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23 Apr 2008 : Column 1414

Justine Greening: I am grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I have to say that issues have been raised about the commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson); apparently, that does not cut both ways. [Interruption.] Well, I could ask where the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) is. What I am saying is that we can all make such points.

Crime is an issue for my constituency. When I conducted a crime survey, more than 3,000 people responded. They largely said that they felt as if their local area was getting less safe. They raised issues of antisocial behaviour, being mugged, their children being mugged and crime on transport. My constituents want those issues to be tackled because they do not feel that they are being so at the moment.

Nor do they feel that the money that they are paying as part of the mayoral precept is giving them any sort of return in terms of policing per pound. In the eight-year period of the London mayoralty, my constituents have paid £66 million more than before into the Met police precept. We have not had any sort of return on the money that we have invested. Frankly, we would rather have spent the money locally and had more police, who can arrest people on our streets, to complement the PCSOs. That has not happened. Most of my constituents want a Mayor who will genuinely try to make the city safer instead of living by headlines. We want a Mayor who will seriously tackle youth crime, about which parents in my constituency worry every day.

I shall finish by citing one statistic. In recent years, about one in 20 secondary-school-aged children who live in Wandsworth reported having been a victim of mugging. That statistic is surely unacceptable to any of us in this House, whichever side we sit on. If we can at least agree on one thing, it is that crime is too high and that we need to bear down on it by spending our money smartly so that communities such as my own can feel safer.

6.34 pm

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I will use the little time that I have to express my disdain at the motivation of the Conservatives in their conduct of this debate. It is a perfect example of calling a debate to obscure and confuse the issue under discussion.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for laying to rest some of the bogus facts that have been put forward about the undeniable fall in crime of 20 per cent. over the past five years and the record numbers of police—35,000, with a further 1,000 promised. The double standards of the Conservatives show that they are confused and in denial. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said, they claim credit locally for falls in crime but, on a London basis, claim that crime has not fallen. They oppose the investment that has gone in. We just heard the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) say that she does not believe that anything has changed in London and that community policing is exactly what it was previously, but we know that there has been huge investment and that that is connected to what has happened to crime rates.

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I am afraid that the hon. Member for Putney and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham know less about the situation in Hammersmith and Fulham than I do because I am the only MP here from that borough. In reality, the money for the police officers who were put into the ward, as mentioned by my hon. Friend, was taken out of another ward that had even higher crime, the reason being that, under the Labour council, those officers had been paid for by the council, but the Conservatives have moved them into wards that receive Government funding through the new deal for communities or section 106 moneys. Once again, they are using statistics and money to manipulate figures in a way that can disadvantage people locally.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham that if this debate is about reviving a flagging campaign, it certainly has not worked. I would say in defence of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) that perhaps the reason why he walked out of the Chamber was that he was listening to his own policies being recited by Conservative Front Benchers. When one compares 1,000 extra police officers with being given maps or ending accountable stop and search, I am not surprised that he decided to leave the Chamber.

When people vote in London next Thursday, they will vote on the issue of crime, and they will make a decision primarily about whether Ken Livingstone or the hon. Member for Henley is in a better position to deal with that. They will see on the one hand somebody who has a track record of investing in and reducing crime and on the other somebody who is not fit to take over that role—somebody whose own record does not allow him to take over that role. I refer in particular to the disgraceful episode that is documented on tape, where the hon. Member for Henley agreed to give details of a journalist to someone who became a convicted fraudster, on the basis that he was an old school friend of his, in order to allow that journalist to be beaten up. Somebody who is prepared to do that— [ Interruption. ] I can quote the details if hon. Members want. The only things in that conversation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious charge. [ Interruption. ] Order. In this House, we ought to debate matters in a calm way. I am not sure that the proximity of elections of whatever kind helps to enhance the reputation of the House. It would help if the hon. Gentleman said that he would put those words aside; he has already put them on the record in a way. It does not help when we have the kind of exchanges that have been going on this afternoon.

Mr. Slaughter: I entirely accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do, however, have the transcript of that conversation in front of me, and I am prepared to make it available to any other hon. Members, who can make their own judgment about it. I simply say that I do not believe that the hon. Member for Henley is a person Londoners would trust to run policing because of his own personal record as dictated in that phone conversation.

6.38 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I shall be very brief and not go down the route taken by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush
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(Mr. Slaughter). I think that the tetchiness that we have seen from Labour Members indicates that a raw nerve has been struck and that our points have hit home.

I do not seek to talk London down or to denigrate good work that is done in London. However, I want to know, as do all of us who have constituents in London, how we can make things better and why, against this background, London’s great competitor city of New York has done better at dealing with crime than we have and is now safer than London. I have two key points to make on that.

First, I went to New York recently and spoke to a precinct captain in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn—a tough area. He made the point that the political commitment of Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg was a key factor in giving the drive necessary to support police officers and the community as a whole in tackling crime.

Secondly, the specific technical advantages of the CompStat system and crime mapping had given the police and the community the material that they needed to work together to tackle crime in one of the hardest parts of New York. I am sorry that that proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has been so airily dismissed by Labour Members. London deserves better than that. It is a serious proposal, accepted by serious people tackling crime in another city. I would have hoped that we were broad-minded enough to work together and take that on board. I would have thought that we all wanted to do justice to the tackling of crime in this city in such a constructive spirit. I am sorry that that has not always been achieved in this debate.

6.40 pm

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who made an important point in his comparison of London and New York.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of all police officers in the capital in their daily fight against crime. The Metropolitan police, the City of London police and the British Transport police all work hard on our behalf to secure the protection of everyone who lives and works in the capital. It is right that we should recognise their service, commitment and dedication to duty. But the inescapable fact highlighted by the debate is that the Labour Mayor and the Labour Government are letting London down on crime. Violence against the person is up, with over 3,300 crimes committed each week. Drug offences, with their links to organised crime and gang violence, have increased by an astonishing 200 per cent. since the Mayor came to office, and nearly half of Londoners say that they simply do not feel safe in their communities at night. If that is a measure of success it shows just how out of touch the Government and the Mayor are with reality and with real Londoners.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made some important points about gun and knife crime and the serious issues that arise from it. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) brought those issues home in her description of the tragic deaths of her constituents. I am sure that the whole House wishes to pass on its condolences to the families of those involved in those
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terrible incidents. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) sounded at times as if he were reading from the telephone directory, rather than reading a speech. Instead of lecturing my party about the stop-and-account form, he should look at the Flanagan review, commissioned by his own Government, which recommended that the form be abolished.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) made some important points about the way in which local initiatives can make a difference, and about how, in Redbridge, locally funded street wardens are helping to deal with antisocial behaviour in his constituency. That point about local community action and how it can make a difference was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening).

Sadly, I have to say to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) that he does himself no favours by making personal smear attacks. There are very serious issues to be debated, and rather than this party being confused or being in denial on those issues, I suggest that his criticisms should be directed to his party and the Mayor.

Many hon. Members have highlighted the shocking number of teenagers killed on London’s streets in the last year: 27 teenagers were murdered, with 11 murders of young people in 2008 already. One of the most disturbing trends is that both the victims of these crimes and those suspected of carrying out the offences are getting younger. Analysis from Trident has shown that in certain cases the age of those involved is as low as 14, with more teenagers being charged for murders and shootings. I have spoken previously about the organised gang culture, supported by the trade in class A drugs, that lies behind a significant proportion of these crimes.

One of the most insidious aspects of the organised criminal gang structure is the conscious focus of those who recruit new gang members on some of the most vulnerable in society—those with poor educational attainment and weak family support structures, and those who suffer from addiction, mental illness and unemployment. They are targeted to deal drugs to give them an income. That is why the utter failure to control drug crime in the capital is so serious and why simply giving out more cautions for drug offences—with the number doubling in the past two years—sends out the wrong message.

Other fundamentally wrong messages are being conveyed. I stress to the Minister in the starkest terms that police trying to negotiate with the gangs, as some recent statements from the Metropolitan police suggest, is not the solution. We need strengthened communities and families, and visible and robust policing. We also need to tackle the underlying problems of addiction.

The Government have opted simply to maintain addiction rather than lift people out of it, with London’s bill for methadone prescriptions running at £2.5 million a year.

We need proper, abstinence-based rehabilitation for offenders, not a slap on the wrist and a prescription for the pharmacist. The police also need effective tools—that is why we believe that it is right to revise the current powers of stop and search to give police sergeants, who are at the heart of safer neighbourhood teams in their communities, the right to authorise
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general stops and searches in a designated area, where weapons are thought to be present or crimes of violence are thought to be about to occur, for a period of up to six hours.

However, the problem is not only the most serious offences, but the everyday experiences of Londoners on their streets, in their communities and even in their homes.

For too many, the impact of antisocial behaviour and what some describe as “low level” crime is significant. There is nothing low level about the impact of antisocial behaviour on people’s quality of life. For many, especially the elderly or vulnerable, their street, shops or neighbourhoods do not feel safe. That picture is reflected in the opinion surveys of London residents and hardly alleviated by the comments of the Home Secretary or the actions of the Leader of the House.

However, young people are more likely to feel the effects of antisocial behaviour and crime. Around a third of all street robberies are committed against the under-16s. Some Labour Members have rightly highlighted the number of young people who are mugged in London. It is absurd that the Government continue to drag their feet in recognising crimes against the under-16s in the British crime survey. As we have heard, such offences often occur on the buses, the tube and other forms of public transport, with mobile phones, iPods and other valuables being stolen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) rightly identified a more visible police presence, the use of real-time CCTV and tougher measures to tackle fare evasion and the abuse of the transport system as important measures to restore public confidence.

The Government have completely lost their way in cracking down on antisocial behaviour. Their rigid, centralised, bureaucratic command and control structures have driven the police in the wrong direction, chasing meaningless targets for “bringing crimes to justice”, involving issuing penalty notices like glorified parking tickets. In 2006, nearly 21,000 penalty notices were issued in the capital—yet only four out of 10 were paid in full. It is difficult to identify the “justice” in that.

Even the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has hit out at the system that has grown up around him. Yet neither the Government nor the Mayor has acted on that. So much for the bonfire of the regulations, for which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner called. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Henley is absolutely right to identify the need to scrap the unnecessary stop form, freeing around 160,000 hours, which the police could spend on the beat, protecting Londoners and catching criminals.

The Government’s supposed measures to improve community safety have made things worse, not better. London’s A and E departments are feeling the strain from the impact of the Government’s 24-hour drinking laws. Since the introduction of those changes, London hospital casualty admissions for alcohol-related problems have increased by a third. That highlights how cavalierly the Government introduced 24-hour licensing. But since 2000 the police precept has increased by around £400 million—an increase for the taxpayer of 150 per cent. per person. That is why we need to give Londoners proper details of police performance in their areas, through effective crime mapping in their neighbourhoods.
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That way, communities can play a more active part in holding the police to account.

The real question, however, is how committed the Government are to neighbourhood policing. As we have heard, the Flanagan review states that the current police numbers are “unsustainable”. The Government have welcomed the report, so presumably they welcome the cuts in police numbers that it underlines. The clear message is that police numbers are at risk. Violent crime in London is up, while drug crime has rocketed under Labour. Londoners deserve better than the tired offerings of a tired Mayor and a tired Government. It is time for a change. It is time for concerted action to make this city a safer place. It is time for a Conservative Mayor of London.

6.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. I would have welcomed a contribution from the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who was no doubt the reason it was called, but he managed to turn up for only 40 minutes of it.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter), who all spoke in the debate, and all my hon. Friends who asked questions. I should also point out that although my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) has been here for much of the debate, he is unable to speak in debates as a Government Whip.

The points that all my hon. Friends made stood in stark contrast to the two contributions that we heard from the Opposition Front Bench. That marks the difference in what this debate is about. All that we heard from the Opposition Front Bench was a story about the real issues of crime in London. We heard no reflection at all on the statistics with which the Metropolitan Police Service has provided us. Instead, we heard an attempt to whip up fear about crime and to portray London as a city where there are people roaming every street who will attack anybody at a moment’s notice. That was the picture that Opposition Members were trying to portray. My hon. Friends pointed out, as I will point out in a moment, what the Metropolitan Police Service’s statistics actually say. Of course there are challenges, but let us try to move forward on the basis of facts, not spurious exhortations to the public to believe that we are all doomed.

Keith Vaz: On the issue of facts, when Sir Ronnie Flanagan gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, he did not talk about a reduction in police numbers. He welcomed the resources that the Government had given over the past 10 years and talked about the more efficient use of resources. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) is wrong to misquote Sir Ronnie as he did.

Mr. Coaker: My right hon. Friend puts the issue well. Let me read out some facts, so that we can get them on the record. Police numbers in London are at
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record levels. Since 2000, there has been an increase of more than 10,000, which has been made possible by the Government’s and the Mayor of London’s investment. The figure of 35,000 is made up of more than 31,000 police officers and more than 4,000 PCSOs. The Mayor’s budget for 2008-09 includes an additional 1,000 police officers. Let me also put it on the record that those are the figures from the Metropolitan Police Service. They are the figures that the Opposition seemed to traduce, when they said that there were not real figures or figures to be trusted. I will tell you what, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I am going to trust any figures, I am going to trust the Metropolitan Police Service’s figures on recorded crime.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) would not go back to 2002-03, but used 1998-99 as his baseline. The reason is that there was a different way of counting crime in 1998-99. Let me go through the figures, just as the Metropolitan Police Service has, from 2002-03 to this year, which are all counted in exactly the same way, so that the people of London know exactly what is happening. Between 2002-03 and this year, there was a more than 20 per cent. reduction in crime. There has been a reduction in the total number of murders in London since 2002-03 of 17.5 per cent, and a reduction in the total number of knife-enabled offences of more than 30 per cent. during that period. The year-on-year figures from the Metropolitan Police Service also show considerable reductions in crime. We need to ensure that the people of London know about these reductions, not because we want to be complacent or because the job is done, but because we want to move forward on the basis of facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham took great delight in reading out what Tory-controlled authorities in London were saying about crime in their local newsletters and on their websites, and I do not blame him for doing so. What they are saying is totally at odds with what those on the Opposition Front Bench have suggested. Let me defend some of those Tory borough councils in London for what they have said about crime. Tory-controlled Barnet council says that it has seen a 17.5 per cent. reduction in crime, while Enfield council’s website states:

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