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

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a member of a Cabinet which denies the right to work to 4 million people who want to work. He is complacent about that. Let us hear, not what the Home Secretary in his heated moments, trying to prove his virility to the Prime Minister, says about this, but what the Commissioner says about the effect on his force of the Home Secretary's provocative policies. The Metropolitan police have had to make spending cuts of £8 million because of the costs of the miners' strike, which have not yet been reimbursed.

Assistant Commissioner Dear wrote a letter to The Times, in which he pointed out that the Metropolitan police had provided up to a quarter of all the additional police manpower during the dispute — up to 2,000 officers each week, and over 250,000 individual tours of duty. In his report the Commissioner said: The manpower commitment to the miners' strike throughout the past year has resulted in a considerable reduction in the attendances at training when compared with the previous year. Let us hear what the Commissioner says about the result of those absences: Recorded crime has increased and, although crime figures are notoriously resistant to accurate analysis, the absence of so many officers looks persuasive when we try to explain the increase … The mutual aid supplied to forces directly concerned with the miners' dispute inevitably reduced the number of officers available for duty in the metropolis during the last three quarters of 1984. The effects of this reduction on some police activities can be illustrated by a number of statistics; it is likely to have been a major cause of the comparative reductions in both the number of arrests and the number of stops made by this Force during the period of the dispute. The effects of the dispute on offences committed and offences reported by the public cannot be satisfactorily estimated. There were only two weeks when no Metropolitan officers were sent to the coalfields, and the distractions from the necessary work of the police are demonstrated by the reference in the report, unprecedented so far as I can ascertain in any report by the Commissioner, to the role during the strike of the national reporting centre. This is not properly a subject for a report by the Commissioner, since it is an ad hoc body. It is not under the Metropolitan police or any police force. It is under the trade union of chief police officers, the Association of Chief Police Officers. The activities of the national reporting centre during the year of the strike have so discredited it that it is not being used for the co-ordination of the work against the IRA bombers which the Home Secretary announced on Tuesday, which might be regarded as a proper reason for the activation of a genuine national reporting centre.

We have an unprecedented crime wave and a police force which, despite its best endeavours, is too overstretched and too distracted by other tasks adequately to tackle the crime wave. Moreover, these distractions are unfortunately tending to undermine the confidence in the police among the public, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, which is essential for a successful attack on crime.

In his report the Commissioner repeatedly emphasises the need for public confidence. On page 1 he refers to the need for a police service which sees itself firmly rooted in a consenting community rather than as a police force imposed upon an unwilling people. On page 7 he says that the work of the Metropolitan police rests upon the exercise of authority—and occasionally force where necessary — and the legitimacy of that authority rests not only on the fact of the law but also on the will of the community: remove either and the police become oppressive. On page 14 the Commissioner makes the frank admission: Great emphasise has been laid in my strategic approach to the policing of London upon the requirement on Metropolitan Police Officers to observe the rule of law — to police within what has been called the 'due process'. This requirement is unequivocal and always has been; if police officers do not abide by the law, then any credibility they seek in requiring or persuading others to do so in a consensual society is put in jeopardy. Police officers have not always risen to this demand. On occasions they have, quite wrongly, behaved in ways suggesting that they were anticipating — and pre-empting — failures of the judicial process to deliver what they would have viewed as justice. That is not a GLC video, but the Commissioner admitting to shortcomings in his own force which he believes should be put right.

It is not the role of the Commissioner to discuss in detail the causes of crime, but it is essential for the House of Commons to do so. We can see the causes all about us. Cuts in public transport mean that more people are alone on the streets at night. Cuts in the housing programme mean that there is more derelict property, a prime target for vandalism and a haven for criminals to lurk in. Cuts in local authority finance reduce road maintenance and street lighting. Cuts in Customs and Excise staff mean that drug runners have an easier time.