to play an active role in the debate. On pay and conditions, the police force in Scotland is seeking someone to enable their voice to be heard in Westminster.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has hardly been present in the Chamber for the debate. That is a fair reason not to give way.

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As I mentioned to the Minister in my intervention during his opening remarks, 94 per cent. of police officers in Scotland voted against the pay and conditions package on a turnout of 82 per cent. Tayside police force serves Perth constituency, and the vote there against the package was 94 per cent. It is regrettable that such an overwhelming rejection of the package was ascribed to policemen and policewomen in Scotland, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, not understanding what they were doing or being misled by their federation. That is patronising and has been refuted by the Scottish Police Federation, whose general secretary, Douglas Keil, said:

That comment says a lot about how the negotiations were conducted.

It should also be recalled that the Home Office sent out 95,000 leaflets to police officers and took out adverts in the national press. The United Kingdom Government cannot set much store by their information campaign. It is not clear—perhaps the Minister could clarify it during his closing remarks—what the cost of that information campaign has been to date, but the Government do not seem to feel that it has been tremendous value for money.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) suggested that the overwhelming no vote might have been something to do with the enmity of the police throughout the United Kingdom towards the Home Secretary. Certainly police officers in Scotland are disgusted by the way in which the negotiation process has been conducted and are—rightly, in my view—extremely angry with the Home Secretary.

However, I believe that the overwhelming rejection in Scotland happened simply because police officers there did not accept that the package was a good deal but regarded it as insulting and unworkable.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: I will not give way, for the reasons that I have already stated.

The concerns have been well documented in today's debate, and I do not need to delay the House unduly.

Mr. Denham: If the package is so insulting and unworkable, why did the leadership of the Scottish Police Federation support the agreement reached in December? Surely if that was their view, it would have been better for them not to support it.

Annabelle Ewing: It was the police officers who regarded the deal as insulting and unworkable, and it was they who were consulted in a ballot and voted—about 94 per cent. of them, in Scotland—against the Home Office package.

The concerns have been dealt with already in the debate: the changes to ill-health provision, the alteration and abolition of police allowances, the overtime regulations and so on.

We have talked about police morale. The suggestion that the police are not flexible has been deeply damaging to morale, and therefore to recruitment and retention. In Scotland, the police are extremely flexible. The police in

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Tayside and elsewhere in Scotland do a tremendous amount of work on the basis of good will, and if that were withdrawn it would provoke a crisis in policing. It is in no one's interest to provoke that.

Will the Minister answer two questions in his reply? First, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said, what will happen if the conciliation breaks down without agreement? Will the Home Secretary impose the package on the police in Scotland and elsewhere? Secondly, what new money will be available for the package in Scotland, if it is agreed in some form in due course? New money is expressly referred to on page 1 of the heads of agreement.

The police work tirelessly for us and put their lives on the line. They deserve better than the approach that the Home Office has adopted so far.

1.48 pm

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): For the second year running, when asked what was the worst thing about living in London, Londoners rated crime and safety as their second greatest concern, after the cost of living. For reasons that have been explained by many other hon. Members, that is partly because of the recent upsurge in street crime and partly because of a number of high-profile tragic incidents.

In my area, a 20-year-old youth was stabbed to death on the Maida Vale estate, and six days later his grief-stricken father died of heart failure. A bus driver was stabbed in a road rage incident in Paddington. Such events get publicity and increase the fear of crime.

There has also been an explosion of antisocial behaviour on many of our estates, which causes great grief. That does not always involve serious crime, but consists of the kind of activities that make the quality of life so poor on those estates.

It was right for us to spend some time focusing on police numbers. London is getting some additional police, and that is very welcome. I believe that next year we will be up to about 28,000. As I said in the Adjournment debate of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) a few weeks ago, we do not feel that police levels in Kensington or Westminster, which were frozen under the resource allocation formula, are adequate. Many colleagues have spoken about the need for high-visibility policing, and we need to make further progress on that.

I strongly welcome the auxiliaries or community support officers, who will make a real contribution. It is right that they should be scrutinised in practice, but there are variations in need in different communities, and areas such as the west end, with high concentrations of licensed establishments, require more policing support and enforcement than can necessarily be supplied by professional police officers.

Street crime has also been a focus for this debate. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) talked about child-on-child crime, which has constituted a large proportion of the increase in street crime. That must be taken seriously, because the damage done to young people's confidence when they are the victims of such crime will be paid back, and not in a happy way, over the years. I hope that the Minister will at least mention the priority that should be given to the police working in schools, and to preventive measures,

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especially in relation to mobile phone crime. What has been the outcome of discussions between the Government and the mobile phone companies about preventive action?

I pay tribute to the work of the youth offending teams, and the youth inclusion project in north Kensington. Mentoring and the community referral orders have been very successful in preventing recidivism. How does the Minister see the future of the youth inclusion programmes, and will they be expanded? The intensive work with young people at risk—particularly those on bail and others who will be tagged under the new experimental scheme—is clearly an effective alternative to custody. We should all support that.

It is also right to talk about the broader issue of youth crime prevention. I understand why we talk about a yob culture and why people perceive young people as so threatening, especially on some of the estates that I have described, but we must never forget how appallingly damaged some of those young people are: they are the alcoholic children of alcoholic parents, the children of drug addicts and the products of abusive families. They deserve high levels of support, as do many of their vulnerable parents. Good work has been done through sure start, the Children Fund and Connexions, but there is a case for doubling or trebling the intensity of support that we offer, especially in inner-city communities with high social mobility and ethnic diversity.

Relationships between the police and the community remain crucial. I pay tribute to the project run in my constituency by the Black Police Association, working to develop and improve relations between black young people and the police. The Youth Parliament is also doing good work to improve the dialogue between the police and young people. There is considerable alienation among both black and white young people that must be overcome. Such dialogue and community relations are not only good in themselves but essential for intelligence-led policing, which we need to reverse the decline in detection rates.

Kensington and Chelsea police have successfully turned the tide of crime in the borough. I commend to the Minister the work being done by that force. There are many individuals who deserve credit: people working in the teams, as mentors and on the lay panels for community referral schemes, and police who are working on the front line doing a difficult and dangerous job. Unfortunately, there are too many to list now. They are working under the leadership of Moir Stewart and Andy Trotter in my two divisions. Such work, along with the many good reforms in policing legislation, will pay off and allow us, in the long term, to reverse the tide of crime.

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