|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I totally support the concept of a jury; the concept of 12 good and true persons. However, I do not believe it is right that those whose previous behaviour shows them to be unsuited to be jurors, or likely to be unsuited, should nevertheless be jurors. I understand that the issue of juries will be dealt with in a later report and I hope that that dimension will be examined.
I turn to my main point. I do not believe that we are adequately using the opportunities provided by modern technology. My noble friend Lord Tebbit referred to the use of inadequate radios. That is a scandal. It is not as big a scandal as the failure of this
Secondly, the possibilities of DNA are continually expanding. Today I read about a case in America in which the accused was found guilty. It was stated that the odds against the DNA match being incorrect were greater than the number of people in the world at the present time. In other words, DNA is a valuable tool. I believe that the time has come to consider the possibility of all of us--and I am sure that we would be willing--having our DNA on record. Of course, that would have to be combined with an identity number of some kind. I am not talking necessarily of identity cards--they are more provocative--but of national identity numbers. I believe that that would make a real contribution.
Finally, as regards technology, I turn to the use of CCTV, which has advanced rapidly. Tapes are no longer used; the recordings are made on discs. Until a few months ago, a camera's tape had to be changed every three or four days and the slower and longer the tape was allowed to run the less good the picture. There is enormous scope now that CDs are available on which to record CCTV pictures. Sometimes overt cameras are a good deterrent, but the technology is now so advanced that they can also be covert.
The cost of installing and maintaining these cameras is so low in comparison with the cost of policing that in inner city areas where there is far too much crime, particularly street crime, CCTV would be a dramatic deterrent. I believe that in certain shopping areas CCTV has already been shown to have a dramatic effect on crime. It could be used a great deal more. Speaking for the rural interest, I believe that many parish councils, certainly my own, would welcome the provision of CCTV.
I recognise that some of the points I raise have implications for civil liberties. But one of the points about any pressure group is that it always overstates its case. Government must listen to pressure groups and carefully evaluate them. The job of government is to balance the interests and voices of the minority against those of the majority. If they make that judgment correctly, I for one shall support them.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has initiated this very interesting debate. The debate has three main themes and yet there has been very little overlap. I should like to pick up one matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred. He said that each person should have an identity number. I point out that when a person is born, he or she is given a number by the health service. That does not infringe civil liberties at all. Perhaps that number could be used appropriately.
I am in contact with many officers in the Metropolitan Police and it is upon the Met (as it is usually called) that I base most of my contribution today. Currently, the Met is about 240 officers below the budgeted workforce target. That appears to be quite satisfactory until it is noted that the Commissioner needs--I am particular in using that word--2,500 more officers to police London with confidence.
Taking into account natural wastage, it is hoped that the Met will be about 100 officers below the target of 25,600 at the end of this financial year, but it is far short of the long-term target of 28,000. It is also necessary to take into account civilian staff who perform duties other than those performed by serving officers. About 900 civilians are needed to bring the Met up to the required strength. Major recruitment initiatives are under way and the policies to recruit police officers are under review.
It is perhaps worrying that there is wastage from the Met to the provincial forces. The reasons may be varied, but there are some who suggest that lifestyle is a factor. Equally, because free rail concessions for Met officers will soon be in operation it may well be found that, together with some pay advantages, that attracts officers to London. As a result of the Macpherson report, to which I shall return later, some people who might otherwise have applied to become officers are now put off so doing. Consequently, although it seems that the budgeted strength may well be achieved in the foreseeable future, I hope that the high standards of police officers will be maintained in future intakes.
I make no apology for having a go at the press. When the Macpherson report was published, the press seized on the words "institutional racism". If there is any section of the community--business, religious or personal--which can say hand on heart that it has not had any racist thoughts or actions, it may be in a position to question the attitudes of others. I very much doubt that such a sector exists. The words "kettle", "call" and "black" come to mind. The press has forced an honourable profession to question its attitudes. Although there are bound to be some who have racist thoughts, the police have always tried to do their best in difficult circumstances. The press has an awful lot to answer for.
I digress slightly at this juncture to illustrate the problem faced by serving officers. After using a radar gun, one traffic inspector who is a friend of mine recently stopped a motorist for exceeding the speed limit. The driver alleged that he had been stopped only because he was black. The officer asked the driver to indicate the sex and colour of the next approaching motorist who was not exceeding the speed limit. The man was unable so to do but repeated his initial
I return to Macpherson--or, to be more accurate, post-Macpherson. In February 1999, the Met identified stop and search as an area of policing which needed thorough examination. The primary legislation has not changed since 1995, in that the legal objective of stop and search is detection. However, there have been some changes which need to be addressed, notably the Human Rights Act. The value of stop and search has been acknowledged by the Home Office. Research findings have reinforced the belief that persons who are stopped are more likely to be satisfied if they are treated with respect, dealt with politely and given an explanation for the search.
It is interesting to note that in only 12 of some 150,000 searches conducted by Met officers last year were complaints substantiated, and only one of those related to a breach of the code of practice. It is intended that a senior officer in each borough should be responsible for the overall supervision and correct use of these powers in their areas. Although the report was seized on by the press for its own sales figures and intended readers, the police have managed to get over the adverse and unjustified publicity and at last are allowed--sometimes--to get on with their job.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, made specific reference to violent crime I shall try to address that area. I believe that this year to date there have been 13 yardie-style murders. Those crimes represent 61 per cent of the total of 19 firearms murders across the Metropolitan Police district. That is a reduction in the number compared with last year's total of 18 yardie murders. So far this year there have been 34 non-fatal yardie shootings, representing 66 per cent of the category of attempted murder involving firearms. It is interesting that the press campaign which led, or forced, the previous administration to ban handguns--some called it a knee-jerk reaction--effectively confiscated the guns of those who held them legally but did little to address the problem of those who did not.
I return to the 13 murders that I mentioned a moment ago. Four of them have resulted in charges, and one is likely to be reclassified because the evidence shows that the victim may have accidentally shot himself. Suspects are being actively sought in four of the remaining cases. Of the 34 attempted murders, 10 have resulted in charges and suspects are being sought in a further eight cases. It is relevant to note that on 17 occasions the victims and associates have refused to co-operate with the police or assist the investigation. It is acknowledged that the people who perpetrate these violent crimes usually emanate from Jamaica. The High Commissioner for Jamaica has provided useful and complementary feedback, and a senior Met officer has visited Jamaica for sensitive discussions with officers there.
It is worth while pointing out that, whatever the morale of an individual officer, he will always carry out his duties to the best of his ability without fear or favour. He or she is a professional with a sense of duty to the office of constable. I am unable to comment on the morale of officers other than those in the Met, whom I accompany on traffic patrols from time to time, because I have not spoken to them. However, in general terms it seems as if morale within the Met has improved over that which prevailed immediately following the publication of the Macpherson report.
Morale, of course, fluctuates as a result of events and experience. It is mainly adversely affected by media comment when negative, and often inaccurate, reporting leaves officers feeling disillusioned, misunderstood and undervalued. The vast majority of officers who continue to do their duties feel more keenly the effects of bad publicity. They are proud of what they achieve in serving and protecting the public because that is their intention and motivation. They do not apply themselves to their sworn duties to please the Commissioner, their supervisors, journalists or politicians; they do it for the public and to deliver their personal and professional commitment.
Morale, or rather lack of it, can be linked to performance. If an officer's heart is not in the job by reason of a lack of appreciation or support, perhaps the "Why do I bother?" attitude will kick in. A former commissioner was often heard to say that he never worried too much when he heard that his officers were unhappy; he was more concerned if he heard that they were more or less happy with their lot--a very strange philosophy even for a commissioner.
More needs to be done to encourage and preserve the good will and motivation of our officers. I have heard recently that the newish Metropolitan Police Commissioner is seen as a copper's copper, and as one who will be followed by his officers and who has their respect. Morale, therefore, must improve.
The morale and numbers of police affect us all in the community. Like many noble Lords, I have attended the passing out parades at Hendon Police College and, indeed, many other police colleges. It is a procession and a parade which usually I find quite choking and emotional. One sees these young people full of hopes and aspirations, with high and good intent and in amazing formation and strength, marching forward and into their futures. They are instilled there with much of the ethos to which we aspire for our police
As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned in his speech--on which I congratulate him--the number of police in London is well below what it should be to provide the kind of service required within this capital city. The Metropolitan Commissioner wants to increase the number. The Mayor of London has announced that he seeks to increase the number in the future. He has suggested that he will pay for that out of an increased precept. It would be better if he did not, because the Home Office has already funded it. It has already been paid for. I do not think that Londoners want to pay for it twice if that can be avoided. The principle that there should be more police in London is well accepted and welcomed.
One of the corollaries of having insufficient numbers--it may not be a bad corollary--is that the police have to work in co-operation with local authorities and community representatives to provide a way through the problems which come about partly from not having enough police, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, to bring together community groups to fight crime. It is not always crime that worries people; it is the fear of crime. As noble Lords who read their local papers will know, the local press in particular note and take advantage of any crime that has happened, such as muggings in the street and burglaries.
The fear is very real. I know of elderly people whose lives are stultified because they are afraid of what may happen. In reality, the fear is often far worse than the actuality and level of crime. That is an awful way for society to live. It is a tempestuous way to live one's life, with the fear that something may happen, that a knock on the door is something of which to be afraid, that it is not good news or someone coming to see you.
People are also afraid to tackle the young. These days many young people go around in groups. In the past--in my youth, a long time ago--if someone saw youths spreading graffiti or breaking in somewhere, an adult would have spoken to them about it. But it is not being a Good Samaritan if we pass by on the other side of the road because we are afraid of what will happen if we become involved because we have been told or we know of a Good Samaritan who tried to do something and ended up with a knife in his heart. It happens too often. That is one of the reasons why crime, particularly that committed by young people, goes unstopped.
Bringing the police and community together begins to address that problem. The community gets a sense of strength from the police being there and from being associated with them. That strength is enormously important. If one empowers and makes courageous the people who live in a community, one empowers and strengthens the police as well, because they are
I am sure that all noble Lords will remember the years when many local authorities would not allow the police on to their estates. They were no-go areas. Those were tragic times because the people there were always afraid. One of the great signs that progress has been made in the past few years is the recognition that the police should not be the enemy; that they should be, and are, part of the community.
Reference has been made to the work that is now being done openly with young people, and to the presence of police on estates, which are important areas. But are the police still invisible on the streets? I do not know about other noble Lords, but I am always rather grateful when I see two policemen, with their helmets and yellow jackets with "Police" written on the back, ambling towards me up the road. There is a great sense of security when a police car goes past slowly--not dashing past with its bells ringing so that one knows that there is a crisis--because one knows that there is a police presence in the area. To some extent, the importance of police strength and numbers can be dissipated by their working with the community, but I do not think that police invisibility is of any help to the community at all.
One other corollary of the reduction in the number of police officers is the question of CCTV, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I take a slightly different view. I am astonished at the welcome that has been accorded to CCTV. After all, it is a spy in the sky or a spy on the lamp-post. It means that wherever we go, we are filmed. We in the Chamber do not mind because none of us will be doing anything that anyone cares about. One thinks of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. One would not have believed for a moment that anything like that could happen. We have moved on because of the lack of people on the streets available to see what is going on and to take note of it. We cannot go back. Technology will take us further forward and the police will become more and more clever and adept at getting their man without having to leave the comfort of the police station. But that will not be a good thing. I hope that it will not happen.
The cost of the police service matters enormously. One area that needs to be taken into account is the efficiency of the technical management and ordinary management that lies behind the police service. Crime prevention by officers on the street is one aspect of the cost. But the administration behind that service is also costly. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned pensions. The funding of police pensions will bankrupt the police service in the not too distant future. Unfunded schemes mean that, annually, every pension is paid out of whatever income goes to the police service. It is a huge drain on resources. I urge the Government to look at this issue for the future. Nothing can be done about those who are currently in the service. It will take years to get the problem worked out of the system, but the service will be undermined in the future if it is not addressed at some stage.
Last week I had the opportunity to raise in the House an area of concern in my borough, Kensington and Chelsea, and in the country generally. Crack houses are prevalent on estates. Crack houses cannot be dealt with by the police because the legislation that prevents people allowing opium and cannabis to be used on their premises does not apply to crack cocaine. I raise the issue again because it is important that something should be done. The Minister was kind enough to say last week that the Government are giving serious attention to this issue. I do not expect him to say anything more than that today. But it is another area that needs to be addressed. It brings fear, intimidation and violence in its wake. Drugs are a cause of crime. When all is said and done, they are probably worse than alcohol. Drugs lie at the centre of much of the crime that ends up in the courts. The police need the right ammunition. They need the legislation. I very much hope that before long the Minister will be able to give me the reassurance that I seek on that point.
Police morale has been very low. There are a number of reasons for that, most of which have been touched on during the course of the debate. It is in all our interests that the problem of police morale is addressed. It is in all our interests that the police should not continually be under scrutiny and criticised--yes, if it is necessary and justified; but it is not always justified. Our safety, our futures and our children's futures rely on our having a police service that is friendly and approachable and makes us feel secure. It is up to us all to ensure that that happens.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for securing this debate. It is an important debate, but let us put it in context. There is always room for improvement, but we have an excellent and professional police service in this country. It is still a model which most other countries look at and envy. Police officers around the country undertake excellent work 24 hours a day. Let us not forget it. We should all be grateful for their work and commitment.
"Police numbers" is an emotive issue. From my work as chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and also as a deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, I know that communities up and down the country want more police officers. What that actually means is an increase in visible policing on the streets, to offer reassurance. That is the outcome that we all want. The main question is how best to achieve it.
It is a matter of fact that in recent years police authorities have faced a string of tight settlements and in many areas recruitment activity had, as a result, been trimmed back significantly; and in some areas frozen altogether. It will take time to turn that situation around, but we are now beginning to see progress on the ground. The proposed settlement for 2001-02--giving an average increase in government
Police numbers overall are now on an upward trend. Police authorities have welcomed the Government's commitment to provide funding to increase police strength by 9,000 officers over and above what forces had planned to recruit over three years. I believe that we need more. The national police recruitment campaign, about which we have heard during the debate, has also generated a significant volume of inquiries. It is still too early to assess the quality of applicants. But police force recruitment departments are running flat out to keep pace with demand. Crucially, all the police training schools are now running to full capacity to keep pace with recruitment demand.
One could certainly argue that the Government acted too late. They could have prevented the dip in recruitment over the past couple of years by investing more resources in policing at a much earlier stage. But we are now beginning to see an increase and the signs are that the situation will continue to improve over the next year or so. I welcome that.
However, bland police numbers are not the only answer. Providing reassurance to communities through a visible policing presence is what we are seeking. Focusing the debate solely around the issue of police officer numbers actually misses the point. As one would expect, it is much more complicated than that. Funding for new police officers on its own is not the answer. Police authorities also need funding to be able to invest in new IT, equipment and assets. Without this, the police officers whom we already employ cannot be used efficiently and they will spend unnecessary time in police stations filling out forms. That is unacceptable.
Equally, we need to ensure that police officers specialise in policing functions, not routine administrative work. The danger of focusing the debate on police numbers is that insufficient money will be left in the pot to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of civilian support staff. It is perverse to spend money on expensive police officers, only to have to use them on administrative duties. This needs to be looked at in the round.
One of the key reasons for the steady decline in police numbers over recent years has been investment in new technology, which has in fact increased police efficiency. PSRCS, which has already been referred to this afternoon--or Airwave, as it is now known--the new police digital radio system, serves as a good example. Once implemented, it will deliver a range of efficiency savings. The same number of officers will be able to spend significantly more time on operational duties because they will have direct access to data and information through their radio handsets. However, we also heard that the cost is significant: nearly £200 million per year. Police authorities have called on the government to provide the resources to enable them to undertake an IT modernisation programme. New investment is needed to deliver long-term efficiency
Increasing police numbers is not the only answer to increasing reassurance in local communities. We also need imaginative solutions, some of which are already proving to be highly popular. For example, police offices can be co-located in rural post offices. We have done this most successfully in North Yorkshire by co-locating with a community office in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Police officers can be attached to mobile libraries. We need to see the greater use of technology to increase accessibility to policing. All these measures can play a part which we should not forget.
I could not let this debate pass without mention of the thorny issue of police pensions, to which both my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred. The unfunded pension scheme continues to be the single biggest drain on police resources, taking moneys away from current policing needs and priorities. Over 14 per cent of total revenue expenditure in 2001-02 will be spent on pensions. In my own force in North Yorkshire, that will rise to 17 per cent. The pensions deficit--the gap between expenditure on pensions and serving officers' contributions--will this year exceed £1 billion. It will increase by a further £250 million over the following three years. That equates to nearly 10,000 police officers. An announcement from the Home Secretary on his proposals for dealing with the rising pensions bill is long overdue. Police authorities believe that the only tenable solution in the long term is to introduce a funded pension scheme alongside improvements to the operation of the existing scheme.
I shall turn now to violent crime. This is an area which most concerns citizens. The better recording of such crimes has definitely meant that more and clearer statistics have become available and thus it may appear that more crimes in general are being committed. Of course the police must concentrate on dealing with violent crime, much of which is perpetrated by alcohol or drug abuse. However, few forces were given performance indicators to drive down violent crime in their areas. In fact, only the five metropolitan forces were given money in order to help them achieve their targets to drive down such crime. This, I suggest, places in context the fact that we are not beset by violent crime throughout the country, although when it does occur it causes maximum anxiety--a fact that I would not dispute in any way. I know that police officers and managers alike throughout the police service are taking their responsibilities for clearing up and preventing violent crime very seriously indeed.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on police morale. We should never underestimate claims that morale is low. Much media criticism of policing has been aired in recent years, some of which is justified, but some of which is not. However, I have to say that my close association with policing in North Yorkshire
Our officers have performed magnificently during three extremely difficult years when the force had to be reorganised and staff had long periods of uncertainty about their futures. At that point, morale could fairly be said to have been low. However, when officers began to see the benefits of the many changes imposed, and were told that by next year more officers would be in post than North Yorkshire has ever had before, I can tell the House that morale picked up significantly.
On Monday, I spent the day with officers in York. I went out with a traffic sergeant. He and his colleagues dealt with a horrific road accident on the A.64. When we arrived, a tailback of traffic over a mile long had already formed. It continued to grow rapidly. The driver of the car was trapped and the fire service and police were trying to pull him out. The other vehicle involved had shed some of its load all over the road. The scene was absolutely chaotic. However, within minutes, order had been restored and, once the casualty had been cut free and transported to hospital, the police set about getting the traffic moving again. I saw use being made of a kind of theodolite, which speeded up significantly the measurement-taking necessary for court purposes. That is another piece of modern, expensive but very necessary equipment which the police need to use in their everyday jobs.
I spoke to each officer. Without exception, they told me how delighted they were with the news about the extra officers. Their managers, the Police Federation and Superintendent's Association, also said that they felt that this would be marvellous for morale. Things are moving in the right direction here, although there is still some way to go. All share in the responsibility for maintaining morale in the police service. Debates of this kind must be constructive. We need to recognise the enormous effort and commitment of officers up and down the country. Their work is valued and should be more so. I am confident that all Members of this House share that sentiment.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I recognise that many noble Lords have concentrated their remarks on urban-based police forces, but I wish to look at rural areas. While I accept and acknowledge that more violent crimes are committed in urban centres, such crimes are also committed in rural areas. In my home county of Leicester, rural violent crime accounts for 10.7 per cent of total rural crime, compared with 16.3 per cent of total urban crime in our area.
I contacted my local chief constable to ask him about two of the issues we are debating today: first, recruitment in the county of Leicestershire. In his letter, the chief constable confirmed that his force has been fortunate enough to maintain a high level of recruitment. He stated that,
I also asked about officer morale. In his reply, the chief constable pointed out that morale is "extremely difficult to measure". However, a survey recently carried out among the force indicated that the staff are,
I wish to spend a little time reflecting on the problems facing rural areas. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Tebbit, in opening the debate, commented that rural crime in some areas goes unreported. If I were ever to plead guilty, it would be to that. On three occasions during the past 18 months we have not reported to the police petty crimes and difficulties that we have had at our home. They were small issues that we coped with and got over. They should have been reported but they were not.
The cost of crime is a real cost. Perhaps I may give some figures. The National Farmers Union mutual underwriting manager, Sid Gibson, said in July last year that he estimated that thefts from homes and businesses in rural areas cost in the region of £168 million last year.
I looked at the rural White Paper recently to see what the Government had to say about this issue. I had to search to find where it referred to policing. I found a reference in the ninth paragraph--the first and only mention of the police:
Secondly, does "over the next two years" relate to financial years or calendar years? Thirdly, how will the Government split the £45 million between the two years? For example, will it be £20 million in the first year and £25 million in the second year?
Fifthly, will each police force be allowed to decide how, where and when the money is spent, or will it be earmarked by the Government? If the latter, to what purpose will it be devoted? Sixthly, will the money, once allocated, belong to each police force as of right, or will they have to mount costly, time-consuming and not always successful bids for it?
Seventhly, will the extra money be tied to measurable improvements in police support in rural areas--for example, to a reduction in the average length of time it takes to respond to 999 calls, village by village? For someone in a very remote area, 35 minutes is an awful long time to wait for the police to arrive if he is under attack from yobs.
Lastly, can the Minister assure the House that the £45 million announced in paragraph 9 is not related in any way, in whole or in part, to the £15 million announced on 20th July for the improvement of police response times, nor to the CSR allowance of £30 million per year for each of the next three years for rural police forces?
I turn now to the funded pension scheme--or, should I say, the unfunded pension scheme. Three noble Lords have referred to this hugely important issue already--that is one of the disadvantages of being lower down on the list of speakers--and I hope that the Minister will respond to them. It concerns us greatly. The Government's response has been to announce short-term funding to cover the shortfall over the next three years.
Meanwhile, special initiatives multiply. One of the latest is the £30 million fund--open to bids--to introduce up to 50 neighbourhood warden schemes. I understand that these will be located predominantly in rural areas and will have, on average, five wardens to patrol set areas. Can the Minister say whether the wardens will have access to vehicles and, if so, to what vehicles? Can he say further whether the wardens will be of normal serving police officer age or whether the maximum age will be raised to allow ex-policemen to supplement their pensions?
At the same time as the Government are funding neighbourhood warden schemes, they have been faced with a fall in the number of special constables, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Tebbit. There has been a fall of 32 per cent--some 6,346--in the number of serving special constables since March 1997. What steps have the Government taken? Have they analysed the exit interviews of serving special constables? If so, what follow-up action has been taken to ascertain why such a dramatic fall in numbers has occurred?
The police face the consequences of the rising pension burden; of the need for high salaries and living allowances, to which several noble Lords have referred; of a backlog of the repairs necessary to buildings and equipment; of new crime reduction targets and even newer legislative requirements. The police have to cope with the implications of
As to the increasing responsibilities on an already stretched police force, I should like to refer to the comments of Tim Hollis, an assistant chief constable, in the Daily Telegraph on 19th January. At the end of the article he states:
On the other side of the equation, I can remember that when I was young the scrumping of apples earned you a wigging from the local bobby. Nowadays, you would probably receive a community service order. The Countryside Act, which I helped to take through the House, became law yesterday. It creates new offences of a criminal nature which will have to be dealt with by the police. This House awaits the Bill to ban hunting with dogs, which the Government intend to introduce. This will also create a new section of criminal legislation, to be enforced--often in the more remote areas of the countryside--by a largely urban-based police force.
To make matters worse, there is a set of problems which will not go away, which takes up a lot of police time and which rarely results in crimes being solved. I shall mention two problems in particular--animal welfare protesters and travellers.
Animal welfare protesters have been in the headlines almost continuously for the past four years. The Government--I give them their due--have paid extra money on several occasions to hard-pressed police forces to help them meet their overtime bills. Can the Minister tell the House the Government's current thinking on solutions to the problem of these people who do not care about human welfare? They threaten, they intimidate, they destroy, they vilify; they have no regard to the legal framework in which the rest of society lives. Their misbehaviour is no longer rare; it is becoming an almost daily threat in some parts of the country to some overworked police forces and the range of individuals harassed by them is on the increase.
I turn briefly to the issue of travellers. Some refer to them as gypsies but I shall refer to them all as travellers. They also thumb their noses at the law. They rely on intimidation and bullying behaviour to persuade the law enforcement agencies to leave them alone. They flout planning laws; they threaten local communities; they cost local authorities and private individuals large sums of money in clearing up after them. Will the Minister indicate what the Government have in mind to alleviate the situation and what is their timetable for doing so?
My noble friend Lord Tebbit has given us an opportunity to consider, in the calm and peace of this Chamber, the challenges facing today's police. The newspapers will have it that morale is low. I find myself wondering whether it is not quite so much that morale is low but that the police cannot see a way of dealing with the complexities which are thrust upon them, as I
I try to be a law-abiding citizen and, therefore, I do not usually meet the police at the wrong end of a charge sheet. However, I go out and about, and I meet with a large number of police officers in the course of my duties. Whether it is a chief constable or a bobby on the beat, I find them helpful, committed, dedicated to the job that they do but despairing in some cases of getting the support they need from government and from the law.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing the opportunity for this important debate. I shall concentrate on one aspect of the prevention of violent crime. I should like to join the noble Lord and other speakers in paying tribute to the police. These public servants, in the line of duty, are often faced with threatening behaviour and verbal abuse, as I have witnessed. They deserve our respect and gratitude for their normal self-restraint and perseverance in such circumstances.
Yesterday afternoon I visited the Orchard Lodge secure unit in south London. This institution is for violent 11 to 17 year-old boys. Long established, its education facilities were greatly enhanced by the previous Conservative government. I was very impressed by the way in which these young men--armed robbers, rapists and murderers, as well as some non-offenders--had responded. They were keen to show off their work and discuss their school activities. They vied for good behaviour cards. One of the two boys who had achieved the coveted "gold" card was pleased to tell me of his success.
It was an opportunity also to hear from the senior staff how these children had become involved in violence. A psychologist explained that some came from families with parents who had been unable to set clear boundaries. However, in interviews which looked at particular incidents in detail, 30 per cent of the children reported experiencing physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse together. More than 80 per cent reported experiencing one or other of these three.
Home Office Research Study No. 209, based on the findings of the Youth Lifestyles Survey, indicates that boys without parental care are twice as likely to get into trouble. Brought up by a lone parent or step-parent, a boy is 40 per cent more likely to become a serious offender than a boy who is brought up with his two natural parents. There is a very good case for supporting families so as to prevent violent crime.
Recently, I visited mothers at a Barnardos project for families in temporary accommodation. They told of their unhygienic facilities, of the difficulties of managing a child with the kitchen several floors below and no lift, of the endless delays and indignities of local authority housing departments. There are now more households in temporary accommodation than at any time since 1978. The director of the Catholic Housing Advisory Service tells me that most of these households are families. There are now 6,000 households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London.
The capacity of these women to be good mothers is being undermined by a failing housing system. I urge your Lordships to consider that investment in social housing is an important means of preventing violent crime in the long term. I recently received a report on the Albany midwives unit at King's College hospital. The unit works particularly with disadvantaged mothers from Southwark and Lambeth. The midwives have been funded to work with reduced caseloads. They are encouraged to develop a lasting relationship with the mothers. The results have been astounding. These mothers are breast-feeding their babies more often, and for longer, than most other mothers. In this particular group one would expect exactly the reverse.
Breast-feeding encourages babies to put on weight and makes them stronger. Breast milk contains agents which combat infection--and these babies are more resistant to infection. Breast-feeding is good for mother-infant relations. These mothers are likely to have a healthier relationship with their children. Psychologists cannot be emphatic enough about the importance of good mother-infant relations to the formation of a secure personality. These children are less likely to develop personality disorders; they are less likely to be involved in violence. Midwives, health visitors and GPs all play an important part in supporting and strengthening families. There is a clear case for sustained investment in health services to reduce in the long term the level of violent crime.
Some years ago I was a teaching assistant in a primary school off Victoria Street. Ten year-old Tom repeatedly shouted the answers before he was asked to do so. He lacked self-control. He seemed particularly interested in me because I was a man and his father was not involved in his life. There were two boys who played with their toy robots under their desks while the teacher was busy. They had been set the task of writing
I urge your Lordships to be mindful that well-resourced teachers can, in the long term, reduce violent crime. Well-resourced social services departments can play an important part in breaking the cycle of violence within some families. There are few more responsible jobs than that of a social worker. Yet many social services departments are chronically under-resourced. Social services also have a key role in preventing violent crime in the long term.
I urge your Lordships to consider prudent long-term investment in public services as a most important means of lowering the rate of violent crime. I ask your Lordships to remember the example of the United States, where long-term under-investment in essential public services has contributed to a prison population of a staggering number and cost. I do not seek to cast aspersions on that great country--many of the Americans I meet admit the fault, and I was pleased for us to learn as much from their nation's mistakes as from its successes.
It costs £150,000 per annum per head to keep those boys who live in Orchard Lodge, the institution with which I began my remarks. It would be far better for the taxpayer and for our society if we were to develop, and maintain in the long term, the vital early support for families and children that housing, health, education and social services can provide. I applaud the new investment that this Government are making in public services and the good economic management of the previous administration that helped to make such investment possible.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I listened to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, with great admiration. I should like to congratulate him not only on the practical research that he carried out into the problem but also on his perspicacity and courage in focusing upon an aspect of the problem of violent crime that became the kernel of his remarks. Of course it is amenable to parody, just as the views of anyone from any scale of the spectrum in this enormously difficult problem are open to parody. I do not believe that anyone else, except the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, has approached the subject from that angle. I am most grateful to the noble Earl.
I planned to begin my remarks to your Lordships by observing that, as a country, we are not a cruel nation or a cruel people. On the contrary, I believe that we abhor cruelty, and that feature is perhaps increasing. Yet I suggest that the central feature of violent crime
I should like to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the following respect at least. It seems self-evident that we should focus our own interest in stemming--though "attacking" is perhaps a better word--the springs of violent criminality. We should focus our attack upon the young because they are the ones who are the most impressionable in our society. In the main, I believe that they can best be impressed by the cruelty of violent crime. We should emphasise the latter.
Where the "norm" is violence, whether in real life or in the menu of entertainment that is put forth day after day and night after night, the capacity for the cruelty in violent crime to impress the young in particular is blunted. In fact, it is probably often destroyed. I am afraid that that is what has happened in real life. I shall give your Lordships an example. I speak with much deference in the presence of my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead, with whose speech I entirely agreed. We have seen in certain parts of Northern Ireland that violence of a kind that would be continually horrifying in Great Britain has become accepted--by some at any rate--as the norm.
As for the quality and quantity of violence in visual broadcasting by way of action, behaviour and language, I believe that to be most disturbing. It is also very dangerous. That is true not just of Northern Ireland--in fact, I believe it is rather less true of the Province--but also as regards what is provided by way of entertainment in Great Britain. If anything, I should like to suggest that it is made worse rather than better in its impact by programmes being characterised as "adult". It rather suggests that that is how the big boys, the grown-ups, behave. It seems to me that nothing could be more calculated than to suggest to young people that this is how grown-ups behave and thereby lead them to decide to start down that road.
What is the justification--or the purported justification--for this "norm"? I believe that it is said to lie in freedom of expression. But this particular manifestation of freedom of expression forseeably leads young people to lose a much wider freedom later in their lives at the hands of the criminal courts, as they progressively emulate what they see. Indeed, I believe that they do just that when they see such examples placed before them. The greater part of the truthful answer is that violence is recognised by programme makers as exerting a kind of morbid fascination for a very large number of viewers and, therefore, it boosts the ratings.
As a country, we tend to stick a label on the problem; namely, "Touch at your peril". Therefore, we tend to concentrate not on diminishing the springs of criminality but on trying to staunch the floods of violence that flow from them. More police and more effectively deterrent sentences are our goal, and quite rightly so in the present circumstances. We need to have more sentences that truly deter the offender from
Perhaps we could also introduce prison regimes that would educate and prepare inmates for resettlement. However, I am afraid that the Government are failing over far too wide an expanse of the spectrum, if not the whole of it. For example, although we have costly campaigns at public expense against smoking, where, I ask the Minister, is the campaign against criminality? Who is in charge of this sector of social engineering, what is his remit and, indeed, his budget? In other words, what is the Government's policy on campaigning against criminality?
Further, why do the Government suppose that police morale is as low as it seems to be? I believe that it is common ground that police morale is much lower than it should be; indeed, it is much lower than it has been in the past. However, if it is not common ground, do the Government accept that morale is low? If so, can the noble Lord give us the reasons behind it in the view of Ministers? In the vast majority of cases, I believe that men and women join the police service mainly out of a desire to serve the public. The Government and the police committees in the country are the people who represent the public in this context. Low morale in a workforce--in any service--surely implies lack of confidence in its direction. Can the Minister say whether the Government have given any thought to that view? Have they considered why it should now be the case that there is such a lack of confidence in the police as regards the direction of the service? Surely the Government have access to any amount of research. I do not believe that it is enough to say that it should not be happening; nor could they possibly get much reasoned support if they were to say, "Well, it's only the bad eggs who are unhappy".
I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for including the question of police morale in the heading of his Motion. Indeed, the whole area is an excellent subject, yet most disturbing. I was told only recently by a serving officer from a large police force in England and Wales that the greater number of people, not just a few, did not want to continue serving any longer.
Perhaps I may offer my own explanation for the situation. Despite the fact that the police service in England and Wales is probably the most regulated and scrutinised in the world--second only to the Royal Ulster Constabulary--police officers have the perception that they lack the support from those in authority over them that is necessary if they are not to feel that they are unvalued. I refer to the degree of support that must lead them to feel that risking their lives and limbs is a proper, justified and proportionate part of the bargain that they make with the public. That is thought to be lacking.
Of course the rule of law must be upheld. That includes, of course--perhaps one might say particularly--seeing to it that the police as well as the rest of us stay within the law. But the police have the
I do not think that there can be any more vivid illustration of what I am discussing--albeit this incident occurred in another part of our country--than the ongoing Bloody Sunday inquiry, with all its remarkable and happily unprecedented features. It was misguidedly justified on all sides, including, I regret to say, on my party's side, on the ground that we must get at the truth. But you do not get at the truth after eight years, let alone after 28 years. What you get are numerous lives spent in the public service being imperilled in some cases and almost ruined in many more cases by what I believe to be a most regrettable procedure. I further diverge into Northern Ireland by expressing my agreement--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page