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23 Apr 2008 : Column 1384

In addition to the sanctions we believe should be attendant on under-18s’ antisocial misbehaviour, which breaks the behaviour code, there should be permanent withdrawal of their bus passes until they participate in a restorative justice programme to earn them back. That is an excellent and original idea proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley.

As well as those sanctions, we want more police visibility, which we can pay for in part by employing fewer press and communications officers. According to the Central Office of Information, Mr. Livingstone has more press officers than the Prime Minister, although as his popularity rating is almost as dire as the Prime Minister’s we might wonder whether that is a good use of Londoners’ money. Transport for London forecasts that it will spend £66 million on advertising, marketing and communications in 2007-08. It would be a sensible idea to cap that spending in real terms rather than going ahead with the £84 million requested by Mr. Livingstone. Those figures are from the Greater London authority group budget report, 2008-09. Under our proposal, £16.5 million of the money saved would be redirected to the existing safer transport teams and would pay for approximately 440 police community support officers, delivering more visible presence on our transport network—approximately doubling their strength.

Police support officers are valued by the Conservatives; they could particularly help to crack down on one of the low-level issues identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley—fare evasion. Why? Punish the smaller offences and the larger ones will diminish in number. The example that we have already mentioned is New York, but there are other examples in cities around the world.

In 2006, fare evasion in London rose from about 2.3 per cent. to 3.18 per cent on conventional buses, with a cost to the taxpayer of £36.7 million. On bendy buses, fare evasion rose by a much bigger amount, rising from 7.8 per cent. to 9.3 per cent. That is more than double the rate on conventional buses. Those are figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley has delved into, and they are quite worrying. The revenue loss on bendy buses alone was £8 million, and the total loss for all buses was in the region of £46 million. That is about £1 million a week in lost revenue. Every criminal who evades their fare and is not caught is a criminal who may have form for more serious offences, so the issue is not just about lost revenue.

TFL deploys about 300 revenue protection inspectors on its entire bus network, about 200 revenue control officers on the underground, and about 200 traffic enforcement staff. Considering that there are about 7,700 normal buses and about 300 bendy buses, there is a minimal chance of people being caught, and offenders know it. We hope that a new London Mayor will be able to direct the Metropolitan Police Authority to investigate, in partnership with TFL, giving revenue protection inspectors new and better powers, including, for the first time, the power to take names and addresses, so fare-dodgers can truly be held to account.

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): I should tell the hon. Gentleman that we have police community support officers on our buses already. I am all in favour of dealing with what he calls low-level crime, but no one
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could take seriously what he and his party’s mayoral candidate say about policing in London and about chairing the MPA unless they answer the serious questions that they are trying to dodge. Why did he and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) vote against mandatory five-year sentences for illegally carrying a gun? Why did the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) vote against antisocial behaviour legislation? Admittedly, the hon. Member for Henley makes a very good game show host, but I do not think that he is a serious candidate for London Mayor.

Mr. Ruffley: I am afraid that that was not a serious intervention.

Moving on from buses to suburban railway stations, the London assembly’s transport committee recently expressed its dismay at the “glaring loopholes” often

in relation to suburban railway stations. Many outer London station platforms are often unmanned by quite an early time in the evening.

As I have said, I had the privilege of visiting the British Transport police today; I was with them up until this debate started. They cover a huge rail network, which extends way beyond London, with a mere 427 fully warranted officers and 303 PCSOs and support staff. In 2003-04, just over 15,000 offences were committed at overground stations, but by 2005-06, that figure had risen to more than 19,300. We propose that about £3.1 million earmarked for the MPS advertising and spin doctor budget be released to fund approximately 50 extra fully warranted officers.

Those new officers could patrol suburban station platforms, particularly the stations with the highest levels of crime. We are talking about not just the inner city but the outer parts of London, which, sadly, the Mayor treats with arrogant disdain. He seems to think that his heartlands are in the allegedly tough, hard areas of the inner city. We want some attention to be paid to the suburbs of this great city, and the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley would ensure just that.

Closed circuit television has been deployed and used by the London authorities, but we believe that more can be done. We propose that £150,000—a modest sum that could be found from the more wasteful parts of the Mayor’s already rather wasteful budget—be used for a CCTV trial for 20 of the most dangerous bus routes in London, lasting approximately six months. The capital cost for new equipment is about £3,000 to £3,500 a bus. Running costs for the cameras, aside from the capital element, would be about £45.

Mr. Boris Johnson: It may help my hon. Friend to know that the proposal is for live CCTV on buses. As I think the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) is about to say, there already is CCTV on buses, but in only 5 per cent. of cases is that CCTV made available when a crime has been committed.

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend anticipates me. Our proposal is for instant access real-time live CCTV. It has taken my hon. Friend to come up with this innovative idea. The Mayor has had eight years in which to roll it out. Instant access real-time live CCTV would be particularly useful where a code red call is
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received. We could then prioritise calls that required emergency police assistance. Subject to the trial working as we believe it will, police officers would have the ability to dial into the system to see what was going on in real time, using mobile technology where that was available.

The police could also record the footage in real time and use it as instant evidence, rather than having to wait for the bus companies to send them recorded footage, as they do at present, which wastes huge amounts of time. I heard only this morning that one of the problems—an evidential problem—is that often the Crown Prosecution Service will not charge until it has reviewed the CCTV evidence, which can take weeks to reach the CPS and the police at the station. Everybody knows that. My hon. Friend has a solution to the problem; the Labour party in London has had eight years and done nothing about it.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to see the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee in our inquiry on the surveillance society? He is right. There is a demand for more cameras, but there are additional costs in viewing the footage. It is not just a matter of installing the cameras and making sure that the footage is viewed live. The resources are needed to enable people to look at that footage before they make the decision to prosecute.

Mr. Ruffley: The right hon. Gentleman is right, but he surely recognises that viewing must take place anyway. We argue that real time gives advantages, and that waiting three weeks for the hard copy to arrive through the post is not acceptable. I am not entirely sure that I understand his point.

Thirdly, we propose that new measures on violent crime, particularly in relation to knife and gun crime, be taken. On the Mayor’s own figures, 10 gun crimes a day take place in London, which is higher than when he took office. We believe that more should be done in relation to hand-held scanners. We all know that the British Transport police began Operation Shield in London to tackle the scourge of the carrying of offensive weapons, through the use of hand-held metal detectors and walk-through detection arches.

We have looked at the Metropolitan Police Authority reserve, particularly the contingency reserve where we believe that 2 per cent. of net revenue is squirreled away. The current budget proposal includes a reserve of about 2.4 per cent. We would reduce that to 2.3 per cent. That could release up to £2.5 million for more detectors. The British Transport police are using one model of metal detector for Operation Shield. The Met have a preferred model, AD11-2, which is a lot cheaper. Depending which option we went for, our £2.5 million, which we show we can provide, would pay for up to an additional 26,000 hand-held scanners.

Not enough cognisance has been taken by the current London Mayor of best practice established by the Association of Chief Police Officers. ACPO’s Secured By Design standards result in a quarter less crime in housing estates than in non-Secured By Design housing estates. Those standards cut crime and the fear of crime. Despite Mr. Livingstone’s two terms in city hall, there is not much sign of that being made a priority.

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Our fourth proposal concerns rape crisis centres. Only one for the whole of London based in zone 5 is woefully inadequate and does not acknowledge the fact that sex offences have risen in the capital. There were 546 more sex offences during 2006-07 than in 2000-01.

We have a fifth and final proposal. We believe that the police service should be made more accountable to Londoners and we have said that for the first time there will be online crime mapping by street and neighbourhood. We have inadequate, unhelpful and difficult-to-access crime maps, of which the biggest two are in the west midlands and West Yorkshire. It is high time that the greatest city on earth had online access so that people do not have to read dodgy Government statistics, but can see crime street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. That will improve their confidence in police figures and allow them to hold their local basic command unit commanders to account.

We see a Labour Mayor and a Labour Prime Minister out of ideas and out of excuses when it comes to their failing crime record. The Opposition believe that it is possible to take the handcuffs off the police and give Londoners the law and order policies that they so richly deserve.

4.55 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I promise faithfully, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I shall not call you Madam Deputy Mayor at any stage during our deliberations as I did some time ago.

What we have just heard was quite shameful and pathetic. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is right to suggest that whatever the failings of London, it does no one in the House any good to indulge in the sort of hysterical caterwauling that we have just heard, rooted in bogus statistics, invented to scare, petrify and frighten.

Mr. Ruffley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNulty: Absolutely not, given the hysterical nonsense that we have just had, and I will come on to why it was.

Mr. Evennett: Rattled.

Mr. McNulty: I do not lose my rattle.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May we please have this debate conducted in an orderly fashion?

Ms Buck rose—

Mr. McNulty: I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, but let me finish this point. Serious crimes are committed in London—

Mr. Evennett: Rattled.

Mr. McNulty: Not rattled. Grow up.

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Mr. Evennett: Tetchy.

Mr. McNulty: Not tetchy either, thank you very much; serious.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. If Members wish to intervene, they should do so in the correct manner.

Mr. McNulty: I am trying to inject a degree of seriousness into the debate that has been sorely lacking.

Mr. Ruffley: Still is.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman will hang himself from his own mouth; that is not my business.

In 2001-02, to acclamation, the Government introduced the national criminal recording standards. The National Audit Office, all professionals, everybody, said that that was a far better way to count crime. Among other things, if there was an affray in London or elsewhere before the introduction of NCRS, however many people were involved, however many victims, it would have been treated as one crime. After the introduction of NCRS, they were treated as five victims and five crimes, quite rightly. The hon. Gentleman knows that. That is why making comparisons with before 2003 is utterly erroneous and utterly bogus.

I note that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has left the Chamber. I hope that the crisis in Oxfordshire is momentary and that he will be able to join us again. He gave London about an hour in an Opposition day debate. Let us have the debate, but let us have it, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey suggests, on serious terms with serious figures.

Ms Buck: In the annual guide to what one pays and what one gets, my Conservative-controlled borough of Westminster records as No. 1 in its top 10 achievements for 2007-08 a fall in total crime figures, including a 6.8 per cent. reduction in burglary. Kensington and Chelsea, a borough for which I am also Member of Parliament, also announces that burglaries have been slashed and says that Kensington and Chelsea residents are less likely to be victims of burglary today than at any other time this century, and that burglary figures have halved in just seven years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that even those who dispute the Metropolitan police figures, even those who dispute the crime statistics that were all welcomed in 2000, might pay some regard to figures that have come from their own Conservative local authorities?

Mr. McNulty: I agree, and my own borough is in the same position. The Opposition motion states:

which we all do. However, there is a fine line when politicians play foolish and bogus statistical games, which, by the bye, is to treat Londoners as idiots. There is also a fine line on traducing the work of not only every single policeman and woman who is out on the beat in our capital city, but every council of whatever hue working through crime and disorder reduction partnerships to secure those figures. Does that mean complacency? No, of course it does not. Does it mean that there is not a whole lot more to do in a range of areas, which I shall discuss later? Of course it does not.
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Let us get serious about London. I do not blame the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), who is from Suffolk and who could not care less about London. However, London Members should be serious, because it does not do London justice to play around with bogus figures.

Simon Hughes: I commend the Minister on his approach. I am not here to defend the current Mayor in the election campaign or to speak in favour of Labour policy, but a former Labour Home Secretary sought to establish an agreement across the parties with the Office for National Statistics on crime figures. Does he agree that it would be worth while to seek to do that again? Will he condemn those people in any party in any London borough who seek for party political purposes to misrepresent crime generally, and violent crime specifically, as going up, when it is going down, which increases the fear of crime among ordinary people on the street?

Mr. McNulty: Many of the recommendations in the Smith review came out of that cross-party initiative on criminal statistics, which included Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, and has been implemented on my watch. Some of the recommendations have not been implemented, because there are difficult issues surrounding, for example, the definition of an assault—it involves harassment and other areas. Grown-up politicians in this House now agree on the figures. Let us—mayoral candidates and otherwise—debate the policies and the substance, but we should not debate the basic statistics, which is utterly shameful.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): My constituents are not idiots, and they probably tune out the ding-dong on statistics. However, they are genuinely concerned to read that Hillingdon has the third highest crime rate in London and that crime is running at the record level of 72 crimes a day. They also recognise that public finances are considerably stretched. Will the Minister guarantee that numbers of sworn police officers will not be cut in the borough of Hillingdon and that there will be no review of the policy of full-strength safer neighbourhood teams across every ward in the borough?

Mr. McNulty: I can give that guarantee, but only if Ken Livingstone is Mayor on 2 May. I cannot give such a guarantee given the erratic nature of the Conservative candidate, who has made it clear that he has not got a clue about finance and London generally.

Returning to the hon. Gentleman, Hillingdon council—it is one of his rather than one of mine—has stated that

The hon. Gentleman should join me in congratulating Conservative Hillingdon on all it has done working with the Metropolitan police under the Mayor’s tutelage to achieve those figures.

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