Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 28th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks) 9:36 am, 28th June 1985

I have publicly expressed my horror of the film, which I have indeed seen. The GLC would rescue at least a scintilla of its reputation for objectivity if it withdrew that film.

The Commissioner set his force four goals in 1984. The first was to maximise performance through the most effective use of manpower. The strength of the Metropolitan police, both police officers and civilians, has increased significantly since 1979. The Commissioner now has considerable manpower at his disposal and it is right for us to look to him to use this to the best advantage.

This means, above all, ensuring that police officers are not behind desks doing jobs which do not need police powers, skills or training. The measures that the Commissioner has been taking to achieve this have had considerable success. In the year ending in April, the work done by nearly 150 officers was taken over by civilians, so that those police officers were freed for operational duties.

The second goal was to minimise criminal opportunity through crime prevention, public contact, involvement and co-operation. Nobody living in London can fail to be aware of the enormous amount of effort the Metropolitan police have put into this in the last year. There has been a profusion of new schemes and initiatives. To pick out two impressive statistics, at the last count, there were 1,282 neighbourhood watch schemes in operation, with 515 more planned, and there are 21 crime prevention panels.

The credit for that lies of course with the members of the public involved, as well as the police. Their role will increase in importance. Experiance suggests that, while the police can apply the energy to get a neighbourhood watch scheme or a crime prevention panel going, only the public can supply the stamina necessary to sustain it. The latest British crime survey, which will be published shortly, shows that nearly 90 per cent. of people nationwide believe that neighbourhood watch schemes would work, and about two thirds of those questioned would themselves be prepared to take part.

The Commissioner took as his third goal the enhanced detection of certain criminal offences — robbery, burglary and auto-crime — by the use of advanced detection techniques. Overall, there was an increase of 9 per cent. in the number of offences recorded in 1984, roughly in line with the national increase of 8 per cent. This figure is obviously disappointing, particularly when set against the decrease of the previous year. But it should not be allowed to obscure some real achievements.

The number of offences cleared up rose by 9 per cent. The clear-up rate — the House will know of the reservations widely held about the value of clear-up rates as a measure of police effectiveness—stayed constant at 17 per cent., despite the increased demands made on the police. There have been notable successes with some of the specific offences targeted by the Commissioner. The number of burglaries cleared up has increased overall by 15 per cent. and the number of domestic burglaries cleared up by 28 per cent. This has resulted in a slight increase in the clear-up rate for burglery. It is also encouraging to note that the number of burglaries recorded in the first quarter of 1985 was 9 per cent. lower than in the first quarter if 1984, and that there was a 4 per cent. drop in burglaries in England and Wales as a whole.

Where success has been achieved — the Commissioner would be the first to recognise that it has not been universal—it has not been due to fluke or good fortune. It has resulted from the application of sophisticated analytical and detective techniques. The Commissioner will be looking to improve these techniques further, particularly in the gathering and analysis of intelligence.

The fourth goal was to improve the management and organisation of the force. The major development here has, of course, been the force reorganisation, with which I shall deal in some detail later. But the Commissioner has taken a number of other initiatives, independently of the reorganisation, to hone the management of the force. For example, a ready reckoner of costs was issued to districts, divisions and certain headquarters branches. This will help senior officers to identify the costs of different courses of action, and to instil generally a greater cost consciousness.

One factor had a profound effect on the Metropolitan police last year—a factor which could not possibly have been foreseen when the Commissioner drew up his strategy. That is the miners' dispute. The aid supplied by the Metropolitan police to other forces was of enormous importance. Over the period of the dispute, the Metropolitan police supplied an average of 810 officers per week for periods of up to eight days to meet requests from chief officers of other forces.

The Commissioner sought to minimise the impact of the dispute on London by maintaining essential cover as far as possible. A measure of his success was that the number of arrests made for notifiable offences increased by 5 per cent. last year. Training, on the other hand, was postponed, and many desirable activities, such as crime prevention and community relations, had to take second place.

Part of the strain was taken up by the Metropolitan police special constabulary. The specials had to take on many demanding duties in support of their regular colleagues. They responded to the challenge magnificently. Their contribution is a fine example of public-spiritedness. All special constables deserve our gratitude and respect.

Ultimately, the impact of the dispute fell on individual Metropolitan police officers—and their families. They had to spend long periods away from home, performing duties which were always arduous and sometimes dangerous. I wish to place on record my gratitude for the tremendous contribution that they made to the policing of the dispute. They can look back with pride to the part they played in the policing operation. Their efforts helped to secure the preservation of a basic liberty—the freedom to go to work.

I come to the Commissioner's plans for 1985. First, I will state the position about the resources available to the Metropolitan police for this year. There have been no cuts in their budget. In fact, the Metropolitan police have more resources than ever before. Let us examine the record. When we took office in 1979, the establishment was 26,589. It now stands at 27,165. More important, in May 1979, the strength was 22,225, 4,364 below establishment. At the last count, the strength was 26,699. The total strength — civilians as well as police officers — has increased by no fewer than 5,850.

To put it in perspective, the increase in police strength is roughly equivalent to the entire force in Merseyside, one of the largest provincial police forces. The budget for 1985–86 is £763 million, 5 per cent. higher than the equivalent figure for last year. These are considerable resources by any standards. Of course, anyone running the force would ideally like still more, but the Commissioner accepts that resources are finite and that the existing resources must be put to best use.

The Commissioner has made it clear that the force, like everyone else, must live within its means. Like any other large organisation, there is scope for increased efficiency in the use of resources. Last year, for the first time, I decided that the Metropolitan police budget should be cash-limited. There is nothing new or unusual about cash limits. This year, 62 per cent. of Government public spending is cash-limited. Almost all defence spending, for example, is cash-limited, as in my Department is the prisons Vote.

The introduction of a cash limit does not mean a reduction in expenditure; one can increase expenditure enormously and still need a cash limit. The point is, rather, that a cash limit is a healthy discipline and a spur to increased efficiency. It means taking budgets seriously. Indeed, the Commissioner makes the point clearly in his annual report that the cash limit underpins all his other efforts to sharpen up the efficient management of resources.

It is against the background of increased resources for the Metropolitan police that the recently announced reduction in planned expenditure should be viewed. After the cash limit was set in February, it became apparent that there would be unforeseen increases in parts of the budget. Therefore, properly and prudently, the Commissioner took stock of the situation and decided on compensating economies in other areas. But, as he has pointed out, many of these are simply a matter of good housekeeping. The strategy for 1985 remains fully in force.

That strategy consists this year of a single goal—to improve the quality of service to the public—and that goal will have four elements. The first — carried over from 1984—will be the reduction of opportunities for crime through crime prevention initiatives and fostering contact, involvement and co-operation with the public. One of the main aims will be the further development of community-police consultative arrangements. These arrangements have been on a statutory basis since the beginning of this year, when section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 came into force. The Act places a duty on the Commissioner to establish consultative arrangements throughout the Metropolitan police district, taking account of the guidance that I issued on 25 January. To date there are arrangements broadly conforming to the guidance in 26 of the 40 boroughs and districts. The Commissioner will be doing all that he can to fill the gaps as quickly as possible.

The Commissioner is—as he is required to do under the Act — consulting the local authorities concerned. Some are still considering their response. Others, such as Hackney, have said that they will not take part in any arrangements which are not based on their police committees—committees which purport to hold the Metropolitan police to account. I have two comments about that position. First, their approach is contrary to the law that Parliament has laid down. Secondly, there can be no justification for these boroughs trying — for purely political reasons—to block the setting up of consultative arrangements which would be of inestimable benefit to those living in the boroughs.

These attempts will not succeed. Consultative arrangements will be established in those boroughs. The Commissioner and I would both greatly prefer that the borough councils take part, but if they refuse they cannot be compelled to do so, and arrangements will have to be set up without them.

The second element of the goal for 1985 is, again, the enhanced detection of specified target offences. The Commissioner has added to the list two areas which have rightly caused profound concern over the past year: drugs and racial attacks.

London has suffered more from the menace of hard drugs than any other part of the country. The Commissioner is fully aware of the gravity of the threat that they present. The central drugs squad has been committed to the investigation of large-scale suppliers and manufacturers of drugs. This has had results. The amount of heroin seized has quadrupled. In the force as a whole, there were more drugs seizures in 1984 than the year before. 25 kg of heroin, 3·7 kg of cocaine and 747 kg of cannabis were seized. Arrests for trafficking rose by 31 per cent. At the local level, district commanders have taken a wide variety of initiatives, many of them as part of a co-operative effort with other local agencies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited a very encouraging project in Southwark last January. More, much more, remains to be done. The Metropolitan police will be taking a full part in the national police commitment to deal with drugs crime.

I am sure that the House will also welcome the increased priority attached by the Commissioner to eradicating racial attacks. It is intolerable that whole communities in the east end of London—hard-working and law-abiding communities—should have their lives blighted by the fear of racist violence. My hon. Friend the Minister of State visited Tower Hamlets in February to discuss the situation with community representatives and the police. What he saw left him in no doubt that the problem is a grave one, but one which is being tackled with a will. The police cannot solve it on their own, but the Commissioner intends to ensure that they respond promptly and effectively to attacks; and, in the wider context, to develop a multi-agency approach to the problem, which I think is what is needed.

The force reorganisation is the principal part of the third element of the force goal for 1985 — the effective, efficient and economical use of resources. This is probably the most fundamental reorganisation that the force has undergone this century. Careful and thorough research pointed clearly to the conclusion that the present structure is too centralised and has to be changed.

After discussing this with me, the Commissioner announced last November a number of fundamental changes, which have my full support. The size and scope of headquarters will be considerably reduced. Some officers working at headquarters will be freed for operational duties. One tier of territorial command will be removed by abolishing the present four areas and 24 districts and putting eight new areas in their place. Responsibility and accountability will be devolved downwards wherever possible. The division will become the fundamental unit of policing. These basic principles of the reorganisation are now settled, but many important questions on how these principles will be implemented are still up for discussion and decision. The process of implementation will take about two years.

I know that there has been concern that there was not consultation before these changes were announced. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have told me that they regretted the absence of prior consultation. Some community-police consultative groups have also expressed their disappointment. I entirely understand these feelings. But the Commissioner judged—and I agreed—that the changes were so essential that extensive consultation would have caused only damaging delay and uncertainty. The morale and efficiency of the force would have been at risk. But, as I have said, the changes announced so far—this is the key issue—amount to no more than the bare bones of the reorganisation. The Commissioner is committed to widespread consultation with all concerned as the flesh is put on these bones.

This is true, above all, of the effect of the new force structure on community-police consultative arrangements. I know that several consultative groups, in the inner London boroughs especially, are worried that the loss of district commanders will undermine their borough-wide basis. The Commissioner is keenly aware of these concerns. He is determined to find answers to these worries, so that the invaluable work done by consultative groups is not impeded.

In line with the general aim of the reorganisation, the Commissioner hopes that groups will come to regard divisional chief superintendents as the focal point for consultation. Many of the issues discussed in consultative groups are essentially local, affecting only one division, or even part of a division. The divisional chief superintendent, the officer with direct operational responsibility, is often best placed to respond to them.

But the Commissioner fully accepts that problems may arise particularly in boroughs such as Lambeth which cover three or more divisions. Consultative groups in these boroughs may well feel the need for a more senior officer, with wider responsibilities, to attend meetings. The Commissioner therefore accepts that it may be useful in these cases for a commander — or even the deputy assistant commissioner—from the new area headquarters to attend meetings, if the group so wishes.

Neither the Commissioner nor I is advancing this possibility as a blueprint for adoption by all groups. It must be for each group to decide, in consultation with the police, how consultative arrangements can best work under the new force structure. Surely the important thing now is for each group to sit down with the local police and work out acceptable arrangements. I am very pleased that the Lambeth group—in a characteristically constructive and forward-looking fashion—has already started to do this.

The reorganisation is by no means the only strand in the Commissioner's efforts to improve—