I apologise at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the fact that I shall not be able to remain in my place until the end of the debate. However, I look forward to reading the Minister's reply in Hansard.
Nearly everyone in the House and in the country will agree that few matters are more important than the maintenance of law and order and the combating of crime by appropriate efforts. That is especially true of my constituents in Carshalton and Wallington who live and work within the Epsom division of Z district in the Metropolitan police area. Perhaps not all hon. Members are aware that the Epsom division is the largest in the Metropolitan police area and the fifth busiest division in the entire Metropolitan police force. Therefore, I make no apology for concentrating on the problems and prospects of policing within the division.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rightly said at the outset of the debate, the Commissioner has identified divisions as the key policing units within the metropolitan area. I shall become more local by saying that I am acutely interested in the policing conditions of the Wallington sub-division, which is virtually conterminous with the boundaries of my constituency.
The problems of the Epsom division are well set out in the 1984 divisional strategic plan, which is one of the component elements of which the Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman, has to take account in formulating his plans for the entire metropolitan area. The clear priorities identified for the division, were, first, the reduction of burglary; secondly, the reduction of auto crime; and thirdly, tackling problems of road safety and traffic management.
I agree that those are all important problems with which the police must deal, but I should like to see an equally high priority attached to dealing more effectively with the problems of vandalism and hooliganism, which the Commissioner identifies in paragraph 52 of his report as one of the top policing priorities for 1985.
In advocating solutions for improving law and order in my part of south London, the divisional report gives priority to the containment, detection and punishment of burglary when people are convicted. It puts great stress on the value of preventive measures such as "neighbourhood watch" as a way of stopping these problems at source. It also foreshadows intensified police action directed to combating auto crime and improving road safety. I stress once again that more police attention should be devoted not just to those two aspects of policing, but to the related problems of vandalism and hooliganism.
My constituents believe, and many of them have written to tell me this, that such behaviour is anti-social and thoroughly offensive, and causes intolerable fear to and anxiety for many people, especially the elderly, on large estates. It must be a priority to ensure that when detected and convicted those offenders are dealt with severely by the courts and go to prison for long periods.
It has not been easy in recent times for the police to achieve all that they would have liked to achieve, especially as the miners' dispute, which has been mentioned, and the many demonstrations that take place in central London almost every week have placed enormous extra demands on the force. That has been felt by the divisions from what one might call the suburban parts of the metropolitan area., such as my constituency, which have had to supply extra manpower in mutual aid to the centre.
We may still be feeling some of the longer-term effects of those damaging disputes and demonstrations. Police leave had to be shelved at the time of the miners' dispute and it is now being taken up, with the inevitable consequences for police cover in areas such as mine.
I suggest that the answers to the various policing problems that I have identified must be found in a sensible combination of measures. Clearly, we need more police. That is something to which I shall return. We need more of the available police on the beat. In that context, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the paragraph in the divisional strategic plan for the Epsom division, which makes this pertinent comment on public attitudes:
During the preparation of this year's plan, a number of opinion formers within the community were canvassed by letter in an effort to produce a strategy that also reflected the views of the community. The theme which ran through all responses was that police must be seen. The presence of a policeman in un form in the street is seen to be one factor which reassures the public that crime is being kept under control.
That is what the public want. I believe that the opinion formers were speaking for the public, and I hope that that emphasis will be continued in the policing of the Metropolitan area.
The third element must be to place more emphasis on all forms of crime prevention, as the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and many others have said. Fourthly, and vitally important, there must be more police co-operation with the public in all appropriate forums and ways.
On that last point, I commend the idea of local police liaison committees. I am familiar with the workings of the police liaison committee in the London borough of Sutton. I should like to see even more fruitful contacts maintained and developed between local officers and schools and many other institutions involving young people.
I have had the good fortune to go out with the police from Sutton in some of their rapid response vehicles, in particular on a Friday evening, which is one of the peak periods for crime. I have also been out on the beat with neighbourhood policemen and local beat officers in the Wallington sub-division. I can vouch for the fact that the combination of those high technology quick-response methods plus the traditional methods of policemen on the beat, on bicycles and in their neighbourhood communities, is a powerful combination and helps the police to do the job as well as possible.
I am, therefore, a strong believer in the preventive advantages of community policing. However, when all that is said and done, still more needs to be addressed. There is no getting away from the Commissioner's recent warning, which has been widely publicised, that without even more resources for the Metropolitan police, it will be difficult to provide the capital with the protection and the reassurance which it needs and the public deserve. As one of my local newspapers, the Wallington Advertiser, put it recently in an excellent editorial:
The only real answer to increased crime is increased policing. That means more money for the police which this 'law and order' Government should remember if they want to retain the loyalty of areas such as the borough of Sutton.
The Government, whom I support, must face the need to set higher establishment figures for the Metropolitan police, and ones which are truly commensurate with the demands of combating rising crime and lawlessness which unhappily afflict the metropolitan area.
I recognise all that the Government have done and the figures which were quoted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I pay tribute to him and to his predecessors for building up the police in the way that they have done. My constituents appreciate that, but I must make a point about the long-term aspects which I should like my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues in the Home Office to consider carefully.
If we take a longer view and study policing in the metropolitan area back to just before the last war, we find that since 1938 the population of the Metropolitan police district has declined by about 15 per cent., but that recorded crime over the same period has increased by an alarming 660 per cent., while the establishment of the Metropolitan police has increased by only 39 per cent. Even though we now have an establishment of 27,165 officers and an actual strength that is commendably close to that level, the long-term trends to which I have drawn attention should merit the close consideration of Home Office Ministers, in particular in any negotiations that they have with their colleagues in the Treasury.
I believe that we should be prepared to find the necessary extra resources to enable us to meet the higher and more realistic establishment levels that we must attain. I make no apology for stressing that the extra policing responsibilities of the Metropolitan police must be recognised in that way. I suggest strongly that within those larger establishment figures a higher priority should be given to meeting the growing policing needs of the Epsom division and, especially, the Wallington sub-division within it. In that way, more effective action can be taken to deal with crime and lawlessness at source and to improve the still too low detection and clear-up rates for many crimes.
I acknowledge that the most serious crimes have a commendably high detection and clear-up rate, but the House should realise—I am sure that it does—that many of our constituents are equally worried about some of the less serious crimes, such as burglary, which affect them directly.
I wish the Metropolitan police well. I congratulate the Commissioner on his report. I realise that the police have a variety of difficult tasks to perform and that in many ways they are expected to perform social as well as policing tasks, which complicates the position. We must resolve to give the police the extra resources and support that they need. I am confident that in that way we can make further progress in dealing with the difficult problem of lawlessness and crime.