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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): May I at the outset express my appreciation, as a resident in London, of the excellent service leadership given by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, whom I got to know during the parliamentary police service scheme—a scheme that I would recommend most warmly to Members—and say what a fine example he gave, and how pleased I am that he has received a peerage? I am encouraged by the initial step taken by his successor, Sir Ian Blair, in declaring unequivocally that he is not prepared to tolerate the use of soft drugs for so-called recreational purposes. The drugs problem is at the heart of so much of the criminality in London that I am glad that he is placing the emphasis on tackling it and making no serious distinction between soft and hard. We all realise that the misuse of substances and soft drugs leads ultimately to the use of hard drugs. The effect on personality and health of the use of soft drugs is a grave phenomenon.

Sir John Stevens and the Metropolitan Police Authority, as well as representatives from my own borough and others, may have argued for a generous settlement for the Metropolitan police—I think that 5.8 per cent. from the Home Office is all to the good—but as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington
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(Mr. Horam), who represents a constituency not so different from mine—albeit that it is at the other extremity of the capital—pointed out, citizens in the capital do not see the direct benefit in policing terms of the huge extra taxes that they are paying for the police. I refer especially to local taxes and the 49 per cent. that is raised through local taxation. Of course, the precept in London is particularly severe, inasmuch as we have to pay for the Mayor's extravagances as well.

I referred to the fact that drug-related offences are such a serious phenomenon in the capital. I find it perverse that the Government should have made it more difficult for police officers to stop and search individuals in the street on grounds of suspicion. It is not only gun crime that is increasing. More and more young people carry knives and are prepared to use them, and there is also a continuing terrorist threat. In those circumstances, the suggestion that the police should have a disincentive to stop and search on the ground of suspicion—that disincentive being all the form filling and reporting that they will now have to carry out—is woefully misguided. I hope that the Government will reconsider their policy on this matter.

Mr. Gale: It is not only a matter of stopping and searching. The stop and search form has been around for a long time, but if a constable stops anybody at all in virtually any circumstances, they will now have to fill in a form. As my hon. Friend says, that is a huge disincentive.

Mr. Wilkinson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with professional experience in these matters.

We must also consider these matters in the context of antisocial behaviour—the plague that bedevils so many of our communities. Here again, the ability of police officers to stop young people, caution them and see whether they have broken bottles or indeed knives hidden about their persons is an important operational capability that is being made less likely to be used by the policy adopted by Her Majesty's Government.

What really concerns me is that the police service should be able to attract personnel of the highest quality. I was impressed by the men and women, including civilian support personnel, whom I met during my attachment earlier in this Parliament to the Metropolitan police, but I think that we need a fairly radical personnel policy to encourage high flyers, stimulate leadership and offer a more flexible career pattern than is offered at present. The Government have embarked on the recruitment of large numbers of community support officers, and they are welcome as far as they go. Their powers are limited, particularly in the field of arrest, and rightly so in view of the relatively limited training that they receive.

I would advocate the reinstitution of cadet college training of the kind that used to exist at Hendon in the old days. Older members of the service say that graduates of the police cadet college had discipline and a commitment to the service, and that they exercised leadership throughout the force that exceeded the influence that one might expect given that relatively few enjoyed that excellent training. We should start a scheme of that kind again. I know that the police service is attracting graduates, which is welcome, and that they
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go on the beat like everyone else, but a police academy could provide a worthwhile long period of indoctrination to instil in people the ethos, discipline and concepts of modern policing.

I also suggest that we should have police reservist personnel. A flexible career structure would mean that people might feel that they wished to enter other walks of life. If the pension system were modified so that it became fully portable and funded so that the cost to the Exchequer were reduced, individuals could spend a few years in the police service before going off into other careers. As with the Territorial Army, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Naval Reserve, such people could continue to exercise the full capabilities of their training in an operational capacity. They could be used at weekends, or times of emergency, specific difficulties or a terrorist threat—whenever that might be. Such a structure would add to the spectrum of capabilities in the police service, but we have utilised it to date only in Northern Ireland. The system worked extremely well there so we should implement it in our police forces, perhaps starting with the Metropolitan police.

If the system were to be successful, the regulars—the long-term careerists—would need to regard reservists as equal partners in the task of policing. Reservists would have had more training than specials, who have a valuable role, as exemplified by that performed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) on behalf of the British Transport police. However, specials, like CSOs, have limited functions, but reservist police personnel could fulfil all functions because they would have the same training and background as their counterparts in the regular force. They should be paid at the full rate for the rank that they exercise while on duty. Such a system would require an imaginative approach, and I am sure that a change to pension arrangements would be necessary. I would be interested to hear the Minister's plans for the future of the police service pension scheme because we need more precision and detail than she was able to spell out in the limited time available earlier.

May I stress a couple of points that have been brought home to me by the admirable performance of the local chief inspector in Hillingdon, Mark Toland, who has tried to increase police presence on the ground—not only on the beat—by keeping police stations open for longer? That is important because there should be the footprint of police stations to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred in his eloquent and well-informed speech. It is important for the general public to be able to see a uniformed officer. They should be seen not by a volunteer—volunteers do a wonderful job, as do civilian personnel such as clerks, typists and administrators—but by a fully trained policeman. If the career pattern were radically changed, reservists or older officers could do that job. I suggest that officers should be able to serve for longer if they remain fit and motivated so that relatively sedentary tasks can be fulfilled by people with real operational experience and an understanding of how to relate to the general public.
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Neighbourhood policing is going fairly well, but there is an awfully long way to go. Unless we adopt the radical personnel policies that I have adumbrated, or something of the kind, I cannot see that it will be possible easily to provide the extra manpower that is needed. My party is committed to providing 40,000 extra police. That is a wonderful commitment that will, I am sure, have the support of many people up and down the country. In making it, however, I ask my hon. Friends to consider the reservist concept to determine whether, in their judgment, it makes sense, and to think about allowing police officers who are fit and motivated to serve for longer.

The career development of police personnel must continue throughout their careers. Bramshill police college is instrumental in that purpose, and it is an admirable institution. However, I suggest that senior reservist police personnel should also be enabled to attend courses there when they reach the higher ranks, and likewise that reservist personnel should be able to go to Hendon cadet college for refresher training to keep them up to date.

There are many measures that we can pursue. I am sure that under the capable stewardship of my party, and with the ideas that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) put forward in his excellent speech, the British public can have hope and confidence that the police service will be as good in future as it used to be in the past when we had a Tory Administration.

4.26 pm

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