I very much welcome this opportunity for a full debate on policing in the metropolis, and I know that that view is shared by right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in the Metropolitan police district. In a series of informal discussions with hon. Members, both before and after the publication of the Commissioner's recent report to me, I came away with a strong sense of a community of interest in ensuring adequate debate of such a major issue. It is right that the House should have occasion to examine how I, as police authority, and the Commissioner tackle and plan to tackle the problems that the capital presents.
Hon. Members may wish to raise particular issues as well as more general ones. I shall not try to anticipate all those details in my opening speech, but if the House gives me leave to speak again I shall endeavour to answer as many points as I can at the end of the debate.
Two topical major themes provide the background to this debate. The first is the Commissioner's preliminary report to me—a summary of which I published, together with a written answer, on 24 January. The other is the accountability of the Metropolitan police to the Home Secretary as police authority and his answerability to this House. The two themes—one primarily operational, the other political and constitutional—run together. I should like to deal with the practicalities of the first before turning to the principles and practice of the second.
As the House is aware, when the Commissioner took office on 1 October last year I invited him to give me, within three months, a preliminary report outlining his plans and priorities. I then told him that I wished him, in determining his objectives and the style of policing to be adopted in carrying them out, to give particular attention to four main areas.
The first is to deal with the present high level of crime, including street crime and burglary, with an emphasis on crime prevention in conjunction with other agencies, including local government. The second is the maintenance of public order in the capital. The third is community involvement in the light of the development of consultative groups at borough and district level, and the need for good relations with the ethnic minorities. The fourth is the organisation and structure of the force, having particularly in mind the desirability of a degree of decentralisation to match the development of local consultation on policing.
To each of these, and more than these, the Commissioner turned professional attention and gave me a set of proposals which I discussed with him thoroughly before commending them to the House. I thought it right to call for this report, publish his recommendations and then have this debate to open up discussion of policing issues in the metropolis in a way that had not been contemplated by my predecessors in office. The appointment of a new Commissioner provided the natural occasion for a major stocktaking of the role of the Metropolitan police and the direction in which he would lead it.
Sir Kenneth Newman took up office at a time when the force was about to reach its establishment of 26,615, having grown by 4,046 since May 1979. The Metropolitan police had also, in the previous two and a half years, had to cope with a range of major problems, notably the riots of 1981, and absorb the lessons which had been learnt. That they have done this with skill and determination has been fully and generously acknowledged by Lord Scarman, whose report on the Brixton disorders pointed up some areas of policing practice and policy which needed to be changed.
In referring to the Commissioner's report, I begin by emphasising the public order dimension of Metropolitan police work. The report reminds us of how significantly the routine demands of public order in the capital city have grown. Between 1972 and 1981, demonstrations which required the employment of more than 100 police officers increased from 55 to 354—from an average of one a week to almost one a day. These figures exclude the sporting and ceremonial events which, however much pleasure they give to millions, require careful policing, often with large numbers of officers. At the same time, district commanders have reported increases in the number of local disturbances, such as rowdyism and hooliganism.
All these demands, as the Commissioner has himself made clear, are a regular and major pressure on police resources in the capital city. They have had two effects. First, they often require large numbers of men to be withdrawn, albeit temporarily, from the routine policing of their districts. Secondly, in the light of the experience of the riots in Brixton, and elsewhere, in 1981, they have meant the preparation of a much more sophisticated approach, first to the prevention of disorder and then to a response to it. The Metropolitan police have taken a major part in forging a new, national programme of training in the strategy and tactics of preventing, and reacting to, disorder.
The Commissioner proposes to tackle this operational burden of public order policing while maintaining overall effectiveness. There will be a conscious effort to reduce the level of manpower required for major, planned public order events, while ensuring that the Metropolitan police can have a range of levels of response to the prospect of serious disorder. He has revised the role and responsibilities of the former immediate response units so that they have a specific and active role in districts.
The House will recognise that the maintenance of public order must remain a major priority. Failure in this responsibility would fundamentally undermine stability in the metropolis, and would lower police, and public, morale. The considerable growth in manpower in the last few years has enabled the Metropolitan police to reorganise and adapt to meet the challenge of disorder. The Commissioner's proposals—building on new training and techniques—are aimed at preserving the peace with the minimum of manpower and the minimum of force.
The other main operational area I asked the Commissioner to review was dealing with crime. The Metropolitan police have always had a high public reputation for their manifest success in dealing with the most serious and sophisticated criminals. But, given the range of demands placed on them, they have not been able consistently to give the right level and type of attention to persistent crimes such as robberies and burglaries, which most concern the general public. In the debate on 25 March last year, when the House considered this very issue, I underlined several linked strands of action to tackle it: a reappraisal of methods and tactics; a reallocation, in view of the increased manpower available, to men on the beat; and a sharpening-up of action on crime prevention, to include the community and other agencies. The Commissioner's plan translates these policies into practice. It is radical and far-reaching.
I should like to touch, first, on the process of detection. The record of the Metropolitan police in dealing with organised and specialised crime is extremely good. The Commissioner intends to adapt the successful techniques developed in this sphere and apply them to the persistent run of street robberies and burglaries. His main concern is to ensure that better analysis is combined with better targeting. For that reason, he is—with my full support—setting up units in each of the four metropolitan areas, directed to compile better information on which arrests can be based. This new approach is to be supported by switching a number of senior officers to CID command posts where case loads are high, by better co-ordination, by screening case loads more carefully, and by involving uniformed officers more in the process of investigation.
The Commissioner has informed me that the initial results of this revised approach, introduced already in parts of south-east London, are most encouraging. He judges that these steps are essential if the police are not to be trapped in a cycle of crime reports and investigations which could simply turn detectives into processors of paper, and push detection effort away from those areas where it could be most effectively deployed.
This reorganisation of detection effort is, however, only a part of a broader thrust to give new purpose and direction to uniformed patrolling on the ground. The Commissioner's report lists a number of specific steps.
Over the last few years, 1,000 officers have been returned to beat duty. In a shorter time scale, the Commissioner proposes to redeploy a minimum of 650 more from savings elsewhere. In doing this a practical operational problem has to be faced. As work loads have risen and the demands on the police from calls from the public have grown—they take up about 70 per cent. of uniformed police activity—the Commissioner is concerned that his officers have tended more and more to have to react to the problems around them rather thanbeing able to mould new ways of tackling them. Officers on uniformed patrol will therefore be given clear directions about their objectives, priorities and tasks; for example, the need for co-operation with other agencies in priority estate projects, servicing and monitoring neighbourhood watch schemes, liaison with victim support groups, and tackling racial harassment, vandalism and hooliganism.
Manpower will be allocated more efficiently to areas of high, medium and low incidence of street robberies, street disorder and burglaries. Areas of special difficulty will receive the highest priority. There will be a new programme to inculcate and identify high levels of police ethics, conduct and professionalism, improvements in first-line supervision by increasing the number of sergeants in divisions, and a determined attempt to identify suitable candidates, particularly among ethnic minorities, for recruitment to the Special Constabulary.
Action cannot be confined to the police. It would not work if it were. The Commissioner fully recognises that to be successful the police must not only have the support of consultative groups, and statutory and voluntary agencies, but their active involvement; not just their understanding of local crime problems but a willingness to take specific local steps jointly with the police to do something about them. District commanders will be required to identify specific problems. Neighbourhood watch schemes—groups of householders co-operating with each other and the police in measures to protect their properties and neighbourhoods, particularly against burglary—are being planned. So are property marking schemes, which can deter both thieves and receivers of stolen property. The efforts of other agencies will be harnessed in relation to victim support and designing buildings and estates to reduce opportunities for crime.
The Secretary of State referred to the role of commanders. Is it not almost a tragedy that when a commander has achieved a considerable degree of success—such as Commander Howlett in my area recently—within a comparatively short time he should be taken out of the area—in this case, Hackney—and moved elsewhere? In fact, Commander Howlett is now the commander of this division. When an officer has achieved a large measure of public confidence, would it not be far better if he were left in his post, especially if it is a sensitive one?
What I have said is in no way intended to disparage the new commander, who is already doing a very good job.
The Commissioner shares the hon. Gentleman's views and, consistent with the needs of promotion and the other operational matters of which he has to take account, will seek to follow that course whenever possible.
The police training programme will be revised to support such actions and to elevate crime prevention to the mainstream of policing.
These changes represent a major redefinition and upgrading of the role and status of the constable in relation to his local community, a major reinforcement for the influence of that local community to be brought to bear on policing needs and priorities and a determined effort to tackle local problems locally in a co-ordinated way. I believe that this redirection of effort will be one which hon. Members, and their constituents, will welcome.
Like the Commissioner's own preliminary report, this picture does not cover all the work of the Metropolitan police. I have said nothing of detail about the work on anti-terrorism, of the fight against major and sophisticated crime, about training, recruitment, manpower, traffic policing, or a whole range of other issues on which my attention, as police authority, and the Commissioner's own attention, must also be focused. But at this stage I thought that the House would wish to reflect on the major changes in operational direction, rather than attempt to cover the whole canvas of policing in London. These changes have a crucial link with what I have described as a greater local involvement in policing, and how that relates to important questions of accountability and influence. It is to these that I should now like to turn.
There has been increasing recognition, specifically reflected in Lord Scarman's recommendations about close community consultation and policing, that there was a need to revive the local basis of policing while not losing the economies of scale and effectiveness provided by larger forces. This was especially true in the metropolis. I believe it is fair to claim that the action which I and my Department took in relation to Lambeth just over a year ago, and then followed through in the guidelines on community consultation of June last year, fully reflects the importance of the subject. I believe that it also provides a solid basis for local advance.
I have been greatly encouraged by the way in which many consultative groups have been set up in the metropolis. In particular, I think it is right to record that the police/community consultative group in Lambeth has demonstrated a successful determination to grapple with the need to share the resolution of the problems of policing that area. The House should recognise, as I do, that hon. Members for Lambeth constituencies have played a full part in the work of the group since its formation. Other hon. Members throughout the Metropolitan police district are now engaged in the same way.
Such consultative groups, and other methods of liaison at local level, are central to my concern, and the Commissioner's policy, to enhance crime prevention and improve the situation where relations between the police and the community are under strain. I believe it is important that such arrangements should be underpinned in legislation, which is now before the House.
I do not want to dwell, at this stage in the debate, on the detail of what is happening in one borough compared to another, but I do want to emphasise four main points which, I believe, should be a feature of any such consultative group in the metropolis. The first is that no consultative arrangement should be so dominated in form or representation by any one body that it fails to reflect the equality of membership essential for sensible consultation. Secondly, it should try to reflect as wide a range of community interests as is consistent with a reasonably effective working arrangement. Thirdly, the police must be members as of right, not called to account in any legal sense but enabled to discuss, explain, be criticised and take prompt action. Fourthly, I believe that hon. Members for constituencies in the Metropolitan police district should also be members of such groups as of right.
This reflects the constitutional position and provides, in my view, an appropriate channel between local representation and the Secretary of State. I wish to tell the House that I shall not readily endorse arrangements that do not adequately meet these four tests. There may be those who will argue that because they believe the basis of accountability is wrong they will not co-operate. If they believe that, they should focus their campaign for a change in the law on, and in, Parliament. They should not ignore and abuse their position by trying to compromise in practice the constitutional role of the police and their links with the community.
The Secretary of State will recollect that some of the points that he has just mentioned as those which should be ingredients in this process are ones which I urged him to insist upon most strongly in the guidelines on this subject which he issued some months ago to the police and local authorities. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us might prick up our ears a bit at his use of the word "readily"? He said that he would not readily agree to arrangements which did not reflect what he had just said. Can he go further and say that he simply will not agree to any arrangements which do not ensure, for example, that the Members of Parliament for an area are included as of right in any consultative machinery?
The words that I used were
I shall not readily endorse".
I have always believed in seeking to proceed on matters of this kind by agreement and common sense wherever possible. If that proves not to be possible, I think that my words are clear. I have no desire at this stage to wield a big stick. I want to approach the matter sensibly and with common sense and agreement. I think that that is the right way. My words mean what they say, and I shall not be pushed around by those who try to evade the proposals which I put forward.
I have been listening attentively to the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. The one weakness is the word which the right hon. Gentleman has not defined—the word "consultative". That is the important word. There is a difference between proper consultation and people simply sitting as a group to receive information about police procedures and what they intend to do. This is the stumbling block. It almost seems as though the Home Secretary is trying so to arrange these committees that the locally elected representatives are in a minority. If that is the case, it is doomed to failure. I think that the right hon. Gentleman must first attend to that problem, as well as defining the word "consultative".
I am about to explain how I see these committees working. On the first point, I still maintain that the proposals that I have set out and the way in which I suggest the consultative groups should be formed are reasonable and will work with the co-operation of those who want to make them work. I suspect that there are some who do not want to make them work, but for those who wish to make them work the guidelines are reasonable.
The Commissioner and I firmly believe that the right focal point for increased involvement in developing local policing strategy is at borough and district level and below. I have also been concerned during the past year to develop the ways in which I can, as police authority, discuss local policing problems which have common features across the metropolis. It is for that reason that I announced on 16 December the formation of a consultative forum for the metropolis, where representatives of the boroughs and districts which pay the precept could regularly discuss more general policing issues, under my chairmanship, with the Commissioner and his senior officers. I am grateful to the London Boroughs Association and the Outer London Districts Association for agreeing to play a full part in these meetings. At the same time, I have taken the opportunity to talk to groups of hon. Members from constituencies in the metropolis about their views of London policing. I have found such meetings valuable and I believe that they have been welcomed by the hon. Members involved. I intend to continue this process so that at each of these levels, and in these different ways, the involvement of local communities and their elected representatives can inform and assist in the development of policing policy.
That is a matter that can easily be overcome in the arrangements and is not something that should in any way impede the working of hon. Members on this group. I am sure that it will not do so.
I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that I had informed the Commissioner, on his appointment, that I wished to look to a greater degree of decentralisation to match the development of local consultation on policing. Sir Kenneth Newman has said that a number of the steps which he has already announced, and which I have touched on today, carry with them some immediate management and organisational changes. They involve a shift of emphasis away from New Scotland Yard to the four area deputy assistant commissioners, and commanders and other senior officers on districts will be engaged more closely in planning and resource allocation. The Commissioner has helpfully set out in his report the way in which he will, himself, seek to judge the role of central departments at New Scotland Yard. In this light, the management structure of the Metropolitan police, as well as its manpower levels and overall expenditure, will in the course of this year receive thorough examination jointly with my Department.
I have just spoken about what I have called local policing policies, but overlaying and sometimes necessarily overriding these are the problems of an enormous capital city, some of which I touched on at the beginning of my speech. These problems have, in part, led successive Governments to accept that it is sensible and right that the Home Secretary should be the police authority for the metropolis. Some critics of this position now say that all problems would be solved if the national functions that are carried out by the largest force in this country, for example anti-terrorism or protection, were sliced off from the rest. A new police authority would take shape in some vast local authority committee and the Home Secretary would have some sort of national police force. I do not believe that that is practical or realistic.
The national role of the Metropolitan police, while relevant to the position of the Home Secretary as police authority, is not, in my view, the main point. More important is the sheer size of the metropolis and the fact that a great burden of work falls on the police because of its capital city functions. This burden includes foreign embassies and international organisations, national marches and demonstrations, the seat of Parliament and the Government. These are unique features, either of kind or degree, compared with any provincial city. London is also the focus of major crime of international dimensions.
These pressures require the full resources of the force to be available for use at any time. In my experience, they lift the task of policing, and supervising that policing, to a different level from that experienced elsewhere. They rightly make the policing of the capital a special interest of Parliament and of the House, and therefore of the Home Secretary. Major constitutional change in political responsibility for policing the metropolis would certainly confuse, and eventually erode, the role of the House as the forum in which major issues of policing the capital should be addressed.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about involving local boroughs and London Members of Parliament in consultations on London policing. However, does my right hon. Friend intend that this consultative role of London boroughs and Members of Parliament will be applied to the national responsibilities of the Metropolitan police? I cannot think that my right hon. Friend intends that to happen.
The national responsibility of the Metropolitan police will be recognised in the area where they go, and no doubt can be a subject of discussion with the Home Secretary and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary by the consultative groups which I trust will be set up in other parts of the country under the Bill now going through the House and by the police authorities concerned.
The problems posed by local policing, capital city responsibilities and national functions are interlocking. II would be impractical and irresponsible to divide them up and parcel them out. Nor do I belive that it would be wise to separate from the other responsibilities of the Secretary of State responsibility for the police force which, under any scheme, will remain by far the largest in the country. I believe that it is important that the decisions of the police authority for the Metropolitan police should be directly related to the other responsibilities of the Secretary of State to promote the efficiency of the police generally. They must support provision for the maintenance of public order on a national basis. They must support national security and the implementation of international obligations, and they must support the efficient operation of the criminal justice system as a whole.
The Government's policy recognises the importance of these major issues and of the need for greater local involvement in policing, without opening up the dangerous prospect of political control over operations, masquerading in the guise of greater accountability. The Commissioner's report and the manner of its public handling demonstrate that the present arrangements work.
This debate has a major part to play in enabling the reality of the problems that I have described to be recognised. It provides the opportunity for the House to discuss and influence their handling. I have asked the Commissioner to review annually the objectives and priorities of the force in the light of discussion in this House, of the views of the boroughs and districts which pay the precept, and of the opinions expressed in consultative groups.
Proposals for change will be presented to me annually, and the recommendations will be made public to enable a further round of implementation and discussion. The approach that the Commissioner is taking, and which I fully support, faces the need to enhance public confidence in, and co-operation with, the Metropolitan police, and also attacks more effectively the difficult and persistent crime and public order problems that exist in London. That policy, as I have outlined it, will be pursued vigorously and openly. It deserves the full support of this House.
Today's debate is much to be welcomed, and I begin by offering the Home Secretary the thanks and congratulation of this side of the House for making possible a discussion on the policing of London. We welcome what he has provided and thank him for providing it, not least because this afternoon we shall get as near as we ever get under the present law to influencing the policy of the Metropolitan police. Even although the House will remain at some distance from the position of power on which the myth of the Home Secretary as police authority depends, it is clearly right that the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis should have the opportunity to hear the House's formal opinion on the way his duties have been and will be in future discharged.
I refer to the Commissioner, for no one should have any doubt that it is the Commissioner who, for better or worse, determines the policy of the Metropolitan police. The opportunity for this House to influence his decisions seems to me to be essential in the light of two facts, only one of which the Home Secretary dealt with in any detail. The first is what I shall describe, although the Home Secretary may define it differently, as the growing demand for genuine democratic control over the police and police policy in London. The second is the growing disquiet about the performance of the Metropolitan police.
On a day when I hope that the House will be more united than divided, I am suprised that the Home Secretary did not say a word about the concern that is felt in London and elsewhere about the way in which the Metropolitan police are currently discharging their duties. Today's debate has many causes, one of which I think was a deputation from my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent London, and it was to them that the Home Secretary gave his initial promise to hold this debate, which I welcome as graciously as I can. That deputation and this debate are in no small measure the result of growing concern about the performance of the Metropolitan police. One cannot have an honest debate on this subject without dealing in passing, or at least at the beginning, with what that performance amounts to.
Let me pursue my ecumenical feelings on the subject and say how glad I was that the Home Secretary conceded at the beginning of his speech that we cannot distinguish constitution, organisation and performance in our debate today. Those three things are intrinsically and unavoidably linked. We may hold different views about the conclusions that we reach on what the organisation should be, but I confirm and support the Home Secretary's view that until we talk about constitution and organisation with some clarity and courage, we shall not say what needs to be said about the performance of the Metropolitan police and the deterioration in that performance that is causing so much disquiet among residents in the capital.
Before I describe the deterioration in performance in the statistical terms that the Metropolitan police provide, I want to put into perspective my two criticisms. Critics of the failure of the Metropolitan police to deter crime and apprehend criminals are normally accused of two misdemeanours. The first is the undermining of the morale of individual officers on whom London's safety depends. The second criticism, which in my view is even more bizarre, is that those critics are giving aid and comfort to the criminals in the capital.
I want to rebut those charges as briefly as I can. First, both the statistical evidence and my personal experience convince me that the Metropolitan police recruit highly talented and highly dedicated officers. For that reason, I regard it as all the more extraordinary that a police force that has among its ranks individual members of such quality should produce a collective performance that causes such disquiet. I conclude in part from that, as the officers are admirable and the performance leaves much to be desired, that there must be questions of organisation of those admirable officers which it is right for the House to ask the police authority for London.
Second, it has always struck me as extraordinary that those of us who complain about rising crime in London should be accused of aiding criminals whom we are anxious to catch through the methods of reorganisation that we propose. All that my party has said about policing in London—for better or worse, Conservative Members will disagree with our conclusion—has been intended as a formula for meeting the capital's needs to prevent crime and catch criminals. It is not surprising—
In view of what has been said by various individual Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Hackney, who, needless to say, is not in his place, how can the right hon. Gentleman say that they have been supporting the cause of the police in London? It is quite outrageous.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) is certainly here. I think that the hon. Gentleman was directing his abuse at somebody different. Only the weak-minded believe that those who want law and order to be improved in the capital must be those who never criticise the performance of the police. The object of a debate such as this is for us to say what needs to be said about the organisation. To pretend that the friends of the police are those who say that everything that the police do is right is the most weak-minded proposition. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) agrees with me.
I come back to the need to protect the citizens of London, to prevent crime and to catch criminals. It is not surprising that we on this side should feel and express increasing concern on these matters, for it is the people whom we represent who have suffered most in the recent past from the increase in crime. Assaults, burglaries and break-ins are most numerous in inner cities, the decaying central areas, and on the vast local authority housing estates. When the victim of a mugging or a theft is elderly or unemployed, the problems of physical and financial recovery are insuperably difficult. I repeat that it is not surprising that we want to see an improved performance, and all that we have suggested has been concerned with that improved performance, which we believe must come, singularly and spectacularly, to the capital.
In London, crime is much worse, and the performance in detecting and deterring it is far worse than in any other part of the country. To demonstrate that problem I repeat, with no pleasure, the most recent statistics at my disposal.
The clear-up rate for reported serious crimes in the Metropolitan police district is recorded at 17 per cent., although the Metropolitan police concede, with admirable honesty, that in reality less than 10 per cent. of recorded new crime results in arrest, prosecution and conviction. Let us take simply the recorded figure, not the sophistication or the deterioration of it, which the Commissioner's office itself provides. On those recorded figures, only 17 out of every 100 reported crimes in London result in a conviction, as compared with 32 per cent. in the west midlands, 34 per cent. in Merseyside, 41 per cent. in Manchester and west Yorkshire, and 50 per cent. in Northumbria and south Yorkshire, the other metropolitan areas.
In my view, the discrepancy in those performances cannot be attributed solely—or, indeed, generally or largely—to the special social conditions that operate in the capital. In his preliminary talk on problems and priorities, the Commissioner listed those special tasks that bear particularly onerously upon the Metropolitan police and require them to discharge duties that are not discharged outside London. Indeed, the Home Secretary paraphrased them today. It is not reasonable to claim that the reason their record in deterring crime and catching criminals is so much worse than that of police forces in the rest of the country is that they have so many other duties to perform. It is not reasonable, not least because the Metropolitan police have so many extra resources with which to perform those duties.
They have 3·6 officers for every 1,000 people within their area compared with 3·1 in Merseyside, 2·7 in Greater Manchester, 2·6 in west midlands and 2·3 in Northumbria. The Metropolitan police spend £69·7 per thousand people within their area compared with £48 in Merseyside, £40 in Greater Manchester, £36 in the west midlands and £35 in Northumbria. The hard fact is that even when the figures are made genuinely comparable to allow for the extra duties imposed on the Metropolitan police, London has more policemen than have the provinces, spends more on the police than do the provinces, and is less successful in catching, prosecuting and deterring criminals than is anywhere else in the country.
I and the Labour party believe that that is because the Metropolitan police are more remote from the people that they serve than any of the provincial forces. The House knows that—
Yes, I do, and Birmingham knows, too.
The House knows that the Labour party is dissatisfied with the governance of the police in the provinces and wants to give the provincial police committees real power over general policy. But even with the present law the provincial forces are clearly much less detached, much less inward looking and much less inclined to think of themselves as outside the community than are the police in London.
There were two reasons. First, we were still hopeful of the legislation that we had introduced and, secondly, the hon. Gentleman must come to grips with the fact that there had not been the savage and tragic deterioration in the capital's crime rate that we have had over the past four years. Crime in London—
The hon. Gentleman must contain himself. I shall gladly give way in a minute, but there is something of a queue.
The hon. Member for Enfield, North must understand, although the Home Secretary could not bring himself to say so, that the worst deterioration in crime on the streets, break-ins and burglaries has occurred in the past four years under the Government whom he supports and who promised to do something better. That is why concern has mounted and views have changed.
I share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the low clear-up rates for certain categories of crime, but is he aware—I am sure that he must be—that several experiments have been introduced in parts of the metropolitan area, such as home beat officers, that have been successful in bringing the community and the police force together? Is not that a step in the right direction and the sort of thing that the Labour party ought to be recommending?
If I am allowed to proceed, I propose to express my wholehearted support for the preliminary report of the new Metropolitan Commissioner. That report was a step in the right direction. My only complaint is that paragraphs from it—I do not want to blight the career of a most distinguished officer—might have been taken from a Labour party policy statement. It is, generally, what we advocated in the debate on 25 March last year.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, in his heart and mind as he addresses the House today, that he is simply a shop window for the most subtle and scurrilous anti-police campaign that is being waged? Hon. Members all know the truth. We all know the truth. Does the right hon. Gentleman—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may be that in addressing hon. Members rather than yourself I was in breach of the rules of the House., but I was coming to a point of some substance about the Metropolitan police and I shall be most grateful if you will allow me to continue.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that while he is putting a most respectable case to the House, there are those in the Labour party who are putting a different and scurrilous case throughout every constituency party in the metropolis, as the people of London well know?
I can only give the hon. Gentleman the advice that I often gave him when he was a member of the Labour party, and that is that causes would survive and prosper more if he chose to deal with facts and logic rather than the smear in which he has indulged today. That is what I told the hon. Gentleman when he was making his name out of the Labour party and that is what I tell him today when other circumstances have come about.
I now return to the issue rather than the irrelevances that the hon. Gentleman so perfectly represents. For some time the Metropolitan police have been more detached from the population and more inward looking than the provincial forces. The Metropolitan police are both those things, not least because they are responsible to no authority other than their own. We debated the matter on 25 March on a Supply day, the Opposition wishing to bring these matters to the attention of the House and the country. The then Commissioner for the metropolis made a swift response. He said that it was about time that the politicians got off the back of the Metropolitan police. That comment was made a few days before the annual report was produced, which showed that robbery in London had increased by 48 per cent. and burglaries by 15 per cent.
One of the fantasies that appears in debates on the Metropolitan police is that hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) and, I suspect, others who will take part later, persist in talking about all proposals for the reorganisation and reconstitution of the Metropolitan police as if their work is so admirable as to be beyond criticism and improvement. That is not my view and I am delighted to acknowledge that it in no way seems to be the view of the new Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman. I welcomed his appointment at the time and I do so today. The two major statements that he has produced since his appointment justify that welcome.
The first was his initial public statement which described the implied contract between the police and the public—a concept with which I wholly agree, as, I believe, do all hon. Members. More important was his second major public statement—the preliminary assessment of the problems and priorities of the force which he subtitled "First aid measures". I should like to read the four primary objectives that he set out in that statement. The first was to make the force more responsive to the needs and feelings of the local communities. The second was to secure a better balance between the levels of police command. The third was to improve the performance of the police in dealing with street robbery and burglary and the fourth, to initiate a more corporate style of police management. In some particulars those aims could have been taken from a policy statement that I hope to write and from policies that I have advocated in the House. It is extraordinary that we had to await the arrival of the new Commissioner to proceed with such improvements in police procedure.
The Home Secretary constantly tells us that he is the police authority for London. He was the police authority throughout three years when the deterioration in crime statistics was at its worst. He was the police authority when break-ins were no longer reported because they were such a common occurrence in some areas that the police were not expected to take any action. When I reported that to the Commissioner, he at once instructed all officers that break-ins must be treated according to their individual importance and merit, no matter how great the incidence of such crimes in an area.
Why was the Home Secretary not responsive to the feeling that prevailed among our constituents for three years? Why did he not make the improvements suggested in the interim report before the new Commissioner took office?
I do not hold the Home Secretary personally responsible for these matters. It has never seemed reasonable that the Home Secretary, who has many other onerous responsibilities and who in this Administration—although I fear not in future Administrations—is the Deputy Prime Minister, who chairs Cabinet committees and has other duties to perform, should think that he can keep intimate control of the organisation and running of the police in the metropolis. However, someone should be doing that. If it were a body of elected men and women it would have told the former Commissioner that there should be more police on the beat, a response to local needs and consultation, which the new Commissioner perceived and put in his memorandum three months ago.
When an intruder entered Buckingham Palace some months ago newspaper after newspaper, almost all of which were of the Conservative persuasion, asked me to demand the Home Secretary's resignation. I refused because it seemed unreasonable to say that he was responsible for that incident. An elected police authority would have been able to pay more detailed attention, not perhaps to that incident but certainly to what happened in Brixton, to Operation Countryman, and to the more serious and general matters that have afflicted the Metropolitan police. That is why I regard the creation of such an authority as essential for London.
I shall describe my party's proposal in the practical terms of the new Commissioner's paper which lists six main objectives. I want to encourage the Home Secretary to believe that those who ask for improvement are not destructive critics who should be brushed aside. The first of the Commissioner's proposals, in order of priority, is:
To increase direct foot patrols in priority areas (areas with the highest incidence of street robberies, street disorders and burglaries) with a view to reducing criminal opportunity through police community co-operation and contact.
That is exactly what the Opposition urged on the House on 25 March, but we received a pretty tardy response from the Minister of State. He said:
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook placed his faith on enlarging the numbers on the beat and what he describes as a democratic system of control".—[0fficial Report, 25 March 1982; Vol. 20, c. 1180.]
I rejoice that the new Commissioner did not disregard our proposals in such a cavalier fashion.
When I met the new Commissioner three months ago, shortly after his appointment, I was deeply encouraged by what he said about foot patrols in London. Without being improper in describing our conversation, I can tell the House of the new Commissioner's attitude. He said "I am not squad happy." He told me that by that he meant that he believed that the London police were best organised not in serious crime squads, drug squads or vice squads but as policemen, with all the responsibilities and most of the talents, out amongst the people.
I wish that such ideas, when urged on the Home Secretary over the years, had found a ready response and that we had not had to await the arrival of the new Commissioner. In the same spirit I urge the Home Secretary to treat less casually than he treated what we said about foot patrols the need to reinforce the London public's confidence in the London police. I refer in particular to the ethnic minorities.
Since I suspect that the Home Secretary does not readily take advice from me, I remind him of the view of Mr. Ferdinand Mount, the head of the Prime Minister's policy unit. Of policing in London he said:
For the first time in this country, the conduct of the police is being brought into question, not among parts of the working class who might regard themselves as the hereditary enemies of the constabulary, but among the respectable middle classes.
That was said by Mr. Mount of the Spectator, writing in The Standard—a more Conservative combination is impossible to imagine. I hope that the Home Secretary will take notice of that judgment. It reinforces my simple view that, as a result of incidents in the last four years—Operation Countryman and its outcome, the incidents in and about Buckingham Palace, the shooting of Mr. Stephen Waldorf and many matters included in Lord Scarman's report—it is absolutely necessary to encourage the people of London to have greater confidence in their police force.
That can be brought about in two ways. The first is to convince the people that they control the police force through their elected representatives. The second is to establish a proper system of complaint when something goes wrong which ensures that the complainant receives the justice which people do not believe exists today.
I make that plea not only in terms only of civil liberties but in terms of police performance in London. Until people believe that the police force is theirs and on their side they will not co-operate in the way that is essential for the police properly to discharge their duties.
I have no doubt that one of the problems that has resulted in poor performance by the Metropolitan police is the size and scope of their task. That makes it almost impossible for the police to discharge their duties adequately. The Government are bound one day to examine size and scope as a management rather than a political exercise.
I fear that in the short run the relationship between the police and the public in London will deteriorate rather than improve. Although I cannot discuss it in detail, that is the result of the almost inevitable passing of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill and the frictions that that will create between police and public in London, particularly between police and ethnic minorities for whom there should be special concern if the police are to discharge their duties aright.
My hope is that the consultative groups—which I welcome as one of the many advantages to come out of the Scarman report—will bring the police and public back into more appropriate contact and minimise the friction. I want them to work successfully. I shall do all that I can to encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends and councillors of the same political persuasion to take part in those groups in the spirit in which they are set up.
The right hon. Gentleman made a sweeping generalisation about police relations with ethnic minorities. He sounded condemnatory. My constituency is next to Southall. In the past two years police-community relations in that area, which is more sensitive than any that I can think of, have improved out of all recognition due to a magnificent effort by the police in community relations, community policing and sound police community contact. That should be recognised.
Of course I accept that without qualification. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that relationships differ from area to area, in accordance with various factors. I shall not go into that, because I want my hon. Friends who, like the hon. Gentleman, represent London constituencies to describe the position in their areas. Some of them will probably say that relationships in their constituencies are far from what they should be and that they are likely to be prejudiced by recent legislation.
However, I hope that that prejudice can in part be mitigated by the consultative groups in which the police and public can, we hope, work together in general harmony. Of course consultation is highly desirable and must be maintained even when the governance of the police is changed, but consultation is not real authority or accountability. Consultation works best—as it did in Brixton—when what the police hope for is also the judgment of the local community and its representatives on the consultative committee. On that famous occasion, consultation worked in a way that was wholly to the advantage of the local community.
However, there are and will be times in London when the community wants the police to do something that is not, in the police's judgment, the best for the area. On those occasions the people, through their elected representatives, must be allowed to decide what is best for their area. Until that is achieved, the right relationship will not be obtained and the right performance from the police will be impossible to secure.
It is extraordinary to listen to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), because he does not seem to recognise the responsibility that the Labour party had before 1979 for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke about more than 4,000 police officers being recruited. The truth is that without police strength it is impossible to achieve all the desirable aims to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We cannot put police officers on the beat if numbers are insufficient. When the Labour party was in government the strength of the Metropolitan police fell, and responsibility for that inescapably lies with that party.
I welcome this debate and hope that it will be the first of many. It is important that London Members of Parliament, in particular, should have the opportunity regularly to review the progress of the Metropolitan police and the policing of the capital. I also welcome the report that the Commissioner has prepared and presented to the Home Secretary. For the first time in many years it provides a strategy and plan for the control of crime in London, which the people of London will greatly welcome.
However, I do not understand the curious claim that the policing of London will somehow be improved by what is called "democratic accountability". Such a plan appears to require political control of the police. It is a well-known fact that the Greater London council, which has been advocating this proposal, envisages the appointment of senior officers to the Metropolitan police of and above the rank of chief superintendent—that is, to the top 300 posts. I can only assume that the purpose is to gain political control of police operations. There can be no other reason for wanting that responsibility.
However, there is nothing new about a debate on police accountability. The House has been listening to such debates since the 1780s. In the early part of the 19th century the people of London went without properly organised police protection rather than risk a police force that could be used as an instrument of tyranny by the Government and hence for the destruction of liberty. In the 1820s there were those who thought that crime and public order could be controlled and who held the absurd view that laws were self-enforcing by the severity of the penalty alone. Indeed, there are some today who still think that. That policy led to the scandal of the existence of 223 crimes for which hanging was the penalty.
The growth of London's population demanded a properly organised police force. The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 was the result of a tactical bargain between Peel's Tory party and the Whigs, who wished to exclude the City of London from the scope of the new police arrangements. Hence, to this day, the City has maintained its own very efficient, if small, police force free from, but now working in close consultation with, the Metropolitan police.
The creation of the Metropolitan police in 1829 laid the foundations of a police institution in the United Kingdom that is unique both in the world and in history, because the power of our police is almost entirely derived from the cooperation given to them by the public. If that co-operation was withdrawn for one reason or another, the police would be helpless and would cease to function. That is the finest form of police accountability and it is far better than a police committee of politically motivated councillors. Instead of seeking to remove the Home Secretary from his position as the police authority for the metropolis, it would make more sense in many ways to argue that he should assume such a role for the other 40 police forces in England and Wales.
I shall come to that point.
The case for such a step rests on the fact that ultimate responsibility for the police must lie with this House. Indeed, I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point. The House recognised that when, in 1980, it set up the Home Affairs Committee—of which the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) and I are members—which has special responsibility for looking at policing matters and has done so with considerable success. Our police are trained to understand that the source of their power lies in the public's co-operation, and to secure and maintain it always by behaving towards the public in a manner that is calculated to gain their good will and respect.
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. I agree that the public should give their full co-operation, but the hon. Gentleman is also saying that he does not want the full cooperation of elected members of the public. Is there not a contradiction in that? Incidentally, I should declare an interest, because I have been burgled and had my car stolen in the past three months.
I am making a perfectly clear case about accountability and the relationship between the public and the police and vice versa. Elected representatives, whether councillors or Members of Parliament, have an equal duty with their fellow citizens to relate to the police. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that that has not happened in London since 1829? If so, it is not true. Members of Parliament are in constant communication with the police on behalf of their constituents, and so are local councillors. For many years it was the practice of London boroughs which were concerned about such matters to have liaison committees with the police. However, the right hon. Gentleman, who represents a Norwich constituency, may not have been aware of that. I emphasise that this essential co-operative relationship between the public and the police is the most important part of the exercise. If for any reason that is lost, the police will be unable to perform their functions.
The essential difference between our police service and that of any other country is that a British police officer is first and foremost a citizen, accountable to the courts for his actions with regard to individual members of the public. He is not accountable to and is not an employee of the state. We in this House are responsible for creating the laws that he has to enforce. We are responsible for debating, as we do today, as we have done in the past, and hopefully will do more frequently in the future, the effectiveness of the police and the carrying out of their duties in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
If, for one reason or another, our police lose their power by losing the approval and respect of the public, as happened in Brixton in 1981, it is necessary for the Home Secretary to act to restore that authority, and my right hon. Friend did so. My right hon. Friend asked Lord Scarman to look into that incident. Lord Scarman's report, which the House debated, resulted in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is at present in Committee, which will establish the London borough consultative committees. I very much welcome the establishment of those committees. They are to provide the forum for the cooperation of the public, to discuss the reduction of crime opportunities and to increase crime prevention in London. That is exactly what the public are concerned about.
At the request of my right hon. Friend, the new Commissioner has drawn up his preliminary report outlining his plans and priorities for the better policing of London. I welcome those plans. The people of London are more interested in those plans than in obscure topics, such as whether there should be a new type of police authority for London controlled or influenced by people such as Mr. Ken Livingstone who is at present in charge of the Greater London council.
The Metropolitan police breakdown of reported crime for 1981 shows that 75 per cent. of crime in London related to the theft of property. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook properly referred to the low detection rate. However, 31 per cent. of that crime is auto crime—crime which relates to the taking of a motor vehicle or of property from it. That is an extremely difficult crime to prevent and still more difficult to detect.
Burglary accounted for 23 per cent. of crime in London, and other thefts and handling of stolen property 21 per cent. Violent crime — recorded as assaults —accounted for 3 per cent. and robbery and violent theft also 3 per cent. The police have a good detection rate for robbery—about 70 per cent., or better. Assaults and armed robbery are often the work of gangs. Assaults involving the individual most frequently occur between known parties. Again, the detection rate for those crimes is extremely good. These crimes are kept in check by a good detection rate. London, for its size and population, is the most peaceable capital city of any of the world's great capital cities.
The crimes which concern most London people are auto crime, burglary and mugging. I shall deal, first, with mugging. Contrary to what the popular newspapers say, the problem is not out of control. The police tell us that cases of street robbery and theft from the person, where the victim was under 60 years of age, numbered 15,330, and 2,487 where the victim was more than 60 years of age. It is not true that pensioners in London should not venture out on to the streets. Most mugging victims were young people aged between 17 and 40. There were nearly 10,000 such cases, most of which took place during the hours of daylight. Mugging is widely seen as a menace to life in the inner city, especially to women and old people. Newspapers, whether they simply reflect this anxiety or, in part, contribute to it, have persistently highlighted the crime.
That one such dreadful crime should occur is bad enough, but it is what is to be done about it that matters most. I welcome Sir Kenneth Newman's awareness of that and his proposal to direct the resources to those parts of London, especially inner London, where this crime occurs. But, as I have said, his plan to deal with it requires the co-operation of the people who live in the district, and he has to achieve that co-operation by seeking to detect the offences by generally acceptable means. That does not include random stop-and-search exercises—a fact that the police in London now fully understand. However, it does mean increasing the commitment to foot patrols in the area, and, as I have said, that depends on having the necessary police strength.
I am glad that the office of constable is to be upgraded, and that the quality of information that is necessary to improve detection is to be worked for. Without that information, there can be no arrests and therefore no cases to put before the courts, which means that there can be no punishment of the guilty.
That is not the only solution to this difficult crime. Many cases of mugging occur on council estates, built by both Conservative and Labour authorities, where planning and design in the past have failed to take into account the problem of crime control. The police alone cannot possibly contain these serious offences. It will require the wholehearted involvement of the community at all levels, especially in the local authorities. Walkways and street lights will have to be examined and improved where appropriate. In planning future estates, greater consideration will have to be given to how people live their lives and how the police can assist those people in the control of crime.
The most serious problem for London is the control of burglary, which is just as likely to occur in a council estate as in the plush suburbs of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt).
I agree with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo).
Opportunist burglaries, involving property valued at less than £100, is the principal cause of a very high burglary figure. The arrest rate in London shows that one quarter of those arrested were children aged between 10 and 16 years and that another quarter were young people aged between 16 and 20 years. They are young opportunist burglars who creep around the mansion blocks and the council estates, kick in doors, steal money, and are away within seconds. How do the police begin to detect that crime? Without an eye-witness or someone who can give evidence of identity, the police start from a difficult position.
The hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) is right. These crimes are difficult to prevent and to detect. But how does the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out, prevention and detection rates by the major provincial police forces are better than by the Metropolitan police?
The hon. Gentleman is moving the debate into a complex area and I am not equipped now to give him a detailed answer. I ask him to accept that the way in which crime is recorded varies slightly from force to force. Similarly, the problem varies. For example, most armed robberies involving sawn-off shotguns occur in the Metropolitan police area or the immediate home counties area. It is rare for such offences to occur outside those districts. Patterns of crime are different and I admit that they are complex and difficult to account for.
Police strength is essential in dealing with young opportunist burglars, but that of itself will not stop the crime. More must be done by those in the neighbourhood. That is the philosophy that the Commissioner and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are seeking to put into effect.
The challenge to combat auto crime must also include the motor car industry. Many motor vehicles are constructed with poor quality locks and a lack of good car perimeter security. I ask my right hon. Friend to investigate with the Home Office standing committee on crime prevention the possibility of reaching international agreements to improve the quality of car perimeter security. We must stop young people from getting into motor vehicles illegally, but again the public must play their part. Those who leave property visible in a motor car invite the thief to steal it. We must invite the public to do more to prevent these crimes from taking place. Once they have occurred, it is almost impossible for the police to detect the offenders.
The control of crime and disorder in London must rest on a joint exercise involving the police and the public, both having confidence in each other and in the authority of the House. We must always retain absolute authority over policing matters. We must recognise that the power to fulfil the police function and the duties of the police—the executive role of the police is often exercised by a 19-year-old police officer—are undertaken by young officers from the day that they go out on to the streets alone. We must recognise also that the actions of young officers have to be consistent with what the public expect to be the behaviour of the police.
The House is considering the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which contains important clauses about the police complaints procedure. The Home Affairs Select Committee contributed to the Bill by suggesting an improvement in the arrangements for dealing with the majority of less serious complaints—for example, complaints of rudeness. If the Bill is approved by the House, there will be a conciliation procedure, which will do much to bring the police at the basic level closer to the public in dealing with the legitimate concerns and complaints of the public.
Finally, I ask the House to consider the weight of law which is passed and which the police have to seek to enforce. The volume of road traffic law and other minor offences created in recent years has imposed a tremendous burden on the police. This has partly contributed to the breakdown of relationships between the public and the police. Therefore, we in this place must consider our part in this exercise of sustaining an effective police force in London. I urge the House to endorse the Commissioner's report, which I consider to be one of the most worthy documents on policing matters for many years.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) that we should bear in mind the contribution to the reduction in petty crime that the proper design of council estates can make. We are all aware of council estates in our constituencies that are conducive to low morale and are hotbeds of petty crime and vandalism. We all know other estates where the residents have considerable personal respect for their surroundings and where the social atmosphere is entirely different.
I wish to concentrate my remarks of the issue of local consultation, which the Home Secretary made the core of his speech. I shall present a worm's eye view. I am fortified in reaching that decision by my belief that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) ably dealt with the broader issues before us. I have had some practical experience as both a Minister and as a Member of Parliament for part of Lewisham.
Lewisham's experience is relevant to local consultation, which is now so much under discussion. Before the Government's spectacular achievements at Brixton, Southall, Toxteth and St. Paul's—they read like battle honours on a regimental standard—Lewisham might have been regarded as the most fraught area for policing and community relations work. We had the Deptford 23 case, which started the "Stop the Sus" campaign. We had the riots associated with the National Front march of 1977 and we still have our moments, such as the National Front march of 1980 and the Deptford fire, of which most hon. Members will be aware.
Lewisham has also had experience of increasingly constructive relations for some years with the local police. Matters have improved since the 1977 riot, especially in the southern part of the borough. We still have our troubles and moments of excitement though, and there is room for further improvement. The improvement that has taken place has been based entirely on the growth of local consultation.
A series of senior officers who have been posted to Lewisham have been willing to consult and talk to representatives of the local community at every level. The more they have been willing to talk to us, the more they have developed their own confidence in the response that they will get. As they have become more confident, they have become more forthcoming and relations have improved.
The borough decided that proper machinery should be established at two levels for consultation between the local police division and the community representatives. The first such body to be established was the Lewisham borough council liaison committee, which met for a number of years until about 18 months ago, when it ceased to have formal meetings so as not to prejudice existing discussions. It has been a successful instrument and discussions on the problems involving community policing have taken place between P division and the representatives of the London borough of Lewisham in their capacity as representatives of the local community. I have no hesitation in saying that within its limits it has been a successful committee.
The Lewisham council for community relations set up its own police sub-committee. It was realised that with a fairly large ethnic minority population the flashpoint of community and ethnic minority relations would have to be watched. The sub-committee consisted of five representatives from the local police division, two staff representatives from the Lewisham council for community relations, about 20 advisers on civil rights and five other representatives from the community. One of its most successful ventures was a help-on-arrest scheme, which allowed representatives of the Lewisham council for community relations to deal by interview with young black persons who had been arrested for various crimes and perhaps sort out and soften any allegations of racial prejudice that might be involved in the arrests.
It is a great tribute to the statesmanship and judgment of the Lewisham council community relations people that that procedure worked extremely well. It is evidence of the fact that, if they are given the right encouragement, Metropolitan police representatives are willing to talk to the local community and can be encouraged, to an ever increasing extent, to talk to representatives of the local community, to eveybody's benefit.
In the past few years, every area in my constituency has come to be covered by beat policemen who not only know that beat, but, in many cases, even in a fairly anonymous area such as a London suburb, are known to many of the residents by name. Indeed, they attend local tenants' association meetings and others. Over the years I have also found that, contrary to what occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was first a Member of Parliament, senior police officers of the division attend many meetings that are held by the local community and the council and are willing not only to listen but to make suggestions about what should be done. When Lewisham council's alchoholism committee meets, a senior policeman always attends and is willing to give the police point of view. When church groups hold meetings at which there are public representatives, there is always present a local senior police officer who can give his view.
The lesson that I draw from those developments is that if there are serious problems to policing in an area, what is required is a fairly rapid response by all those—police and ordinary citizens—who know that area. They can then avoid trouble. We have known the problems at their worst in Lewisham and our experience has taught us where the remedy lies. We believe that local organisations should develop along the lines that are laid down in the GLC's consultative paper under the heading option 3. That is the solution which Lewisham council will advocate shortly.
I say that because I have experience as a Member of Parliament of trying to get the Metropolitan police to ban the National Front march in the Lewisham area in 1977. We could not get leading members of the police force to appreciate the local problems, and the result was a pitched battle on the streets between the police and many people who found the march offensive.
Yes. In the meantime, we had to pay the price because the Metropolitan police were not sufficiently aware of the problem to take the appropriate action. When it came to the time of the hon. Gentleman's by-election, the police had learnt some of the lessons from the troubles in Lewisham and were beginning to adapt. Even if the heart of the Metropolitan police is in the right place, under their present organisation they are too slow to respond to local circumstances.
In 1980 we had another National Front march. Again we tried to persuade the Metropolitan police to ban it, but again they refused to do so. On that occasion the incident passed without any fighting on the streets, but only as a result of surrounding the march with masses of police. I shudder to think what the cost of that day's operation was to the London ratepayer and the taxpayer.
That also demonstrates the rigidity of the Metropolitan police in dealing with these problems and the difficulty that Lewisham faced in getting its case over to the Metropolitan police force in its present form.
The right hon. Gentleman is on to an extremely important point. Neither he nor any other right hon. or hon. Member can say that during the past two or three years the Commissioner—both the previous one and this one—with my backing, has been slow to ban marches. That could not conceivably be argued. Indeed, the criticism has been the other way. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the judgment of the Metropolitan police and the Commissioner in the type of case that he has mentioned rests on the fact that it can frequently be just as difficult, in terms of numbers, to police the ban of a march as to police the march itself. Both are sometimes extremely difficult and a judgment must be made operationally.
I should not try to deny the truth of what the Home Secretary has said. I am simply talking about 1977 and 1980, when Lewisham tried to get its case across to the Metropolitan police force as it is organised at present and failed to do so. As the Home Secretary said, there has been a change of policy in the past two or three years. It has taken six years to achieve something that we would have hoped to achieve much sooner if we had had a more locally responsive police force in London. The Home Secretary's intervention makes my case for me.
It does not quite. The banning or otherwise of a march would not necessarily make any difference to the number of police that had to be taken from other areas. That is a case for operational judgment. Each could be equally expensive in terms of police manpower.
We are now getting to a hypothetical point. I was referring only to what happened in Lewisham and the time that it took to get a response from the Metropolitan police on these important issues. What happens with regard to one march may be a case for individual judgment. Nevertheless, that judgment would be much better informed if we had a police force in London that was much more responsive locally than it is in its present form. At least such a police force would respond much more quickly than it does now.
As a result of the experiences that I have outlined at rather greater length than I expected because of interventions, there are proposals before Lewisham borough council to adopt a police committee under option 3 of the GLC's consultative paper on policing in London. Such a committee would be composed of representatives of the borough of Lewisham and co-opted community representatives. The council regards it as essential that the local police division be invited to send representatives to meetings of that committee. On the basis of Lewisham's history, I have every confidence that senior representatives of P division will be happy to attend such meetings.
The committee will discuss policing policy in the Lewisham area. Although it will be difficult to discuss individual cases, it is hoped that patterns of policing that emerge as a result of the committee's overview can be considered and argued between the police and the representatives of the council.
The council believes, however, that that will not be enough. It is felt that, in addition to the police committee, there should be a sub-committee composed simply of representatives from Lewisham and the police. It has to be concerned that many policing matters can have a shattering effect on individual reputations unless they are carefully handled, and that can impede the investigation of crime. It is therefore felt that there should be a forum in which the method of dealing with these issues can be discussed, initially in confidence. I hope that that sub-committee will not be active, but it is important that it should exist.
These issues are not regarded entirely without controversy in the area. I notice that the Lewisharn council for community relations, which has had wide experience of dealing with the police on many difficult issues, believes that there should be a widely drawn Lewisham police advisory committee. Such a committee would not have the powers of a borough police committee envisaged under option 3, and would be far too unwieldy and widely drawn. Nevertheless, the community relations council has a point in seeking a wider forum for the promotion of better relations between the police and the public.
The third leg of the borough council's proposals is that there should be a quarterly forum of about 200 people, representing all sorts of institutions in the Lewisham borough council, at which the broader police issues could be debated by anyone who wished to do so. We hope that the Home Secretary will encourage and support those proposals which come before the London borough of Lewisham in the not-too-distant future, when they will probably be adopted by an overwhelming number of councillors on that body.
Consultation will require money. There is no doubt about that. I hope that in these matters the Government will adopt a more tolerant attitude towards the poor people of London than they have on education and local government.
The Government have been prepared to afford substantial sums of money for an increase in police pay. I do not see why they should not be prepared to meet the costs of consultation as well.
The Home Secretary can take full credit for this. The police are now well paid, and they will say so. When I used to deal with industrial relations matters, I always thought that everyone was overpaid and underworked. I took notice of people's views only when they said they were grossly overworked and grossly underpaid. It is encouraging when a group of people say that they are well paid.
The quality of the police in London is rapidly improving, as are the numbers, to which the Home Secretary drew attention. I am in a good position to say that because, for various reasons, at one stage of my career a series of policemen lived in my house. There were many good officers among them. However, the new officers are uniformly of a higher standard than those of six, seven and eight years ago.
Standards have considerably improved, but I am afraid that I must depress the Home Secretary a little by saying that more than one senior police officer in Lewisham has said to me that the standards of the policemen are improving, the numbers are almost up to scratch, equipment is good and everything is working well, but—this might be the answer to the question that has been asked several times in the debate, which is a wider point than my former points—the police will not be able to reduce crime substantially in London so long as unemployment is at its present level. The Home Secretary's battle is likely to be fruitless unless he can get his colleagues in the Government to adopt economic policies that will reduce substantially the 3½ million burden of unemployment, which is already affecting even an area such as London, which theoretically is better off than most of the rest of the country.
I reinforce the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that we must have a police authority for London and that the Home Secretary must devolve powers to it. I shall not make the case again because my right hon. Friend did it well.
I join in the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) that there is a tendency to move senior police officers about too much in the community. If we are to have good community-police relations, when successful they must be allowed to fructify so that the police can get to know the people with whom they are dealing.
I read the preliminary report of the Commissioner with interest. He has selected the right objectives. In his first objective of improving relations between the police and the community, he might have stressed the ethnic community slightly more. However, that is my only criticism of his objectives. His proposals give hope that he will achieve those objectives, but we must all wait and see. If the local borough police committees are to be adopted throughout London, the Commissioner will have to turn his mind to decentralising the organisation of the Metropolitan police further than under his recent proposals to the Home Secretary.
I have every confidence that if anyone can adapt the Metropolitan police to serve the needs of Londoners, Ken Newman can do it. I have known him for a number of years and watched his career with interest. I hope that he will be successful in the task that he has undertaken.
I listened with interest to the comments of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle). I ask him to think again before he continues to attack the lack of flexibility of the Metropolitan police. It has proved itself under successive Commissioners to be extremely flexible in dealing with the public order operations that have to be carried out in the metropolis. I remind him that when he asks for reinforcement to control public order in his area of Lewisham, it is the policemen in my area of Richmond who are moved over to help him out.
I have spent, as I hope some of my colleagues have from time to time, several hours with the police force in my constituency. I spent four hours in a police car last year driving round the London area on crime prevention and traffic work. The two officers who drove me round were of high calibre. They had been taken off crime prevention work and put on their feet to deal with the problems not only in Brixton but in Lewisham. That is the flexibility that the Metropolitan police have shown, although we know that no police force is perfect.
I take objection to the attack that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, implying that no action had been taken for three years to deal with the structural and liaison problems in the police. The right hon. Gentleman is the Member for Sparkbrook and does not understand or know in detail how the Metropolitan police work. I have represented a London seat for nearly 25 years. I have represented that seat when we have had a series of Home Secretaries from both main parties, not one of whom has made or tried to make any effort to restructure co-operation and liaison with local authorities, local people, elected representatives and the Metropolitan police. This is the first time that we have had such proposals from a new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis or from a Home Secretary.
Is it not dangerous for the hon. Gentleman to argue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) cannot understand how the Metropolitan police work because he is the Member for Sparkbrook when the Home Secretary is the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border? His point might strengthen our argument for a local police force.
I have the highest regard for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook but, unlike him, some of us in the House have seen Home Secretaries from both parties try to deal with the problems of policing in London. The point that I was trying to make was that the present Home Secretary has tackled the problem of liaison and relationships between the local community, the locally elected representatives and the Metropolitan police in a way that none of his predecessors has been able to do.
I should like to make two remarks about control to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. A separate elected authority will not be the answer for the metropolitan area. We have already started in many boroughs to have close relations with the local police force from the constable on the beat to the local chief superintendent. That has been so for many years in Richmond. I believe that the grass roots, structured extension of that policy to include liaison between Members of Parliament and local borough authorities with the police would provide an expansion in a much more effective way than by having a centralised police authority of elected people.
There is another area in which there could be more elected interest and more elected control of the Metropolitan police. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider—I have reason to believe that he is thinking about it—having more discussions, perhaps on a group basis, with London Members of Parliament on each side of the House. That would provide another level of consultation for the Home Secretary. At the lower level, the police at grass roots will be talking to councillors, to Members of Parliament and local amenity societies. At the higher level, in the House or in the Home Office, Members of Parliament can always feel free to go individually to see the Home Secretary at any time. His door is open to us. But it would also be helpful if, from time to time, there could be meetings with him on a group basis so that the more strategic elements of the control and running of the Metropolitan police could be discussed.
Even before the new structured arrangements were laid out by the new Commissioner and by the Home Secretary, I always found relationships in Richmond to be very good. We have been active in local liaison on the Richmond side of the river and on the Twickenham side. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) will no doubt hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to talk about Twickenham later in the debate. In Richmond we have already set up a consultative committee which will have its first meeting in April. It will have on it up to 12 or 14 people who will represent local bodies in the way that the Home Secretary suggested at the beginning of the debate.
On the Richmond side of the river, including Barnes, Petersham, Ham and Kew, a start has been made to set up liaison groups. Discussion on setting up the groups has already taken place. I hope that in time they will develop into the neighbourhood watch schemes—which will operate not on a borough or constituency basis but in the area where each community works and lives. I have seven or eight communities in my constituency, even though it is very close to central London, where those neighbourhood watch schemes could work very well.
For some time we have had a victim support group, which was organised by the Council for Voluntary Service. A well-known local person presides over it, and it is already having a considerable effect in helping in the important area of the welfare of victims of assault.
My constituents certainly want to make the new guidelines work. They find them acceptable. The Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police can be assured of our wholehearted co-operation.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), in an intervention, spoke about commanders being moved too often. I sympathise with his view. We have been lucky in Richmond to have had some very good chief superintendents, but we have suffered from their being moved too often. We have had three chief superintendents in Richmond in the last two and a half years. The present one, an outstandingly able officer, will remain with us for only six months. That is not long enough to enable him to get to know the local people and how the local community works. He arrived in October and has done a marvellous job, but he will be leaving at the end of next month. I hope that the Commissioner will try to organise his promotion pyramid within the Metropolitan police so that senior officers may be left much longer in their posts, to enable them to work carefully and closely with local people.
My constituency probably has more open spaces than any constituency in the capital. We have, only eight miles from Hyde Park corner, a vast area of open space. We have Richmond park, Barnes common, Palewell common, Kew green, Petersham, and Ham lands. The police have a considerable problem in policing that huge area of open space.
There has been a great deal of local anxiety about dealing with the increased amount of crime on, for example, Barnes common. Two years ago the position was deteriorating very rapidly, but immediately I approached the Commissioner—and local people approached the chief superintendent—action was taken. Control has now been underlined by putting the CID back into Barnes police station. In 1981–82 there has been a 35 per cent. reduction in crime. There has been only one incident of indecency on the common in the past five months—a dramatic drop from previous figures. Obviously, in this area in the winter months the problems always are less than in the summer.
As I have said, the reaction to local views and opinions that we have had in the past from officers of the Metropolitan police has always been prompt. People who use statistics showing high crime levels in the metropolis try to suggest that crime in London is worse than in any other city in the world. That is untrue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) underlined in his remarks. Foreigners who travel around the world and visit London frequently always say that they would far rather walk after dark in central London than in New York, Paris, Rome,Tokyo, Cairo or any other capital city. That is a credit to us. It is also a credit to the Metropolitan police. It is our duty, as Members of Parliament representing constituencies in the metropolis, to ensure that that situation is maintained.
One of the problems of representing a London constituency is that we have to suffer from the burden of carrying the Greater London council. That burden has been round our necks for many years. I gave evidence to the Marshall committee in 1977, pleading for the abolition of the GLC. I have said it whether the GLC has been under Labour or Conservative control.
I believe that the Conservative Government were mistaken to set up the GLC in 1964. It has proved to be a nonsense and the sooner it is dismantled the better. The recent extraordinary behaviour of the GLC concerning the Metropolitan police underlines my point that it is unnecessary to have such a body pretending to preside over the affairs of London.
The GLC has no responsibility for the Metropolitan police; it has no precept for the Metropolitan police. The boroughs have the responsibility for raising the rate precept for the force. The GLC does not have that responsibility. It constantly takes on self-appointed authority to look after jobs and interests that are not part of its proper remit. More and more people are beginning to say that it is time that the GLC was abolished.
I hope that the Home Secretary will tell his colleagues that, certainly on the Conservative Benches, there is a virtual unanimity of view that the GLC should now be wound up. I hope that he will take action with his colleagues to get rid of this damaging wart on London's body politic.
I believe that in broad terms the Home Secretary is getting the answer about right. He has been helped a great deal by the appointment of the new Commissioner. In saying that, I in no way run down his predecessor, who led the Metropolitan police during a very difficult period. Many things need improving, but, broadly speaking, most of the citizens of London support their police force, want it to succeed, and will give it wholehearted support in the years ahead. I believe that the structured programme that my right hon. Friend has put forward today—and which has been put forward by the new Commissioner of police—should be supported by all of us in this House. I hope that, by backing the local consultation arrangements which are now being started, we shall make a real success of them.
I shall not argue today with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) about the future of the GLC, but he will have to overcome the opposition of the vast majority of Conservative members of the GLC who do not want the council to be wound up.
I support the hon. Gentleman's hope that the recommendations of Sir Kenneth Newman, which are supported by the Home Secretary, will improve policing in London. I want that to happen in Hackney, but I have some reservations about some of the recommendations.
I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for being prepared to listen to the views of London Labour Members—
I have not been to the other meetings. I can speak only of the way in which the Home Secretary has treated London's Labour Members. He has shown us great courtesy and has been prepared to listen to criticisms.
All hon. Members who have spoken so far have been willing to face squarely the many problems of policing in London. I am glad that, contrary to what has happened in some previous debates, hon. Members have not felt that they have to be apologists for the police, and it is also helpful that no one has so far sought to relegate the arguments about accountability to the level of discussing whether we agree or disagree with Mr. Ken Livingstone. There were some hints that that might happen, but it has not occurred.
All too often the police have been insensitive, even hostile, to criticism and have sought to categorise all criticism as destructive and extreme. Latterly, until, perhaps, the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman, the police have been excessively slow in reacting to criticism, even when they would admit, perhaps reluctantly, that it was justified.
The obstruction and delay in undertaking fundamental reforms and achieving a profound change in the relationship of the Metropolitan police with the community that they serve have contributed to the aggravation of problems that desperately need to be tackled.
There is a loss of confidence in and anxiety about the detection rate of crime, notwithstanding the comments of the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey. Following the shooting in the West End a few weeks ago and other incidents, there is a growing anxiety about the police and the increasing use, availability and control of firearms.
There is also anxiety about racist behaviour by some police officers, particularly in areas of inner London. I want to see policing made more effective in areas such as my constituency. That is the demand of countless people in the borough, but I will not subscribe to the views of those who use any vehicle to denounce and damage the police to secure sometimes dubious political objectives.
It we are to secure effective policing, the response of the police to genuine complaints and anxieties must be more adequate. I welcome many of the recent observations of Sir Kenneth Newman, but we need more than that. I support what the Home Secretary said about the need for more foot patrols—that would be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of my constituents—but I am disappointed with paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Commissioner's report to the Home Secretary, which has been made available to hon. Members.
Paragraph 5 says that
it is already apparent that the Metropolitan Police must guard against a deterioration of public confidence, and that there is a problem with young people, particularly young West Indians.
That is correct, but that is about all that it does say.
Paragraph 6 says that
the highest priority should be placed on conveying to the Force the critical importance of maintaining at all times, and to all people, the highest standards of courtesy and professionalism.
It really does not say much more than that, and that is a grossly inadequate response to the problems facing us in areas such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham.
I should like to have seen a clear, authoritative statement that it is the resolve of the Commissioner to extirpate racism from the Metropolitan police. That needed to be said, because it is important that a lead should be given. I have heard Kenneth Newman say that that is his ambition, and successive commanders in my district have always stated that view, but the report was an opportunity to say it clearly and definitively to the London public. I should like it stressed on every possible occasion. I have no doubt that that is the aspiration of the new commander in my district—Commander Taylor, who, at 35, is probably the youngest commander in the history of the Metropolitan police—but it is imperative that every opportunity should be taken to state that aspiration categorically.
I share the hon. Gentleman's view, but is he not asking of Sir Kenneth Newman something to which no Commissioner could possibly lend his name? To make the statement for which the hon. Gentleman asks, the Commissioner would virtually have to state that he believes that the Metropolitan police force is rife with racism, which is not the case. The Commissioner can properly say that efforts will be made in training to ensure that recruits or police officers with racial tendencies do not progress, but it is wholly wrong to ask him to start from the proposition that racism is common in the Met. That is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman is doing the Commissioner less than justice, because I am sure that he could volunteer a form of words that would not constitute an admission that the Metropolitan police force is rife with racism. Even the modest suggestion of the hon. Gentleman does not appear in the report. It is a serious omission, but it is still not too late for Sir Kenneth Newman and the Home Secretary to rectify that omission, and I hope that they will do so on every possible occasion.
This is a serious matter. The word "racism" is being used in a rather general way, as though it justifies assumptions being made about what is happening. I do not necessarily accept that such worrying things are happening. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that police officers are charging people of a certain racial background with offences that they have not committed?
The hon. Gentleman's grandfather could have taught him a thing or two.
I shall demonstrate what I mean by that. In youth clubs in my area largely populated by black youngsters I have seen and heard real bitterness expressed. Black youngsters are harassed. They are picked up by the police. Sometimes they are humiliated in public. Sometimes they are spoken to as though they are less than animals. That is what they tell me, and it cannot be entirely false. As I am sure the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will know from his conversations with police officers, the police know that it happens even if the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) does not.
Those youngsters are desperately sensitive, and such sensitivity all too readily leads to bitterness. In such an atmosphere suspicions become sharply etched, feelings become intense and rumours become rife. Such ground can be effectively tilled by political extremists who wish, for their own sometimes scurrilous objectives, to denounce the police.
I have also heard some of my black and Asian constituents claim, perhaps entirely without justification, that the police are slower to take action against those responsible for racial attacks on them than they are to provide the same protection for white people.
Police officers admit that they are worried about these matters. We should all be worried. I do not believe that such examples of misconduct exemplify the behaviour of the police as a whole. However, every individual act of misconduct of the kind of which complaints are made, every provocation, every case of fabricated evidence and every unjustifiable action do immense damage to the cause of fostering a climate in which the police can function effectively with the consent of the local community.
I know that that is what is required by the overwhelming majority of my constituents, because I speak to people al my surgery. They are not impressed by some of the things that are happening at present. They are deeply troubled about the increase in street crime, theft and housebreaking. Those of my hon. Friends who represent other areas in Hackney will know, because they share my experiences, that some elderly people are afraid to venture on to the streets at night and perhaps even more afraid to remain in their homes. They plead with us that the local authority should install entry phones because they have no security. This should be a matter of grave anxiety to us all. Those people want to see more police in the borough. They will welcome what the Home Secretary said today about that. They fear that a withdrawal of the police precept would threaten their security.
My own local authority may be very frustrated—sometimes with justification—by some of the actions, or the inaction, of the local police. The suggestion of the withdrawal of the police precept is, however, an empty but unacceptable gesture which increases the anxiety of many of my constituents—particularly the elderly—that the police are suddenly to be withdrawn. But of course that will not happen. When I spoke to Councillor Heaven, the chairman of the police liaison committee, he readily agreed that it would not happen. It is a gesture—a vote of no confidence in the police—but I do not believe that such a gesture is justified by the circumstances. If we are to make constructive criticisms about the police, as sometimes we must and as I do today, it does not add to the authority of those who support such criticism to join in every meaningless gesture and every attack on the police.
Areas such as Hackney are suffering massive distress and deprivation. Unemployment in Hackney is now almost 27 per cent. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) suggested that unemployment affected the crime rate, one Conservative Member—he is no longer present—disagreed, but of course unemployment has an effect and it is idle to pretend that it does not. We should try to build bridges of understanding between the community and the police rather than assisting those who wish to demolish them. To achieve this, a number of conditions must be met.
First, there must be genuine willingness by the Home Office, the police and the critics to tackle the basic difficulties. The Home Office must recognise that a complete restructuring of the complaints machinery is required. People do not have confidence in the present machinery or in the proposals so far made by the Home Secretary. People do not accept that the present system is fair and seen to be fair. Yet until recently demands for change were fiercely resisted. Indeed, that rearguard action has itself adversely affected confidence in the police.
Secondly, the Home Office must be prepared to make it clear, both nationally and locally, that racist behaviour will not be tolerated and that draconian action will be taken against any police officer indulging in such behaviour. That is what Scarman recommended. It is a great disappointment that the Home Secretary has not taken that sufficiently to heart. I hope that he will have second thoughts.
Thirdly, there must be a far more radical approach to accountability. It is not sufficient to wave the ogre of Ken Livingstone as an argument against accountability. The Home Secretary has already gone quite a long way. I doubt whether, when he first took office in 1979, he would have begun to consider the course on which he is now embarked. We are delighted that he has moved so far, but he must go much further. As The Times said on 25 January:
The excuse that London's special status as capital and as international centre justifies its virtual immunity from … local supervision has little logical justification.
What is called for and, one hopes, will be forthcoming from the Home Secretary—indeed, he has suggested today that this may be his approach—is reasonable flexibility in matters relating to local supervision. In this context, The Times said in the same article:
Involving the local community without inviting a relationship with the local authority is illogical and unnecessarily timid.
I believe that that is right.
In general, I welcome the criteria set out by the Home Secretary today. I hope that he will clarify the position in relation to Hackney. Councillor Heaven told me today that there had recently been discussions with the Minister of State, that he believed that the criteria established by the Home Secretary had largely been met and that the police would have a role to play as full members of the committee, as would Members of Parliament. I should like to know the present status. Delay is not helping.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East—I praise him, and not simply because he and I are members of the same shadow foreign affairs team—that the extension of police powers through the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill without any corresponding genuine safeguards for the public will not abate disquiet. I shall say no more about that for the moment.
If there are to be changes, the police must become innovative in their relations with the public. I welcome the actions of Commander Taylor, who, within three days of his appointment, following the tragic death of the young man, Colin Roach, at Stoke Newington police station, convened a meeting of councillors, the mayor and hon. Members. I was, in fact, the only hon. Member present because my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) could not be contacted in time. The meeting also involved the Roach family and others. It was an excellent course of action to take. It was an attempt to allay anxieties, and, although, regrettably, it did not succeed, it was the right thing to do. The leader of the council rightly commended the commander for the action that he took. I join him in that commendation.
The police must admit mistakes. Some mistakes do occur. It must be stated publicly again and again at local level that any act of racism will not be tolerated. The police must talk frankly to the community. They must recognise that people have different ideas, some of which are difficult to stomach but which nevertheless have to be taken into account. The police have to demonstrate to the community, black and white, the difficulties of policing an area like Hackney.
The preparedness of the police to listen must be demonstrated even though they may be involved in a hostile climate from time to time. There should no longer be the sort of pantomime that occurs when an officer on motor cycle patrol stops, slowly takes off one glove and then the other, walks slowly up to the miscreant, the driver of a motor car, and says in a patronising tone "In a hurry, sonny?" or something of that kind. That does not add to creating a good image of the police. Senior officers should be kept in post when they prove to be successful. They should not be shifted to other pastures.
Among the community as a whole—the black community must be included—there has to be an equal willingness to recognise that the policing of an area like Hackney produces immense problems. There must be a willingness to listen to what the police have to say and a refusal to engage in, or encourage, the use of insults and abuse whenever the police put in an appearance at a public meeting or similar assembly. It means not seeking to exclude the police from schools for the most dubious of reasons.
There have been problems in Hackney. There is mutual suspicion and considerable hostility. The tragic death of young Colin Roach has enabled some people to fan the flames of disquiet by spreading allegations, which appear to be baseless, in advance of an inquest, that he was murdered by the police. It is not helpful to talk in exaggerated terms of a complete breakdown of relations between the police and the public and then, insensitively, and also, in my view, incorrectly, to relate that to the death of Colin Roach. What is the inference to be drawn?
It is particularly regrettable that there appears to be a view that it is reasonable these days to hold an inquest through the media. The Standard is full of it. It picks up one story on one side and then another story on the other. That is not good enough. The law requires an inquest to be held. There are anxieties about the adequacy of inquests. I believe that much turns on the personality and ability of the coroner. It would be infinitely wiser in this case to wait and see how effective the inquest is rather than condemn it in advance.
It will be right, following the inquest, to consider whether it canvassed all the material matters. It cannot deal with matters that followed the death, only with matters that preceded it. I believe that the Home Secretary will look sympathetically at that request. It will be no good, however, if it is made merely as a political spasm which does no one any good and contaminates the value of the argument. It is only after the inquest that the decision should be taken whether to hold a public inquiry.
There is a case for arguing that all deaths in police custody or within the precincts of a police station, if the inquest is in any way inadequate, should be the subject of a full public examination. That is not the law at the moment. I believe that it would be in the interests of the family. Sometimes, those interests are not served by the clamour that occurs. It would also be in the interests of the community and the police themselves.
If my remarks have sounded critical, that is what I intended. Constructive criticism helps. It is no good trying to push these things under the carpet. There are grave anxieties that need to be tackled. I believe that the present commander, Commander Taylor, in my area, given help, will be equal to the task.
On the last occasion I was called, when there was an opportunity to make a full-length speech, I spoke for 20 seconds. I shall not be able to emulate that achievement today. I hope, however, to complete my remarks more rapidly than some hon. Members have done.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) spoke interestingly and movingly about his constituency. His remarks only go to show how different are the conditions that exist in some parts of inner London compared to some of the outer suburbs. I shall wish to refer to a number of points that the hon. Gentleman raised. It seems to me that the debate is concerned with the accountability and direction of the Metropolitan police and any changes that should be made. There can be no police force in the world that is more publicly accountable and more continuously under the magnifying glass than the Metropolitan police. They are accountable through the Commissioner to the Home Secretary, to the civil courts for criminal and private prosecutions and to the complaints board and review by senior officers. I am amazed, in the face of this, that they act so courageously and sensibly and with the calmness that we know to be the case.
I am, therefore, a little concerned about the value of the new consultative groups that are being established. I fear that they may become platforms from which minority groups can complain about the activities of the police in order to obtain as much publicity as possible. An Opposition Member tried to interrupt my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ask him what consultation really means. A consultative committee, I believe, has only the right to consider and to advise. For example, I doubt whether it would be proper for a consultative committee to pass resolutions by means of a vote dealing with matters that were critical of the police, local authorities or the organisation of the police. One of these committees has been set up in Harrow, although so far it has met only once. I hope that the committees will be careful and cautious about the way in which they operate until they find their feet.
The decision by the Home Secretary that Members of Parliament should be included in these committees, if "decision" is the right word—I shall be interested to hear whether it is—means that the experience of the House will be brought to bear upon their deliberations and that the proper channels of communication between constituents and the Home Secretary, which in London should be through their Member of Parliament, will continue. It is right that Members of Parliament should serve on the committees.
I was disappointed by what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, and I was amazed by the importance that political control of the Metropolitan police seemed to have in the Opposition's thinking. The hon. Member for Hackney, Central, having delivered his speech, has now left the Chamber. I was about to risk a reproof from him by saying that I considered the suggestion that the Home Secretary should be replaced as police authority by a political committee, presumably, of the Greater London council to be an act of momumental naivety of Bermondsey proportions.
I do not believe that my constituents in Harrow, West would sleep more peacefully in their beds if they felt that Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Boateng were responsible for the Metropolitan police. It may be that IRA sympathisers would be able to spend a more relaxing evening in front of the "box" than some of my constituents would.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that the police were distant from and out of touch with the community. That may be so in Hackney, Poplar and other parts of the inner city. But I do not believe that the police are out of touch with the community in Harrow, where police-public relations are extremely good. Our only complaint in Harrow is that we do not see enough of the police.
I was interested to hear the Home Secretary say that 70 per cent. of the time of uniformed policemen was spent not on crime prevention or detection but on other matters of a social nature dealing with missing persons, lost property, lost dogs and family rows. At first, it worried me to think of this large amount of time being spent on these matters—
My hon. Friend took the words out of my mouth. I was about to say that this is what community policing should be. It has always been a source of pleasure, when I have written to the chief superintendent of Harrow police over the years pointing out the worries of constituents, how invariably a beat officer or a more senior officer has taken the trouble to visit the constituent concerned. It is comforting to receive letters from my constituents thanking me for arranging these visits and saying that if their difficulties had not been removed, the atmosphere was very much improved.
I wish the hon. Member for Hackney had not left us. I was about—
I shall do my best for the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who seems to have a number of problems of identity and nomenclature.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central spoke of the sense of harassment felt by young coloured people when being interviewed by the police. Having four sons, I can tell the House from experience that there is a sense of harassment created by young white people, especially if they have long hair and wear black leather and earrings. Luckily, none of my sons has worn earrings. But I believe that the members of any outré minority, whatever they are doing, give the police justifiable cause for concern because they are likely to cause a breach of the peace. If six young chaps are shouting in the street, it is natural to expect them to be reprimanded by the police.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the word "harassment" is slightly misleading? It is simply a question of requiring young people, whatever their colour, to show the respect for authority which we as Members of Parliament should be trying to build up. That seems to me to be the sensible approach to these problems. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that that is the view that we should take.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me right. I was trying to think of a better word, although it was the word used by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central. I must say that I am always grateful to the police when they approach groups of youths who attempt to interfere with us when we are out canvassing and so on and whom, sometimes, nowadays, we do not have the courage to reprimand ourselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) made a very authoritative speech and put the crime figures into proportion. I intend to use some of his excellent figures in future speeches of my own.
My hon. Friend's news would not be wholly accepted in Harrow, West. We are concerned about the increase in crime. We are concerned when we think that a sub-post office in Pinner Green could be attacked by an armed robber, though the three brave ladies there would have dealt him a serious injury if he had not got out in time.
We are also concerned about the criminality of the very young. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give us his views on any action which could be taken to deal with the increase in heroin addiction. Medical friends of mine tell me that London's hospitals have experienced what can only be described as an explosion in heroin addiction, much of it probably caused by phoney prescriptions issued by doctors.
I am afraid that I have spoken for longer than I had intended, but I must say a word or two about public order. My right hon. Friend said that from 1972 to 1981 public events needing more than 100 police officers had increased in number from 55 to 354. That is an increase of about 300 in the period.
This increase in demonstrations must be caused by the influence of television in the presentation of these demos on the news and other programmes. I wonder whether the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police should not ration organisations or areas to a smaller number of demonstrations than now occur.
I welcome the new initiative. I record my anxieties about the direction of the new committees and I emphasise the esteem in which my constituents hold the police force. If they have a criticism, it is that we in Parliament do not back up the police enough.
I thank the Home Secretary for arranging this debate. Like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the SDP had the opportunity of seeing the Home Secretary, and we urged upon him a series of views and discussed with him the value of holding a debate of this kind. We feel that we also had some part in persuading the right hon. Gentleman to hold the debate.
I am happy to express praise, on behalf of my right hon. Friends and myself, for Sir Kenneth Newman. We had a meeting with him and were impressed by his anxiety to get to grips with the problems in London. He has made an extremely good start, although he will recall that I was rather caustic about him in his first day in office when I discovered that he had decided to transfer the commander of Hackney, who had been there for only two years that day. We had had an assurance from the Home Secretary and from Sir David McNee two years ago that they would stop this playing of musical chairs with our commanders and allow a good commander to remain in the post until he had done a fair stint. We agreed that two years was insufficient. I pointed out to Sir Kenneth that it would have been nicer if he had waited a little longer and had more consultation with us before deciding to transfer our commander in the way that he did.
In London we have had a massive increase in crime over the past 25 years. The figures speak for themselves. In 1956 the number of serious offences recorded was about 100,000, but that rose to 350,000 by 1973, which is an annual increase of about 15,000. The figure rose further to 610,000 by 1978. Over those five years, the annual increase was 52,000. The figure rose again to about 680,000 in 1981, which is an annual increase over the three years of 23,000. There has been a continuing growth with a very big peak in those years.
However, the arrest rate from 1973 to 1981 began with about 92,000 a year and ended with 97,000 a year, rising in 1977 to 110,000 a year. During the period of maximum increase in the crime rate of serious offences there was an increase in arrests, but at nowhere near the same rate as crime. Therefore, it is not surprising that people in London are worried about what is going on and, like my constituents, are demanding a greater police presence on the ground.
I therefore underline the need for a review of the Metropolitan police establishment, which was set up in the 1930s for the crime rate of the 1930s, and which has not kept pace with the inflation rate of crime, despite the introduction of new technology in crime detection. I was pleased to note that the new Commissioner proposes to reexamine both the levels and use of manpower and the role and range of technological support. I trust that this can be done quickly so that remedial action can be taken as soon as possible.
If the strength of the force can be brought up to a more satisfactory level, it will be possible to develop a strong and effective police force that is capable of performing the many tasks assigned to it in London. As we know, and as we have heard today, the demands made on the police in London set them apart from other constabularies. Their responsibilities for royalty, Parliament, the diplomatic corps and other institutions of national and international significance, together with the increased scope and scale of demonstrations held in the capital, mean that it is right to have the Home Secretary as police authority in London.
Having said that, the SDP is clear that there must be greater accountability of the Metropolitan police. We consider that Lord Scarman's recommendation to set up a statutory framework for consultation should be developed. There is a need for Members of Parliament representing London constituencies—there are 92 of us—to have involvement in a closer overview of policing in London. We should like to see a Select Committee set up, to which a group of hon. Members representing Greater London constituencies would be appointed by the House to examine all facets of policing, which would have powers to call for persons and papers and would report direct to the House. There would then be a constant dialogue between London Members, the Home Secretary as the police authority, and the House of Commons.
Secondly, we believe that an advisory committee should be formed by the Home Secretary, as chairman, comprising representatives of local authority associations, groups having London-wide representations, the Commission for Racial Equality, a representative group of London Members of Parliament and perhaps the Receiver and the Commissioner. The committee could meet perhaps two or three times a year to discuss matters arising from the Select Committee reports and such issues as may be referred to it for consultation.
Thirdly, there should also be local consultative liaison committees, based on each borough, with a membership of elected borough councillors, county councillors and the Members of Parliament for the constituencies within the borough. The commander or his deputy and the community liaison officer would represent the police.
I support what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the involvement of London Members. However, there is a problem. The London Members would be concerned about London policing by the Metropolitan force, but there are, as the hon. Gentleman fairly said, many national and international functions of the Metropolitan police that affect the rest of the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that London Members should deal with all the functions of the Metropolitan police, because many of those functions are not strictly London matters.
I accept that. Such matters would be transferred either to the Home Affairs Select Committee or to the appropriate body to be discussed. We would be dealing with and discussing matters affecting London particularly.
On the committees would also be representatives of the statutory services—the probation service, social services, education, housing and recreation—representatives of community organisations and the public. In our view, these committees should be tailored to fit the special needs of each area. In this way, the vital link between the community, the police and the local elected representatives would be encouraged. Specific problems, such as vandalism and hooliganism, racial harassment and other important issues, would be identified and discussed with a view to seeking a solution.
I support the argument that Sir Kenneth might make clear in public, as he does in private, his detestation of any police officers who are racist, and his willingness to ensure that such persons are dissuaded from being in the police force in London. We believe that this package will ensure the maximum involvement of everyone and create a climate of good will between the police and the public. It will not, of course, satisfy those who believe in anarchy and whose major preoccupation is to create chaos. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that unless the police enjoy the fullest confidence and receive the wholehearted co-operation of the public, it will not be possible for them to do battle against crime, maintain public order, and bring law-breakers to justice.
We have dealt with the public accountability of the police, but we are still faced with the question of how to deal with complaints against the police. The present system is totally inadequate, if only for the reason that the public are not persuaded of its independence. Clearly, the present system, whereby the police are solely responsible for investigating complaints against themselves, is unacceptable in principle, but it is also unacceptable because it cannot differentiate between what I shall call the minor complaints and the more serious complaints. At present, any complaint receives the full investigation procedure, which is time-consuming and, in many cases, wasteful. Above all, it takes too long.
My colleagues and I feel that complaints should be broken down, first, into minor complaints that may be capable of being resolved by conciliation between the complainant and the police. Lord Scarman suggested that there should be a panel of local lay persons who would assist in conciliation. That procedure would be for any complaint that did not show signs of giving rise to either criminal or disciplinary proceedings. As that is the most common type of complaint, the public would feel that their cause for concern was being treated more urgently than at present.
The serious complaint, on the other hand, is the one that needs to be seen to be considered fully and impartially. Lord Scarman suggested that an entirely new and independent system should be established. While accept that an independent element is vital, the mechanics of achieving it are by no means clear. One has only to consider what happened in Hackney. A young person died in tragic circumstances and, without waiting for any evidence, allegations were made accusing unnamed and unidentified policemen of murder. What is more significant, 33 hon. Members signed a motion, the words of which are interpreted locally as supporting that claim, although not one shred of evidence has been produced to support that allegation. The inquest has still to be held, but the claim is already made that it will be biased or useless, or both. Recently we have seen near riots taking place at weekends, on organised demonstrations, creating total chaos. An interesting factor is that many of those arrested during the demonstrations come from all parts of London. They are not local people at all. So, out of this terrible tragedy to a family, we see an all-out attack being developed on the police.
What chance is there that such people will accept any independent body as being impartial? Nevertheless, it should be understood that the majority of people in my constituency are anxious to establish good relations with the police. They reject the actions of groups such as I have described. They reject the Hackney Teachers Association's attempt to stop beat policemen from visiting schools. They reject any attempt to establish a political police force based on the east European concept.
At a recent meeting of the Shoreditch and Haggerston Residents Action Society, Chief Inspector Dorricott, the community liaison officer, was able to discuss policing problems in great detail with all the tenants and residents, and the committee expressed the society's thanks for the most useful dialogue. As a result, the society is considering the setting up of a crime prevention panel and the establishment of a burglary victim support group. The members of that society did not think that the police were perfect, but they wanted more police, better trained police, and better police and public relations. Those sentiments express the true feelings of my constituents.
We have, therefore, to consider the setting up of a new unit to deal with serious complaints liable to criminal charges. Its scope would include all allegations of serious assault and any criminal offence that had been committed by a police officer in connection with his duties. In my view, that would include corruption. Clearly, the director of such a unit should be independent of the police, and he must have the confidence of the public as being capable of conducting a fearless but fair inquiry into police conduct. He would be supported by a staff picked for the purpose, which would include police officers to be seconded for a period as part of the progress of successful officers towards senior promotion. I believe that the present system provides a rigorous examination of police officers, and let there be no doubt that it is very rigorous. However, it does not appear to the public that it is independent, and that aspect must be dealt with. In my opinion, a new unit of this nature would create that confidence.
We must also deal with the double jeopardy rule, which prevents any disciplinary action being taken after a case has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and a decision taken that insufficient grounds exist for a successful prosecution. There may be many occasions when cases which may not qualify for prosecution should be examined under disciplinary principles.
I agree that they may not be on the same level, but at the moment they cannot be considered on any evidence. Once the DPP has suggested that there is insufficient evidence, disciplinary action cannot be taken.
Finally, we believe that the Inspectorate of Constabulary should have the Metropolitan police in its jurisdiction. It is absurd that the Inspectorate of Constabulary has under its jurisdiction all the police forces in the country, except the Metropolitan police. In our opinion, it would be wise to change that.
The maintenance of law and order in London is a matter of primary importance. To be successful, the police will need the support and co-operation of everyone. If society wishes the police to protect it, society must ensure that policemen are treated fairly. They must be given a proper status, and they must be given adequate training for the variety of jobs that they have to do. They must also be paid a wage that reflects the severe restrictions that are placed on their personal freedom. We need good law enforcement officers who are responsive to the needs of our time. If the few suggestions that my hon. Friends and I have put forward tonight are implemented, they will help towards that end.
As a non-London member, my first task must be to be brief.
I returned this morning from San Francisco, having seen the California police preparing to handle the crowds that are expected to greet Her Majesty when she gets there. In spite of all the resources that the Californian police have at their disposal, I am bound to say that we are fortunate to live in a country where our greatest city is policed with greater fairness and greater efficiency than any in the United States.
This has been the best debate on police matters that I have heard for a long time in this Chamber. But I must say at the outset that while the Metropolitan police force is not perfect, it is not racist, it is not unaccountable, and it is not less good at its job than other large urban police forces in this country. On the contrary, the Metropolitan police force is arguably the best police force that we have. It has problems—I shall come to them—but there is a great deal of will, not only on the part of the Commissioner, but throughout the Metropolitan service, to deal with them. Indeed, I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that if every Government Department and public agency in Britain had as much desire to get rid of their misfits and deal with their problems as does the Metropolitan police, we should be a better governed country than we are.
I want to deal strictly and on a more or less professional basis with some of Sir Kenneth Newman's proposals in his preliminary assessment. He calls his measures "First Aid". No doubt they are, but his paper is an admirable piece of police literature and I shall send it to several senior police officers in other parts of the world.
First, Sir Kenneth identifies the demands on the Metropolitan police. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) said, 70 per cent. of police activity is dealing with matters such as domestic disputes, landlord and tenant relationships, lost property, stranded persons and accidents not on the roads. And so it should be. The police are as much doing their job when they handle such community problems as they are when they are dealing with the more headline-grabbing matters such as crime. That is community policing. There is nothing new about community policing; it has been going on for a long time. If the Metropolitan police should ever move away from this concentration on what the people ask of them, they will be losing their way.
The police are always there. They are the agency of last resort. The social security office may be closed. The Government office may not be working for the weekend. The water workers, electricity workers or health workers may well be on strike, but not the police. They are always there. That is community policing and long may it remain.
The second demand indentified by Sir Kenneth is that of public order. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned how this problem has grown, but I think it would be worth while for the House to spend just a few seconds looking at the nature of public order demands on the Metropolitan police. They are fairly set out in the last report of Sir David McNee just before he retired and I should like to pay tribute to him. Most of the recent demonstrations that have required more than 1,000 police officers have been highly political. I pick out at random just some of those that are listed between March and July last year. There was the black people's day of action involving 3,059 police officers; the British Nationality Bill marches involving 4,066 officers; the New National Front march in Ealing involving 3,780 officers; the Socialist Workers Party and the Anti-Nazi League meetings involving 2,009 officers, and so on. Those are the public order consequences of a free society, and it is proper that the police should offer the same protection to those on the Right as to those on the Left.
However, we must recognise the effects, upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) remarked. Whenever police officers are brought into the centre of London to provide processions with proper rights and protections, for both those who demonstrate and those who are demonstrated against, it is the neighbourhoods of London that pay the price. It is there that crime increases. It is there that break-ins occur. A policeman cannot be in two places at once. It will always be the case that the national capital will attract national demonstrations, and, therefore, the police in London are different from the rest.
Sir Kenneth Newman's third demand—
Indeed. I shall deal with that matter in a moment.
The third demand on the police is that of traffic. There are some startling figures. The concentration of traffic is nearly 10 times the national average in outer London, and 50 times the average in central London. Those figures speak for themselves. They mean that there is a tremendous concentration of traffic with which the Metropolitan police must deal. On this may I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I hope constructively, that on the whole the police in Britain could now begin to move rather more of their resources away from traffic and towards crime. I am not thinking of anything drastic—probably about 5 or 7 per cent. of total police resources.
I say that because of the experience of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It had to reduce its traffic divisions at the onset of terrorism because it needed the men for other duties. The number of men on traffic duties was reduced from about 700 to about 300 and now has risen again to about 450. In the meantime the number of vehicles has increased by about two and a half times but there has been no increase in accidents and in road-borne crime. It has thus been demonstrated there that the traffic patrolling job can be done with fewer men. The Metropolitan police could also do their traffic work with fewer men. I detect a hint that in the Newman report that may be possible.
I come now to Sir Kenneth's remedies. He is a scholarly man who would be the first to say that the first-aid remedies to the problems that he has diagnosed are his preliminary views. He claims that the first priority is also that of the public—robberies and burglaries. Certainly the figures confirm that. They do not confirm, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, that police in London do a thoroughly bad job and that their clear-up rate is bad in all respects. On the contrary, for assaults and fraud, the London figures are if anything higher than in the rest of the country. However, the right hon. Gentleman was right about robberies and burglaries. Those are the areas on which Sir Kenneth Newman, like the right hon. Gentleman, concentrates.
The right hon. Gentleman was entirely right on the overall figure, because one-third of all crime figures in London are the result of auto crime. I am talking about crime that affects most ordinary people in their neighbourhoods. I am not certain that Sir Kenneth is entirely right when he says that public concern is mainly directed to robbery and burglary. In my view, there is more concern about assaults and muggings. If anything, they upset people even more.
None the less, Sir Kenneth identifies robberies and burglaries as the most important and I am pleased to see some of the remedies that he proposes, such as the movement of 650 constables on to the beat in addition to the 1,000 or so who have already been moved there. He mentions, too, the improvement in the detective force, with which I agree and to which I shall return in a moment. It is important. He also seeks improvement in the use of the new district support units and also the pushing of managerial responsibility down from the top towards the regions and into the divisions of the Metropolitan police force. That is overdue.
The House has spoken a great deal about a new clich00E9;—the bobby on the beat. The bobby has never left the beat. It is right that there should be a larger and more conspicuous physical presence of constables in the neighbourhoods. However, I am a little worried about the increased load that is being placed on young constables on the beat. Some of the tasks in Sir Kenneth's report and in the legislation that is now before the House include, for example, the improvement of information gathering and its collation, and the work that will be required for the priority estates projects—both of great importance.
Also of importance is the neighbourhood watch, the increasing contact between the beat officer and the voluntary and statutory agencies and all the new burdens that we are placing on constables under the Criminal[Justice Bill.
But if more police officers are to be put out on the beat. where they will do the most good, better training is indispensable. I was disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not able to say more about Lord Scarman's recommendation that the training period should be increased to six months. My right hon. Friend knows better than I of all the work that is being clone to improve the training of police probationers, in particular in race relations. Such training cannot be achieved in the 10 weeks or so that are available at present. I hope that the House will be told more about improving the content and length of training.
Yes, I know that. I mis-spoke when I said that the period was 10 weeks.
It is proposed to improve the detective arm of the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend will have consulted the last report by the Commissioner and he will know the figures for the Met's detective training school. For example, only 51 Metropolitan police officers took part in the advanced detective course which takes six weeks. Only 37 officers, of whom 12 were seconded civilians, took part in the scenes of crime forensic course, which takes six weeks. The three-week fraud course was attended by only 23 officers and the three-day drugs course by only 22 officers. I doubt whether the numbers going through the Metropolitan police detective training courses are sufficient to improve the detective arm which Sir Kenneth's report rightly mentions and which my right hon. Friend supports.
The second theme of the debate is accountability. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend. He has already gone some way down the road in a clause in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, now in Committee. I welcome the prospect that, as police authority, my right hon. Friend will be a reforming Home Secretary. That is in his character. I therefore support his intentions to bring to the work of the Home Secretary, as police authority for London, the practical advice that can be had from the London boroughs, from London Members of Parliament and from the various voluntary and statutory agencies which deserve to be consulted and can offer a great deal.
There are, however, two problems. The first is that the police staff associations are apparently to be excluded from the consultative process. I do not understand why. In each police area there is a joint branch board of the Police Federation which certainly knows a great deal about the close-to-the-ground work of the police service. I cannot understand why such bodies are not to be involved in this new consultation process. I hope that my right hon. Friend can persuade the Association of Chief Officers of Police, and possibly the Commissioner, to accept the merit of including the police staff associations in consultations.
The second problem is how the consultative bodies are to be constituted. In one large urban police area with which I am familiar there are 193 registered hyphenated groups. The Yemen-British group and the Carib-British group are two. Each has its secretary and office and has something to say. It would be unwieldy and impractical, as well as expensive, if a kaleidoscope of hyphenated groups from every national and racial background, and all the voluntary and political groups, local councillors and Members of Parliament, wished to be involved. Some limit on membership and some order will be needed.
Perhaps my hon. Friend believes that in statutes we should merely state what should be done and, by way of advice and circular, suggest ways in which it can be done. Hon. Members, who will be expected to serve on such bodies, will want them to be effective and to work.
Surely the problem would be solved if everyone had open access to a group. People would attend only when a particular matter interested them and that would not add to the members in a group.
I understand the argument. I am merely identifying the problem, not coming to a conclusion. When such a group meets to discuss a problem, particularly when there is a vote, the media may well report it by saying "X consultative group condemns police" or "demands change." That creates difficulties. The area between consultation and affirmative action or condemnation is difficult.
For every reason, I think that it is right to begin involving the London boroughs and London Members of Parliament in an advisory process for the Home Secretary in respect of matters which involve the Metropolitan police that are related strictly to London. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that there functions concerned with national and international matters and the security of the state which are performed by the Metropolitan police but which are not compatible with discussions by a London advisory group. I do not know how he will distinguish between these two functions. I am sure that it would be wrong to split the Metropolitan police. It would be equally wrong to have a two-tier police service, one dealing with London matters and the other involving an elitist group responsible for anti-terrorism and international or diplomatic issues. That would not work, because there would be two lots of policemen and therefore confusion. I merely identify the problems; I do not have the answer. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about it when he replies to the debate.
I hope that I shall be acquitted of any charge of discourtesy if, shortly after I have finished my speech, I leave the Chamber. I notified Mr. Speaker before the debate began that I must leave the House for an hour or so to attend an important and highly sensitive occasion in my constituency. I shall return as quickly as I can to hear the final words of wisdom from the two Front Benches.
I have crossed swords with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on this subject ever since we served on the Standing Committee that considered the Police Act 1976. Nothing that he or his hon. Friends said did anything to break down the import of the devastating statistics produced at the beginning of the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).
It is an unhappy thought, but, even allowing for the fact that the Metropolitan police force has more to do than other forces, it is the least effective police force in Great Britain. That must be a serious cause of concern to us all. One must always make a diagnosis before writing the prescription. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, the Metropolitan police have had their numbers substantially increased in recent years. They are well equipped and supplied, and their members are increasingly better trained. But why are they not as effective as other police forces, and notably those in other metropolitan areas?
One truism that has already been mentioned is that, however good a police force may be, it cannot combat crime on its own. It can do so only with the public's ready co-operation. Without that co-operation, without the public's full acceptance and without a public willingness to enter into partnership with the police, a police force's task becomes virtually impossible. That was proved, and at great cost, when we tried to police colonial and mandated territories against the wishes of a substantial proportion of their inhabitants. Furthermore, we witness it tragically today, at very bitter cost, in Northern Ireland.
Like other hon. Members, I do not give any credence to the small number of unrepresentative and destructive groups which pretend to work for the community but which in reality are no more than anti-police agitators. I have no time for them. I have one such group in my constituency, and it does not like me one bit because I cooperate as fully as possible with the local police force. Thus, when I speak of public concern I refer not to such groups, but to the attitudes and fears of many decent people. There is a lack of confidence in the Metropolitan police which can easily be detected by going out into the highways and byways. It is not recent. It has a long history, especially in east London, which is the area of which I have most experience. That lack of confidence is not confined to black people; it extends to whites and to people of all ages.
Lack of confidence in the Metropolitan police is due to four factors. The first factor is the abuse of police powers by some members of the force. No doubt only a small proportion are involved, but they are enough to give the whole force a bad name. Side references have been made—more than that would be out of order—to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, in which some of us are involved in Committee. One of the Conservative Members of that Committee is a former police officer who served for some years in a substantial provincial police force. More than once he has been horrified by what he has heard from us Londoners. He said that some of the things that went on in London would be unheard of and unthought of in his police force.
The second factor has been referred to by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). The so-called police complaints procedure breaches any attempt to build up public confidence in the Metropolitan police. There is no independent method for dealing with complaints and there is nothing to make the complainant think that he will get a fair break. When people come to me in my constituency and tell me this, that and the other, I ask them whether they have put in a complaint through the procedure to the Police Complaints Board. They say, "Shut up, Mik. You know better than that. That is a —adjectival—'joke. No one will waste any time on that". There is no confidence in the police complaints procedure.
Not many complaints are made. Thousands of people have never had occasion to make a complaint and perhaps never will have. Why is this so important? The answer is that it gives the impression that the police force is not of the community and is a power apart. It gives the impression that the police are embattled behind large thick crenelated stone walls that the ordinary citizen has no chance of penetrating.
I try to encourage them to use the existing procedures. I tell them that I do not have much confidence in them myself and that I have spent many years trying to improve them. I also tell them that those who are younger than me and will live for a decade longer than me will see an independent complaints system. However, I shall not see that, because it will take 10 to 15 years. Therefore, I encourage my constituents as much as possible, and sometimes I use roundabout methods to further the complaint. I might give the hon. Gentleman a few tips privately one day. The point is that people look at the situation and say, "They are them, and we are us.They can get away with things that we cannot get away with." They do not feel any sense of partnership and they do not feel that the police belong to the same community as them
The third factor for the lack of confidence in the Metropolitan police has already been mentioned several times. The Metropolitan police are the only force in the country that are not directly accountable to the people they serve and who pay their wages.
Most of the cost of the police force is borne not on local rates—as the hon. Gentleman must know—but on the national Exchequer. Throughout the country the proportion must be about 80 per cent. Of course, there are elected representatives who are responsible for police matters, although we do not organise ourselves to exercise them. It just so happens that in London it is Members of Parliament who are responsible, not local councillors.
I think that it is more than one fifth. I shall not argue with the hon. Gentleman because I do not have the figures with me, but I suspect that he does not have them either. That can be checked after the debate. It is a simple question of fact. The police precept represents a not insubstantial part of the rate poundage paid by every ratepayer in London.
Therefore, people are entitled to have some say. They pay some of the cost of the piper, but they call none of the tune.
The hon. Members for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and Harrow, West (Mr. Page) spoke with sizzling contempt about what they called "political control" of the police—control of the police by politicians. I can understand the scribblers on the more rubbishy papers in Fleet street using the word "politician" pejoratively and using the term "political" as a dirty word. They do so because they want people to take their political views from them, not from the elected representatives of the people. I can understand red-nosed comedians using the word "politician" to evoke mirth because the highly increased divorce rate is leaving them short of mothers-in-law, but what I do not understand is the pejorative use of the word "political" by a politician. If the hon. Members for Richmond, Surrey and Harrow, West think that there is something wrong with the welfare of our citizens being guarded by politicians, why on eath did they get themselves elected to this place? What on earth are they doing here? Indeed, if I were the Home Secretary, I would be angry with them for suggesting that he is not a politician. Of course he is a politician.
If the police are controlled by a Minister, is that non-political control? What sort of rubbish is that? The issue of accountability really matters.
I agree with all those who have applauded the Home Secretary's initiative in pushing forward the new local consultative committees. I have a hunch that they will do—some are already doing—a valuable job. I shall support with all my power the committee in my borough, if and when it ever gets set up. It seems to be taking a heck of a time but, valuable though those committees may be, they are no real substitute for accountability. The reason for my optimism about the future, in reply to the intervention from the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman), is that I welcome them as a first step. They are a step along the right road. They will facilitate the coming of subsequent steps and the coming of real accountability at some time in future.
The fourth factor has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. It may be that the Metropolitan police force is too large. I do not say that it is, but that it may be. I know, because I did the job four times when I practised years ago as a management consultant, that it is a difficult technical operation for any organisation to work out what its optimum size should be. There are no general rules. It is not true to say that big is beautiful or that small is beautiful. The factors that determine the optimum size vary from organisation to organisation and the balancing of them is a highly sophisticated exercise.
I put it to the Home Secretary that no one has ever attempted this exercise with the Metropolitan police. Is it not time that a competent group of people—perhaps a firm of management consultants—did so? It should not be policemen, because such an assessment is never well made by those who work inside the organisation. Is it not time that the Home Secretary allowed such an examination purely on technical grounds to see whether there would be some advantage? Perhaps the difficulties would be so overwhelming that it would not be possible, but let us get the facts. Let us have an examination of the structure and organisation of the Metropolitan police force to see whether it really is of optimum size.
My final point, which has also been mentioned in the debate, concerns the special problem of police relations with the ethnic minorities. Reference has already been made to the meetings that the Home Secretary has been having with groups of London Members of Parliament. I wish sincerely to join those who have thanked him for that initiative. It was welcome to the Members who took part, and I hope that he has also found it helpful.
When I took part in one of those meetings, together with about 20 colleagues—I did not count them—I said to the Home Secretary that the problem was not the small number—perhaps very small number—of police officers who are racist. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) that the Home Secretary has made a big mistake in not accepting the advice of Lord Scarman on how to deal with that small minority of overt racists. I pointed out that throughout the whole of the Metropolitan police—I chose my words carefully and I repeat my careful choice of words—there is not the same level of commitment to protecting the interests of black citizens as there is to protecting the interests of white citizens. I instanced—I have a great deal of evidence, some of which I sent to the Home Secretary—that the percentage of assault cases where the police say to the victim "It is not for us to prosecute but you can take out a private prosecution" is higher if the victim is black than if the victim is white. That is one of many illustrations of my point about a different level of commitment. Indeed, there have been cases on my own patch where, when a private prosecution has been taken, the court has said, "You should not have had to take this prosecution; it should have been done by the police".
I repeated those remarks last Wednesday. The following day the Home Secretary and the Commissioner issued a joint statement saying that I was a liar because I had said in my statement that I had put to the Home Secretary that there was a lower level of commitment among the police to protecting black citizens than there was to protecting white citizens, and that he had accepted it, and that I had said that the Commissioner at a subsequent meeting had also accepted the point. They issued a statement on the following day saying that I was not telling the truth and that they had never accepted it. I am much too fond of the right hon. Gentleman, as he well knows, ever to be rude about him or to suggest, even if it were in order, that he made a deliberate misstatement, so I shall be charitable, as always, and say that he has had a little lapse of memory and has not had time to consult the papers.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish, I shall be glad to listen to him.
As I said, that statement was made in front of 20 witnesses. I have checked with those whom I have come across in the past day or so and they all confirm what I say. I have some written evidence that will stand up in court. The right hon. Gentleman had better hear it before he intervenes. I wrote to him on 18 January as follows:
Dear Willie, You will recall that at the meeting some weeks ago, at which you were good enough to receive some London MPs, I put it to you that on the basis of clear and plentiful evidence the police, at least in the East End, are less committed to protecting the interests of coloured citizens than in protecting those of whites. You readily accepted this point. I promised to send you a memorandum to support it and I do so herewith.
If the Home Secretary had not accepted my contention, he would have written to me quickly on receiving my letter on 19 January. He would have responded quickly: "Dear Mik, You have got it wrong. I never accepted the contention when you put it to me." He wrote me no such letter. He said nothing to me about it.
When I finally received the right hon. Gentleman's reply, it was dated 21 February. I understand that it took a while because he had been good enough to take the trouble to have some investigations carried out in pursuance of what I had said to him. It took some time before I received his reply, but that was fair enough. He wrote a long and helpful two-page letter. It was an extremely friendly letter0, as one would expect from him. At no stage in his reply did he deny directly or indirectly having accepted my contention that the police had a different level of commitment to black citizens as opposed to white.
As I have said, I have evidence that will stand up in court. Having explained that, I am glad to give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman has said some extremely pleasant and appreciative things about me, and I am grateful to him. Perhaps our trouble arises from a discussion in public of what I understood to be an informal meeting in the first instance. I hope that I can talk freely to my colleagues at informal meetings. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said about talking freely, and I think that he is right. However, there is a danger if subsequently words that are spoken at informal occasions are quoted in detail. My memory of the occasion is that I said "If that is so and if the hon. Gentleman says that"—I must accept that this would be a perfectly reasonable thing for me to say—"I must tell him that both the Commissioner and I are determined to have that point totally eradicated." That is what I say and that is what I stand by. That is what I hope I meant at the time when I said it. If there has been any misunderstanding, I hope that the matter can rest there.
I do not want to make heavy weather of this. It was an informal occasion, but it was not confidential. There was no suggestion that what was said should be between ourselves. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We are doing a lot to correct this." His letter to me dated 21 February contains a catalogue of measures that he is taking, which are warmly welcomed, to correct the defect. It is by no means a denial of what he said. I do not want to get into a row with the right hon. Gentleman because I love him. However, I take it amiss when he issues a statement in which he calls me a liar and I thought that I should say something about it.
We shall not significantly improve either the prevention or the detection of crime in London until there is a partnership between the police and the people. There will not be such a partnership until the people have more confidence in the police. They will not have that confidence until some of the measures that Opposition Members have been urging are implemented.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that many hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate and that shorter speeches would be helpful.
I wish that more Opposition Members would find it possible to give greater moral support to the police. A large chunk of the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was dedicated to complaints against the police. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), who has been in the House for very many years, spoke of fostering complaints against the police as if he half hoped to foster and foment such complaints and thereby produce more of them. That attitude seems current in the minds of a number of Opposition Members.
The hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me. If he reads my speech tomorrow, he will realise that I meant that I have helped people to progress their complaints. I have not sought more complaints. I talked about those who have come to me with complaints which I have helped them to progress.
The hon. Gentleman must not continue like this. The word "foster" is capable of a number of meanings. My meaning will be clear from the context. There is no truth in the suggestion that I have ever encouraged complaints against the police. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, I do not care tuppence.
If the hon. Gentleman does not care tuppence, I do not understand why he is going on about it. My remarks were not directed only to him. On previous occasions as well as today Opposition hon. Members have given the impression that they want to foster complaints against the police. They have done so during Home Office questions and on other occasions. The police are not perfect. They make mistakes, and sometimes they are tragic mistakes. However, on the whole they are a decent and conscientious group of men who are trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. I believe that the public generally understand and accept that. The public generally have a great deal more respect for the police than either the media or Opposition Members would tend to have us believe. Naturally the media tend to want to tilt against authority of any sort; that is how they sell their product. Anyone who reads the newspapers in general will tend to think that the public, like the journalists, evince a low opinion of the police.
Some years ago I read the results of a survey that appeared in the Sunday Times that revealed the public's attitude towards different professions. The results showed that the police stood second only to doctors in the public's esteem, and came considerably higher in its esteem than judges. Opinion may have changed marginally since then but not, I believe, by very much.
One of the reasons why the police are respected stems from the courage that they show. Many of them are injured on duty. There was the example at Blackpool two months ago when three policemen were drowned trying to rescue a man who went after a dog which jumped into the sea. Most policemen are courageous and the public recognise that.
The growth in crime to which the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred is a grave matter. It is one that deeply concerns the public. However, they are aware that its causes spring from deep changes of attitude and other psychological causes that are beyond the control of the police much to affect. I am glad that one of the first actions taken by the Government following their election to office three and three quarter years ago was to increase the salaries of police officers. That resulted in an increase in the number and calibre of new recruits, which was warmly welcomed in my constituency.
In Twickenham the detection rate for serious crime has recently begun to improve. The local chief superintendent, Mr. Archer, is highly regarded locally. I intend to table a written question that will produce an answer that will draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the improvement that has been achieved by the police in Twickenham. They have a major problem with handling crowds at rugby football matches. The behaviour of the crowds is sometimes not good and is beginning to be what one would expect to find at soccer matches.
Quite recently, the rugby football authorities agreed to shut the bars half an hour instead of one hour after the match finished. That has resulted in a reduction in drunkenness. That is a good example of co-operation between the rugby football authorities, the police and the local Member of Parliament. I have not encountered much local demand for the monitoring or controlling of police by local people. There is no demand in Twickenham to control the police, as has been demanded by the GLC, which most of my constituents, like me, would like to be abolished.
Much has been said about accountability as if in some way the police would be more accountable to the public if they were accountable to local councillors, whether they were borough councillors or members of the GLC, rather than to the Home Secretary. That is sheer nonsense because the Home Secretary is answerable to the House of Commons, which is elected at elections at which between 75 and 80 per cent. of the electorate vote. In borough elections in Greater London, on the other hand, the turnout is normally between 30 and 55 per cent. and the turnout for GLC elections is normally between 25 and 45 per cent. It is clear, therefore, that the public is less interested in local council and GLC elections than in parliamentary ones. Therefore, there is greater public accountability if that accountability takes place through this honourable House. I have never met dissatisfaction with the present arrangement of the Metropolitan police's accountability being through the Home Secretary to the House.
I am not against setting up local liaison committees. They may do some good and at worst may be innocuous. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that those local liaison committees do not waste too much of the police's valuable time. We all know that " wasting the time of the police" is a criminal offence. That shows how undesirable the House has, in its wisdom, thought wasting police time to be. It would be wrong if, in the interests of local people wanting to feel involved, much valuable police time was wasted listening to tedious gasbags to the detriment of time required by the police to get on with their duty of preventing and detecting crime.
I shall heed your stricture, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be as brief as possible, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for allowing us a debate on policing the metropolis. My colleagues tell me that this is the first time that it has been debated in this way. That is a step towards accountability. I also thank Sir Kenneth Newman for his accessibility and frankness when one is able to speak to him. All right hon. and hon. Members share that view. I have had the pleasure of meeting the Commissioner twice, once privately and once with a group of my London alliance colleagues. On both occasions he answered questions fully and frankly and he did not back away from any unpleasant questions. That shows in the police force.
Several hon. Members have expressed reservations about the Metropolitan police, some of which are justified. Nevertheless, we can say with some pride that the British police force is still by and large the best in the world. The Metropolitan police force is part of it and should share in the praise. The Metropolitan police training college at Hendon has recently come in for some flak. I shall not go into that. The new style training course at Hendon will prove effective. The course has been extended to 20 weeks. That is almost as long as Lord Scarman suggested it should be. I believe that we all hope it will be extended to the full six months.
The human awareness techniques of the young men and women there are effective. I have seen them in operation and the way in which they organise their role-playing. I have also seen the effective way in which they use video cameras. We should praise those techniques, because they will help the Metropolitan police greatly. However, because of the limited intake to Hendon, I am pleased that similar techniques are to be taken out into the districts so that policemen and women who would not normally benefit will be trained. That will assist greatly with the updating of police constables and police sergeants to modern techniques and relationships with the public.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) was a little unfair to Paris. One can certainly walk about London in great freedom. I like Paris and know it quite well. I believe that it is as safe as London. I am merely speaking up for a city that I know and love.
The important part of Sir Kenneth Newman's report deals with what we intend to do about policing in London from now on. We have reached a crux. Crime is growing and the Metropolitan police are seen as losing the battle, as Sir Kenneth Newman says. If one examines the figures for public order deployment, one finds that
between 1972 and 1981, demonstrations requiring the employment of more than 1,000 police officers increased from 55 to 354, from an average of one per week to one per day.
Sir Kenneth goes on to say that high standards of courtesy and professionalism must
be linked, in order to improve public perception of the police, with a greater understanding of the nature of crime and of the limitations of the police's capacity … This points to the need for a programme to educate the public that the 'battle' analogy is inappropriate, and that the increase in crime is a matter for both the police and the public.
Sir Kenneth also says quite pointedly that
over time it has led to a serious imbalance in the deployment of manpower".
There is a case for a further increase in the size of the Metropolitan Police",
but pending the outcome of the current review that cannot be decided. I welcome his suggestion that the community should play its part in conquering crime.
I welcome the neighbourhood watch. I had strong reservations about it when it was first mooted, because I wondered whether some people in some areas would set up groups of vigilantes under the name of neighbourhood watches. I still believe that we must beware of such vigilante groups, but I have spoken to Sir Kenneth twice and to senior police officers on the subject and I have their assurance that that will not be the case.
Crime prevention requires a police force, though the community can prevent crime. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Sir Kenneth suggests, but we must have a police force and it must be larger.
The time has come to increase the Metropolitan police force significantly. I do not intend to get into an argument about what percentage increase there should be now, but increase there must be. The clear-up rate shows that. Auto theft, which is the principal crime, puts up our insurance premiums colossally because of the quantity of taking and driving and vandalism to cars. There is also burglary, robbery and violence on the streets. Many of my constituents who live in suburban areas are worried by burglaries, robberies and what is colloquially known as mugging and so want more policemen on the streets. We shall not be able to stem that trend until we have a larger police force that is properly deployed. That means deployment in the community and on the beat. I ask the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look carefully at that matter and to consider providing a significant increase in the manpower and establishment of the Metropolitan police over a proper period.
I refer briefly to racial attacks. The Home Secretary kindly met two deputations from the joint committee against racialism, of which I have the honour to be vice-chairman. The outcome of the first discussion was an admirable report by the Home Office on racist attacks. During the discussions we asked the Home Secretary whether he would consider organising, on an experimental basis, squads of policemen to investigate the activities of extremist groups. He has shown an interest, though so far he has not been able to come to a specific conclusion on how the squads should work. Perhaps I have given the Minister too short a notice of my question, but he might be able to make an observation when he winds up the debate.
It is significant that West Indians in London are 30 per cent. more vulnerable to assault and that Asians are 50 per cent. more vulnerable. It is admitted by the Home Office that there is a racist element in many assaults on people with black or brown skins.
We are in grave danger of befogging our minds on the subject of police accountability by using emotive phrases such as the one used by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr Wheeler), who is no longer here. He talked about politically motivated councillors. Please God that all councillors will always be politically motivated. That is the object of politics and representational government. Please God that all hon. Members will be politically motivated. If we are not, representative government will disappear and that will be a more significant danger to society than anything else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) set out another step along the path. I welcome with open arms the consultative committees. A committee has been set up in my London borough. It was launched last Friday night amid great festivity. I offer my congratulations to the commander of Z district, Commander Maynell, who at all times has worked with the people within the community of Croydon. He has set out to promote good race and community relations. He should be congratulated, as should his predecessor, who, unfortunately, we lost after so short a time in his job. I am referring to Commander Cracknell, who has gone on to greater things. The trouble with good police commanders is that they go on to higher things.
I welcome the consultative committees with open arms but they are not the final step along the path. Inevitably, there will be a directly elected police committee for the metropolis. It may not be for five or 10 years, but I hope that when it comes it will be elected by proportional representation. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch mooted one more step along the path. We should not shut our minds to police accountability. I am not keen for Richard Brew or Ken Livingstone to run a GLC police committee. I would rather have my friend the GLC member for Richmond, Adrian Slade. However, I am politically motivated. We must not stop dead in our tracks and say that we have reached the final solution, because we have not. Police accountability should be examined and continually debated until we find a formula.
I apologise for not being as brief as I intended. I welcome the opportunity of making a contribution to the debate. It is one of the most valuable debates in which I have taken part in my brief period in the House. I welcome Sir Kenneth Newman's report. As he said, this is the beginning. I welcome his being the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. We have a man with an open mind, who is approachable and who has set out to solve the problems of London policing. I hope that with the help of the Home Secretary, representatives of communities in London and the House he can do it.
As chairman of Greater London Conservative Members, I begin by echoing the tribute that was paid by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) and many others to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the innovation that he has introduced in meeting informally groups of Members representing all shades of opinion in the House. Those meetings have been extremely helpful. I hope that they will be continued.
There are few issues of greater concern to my constituents and the people of Greater London than law and order. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke about disquiet in the public mind. The disquiet that I hear is not in the main against the police but against those who, for political motives, seek to undermine and distort the work that the police are doing on behalf of all sections of the community in London. I hope that the debate will help to put all those problems into proper perspective and to demonstrate the practical and positive steps that the Government have taken to tackle crime in the Greater London area.
As we have been reminded, immediately on coming to office the Government implemented the Edmund-Davies report, giving substantial rises to our police forces. As a result, recruitment to the Metropolitan police has been substantial and sustained. Since the Government came to office in 1979 there has been an 18 per cent. increase in police strength in the metropolitan area which, as the Home Secretary reminded us, means that 4,000 more officers are now fighting crime in London. If detection is the most effective form of deterrent, as I believe it is, an increase in police strength on that scale, with the various redeployment measures to which my right hon. Friend referred, must help to contain, if not to reduce, crime levels in London.
It could be said that the background paper to our debate is the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to the Home Secretary. Having read that report and met the Commissioner, I say without hesitation that the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman is the best news that we have had on the law and order front in Greater London for a long time. Sir Kenneth is tough and determined, yet he rightly recognises what he calls in his report
the critical importance of maintaining at all times and to all people, high standards of courtesy and professionalism.
The need for that courtesy as a means of establishing better relations between the police and the public is again underlined by the British crime survey, which has been published by the Home Office research unit within the past few days. It makes interesting reading. It found that no fewer than one in five young men had been stopped on foot at least once in 1981 and that 52 per cent. of those young men had complained of what they called impolite treatment.
That is a worrying aspect of the present situation in parts of London. I hope that the Commissioner will therefore pay attention to that aspect of his work in the months ahead as well as to the related problem of those who are suspected of traffic offences—motorists and motor cyclists—who often complain about police treatment. There is no doubt that unthinking aggression on the part of the police towards either motorists or young people can poison relationships with the police in the most damaging way when public co-operation is a crucial factor in the continuing fight against crime. The Commissioner highlighted that as one of his top priorities.
There is no doubt that the consultative groups that are now being set up and to which extensive reference has been made in the debate will have a vital role to play in spotlighting any police errors and excesses and in seeking to calm and conciliate rather than to inflame and exploit. I believe that it will bring about the mutual understanding and good will that it is vital for all of us to seek to promote.
The Home Office research study and the Commissioner's report both point to mugging and burglary as the crimes causing most anxiety, with about 60 per cent. of the elderly women who live in inner cities feeling that it is unsafe to go out on foot after dark. It is interesting that the research study also shows that those at greatest risk from muggers are not the elderly ladies but those males under 30 who go out regularly and who drink heavily. That helps to put the problem into perspective.
I have long held the view that, although mugging is often violent, vicious and distressing, to return home to find one's house stripped, ransacked and vandalised is an even more traumatic experience and often leaves a deep psychological scar upon those affected. I warmly welcome and endorse the Commissioner's plan to set up special anti-burglary patrols in high-risk areas, of which my own borough of Bromley is certainly one. In passing, I also ask for the post of crime prevention officer to be upgraded and given more importance, so that the most skilled and professional advice can be made available to the public to frustrate those with criminal intent.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently announced a Government advertising campaign to encourage us to protect our homes against burglaries. I welcome that initiative and wish it well. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should initiate discussions with the insurance industry to see whether it might be possible for insurance companies to provide some positive incentive to householders to fit anti-burglar devices.
Some insurance companies already make the provision of cover dependent upon the installation of a burglar alarm, but in a sense that is a negative approach. Why could they not offer to meet part of the cost when their policyholders fit extra strong locks or bolts to doors and windows and take other security measures? In that way the insurance companies would be saved many burglary claims and would at the same time be playing a constructive role in the continuing fight against crime. I feel that that suggestion is worth considering.
As well as contending with the activities of criminals, the police in London have to contend with the antics of certain politicians, notably those across the river at County hall. I suppose that the GLC's police committee is just about the most pointless and presumptuous body within that vast empire of irrelevance. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) reminded us that the GLC has no responsibility in police matters, and that even the precepting is done by the borough councils and not by County hall.
In my view, the GLC's police committee is a destructive and divisive influence in London. Many hon. Members will have seen the publication which comes from
the oddly named police committee support unit. Its publication is called "Policing London". Its tone is set by headlines such as
Police racism in the making",
Police corruption in London
Policing by coercion".
That is the sort of stuff that is being peddled month by month at the ratepayers' expense.
Every issue of "Policing London" shamelessly advertises the fact that grants totalling £400,000 are available for groups wishing to monitor the police in London. That seems to me to be just the right kind of invitation to extreme militant groups who would be only too willing to jump on that particular gravy train in support of their militant causes. There could hardly be a more convincing and conclusive argument for keeping control out of the hands of Mr. Boateng and his Marxist friends.
As has been said in the debate, the Metropolitan police are directly accountable to this House through the Home Secretary. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook described that accountability as a myth, but it is no myth that 92 London Members of Parliament have the opportunity, which is unique to London, to raise police matters by means of parliamentary question, Adjournment debate and early-day motion. The fact that this debate is taking place today is, I believe, a powerful argument in favour of the present arrangements, and we shall change them at our peril.
I express my appreciation to the Home Secretary and to the Commissioner for the meetings that were held with us. I found them extremely useful and constructive. I hope they did, too, and that the meetings will be continued. I take it as a sign that the authorities realise that they need to be more sensitive to opinion. I left New Scotland Yard with the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). He told me that in his 43 years as a Member of Parliament it was the first time that he had been in that building.
There have been many changes in our society during the past 43 years. We have a new generation of people who are better educated and better informed. There is more questioning of authority. People are able to use the media to ventilate grievances, if need be. They demand a greater say in how things are to be done. Therefore, life for the police will not be as simple as it was.
The Metropolitan police are appointed for
the preservation of the public peace, for the protection of the inhabitants and the security of property".
Their role is becoming increasingly complicated in our more complex society, with its many problems. Gilbert and Sullivan told us many years ago that the lot of a policeman was "not a happy one". I do not know whether it ever was. In east London we had a legendary character known as "Old Bill". He was a reservoir of common sense. If he found any miscreants, he gave them a clip behind the ear and sent them home. Possibly he told their fathers, who in turn gave them a second clip behind the ear. That policy, so it was alleged, solved the difficulties. I do not know whether that was true, but things are much more difficult now.
The policies of the Government and the situation that they have brought about are among the reasons why life
is now much more complex. In an article in The Guardian of Thursday 24 February Professor Donnison talked about the demise of the welfare state. He mentioned that the welfare state came into existence as a result of what he called the disaster of the second world war. He said that the present Government were bringing about a second disaster. In his last paragraph he said:
But it would be rash to assume that disaster will necessarily evoke a humane and constructive response. Punitive responses to crisis are equally likely, leading to the arming of the police, the suppression of civil liberties and the deployment of the Army on our streets".
A couple of years ago I read an article by Peregrine Worsthorne in The Sunday Telegraph which mused on whether the British people would take monetarism or would have to have it foisted on them at the point of a bayonet. Those are the circumstances that are being brought about by the Government, who are robbing people of hope and alienating and frustrating a whole generation. They are telling that generation that all society has to offer it is the dole queue. They are creating misery, deprivation, despair and conditions that breed crime and criminals. Having created that explosive mixture, the Government expect the police to screw down the lid and contain the situation. That will obviously cause problems between the police and the public.
An editorial in the January edition of the Police Federation's magazine says:
The name of the game is politics. One of the most significant developments of recent police history has been the growing political awareness of chief officers.
The editorial refers to what is happening at Greenham common. The assistant chief constable in charge of the operation, Mr. Wyn Jones, is reported as saying that he gave specific orders that arrests should be kept to the minimum. According to the editorial, he said:
The women were neither vindictive nor vicious and as a chief officer I have a responsibility to maintain a degree of public tranquillity.
That seems reasonable, but the editorial says:
So there we have it. The primary objects of policing are being revised. The preservation of public tranquillity is now the overriding principle … Mr. Jones is right. Mr. Jones is wrong … It may well have been the right decision, but sooner or later the ordinary police officer must have a clear indication of what is expected of him.
That shows the more difficult situation that the police are facing. They are cast in the role of piggy in the middle, confused by the changing world.
I welcome the debate, which is the first of its kind, but I must ask why it is the first such debate. Why have we not had a similar debate before? Perhaps there was no demand for one, perhaps there was a consensus about police matters, or perhaps policing was not such a controversial matter. Obviously there are now many issues to be discussed, including Operation Countryman and the efficiency of the Metropolitan police, though I shall not pursue those matters in this debate.
I should like to see in the Commissioner's report a breakdown of the time the police spend on crime detection, crime prevention, traffic matters, public order incidents, domestic disputes and so on. It would also be helpful to know what experiments the police are conducting and whether they have set up any cost-effective studies. I do not suggest that Sir Derek Rayner should be brought in, but further information would be helpful. I should also like to see a greater "civilianisation" of many of the police's tasks. That would release experienced, well-paid men for more important jobs.
We need also to look at the constitutional position and accountability, which is unsatisfactory at present. The Metropolitan police are responsible to one man—the Home Secretary—and he cannot possibly cope. He is responsible to Parliament, but the fact that this is our first debate on the policing of the metropolis shows that accountability is a fiction. It gives rise to the widespread view that the Metropolitan police are a law unto themselves. That cannot be good for police-public relations.
Effective policing depends on the confidence and support of the public. Certain changes are necessary and will be helpful. The police would be ill advised to be defensive about that or to resist it. It is a complete red herring to say that it would be political control of the police—that is nonsense, because the Home Secretary is as political as anybody else—and change is not demanded only by extremist agitators. The police are wrong if they think that such suggestions are motivated by a desire to undermine them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is hardly an extremist—he has been a consultant for the Police Federation and has also been Home Secretary—yet he wanted a new authority. Talk of accountability is sometimes characterised as political interference with what should be autonomous professional policing. However, a couple of months ago, my right hon. Friend wrote in the magazine "Police"
Every generation has had to work out anew how to achieve a proper balance between law enforcement and the consent of the community and we should not fear the vigorous discussion that is now taking place. It is a necessary and healthy part of our democracy".
I agree completely with what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and by the GLC. I should like to see a two-tier structure. There should be one structure taking a strategic view of the police, and a second far more intimate structure at borough level.
In asking this question I am not implying anything about the hon. Gentleman's views. Does he believe that police officers in London should become employees of borough authorities?
Perhaps not, but at borough level there should be a much more intimate arrangement for accountability, control and consultation with the police. I am certain that that would be in the interests of the police. I think, however, that they should not be employees of the borough.
A quarter of the population of the borough of Newham are of ethnic minority origin, largely Asian. The Asian people are eminently law-abiding and have a very strong family life, but they are subjected to racial abuse and racially inspired violence. Policing a multi-racial area poses special problems and challenges for which the normal police training does not adequately equip the police. The problem will not go away. It is getting worse and I should be failing in my duty if I did not mention it today. I do not wish to be alarmist or to suggest that the entire Asian population live in fear and terror, but the problem exists and it cannot be swept under the carpet. There is fear and apprehension.
The Home Secretary was kind enough to reply to a letter from me and send me a copy of a report entitled "Racial Attacks", with which the Minister will be familiar. In his introduction the Home Secretary states:
Racially motivated attacks, particularly on Asians, are more common than we had supposed; and there are indications that they may be on the increase.
We need action. We cannot legislate to make people love one another, any more than we can legislate to make every husband love his wife, but we can legislate to make it unlawful for a man to batter his wife. That quarter of the Newham population pay their rates and taxes just like everyone else and they are entitled to the same protection. They are entitled to equal treatment and to live without fear, abuse or violence.
Paragraph 62 of the same document states:
It was suggested that a Member of Parliament who was willing to speak out against racial violence could play a helpful role in reassuring the ethnic minorities and in emphasising the unacceptability of those who engaged in racial harassment.
I have tried to do that and I have always been willing to listen to those who come to me with views on this matter.
About 18 months ago, Members of Parliament from Newham received a deputation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is here today, was also present on that occasion. The deputation, which was almost entirely white, told us of racial attacks and asked what we intended to do about the problem. We asked for details of what was happening and said that we would then do something about it, and the group agreed to collect the information.
The group collected a dossier which told of people being driven out of their homes when bricks were thrown through their windows and their cars were stolen, damaged or stoned. The document included 72 statements covering 90 incidents and 227 victims. It told stories that one rarely reads about in the newspapers—stones thrown through windows, Fascist slogans on doors, car tyres slashed, dog excrement put through letter boxes, constant verbal abuse, shops and property damaged and burned and places of worship attacked. I myself have visited houses that have been petrol-bombed. There have been extremely serious cases of physical attack. In one racist killing a young married man was stabbed to death in high street north in broad daylight by youngsters infected by National Front propaganda. I recommended that the group which produced the report should remain in existence to monitor racist attacks and to support the victims.
As a local Member of Parliament, I receive a number of complaints. First, there are complaints of alleged reluctance by the police to accept the racial element or motivation in an incident. Secondly, there are complaints about the slowness of the police response, which is perceived as indifference. Thirdly, there is the major complaint that when assaults are confirmed the police tell the victims to take out a private prosecution. That is unsatisfactory and must be remedied.
I am also told that some police officers—I emphasise that it is only some and I am sure that it is a minority—are themselves racially prejudiced and harass and assault black people. The Scarman report recommended that such activity by police officers should be a disciplinary offence and that offenders should be dismissed. Unfortunately, that has not been accepted. A clergyman has sent me letters from parishioners alleging violence against Asians by plain clothes policemen. Lord Elton confirmed in a letter to me that at Little Ilford school a group of white youths from outside invaded the playground and assaulted Asian children, but although there is a prima facie case of conspiracy no one has been prosecuted.
I wrote to the Home Secretary about the case of Mr. Farjal Fordjour, who in January 1982 lost his left eye in a racist attack by six youths. The passenger in his mini-cab was interviewed, but no statement was taken from him. It took four months to organise an identification parade. He identified the assailants, but no charges have been brought. I could give many more cases, if time allowed, of this nature. I hope, however, that I have stated enough to show that there is a problem, that there is cause for concern and that all of us, the police, local people and all in authority, have a duty to show more awareness and a more rapid, sympathetic and caring response to these crimes.
There is a difference between general mindless violence and racial violence. If a whole community has the feeling that it is subject to constant attack, and if it feels that it is not getting proper protection, there is a real danger that it will decide to organise its own protection. In our part of the world, self-defence classes are being organised. We could see vigilante groups being formed and a polarisation of groups. There could be a tendency for people to retaliate by taking the law into their own hands. There is the danger of escalating retaliation and of violence being met by counter-violence. These dangers do not exist in non-racist and non-sectarian violence.
I do not want to wait until clashes happen. I wish to warn the House and the Minister that there could be clashes between racist or Right-wing thugs and self-defence groups. It might happen that families move back into the protection of large ethnic minority communities or ghettoes, as has happened in Ulster. That is surely not what we want to see in London. There is work to be done urgently by local authorities, by the education system and by the police. They have to win and earn support, to monitor and collect information on racial attacks and counter them. The police should consult hon. Members more regularly than simply when there is trouble.
I have asked the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, to receive a deputation from Newham. We have a tradition in this country that those who have a problem can write to their Member of Parliament. I have people coming to me to tell me about these problems. A head of steam is building up. I do not want it to burst. I have asked the Home Secretary to receive a deputation so that its members can tell the right hon. Gentleman, as the police authority, what is happening in their borough. This will enable the right hon. Gentleman to take the appropriate steps. I hope that he will be willing to do so.
I shall try to be brief. I wish to add my congratulations to Sir Kenneth Newman not only on a far-reaching report on the future of policing in London but on producing it so quickly since taking office. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for allowing a wide-ranging debate on the matter so soon after the report was produced. The quality, breadth and depth of the debate has proved the extent to which their efforts have been worthwhile.
I welcome the setting up of the groups to be established in areas around London. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) that there are problems of racism in parts of the police. I discovered this in my area on one occasion. I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety. I have experience of the activities of the National Front towards the large Jewish community in my constituency.
But we have also to remember that there are extremists at the other end of the spectrum who often use ethnic communities to try to put forward their policies, causing the same racial problems of which we accuse the National Front. This is extremely dangerous. We have to recognise that there is a policing problem in areas where the communities are cosmopolitan. They are there, and they are utilised freely by people seeking to achieve their own ends. Sir Kenneth and others recognise this. We read in his report that we need more police recruits from the ethnic communities. I welcome that and wish him well. I hope that this kind of recruitment continues.
Important though it is for Members of Parliament to play an active role in community policing, it is also vital for Members of Parliament to help make the public aware of what community policing is all about. In my part of Ilford the police are very much involved, and the public are urged to back their campaign. The police are conducting an all-out war to snare crooks. A publicity campaign is being conducted by the commander of J division to make the public aware that the police cannot always detect and resolve crimes. This is especially true of burglary, where there are great difficulties. Some years ago, strangely enough, women did not go out to work and the family home was not left unattended as it is today. Today's burglar has a much easier task. He can break into a house with impunity in the daytime, whereas he used to commit his offences at night. That is one reason why daytime burglary is on the increase.
The resolution of these problems will need a great deal of good will between the police and the public. It will need a greater involvement at the grass roots. It means putting the police back into the community where the policeman is known and can be approached easily. During the past two decades our police have been put into cars, with the result that they are no longer known to the people and there is not the closeness that there used to be between the constable on the beat and the people living in the neighbourhood. Another of Sir Kenneth's objectives will help, because he wants to give greater responsibility to the four divisions.
Another difficulty that we have faced in the metropolitan area is that divisional commanders have changed with great rapidity. I have had experience of this in J division in the last few years. No sooner has a commander come into an area and become known and understood by those around him—Members of Parliament, leaders of the local authority, local councillors, justices of the peace and others—than he has moved on. Divisional commanders should remain in the divisions for longer periods than they have in the recent past. Only then shall we get the continuity that has been absent.
A great deal of concern has been expressed about unemployment, especially among young people, and how it contributes to high rates of crime. It is obvious that unemployment, with young people idle on the streets, leads to problems. However, I do not accept that it is leading to the problems that have been expressed in the debate. If so, why is crime in the provincial cities in the north nowhere near as great as it is in Greater London, when unemployment in the north is much higher than it is in the Greater London area?
I suggest—I believe in facts—that for a decade police numbers in Greater London have declined. Numbers are now building up again as a result of pay and Edmund-Davies. In the past, many experienced men in the police force retired early. Some are still retiring early, but not in the numbers that they were. One reason is related to what happens in the courts. The problem is no longer pay. Any policeman to whom one talks about pay is satisfied with what has occurred over the past three or four years.
One of the problems, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), arises especially in courts such as Snaresbrook. The police go for a conviction, but find that many people serving on the jury are criminals who have been convicted several times. The police know that the defendant is guilty, but they cannot get a conviction because the jury has more people on it who have been inside prison than have not.
That is one factor, but there is another problem in the courts. If we examine the police, we must also examine how we will deal with those who are guilty. We must consider how we will back up a changing, more modern, technically advanced police force.
There are many cases now involving organised crime, particularly at the Old Bailey, where juries have to be discharged not on one, but on two or three occasions, because jury men have been got at. More often than not, after a second or third jury has had to be reinstated, juries end up having protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) knows these facts only too well through his representation of the Police Federation. It is important that we consider these other aspects when we examine policing as a whole.
I am concerned that we should move in the right directions and have the right understanding between the public and the police and that we get convictions and penalties at the right level.
As has been said many times today, we have one of the finest police forces and one of the safest capital cities in the world. However, if organised crime, crimes of violence and crimes involving the use of firearms continue to increase at the present rate and there is a corresponding increase in police carrying firearms to combat that problem, we shall not have the safety that we have come to know and understand. The problems will become more immense and the use of firearms on our streets will become greater.
The report may only be a beginning, but it is an important document for the future of law and order, democracy, and the well-being not only of the people of Greater London but of the whole country.
Three weeks ago we had a short debate on crime generally, and some of us had the opportunity to say some things on that subject. Because of that, I wish to concentrate on what might he called the constitutional aspects of the policing of London and the general policing. That is, what degree of control should there be by anybody over the police and their activities? Who should exercise that control? What should be the relationship between the police, the Government and local authorities?
In this debate, as in much other discussion of this matter, there has been reference to what I will call the Scarman committees, that is the committees recommended in Lord Scarman's report for promoting liaison between the police and the representatives of the community generally, not just elected people, in each area. I believe that, although the discussion of those committees, who is to compose them, who is to control them, what are they to do, and so on, is important, it has nothing to do with control of the police. There are two quite separate subjects here—the issue about police authorities and what we do about that in London and, secondly, how the police are to consult the local community. The same committees cannot do both jobs. The Scarman-type committee is a body in which the police should be consulting the community generally, in so far as it is possible to do that very difficult task, about their business. Then in addition, or at the side, and certainly separate, there is the question of the involvement of local authorities at borough and county level and of the Government in controlling the police. I think it is more important than perhaps people realise to separate these two issues completely.
I say first to the Home Secretary that, as he knows, I have been critical over many years about the manner in which successive Home Secretaries have discharged their duties or, in my view, failed to discharge their duties as police authority for London. The right hon. Gentleman is no different. He is better than most of his predecessors in this regard. He has been pushed by events to what Home Secretaries should have been doing over the years. He will remember that it was only a very short time ago that the Home Office got to a position where even one civil servant of any rank was exclusively concerned with London policing matters. All the others have responsibilities that cover both the Home Secretary's role as police authority for London and his more general responsibilities with regard to police outside London. I know that the Home Secretary and his officials say "Well, that does not really matter. The same people can do both jobs." However, I suggest to him now, as I have done before, that the inevitable result of that doubling up is that the Home Office takes less seriously than it should its very special relationship to the Metropolitan police. At that point, the Home Secretary always asserts that he takes it very seriously indeed, and so on, and he perfectly realises that he is the police authority for London and not for anywhere else.
I suggest to the Home Secretary that, if he looks at behaviour over the years, that contention is just not borne out. The fact is that the Home Secretary does not behave very differently towards the Metropolitan police than he does towards any other police force. There is a difference, but not much of a difference, because it is very difficult for the Home Secretary personally or any senior civil servant to jump from seat to seat and to behave differently towards one force than towards the others. That is especially so because the semi-detached relationship that the Home Office ought to preserve towards the non-London police requires an effort on its part. It is difficult to suspend that effort of semi-detachment, especially when it comes to deal with such a powerful force as the Metropolitan police.
I remind the Home Secretary that there was precious little consultation with London Members of Parliament when he sent out his directive document about the Scarman committees. There was consultation. The draft of it was sent to Members in advance. If an hon. Member such as myself was bold enough to suggest some changes, he was told that the document was going out anyway and would be discussed afterwards. That is one illustration of the relationship that has existed in the past between Home Secretaries and London Members.
Another is that about a month ago the Home Secretary set up a new system for consulting local authorities in the GLC area and those in what one might call the fringe areas of the Metropolitan police district. He did that without consultation with London Members. He keeps telling us that we are the proper representatives of the electorate for the Metropolitan police, but there was no consultation on that significant innovation.
Recently, after a no doubt protracted but, I regret to say, unsuccessful battle with the Treasury, the Home Secretary determined what will be the so-called imperial and national service grant to the Metropolitan police for the year about to begin.
Of course, it could have been worse. However, all the Home Secretary has managed to do this year is to maintain the percentage at half of what it should be. He cannot deny that because the receiver general of the Metropolitan police, who is the supposedly independent authority responsible for assessing such things, assessed it. He says that the proper level of that grant or, to be fair to the receiver, the costs involved in the non-London functions of the police, are such that if they were fully covered the percentage would not be 2 per cent. I forget the correct percentage, but from memory it is between 3 and 4 per cent. London Members have played no part in that process. I have tried to play a part and been held at decidedly arms' distance. However, London Members, as far as I know, have otherwise played no part in it.
There is also the point that the Home Secretary's inspectors of constabulary for non-London police forces have no role in relation to the Metropolitan police. We all know the constitutional and historical background to that, but I suggest that it weakens the Home Office's power to exercise any influence and surveillance over the Metropolitan police. I say that despite the claim—no doubt correct—of senior Metropolitan police officers that inspections within the metropolis by their inspectors are at least as rigorous and often more rigorous than those conducted by Her Majesty's inspectors outside London. Those are all illustrations of what, in my view, is a failure of successive Home Secretaries to exercise their role as police authority in London in the manner in which it ought to be exercised.
Remarks have been made about the value of today's debate. Anyone who listens to it or participates in it must recognise that it is not exactly a wild parliamentary occasion. In the past 10 minutes the Government Whips have been running round trying to find Members to speak. [Interruption.] If that is not true, I withdraw it. However, I must say that after 13 years I have seen such things happen. I make no complaint about any particular party. It is true of both sides of the House. I mention it only in order to illustrate that a debate in the House, while valuable, is not a means by which any effective surveillance of the Home Office as police authority for London can be exercised.
That leads me to say that the proposal advanced on behalf of the Social Democratic party by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) that there should be a Select Committee would, of course, supplement debates of this kind and do so in a much more effective manner. I hope that the Home Secretary will take that suggestion seriously.
It is difficult, to the point of impossibility, for the Home Secretary to consult the 90 or so Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in the Metropolitan police district about what he and the Met are doing. The proposal for a Select Committee of Metropolitan police district Members of Parliament, scaled down to a reasonable size, would overcome the lack of consultation that has existed.
On the constitutional issue, the main question to which we should address ourselves is—who should control the police, in so far as anybody does? Of course, to a great extent the police should be independent, statutory authorities, answerable only to the courts for what they do; answerable to the courts if they are guilty of malicious arrest or if there is a malicious prosecution and so on.
Every hon. Member will agree that on some issues we want a general policy. If there is such a policy, who should lay down that policy—the Home Secretary, local authorities or some combination of the two? Should there be any difference between the manner in which it is done in London and that adopted outside London?
The Home Secretary, when opening the debate, referred at length to what he saw as the differences in London policing which he believed justified different treatment. I acknowledge the weight of some of his arguments, but they are not sufficient to explain why the system in London should be different from the system that applies outside London. I am not recommending that we adopt in London the system that applies now outside London. I would go into the last ditch—it would do it over my dead body—to prevent the GLC getting its hands on the Metropolitan police. I do not think that it is possible to justify having different systems in London and outside London, whatever the systems are.
We have discussed the matter many times. The hon. Gentleman said he wanted a Select Committee of London Members for the Metropolitan police. Would that not create a different system for London?
Yes. If what I wanted were done there would be no need for that arrangement, but I suspect that what I want will not be done. As long as we are stuck with the present arrangement, we need some such system as a Select Committee.
The subject is fraught with sloganising. It is perhaps amusing to recollect that it is less than two years since I stood at the Dispatch Box, speaking on behalf of the Labour party, and said with authority that we supported the continuation of the Home Secretary as police authority for London. Since then, the Labour party has not changed its mind—at least the spokesmen at the Dispatch Box have not changed their minds. That would be serious enough. What they have done is change what they say. They do not believe that it is a good thing to hand over the Metropolitan police to a Livingstone-type committee, but the pressures within the Labour party today are such that it is necessary to pretend that they do, to get through for another month, another year or another election on that tack and maybe find a way of not actually doing it if they ever got to power.
That is the truth of the matter. Therefore, when people tell me that it is a matter of serious concern that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) should believe that we ought to hand over the Metropolitan police to Mr. Livingstone, I tell them that it is even more serious than that, because the right hon. Gentleman has far too much common sense to think that. He is saying it, although he does not think it.
There are those who constantly talk about democratic control of the police and who apparently deny that there is any such democratic control at present through Parliament. However, those who take the other view constantly talk about political control of the police. I entirely agree with the criticisms made of that mode of talking by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt). We can do without the sloganising. The subject is very important. We cannot go on as we are. Indeed, the Home Secretary does not want us to go on as we are. However, unless we are careful we shall add anomaly to anomaly, and shall end up with a great dog's breakfast that satisfies no one.
The first question to ask is whether we would be content if general policing policy issues were determined on a local basis. Would we be content if one police authority decided that its police officers could use plastic bullets, while another decided that its police force could not use them? I think that I hear the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) saying that that is what we have got at the moment. I believe that the Home Secretary is trying to reassure him that it is all right and that he will fix it. I know that he did not use such words, but he will huff and puff and will ensure—without any legal powers to do something about it—that we do not get into that difficulty. However, we need to start from first principles. Are we content that there could be such an arrangement? I suggest that we should not be content. In such a small country it would be absurd if plastic bullets were usable in one place and not in another.
Would the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook be content if a local police authority decided that it was perfectly happy on all occasions for its chief officer of police to use plastic bullets and tear gas and perhaps a few other such devices? If that happened, the right hon. Gentleman and others would immediately run to the Home Secretary and ask him to have it corrected. That was past experience. When the riots occurred in Brixton, people ran to the Home Secretary to get something done about it. He is the police authority for London. However, when the riots took place in Bristol they ran just as naturally and inevitably to the Home Secretary, asking him to do something about it. They did not run to the police authority in Bristol.
When the chief constable of Northamptonshire was improperly vetting juries—contrary to the guidelines issued by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General—no one ran to the police authority in Northamptonshire to have it put right. People ran to the Home Secretary. That is because we all accept subconsciously that general consistency of practice is required throughout the country and we do not want county councils, even with magistrates added, to be in control of such things.
Last year, the Home Secretary told us of the importance of co-operation between different police forces. At the time of the riots, the right hon. Gentleman said:
Improvements in planning, command, tactics, training and equipment are also the hallmarks of increased police effectiveness in the face of serious disorder…In two areas the impact on effectiveness is clear. The first is the provision of mutual aid—the arrangement by which one force provides assistance to another which is under pressure. The disturbances of last summer called for national co-ordination. This did not just happen. It was planned and arranged by a team directed by the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers,"—
the only instance in which a trade union is allowed to run the country—
an inspector of constabulary, and a senior Home Office official. Assistance was deployed rapidly, through logistical arrangements tailored between forces, and was matched by command and control systems within forces."—[Official Report, 25 March 1982; Vol. 20, c. 1115.]
The right hon. Gentleman went on to describe the actual administrative arrangements which operated that system. We know that that degree of co-operation between different forces is necessary in a small country such as ours.
That is another reason why we need a high degree of control, or something close to control, existing in the Home Secretary. People have said that the Home Secretary is a politician just like local politicians. There is a difference because the advice that is tendered to the Home Secretary by Home Office officials, with whom I do not always agree, is nevertheless of a certain professional standard. The advice that is tendered to Mr. Livingstone by the chaps whom he has appointed in County hall to advise him on the subject is certainly not of the same professional standard. The advice that is tendered to the so-called Islington police committee by the staff whom it has appointed at great public expense recommends that the police should ultimately become employees of the borough council. That is why I asked the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) whether he thought that that was a good thing to do. He thought that it was not a good thing for police officers to be employees of a borough authority, but the staff appointed by Islington borough council to tender it advice and information thinks that that is the natural consequence in the end.
hen one talks in this sense, one is always accused of wanting a national police force. It is a pity that those words are used because the truth of the matter is that we have a national police force to a great extent at the moment in all except name. I believe that it would be better for us to recognise that and to tidy up the remaining anomalies and untidyness. The police force in modern conditions is too powerful a thing to be controlled on a different basis in different parts of the country by county councillors, even with magistrates added. It should be controlled, as it is now in practice controlled when necessary, by the Home Secretary. If we were to recognise that in statute, we could have the same system throughout the United Kingdom without differentiating London, because we would have control where it belongs—in the Home Office—and we would have consultation and only consultation, but it would be consultation with teeth, where it belongs, in the localities. In London, because of its size, we might need to have a slightly different arrangement for consultation. We might need to have an all-London consultation processs, and a local district—police district—consultation process. But, essentially, the pattern would be the same—control at the Home Office and consultation locally.
I believe that that is the way that we are blindly but inevitably going. It is time that we opened our eyes to that reality and started making our law suit the inevitable practice.
Order. It might be helpful to the House if, with regard to what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has just said about the activities of the Whips, I say that since I have been present five hon. Members have been seeking to catch my eye. If they take nine minutes each I shall be able to call them all before the Home Secretary seeks to catch my eye at 9.40 pm.
From listening to some of the contributions to the debate one would think that we were talking about the police in isolation from the background of the society they serve, whereas responsibility for crime, which we ask them to undertake, is shared by individual citizens, parents, teachers, the Churches, television and, above all, by those responsible for the climate of society.
The police cover only a small part of the story. If we try to talk about them as if they alone are responsible for controlling and combating crime, we are deceiving ourselves. If at the same time we provide them with inadequate resources and insufficient staff and think that we can get away with blaming them when things go wrong, we are similarly deceiving ourselves.
In the London area last year about 3 million serious offences were committed. Of that total only 700,000 were reported—about a quarter of all the offences that were committed. Only 17 per cent. of the 700,000 were cleared up, but even fewer resulted in convictions. If that is regarded as a reproach to the police, that is entirely wrong. It is a reproach to society, and especially London society. We should be thinking about all the other influences that contribute to our huge crime wave in the capital rather than talking about London police, and especially using the carping criticism and sniping in which so many politicians indulge.
We have erected a huge system of paraphernalia for investigating complaints against the police. Operation Countryman was a disaster. It cost £4 million, involved thousands of police man-hours and cost us the services of scores of good police officers who were suspended, sometimes for years, pending investigation. All that has resulted in one conviction so far.
The apparatus of complaints against the police is like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We have taken the wrong advice constantly, especially from rural areas. The former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall knows more about poaching and sheep dipping than urban crime.
The Liberal party has done a great disservice to the cause. Last summer the leader of the Liberal party went in a blaze of publicity to the Home Office and demanded an inquiry into corruption in the London police. What was the evidence that he produced? It was nothing more than a rehash of stories already told to Operation Countryman, which had already been investigated by independent lawyers and rejected. That was the Liberal party's contribution to the morale of the police last year. I know that the Liberal party is in permanent opposition, but for it to get down in the gutter to listen to convicted criminals telling stories about the police is contemptible.
I approve very much of the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman and of the senior officers who now surround him at Scotland Yard. The London police force is a far better force than we in London deserve. In his arrangements Sir Kenneth is basing himself on his existing resources. Unfortunately, the resources of the criminal investigation department have remained the same in numbers for some years, while the number of crimes committed has doubled and trebled. I hope that in due course it will be possible to give additional manpower to the CID. At present the average detective constable spends his day taking statements from victims of crimes and from witnesses and writing his reports. He has very little time to carry out his investigations and detection.
With regard to the main topic under discussion today, I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is going down the road of statutory consultation. There may be many dangers in that path. I should have preferred the informal procedures that we had in the past. The liaison committee worked well in my borough of Bromley. I apprehend that giving local councils and specific bodies especially interested in law and order an opportunity to participate might prove to be on the way to watch committees and involve political interference with the judgments of the Home Secretary. We would regret that.
On the whole, the Metropolitan police force is of high quality. It has nothing to be ashamed of and all hon. Members should give Sir Kenneth Newman and his men and women their full support.
This is a historic occasion as, I understand, it is the first time that the House has ever had the chance to devote a full day to debating the Metropolitan police. The inadequacy of parliamentary control over the Metropolitan police is shown by the fact that some Conservative Members and I have been waiting a long time to speak. Yet, if your guidance is followed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must limit our speeches to nine minutes. Nine minutes of debate each on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is not adequate to subject the Metropolitan police to the necessary scrutiny. Nevertheless, I welcome the debate and Sir Kenneth Newman's report. I do not agree with all of it, but I am happy about the main parts of it.
In the past three and a half years, my constituents have come to me with many points about the police. For example, they are worried that the police are not being sufficiently diligent or effective in controlling crime and catching criminals. They say that the police sometimes abuse their powers and that the relationship between the police and young people, especially young blacks, is not adequate and must be re-examined. Some constituents tell me that they would like to have some influence on policing in their areas. They do not feel that the method open to them, through putting pressure on me and my putting pressure on the Home Secretary, is adequate. They feel that they cannot exercise their democratic right to influence policing in their areas to the full.
Before the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) leaves the Chamber, I should like to tell him that I listened carefully to what he said about the Labour party and especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The hon. Gentleman was off course. He accused my right hon. Friend of not believing what he said. Moreover, he misinterpreted what my right hon. Friend has consistently said for some time.
My right hon. Friend can speak quite well for himself. Nevertheless, he said that he believes that the Metropolitan police should be accountable, but he has never, as far as I am aware, defined the precise model for that accountability. He has never said that the Metropolitan police should be handed over to Ken Livingstone, as the hon. Gentleman accused him of saying. Moreover, the GLC has come up with several options by which accountability of the police force in London might work. Some of them give most authority to the boroughs, not to the GLC. It is mischievous of the hon. Gentleman to say what he said in the way in which he said it.
All of the options involve the transference of the police authority from the Home Secretary to some such body. I understand that that is the policy of the Labour party. It was not the Labour party's policy two years ago, but it is now.
That is not what the hon. Gentleman said when he made his speech. He made specific accusations that were not on the lines of his present comments. He said that the Labour party did not believe in the policies that we were advocating, which I contend is not supported by any evidence. Secondly, he accused my right hon. Friend of having put forward specific proposals that he has not put forward.
I do not want to make too much of this as there are many more important issues. I was a witness. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) said that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) had not said that he would do what the GLC wanted but he was not willing to say what Labour party policy was in practice or how it had changed in the past 18 months.
Labour party policy may have changed in the past few years—every party's policy evolves—as we have come to grips with the problems of policing in London. We wish to make policing more effective and sensitive to the local communities. The Labour party has made its position perfectly clear in recent months, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook.
I had the opportunity recently to visit the Hendon police training college. Other hon. Members have already said something about that. I was impressed by the changes that appear to have taken place in recent years in the way in which the police are trained. I did not have the chance to visit the cadet school. I saw only the main part of the training establishment. I was impressed by the calibre of the police officers who were under training. They are of a higher calibre than many serving police officers in London, which is possibly a sign of higher pay and different recruiting policies—
I am describing what I saw when I went there.
I was interested in the balanced approach to criticisms of the police. I asked a group of trainees, with whom I chatted in the canteen, whether it was a problem that the police were under criticism and whether to police the streets of London was a sensitive thing to do. They said, "No. We understand the criticisms. Some of them are perfectly justified and some are appropriately made. We do not think that that is a reflection on the career that we have chosen." They were more balanced in their attitude than many Conservative Members who, at the slightest hint that the police are under criticism in a democratic debate, assert that Labour Members are anti-police, which is absolute nonsense. It is our democratic right to be critical of the police without at the same time being accused of being anti-police, as has sometimes been suggested.
I shall refer to some of the criticisms of policing in London. I appreciate that it is a difficult, sensitive and demanding job. It is made more difficult because of the extreme youth of many police officers on the streets of London. I talked to police in Chicago last September when I went there. They were astonished that policing in London was carried out by police officers aged 21 and 22. They thought that in Chicago the appropriate age would be 27, 28, 29 and so on.
When I talked to the police officers in training at Hendon, I was a little dismayed that many of them came from outer, not inner, London. It is difficult to ask people who have spent their lives in different areas to police the more difficult streets of the inner city area of London.
I am also continually dismayed at the fact that, although we pay lip service to the bobby on the beat and the home-beat police officer, the status of the home-beat police officer is still seen as lower than that of most other jobs in the Metropolitan police. Until we alter that position, we shall not do more than pay lip service to the importance of having a good relationship between the police and the public on the council estates and streets of the inner city area.
I wish that we had a little more information from the research department of the Home Office about the effectiveness of home-beat policing. I believe in it, as do most hon. Members, but I should like a little more information about the best size of area, what size of population should be covered by the home-beat police officer, how effective home-beat policing has been and whether we can make it more effective, instead of believing that it is the right thing without being critical about the way in which it is applied.
Having more blacks in the police will not necessarily improve relationships between the police and the black community, but an essential precondition for such an improvement in relationships is that there should be more black police officers, particularly in multi-racial areas. I am aware that the Metropolitan police are making efforts to recruit more blacks into the police. It was a point that we discussed when the Select Committee on Home Affairs was in Chicago last September.
It is the practice in Chicago to review the entry criteria for the police. It was not suggested to us that standards should be dropped, but we were told that in Chicago it had been found that after a period of years the entry qualifications were not necessarily in all cases directly relevant to the current tasks of policing. It was suggested to us that, if we applied the same type of scrutiny to policing in London, we might well find that we had some outdated entry qualifications that were not related to the job in hand, and that if outdated qualifications were removed we might find it easier to recruit from the inner city areas and the black communities some of those whom we believe we should have in the Metropolitan police force.
Over the years I have been approached on a number of occasions by members of the Asian community in the Balham area of my constituency, who have had the feeling that the police were not protecting them, their persons, their shops and their homes as much as they should. They felt particularly vulnerable. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and I have on a number of occasions arranged meetings between the police and the Asian community in the hope of getting the local police to take those criticisms seriously. They are serious criticisms.
I wish that what the Home Secretary said about consultation had been heeded by the Conservative leadership of Wandsworth council. Up to now the Conservatives have totally ignored what the Home Secretary wants by way of consultative procedures. I propose to write to them, quoting what the Home Secretary said this afternoon, in the hope of making them open out the consultation in Wandsworth in the way that has happened in Lambeth and in the way that the Home Secretary today has been urging on all London boroughs.
I should like to mention some points of particular concern to me, based upon local incidents. One relates to the ease with which guns are issued in police stations. I shall not go into the full details, but I have been given information about an occasion when two police officers walked into Battersea bridge police station and were given guns without having to explain the purpose for which they wanted them. It was done without any of the scrutiny or questioning that we might think should always take place.
The next example concerns the Balham women's peace group in my constituency. The group advertised in "City Limits" a meeting to be held on private premises. The telephone number was given in the advertisement. The group received a telephone call from a police officer asking about the nature of the meeting, its objectives, the number of members, and so on. The women behind the peace group were very concerned as to why the police should take such an interest in the meeting. In their letter to me they asked whether the police would have done so had it been a meeting of the beekeepers' association. There was obviously some particular reason why the police felt it necessary to scrutinise the Balham women's peace group.
I notice from the British crime survey, which does not cover London specifically but which, I am sure, is typical of London, that there is an inverse relationship between the proportion of people in each group who are victims of street crime and the proportion who feel very uneasy about the possibility that they will become victims.
The popular belief is that older people are most likely to become victims of street crime. Indeed, older people tend to be the ones who feel most insecure about it. The reality is that in the main the victims of street crime are younger people, especially young men. The difficulty is that there is a great deal of fear about street crime which is some way removed from the reality of what is happening. I do not condone street crime, and I am aware that it can be a most distressing experience, but it is a tragedy that those who have the greatest fear of it are in reality not the people who are most likely to be affected.
Several hon. Members have already referred to police complaints. I noticed that in the latest annual report of the Commissioner of Police there are some statistics about police complaints. About 9,000 police complaints were made in 1981. Of those, about 300 were substantiated, but 2,000 complaints were subsequently withdrawn and nearly 3,000 people said that they did not wish to proceed with their complaints.
It is disturbing that an important safeguard for individuals who feel that the police have not behaved as they should results in most complaints being thrown out and many being withdrawn, for reasons which I should like to be told about. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said, many people do not bother to complain about the police, because they feel that it is not worth while.
This debate is not about the causes of crime, but it is right that we should bear them in mind, because the police often have to deal with the consequences of things that are not their fault. I refer specifically to unemployment among young people and the values of our consumer society, in which enticing consumer goods are dangled before those who may be unemployed and cannot join the consumer society. There are also problems connected with alcohol abuse and, perhaps above all, excessive preoccupation with violence on television and in films, comics and videos. They encourage the belief that violence is not such a bad thing, and they have lowered the values in our society.
When we criticise the police and consider their problems, we should remember what we are doing to the people in our society through the environment that we provide. I should like to see violence removed from our television screens.
Bearing in mind the considerable problems faced by the Metropolitan police, the whole House will agree that they do a remarkably good job in difficult circumstances.
As many hon. Members have said, the police have a wide-ranging social role in London and have to bear public order responsibilities, which place a considerable burden on the police in suburban areas, such as my constituency. There are also the special problems of London crime, which, as in any capital city, are bound to be more difficult than those in provincial areas.
In those circumstances, it is a wonder that the clear-up rate is so good in many cases. I remind the House that there is a 50 per cent. clear-up rate of assaults, which includes many serious crimes of violence. Of course we all wish that the clear-up rate were better for other important crimes, such as robbery and burglary, but, all in all, the Metropolitan police do a good job.
I welcome the Commissioner's interim proposals as a step in the right direction. I approve of the fact that he intends to give a higher priority to making the Metropolitan police more responsive to the needs and feelings of local communities and I am glad that he is seeking to improve the performance of the police in dealing with robberies and burglaries.
Much can be achieved by making use of the police liaison committees that have been set up in certain parts of the Metropolitan police area. An effective committee has been established in my London borough of Sutton. The police listen to the ideas and anxieties of local community leaders, who, in turn, can be more fully briefed by the police on their problems and objectives. I have attended one meeting of the new committee in my constituency and I can vouch for its value as a method of improving contact and understanding between the police and the local community.
Much could also be achieved by the vigorous implementation of some of the proposals in the Commissioner's interim report to the Home Secretary. For example, I strongly approve of his plan to increase the use of foot patrols in priority areas where there is a high incidence of crime. Equally, it is sensible for him to suggest the reorganisation and concentration of manpower to deal more effectively with the particularly noxious crimes of robbery and burglary.
In paragraph 13 of Sir Kenneth Newman's report, which the House has been reading with interest, there are some important accounts of how the local community in different parts of the metropolitan area can support police efforts to reduce crime. Reference is made to the redeployment of existing manpower, made possible by savings elsewhere, in order to get more police on the ground, to the allocation of manpower to areas of high crime incidence, to the planning and implementation of specific crime prevention programmes, which must surely be supported by Members on both sides of the House, and to the elevation of crime prevention to the mainstream of policing practice.
I welcome the fact that a study is to be made of ways in which the status and role of uniformed police constables can be upgraded. I hope that its results will be implemented soon. My own experience of going round with a home beat officer leads me to believe that the preventive and community roles of the uniformed police can be invaluable. That would not exclude the possibility of using special groups from time to time for special tasks such as anti-burglary and anti-robbery work. There is no "either/or" dilemma. There is a role for special squads and for uniformed police on the beat.
If the Metropolitan police under Sir Kenneth's leadership give the proper priority to those aspects of the policing task in London, my constituents' desire to go about their daily lives in peace and security will be well safeguarded. With the support of the local community, a great deal more could be achieved, and I commend the Metropolitan police for the progress that they have made so far.
First, I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that in my earlier intervention I was referring to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts), not to either of the other hon. Members representing Hackney constituencies, who were in the Chamber.
As time is short, I shall confine my remarks to the problems of my constituency, where there is widespread concern about the general question of law and order. My constituents are probably as concerned about law and order as about any other single issue, including unemployment, but I have had no complaints about the accountability or lack of accountability of the Metropolitan police. That issue has simply not been raised by my constituents. They have welcomed the borough liaison committee, and they have welcomed even more the very successful local meetings that the police have organised with residents and tenants associations.
There has also been remarkably little concern about the police complaints procedure. I believe that only one of my constituents has followed through a complaint after the usual visit by a senior police officer from another division. I therefore do not believe that the concern expressed by Opposition Members represents the view of the people, at any rate in my constituency.
There is in my constituency, however, deep concern about the apparent inability of the police to combat the growing amount of vandalism and burglary, and about a fairly limited but well-publicised number of muggings and violent attacks, not always, as we have heard, on elderly people.
There is a danger that the frustration and concern that stem from the feeling that criminals are getting away with it will spill over into a feeling of distrust and perhaps even dislike of the police among the general public. That is why I greatly welcome both the measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I also greatly welcomed the meetings that we had with him, and with the Commissioner and his colleagues.
I especially welcome the Commissioner's proposals to increase the number of police on the streets. In my experience—this has been proved in a difficult area of my constituency, Alma road in Ponders End—there is no better way to prevent crime than to have uniformed policemen walking around. The move to bring some 650 more policemen on to the beat is therefore extremely welcome.
I also welcome the Commissioner's decision to devote more resources to clearing up burglaries. That, too, is long overdue. The majority of people come into contact with the police only when their home has been burgled, and all too often the first thing that the police say when they arrive is that the burglar is well away and there is not much chance of solving the crime. If we are to prevent the feeling growing among the general community that the police are pretty useless, the detection rate in burglary cases must be improved.
The measures suggested by the Commissioner and those taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will go some way towards improving the situation, but the police cannot do it all alone. Above all, it is up to the community to help to stop crime and solve crimes. We must be honest with ourselves and with our constituents. Much of the vandalism in the streets is caused by the children of our own constituents. It is up to parents to exercise more control over their youngsters. The schools and the teachers also do not always exert sufficient discipline and leadership over our youngsters.
We must make it clear that it is up to all our constituents to help one another. Too often the police tell us that people are not prepared to give evidence in court. The most chilling example of this in my constituency was the totally unprovoked murder of a young man of 22. His mother and father received a number of telephone calls from people who had taken the trouble to find out where they lived. They said that they had seen the assault, they described the circumstances and said who was responsible, but when the parents asked for the name of the caller to pass it on to the police the person at the other end said that he did not wish to be involved. We cannot expect the police to operate in those circumstances. If we are not prepared to help ourselves, how can we blame the police if they do not clear up crimes?
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has confirmed that there will be more policemen on the beat. I understand that since 1945 there has been an increase of 400 per cent. in crime, traffic and public order incidents, but an increase of only 35 per cent. in police manpower.
Good public relations, first to obtain intelligence as to what is going on in the area and, secondly, to maintain support for police action is essential. In this regard, the attitude of the police is vital. Manners and courtesy are generally thought to have deteriorated in recent years, but they are essential weapons in the police armoury. Law-abiding citizens rarely encounter the police face to face. It is therefore vital that they should be impressed by the way in which they are received, even if the encounter results from a possible minor traffic infringement.
I believe that it will be a major advance in this regard to introduce a ticket penalty system in order to reduce the number who feel themselves alienated by police prosecution for a simple motoring offence. This has another advantage in regard to juries inasmuch as many who serve on juries feel that their colleagues sometimes use the opportunity to settle old scores with the police in the jury room.
Undoubtedly, in the same sphere, it is important to review the whole question of jury service especially now that so many sentences are suspended, which means that those who have been convicted of quite serious offences are likely to find themselves on a jury the following day judging a similar offence and possibly undermining the work of the police. I hope that the Government will take an active interest in the progress of the Juries (Disqualification) Bill which received a Second Reading last Friday.
According to my magistrate friends, there seems to be some need for the police to improve their court techniques. The magistrates tell me that they often have to throw out cases because of bad preparation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Eggar) has stated, one of the most important elements in police support is parental commitment. If parents give proper support to teachers in inculcating an adequate standard of discipline and a proper respect for law and order, the demand on police time would be substantially reduced. I was delighted to be present last week for the presentation of a cheque by class 2D of Loxford high school in my constituency. The local community policemen had previously explained to the pupils the danger of police work and the effect on the families of those who are killed in our protection. As a result, a number of sponsored events were held and a cheque for £200 was handed over to Chief Superintendent Telling for the police widows' and orphans' fund. This seems to me a very important lesson for effective community policing.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary commend the need for vigilance in the community in support of the police. It always used to be the case that everyone exercised vigilance in the interests of the community. That attitude included the milkman, the baker and the postman who, with local residents, could all help to play their part in crime prevention by taking an interest in the maintenance of law and order nationwide. For those prepared to make an even greater commitment, there is service in the Special Constabulary which would be enormously useful. It would be helpful if the Government could consider giving more encouragement to those wishing to incorporate anti-burglary devices in order to combat a thriving and expanding section of the criminal fraternity. Prevention is much better than cure every time. The Government have an excellent opportunity to assist in creating employment in this respect and, at the same time, strike a blow for law and order.
It will be accepted on both sides of the House that we have had a valuable debate. Many different points have been raised.
I wish to start by thanking all those right hon. and hon. Members who have welcomed the meetings that I have had with them, and who have stated their belief that such meetings and consultations should continue and that they do nothing but good. I hope that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and I have resolved our little local difficulty, if that is the phrase, concerning discussion at an informal meeting. I have always accepted my responsibility if anything goes wrong. I know that the hon. Gentleman does the same. It is important that we have these informal meetings. I hope that they can be continued.
I hope also that those hon. Members whose detailed points I am not able to mention in my reply will accept that I shall pay attention to what they have stated and will write to them. I regard my responsibility in that respect, as the police authority for the metropolis, as very important. I cannot answer the criticisms made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), among others, about my position as the police authority unless, at the same time, I am able to fulfil my detailed responsibilities to hon. Members and to reply to the points that they make. I certainly intend to do that. Whatever criticisms may be made of what I seek to do and what the Home Office seeks to do, no hon. Member can accuse us of discourtesy in trying to meet their detailed points. We shall consider the points that they make most carefully.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook suggested that the action now being taken was too late, should have been taken earlier and would have been taken had there been more democratic control of policing in London. He is entitled to that last view, although I hope to be able to show that it is not justified, but I think that I am entitled to respond to his first point and, as he was very fair to me in much of what he said, I intend to respond in the same vein.
I suggest that it is quite wrong to try to pretend that during 1980, 1981 and into 1982 nothing was done to enable the police better to handle the problems that they faced and to link more closely with the community. In my view, it would have been quite wrong and counter-productive to launch a major reappraisal of policy until internal conditions had been improved and manpower had been built up. The "man on the ground" approach that the right hon. Gentleman advocates now was hampered—
The right hon. Gentleman says "Oh", but it was hampered by the Government of which he was a member. It was only made possible by the present Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) is right. The policies of this Government, especially those on police pay, have helped to increase by 4,046 the numbers in the Metropolitan police. I must tell the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that it would be extremely difficult to put more policemen on the beat and to have more beat patrols, as he wants, if the numbers were not there, and they would not have been there but for this Government's policies. I am entitled to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, during the period to which he referred, that is what the present Government were doing.
It was also equally important to give priority in earlier years to preventing disorder and protecting both the police and the public. If that had not been done, public criticism would have been enormous.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook perhaps neatly forgets the steps that were already in hand in 1980 and 1981 not only to deal with disorder and its prevention, but new training schemes, especially for young recruits. These were directed particularly to improving police-public contact, and, it has to be faced, were commended—not recommended—by Lord Scarman.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook forgets that, in response to the concern of a number of hon. Members, including hon. Members representing London constituencies, I launched an inquiry into racial attacks and published new guidelines for dealing with them which were quickly adopted during 1981. The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and many others criticised the manner in which the police dealt with racial difficulties, as did the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. However, it is fair to me to remember that I had launched the inquiry, I had set out new guidelines and I had taken strenuous steps to make sure that they were carried out. All that was happily forgotten. I do not expect it to be remembered, but, when something is not remembered, I am at least entitled to point out that it has been forgotten. That is exactly what I am doing, and it is a reasonable line for me to take.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook ignored the fact that action to improve community relations in Lambeth and the guidelines for the rest of the metropolis in June last year paved the way for the present Commissioner's preliminary report. The right hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that I asked the Commissioner to address himself to those problems and did not wait for him to present the problems to me. It would have been fair to criticise me if I had not done that. Having been fair on one point, I must be fair on another. Perhaps if many right hon. and hon. Members had not pressed me, as they properly have, I might not have done that. However, I did, whether I was pressed or not, and am entitled to take credit for having done so.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the crime statistics. It is true that no one can be satisfied with the level of crime in London. Many hon. Members have rightly pointed out the worry of their constituents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made clear, to compare the performance of the Metropolitan police force with that of the police forces in provincial cities is not to compare like with like. That is a fair point. It is unfair to the Metropolitan police to blame them when one is trying to compare two sets of statistics that are not comparable. I hope that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the House, while being far from complacent about the performance of the Metropolitan police, will recognise that to blame them unfairly is not likely to produce the best results. I hope that that can be accepted.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is mistaken if he believes that he can separate Sir Kenneth's report from the steps that preceded it and from my request to Sir Kenneth for it. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for what he said about Sir Kenneth Newman and what he believes he can do for the Metropolitan police. It is important that there should be a clear understanding on both sides of the House that the Commissioner has, as I have found from the debate, strong support from both sides of the House for what he is trying to do. I am grateful for that. Everyone will admit that the job of the Metropolitan Commissioner is extremely difficult. He would expect criticisms where they are justified and right, but, equally, he deserves support. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and to the House for the support that they have given him, and I know that he will feel the same.
As to democratic control, I suggest to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that it would be a mistake if policing by consent in this country and in the capital city were obliged to move in the direction that he set out. I fear that it would replace the present system of democratic controls, community influence and professional independence with what would be doctrinaire policies and greater political control.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) made some trenchant criticisms of me and I am therefore entitled to quote him in my support, as I recognise the complaints that he made about me. He wondered whether, when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said certain things, he actually believed them. I wonder too, because I believe that there would be some real and difficult problems if it were decided that the Home Secretary was not to be the police authority for the metropolis. Dividing police responsibility in the metropolis between what would be locally applied for London and what would be nationally applied would, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said, be an extremely difficult exercise that would not work. I have said that before, because I do not believe that it would work. I accept that some people think otherwise. All I can say is that I have now had experience of nearly four years, and in pay view it would not work. Perhaps my experience should be reckoned with in this respect.
It is not a matter of speculation. It was the wish of the House and those who control its business that as many Back Benchers as possible should speak, and that the police authority for London, personified by the Home Secretary, should then reply. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) should understand that it is with the greatest regret that I ever abandon an opportunity to speak. I did so out of courtesy to the House, not for any other reason.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. I thought it right that I should both open and reply to the debate, because I am the police authority for the metropolis. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State would have replied far better than I, but, as I am the police authority for the metropolis, I thought it right to proceed on that basis, and so I have.
I would never press my right hon. Friend to do that. Is he aware of the considerable expenditure that is being incurred by the police committee of the GLC and by the police committees of various inner London boroughs? Does my right hon. Friend really believe that this is the direction in which we should move? Does it in any way increase the accountability of the police to local people?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) has raised the matter, it is fair to say that it is a little mystifying that a body that has no responsibility for policing in London and has no part in paying for it in any way still seems able to decide that it is worth while spending part of the ratepayers' money on pontificating—if that is the right word—about it. That is its affair. If it has the right to spend the money, it can do it, but the ratepayers equally have the right to ask why it is spending that money, and I hope that they will.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook welcomed the consultation arrangements. Our system of policing, which we should accept is admired by many capital cities throughout the world, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, depends on co-operation and sensible discussion. That is why the development of the consultation machinery is right. I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) says about the risks that are involved, but there are risks in any move of this nature. If it were designed to harm the police and inhibit police action, I would be against it. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that it should be constructively designed to channel police operations in future. It is certainly not designed to stifle criticism of the police, nor would they expect that.
As there has been a consensus that this is the way to go, but equally that we all want it to be effective and constructive, will my right hon. Friend at least consider, as there is a clause in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill that deals with the matter, giving some general advice by way of a circular as to how this is to be achieved? Otherwise there could be incredible diversity and difficulty in the matter, things would not get off to a good start and would thus be devalued.
To be fair, many of the arrangements have got off to a reasonably good start, and we should build upon them. I can never remember what it is in order for me to say about Committees. It is a long time since I was Chief Whip. I think that I am at least entitled to say that we shall discuss those matters in Committee. I hope at that stage to be able to assist the Committee and to address myself to some of the points that my hon. Friend has raised.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook raised a somewhat difficult point to which it is right that I should refer. In his closing remarks he seemed to imply that if there were a disagreement between the local community and the police, the elected representatives would rule on it. I hope that I have not misunderstood him. If he did say that, there are considerable dangers attached. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I am being unreasonable when I say that there is a danger that his words could be interpreted as encouraging the view of some of the so-called monitoring groups in some London boroughs which have been condemned by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and others. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not approve of such action, but I think that when he considers his words he will see the danger.
Some of those groups, flying the flag, one might say, of accountability and with funds at their disposal to which some of my hon. Friends have referred, seem determined to achieve the opposite of what they claim by exploiting issues and trying to divide the police from the community. That is the last thought that the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind, and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow was perfectly fair in saying that it is the last thing that he had in mind. I hope that it is not unreasonable for me to point out the risk that could be attached to such a proposal.
I cannot have it on the record that I am opposed to monitoring groups. I am very much in favour of monitoring groups when they are doing an honest job. The organisations that I criticise, particularly one in my constituency, are not monitoring groups at all.
That is clear and, if I may borrow a metaphor, the hon. Gentleman and I are now all square. I have apparently slightly misrepresented what he said, and on another occasion he slightly misrepresented what I said. As a result of that, we are all square and doing fairly well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), in a thoughtful and knowledgeable speech, stressed the importance of crime prevention, especially the need to reduce auto crime. It is fair to say that much of London's crime is auto crime, with its associated problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds also made that clear. I agree that more attention should be given to measures to reduce crime, not just by the police but by local councils, manufacturers and the general public. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North and Carshalton (Mr. Forman).
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and others said that London is the most peaceful city when compared with others throughout the world. It is important and fair to the Metropolitan police to say that. That was stressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who also stressed the considerable achievements of the Metropolitan police.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) referred to what has been done in his area to improve relations with the police. He mentioned the steps taken by local commanders. I hope that that constructive relationship can be developed and that the proposals for local consultation that the council is considering will be consistent with the guidance that I gave in my opening speech. I am not wholly convinced that it is, but it is important that it should be. As a borough which has had such an interest in promoting good relations, I am sure that it will wish to ensure that that happens in future.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) gave me notice that he would not be able to be here at the end of the debate. He has good reason, because he is debating in another forum with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. Anybody who debates with him will have a difficult time, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would prefer to be here. The hon. Gentleman made an important contribution.
I confirm that both the Commissioner and I have consistently made clear that racially-prejudiced behaviour by police officers will not be tolerated. In view of the comments by many other right hon. and hon. Members, I repeat that it will not be tolerated by the Commissioner, by me, by the House or by anyone else who wants successful policing in the metropolis or anywhere else. It is important to make that abundantly clear.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Hackney, Central said that calls for a public inquiry are misplaced until the inquest on the unfortunate death of Mr. Colin Roach have been completed. I accept that the police need to respond sensibly to criticism and that failure to do so may give extremists the opportunity to feed, for their own purposes, on the anxieties of the local community, particularly ethnic minorities. I fear that some look only to that end.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was also extremely helpful about the unfortunate death of Mr. Colin Roach and about the way in which the matter could be fairly treated through an inquest. I trust that it will be. I hope that all those who want good relations with the police will be careful not to stir up unreasonable attitudes by floating unjustified rumours and supporting demonstrations organised not by local people, but by people from other places.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch talked about the three-tier proposals for consultation and the possibility of a Select Committee. That is not a matter for me, but the more that we consult groups of hon. Members the better. Anything that brings the House and its elected Members more closely into contact with the working of the police of the metropolis is welcome. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury stressed that, and I welcome what he said.
I noted the suggestion by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Shoreditch that Her Majesty's inspectorate should cover the Metropolitan police as well as other forces. I remind the House that in my statement on the Commissioner's report I said that I had emphasised to the Commissioner the need for the closest co-operation between the Metropolitan police and the inspectorate. I hope that that closer co-operation will be promoted. I am determined that it should be. I do not wish to go further than that on this occasion, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) welcomed improvements in the training of the Metropolitan police, especially recruits. I have told the Commissioner that he can look to the establishment of a force approaching 27,000 in a year's time. A thorough review of police and civilian manpower is in progress in the light of the priorities set by the Commissioner. It will include considering whether more posts can be filled by civilians rather than police officers—an issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) stressed the importance of recruiting ethnic minorities to the force. I am glad to be able to report to the House that 65 officers from the ethnic minority communities joined the Metropolitan police in 1982, and the number of police officers from ethnic minorities in the force reached 183 on 31 December 1982.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) raised the problem of the serious increase in drug addiction. I know that the Commissioner takes that issue very seriously and that he is keeping a close watch on it.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow suggested that the Metropolitan police force was too large and that we should employ consultants to decide whether it should be broken up. It is, of course, a very large force—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.