Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 28th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 2:05 pm, 28th June 1985

I would normally give way, but time does not permit me to do so.

The GLC has been funding the London victim support scheme since 1981 and at present there is an application in for £17,672. That application, which is backed by the GLC police committee and the police support unit, is with the Secretary of State. I believe that the money is unlikely to be forthcoming. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister will announce whether the Government intend to give the victim support scheme that money.

How will his Department fund the victim support scheme after the abolition of the GLC? I challenge him to answer that question today. The Commissioner says in his report that those bodies give full backing to the scheme but that the Government will not finance it. Let us have an answer to that question in the next 15 or 20 minutes.

I urge the Home Secretary to consider again the report of the all-party penal affairs group on prevention of crime among young people. The rate of recorded crime for those aged between 14 and 16 years is higher than that for any other age group. The second highest rate is for those aged between 17 and 20 years. We can do much to prevent crime among those who fall within those age groups, but what has happened? The Government have cut every decent prevention scheme worth its name.

The Home Secretary and other Conservative Members have talked about neighbourhood watch schemes. Neighbourhood watch is the fig leaf with which they try to cover their nakedness on this issue. I am not opposed to neighbourhood watch, but the assumptions that are being made about its success rate are not proven. If they were, I should be cheering along with everyone else. Some evidence suggests that neighbourhood watch works well in certain suburban areas, but there is a problem because it consumes manpower that could be used elsewhere. At the end of the day it may prove its usefulness throughout the country but I suspect that it will prove to be especially useful in certain areas while not providing the complete answer in others.

It has been shown by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders that the safe neighbourhood unit does much better than neighbourhood watch. The unit is funded by the GLC; is that not amazing? The Government appear not to be interested in the unit. It is engaged in crime prevention and the Government appear to take the view that it can go or that it can be funded by others. Who will replace the unit when the Government abolish the GLC?

It is the vandalised and run-down areas that face the major problem. Burglary is a nationwide problem. The chance of being burgled is about 1:40 throughout England and Wales. It is 1:12 in inner city areas. Neighbourhood watch will not be able to resolve that problem. However, many suggestions are made in the all-party document to which I have referred and in a document which has been prepared by NACRO, which has submitted various schemes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has referred to some of them, which involve the provision of more caretakers, better locks and doors, improved housing standards, the provision of nursery facilities, getting families with young children out of high rise flats and many other matters. Much of this provision and many of these improvements have been cut by the Government over the past few years, or will be cut.

Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that any local authority that introduces a crime prevention scheme of a type of which he approves will not be rate-capped or targeted on the basis of the money that is made available for the scheme? In other words, will he ensure that the money for the scheme is available over and above the financial targets that have been set for local authorities? Let us have an answer to that question as well.

One small action of the Government that will do more to produce crime than any other act by any Minister is the board and lodging scheme. The NACRO surveys and many others show that young people who are homeless and adrift are highly vulnerable to getting into trouble with the police. The board and lodging scheme will keep young people on the move. It will increase vagrancy and drug addiction because a young homeless person is likely to become a runner to get money. He is likely to use drugs in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) described so vividly and so well.

The scheme will lead to alcohol abuse. One of the ways of coping with sleeping out at night is to drink heavily before settling down for a cold night. Alcohol, too, pushes people into crime. The scheme will cause misery for the young people who are part of it and for many others who will suffer the results of the problem.

Which of the recommendations set out in the all-party report on the prevention of crime among young people will the Home Secretary introduce and when will he implement them? I shall be content if the right hon. and learned Gentleman chooses to make an announcement on another occasion. We look forward to his statement at some stage.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North told us that he was consulted on the management issue. I understand why the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Chamber. As I said in an intervention, he was not consulted. No London Member of Parliament was consulted. I am not even sure that the Home Secretary and the Minister were consulted. They might have been, but everyone accepts that that management scheme is not good in terms of consultation not just because it crosses borough boundaries, as has been said, but because it brings in different areas—the middle class suburbs with the inner city areas. It produces many consultation problems.

There must be democratic control of the police. Anyone who argues against that must be out of his or her mind. In the last century the House had a record of which we should be proud for setting up Select Committees that called evidence. Somehow we lost that in the recent past and had to regain it. The House set up committees to investigate riots, disorders and policing. One of my biggest criticisms of the Home Secretary is that we can have riots in Savernake forest and shootings in the streets of London, such as in the Baigrie case, and yet we do not have a statement in the House nor do we receive effective replies to the questions that we ask in letters to the Home Secretary. I still have not received a detailed reply from the Home Secretary about what he will do about shotguns and how Mr. Baigrie obtained that shotgun. We have had no answers or thoughts about that. The message that goes out to the British people is that the Government do not believe that those matters are important enough to make a statement about them in the House or in public. That is unacceptable.

I should like an answer today to my next question. I am deeply disturbed about the number of accidents in which the police have been involved. The Minister will know this because he has replied to written questions from me, but it seems that at least 26 police officers have been killed in police driving accidents, yet the police officers' training manual states: It is far better that a criminal should escape for the time being than that the crew of a Police Car and other road users should be exposed to grave risk of injury. I do not believe that this is an unreasonable request, but I hope that the Minister will ensure that the figures are soon available. Our questions have not been answered because, the Minister says, the information is not available. I understand why. It is unacceptable that so many police officers and other road users are killed and that no statement is made to the House or answers given to written questions. I ask the Minister to say that the figures will be collected and a statement made.

On firearms, I notice that page 157 of the report states that there has been an increase in new firearm certificates. When will the Home Office set up some departmental machinery to review the whole subject of guns, replica guns and other weapons and the issue of certificates?

I should have liked to speak about the need to provide compensation for police officers who are killed or injured on duty so that they no longer have to go through the Criminal Injuries Board procedure. I should also have liked to talk about the excessively bureaucratic nature of the new complaints procedure that has been introduced. We should much prefer a system based upon the ombudsman which would be less bureaucratic and therefore release more police officers to do the job that hon. Members want them to do.

The Government's record on law and order is a disgrace. They promised the world and delivered nothing. All that they have been able to fall back on has been the one fig leaf of neighbourhood watch, and vicious, unjustified attacks on the GLC which they cannot substantiate when they are asked. That is not an answer to the problems facing the people of this country.