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I was impressed by it. It is not cheap, and the Conservative council should be commended for saying that there should be more spending. I know
that the Minister is allegedly sceptical. We must wait for the evaluation, but what I saw in Hammersmith and Fulham confirmed for me the key point that having more police on the beat more often reduces crime and, crucially, reassures Londonerscertainly in Shepherds Bush, which I know well for various reasons.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned bureaucracy and red tape. His party, rightly in my opinion, introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which at the time of its introduction was attacked on precisely the grounds to which he has referred today. Does he propose to repeal PACE?
Mr. Ruffley: Absolutely not. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act was a Conservative piece of criminal justice legislation which, as everyone agreesthe Minister and I have debated thisis one of the jewels in the crown. In terms of red tape, let us consider the Auld review, which resulted in statutory charging, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. They are the measures that are causing more red tape to be heaped on the police, not PACE, and no Conservative Member has ever suggested otherwise.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): In the context of a police presence in our communities, does my hon. Friend recognise the crucial role of local police stations? There is concern about that in my community, not least in Southgate, where the police station is threatened with closure by a centralised asset-management strategy. Surely we should take more account of local communities, and follow the lead of our hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who wishes to keep police stations such as Southgate open.
Mr. Ruffley: In the past 10 years, under this Government, there have been net falls across the country, including London. I think that many Londoners will be reassured if they see more police stations or police outposts than there are now, and I look forward to the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Henley is Mayor of London and can drive that policy forward.
Bureaucracy results in about one hour in five of a patrol officers time being spent on the street as distinct from other important work. We need to address that low figure and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley has given some practical ways of doing so. I do not accept some of the sniping from Labour Members; of course my hon. Friend is right to say that press officer and advertising spend for Transport for London can be reduced in order to increase the number of PCSOs. He is right to say that more British Transport Police officers at railway stations can be funded by looking at the Metropolitan Police Service overhead budget for spin doctors and advertising. Who could possibly disagree with that kind of common-sense Conservatism?
More police can be put back on the beat, but not by general imprecations that it might be nice to have less
red tape. We are arguing purposefullymy hon. Friend is doing so in Londonfor the abolition of the stop and account form and to make the stop and search form recordable in digitised form.
Mr. Ruffley: That has not been done; there is no sense in which the stop and search form is a paperless transaction. If the Minister thinks that it is, he should get out more. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley is putting forward that policy as a practical way to cut red tape and to get more police back on the beat in London.
It is also fair to say something about PCSOs, for whom we see a strong role. It is regrettable hat the Government ditched their 2005 goal to recruit 6,389 new PCSOs in London. The figure will be about 5,562, lower than what the Government promisedanother broken Labour promise.
maintaining police numbers at their current level is not sustainable over the course of the next three years... we would not be making the most effective use of the resources dedicated to the police if police officer numbers were sustained at their current level.
Do the Minister and his London colleagues agree with that? Does the Minister think police officer numbers in London are unsustainable in London over the next three years? Let us hear about that. If we want visible policing on the streets of London, we need to know the Governments intentions on police strength: more, fewer or about the same? Flanagan says the numbers have to be cut; what does the Minister think?
Richard Ottaway: In London, which has huge diversity, only 20 per cent. of police officers are female and only 8 per cent. are of black and minority ethnic origin. Should not that be addressed? I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley will do so.
Mr. Ruffley: It is an important point on which there is cross-party agreement. The chief constable of Cheshire, Peter Fahey, is the ACPO lead on the issue and I have had many fruitful discussions on this. There is cross-party understanding that BME recruitment to the Met has gone up under Sir Ian Blairs leadership, for which he should be given credita high proportion of PCSOs are from BME backgroundsbut that that is not reflected in the ranks of constables or sergeants. More needs to be done and I know that the liberal-minded, socially concerned leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley when he becomes London Mayor will be addressing that. He is an inclusive, modernising and very much forward-looking Conservative.
The 101 non-emergency number is something on which I thought there was cross-party consensus. The London Labour manifesto said that it would be rolled out across the whole of London. Instead, because of budget cuts, the Met itself is funding a small roll-out in three London boroughs. That is not what citizens were promised by the Labour Government; many want a non-emergency number to report things such as antisocial behaviour. What are the Government doing about that broken promise as well as all the others?
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): This is a very opportune time to have this debate, with the Metropolitan police at its highest ever strength, with crime falling fastby 19 per cent. over the last five yearsand with Londoners soon to face a choice between a Mayor who has built up the Met and a Conservative party that has consistently voted for cuts in its budget; between a candidate who has cut crime and has good community relations, and a candidate with no new ideas who has alienated the minorities in our city.
We now have 10,000 more police and PCSOs than there were in 2000, with dedicated safer neighbourhood teams in every ward. This includes 850 extra officers keeping the bus network safe and 700 British transport policeup by 300 since 2000keeping the underground and the Docklands light railway safe. Police numbers are now at their highest level ever, at over 35,000, including 31,304 police officers and 4,178 PCSOs. This is the result of the investment by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and the Government, after a decade in which numbers were in continual decline under the previous Government. The Mayors budget for next yearassuming he is re-elected, which I am sure he will bewill provide for an extra 1,000 police officers over the next 12 months in the new financial year.
Yet we have seen London Conservatives consistently opposing more funding for the police. The Tories on the London Assembly voted against Mr. Livingstones budgets that pay for extra police and safer neighbourhood teams in every ward. Tory GLA Member Richard Barnes has openly said of the police in London that
I dont think so much money should be spent on them.
We have got to be absolutely clear where the scope for real economies is and the real big ticket for spending is the Metropolitan police and Transport for London. Thats where the real savings, believe me, are to be found.
The hon. Gentleman will get his chance later. He is aiming to cut the Mets reserve budget for major incidents such as a terrorist attack. His pledge, as
we heard earlier, for 440 extra PCSOs is based on numbers that simply do not add up, and on out-of-date budgets.
People are also interested in what is happening in their own boroughs. In my borough of Barnet, we now have 532 police officers and 147 PCSOs, which we never used to have. Not only that, but great progress has been made on sickness absence, for example. We now have one of the best records in the Met, which means that we see much more of our police officers than used to be the case.
The real success story is that of the safer neighbourhood teams. We have large wards in Barnet, so our teams are six PCSOs, two constables and a sergeant. They are now working from 8am to midnight on rotas and shifts set by the sergeant in accordance with local demand.
Stephen Pound: This morning, I was out with the Perivale safer neighbourhoods team on what we call a partnership day. Virtually everybody has talked about feet on the street and bobbies on the beat in the same way as they talk about motherhood and apple pie, but can my hon. Friend ever remember, while we have been denizens of this city, a time when there have been so many police officers and support officers on the street? Why does he think that increase has happened?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It has happened because the Mayor of London, working with the Labour Government, has worked hardin the teeth of Tory Oppositionto make sure that the money is available to bring in the project for safer neighbourhood teams in advance of the national roll-out. The Mayor and the Government are to be commended on that.
It is also important to recognise how approachable safer neighbourhood teams are. Not only are their mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses well publicised, the names of the officers are well known locally. I personally would like to pay tribute to Sergeants Lachlan, Mitham, Peyton, French, Simpson, Mather and Reid, who have done a great job in making sure that they are well known in their wards and approachable by local communities. They provide reassurance and enforcement against antisocial behaviour. What is more, working on safer neighbourhood teams has proved very popular with officers as well. For once, there is real stability in police and PCSO staffing out on the streets. They operate from local bases in local wards. Far more can be provided through such local bases than via the old police stations, which are often further afield.
In my constituency, the safer neighbourhood teams have worked effectively on youth diversion projects. I particularly commend the Edgware SNT for its work in that respect. It is a pity that Conservative Barnet council has not supported its efforts sufficiently, for example in trying to bring Pavilion Way fieldsnear where I liveback into use, after it had lain derelict for years under the Conservatives. Police constables have worked hard to bring those fields back into action, but all the council wants to do is flog them off so that property speculators can build houses on them.
Our SNTs have been effective in combating mini-motos and dealing with dangerous dogs, in spite of lack of effort by the Conservative council, which will
not bring in dog control zones. The hon. Member for Henley has left the Chamber, which shows that he is no longer interested in policing London, but it is my understanding that he opposed what he called the new anti-yobbo programme, which included powers to deal with dangerous dogs. I can tell him that dangerous dogs are a major issue in my constituency, featuring on the front page of the local newspapersyet he talks about legislative coercion.
Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition have not prioritised the issue of antisocial behaviour, and that it remains the case that only Labour in London, and the Government, are doing anything to deal with the real problems on our estates across the capital?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Perhaps that is because the people whom we represent tend to be more on the receiving end of antisocial behavioursuch as noise nuisance, dangerous dogs and children running wild. When I hear that the hon. Member for Henley does not even think that CCTV is importanthe sees it as an erosion of libertyI wonder how he has the gall to say he wants to be Mayor of London, as so many of our streets could benefit from having CCTV cameras, and that is a popular demand that we hear all the time from our constituents.
Clive Efford: On the subject of CCTV cameras, when we had a problem with vandalism on the busessomething the hon. Member for Henley has made a great deal ofone of the things the bus drivers demanded and got from the Mayor of London was CCTV on the buses. I dare say if the hon. Gentleman does not consider CCTV cameras important, he does not consider them important for dealing with antisocial behaviour on buses either.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The fact remains that there is now CCTV on every bus in London. That is a major improvement not only in terms of safety on the buses, but for public transport more widely.
Boris will fund a trial of live CCTV on the 20 most dangerous routes
We will cut the Transport for London advertising budget by £16.5 million to pay for the PCSOs and the CCTV trial.
Mr. Dismore: As was said earlier, that cannot be paid for in the way that the hon. Member for Henley proposes. However, the fact remains that he has called CCTV an erosion of liberty. How he squares his circle is for him to justify. He is not here to answer that particular point for himself. That is a pity, because on the one hand he says it is an erosion of liberty, but on the other he says he wants to have more CCTV. That is another example of Tory flip-flopping from day to day.
Against the background of increased priority for, and investment in, the police, there has been a significant fall in crime for the fifth year in a row. It is now at the lowest level since 1999. We can argue about statistics, but those pre-2002 are not comparable. There has been a 19 per cent. fall in murders. Gun crime is down 22 per cent., robbery down 12 per cent., rape down 25 per cent., grievous bodily harm down 10 per cent., domestic violence down 15 per cent. and knife crime down by 18 per cent. since its peak in 2004.
I can also give the figures for my borough, which are BCS statistics; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not want to challenge them, either. I pay tribute again to Chief Superintendent Kavanagh, my borough commander, who has proved to be an inspirational leader. He is very accessible and popular in our community. In the current year there has been an 8 per cent. fall in crime, on top of 16 per cent. in the whole of last year24 per cent. in total in less than two years. Mugging is down 5.9 per cent.
Mr. Dismore: Violent crime is down by 4 per cent. We have had a particular problem with burglary, especially violent burglary, with a couple of gangs who have been targeting Jewish families. That is a very serious matter, but it appears that those gangs have now been caught and their members are subject to trial, so I will not say anything further about it.
We have also seen significant success in dealing with alcohol-fuelled crime over the Christmas period. The number of offences fell from 158 in 2006 to only 90 in 2007, and there has been a fall in actual bodily harm of 61 per cent. over two years. That is a great tribute to the style of policing we now have in Barnet.
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