Police

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 15th July 1983.

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Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne 1:29 pm, 15th July 1983

I beg to move, That this House, recognising that equal treatment of all citizens under the law depends on upholding the tradition of police impartiality and that effective policing depends on successful community relations, commends the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; welcomes the efforts made by the Metropolitan Police to work more closely with the community, particularly by returning more constables to the beat; notes with grave concern the activities of those who, in their campaign to bring the police under political control, seek to undermine police authority in a manner directly contrary to the democratic principle of independent policing and wilfully unresponsive to public disquiet over the rising crime rate; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give statutory encouragement to genuine efforts at community liaison which can promote public confidence in the police and facilitate the co-operation necessary for the improved detection and prevention of crime. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity of making my first address to the House. I am aware that the privilege of making a maiden speech on a balloted motion has not been exercised for 24 years. Newly elected Members are rightly cautious about plunging feet first into the complexities of the procedure of the House without first thoroughly testing the water. However, while I approach this occasion with considerable trepidation, I believe strongly that this issue is of the utmost importance.

I would not wish to continue without paying tribute to my distinguished and learned predecessor, Sir Derek Walker-Smith. This is not simply in keeping with the traditions of the House; it is a genuine mark of respect to someone who was a vigorous ambassador of his constituency, a brilliant orator and a respected Member. While I hope to follow the high standards set by Sir Derek, I fear that his legal expertise will remain lost to the House.

The constituency of Broxbourne, which I have the honour to represent, has a reputation for excellent local facilities and a good measure of unspoiled Hertfordshire countryside, and includes part of the Lea valley regional park. Our proximity to London has attracted many national companies to locate their headquarters alongside a long-established horticultural industry. From foundries to flowers, we represent the best traditions of a mixed economy.

However, we have one skeleton in the cupboard. In the 17th century Colonel Hamilton Rumbold, who is, I trust, no relation of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), devised a plot to assassinate King Charles II, who was to ride through Hoddesdon on his way back from Newmarket. Fortunately, the royal party returned earlier than expected, the plans were discovered and the conspirators brought to justice. I reassure the House that my constituents have since shown themselves to be better disposed towards the authorities, and have learned to make their protests more conventionally. I look forward with pleasure to serving both a beautiful and an industrial part of our country for many years.

Law and order has been at the front of the public mind this week. I make no apologies for prolonging that debate and for focusing again on those who are responsible for enforcing law and order in our society. The recent report by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has wider implications for policing, because it concerns those of my constituents who come under the protection of the Metropolitan police, because it is a sign of the difficulties in policing in other parts of the country and because it confirms my experience as a member of the Greater London council.

In his report, the Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman, highlighted the unique difficulties of policing an area with the cultural and social diversities of London. Most of those difficulties have been with us for a long time. However, one new departure is mentioned in the report: The political climate in some parts of London is inimical to progress in policing. Behind Sir Kenneth's comment — restrained by the neutral stand that he must take—is a justified fear about the future of an effective and independent police force in our society and about a sustained campaign to undermine police authority and morale, to engineer a crisis in policing and, thereby, to justify assuming political control over the essential elements of police operations, administration and finance.

In the time allowed to me I can only briefly describe this disturbing trend, but I shall give the greater weight of my argument to the detrimental effect that it will undoubtedly have on the equal treatment of all citizens under the law. The GLC proposes to assume control over police administration and finances and effectively to give control of police operations to the London boroughs. Few ratepayers in London would voluntarily surrender any more financial responsibilities to the GLC. The recent record of that authority hardly recommends it as a keeper of the public purse.

The proposal to establish political control over police operations and appointments is even more insidious. The decision when and how to deploy police forces must be taken with the upmost impartiality and professional skill. It is not a power that can be exercised by a politically controlled police committee where political considerations could outweigh professional judgment. Similarly, the promotion of police officers must be a matter of merit and not political expediency. It is claimed that all that will be done in the name of democratic accountability — pleasant-sounding words, but ones that, in reality, would mean nothing other than thinly disguised political control.

I shall not pretend that all is right with the Metropolitan police. I should like to see better community relations. Successful experiments such as the borough liaison committee in Lambeth should be extended to all boroughs and given statutory backing. Powers of search and arrest are in a chaotic state and should be clarified and modernised. I hope that they will be corrected in the forthcoming Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I am appalled at the anachronism whereby a man can be arrested for causing a breach of the peace but not for indecent assault. I also wish to improve police resources for the detection and prevention of street crime and theft.

However, a crisis in policing is more likely to be created by political ambition than by the facts of the Commissioner's report. Progress in policing depends on public co-operation. Lord Scarman said that the police enforce the law on behalf of the community and that they therefore depend on the support of the community. Sir Kenneth Newman in his report argued that progress in crime prevention would depend on the co-operation of the public.

I submit that, far from supporting the police in their work, the GLC effectively is obstructing progress for political ends in a manner that wilfully disregards obvious public concern about rising crime rates. The GLC's objective is to promote a crisis in police morale and public confidence so that, as the wolf in sheep's clothing, it may nominate itself as a candidate for controlling the Metropolitan police.

Attempts to exert political control over the Metropolitan police mean that effective policing cannot be achieved in the present political climate in London and that the tradition of an independent and impartial police force may be in serious danger. The British people are not accustomed to the idea of political policemen. That damages the credibility of the police in the eyes of the public. I have no need to remind Opposition Members that it was Karl Marx who said that control of the police was essential to destroy the existing order of society. The road to power in eastern Europe has been through that route.

The House has long defended the distinction between the powers of the elected legislatures and those of the judiciary and the agencies of law enforcement. That delicate balance of the constitution is no historical accident. It is the conscious and deliberate expression of the right of every citizen to be treated equally under the law. Indeed, it is the essense of democracy. I can think of no greater threat to democracy than the political erosion of police impartiality. I feel sure that this view and the sentiments expressed in the motion will commend themselves to the vast majority of hon. Members and to the people living and working in the Metropolitan police area.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South 1:40 pm, 15th July 1983

It is a rare privilege to follow a maiden speech by an hon. Lady. It is rarer still — there is perhaps only one previous example—to follow a maiden speech by an hon. Lady who has moved a controversial motions. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) suggested that the last occasion was 24 years ago. If my memory is correct—the hon. Lady or the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that was when the now Prime Minister, then the new Member for Finchley, introduced a private Member's Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Broxbourne will walk in the same path, but she has an equivalent clarity of expression. I hope, however, that what some of us would describe as tunnel vision will not be one of her characteristics.

The hon. Lady referred to her predecessor, whose measured prose and clear logic were much appreciated by the House. I hope that she will follow the same path. As she said that her maiden speech would be controversial, I hope that she will not mind my referring later to a major non sequitur in her argument.

It is a good thing that this subject has been raised. Although I share very few of the hon. Lady's views, they represent what some people think and, as this is a debating Chamber, I shall reply to them in due course. I am sure that the House will look forward with interest to the hon. Lady's contributions in the future, following the forceful way in which she presented her views today.

It is appropriate that the hon. Lady chose a private Member's motion for her maiden speech—or that the hand of Mr. Speaker or the Clerk secured that result—as private Members' motions and private Members' time are the roots of our democracy. Government time has encroached on all our time. People have realised only recently that the basic time of the House is that of private Members. I congratulate the hon. Lady on taking this opportunity to make her maiden speech.

The hon. Lady was right to stress that there is a great deal of public concern about the police, police activity and relations between the public and the police. The key word — I think that the hon. Lady used it once — is "confidence". Relations between the public and the police depend upon the confidence that the public as a whole and different parts of the public place in the public police force. In the past 10 to 15 years there has been a crisis, which is by no means yet resolved, of general public confidence in the police, confidence by specific groups —visual, occupational or age groups—in the police and, to put it bluntly, a certain lack of confidence among the various parts of the police force itself.

I welcome the efforts of the new Commissioner to meet those problems. The report to which the hon. Lady's motion refers is much better than those that we have had in the past. It is more detailed. It does not repeat itself. There are more facts and figures than we have been accustomed to. Some of my hon. Friends have pointed out that the facts are not welcome, but at least they are there. To that extent I applaud the hon. Lady's motion.

I agree with the second line of the motion, which stresses that equal treatment of all citizens under the law depends on upholding the tradition of police impartiality. One of the problems in London is that many citizens do not believe that that impartiality exists. Some hon. Members may think that that feeling is misplaced, mistaken, and so on, but I have to tell them that people's feelings must be taken into account even if they are misplaced.

I happen to think that the feeling is not misplaced, and anyone going round London has only to see for himself the number of drivers of motor vehicles who have been stopped by the police and count the ratio of those who are not of white visage. At once he will see an imbalance. That is a pity, because in that respect the police are not seen to be acting impartially. It may be that there is something about vehicles driven by people with different coloured skins that is automatically related to behaviour on the road, but I rather doubt it. That is the sort of example that gives cause for concern, and the hon. Lady will recall what happened in the Brixton area.

If there is to be confidence in the police force, specific groups of people, whether they be young or those from a different ethnic or cultural background, must at least not be provoked, and in the past there has been provocation and difficulty. I do not say that it can be done away with entirely, but there has been provocation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) drew attention to it at the time of the Brixton riots.

In another part of the motion the hon. Lady refers to returning more constables to the beat. We all agree about that. One of the reasons why we are concerned about the police is that year after year hon. Members have been asking for more men on the beat, and it is only due to political pressure—political in the widest sense of the word—from the House on the Home Secretary and from the Home Secretary on the Commissioner that in the end that has been achieved.

About five years ago the Metropolitan police instituted an excellent system of beat policemen. It was welcomed in my constituency, especially by local councillors, because the police in Newham tried to allocate a beat policeman to each local government ward. Since then the system has been changed, because it was found that the areas did not coincide directly with those areas of natural concern to the beat policeman. However, it took a number of questions in the House to ensure that those policemen were not taken off the beat for central London duties when there were demonstrations, and since then the policy of changing to beat policemen has been given very much higher priority, and rightly. It is my view that that would not have occurred without political pressure and the accountability of the Home Secretary, through this House, to London Members.

My knowledge of Hertfordshire and Broxbourne is not perhaps what it should be, but I assume that it is included in the Greater London area. [Interruption.] I gather that it is not. I am glad that I now know. No doubt the hon. Lady's relationship with the Hertfordshire constabulary is very good. However, in terms of political connection in London, I must tell the House that I was a Member of Parliament for London for two constituencies, Acton and Newham, for 13 years before I received an invitation to Scotland Yard. No, I must correct myself. I received one invitation to go the finals of a primary school road safety competition. I had one invitation in 13 years to that interesting event. That illustrates the difficulties that exist in London. I must say straightaway that that record has been broken, because Sir Kenneth Newman has invited Members of Parliament specifically to Scotland Yard in an endeavour to better relations.

However, that did not mean that I did not go to Scotland Yard. I went there on two occasions during those 13 years, by hammering on the door. One occasion was when the Metropolitan police wished to close the north Woolwich police station in my constituency, which was the nearest police station that one could have to "Dock Green". Public pressure took me and a deputation, after a lot of trouble, to Scotland Yard to say, "Please don't."

The second occasion was when I went with my colleague, the former Member for one of the Paddington constituencies, Arthur Latham, to complain to the police in 1979 that their training procedures at Hendon were not adequate to deal with the ethnic West Indian minority. We felt that the police were storing up trouble if they did not change those procedures. Alas, Brixton came afterwards. I do not say that we were necessarily right to advocate specific changes, although I believe that we were. We were well justified in going to see tham on that occasion to ask for things to be changed, and indeed they have been changed. I assure Conservative Members that during the past 10 or 13 years all has not been sweetness and light for London Members of Parliament, who are the proper political people in this regard.

What about the future of political control? Has it. been good enough, through hon. Members of this House, through the Home Secretary or his deputy, from him to the Commissioner, and from the Commissioner to commanders of divisions, and so on? I suggest not. Of course, as the hon. Lady said, there has been a change in the atmosphere. There has been direct contact between Members of Parliament and divisional commanders and the new borough committees, with which both she and I agree. Nevertheless, is it not an anomaly that the regional authority—leaving aside whether it is to continue—for Britain's capital city should not have at least a comparable relationship with its police force as exists in the West Riding, Merseyside, Glasgow, Edinburgh or any other of the great cities of the United Kingdom? We have not had that.

The hon. Lady is a former member of the Greater London council. She will remember the Marshall report. Sir Frank Marshall was an eminent local government luminary from Leeds, who was appointed by the former Conservative GLC to look at the effectiveness of the GLC. He produced a report which recommended the continuance not only of the GLC but of ILEA, because in his view the difficulties of the alternatives of joint boards for the fire service, and so on, were too great. He felt that the GLC had a function, and that it should continue.

One of Sir Frank Marshall's recommendations was that the GLC should have a greater political connection with the Metropolitan police. I do not think that he used the word "political" in the way that the hon. Lady did. [ used the word "political" in its constitutional sense; the hon. Lady used it in the pejorative sense, meaning, "I am not political, but those to whom I am opposed are." That is the non sequitur to which I said I would refer. I know that the hon. Lady will not mind my doing so in that way, because her speech, quite properly, was controversial A new tradition is being established.

Leaving aside party politics, as Sir Frank Marshall did in his report, there is a good case for the same relationship between the London elected members of the GLC and the Metropolitan police as there has been in Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and all other cities. That is demonstrated by the difficulties that I have illustrated in being a Member of Parliament for 13 years in London. London Members should not have to take that responsibility alone. There has to be some connection, just as a Member for Glasgow would have, with each police force.

I agree with the hon. Lady that the proper channel of accountability is through the elected members of the GLC. How far that should extend to operational decisions or matters of promotion is another question, but that it should not go as far as the general accountability that there is in the rest of the country cannot be denied. I shall leave the subject of political control there. Our democracy requires that. The GLC is the natural regional body and there should be some borough representation and input. In the end, the success of the police, as is shown in my area of Newham, depends on the relationship between the people on the ground and the public representatives who are nearest to the public.

The hon. Lady referred to the rising crime rate. She was right — we are concerned with that. We each have different remedies, just as we had different remedies earlier this week. If a pot boils over because somebody has turned up the gas, it is no remedy to put more weights on the lid. I am not saying that the police do not have an important function in increasing the likelihood of detection and, therefore, decreasing the likelihood of crime. In one of the wards in my constituency the police have recently intensified their presence, and that has been most welcome. There has been a tremendous drop in reported break-ins and assaults. That is fine. It is just what we wanted. I agree with the hon. Lady to that extent. But whether to increase the powers of the police or their numbers on the ground is the answer to the incipient violence is quite another matter.

The problem lies much deeper in society. We must look at the police, the community and the infrastructure between the adult world and the young adults whom we were discussing earlier this morning as a whole. The police force acts for the whole community in specific matters.

I conclude by supporting the general view that emerged from the GLC discussion paper on this matter, without going into great detail. That paper should be widely circulated, read and discussed. In advocating that the police have a part to play in cleansing the community, we must remember—I end on a note with which hon. Members and many of my constituents will agree—the risks that the police undertake. There were some bad murders in my area recently. The two murderers were armed and two policemen went into the house and got them out. At that stage the community realises just how much it needs the police and is indebted to them. However, when the police are on the streets, in their cars, in their white or blue wagons — although one hopes that that is not too often, because it is not very acceptable——

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

And in their helicopters.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

—they should ensure that their behaviour does not raise the public's hackles. They should not provide the excuses for those who would knock the police unnecessarily and without justification. Unfortunately, in the past there has been too much of the sort of behaviour that leads only to a reaction. I know that the new Commissioner wishes to change that, and I am sure that many police officers on the beat would agree with him. I am also sure that every hon. Member joins me in that wish.

2 pm

Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington

I shall be brief, but I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on her admirable choice of subject for debate and on the concise wording that she chose, which expresses the thoughts of the vast majority of hon. Members. She also made a splendid speech that shortly put together the thoughts that she wished to convey. It was a very good beginning to a political career that I hope will last a long time. I also hope that we shall have many other opportunities to hear her speak.

I particularly wanted to speak today because I also had the good fortune to win the ballot for private Members' motions and made my first speech in the same way as my hon. Friend. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will have more success than I had in the subject that I chose —the transferability of pension rights. I am still making speeches on that subject, but have made all too little progress. I think that the Home Office is behind my hon. Friend, and she has a strong ally there.

As a Member of Parliament for an inner London area, I am quite satisfied with the way in which the Home Office deals with police matters in the Metropolitan area and with the access that I have to the Home Secretary or his advisers when I feel it necessary. Therefore, I do not want any constitutional change. I welcome the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne on the increasing amount of political interference that has been stimulated by the GLC and other bodies. It hampers the work of the police and is very bad for morale.

The improvements that have been made in recent years are now beginning to have obvious results. That is certainly true of B division, which covers the area that I represent. However, I question whether the establishment is high enough in the areas in which problems arise in particular from the presence of ethnic minorities. It is probably not enough just to look at the numbers of police. We must also look at their age structure and experience. Indeed, I think that B division has too many probationers and not enough sergeants. That problem cannot simply be allowed to cure itself with the passage of time, and I should like to see a deliberate attempt made to recruit older men into the Metropolitan police. I do not know whether that should be done by adjustments in pay, or in the method of training, by a deliberate recruitment campaign or by some other means; but we need more men in their 30s and 40s to guide the police force in inner London.

I was extremely impressed when I went to Hendon a few weeks ago and saw how the training is being organised. The changes that have recently been made in police training methods are very good, but the weakness of the system is that the men are there only for such a short time. I believe that the period of training has been extended from about three months to 20 weeks, but the social problems and the difficulties of dealing with crime, the population movements and the social changes affecting inner London are such that 20 weeks' training is quite inadequate. A much longer training period is required for the Metropolitan police. I know that, once recruits have left Hendon, they are supposed to be further assessed and trained in the police stations to which they are attached. However, as the age structure is not right in the Metropolitan police, I doubt whether that follow-up training is as good as it should be. The problem can be solved only by extending the training period before the men start their duties in the stations.

Emphasis should be placed, too, on uniform, bearing and physique. There is probably nothing wrong with the physique of most constables, but they do not make the most of themselves. They should have more physical training and be encouraged more to maintain their appearance so that they are as smart and dapper as possible. Many constables have long hair and wear their helmets cock-eyed so that they look silly. They cannot win the public's respect unless they are turned out smartly and are confident in their own appearance. It has also been a mistake to add to the equipment that they carry without giving them anywhere to put it except untidily and bulkily under their uniforms.

More emphasis should also be placed on training in use of language and traditional courtesy. I am sure that other hon. Members have experienced the snide and discourteous manner in which some Metropolitan policemen frequently speak to the public. I have received many complaints from constituents about that. The traditional self-control of the constable, his imperturbability and perfect rectitude in speech and conduct are important aspects that are evidently not sufficiently emphasised in training. That is revealed in the demeanour of the probationers.

A constable will behave himself well if his morale is high and he knows that he belongs to a disciplined force which is respected by the public. It is part of his investment in himself to make the best possible impression on the public.

Neither the police nor the public have confidence in the complaints procedure. The majority of men in our police forces have high moral standards, but in most areas, including the Metropolitan area, there are some bad hats, men who are ill-disciplined and sloppy or insufficiently trained for their responsibilities. They make mistakes. Until we have a complaints procedure in which the public and the police have confidence we shall not restore the relationship between the public and the police, nor shall we restore police confidence in themselves. Police morale is all important if the men are to make the best impression. One could say much more on this subject and I hope that the House will soon return to it.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood 2:08 pm, 15th July 1983

The motion congratulates the police on the improvements that have taken place in policing in the past few years. I welcome the change in tone and policy and the improvements—although I am not complacent about them — in the organisation of policing in London. However, I deliver a warning. We should not imagine that all those improvements came about because Lord Whitelaw, Willie Whitelaw as he was, sat down and thought about improving the police, or because of pressure from hon. Members or the GLC. Let the House be warned that the improvements in the organisation, training and work of the police in London came about because people started setting fire to buildings in my constituency. That is the origin of the improvements.

I do not take any praise from the previous Home Secretary for the way that he responded to the pressures that he observed when he visited Brixton after the first riot, but there is an important lesson for the House. If people are pushed to breaking point, violence and disturbance bring about social change rather than intelligent thinking in the House or a Government Department.

I generally welcome the Commissioner's report, which is enlightened and shows a change in policing policy. However, I wish to take issue with one or two aspects of it. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) referred to the paragraphs on the London political climate. The Commissioner made a number of allegations about people who boost their case by a campaign of dedicated denigration of the police. The campaign includes uneducated and unfair criticism of police performance against crime, zealous dredging for any incident that can be exploited as a cause célèbre and tendentious accounts of complaints against the police —all bolstered by a variety of hostile broadsheets and give-away newspapers. The Commissioner is entitled to speak his mind about criticisms of the police, but I wish that he would identify his sources. Names are too often left out. There have been grave complaints in my constituency about the conduct of policemen, but names of the officers are left out. If the Commissioner is referring to the Greater London council and police briefing by the GLC, he should have the courage to say so. He should give people a charge sheet rather than make broad allegations.

I am upset because I am sure that some of the allegations are directed against Lambeth and the broadsheets, criticisms and outspoken denigration that has taken place there. I see hon. Members nodding in agreement. Later in his report, the Commissioner prays in aid the improvements in Lambeth and the advances made by the consultative committee; yet those advances have occurred because of trenchant political criticism. I served on the committee and I sometimes thought that it would explode. It certainly exploded in words. But it is very much better to have trenchant political criticism and a verbal bust-up in a room in a town hall than a verbal bust-up on the streets.

The improvements in policing in Lambeth and the dramatic reduction in some categories of crime have occurred because of trenchant criticism of the Metropolitan police, which has been translated into the right form. Political involvement is essential.

Indeed, such involvement is not deemed by the Tory party to be improper in other parts of the country. Its manifesto, when dealing with the abolition of metropolitan counties and the GLC, stated: We shall abolish them and return most of their functions to the boroughs and districts. Services which need to be administered over a wider area—such as police and fire, and education in inner London— will be run by joint boards of borough or district representatives. I do not understand why that should be valid for the remainder of the country but not for the GLC area.

It is generally agreed that there would be an improvement in relations between the black community and the police—which is the source of many difficulties in inner London—if there were more black policemen. Yet when referring to black applicants, the Commissioner's report states: Over 650 applications were received during the year compared with 240 in 1981 and 65 joined the Force, more than double the previous year's total of 31. I find it incredible that 650 members of ethnic minorities applied to join the Metropolitan Police, but only 65 were admitted. That must be wrong. I am not prepared to accept excuses about educational qualifications not being high enough. A greater effort could have been made to have translated those 650 applications into a larger number of entrants. The Government must examine closely why nine out 10 applicants fell down before admission.

I have heard from white applicants that there is a long gap between the time of application and the time of interview. I have heard unacceptable excuses about educational qualifications. I say that with some authority because when I served in the Army I trained people for police examinations. I found it relatively easy to bring them to the right standard of qualifications for entry into the police force.

The report smacks of complacency about rising crime and clear-up rates. The clear-up rates for burglary and robbery, at around 16 per cent., are appalling. It is not good enough to be told that the clear-up rates for burglary and robbery are better than for serious crime. The report says: The overall clear-up rate also obscures the fact that our performance in relation to serious crimes is quite impressive. For example, the clear-up rate for murder is 75 per cent.". So if one commits a murder one has a three in four chance of being caught. The report says that the clear-up rate for kidnapping is 65 per cent. and for blackmail 53 per cent. Those figures are not satisfactory and the report smacks of complacency.

I welcome the improvement in policing and policy but the police remain in danger of becoming too complacent about the rate of clear-up, the rate of detection and recruitment into the Metropolitan police.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 2:16 pm, 15th July 1983

As with most of the better debates in the House, I wish that this one could go on for longer. One wishes that other debates would end several hours before they do.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) for giving us the opportunity to debate the motion. Many other hon. Members are in their places. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) gave distinguished service as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Whitelaw throughout the last Parliament and greatly eased the Home Secretary's relationship with London Members, of which I am one, over these vexed issues. I also see my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and for Richmond and Barnes (Mr.Hanley), and I think I spy the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I am only sorry that some hon. Members who took part in the debate had to truncate their observations just as I shall have to do. I only wish that the debate could be longer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne has scored a considerable success—first, in choosing this subject for debate and, secondly, in the manner in which she presented her case. She deployed a charm greater than that of all other hon. Members present in the Chamber. My hon. Friend has already carved a considerable reputation as a member of the Greater London council and, indeed, as the GLC opposition spokesman on police matters. By moving to Broxbourne, half of which remains within the Metropolitan police district, she can continue her interest in the police. I can assure my hon. Friend that if she always speaks as eloquently as she did today we will look forward to hearing from her.

I should like also to say a word of thanks to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for the kind way in which he responded from the Opposition Benches to my hon. Friend's maiden speech. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the tradition of hon. Members responding warmly to maiden speeches has not always been observed. I admit there is a tendency sometimes for maiden speeches to be a little more controversial than they used to be, but I think the hon. Gentleman spoke kindly of my hon. Friend and I know that his remarks were appreciated on the Conservative Benches. I hope that my hon. Friend, in moving across the river from the unacceptable face of the Labour party to its considerably more acceptable face, is grateful for the courtesy that was extended to her. I do not suppose that she experienced much courtesy after her speeches on police matters at county hall.

A great deal of the debate has revolved around the issue of public confidence in the police. Although I cannot agree with everything said by the hon. Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Newham, South some of their points were valid and worth considering. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Norwood for the real assistance that he has given to restoring police-community relations in Lambeth. I pay him that tribute genuinely and warmly.

Reference has been made both to the report that Sir Kenneth Newman has recently presented to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and to the report to Lord Whitelaw when Home Secretary of his preliminary assessment of the problems and priorities of the Metropolitan police. That was an excellent document, because he was not only able to face up very coherently to the problems of the Metropolitan police; he was able to show, right from the start, that he was not in any sense complacent about the challenge that faced him, particularly the challenge of retaining widespread public confidence. Indeed, he addressed the point at the first opportunity, when he said: It is fully recognised that the level of public support and confidence in the police bears importantly on the effectiveness with which the police task is performed. While the police still stand high in opinion polls, these are pitched at a very general level and perhaps obscure the fact that the pattern in London is variable. The report went on to warn that the Metropolitan police must guard against a deterioration in public confidence, and added: Of course, there are external factors which affect confidence, over which the police do not have direct control, including the tendency of the media to underplay police successes and positive initiatives, and the cumulative effect of criticism directed against the police in support of a political position for greater control over operations. That goes to the heart of the motion, and the Commissioner's acknowledgement of the need to maintain public confidence in the police is clearly reflected in many of the measures that he is introducing, about which I hope to have the chance to say something later.

I should like to make one thing clear in response to my hon. Friend. One of the happy consequences of the general election is that we shall now be able to get on with the vital task of improving the quality of policing in London without, one hopes, so many attempts at sabotage from far Left elements on the GIC and some London borough councils. Let us be in no doubt about this: I speak as a Home Office Minister and as a Member for an inner London constituency.

One of the clearest issues before Londoners at the last election was our determined opposition to political control of the police by the GLC. The public in my constituency and elsewhere were appalled at the prospect that Red Ken and his cronies should take over the police. In answer to the hon. Member for Newham, South, let us be clear that they were not talking just of having some representation on police committees of the kind that exists outside London: they were talking about political appointments of serving police officers down to the rank of inspector. That is what the people of London were being asked to buy.

At the election, the utterly dismaying situation was that, far from Livingstone and his cronies being repudiated by the Labour party nationally, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) tried to dredge up arguments to support Livingstone's proposals. To the public, that was a major sign of the Labour party's unfitness to govern — that it felt unable to repudiate Kenneth Livingstone's plans.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

The GLC's proposal to take over London's police is dead and buried— finished— as a result of the general election. Now we can, with a lighter heart, move on to discuss more constructive and productive matters concerning the vital issue of policing in our capital city.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

The Minister will be aware that many speeches made outside this Chamber, or outside official places, differ in character from the official ones. Will the Home Office respond formally to printed proposals issued officially by the GLC on the matter to which I referred?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

We have made very clear where the Government stand on GLC control of the police. Whether it will be necessary to say any more about that in a more formal way is not a matter for me this afternoon. I hope that I have made as clear as I can our view of the ambitions of Mr. Livingstone, and the fact that we intend to give them no credence or acceptance.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

But what is the difference in principle between control of the Metropolitan police by Red Ken or by Blue Brittan, the terrorist-topper?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman was when I said that, apart from all the arguments with which he is familiar about the difference between the Metropolitan police and any other police force because of its national role, it is fundamentally fallacious to allege that Ken Livingstone and the GLC were looking for the same sort of control over the police as that which is exercised by police committees outside London. My colleagues and I said throughout the election campaign, without any repudiation from the Labour party or the GLC, that the GLC was seeking the political appointment of police officers down to the rank of inspector.

I understand the embarrassment of in the hon. Member for Norwood at some of the things that take place in the Labour party concerning the police.I know that he does not share many of the views that are expressed and he must acknowledge that some of the campaigning against the police on the far Left fringes of his party is utterly disreputable.

If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt who is responsible for this activity, he does not have to look far from one or two prominent figures in his own borough. I invite him to read the report of a speech which delighted the House when it last addressed itself to the problems of London policing. The speech was made by Mr. James Wellbeloved, who was then the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. Mr. Wellbeloved named names, pointed the finger and showed the House a disgraceful cartoon that appeared in one of the fringe Labour periodicals. Such activity is utterly disreputable and the hon. Gentleman must realise that the depleted number of Labour Members is a clear reflection of what the public think of some behaviour within the Labour party. The sooner the Labour party returns to its old standards and views towards the police, the better off we shall all be.

It is not for me to put any gloss on what the Metropolitan police Commissioner said about the campaign of denigration of the police. However, as one of his main themes was the need for the police and the people of London to work together both to reduce crime and the opportunity for crime, he was right to draw attention to the activities of a few political extremists who seek to destroy public confidence in the police and thereby to make their work less effective.

In the short time that Sir Kenneth has been the Commissioner, the people of London have grown ever more confident about his ability to handle the job. The more they see of him the more they like him. He is strong enough to stand up for the police against a barrage of unfair politically motivated criticism. However, he is wise enough to recognise that there are other criticisms that must not be deflected if the police service in London is to succeed as we want it to succeed and as he wants it to succeed. That sort of criticism must be acted upon and I believe that Sir Kenneth recognises that as clearly as anyone else.

The Commissioner has produced proposals to involve the community of London more in the work of the police and to embed the police even more firmly in the confidence of those whom they serve. If we are to defeat London's crime problem or turn it back, the police and decent citizens must make common cause against criminals. I can assure the House that the Government will give the Commissioner every assistance in his difficult but vital task.

One of the ways in which we can do that is to make the community-police consultative group system in London really work. We are encouraged by what has happened in Lambeth. I have already told the hon. Member for Norwood of the Government's views on his worthwhile contribution to that system.

The key to the success of the groups lies in their structure and membership. Each group must be widely representative of the local community. Its members must include representatives of the police, the borough council, Members of Parliament, GLC councillors if they wish to belong, and as many community groups and organisations as possible. As I understand it, that is what has happened in Lambeth, and that is why real progress has been made. No group must be dominated by any one element. I understand that it is its independence from domination that has given the Lambeth group credibility within the community and made it a proper focal point for discussions on local policing.

We have been encouraged by what has been happening in Lambeth and by progress that has been made elsewhere. I hope that the half dozen or so Left-wing Labour councils that still prefer to keep out of the process will recognise that in the end they will not properly serve the interests of the people of their boroughs if they do not allow these development to flourish. Already the success is clear.

The great challenge for the Government during their first term was to increase police numbers. The challenge for the second term is to make those police officers work effectively for the citizens of London. We are well on the way to achieving that, and I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House, recognising that equal treatment of all citizens under the law depends on upholding the tradition of police impartiality and that effective policing depends on successful community relations, commends the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; welcomes the efforts made by the Metropolitan Police to work more closely with the community, particularly by returning more constables to the beat; notes with grave concern the activities of those who, in their campaign to bring the police under political control, seek to undermine police authority in a manner directly contrary to the democratic principle of independent policing and wilfully unresponsive to public disquiet over the rising crime rate; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give statutory encouragement to genuine efforts at community liaison which can promote public confidence in the police and facilitate the co-operation necessary for the improved detection and prevention of crime.