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27 Mar 2008 : Column 373

Clive Efford: Before the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) became the candidate for London Mayor, he mentioned London in the House only once.

Mr. Slaughter: His financial illiteracy extends not only to policing, as we have heard. The Conservative spokesman tried to wriggle out of this, but I was actually there—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I said earlier in the debate that the manifestos of individual candidates must not be given. I am trying to chair this debate as evenly and fairly as I can.

Mr. Slaughter: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman specifically said that his party’s candidate would introduce an extra 440 officers, paid for out of a fund that does not exist. I was there when the hon. Member for Henley explained that and talked about an increase in funding through public relations—a budget that simply does not exist. Like all the protestations made by that Oxfordshire Member, these are magical figures. His budget for additional spending for buses was said to be £8 million yet the true cost was £110 million.

Harry Cohen: You are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to admonish my hon. Friend for referring to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). May I bring him back to the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and his achievement in bringing racist crime down by 55 per cent. since 2000? Is that not some achievement in the context of 7/7 and the danger of a backlash? Should not communities in London be aware of that and praise him for it?

Mr. Slaughter: I agree. Racist crime in London has fallen by 55 per cent. since 2000. I do not need to say much about that because, as Doreen Lawrence and others have said, the record of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London in tackling racist and other hate crimes in London is exemplary. There could not be a starker comparison with the record of the hon. Member for Henley, who made offensive and racist comments of a kind that he now tries to pass off as a joke. [ Interruption. ] Well, he did.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw those remarks.

Mr. Slaughter: I withdraw those remarks and replace them with the words that he actually used. He used the expressions “piccaninny” and “watermelon smile”.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman withdraw that remark and move on in his speech.

Mr. Slaughter: I did move on, but—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw.”] I withdraw the comment that I made; I will let the words speak for themselves. The hon. Member for Henley tried to resile from those words and say that they were a joke. I think that when the people on London have a chance to vote on 1 May, they will treat him as a joke.

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2.21 pm

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): It is right that Conservative Members should record all the hard work of the police—the City force, the Metropolitan police and British Transport police—in ensuring that they provide a level of safety and security. That does not mean that we should not examine the figures and highlight some of the points that hon. Members have made: that London has higher levels of crime than the rest of the UK and that since 2000, drug offences have doubled, robberies have increased by 12 per cent. and violent crime has risen by a fifth.

That is why we need change and why the Mayor’s record, whatever he may say about it, does not bear scrutiny. It is why so many people in my constituency and many others in London do not feel safe out on the streets. The polls that have been taken show that nearly half of Londoners do not feel safe in their community. That is a terrible record and shows what this Mayor has not done to ensure that people feel safe and secure in their communities, homes and streets, whether during the day or during the night. It is quite telling that the Home Secretary herself does not feel safe on the streets of London at night, except perhaps on one of her regular runs to the kebab shop with her security police in tow. Perhaps that is the latest initiative to make London’s streets safer.

There are serious issues to consider, particularly about crime that affects our young people. It would be remiss not to focus on the teenage murders that have taken place in the past year—27 young lives lost on the streets of our capital. Sadly, there have been nine murders of young people already this year.

Mr. Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend agree that such tragic murders give rise to the perception—the Minister may be correct that it is a perception rather than a reality—that crime is out of control? That is what happens when we see young, 15 or 16-year-old boys with guns and knives killing each other in the streets or homes of London. Does he agree that we ought to be doing a lot more about that, rather than just bandying around statistics? We should at least try to understand why the public at large have such grave concerns.

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point. One of the most disturbing trends that we have seen in recent years in violent crime and gun crime is that both the victims and the perpetrators are getting younger. The trend analysis from the Metropolitan police’s Trident unit, which investigates crime among London’s black communities, shows a clear drop in the ages of victims. In 2003, 16 per cent. of victims were under the age of 20; by 2006 that proportion had nearly doubled to 31 per cent. In evidence to the recent Select Committee on Home Affairs inquiry on young black people and the criminal justice system, Superintendent Leroy Logan, deputy borough commander in Hackney, told the Committee about

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Robert Neill: Does my hon. Friend agree that the very real concern that he highlights has regrettably been exacerbated, particularly in some parts of outer London, by the amount of disorder that has occurred on buses following the introduction of free travel? Does he agree that it is regrettable that, rather than find a practical means of policing the issue, the Mayor has sought to denigrate the comments of head teachers in my constituency and others by calling them Victor Meldrews, when they are actually raising concerns to seek the protection of the young people for whom they have responsibility?

James Brokenshire: Crime among young people is a real problem. We need to be careful in how we phrase our comments, because young people are most likely to be the victims of crime, particularly crimes such as personal robbery. Yet the British crime survey does not even take account of crime against the under-16s. Even though the issue has been raised on many occasions, the Home Secretary is still sitting on her hands in relation to whether to take proper account of such issues.

Bus crime is a real factor, certainly in my area of Havering, an outlying London borough, where we have a number of code reds and significant bus crime problems. The way in which the bus policy was introduced, without proper consideration of the sanctions that should be imposed against those who breach conditions and do not properly follow the rules attached to Oyster cards, was wholly irresponsible on the Mayor’s part. It does not help that the commissioner of Transport for London has made ridiculous comments about and criticisms of the police when they have raised what I regard as legitimate concerns about the bus fleet in London. He has suggested that the money for the transport operational command unit should in some way be reduced or taken away. It is quite something that the debate has gone in such a direction.

Simon Hughes: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the police and London Members across the party divide believe that a real difficulty is that many people will not come forward to give evidence, because they do not feel safe? One of the priorities for reducing crime, particularly very serious crime such as gun and knife crime and sexual offences, should be a better system of witness protection. Does he agree that that is a huge priority across the country in general and specifically in Greater London?

James Brokenshire: The whole issue of witness protection is extremely important, particularly in the case of gang crime. A real fear resides in a lot of our communities. The sad fact is that in too many of the communities across our capital city, the basic concept of civil society—the protection offered by law of the basic right to live free from intimidation, violence and fear—has been perverted by the activities of serious criminal gangs, acting with little or no conscience and with no sense of responsibility to anyone other than themselves. They prey on some of the most vulnerable young people in our community, and the active recruitment process that they go through is organised and serious. That is why it is so important to focus and
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bear down on gang crime, which has sadly taken the lives of so many young people in our capital city and continues to do so.

Harry Cohen: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I know that time is short. He is making some good and important points about gang crime. In that context, will he praise the current Mayor for his £79 million London youth offer, which is intended to get youth facilities in the most deprived areas? I do not know the Conservatives’ position—whether they would match that or skew money away from those deprived areas. Can he tell us something about that?

James Brokenshire: We need to focus on proper policing on the streets. That is why I support measures that cut bureaucracy and mean that police are on the streets, not sitting back in police stations dealing with forms. The police need to be visible, because that provides reassurance. As we have heard, only a fifth of the police’s time is spent out in the communities, but that is where they need to be to ensure that our streets are safer.

The Flanagan review said that police numbers were unsustainable. That poses a real question about the embedding of community policing. I believe in community policing, but I am concerned that the police do not have the time to spend out on the streets. I am worried about the future of policing in our communities and how we can make the streets of London safe.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the current arrangements, whereby police are based in wards instead of in proper communities, are a nonsense? In Havering, for example, it is ridiculous that areas such as Collier Row or Elm Park, which are divided between wards, have two different community police teams. The boundaries are based on electoral numbers rather than the needs of the local community.

James Brokenshire: We need to ensure that there is more local control over policing priorities, to ensure that they do not get distracted. For many people, crime and antisocial behaviour are real fears in our capital city. That is why the current policies are failing and the current Mayor is failing, and that is why we need a change.

2.30 pm

Mr. McNulty: I apologise for calling you Madam Mayor earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) said, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) made some serious and interesting points. When it comes to the detail of debates on policing in London, people can see that there is much more on the agenda that unites London Members than divides us. How did we get to where we are now? It is not good enough for hon. Members to run down London for electoral gain, as people have clearly done, or to run down our police in London. There is a fine line between traducing individual policies of the Metropolitan Police Service and traducing what
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the brave men and women in uniform do on London’s streets every day. At least some Opposition Members crossed that line.

Nor is it appropriate to run scare campaigns wrapped up in irrelevant statistics. There is enough to unite us when it comes to crime in London, because it is not going to disappear overnight on anybody’s watch. Like all hon. Members, I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the level of homicide among young people, especially gang-related homicide, but that should not lead us to presume that homicide levels in London are mushrooming. They are not; the figures are going the other way, and that should be recognised.

Sustained investment in London policing is now reflected in the numbers, and officers are coming out on to the streets more and more, whatever the hon. Gentleman says about half-developed plans to cut bureaucracy and get rid of paperwork. Policing in London has seen success in falling crime rates, and I am not being complacent in saying that. Those are the facts, and indeed violent crime has fallen considerably, whatever he says. Shroud-waving and scare campaigns do him no credit.

Transport safety is now significantly better, especially in outer London, my own borough included. Neighbourhood policing and safer neighbourhood teams have also been a huge success. By any measure, significant progress has been achieved throughout London, based on what the Mayor has done over the past eight years. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) that that work has increasingly had the indulgence and active support of councils of whatever hue, working with the safer neighbourhood teams and embracing neighbourhood policing in all its concepts.

I can tell the hon. Member for Upminster—

Andrew Rosindell: For Romford.

Mr. McNulty: I apologise: the hon. Gentleman looks nothing like the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). I can tell him that it is well within the scope of borough commanders to determine whether ward teams should work together and ensure that areas are covered geographically rather than on a ward basis.

All the success in policing and our future progress in that area is rooted in the success that the Mayor and Sir
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Ian Blair have achieved over the past eight years, and that should be commended. No matter where people want to go next, they should commend and recognise the great record of the Metropolitan police in London. London is very different from how it was 10 or 15 years ago—and I would say that no matter which party ran the Greater London council or central Government back then. Our task as London MPs is to work with the Mayor to build on that, and to ensure that our investment is returned in style. We must work closely with those responsible for community safety, and with local government, to make sure that that is the case.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proce edings, the motion lapsed, with out Question put, pursuant to Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In no way is this meant as a criticism of the Chair, but in the 90-minute debate that we just had, there were no time limits on Back-Benchers’ contributions, although there were such limits for Front Benchers, and that meant that three quarters of the Members who wished to make contributions were unable to do so. Will you speak to Mr. Speaker to try to ensure that in future, when there is great demand to speak, as there is in topical debates on London, there are time limits on Back-Benchers’ contributions?

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I came to the Chamber for business questions two weeks ago and asked for today’s debate, and the Leader of the House said that she would take up the issue, yet due to the shortage of time I was not able to contribute, so I feel slightly aggrieved, too. If time limits could be considered, I would support the idea.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand the concerns of hon. Members who sought to take part in the debate and were not able to do so, but when a debate is only one and a half hours long, and obviously must include Front-Benchers’ contributions, there is a problem. The points that both hon. Gentlemen made are now on record, and I am sure that they will be taken into consideration in future.

27 Mar 2008 : Column 379

Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund

2.36 pm

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): I beg to move,

It gives me great pleasure to move the motion, and I am delighted to see that my colleague and fellow trustee, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), is present; he is one of the most assiduous trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund. The motion proposes that the hon. Members for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) and for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) be discharged as managing trustees of the parliamentary pension fund and be replaced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) and the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig).

May I say how much I appreciated the work of the hon. Members for Bradford, North and for South Ribble? They have been excellent trustees and have given great service to the fund. It is not always appreciated how much time right hon. and hon. Members, often with extremely busy parliamentary lives, have to give up to serve as trustees. I should like to pay tribute to, and show my appreciation for, the service that they have given the fund. I hope that the two new trustees—excellent choices—who will be appointed if the motion is approved by the House will enjoy a similarly rewarding, but rather busy, service as trustees of the fund.

2.38 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) has set out the background to the motion. Two trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund—my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney)—have indicated that after four years, their time as trustees should now come to an end. I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking them for all the work that they have undertaken in that role, and indeed I thank all the trustees of the pension fund, who do that work on behalf of all of us.

Following discussions, it is proposed that the two trustees be replaced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). Again, I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our gratitude to them for taking on that responsibility. I invite the House to support the motion.

2.39 pm

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