Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:44 am on 28th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham 10:44 am, 28th June 1985

At some later date I would gladly go through the hon. Gentleman's record on that point both inside and outside the House. However, I wish to move on to regret that the right hon. Member for Gorton in his adroit speech was, alas, unable whole-heartedly to recommend the ethnic minorities to join the police force. Nothing will do more good for ethnic relations with the police than to increase ethnic recruiting. I am sorry that he was unable whole-heartedly to recommend a substantial increase in recruitment from the ethnic communities.

I am also sorry that the right hon. Gentleman seemed incapable of paying whole-hearted tribute to the work of the Metropolitan police in past years to improve their relationship with the community as a whole.

I was delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was able in his admirable speech to pay tribute to the role of the special constabulary in past years.

I am delighted to find in the Commissioner's report that the increase in recruitment to the special constabulary is continuing, and to note that in the first month an extra 125 recruits joined the special constabulary. However, more can be done, in particular by Home Office Ministers, by increasing the specials' allowances. That will have a substantial and beneficial effect on increasing recruitment. The Commissioner has imaginative programmes for the deployment and use of the specials.

I regret that in the speeches of both my right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Gentleman there was no reference to traffic accidents and road safety. They made a great many references to violent crime in the capital. Violent crime undoubtedly worries a great many of my constituents. During the past 12 months many people have been killed and injured because of it. But even in our violent capital city the average citizen is three times as likely to be killed or injured by a motorist than by a criminal.

In my London borough of Bromley in 1984 no fewer than 1,639 people were injured and 15 killed in road accidents. That is three times the number who suffered death or injury at the hands of criminals. Therefore, I regret that in the past couple of years the Commissioner has seen fit to move officers from the traffic section, which is responsible for road safety, rather than to increase and strengthen it. There are 27,000 Metropolitan men and women police officers. The strength of the traffic branch was 1,000—less than 5 per cent. of the force—but the Commissioner has reduced that by some 200. That is a mistaken sense of priorities. My constituents are becoming increasingly worried about road safety and the way in which our traffic laws are ignored.

At the end of last year I visited the state of Victoria in Australia. In the 1970s as a result of a campaign by the press, local politicians, doctors and the police, the state was able to halve the number of road fatalities. I learnt that the state put 20 per cent. of the force on traffic safety. No police force here comes within half that figure. We should give the subject a higher priority.

My right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Gentleman made scant reference to fraud and white collar crime, yet this year fraud in the City and elsewhere has been increasing substantially. The saga at Lloyds is a reminder that we have not got this aspect of policing quite right. In this matter, although not in many others, we could learn considerably by studying the crime fighting organisation across the Atlantic. The American system of district attorney offices is more effective in combating fraud than our system of the fraud squad and Director of Public Prosecutions. I hope that that can be looked at. I do not cast aspersions on the intellectual calibre of the recruits to the Metropolitan police because one of the best features of the Commissioner's report is his emphasis on their high quality.

Fraud is not as eye-catching a subject as terrorism. Again, we all have reason to pay tribute to the skill and courage of the police, and to single out for praise the antiterrorist squad, which does so much to protect us from the outrages of evil men.

One aspect of the terrorist problem does not often get the attention that it deserves. We see London as a prime target for terrorism, but other countries and other police forces sometimes regard London as a home for terrorists. In considering our problems with the Provisional IRA we are often very ready to criticise the American authorities for a perceived lack of vigour in tackling IRA support in various cities in the United States. Yet we have the same problem.

I have considerable sympathy for the Sikh community in this country and I recognise that many of its members have substantial grievances in relation to past policies of the Indian Government. Nevertheless, there is substantial concern on the part of the Indian Government that various Sikh groups in this country are giving overt or covert support to terrorism in the Indian subcontinent. The antiterrorist branch of the Metropolitan police cannot be expected to deal with that problem single handed. There should be substantial co-operation between the Foreign Office and the Metropolitan police, which does not seem to exist at present, in the surveillance and control of groups who from time to time seek to foster terrorism overseas. We give an extraordinary latitude in freedom and of speech and action to those who seek asylum here as political refugees, but we must ensure that they do not abuse that asylum. I am sure, however, that in this as in so many other tasks the Metropolitan police will prove yet again that they are equal to the challenge.