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The statistics illustrate why Londoners rightly believe that they need and deserve tougher, more effective law
23 Apr 2008 : Column 1378
and order policies. We have set out such policies in the past few weeks. But we can only satisfy that demand by Londoners if we give the police the tools to do the job. We believe that a London Mayor must chair the Metropolitan Police Authority for the first time, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will do that in very short order. As a top priority, he will use his influence to cut red tape on our police men and women, so that they can get out on the streets and do the job that they so badly wish to do.

Secondly, the public spaces of buses, trains and railway stations must be made safer, with more visible police and new sanctions for offenders, especially those guilty of antisocial behaviour—something that my hon. Friend has spoken about powerfully and in detail in past weeks. We support him in that.

Thirdly, the levels of knife and gun crime in this city are unacceptable and must and, I trust, will be tackled by more weapons scanners—we can show how we would pay for those—and the reform of stop-and-search powers.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley)—not a London constituency. Did he—like the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), another non-London constituency—vote against introducing an automatic five-year sentence for possession of an illegal gun? Or is he, like the hon. Member for Henley, all words and no action?

Mr. Ruffley: That is a tired canard and it is not worth replying to it. We have gone round the track on that many times and the hon. Gentleman knows that it is a non-point. Londoners who are listening will not believe for a second that my party—the party of law and order—is soft compared with his lot, not just in the past 10 years but in the past 50 years.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Perhaps I can try the hon. Gentleman on this point. Does he agree with the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who opposes what he calls

basically, all the measures to do with antisocial behaviour—or not?

Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman will try anything on; if he wants to try that, he can forget it. Let us move on to some serious debate.

Fourthly, we believe in reorganising the mayoral financial budget to deliver long-term funding for neglected rape crisis centres. Finally, we believe that the police service in London can be made more accountable to Londoners by giving local communities, for the first time in this country and in this city, online crime maps that show the true levels of crime in every neighbourhood, which can ensure that borough commanders are held better to account at monthly open public beat meetings.

On the first of those issues, tougher law and order priorities have to be set by a new London Mayor. The Mayor has the right to do that under existing legislation by chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority, but he currently does not bother to do so. Is that because he does not take law and order seriously? That is what we
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think. We believe that a new Mayor could drive a new policing plan drawn up in consultation with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that will, as a priority, slash form filling. It is unacceptable that officers in London spend more time on paperwork than they do on the beat—about one hour in five is spent on the beat compared with the time spent doing other things. That is not acceptable.

Even the commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has said that the police need “a bonfire of bureaucracy”, yet Mr. Livingstone’s current policing plan up to 2010 does not list that as any kind of priority.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): As I am a London Member of Parliament, representing more than 100,000 Londoners, will the hon. Gentleman accept that although there are severe problems with which no politicians and police have yet dealt, such as gun crime and the deaths from such crime, he does this city no service by trading statistics that give a wrong impression in many respects and add to the fear of crime? Will he give a commitment that whoever wins the London mayoral election, whoever ends up on the Front Bench and whichever party is in government, his party will seek, along with the other two main parties, to agree the statistics? That would mean that this ridiculous debate, which goes on every year, could be put to bed and we could get on with discussing the issues rather than trading party political points across the Chamber.

Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman has made half of a good point, in the sense that there is confusion and a bit of argy-bargy about statistics. However, he should have listened carefully to what I was quoting, because he would have realised that the British crime survey and the Metropolitan Police Service are pretty objective sources of data, which the Labour party chooses to ignore when it suits them.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituents in Chipping Barnet that neither the Government nor the Mayor of London have taken any kind of effective action to tackle the growing problem of antisocial behaviour and crime on our bus network?

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I shall come specifically to the point about the rising number of code red calls and the increasing antisocial behaviour figures, provided by the MPS, which she rightly mentions.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment, in response to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), on Barnet council’s website, which says that there has been a 17.5 per cent. reduction in crime between 2005 and 2008? That is a Conservative authority.

Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman would do well to listen to the BCS London figures and the MPS figures that I have quoted. [ Interruption. ]

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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Can the debate be conducted in an orderly manner?

Mr. Ruffley: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that it is now time to—

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Ruffley: We could trade statistics all day— [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is obvious that the hon. Gentleman who is on his feet is not prepared to give way at this moment in time.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Solutions are surely what we should be talking about. They also represent a huge divide between the proposals of that lot on the Benches opposite and the constructive, well thought through and well funded proposals of the Conservative opposition in London and in the House of Commons.

Sir Ian Blair is right to identify the amount of paperwork as a problem for the police. How can we make some kind of dent in it? The Metropolitan Police Authority has talked endlessly about cutting the number of forms that need to be filled in, but it has never got around to doing anything about it. It is nonsense to say that it is not the MPA’s responsibility, but the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing could have done much more in that regard. Moreover, any go-getting and serious Mayor who cares about law and order could play a key role in getting police chiefs to cut the amount of paperwork that police have to complete. It can be done.

The Government have been havering about one particular proposal that has been made, but we have stated clearly and unambiguously that we will abolish the stop-and-account form. No ifs, buts, maybes or promises of a review: we will cut it. In the Met area last year, 384,115 people were stopped, and the form involved is a foot long. Estimates vary, but it can take as long as 25 minutes to fill it in. On that basis, we believe that more than 160,000 police hours were taken up last year by the need to fill in a form that we will abolish when we come into power.

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Leader of the Opposition was being extremely disingenuous when he held out a stop-and-account form? He allowed the carbon copy to fall open, but the form itself is not a foot long. The police say that it takes about four minutes on average to fill one in. Does he also accept that it is not too much to ask of a policeman that he spends four minutes establishing a rapport with the person being stopped and searched?

Mr. Ruffley: I direct the hon. Lady to the review by Sir Ronnie Flanagan that was published in the first week of February. I am sure that she has heard of it, but she should try to read it as well. In it, he talks in detail about the length of the form and how long it takes to fill it in. I agree with Sir Ronnie who, being a police officer and the chief of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, knows a bit more about
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these matters than anyone in this building. If she has a problem with the form, I suggest that she take it up with him.

A Conservative Government will get rid of the stop-and-account form, but we also believe that the stop and search procedure needs serious reform. An officer who stops and searches a member of the public will still need to record what we acknowledge will always be an intrusive procedure. However, not enough has been done by the Met or Ministers to put in place a system whereby the essential details of a search are radioed in to a police log at a call centre, where they could be taped.

Using that method, stop and searches would still be recorded, but in a paperless way. That would save time and bureaucracy and, under our proposal, a person unhappy about the circumstances of a search would still be entitled to visit a police station and request the information held about it. What could be easier than that? All that it requires is a bit of the political will so sadly lacking in the Labour party and in the London Mayor who, I believe, has held office for far too long.

With their new laws, targets and forms, this Labour Government have presided over piles of paperwork, both locally and nationally. The Minister repeatedly claims that 9,000 forms have been cut nationally, yet—amazingly—he refuses to publish the list. If his officials have counted that many forms, he must surely have such a list in his possession. Will he publish it today? I bet that the answer is no.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Earlier in his speech, the hon. Gentleman slipped in the remark that, if the Conservatives won the election, they would redistribute parts of the crime budget. That would be their prerogative, but the current Mayor has offered London boroughs some £79 million to help in the provision of youth facilities. In many cases, the areas that would benefit are the ones with the most gun crime. Would the Conservatives cut that money, or redistribute it away from those areas?

Mr. Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman asks a very long question, but it has a very simple answer: we will not cut that money.

London needs proper leadership from a new Mayor who is dedicated to helping the police, but the second problem has to do with how we can make trains and buses safer. In 2007, Mr. Livingstone stated:

I am afraid that the facts tell a radically different story. Tube crimes are on the increase, public disorder offences increased by 33 per cent. between 2005-06 and 2006-07, criminal damage was up by 36.9 per cent., and sex offences on the tube were up by 14.9 per cent. The source for that, if anyone really wants to trade statistics, is the British Transport police’s statistical bulletin 2006-07. I was with members of the British Transport police this very lunchtime, and they confirmed those figures to me personally. If any Labour Member wants to intervene on me, I am happy for them to do so. No? Okay.

Tube crime—up. Crime on the buses—up. The London assembly’s transport committee found at the beginning of the year that overall crime on buses
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increased by just over 17 per cent. between 2004-05 and 2005-06. The source for that is the committee’s report of January 2008.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ruffley: If it is to make an intervention on that point.

Ms Buck: I am grateful. If I heard him correctly, the hon. Gentleman was citing figures for 2004-05 and 2005-06. Actually, to give us a common baseline for the most recent year, the figures show an 11 per cent. fall in crime on London’s buses. That selective use of statistics, which he accuses other people of, calls his entire argument into disrepute.

Mr. Ruffley: Not in the least, because no one in this House, and I hope that the hon. Lady is not an exception, thinks that crime on the buses or on the tube— [Interruption.] Is it higher or lower than when the Mayor came into office? Right, okay. I think we have the answer to that.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): If we are going to trade statistics about the buses, I shall say that Transport for London’s latest press report on numbers, which had a 2006 baseline, indicating the year 2007 numbers, mentioned a 3.4 per cent. increase.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Assaults on the buses are up. TfL’s internal papers confirm that the most recent period showed a 10 per cent. increase in the number of assaults on passengers, staff and members of the public compared with the same period last year. The source for that is the surface advisory panel’s documents of 13 February 2008, page 49, for those who might be interested.

Antisocial behaviour on the buses is also up. Under-18s travel free on the buses in London, which is a good thing, but we all know that a minority of under-18s abuse that cherished privilege. TfL’s figures show that incidents of code red calls made by bus drivers in London due to antisocial behaviour increased from about 470 cases in August 2005 to 697 cases by the end of 2006. That is from the managing director’s report.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I am sure that my hon. Friend also recognises that many of the victims on buses are young. Often, they hope that adults on the bus will get involved, but adults these days do not want to. They feel completely on their own when they are confronted with such problems on buses.

Mr. Ruffley: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con) rose—

Mr. Ruffley: I was going to come on to my hon. Friend’s proposals to meet the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening).

Mr. Johnson: I agree deeply with my hon. Friend’s profound analysis of what is going wrong on London transport. The 100 per cent. tolerance of so-called minor disorder and minor crime on the buses and the tubes is aggravating more serious criminality on the streets and leading to the real scandal that a person is
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twice as likely to be mugged on our streets in London today as in New York. That is because we have 100 per cent. tolerance of so-called minor crime.

Mr. Ruffley: As ever, my hon. Friend gets it absolutely spot on. Like many on the Conservative Benches, he has learned the lesson that if one cracks down on so-called low-level crime in a zero-tolerance fashion, that inevitably leads to a cut in much more serious offences, as night follows day. That is what the empirical evidence around the world demonstrates. It is taking my hon. Friend to speak out and say that London needs a Mayor who believes in that policy. The current Mayor clearly and palpably does not.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Are not my hon. Friend’s last point and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) reinforced by the extraordinary development that, when a London headmaster wrote to the Mayor complaining of abuse of the free travel pass leading to attacks on the school pupils for whom he had responsibility, the Mayor’s response was to have the arrogance and temerity to describe that decent headmaster as a Victor Meldrew? What sort of political lead is that from the Mayor of London?

Mr. Ruffley: It is no kind of leadership and my hon. Friend’s point, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, speaks to arrogance and complacency about antisocial behaviour in public spaces, especially in London transport settings.

From the start of the travel pass scheme in September 2005 until July 2007, only 394 bus passes were permanently withdrawn from under-18s despite the fact that there is clearly a problem, as has been demonstrated both in Putney and in Bromley. The TfL behaviour code defines antisocial behaviour in ways we would all recognise—using offensive or threatening language, smoking, playing music very loudly, damaging or defacing photo cards, physical or verbal abuse, unlawfully carrying a weapon and drug use. TfL figures show the staggering statistic that 65 per cent. of Londoners have experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour on buses or tubes in the past two years—two out of three Londoners. That is a fatally depressing statistic of which Mr. Livingstone should be wholly ashamed.

We need a new London Mayor to tackle that level of dissatisfaction.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is not surprising that the Mayor is not in sympathy with the naturally law-abiding citizens of London because in earlier years he preferred to spend time with Sinn Fein rather than with Ulster’s police force. London people were prepared to forgive him that and give him a chance. They hoped that he had changed; but as he has shown that currently he prefers the company of homophobic, hate-filled extremists to that of people interested in community safety we can see why his character is not suitable to be Mayor of the city.

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend makes a typically powerful point. The current London Mayor—I hope we do not have him for too long—is tolerant not only of low-level crime but of serious crime and he should go.

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