Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:26 am on 28th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North 11:26 am, 28th June 1985

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and I welcome his thoughtful speech. I join him in congratulating the Commissioner on the excellent quality and constructive nature of the report.

Alas, one can only say that the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was long on invective but short on solutions. The only part of his speech about which the House can unite is that which referred to the bravery and courage of PC Gordon. The House will be aware from the Commissioner's report that many thousands of Metropolitan police officers are injured when on duty. We offer them all our best wishes. We recognise their bravery and courage in the way in which they carry out their duties in London, often under difficult circumstances.

The right hon. Member for Gorton seems to have forgotten the state of the police force before the Conservative Administration came to office in 1979. One of the most urgent and pressing tasks facing the new Conservative Government was to rebuild the police force, which had been neglected for some years and was in serious danger of becoming demoralised. That was affecting public confidence in the police.

As the Commissioner shows in his excellent report, the police themselves are the first to recognise that public support must be won and kept rather than taken for granted. Urgent action was needed in 1979 to boost confidence all round.

As is all too obvious from the newspapers and the media programmes these days, the police face an ever-increasing number of problems. Their priorities must be adjusted to reflect the crimes which worry the public most. As an example, in London the Metropolitan police have rightly made drug abuse, racial attacks and vandalism priorities for 1985 in response to public anxiety.

As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee since 1979, 1 have taken a special interest in the police and race relations. Next Session the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee intends to carry out an inquiry in the Bangladesh community. We shall examine the policing aspects, especially in the east end of London. It is important that all London citizens should feel that the police service relates to them and that their special problems are being considered.

When considering the extent of police resources, it is important for the House to remember that, since 1979, the resources allocated to the police have more than doubled., from £1·1 billion to £2·8 billion, and that total police manpower in England and Wales has increased by more than 12,000. However, in London, the Metropolitan police force-one of the oldest forces in Europe—has a supremely difficult task. It is responsible for nearly 7 million people who live in the Greater London area, as well as for the millions of people who visit the capita during the year. It also has responsibility for royalty and diplomatic protection, which has increased enormously in this age of terrorism. The fight against terrorism and the provision of special services, such as the central criminal intelligence office, and many other central responsibilities of the Metropolitan police are additional burdens.

To help to counter London's crime the strength of the Metropolitan police has increased by 5,850 officers since 1979, to give it a total strength now of about 26,750. It is interesting to note that there is still scope for finding at least 400 more recruits to join the Metropolitan police today. In addition, the number of civilian support staff has increased by more than 1,250. Many of those civilian employees provide important services in the investigation and detection of crime.

No one pretends that increasing police strength alone is sufficient to beat crime, but without the increase the force, which was well below the recommended manpower level in 1979, simply could not have coped with the range of burdens that it must shoulder in 1985.

One way of making the best use of the resources allocated, which tackles not just the reality but the debilitating fear of crime, is to have more police officers on the beat. I am pleased to say that, since 1982, 942 police officers have been added to the Metropolitan police strength for street duties. That at least provides a reassurance to the public that the police are present.

The right hon. Member for Gorton was highly selective in his use of statistics from the Commissioner's report. The House should know that, in the past year, the Metropolitan police have had an excellent record of clearing up serious crimes. The clear-up rate for homicide was 77 per cent. — few capital cities in the world could equal that. Arrests for drug trafficking increased by 31 per cent. from the 1983 figure to 1,781. The clear-up rate for blackmail and wounding was 55 per cent. Despite those impressive figures, the performance in overall clear-up rate remained at 17 per cent.—the same as in 1983.

That has happened because the vast amount of crime is random and opportunistic and, therefore, difficult to detect. Burglary and car theft occur when the opportunity is given; a door or window is left unsecured and temptation occurs. Such crimes often happen out of sight of a patrolling police officer, and only more community-based crime prevention tactics will help to remove the opportunities.

It is worth considering the true nature of the crime problem in London. Auto crime represents at least 30 per cent. of all recorded crimes in London, while burglary represents almost 24 per cent. and criminal damage represents more than 14 per cent. Those crimes and other thefts represent 95 per cent. of all reported crime in London. The difficulty is that patrolling police officers, however welcome and reassuring they may be, rarely come across such crimes while they are on duty. Since those crimes are often crimes of stealth, they are usually committed in private property or out of sight of any witness.

I especially welcome the efforts being made by the Home Office crime prevention unit and members of the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention to develop strategies to deal with auto crime and residential burglary. The conference which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will hold in November will provide a welcome contribution and a constructive way of dealing with such crimes by involving the public and the whole community. That is the way ahead in dealing with the great mass of property crime. We should not listen to nonsense from the right hon. Member for Gorton, who had no solutions to offer.

The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman, also agrees that tackling crime, specially property and auto crime, requires the involvement of the community. His report clearly shows that the drive to create professionalism in the police service in London is a most important way to achieve a reduction in London's crime problem. He and I share the belief that the key to success is public co-operation, and a major contribution to crime prevention is already being made by local communities. In London, 19 crime prevention panels have been set up, and there are 1,150 neighbourhood watch schemes in the Metropolitan police district, with 400 more being planned. Plans are afoot to extend such schemes to businesses. About 22 police community consultative groups have been established to liaise between the police and the communities.

As hon. Members must know from their constituencies, the neighbourhood watch schemes are producing dividends. One can see the circulars from the police officers responsible for those schemes, which measure the success in the reduction of property crime, which causes so much distress to ordinary people on our large estates and in residential homes. We can see a reduction beginning to take place, and we all have a duty to sustain and encourage such initiatives.