Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:05 am on 28th June 1985.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 10:05 am, 28th June 1985

I wrote it in just now. I shall happily pass the text of my speech across to the Home Secretary for his further enlightenment when I have completed my speech.

In the light of the Home Secretary's increasingly staggering complacency, one would never think that this debate was taking place againt a background of unprecedented public confrontation between the Government and the police. In recent weeks, fierce attacks have been made on the Government by several chief constables in their annual reports, and a vote of no confidence in the Government was carried unanimously by the Police Federation. The Police Federation conference also saw fierce barracking of the Home Secretary.

Following the publication of the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, there have been further critical statements from the Commissioner, leading to an ill-tempered response from the Home Secretary and, never to be outdone when shrill declarations are being made, by the Prime Minister. In many ways, the Commissioner's report, which we are considering today in the context of this debate, carries these controversies further, for while we are debating policing in the metropolitan area, many of the lessons can be applied to policing and to law and order problems throughout the country.

The report is extremely disturbing in many ways. The Opposition remain worried by the unsatisfactorily low proportion of women in the Metropolitan police. Last year, in the annual debate, the Home Secretary got into a great state about allegations that the Metropolitan police were operating a 10 per cent. quota of women in the force It is, therefore, just a little uncanny that 12 months after that debate we learn from this year's report that the proportion of women in the force is 9·3 per cent. Is that a quota, or a coincidence?

I would also welcome an explanation of why last year 13 per cent. of male applicants to join the force were accepted, compared with only 7 per cent. of women This might, of course, have something to do with the information contained in the report that 23 per cent. of male applicants were interviewed, but only 14 per cent. of women applicants. We should also like an explanation of that matter.

We share the Commissioner's concern that fewer applications for membership of the force have been received from members of the ethnic communities. At present, it seems that only about one half of 1 per cent. of the nation's police officers come forward from these communities. Part of the explanation may derive from a view contained in the annual report of the Commission for Racial Equality, which was also published a few days ago, which stated: There is ample evidence to suggest that black people generally believe the police to be fundamentally hostile to them. The CRE report goes on to suggest: The prospects of a truly multi-racial police force may ultimately depend upon the vigour with which the police get rid of racism in the force". In the light of that statement, and in the light also of the recognition of racism in the force by Lord Scarman, by the PSI report, to which the Home Secretary referred, and by the Home Secretary himself in the final debates on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, it is, to say the least, disappointing that the Commissioner's report contains not one word on that important subject. The subject is all the more important in view of what the report itself says about the disturbing number of racial attacks in London as well as in other places.

Those worrying statistics are only a part—although a highly disturbing part — of the grim and frightening picture provided in the Commissioner's report of the appalling crime wave that afflicts London in common with the rest of Britain. It is a crime wave the existence of which one would never guess from the half-hour speech to which we have just listened.

In the seventh year of this Conservative Government the crime figures are rising remorselessly, and the story told by the Commissioner's report, as by the figures for the whole country, is extremely alarming. Last year in London, crime rose by 9 per cent. to a new record level. Theft was up by 6 per cent., violence against the person was up by 7 per cent., robberies were up by 13 per cent. and burglarly was up by 10 per cent. Two thirds of burglaries took place in private homes, and those crimes were up even more than the average, by 11 per cent.

Not only has crime risen to historically high levels, but the ability of the police successfully to combat crime remains extremely unsatisfactory. Last year in the Metropolitan police area the overall clear-up rate for crime remained at a lamentable 17 per cent. The increase in the number of arrests, at 5 per cent., did not keep pace with the number of those who should have been arrested. Indeed, the actual arrest rate fell. The clear-up rate for theft was only 16 per cent., and for burglary only 10 per cent.

In his speech the Home Secretary made some selective comparisons about police strength now compared with when the Government took office, so let us look at the picture of crime in London now compared with what it was when the Prime Minister, who represents Finchley, and is therefore a London Member, first stepped through the doors of 10 Downing street in 1979.