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It is no good telling young people all about drugs in great detail, then saying, "OK, now you decide." The problem is greater in London than in the country as a whole, although it is greatest in areas such as Lambeth and Lewisham and less bad in more affluent areas such as Richmond and Kingston upon Thames. The Minister will know that I have consistently opposed the Government's policy on the declassification of cannabis and their view on its contribution to the drug problem.
In those respects, education and health in London are inextricably linked. Advice, enforcement, policy and treatment need a co-ordinated strategy if the problems are to be tackled effectively. London is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the developed world. The people who live in it are its greatest resource, and they deserve the very best public services.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): That excellent London journal Time Out recently ran a series of articles on the theme of whether London should declare independence. Although I would not go quite that far yet, it had one excellent idea: an anthem for London. Among the candidates were those superb songs, "The Dark Streets of London" by The Pogues and "London Calling" by The Clash. I am glad to see that that dirge by Ralph McTell did not make it into the top 1,000, but my personal favourite reminds me of when I arrived in London in the late 1970s: the Leyton Buzzards', "Saturday Night Beneath the Plastic Palm Trees". It includes those superb lines:
"Dancing to the rhythm of the guns of Navarone,
Found my Mecca near Tottenham Hale station,
I discovered heaven in the Seven Sisters Road".
That is exactly what arriving in north-east London meant to me and, although I have transferred my affections to Ladbroke Grove and the Harrow road since then, I remain very much in love with this city, in all its diversity, mess and creativity.
It is because I love London that I am perfectly happy to argue London's case and point out where we need policies and investment to tackle some of London's problems. We have challenges indeed. Many of those are the challenges of success arising from diversity, rapid population growth, turnover and mobility and the exceptional costs that we face, particularly in housing. Those challenges have made the delivery of public services much harder in London than in almost any other part of the country.
Because I love my city so much, I am always happy to point out that many people are not sharing in the general growth of London's economy and its benefits. The recent figures on below-average income households showed that inner London was losing out, particularly in respect of tackling child poverty. I was disturbed to note that no Conservative Member made any mention of poverty whatever. If we are to transform London, we have to transform it for all Londoners. After 25 years of active political campaigning and representation in London, I have no doubt that only one party is prepared to provide the resources, policies and leadership necessary to rise to the challenges and make the changes for London.
Events over the last few days have amply demonstrated that in respect of policing, crime and safety. The Government have supported the expansion
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of the number of police officers in recent years with a huge amount of funding. Additional investment of more than £300 million has been made in the past three years alone, and the Mayor has added £184 million raised through the council tax precept. Since 2001, the Conservative group has voted against the budget on every occasion.
Reference has been made to the step change neighbourhood policing scheme, which was launched in Brent a couple of weeks ago and, at the same time, in Queen's Park ward in my own constituency. It represents a very welcome development indeed and the key question is who is going to pay for it and similar expansion under the Conservative or Liberal Democrat plans. Conservative spending plans prioritise health and schools, but say nothing about how to preserve policing budgets. On the day after the launch of step change in Queen's Park, my local newspaper, the Wood and Vale quoted Graham Tope, the Lib Dem London Assembly member, as saying that the scheme would prove
"too costly for the capital".
"Such a financial burden should not fall on London council taxpayers",
which raises the question of who is going to pay for the Liberal Democrat expansion of police services, as outlined by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). We cannot have a wish list for police resources without a commitment to funding.
Mr. Pound: My hon. Friend knows that about a fortnight ago on a Friday night in Northolt, my constituent, Akberali Mohamedally, was murdered. Thanks to the exemplary work of the borough co-ordinator, Stuart McNair and the borough commander, Martin Bridger, a suspect was arrested within 24 hours. Does my hon. Friend agree that community-based policing is something that we simply cannot afford to go without? We simply have to have it. Talking about paring back at this stage is almost criminal. Labour Members cannot and will not tolerate that.
Ms Buck: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Community and neighbourhood policing is what people want, and it is paying dividends. As another example, the same local newspaper mentions Deputy Chief Inspector Richard Wood of Marylebone police station, who is responsible for a halving of robbery and theft in the Marylebone division of Westminster. He is quoted as saying:
"I am not being arrogant, but we are solving 33 per cent. of all crime in Marylebone and 20 per cent. of robbery and snatch theft. As far as I know, that's the best record in the Met."
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and others provided figures on London-wide reductions in crime, so I shall not repeat them now. However, violent crime is an issue that rightly worries most people. After a particularly horrific drive-by shooting in north Kensington last week, it also worries me a great deal. We should remember that, thanks to the
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effectiveness of Operation Trident, gun crime fell by 47 per cent. in 200203, which also saw a 6 per cent. rise in detections.
Extraordinary progress has therefore been made in tackling a wide range of offences, including violent crime. My local police and the Metropolitan police generally should be warmly congratulated on the effectiveness of their operations, rather than open to the sort of criticism applied by the Conservative candidate for Mayor. Remarkably, he implies that he will secure improved policing results out of the same or possibly even a reduced budget. How is he going to do it? Supposedly by working with the Met to place crime at the heart of policy. How can he work with the commissioner when his advert today screams out that London is the most violent city in the country, that crime is rising remorselesslywhich is untrueand warns, despicably in my view, that
"your child's journey to school is at risk"?
How despicable is it to frighten children and parents, and their communities, with baseless assumptions drawn from the figures published by the Met? Do the Conservatives honestly believe that slamming the Met's recent record will improve relationships or the delivery of services?
Mr. Dismore: As my hon. Friend will know, Mr. Norris has form in that area. At a Police Federation meeting, he made claims about crime figures and fell out with Sir John, who said that the statistics quoted by Mr. Norris were misleading. Sir John said:
"I'm not going to sit here and listen to those figures. They are from a Tory think-tank, Civitas. Figures from the Met show violent crime is down by 5 per cent."
How can Mr. Norris work with the commissioner when he is constantly at war with him? Or does Mr. Norris intend to sack the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis like he intends to sack the commissioner of transport for London?
Ms Buck: My hon. Friend is right. I have criticised the Conservative mayoral candidate and challenged some of the figures from Opposition Members, but it would be wrong to say that all Conservatives are critical of Government policy. At a community safety awards ceremony a few weeks ago, the leader of Westminster city council, that flagship Conservative borough, thanked police and council staff for all they were doing in
"bringing down crime and improving our streets".
"massive 53 per cent. fall in street crime and a 9 per cent. drop in violent crime."
"we are pleased to report a significant reduction in a number of crime categories . . . and a close working relationship with the Met".
That is something that Steve Norris would do well to emulate. The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea also has its say, with press releases headed, "Streets are
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safer as police blitz royal borough" and "More police community support officers on patrol in Kensington and Chelsea". At least Conservative boroughs in central London have given a warm welcome to the strategy introduced by the Government and the Mayor.
On crime figures, should the public trust the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, their local boroughs and a Government who have increased police strength from 27,536 in 1997 to more than 30,000 today? We know that one crime is one too many, but a crisis of confidence in policing stoked up by irresponsible comments also damages people's well-being. Instead, we should congratulate the police and praise the Government on the additional investment that has been made to improve the quality of life of Londoners.
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