I had been speaking about neighbourhood policing in Brixton and I said that it had two legs. One leg is the community police consultative committee, about which I spoke and about which other hon. Members have spoken. The other leg is a trial system that is taking place in Brixton, the establishment of four sector working parties over which the inspector responsible for each of the four areas in Brixton presides. The working parties have two meetings a month to which are invited on a permanent basis local business men, tenants' associations, church representatives, youth club leaders, schools and so on. They are like mini police-community consultative groups and are working well.
I said that I was optimistic at the way things are working out. I say that again because my optimism is based on the efforts of the police and the excellent backup that the police are receiving from the Government. Perhaps most important, there is increasing understanding and good will from the public about the role of the police. I hope that this will increase and prosper.
Time and again Government Members and the Home Secretary have spoken about events in Wapping as justification for the efforts and the reorganisation which the Home Secretary hopes to bring about within the Metropolitan police. A point often ignored about the Wapping situation is that the whole of it is premeditated. That point seems to be lost on Government Members. The development at Wapping was purposely designed by the management of News International. The character and position of the building was so designed, the defences and the barbed wire and all the things around the building and the armoured vehicles were all planned in the knowledge that the police would be doing what they are now doing at Wapping as soon as the building was occupied and newspapers began to be printed there. The whole thing was, in that sense, premeditated and we should not lose sight of that.
Another point to which Government Members referred two or three times was street politics. They talked about protesters taking to the streets and called upon the Labour party to use its influence to persuade organisations not to use the street for the purpose of protests. By their very nature, street protests take place because such groups are deliberately excluded from the decision-making process. Street protests then become part of the democratic network. Under certain circumstances, many of us may have reservations and some regrets, and I certainly reject violence as an integral part of street demonstrations—it has serious limitations and is counter-productive—but Conservative Members should recognise that street politics is a necessary part of the means whereby people participate in the democratic process.
Conservative Members talk about the cost of the police force. No Labour Member complains about that. Our complaint is about the lack of accountability. The police force happens to be one part of the public sector that has the least accountability. Indeed the methods used by the police are subject to less accountability than those of the Army or the Ministry of Defence and all those other Departments which are subject to ministerial control. The Home Secretary and the Minister of State may have direct responsibility, together with the Receiver of the Metropolitan police, but their combined efforts amount to less accountability than the Ministry of Defence has over the Army; that is the basis of our complaint.
Conservative Members say that London has a great police force, and of course it has. But it also has the most expensive police force anywhere in the world. It now costs £1,000 million a year. If we add to that the cost of private police and private security in London, we must have the most expensive security system anywhere in the world. Some estimates have been made that security in London is topping £1,500 million a year and, looking at the cost of some of the private security systems, it may be much more than that.
I know no one in the Labour party who is anti-police. No one has made general criticisms that could be summarised as representing an anti-police view. Our overall belief is that the police force is as essential as the education system. It is as essential as any other part of local authority work. What we ask is that the police force be treated in the same way and be subject to the same accountability; the same process of democracy. We are not anti-police in any way.
Many comments have been made about Wapping and the two highest paid groups of workers in Britain. Fleet street is identified as one of the highest paid groups of employees anywhere in the country. But the police now top that and we make no complaint about that. The fact that a constable, with rent allowances, overtime and the other bits and pieces, is in the £20,000 a year bracket—more than that in some cases—
Yes, but Members of Parliament are underpaid.
We make no complaint about the police constable who earns about £20,000 a year. We make no complaint about police inspectors earning more than the average headmaster of a big comprehensive school. That is necessary. The fact that there are no dissenting voices on the Labour Benches will, I hope, prove to the Minister that that is the collective view of the Opposition.
We have had many reports, from White Papers to the recent plethora of reports from Scotland Yard, the Home Office, Lord Scarman and Lord Gifford. There is now a tendancy in the Government's reports towards militarisation of the police and about that we do complain. Jokes are made. It is said that the difference between the police and the armed forces is that the armed forces have fighter aircraft. That is the only piece of equipment that the police do not possess.
They have helicopters, but they are not yet armed. They are fitted with lighting equipment with which they can illuminate whole areas at night and that will be part of their techniques. [Interruption.] But they do not quite have the fighter aircraft. None the less, there is a tendancy towards militarisation, and we have proof of that. The Minister shares the view, along with the Home Secretary and Sir Kenneth Newman, that in London there should be a force of about 7,000 officers who are at all times ready and on call for public disorder that may break out anywhere and that they should be sufficiently mobile to be moved about. In other words, there is a desire to emulate what happens in France, whose police reserve is highly militarised. That is the idea that is now coming through in all the reports and papers and it reflects the thinking in the leadership of the Metropolitan police.
I hope that that will not proceed. I hope that the Minister of State and the Home Secretary will resist that and that the Government will not go in that direction, but rather that they will start to look at other methods. I hope that they will not see it as their most essential work. Public disorder is not the first priority for the police. Therefore, the strategy should not be based upon the need to deal with occasions of public disorder. That should be low in their priorities.
The Government complain that local authorities in London with Labour majorities do not participate in consultative committees. But the police do not participate in local authority sub-committees. They refuse to do so. In fact, the Home Secretary's recommendation is to dissuade the police from participating in any discussions which are organised by police sub-committees set up by local authorities. There is a two-way negative attitude.
The only point that I make about that is that consultative committees and local authority police sub-committees have an entirely different function which has little to do with good relations, as the Home Secretary and the Minister claim. Their contribution towards better relationships with the police is evidenced by their statutory obligations on consultative committees and their willingness to encourage participation. Good public relations are not about that. Confidence is built by the practice on the ground. It is not possible to translate the work of consultative committees, or any committee for that matter, into better public relations. That job must of necessity be done by the police through their practices and behaviour when dealing with the public. That is the basis of the relationship and there are no short cuts.
I welcome the recognition that is now beginning to be seen, that racialism in the police must once and for all be ended. Efforts are being made, in the management of the police and in the force itself, to start to eradicate that aspect that has bedevilled their work for so long.
I should like perhaps to correct a few misunderstandings about public relations as they affect Tottenham, and Broadwater Farm. I can remember when Broadwater Farm was a green site. I and others in London then made the mistake of talking about the need to provide, above all, accommodation. At the time, not many years ago 24 per cent. of families in Tottenham lived in appalling housing conditions and would have to go through someone else's accommodation to reach the lavatory. I then said that our most important priority should be to build accommodation that had hot water and decent toilet and bathroom facilities. I also believed that people should have their own front doors. We set about that job, and Broadwater Farm was a latter-day part of that whole process of high-rise developments and deck-access planning.
Whether it is the Scarman or Gifford report, or any other, reports seem to feed off one another. For example, I do not recognise the place that I know from some of the stuff that has been written about it. Broadwater Farm is below the level of the roads round the estate. Therefore, those who say that burning vehicles and so on were rolled into the police have got their facts wrong, because they would have had to be pushed pretty hard up inclines. As I understand the theory of motion, things do not roll uphill, yet that is what is implied in some of the reports.
It is important to recognise that Broadwater Farm was deliberately designed as a self-contained community. However, it has since been described as some sort of Fagin's kitchen or snake pit that attracts all the undesirable elements, particularly from among the black community. It so happens that, because of the very nature of events in Tottenham, a large proportion of the tenants are black. Young people from the area go there to meet their friends, because it a natural meeting place. It was designed as a centre for the community. Moreover, between 50 and 60 per cent. of our young black people are unemployed, and so black youngsters tend to gravitate quite naturally towards that communal centre.
Sociologists develop all sorts of complicated theories, but the simple answer is that those young people are looking for some sort of community, and tend to gravitate towards Broadwater Farm. I hope that I have put an end to that nonsense of it being some sort of Fagin's kitchen. It is a natural meeting place, and that is why some of these things have happened.
We have all read some of the highly inaccurate and dramatised reports. Indeed, the day before yesterday, I met some Americans who said that Broadwater Farm was probably more widely known throughout the world than the problems of Harlem or of the east side of New York. It has probably received more publicity than other areas with problems, such as Hong Kong. We have had cliches by the bucketful about it.
The behaviour of the police has led to hostility between young black people and the police. The whole idea of stop and search was based on the perhaps inherent thinking of the police. I am generalising, but the police and other sections of our society tend to see black people as lesser mortals. The police like to demonstrate their superiority, so that they can exercise their authority and control over a community. That is the reason for much of the behaviour in question. The police seem to believe that the best policing can be achieved by humiliating sections of the community. Stop and search goes on on a massive scale in north London and it is a humiliating business.
In public places and on crowded thoroughfares, young people are asked to put their hands against the wall, and are then searched and subjected to the most humiliating performance. That naturally leads to hostility, especially when young black people know that it is they who will be subjected to it, and that the chance of it happening to young white people is almost non-existent.
I should like the House to understand the whole business of stop and search, and the blanket campaign of house searching. Nowhere else would the police practise the blanket searching of homes, on an almost house-to-house basis. They turn places upside down. Sometimes they smash down the door and sometimes they use a key. Sometimes they knock and ask permission to enter. But they ignore the normal decencies.
Stop and search is deliberately humiliating, but the disadvantages resulting from those house searches are far more damaging than any benefits that may accrue to the police. That is the balance that must be considered. I appeal to the Minister to tell Scotland Yard's management that house searching and stop and search are the most damaging aspects of police activity. If the police want decent public relations, they should only use these methods as a last resort. Everything else must first be tried. The police should not just go trawling for information by searching through private possessions, turning over the most personal of belongings, and damaging stuff without any apology. By doing that, they are seriously damaging public relations. Such methods should be the last resort of the police. Nothing will improve until the police understand the consequences of their actions.
That is the backdrop to the relationship between young black people and the police. The benefits of house-to-house searching and the stopping and searching of young blacks is limited. The humiliating practices that are used by the police produce sullen animosity among young black people, and make it impossible for the police to be helped by the community. The Home Secretary has revealed his innermost thoughts about police recruitment—he has spoken of the difficulties to complete ethnic recruitment that would produce a balanced force in London numbers —and he knows what the position is.
Many supporters of the Government use the term "dropouts" when talking about young black people. These people are throwouts. They are certainly not dropouts. Society has rejected them; they have not rejected society. The Government have no right to talk about young black people being drop-outs. These are matters that we must understand if we are to overcome the resentment that produces hostility between black people and the police. We shall make progress in the building of confidence only if we understand the social implications.
The police must understand that it is their behaviour which prevents progress being made in the establishment of confidence. That is the lesson of Broadwater Farm. I hope that we shall put recent events behind us and return to some state of normality in the area. It is only the Minister of State who can ensure that that happens. He must sent the message down the line that we want a return to normality. The Tottenham people will respond because they want good policing. Like all others, they want the support of the police force. They suffer the same problems as anyone else and they will respond if normality returns to the area and the vanloads of policemen are taken away from the peripheral parts of the estate so that they are not seen to be present day in and day out, watching the estate for hours on end. If normality returns, the Minister will see the community's response.
Let us have some confidence in the community, and then let us expect the community to have some confidence in the police. The progress can begin if we learn the real lessons of the relationship between the community and the police, and understand the factors that led to everything going wrong. We could talk for a long time about some of the problems that have been set out in various reports. We have had the Scarman and Gifford reports, as well as the reports that the police have produced. The Metropolitan police must rid themselves of the fixed idea that law and order is exclusively dealing with public disorder. It is about a very different police relationship which is uppermost in the minds of the people. If that can be understood, we shall make some progress.
On Wednesday there was a large advertisement in the London Standard seeking to attract recruits for London's 28 Territorial Army units. The advertisement reminded potential recruits that if they joined one of the 28 units they would have a clear and definite role in Britain's defence strategy. They were reminded also that the starting pay for a part-time recruit in London's TA would be £850 a year. I am not surprised that recruits are flocking to join London's 28 TA units, and that overall strength now stands at more than 10,000 men and women.
Compare that with the sorry state of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary, as recorded on page 26 of the Commissioner's admirable report. The strength of London's TA is 10,000 and growing but the special constabulary has a mere 1,560 officers, and is shrinking. Why should the disparity be so great? The Territorial Army and the special constabulary are looking for the same sort of fit, intelligent, and public-spirited young person who wants something more than a quiet life. The Territorial Army's role with the British Army of the Rhine is important, but helping to deter crime and protect our neighbours is also important.
It is discouraging that the decrease occurs at a time when we have a commissioner who is exceptionally keen on community involvement. He has set up a plethora of consultative panels and advisory groups. The development of neighbourhood watch schemes is beginning to make a real contribution. In my area, in 1985, home burglaries decreased by 22 per cent. If special constables are to languish under Sir Kenneth Newman's regime, something must be wrong.
We could use six times as many special constables in London as there are at present. If it is right to have 10,000 reserve soldiers in London, it makes even more sense to have more than 10,000 reserve policemen. It is clear that, under the present regime, we have no chance of getting them. I ask the Home Secretary to set up a wide-ranging review into the special constabulary in London and throughout the country. The structure, remuneration and role of the special constabulary is not right. If the Home Secretary will not introduce such an inquiry, I hope that the Select Committee on Home Affairs will take up the matter.
It is worth remembering that the special constabulary provides important links with the ethnic community. The commissioner's report reminds us that 7·5 per cent. of the London Special Constabulary is drawn from Afro-West Indian and Asian communities—a far higher proportion than in the regular force.
After the riots in Tottenham and Brixton, the doctrines associated with the name of Lord Scarman have come under critical scrutiny. If there has to be a clash between the softly, softly approach and those who would carry a big stick, I must side unreservedly with those who are in favour of introducing the longer baton. However, longer batons and better shields are not the complete solution to the policing problem. There must be every sort of contact — official and unofficial, orthodox and unorthodox— between the Metropolitan police and the West Indian community. I believe that the specials have an important role to play in this.
Appendix 5XV lists the honours and awards given to the Metropolitan police during 1985. I note with pleasure, and some surprise, that the commissioner has become a Grand Officer of the Order of the Lion of Malawi. There are eight Queen's medals for distinguished service. There are, very properly, six awards of the Victorian order or medal for personal service to the royal family. Last year, officers of the Metropolitan police received one CBE, two OBEs, three MBEs and 14 British Empire medals. An ordinary Civil Service Department, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, would consider that a pretty poor crop of honours in a wet year; yet we expect much more from our police force than our ordinary Civil Service. The police deserve our support and more public recognition.
The debate takes place against a background of far too high a level of crime, burglary, vandalism, robbery and assault in the metropolitan area. Although in my area of Islington there was a small reduction in reported crime in 1985, it was too small and came too late. That reduction is set against a continuing increase in other forms of crime and the fears of many people, especially in inner London.
Appendix 2 to the recently published report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the financial control and accountability of the Metropolitan police contains a remarkable and extremely worrying breakdown of police time. A staggering 33 per cent. of police time appears to be spent off duty on annual and weekly leave, time off, bank holidays, and so on. Although police officers are clearly entitled to proper holidays and leave entitlement, 33 per cent. of their duty time is a staggering, inexplicable percentage.
It is especially worrying when compared with the proportion of time spent on street duties, which include not only foot patrols and home beats but car beats. Street duties take up only 29 per cent. of the time of police constables, which is far too low a percentage. The most important job that a police constable can possibly do is patrolling the streets on foot in uniform, making many London residents feel more secure, safer and less fearful about the level of crime. The police should be doing that. I am concerned that the figures in the report do not give us much confidence that those tasks are a major priority in the police force.
Good policing depends on the police not only being visible on our streets and estates but having the confidence of the community which they are there to serve. The present lack of accountability and democracy in the control of the Metropolitan police is of great concern. I serve with pleasure and pride on the Islington police consultative committee, as do members of the local authority. That forum enables a discussion, which is often useful, to take place with the police. It is no substitute for the sort of democratic control which ought to be exercised over the general policing priorities of London. That is not available to the people of London at the moment other than in a hasty and rushed debate of this kind in the House, which really offers no genuine control or accountability.
It is not only on that wider level that accountability is required; it is on a much smaller scale as well. An estate in my constituency, the Barnsbury estate, had for many years been subject to a lot of vandalism, a number of teenage gangs roaming the estate and a fear of crime among the tenants. Because of an initiative from the tenants themselves, they sat down, with local beat officers, the local police commander and representatives of the local council, and together they decided on the policing priorities for the area and on measures to improve crime prevention on the estate.
The result has been remarkable. People feel much safer on the Barnsbury estate than they did, not just because of the policing measures that have been undertaken, but because they feel that they have some degree of say in how their estate is being policed through the close consultation that is taking place. If that sort of consultation and democratic participation can happen on a small scale at estate level, surely it is a principle which can be expanded to cover wide communities. The Commissioner said, in a letter to The Guardian yesterday, how much importance he attributed to consultation, public involvement and the involvement of residents in the policing of their area. I am pleased that he pays tribute to that principle. I only wish that we saw a lot more of it in the structure of the Metropolitan police as a whole and on the streets at neighbourhood and estate level.
Part of the confidence which is necessary between a police force and the residents that it serves is a feeling that when things go wrong complaints can efficiently and effectively be sorted out. The House will recall that earlier this year there was considerable publicity about a particular incident in 1983 when five youngsters, my constituents, were assaulted as they were coming home near the Holloway road from a summer fair. I am pleased to note that progress is now being made in following up that incident. Committal proceedings of five officers of the Metropolitan police were held last week on that matter. I cannot comment further because of the sub judice rules of the House, but there is an important point to be made. I deeply regret that it was necessary to raise such an enormous public fuss before the matter was properly, effectively and efficiently investigated.
It is regrettable that there was need for such a fuss not only before the matter was investigated, but before the police could be induced to drop their deliberate cover-up of the offenders and their refusal to make known what they knew about the identity of the offenders.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because that is the point I was about to make.
One of the major problems with the present system of investigating complaints about the conduct of police officers is that the body which does the investigating, not the body that decides to launch the investigation—the Police Complaints Authority — is almost entirely composed of serving police officers. Until we have a completely independent police complaints procedure the public will be badly served. They will have less confidence than they should about whether genuine complaints about particular activities of particular police officers will be properly and fully followed up.
There is one even more general point to be made. Far and away the best service that can be done for the people of London in the issues of crime and law and order is to improve dramatically the provision of crime prevention. The balance of priorities that the Government have had in that respect over the past six years makes grim reading. The forces of control—the police, the courts, and the mopping-up operation after the crime has occurred—have devoted an increase in funding of about 30 per cent. or 35 per cent. in real terms to those operations. What has happened to the forces of prevention—the provision of good housing and better lit streets, and safer estates, with entryphones, better design, new housing and safer doors? Those are the things that people desperately want, to prevent crime in their areas.
Provision for housing expenditure by local authorities has been cut by 70 per cent. in real terms in the past five years. That is the sort of priority that the Government attach to crime prevention. No amount of seminars at 10 Downing street with the Prime Minister, a few fiddles on insurance polices and perhaps a new lock for car doors, no amount of such discussion on the margin, will make a real difference to the realities of the lack of crime prevention policy under this Government. It is the basic issues of housing, street lighting, safe streets and neighbourhoods that people are desperately concerned about in London. I fear that they are not getting those things from the Government.
I intend to make a brief speech because I regret that I shall not be able to stay for the duration of the debate, owing to a prior engagement.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and all his senior officers have been doing a good job over the recent period covered in the report against the background of a difficult situation. We should pay tribute to them. The force goal set by the Commissioner for 1986–88 seems to be about right, and has the balance about right. The Commissioner was correct to say that a high priority should be given to the reduction of criminal opportunities via crime prevention of the sort mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), via public involvement, and via the neighbourhood watch schemes, of which there are an agreeably large number in my area of Wallington.
All the points that have been made about the importance of street patrols need to be underlined, as they were in paragraph 40 of the Commissioner's report. They are demonstrably a good way of allaying public fear, and public fear lies at the heart of the general unease about law and order.
The Commissioner was right to stress the priority to be given to the detection of specified offences. That is necessary, because it is one of the most cost-effective ways of deploying the police service, which will never be adequately staffed for all the tasks placed on it. The more minor but all too frequent offence of criminal damage needs to be given higher priority than is sometimes the case. I know that sometimes it is not as dramatic or traumatic as grievous offences such as those connected with robbery, murder, homicide and so on. None the less, it is a matter of considerable concern to constituents. It is worth paying increased attention to that.
From a cost-effective point of view, the evidence suggests that, in places where the police concentrate on organised crime, they can make a dramatic difference to the figures. It has been drawn to my attention by senior police officers that, for example, by concentrating on one criminal firm and eventually managing, through a process of enhanced detection and effort, to nail that firm, one sees the result in a fall, which is sometimes dramatic, in offences in that category in the subsequent period. If we measure such things in terms of clear-up rates and numbers of offences, we see that a concentration of resources on organised crime is absolutely necessary.
Thirdly, and more importantly, the force must use the manpower and resources at its disposal to the maximum efficiency. I should like the Metropolitan police to reach their full establishment because it is still slightly below the agreed level.
The problems of policing the capital were well set out in paragraph 58 of the Commissioner's report. Not enough police are allocated to cover the various aspects of policing in London to give the public confidence. I think of the rising crime figures and just as much of the factors which we have already covered by our debate, such as public disorder and time off for in-service training. That is vital as the needs change. I think also of the problems caused by sick leave. The figures for sick leave and holidays are remarkable.
We should lay greater stress on the deployment of police officers on street duty. We should make a determined effort to push up the proportion of on-duty officers engaged in such tasks so that the public feel reassured and so that the police achieve more effective results.
There is no doubt that a contribution can be made to the better use of resources by continuing civilianisation and, at the margin, by competitive tendering and by contracting out some services.
Huge problems remain for the Metropolitan police because of the cash limits system—I am tempted to say, the "quaint" cash limits system — and annuality. Recently, police pay was negotiated and a 7·5 per cent. increase was settled. At that time, the Treasury was set on a limit of 4 per cent. A total of 80 per cent. of Metropolitan police costs is for manpower. That causes enormous problems, even with maximum efficiency within the police service.
An illustration can be given of the difficulties caused by the Treasury's inflexible approach. Vital support can be given to officers in uniform by the professional, technical and scientific grades in the police service. They are caught in arrangements which do not allow the police service to bid differentially for such services, so people are lost to the service or are not attracted to it in sufficient numbers. That was made clear in a report published as long ago as 1984. The Home Office would do well to consider what can be done to rectify that.
My constituency falls within the Epsom police division. I pay tribute to the local divisional report by Chief Superintendent Sellar and his colleagues. They are right to give priority to better police intelligence and information. They could be helped by the use of a microcomputer and it is hoped to install that device in the near future.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that crime prevention is of major importance. The neighbourhood watch schemes have an important role. In my area, such schemes increased from six in April 1984 to 86 in December 1985.
A greater effort is needed to combat the drug menace. It is disturbing to discover that the drug menace is not confined to the core of the inner city. One might have associated it with Piccadilly circus, but it is spreading alarmingly to the suburbs. The police are right to give it high priority. The problem must be dealt with not only in an enforcement context, but in an educational context. Advertising must be frank and straightforward and the publicity material in schools, pubs and clubs must be effective.
My final point on the divisional report is the great need for the police to be seen to be responding to the public's topical concerns. The public may not always be concerned about the same things as the gurus at Scotland Yard. Therefore, it is important for the latter to remember that. It is interesting that some of the matters that worry my constituents most are not the most serious crimes and, happily, not those reflected most in the criminal figures. They include vandalism, hooliganism and the alarming truancy rates in our inner cities, which in the worst cases are running at 30 per cent. or more. They worry about matters as prosaic as dangerous illegal parking. I hope that senior police officers will give sufficient attention to those matters which cause disproportionate concern to ordinary people.
The Government's approach in this important area must be firmly based on three priorities: on providing resources for more police, which is still necessary in the Metropolitan police force; to provide political support for more effective policing of the sort that I mentioned; and on providing the appropriate legislative framework —I have not had time to develop this today— to give the courts a range of judicial penalties for the convicted. In that context, I look forward to the Government's next instalment of criminal justice legislation which was foreshadowed in the recent White Paper.
I shall comment in a moment on something said earlier by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman).
The Home Secretary, in an opening speech made in his usual laid-back style, did not get the balance right between concern and complacency. It was a little silly of him to say that Londoners are better off than the people of New York. That is rather like saying that we should not worry about the fact that we have malaria, because we have not got AIDS. The traditions, the mode of life and the availability of firearms makes the problem in New York very different from that in London. New York is the only city in the world where a bank robber is likely to be mugged on the way to his getaway car. Its circumstances are different from those in London.
During his weighty speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) contended that we are not using the Metropolitan police to the best possible effect because the Commissioner has not got right the relative priorities of the prevention and detection of crime and the use of the police in respect of public order. When my right hon. Friend said that, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington intervened to say that the Commissioner is bound to provide police officers for that purpose. My right hon. Friend queried that and asked whether we should reconsider the proposition, instead of taking it for granted.
I can illustrate that point by recounting what I witnessed. It is topical, because it happened less than 24 hours ago. At two o'clock yesterday afternoon, I went to a green near the London hospital, Mile End, where there was an assembly—a not very large demonstration—in support of the gynaecologist Wendy Savage, about whom we have all read in the past day or two. On that green there were no more than a dozen or so men, but 200 or 300 women, a large proportion of whom were pushing baby buggies with small children in them. There were about 100 other walking children. Round the green were some senior police officers, several police officers on motor cycles and two coaches full of police officers.
No, there was no helicopter, but just down the road there was a riot control vehicle. I looked at these women with their little kids and then went to the officer in charge and said, "I don't think you've got enough of a police presence to deal with this dangerous mob and all the highly armed thugs that I see before me." He said, "Well, I've got 38 officers and I am deploying only 15 of them." However, I counted them and there were more police officers there than that.
So off we set. When we arrived at the London hospital, Whitechapel, which was the destination of those who were to hand in the letter, I left the march and stood on the pavement — I say this in all friendliness, not in a contumacious spirit; the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington could have been there—and all these people, nearly all of whom were women, went by carrying their home-made, handwritten placards.
Right at the end of the march there was a particular group of women who had been patients of Wendy Savage. She had delivered their babies. This fairly large group of women were pushing baby buggies with the aforesaid babies in them and immediately behind them, at the end of the procession, came a coachful of police officers. To my knowledge, the police officers had been sitting in that coach for several hours and had never left it.
Does the Minister of State think that that is an efficient use of police manpower? It might be a good way of providing a little overtime money for them. They all became used to earning a lot of overtime money during the miners' strike and they have to keep up with mortgages and all the rest of it. But does that not illustrate, in the clearest possible terms, the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton—that the Commissioner and, I fear, Home Office Ministers have become—I hope that I do not do them an injustice—overwhelmingly obsessed by public order considerations. To a grossly undue extent, police manpower is being diverted to public order considerations and away from crime prevention and the identification of criminals.
I am sure that the Minister of State agrees that it has now become a truism that by themselves the police cannot prevent crime and bring criminals to justice. The Home Secretary referred to the help that the police receive from a number of organisations and voluntary agencies, but they need help from every citizen. They will be unable to clear up the crime wave unless they receive the full cooperation of all people. They will not receive it if people laugh at them. Opposite Whitechapel station yesterday afternoon a crowd of people were standing on the pavement and they were laughing their heads off at the spectacle of two coachloads of police following a lot of women with babies. Public confidence in the police is destroyed by a spectacle of that kind.
In particular, the confidence of the ethnic minorities in the police is low, and it is very sad that that should be so. Reference has been made to racist incidents and racist attacks. I agree that the definition that has been laid down and that was quoted by the Home Secretary is valuable and helpful, but the Minister of State knows, as I know only too well, that the number of racist incidents that are reported to the police is only the tip of the iceberg. A couple of dozen racist incidents a month are reported to the police in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Hundreds more occur.
When one tries to find out why people do not report incidents to the police, one gets the answer—not only from black but from white people—"What is the point of reporting them to the police? They will not do anything about them anyway." I have evidence that that is not always true, but it is true often enough to create that impression in the minds of people, and to undermine the confidence of people in the police, and so in their eagerness to co-operate with the police that is so necessary if we are to get things improved.
I have been trying hard to do something about this. In Tower Hamlets, we have started a panel of representative people, of which I am the chairman; which meets every month and gets a list of racist incidents that have been reported to the police and information about what the police have done about it. We want it to get around the borough that people should report incidents to the police, because if they do, an independent panel is monitoring what action the police take, so that it cannot be said in the case of those incidents that are reported that nothing is done about them.
Unfortunately, this is very heavy going. It is hard to convince people that this is not merely a whitewashing exercise. I have been accused of running it as an exercise in whitewash, so deep is the gulf—we have to face it because it is a great problem for all of us—between the public and the police.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, (Mr. Smith) that we need a number of improvements to bridge that gulf. I put it to the last Home Secretary but two and to the Commissioner—they did not dispute it—that the great problem of the racist attitude of the Metropolitan police—I pay tribute to the fact that at the top and medium levels great efforts are being made to improve the situation—is not the odd policeman who talks about "nig-nogs" and looks upon them as lesser breeds without the law. Such a policeman is not a big problem. He is nasty, and gets up people's snouts. The big problem is that right through almost the whole of the force there is not the same commitment to protecting the interests of black people as there is to protecting the interests of white people.
As evidence of that, there are many more police recommendations to the victims of crime to take a private prosecution when the victims are black than when they are white. When the victim is black, the police try as hard as possible not to institute prosecutions themselves and to get the individual to do so. In some cases that is justified, but we still have to reflect on why it should be justified in all cases where the victim is black. I do not think that it can be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was right to say that there are two other elements at which we need to look if we are to increase public confidence in the police. The first is accountability; I agree with every word that he said about that. The second, with which I also agree, is that complaints against the police must be investigated independently. The present situation is a charade. I have a lot of hard evidence on this—I am not speaking on a hunch. I deliberately laid a complaint at the treatment that I received when I was arrested during the last general election campaign.
I have established a number of facts. First of all, at any point in the police complaints procedure at which there is a conflict of evidence between a civilian and a police officer, the Police Complaints Authority will always accepts as gospel the evidence given by the police officer. Second, the Police Complaints Authority will sometimes reach a conclusion on the basis of evidence that has not been disclosed to the complainant. The complainant has no opportunity to challenge its accuracy. Sometimes even the identity of the witness is not disclosed to the complainant. What sort of investigation is that? A third fact is that what my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) called humiliating treatment by police of civilians is altogether ignored by the authority.
By way of a small personal note, I shall describe something that happened to me when I was arrested. I was in Bow road police station waiting to be transferred to Limehouse police station and I was in a room in which people who have been arrested are placed while waiting to be dealt with. In the room there was a long wooden bench which was narrow and hard. After I had sat on it for about 20 minutes, I got up to stretch my legs and to ease the pain on my bottom. The police officer in charge said, "Sit down." I said, "Why? Am I not allowed to stand?" He said, "No," and I said, "Why not?" He said, "Because I say so." I can understand that sort of thing happening in Moscow or in Santiago de Chile, or in Istanbul, which are in police states, but it should not happen here.
That officer was not a junior, yet he had no concept at all that he ought to have some sort of decent relationship with civilians. He certainly did not appreciate that his wages are paid by the public and that he was serving the people of his area. In his view, he was their boss and they had to do things because he said so.
If we are to create confidence we must get rid of that sort of attitude. We will not get rid of it until people know that, if they make a complaint, it will not be investigated by somebody whose first instinct is to whitewash a fellow officer.
The things I have spoken about are necessary to create confidence. This debate is useful and hon. Members have dealt with the subject in a practical way. I hope that the debate will make a contribution to creating that confidence.
I see that several right hon. and hon. Members are still trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because they want to speak in this debate. Because of the rather limited time available, I hope that the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) will forgive me if I do not deal fully with all his points. His somewhat anecdotal account of what occurred in the police station is not typical. Certainly my constituents seldom complain to me about discourteous treatment in police stations.
Several hon. Members have spoken about the need to support the work of the Metropolitan police, and I am sure that that sentiment reflects the public will, because the police are there primarily to protect the public from the consequences of serious and major crime, especially crimes of violence such as murder, rape and manslaughter, and armed robbery with violence. The police also have to deal with traffic and drug offences and all other types of serious crime.
If the House means business on the support of the police, it must support the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which he announced on Wednesday, to end the peremptory challenges of jurors in Crown courts. The work of the Metropolitan police in bringing major criminals to book is hampered and undermined since trial by jury in Crown courts is being systematically distorted, especially in multiple trials, by defence counsel leading to far too many acquittals of defendants who should be convicted. That relates directly to the role of the police in seeking to deal with major crime. It was clear on Wednesday that the House was divided on it. The need for action is misunderstood and it must be explained.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the selection of jurors was supposed to be based on random selection, but the systematic use of peremptory challenge distorts that and has the opposite effect. In Crown courts, each defendant can challenge three jurors without giving any reason. That is called the right to peremptory challenge. Thus, in a multiple trial with four defendants there can be 12 challenges and, with eight defendants, 24 challenges. Several defence counsel working together or independently can continue to challenge and remove jurors until they obtain a jury which is broadly to their liking.
What is now going on makes a mockery of the concept of a fair trial in a Crown court. Juries are supposed to be selected purely at random. Historically, the right to peremptory challenge exists to remove a bias on the part of an individual juror. It now does the opposite. It is being used to introduce a bias: a bias towards acquittal which is a distortion of the legal process.
The Times, in a leading article last June, said:
A pin-striped suit, an old school or regimental tie, a prominantly displayed copy of the Daily Telegraph seem to provide a virtual guarantee that the bearer will be excluded from the jury".
Today, peremptory challenge seems to be used by defence counsel in an endeavour to achieve, as far as possible, a jury composed of people believed by the defence to be likely to be hostile to the prosecution and sympathetic to the defendant. The article concluded:
the right to peremptory challenge … ought now to be abolished.
That is a view endorsed by Lord Denning in his book, "What Next in the Law", when he wrote:
What is the justification today of the right of the accused to 'peremptory' challenges? Should we any longer permit the accused to exclude a juror simply because of his looks?
He also wrote:
It is now becoming apparent that the accused, by using the 'peremptory' challenge, may seek to 'pack' the jury-box with jurors who are sympathetic to his side.
It is equally wrong whether the juror is wearing a regimental tie, or has red hair or a black face to exclude him simply because of his appearance. It is a complete and absolute nonsense and it is right to stop it.
It is well known that in the Ponting case three jurors were removed by peremptory challenge and in the Cyprus secrets trial 12 jurors were removed by peremptory challenge. That must have been done by defence counsel in an endeavour to influence the outcome of the case. Otherwise, why should they have sought to do it? It is highly likely that, in some of those cases, it did influence the outcome. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should be warmly supported.
I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) that I would say how sorry he is to miss the debate. Unfortunately, he is in hospital.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. I should like to touch on what happens in police stations under the custody arrangements and the 24-hour duty solicitor scheme. I have no doubt that the provisions of that Act in that regard, along with the attendance of a solicitor at the police station, have had a fairly dramatic effect on how people are treated in custody.
Despite what we may say about that Act, there seems little doubt that that arrangement will be changed. There is now a degree of professionalism in the custody of prisoners that was unknown before. There is a clear line of responsibility. I accept that the well-trained senior officers come under pressure when there are mass arrests, but probably as a result of those arrangements some people will now be acquitted or not even charged even though they might have been convicted before. Equally, there is much less likelihood of confessions being challenged, because arrangements are now much more professional.
However, the new arrangements mean that some police officers are more involved in the judicial process than in law enforcement and detection. The Home Office should recognise that that puts an additional strain on police manpower. Those engaged in the arrangements resulting from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act should be replaced by policemen who can go on the beat.
The recruitment of black police officers has been a constant theme since I have been a Member of Parliament. I have no doubt that London's police force would be richer and more effective, and would receive more co-operation and support from the public, if it contained more black and ethnic minority members. I shall give a simple illustration. Someone going to see the ballet "Giselle" at the Colosseum would find that most of the audience was white. Someone going to see a performance of "Giselle" put on by the Dance Theatre of Harlem would find that a large proportion of the audience was black. There is only one distinction to be drawn between the performances, and that is that one is performed almost entirely by black dancers while the other is performed almost entirely by white dancers. However, that makes an enormous difference to those who attend and support those performances.
That is a simple illustration of how people identify with the colour of those engaged in a particular service or activity. I very much welcome the efforts that have been made in Brixton by our community liaison officer, Mr. Buchan, and his assistant Mr. Crowe. They have a personalised and intimate method of recruiting black officers, and work very hard at it. I very much welcome their work, although I do not think that it would be helpful to outline what they are doing in detail. Nevertheless, I am sure that everybody would support them. After all, it would be foolish to underestimate the hostility and distrust that still exist among members of the black community of all ages. Only last night, someone said to me, "They didn't want us in the 1960s, but now they are looking for us in the 1980s." The backlog of distrust and hostility should not be underestimated, and I very much welcome the efforts that are being made in that respect.
Last September, there was a riot in Brixton. I shall not say much about it, as I spoke in the debate on it last October. But we recovered from it at a remarkable speed. That speed of recovery is a tribute to the efforts that have been made to obtain more communication and liaison between the police and the community. We should put our money and effort into that. If one person had been killed by a plastic bullet during that riot, it would not have been possible to make the speedy recovery. If the police have to claim superiority in arms and weapons, they have lost the battle.
I went to Brixton police station a couple of days ago. I visit it regularly to learn what is happening and to update myself. As the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) said, 11 teams of police officers are working on nine murders, one shooting and one multiple rape. Within the past few weeks four old-age pensioners have been strangled or otherwise killed in their own homes. One of them was a prominent member of a tennis association in my own constituency.
Within the comparatively small area that is covered by the Brixton division—I have the maps and the figures—it is not unusual to find 500 or 600 robberies in one quarter of one division of my constituency, or to find vehicle crimes rising to 1,500 a year in one quarter of a division. Burglaries are running at about 1,000 in one quarter of a division. The crime figures for the first quarter of the year show that in Lambeth we have the highest level of crime anywhere in London apart from Westminster, where there is a high level of theft in the west end. These crimes are committed largely against poor people, vulnerable people and those who generally are least able to defend themselves.
Everyone has a responsibility, whether as a Member for Parliament, a trade unionist, a councillor or in any other capacity, to defend the civil rights of others not to be assaulted, robbed or murdered, and to play as constructive a part as he can in the battle to preserve people's rights. That does not mean uncritical support for the police. Of course, what is regarded as criticism in one area is often regarded in another as a constructive contribution to the debate on policing. Accountability is important but it is not a substitute for consultation. Neither accountability nor consultation is a substitute for responsibility.
The police manpower that Brixton has been supplied with is inadequate to cope with the task in hand. If manpower is measured against the level of crime instead of population, it is at far too low a level in Brixton. About four times as many crimes take place in Lambeth than in Sutton, yet the distrbution of manpower between the two districts is not substantially different. I ask the Government to devote more resources on the basis of the level of crime rather than on the population criteria.
As we are short of time, there is no chance to develop these arguments. I wish to emphasise, however, that it is no good asking the police to deal with the harvest of seven years of Tory cuts and Tory assaults on the British people in terms of housing, unemployment and poverty. That is an issue to which I hope we can return in future. The Government are making a great mistake if they believe that the police should pick up the bill for the gross neglect of many in responsible positions.
As part of a self-denying ordinance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall speak for only five minutes.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) talked about his approval of the Home Secretary's suggestion of disallowing the challenge of jurors. He reminded me of a comment, which I thought was most out of place, made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvells), who is known to us all. The hon. Member for Leicester, East said recently that the acquittal rate at Snaresbrook Crown court — it is the Crown court nearest to my constituency—is due to the fact that its juries are made up of the lower working classes and housewives. He said that he would prefer to have on juries more middle-class people and business men. If the right to challenge jurors is lost, we shall lose the more representative juries that are more responsive to those who come before them. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham for giving me an opportunity to have a smash at the hon. Member for Leicester, East.
I shall turn to the unrepresentative nature of the police force. Hon. Members have referred, quite properly, to the number of black and Asian people in the police force and the need to increase that number. We are glad that the number has increased. Women are very much underrepresented at all levels of the police force, especially at officer level. Only one woman in 32 is at commander level, and none is above that. I am aware that the Metropolitan police force is considering that, especially in front-line police activity. The experiment so far has amounted to putting women in the front-line and seeing how they compare with their male counterparts, in the narrowest sense of the word. A female superintendent who was refused promotion 12 times out of 13 by all-male promotion boards believes:
Macho policemen set the wrong tone, are insensitive to people, and inadvertently provoke fights and assaults.
The violence of the police at Wapping was totally unnecessary. If you gave me a team of women I had specially trained, I could keep the peace, offer no provocation and keep tempers cool.
I was not going to propose that. The police force fails to prioritise those aspects of policing which are more reflective of what the community needs. The police strategy also fails to consider the people who are being policed, in the sense that many of them are women. Women have specific needs in cities. Statistically, women are less likely to be attacked than men. I found the figures quite surprising.
However, the fear of attack on the part of women is much greater. One in 10 women in inner London will not go out at night. I should put it the other way round and say that most men should not go out at night, so that women are able to walk the streets in peace. In Balham, 92 per cent. of women do not feel safe walking at night, but a third do not feel safe going out during the day. That is even worse. Women are increasingly at risk due to cuts in public transport. Only half as many women as men can drive or have access to cars.
In the period 1979–84, the amount of violent incidents against women increased dramatically. Offences recorded by the Metropolitan police against the person rose by 22 per cent., rape by 48 per cent., and robbery by 96 per cent. The reality is fast catching up with the perception.
When women are on the receiving end of the police, they seem to suffer a particular form of intimidation. Memories of the miners' strike are still with us, when a woman was forced to "confess" because her screaming baby was deliberately kept in a room next to her to make her more frightened and concerned. Following Broadwater Farm, a woman was asked by police if she was having sex in a photograph they had taken of her. Another was strip searched. Another was called a prostitute, while the police threatened other women with reprisals against their children. We must see that in the context of police strategy.
I beg the Minister of State, when he replies, to give some assurance that there will be some lead from the Home Office in terms of ensuring that the police force is more representative and that there are more women in it. We are glad that there are to be more police officers. Those men and women—black and white—must be put out on the beat and not employed to use plastic bullets and cannons.
I shall try to be as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This debate is a travesty of justice and democracy. Once a year, we are allowed five hours—if the Common Market debate does not intervene—to debate the policing of London. No vote is taken at the end of the debate. There is no detailed discussion of the police budget. We are not able to cross-examine the Minister concerned about the policing strategy for London. After all, he is the police authority for London. This is disgraceful.
I question the idea that we have this unaccountable, unelected body that runs policing in London. This perpetuates claims from the Home Office that we have no national police force in London; yet the role of the National Reporting Centre is barely mentioned in the Commissioner's report or in any other report. However, during the miners' strike, at least 7,000 police were at the disposal of the Home Office to be moved willy-nilly around the country. I am certain that, before long, police from outside London will be brought into Wapping, if they are not already there, through the National Reporting Centre.
I am disturbed by the parrot cry of Conservative Members that demonstrations in London cost a lot of money and should not be held. They say that Labour Members should do their best to persuade people not to demonstrate. Are Conservative Members really advocating the curtailment of the right to protest, demonstrate and march? They continually use costings in relation to the number of police at these demonstrations. How much money will be spent next Wednesday, when, I understand, a wedding is to take place? Are there any complaints about that? Of course there are not, but there are complaints about the legitimate right to complain about apartheid, the Wapping dispute, and so on.
I have had long experience of policing in London as a councillor in Haringey and now as a Member of Parliament for Islington. A thorough crime survey was carried out in Islington. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to that survey, which revealed some disturbing features. It reflected—this is of primary importance—the fear of a large number of women who are afraid to go out on the streets at night, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said, and often too afraid to go out in the day because of the threat of sexual or racial attack or, in the case of black women, a combination of both.
There is serious under-reporting of sexual harassment and crimes. We believe that often as few as half of the crimes that take place are reported. In some cases, the proportion is even less. Under-reporting of racial attacks and problems is even greater. The police in Islington have told me that, this year, the number of reported racial crimes has increased although they believe—agreeing substantially with the points made in the survey—that the number is much lower than the number of crimes that take place. In the context of high crime rates, attacks on the person, invasion of privacy, robbery and burglary, that is a serious picture.
The police must recognise also—policing policy must direct itself to this — the social background against which we approach the problems of high unemployment and the high degree of social alienation, especially of young people. I urge the Home Secretary to read thoroughly and carefully Lord Gifford's report on the Broadwater Farm incident and all that went with it. I was disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer more to that report, which is well written, well produced and well researched. It was disgraceful that the police refused to take part in Lord Gifford's inquiry and that the Home Office refused to present evidence directly to it. The Home Secretary may smile, but it was a thorough report and I hope that he will look carefully into it.
The Broadwater Farm estate is an area of very high unemployment and severe poverty. About 35 per cent. of households have annual incomes of less than £3,000 a year, and only 2 per cent. have incomes of more than £15,000 a year. I suspect that many of us could refer to similar examples of inner-city deprivation in our constituencies. Of those who expressed concern about the area, 94 per cent. said that unemployment was the main problem, 42 per cent. blamed housing, 29 per cent. blamed police behaviour, and so on down the line. Those are far worse figures than one would find in any other comparative survey taken in individual parts of London.
When the Government give what I hope will be a serious response to Lord Gifford's inquiry, I hope that they will recognise that what has to be addressed is partly policing, partly control of the police, partly the amount of money that can be spent on housing in an area, partly the design of housing but, above all, the social and economic environment in which the Broadwater Farm riots took place.
I come to the issue of policing policy in London as a whole. We have a process of high capital spending on the police and a highly mobile and technical police force that is increasingly not responding to the worries and wishes of the community and is not available to deal with those worries and wishes. In my constituency we are seeing an increase in problems of racial harassment which have been much worse in other parts of London up to now. We have problems in some schools where Bengali and other Asian children have been harassed on their way home from school and have to be escorted from the school to their home. We have an increasingly serious problem of racism and racial violence in London.
I believe that the Home Office figures and the Metropolitan police figures seriously understate the importance of these matters, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will give us some inkling about the policies he proposes to eradicate racial violence in London and ensure that the police treat these matters seriously so that people are prepared to report racial crimes to the police because they believe that something will be done about them.
I hope that in future years we will have a longer debate on the policing of London and above all I hope that in the future we will see an elected police authority for London which is seriously accountable to the people in London and we do not have to use the process of an Adjournment debate in the House once a year.
We are today considering the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the review of public order. I want to say a few words about what the role of the police should be. We have heard about what the role is and we have heard from my hon. Friends about the considerable number of problems that arise as a result of the lack of proper policing in London. I understand that the role of the police is to see that the law is enforced. It should also be for the defence of democracy and freedom in this country and to defend the rights of the common people.
Many problems face the police. That is quite clear from the Commissioner's report to the House. Reference has recently been made to the fact that there are about 3—5 million offences each year. Of the offences mentioned in the Commissioner's report, some 20,000 are concerned with violence. The so-called public order issues — in other words, victories which have been achieved — include the police victory against the miners, and police victories against the printers, hospital workers, nuclear protesters and others who have attempted to exercise their democratic rights in this country either as trade unionists or as citizens concerned with peace.
All that, and the many other problems that arise out of bad policing in this country, happen because of the philosophy of the Prime Minister and her Government. We have a competitive society in which people battle and victory goes to those who are strong and wealthy. Society has become more and more like a jungle as a result of the insistence upon a competitive society. I would rather we had a society based more on mutual aid and co-operation.
Hackney, the area I represent, has one of the highest crime rates. I notice from the figures produced that in the first quarter of this year some 7,417 crimes have been put on record. There has been a poor response to the citizens' call for aid from the police. A petition was presented to me last week, signed by over 100 home owners in one street. They complained about the lack of response from the Mare street police to their pleas of assistance because of the large number of offences that have been committed. That petition has been sent on to the Home Secretary.
On the other hand, there is over-policing of street demonstrations, during strikes and so on. I have had occasion to complain about that in the Hackney area, where there have been as many policemen as demonstrators walking through the streets. However, I was responsible for organising some 83,000 people in a demonstration proceeding from Trafalgar square to Victoria park in Hackney. There was not one incident and there was no trouble. The Home Secretary can look it up. Masses of police were not needed. Similarly, there was a demonstration of 100,000 people across to Brixton on the issue of Nazism. Again, there was no need for the masses of police put on to the streets for such events.
We need police on the streets, but we need them on the beat, where the people can see them, go to them and get their assistance. There is still far too much of the Starsky and Hutch approach by the police to policing in London.
There have been numerous cases of bad behaviour, which I have referred to various Home Secretaries over a period. All those complaints have led to a loss of public support. For example, that loss of public support is shown in Hackney, where a pamphlet called "Police out of School" has been produced because of the bad relations that have developed between the public and the police. The teachers have had to take a stand on the matter so that attention may be drawn to it.
All those problems cannot be solved by introducing so-called new weapons, whether water cannon, gas, plastic bullets, flails or armoured vehicles. What is needed is co-operation between the police and the local authorities. The Commissioner has refused co-operation with Hackney borough council's police committee. All political parties on the council and all ethnic groups are represented on that committee. I have a letter from the commander of the police dated 8 October 1985—the last letter I received—saying:
a period of calm must prevail before we return to the vital task of setting up a Consultative Group for Hackney … I will write to you again shortly".
There is no consultative committee, but Hackney borough council has set up a committee on which there should be consultation. The sooner that is done, the better. I urge the Home Secretary to give his authority to the local police to meet the Hackney borough council police committee so that they may look at the problems and see what can be done, on the basis of co-operation, to solve the crimes in that area.
I shall not make the speech that I was going to make because there is not time. I am sure that my hon. Friends will be pleased to hear that. I shall restrict myself to one or two points. I am grateful to see the Home Secretary here because I want to say a word to him.
It is right and proper that we should debate these matters in the House. While on a deputation to Lord Whitelaw when he was Home Secretary, I asked that we should have an annual debate. I am pleased that we have it, but no one should think that it is sufficient or that it in any way constitutes the effective police accountability that we need. On their own, such debates are thoroughly unsatisfactory in providing proper scrutiny of the Metropolitan police.
The Police Federation sends us a copy of its monthly magazine. I am glad that it does. However, I am concerned at the apparent growing politicisation of the federation and the snide attacks on the Labour party in that magazine. It is no part of the sort of police force that we want for it to support one party rather than another, or to seek to influence policemen's voting behaviour. The federation should think carefully about its attitude and approach. At the moment it is in danger of doing itself a grave disservice by appearing to go down that road.
The police, like everybody else, should tremble before the ballot box and respect it. The same applies to Commissioner Newman. I want him to know that I resent his increasingly political statements. We do not think it proper for generals or admirals to sound off in that way, so senior policemen should not, either. Policemen, whatever their rank, should be careful not to give the impression that they consider themselves to he the handmaidens of the Conservative party.
The main criticism that my constituents make is of police ineffectiveness in dealing with crime. The growth of crime cannot be blamed on the police. The blame is more with the Government for creating the conditions in which crime can breed.
The police clear-up rate in London is low. I receive complaints about that. Only one crime in five is cleared up. My constituents tell me that they do not think it worth reporting crime because it is a waste of time. They have great difficulty finding a policeman when they need one.
I am worried that the police force is being turned into a paramilitary force. The Commissioner is ordering armoured cars and looking at water cannon. We are all fond of our friendly neighbourhood bobby, but if, next time we meet him, he has a NATO helmet on his head, a visor so that we cannot see his face, carries a shield, waves a drawn truncheon, has a belt full of plastic bullets round his waist, a canister of CS gas strapped to his back, and is mouthing obscenities, we might look at him differently.
I am particularly against paramilitary policing because I have experienced it personally. I was on the receiving end of it on the evening of 3 May at Wapping. I was shocked and appalled at what I saw. I have still not recovered from the experience. It is difficult for me to look at the police in the same way.
I brought a deputation to see the Minister of State about that occasion. I have been forced to a number of conclusions. If there is supposed to be accountability, as a parliamentarian I believe that it is here in the House that we are entitled to say what we think. I shall not have time to justify the conclusions I have drawn, but I shall do that on another occasion.
The first is that the notion that there is some sort of democratic accountability for the Metropolitan police through the Home Secretary to the House is a myth and a farce. Secondly, Ministers have very little idea of what goes on in our streets. Thirdly, senior police officers are not really answerable to anyone. Fourthly, policemen have shown that they can act outside the law and get away with it. Often when things go wrong no one is called to account; no one has to justify actions or apologise.
Fifthly, the police proved on 3 May that they are, in the strictest meaning of the word, irresponsible, and that on occasions they can do what they like. That is intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue. When I have the chance I shall justify those statements.
I have two other comments to make—one to the Home Secretary and the other to Assistant Commissioner Wynn-Jones. I do not know what the Assistant Commissioner does to justify the huge salary that the taxpayer provides. His main role seems to be minister of propaganda for the Metropolitan police. His main contribution is in the black art of manipulating the media. He held a press conference after the events of 3 May. I read what he said and I was astonished. I could not believe that he was talking about the same event that I had witnessed. I asked where he was between 10—30 and midnight. I was told that he was in Leman street police station. He was not an eye witness. He had seen nothing. I was there and did see.
On 8 May we had a debate in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who was also an eye witness of the events, gave an account of what happened. It was an accurate account. I notice the Home Secretary sitting there with a look of incredulity on his face. He started to laugh, as I saw him laughing earlier this morning. Then, with a fatuous, supercilious gesture, he ostentatiously walked out, as though to say, "That is complete nonsense. It cannot be true." He did not believe it. His duty as Home Secretary, when a Privy Councillor was explaining what happened, was to sit and listen. He must not be a Home Secretary who does not want to know and who is not prepared to have such democratic accountability. It is intolerable. We must get some democracy into this.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was giving me the opportunity to speak. What I found so strange on that occasion was that the account given by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) differed so substantially from the account that we heard a few minutes earlier from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).
Hansard shows that it did. Any account by an eye witness to those events and any complaints deserve to be and will be thoroughly investigated and set against the accounts of other witnesses.
I endorse word for word the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton). I was also present on 3 May and confirm that my hon. Friend's account was absolutely correct, as was the account given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), which in no way differed, as I heard it, from the account of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).
I will be briefest of all. This demonstrates how pathetic and miserable is the suggestion that somehow London Members of Parliament exercise, through the House, accountability over the Metropolitan police. Two Ministers are present. Neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister of State comes from London. I know that we are not supposed to recognise people sitting outside the Chamber, but one person whom I would have liked to have seen today would have looked remarkably like the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. But he is not here. What is more, I do not suppose that he even bothers to take account of the serious fears expressed by the Opposition.
Why should he? We do not hold the police accountable.
Statistically, London has the most inefficient police force in the country and the most expensive. We do not get value for money—a term that Conservative Members appreciate — from the services of the Metropolitan police. For the police to continue to amplify public order offences on television while ignoring or under-playing the burglaries and the street crime which really worries people in London is disgraceful. I do not know how the Commissioner thinks that he will clear up burglaries in Newham with water cannon and plastic bullets. But the people of Newham want those crimes cleared up. Yet an hon. Member such as myself, trying to represent his constituents, is reduced to a pathetic two minutes in a miserable half-day debate on policing in London.
I confirm that the Home Secretary's remarks were incorrect. Hansard will show clearly that my remarks fitted in with what my right hon. and hon. Friends said. I limited myself to what I saw that night.
It is true, as several of my hon. Friends have said, that the debate has shown the inadequacy of accountability. It is one reason why the next Labour Government, in about 18 months' time, will introduce a proper system of accountability for the Metropolitan police and for other police forces.
In 1979, the Government said that they would get tough on law and order. If anyone had said at the time that during the following six years there would be riots on the streets of London, that police officers would be injured, and in one case killed, that police officers would be shot at with guns, that the crime rate would increase by 41 per cent. between 1978 and now, and that we would be pleased at the improvement of the clear-up rate from 17 per cent. to 18 per cent., he would have been regarded as extremely alarmist. If he had gone on to say that in a written answer to this House the Home Secretary would slip through an announcement that police forces in London were to have 24 armoured personnel carriers, another 100 vehicles for carrying members of the police force around London and 2½ ft long truncheons, people would have said that he was stark, staring mad. But all that has happened during the last six years of this Conservative Government.
The Home Secretary said in his opening speech that the issue of these weapons has not changed policing. It has changed policing, and the tragedy is the policing has been changed in the last six years in a way that, prior to 1979, nobody in this country would have believed possible. The Government thought that they could make law and order a party political issue on which they would win, and that they could deal with the problem of law and order by getting tough again. But getting tough has no effect whatsoever on the country's crime rate. What has an effect is the collapse of the community. The Government have failed to take into account the fact that the social and economic policies that they have pursued have resulted in an already dangerous and difficult situation in our inner cities being made profoundly worse. The community has become increasingly fractured by the Government's policies.
To try to deal with the problem by increasing the number of police officers, by arming the police and by giving them different types of weapons is not the answer. The police are beginning to recognise that, although not, frankly, with the force and urgency that is needed by some of them, if they are to return to the kind of policing that most of them want.
I ask the Home Secretary to take away the Broadwater Farm report and read it and to ask the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to read it. It contains many important messages. The first is a quotation from the Commissioner's public order review. He said:
In 1981 the tenants' association"—
he was referring to the Broadwater Farm—
on the estate asked the police to open a police office to help combat the rising crime rate and to reduce the anxiety felt by many residents about their safety. This move was not altogether welcome by young black residents, and was seen by them as constituting an oppressive presence on the estate.
The implication in that quotation is immensely damaging. It implies that young blacks did not want something to be done about crime. The Broadwater Farm report, the Islington report, even the Police Studies Institute study, to some extent, the Merseyside report and a number of other reports all show that, regardless of age, sex or ethnic background, people have the same anxieties about crime. Young blacks on the Broadwater Farm estate were desperately anxious about crime and wanted something effective to be done about it. But that is not what was done.
The Commissioner ignores what is pointed out on page 204 of the Broadwater Farm report, where there is a reference to a parliamentary answer in the House of Lords. The question was about how many stops and searches were carried out in the Tottenham area in 1985. The answer was that
in the first three months there were 867 stops resulting in 175 arrests; and in the last nine months there were 413 searches followed by 51 arrests.
It must be noted that the answer refers to arrests, not to convictions. The Merseyside report, the PSI study and a number of other reports show that the clear-up rate in the case of stop and search and the search of people's homes is abysmally low. A number of my hon. Friends have emphasised that all that that does is to alienate many innocent people who want to go about their normal lives without interference. That is what is so profoundly wrong.
On page 24 of his report "A Police for the People" the Commissioner says that he is worried about the disaffection of young people. He is right to be worried. The trouble is that he does not go on to ask why they are disaffected. He goes on to say what he is trying to do about it. The tragedy is that what he is trying to do is inadequate. He lists football matches with youngsters, visits to schools, dances, visits to zoos and one or two other such items. Nowhere is there anything about the problem of racism in the police force, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred. Nowhere is there a comment on the effects of stop and search in the street when it is carried out inappropriately on the people of an area. That missing part is vital.
There is something sad about a report that is written in the language of American sociology and management jargon in the 1960s. I am not a sociologist, but I know that that period of sociology did more damage to the reputation of sociology than anything else. It was often tautological in its arguments. However, the language is used again in the report, which talks about "the system" as though human beings were not part of it. The trouble is that human beings are central to policing. The most important point that is not addressed is that about the relationship between police officers and the community. The Commissioner refers to that occasionally, but the depth of thought that he has given to it is not good enough.
The Home Secretary said that he wanted to improve the number of police on the streets. I do not disagree with him, but that is not enough in its own right. There are dozens of police on Broadwater Farm, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). That is not enough. The research done on Broadwater Farm shows that, again regardless of race, sex or age, there is the simple feeling that the police were not operating fairly and that young blacks were singled out for stop and search. It can be said that all those people are wrong and we should take no notice of them, and that all the surveys carried out are a load of nonsense that should be ignored. However, if we do not listen to the people, we are making trouble for ourselves in the inner cities. Both we and the police have a duty to listen to them, and that is one of the reasons why there should be a better system of accountability.
It is a matter not just of numbers in the street but of behaviour on the street. That is why training and experience are so important. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, the first thing that was cut as a result of training required under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was the policing skills which the Commissioner has said are so vital. These skills are social skills such as the ability to cope with people in difficult situations, as the police are often asked to do. That training was only reintroduced in 1985 when the pressure of the other training reduced. There is a desperate need to do much more on experience and training.
Again, that makes the case for effective accountability, because we are talking about priorities. Whichever survey one reads, it is pointed out that people, regardless of age, sex or ethnic origin, say that their main priorities for police action are burglary, street robbery, drunken driving, heroin and drugs, and sexual and racial assault. However, the priorites of individual police officers are often different. That is one of the problems. Police officers say that they know what the people in the area want, but they are wrong. They are not wicked, bad or incompetent, but they have made a misjudgment. That misjudgment gets them into difficulties. Curiously, it gets even more out of control without effective accountability.
On page 37 of his report, the Commissioner says that the lorry ban and the ban on parking on footpaths, both issues of considerable importance to the people of London, as has been made clear, are things to which he cannot give high priority, given the other problems facing him. At one level that is true, in the sense that the six priorities that I set out are important, but it is also clear that the bans would be given priority by those who had to answer to the public. The Metropolitan Commissioner of Police does not have to answer to them except through the Home Secretary in this inadequate debate.
Some 5,500 people are killed in England and Wales each year as a result of road traffic accidents. The figure for London is 500, although I am going on memory there. That is a matter which worries people and it is the sort of thing that we should be debating. We should be debating the priorities, but that is precisely what we cannot do effectively in a debate of this nature.
Finally, I should like to return to the matter of crime prevention. The Government have failed to recognise that they cannot cope with the rise in crime unless they do something to heal the fracturing of our communities, especially the communities in our inner cities and people involved in industrial disputes who are frightened about their jobs and their economic future.
Neighbourhood policing sometimes works well because the community is already functioning well and community policing adds to it. It can be a useful innovation where one is trying to build up a community, but it cannot work well and can only be at best a third or fourth alternative where the community is so fractured that people cannot be brought together in an effective way to prevent crime. People put on strong doors and strong locks and retreat and do not go out if they hear a noise or something frightening. The Government are not facing that and if they think that they can get round it by giving people occasional grants of £50 to enable them to fit stronger doors they are merely ducking their responsibility for the cutbacks that they have imposed on the inner cities.
The Minister has a lot of questions to answer. I should like to add one further question of considerable importance about accountability. Since the May election new police committees have been formed by a number of local authorities. If the relevant local senior police officer wants to participate and co-operate with those committees, and if he recognises that the police will not be held accountable because that is not what the law is about, will he be allowed to do so? Above all, will he be encourged to do so? There is a suggestion that senior police officers, even when they want to co-operate to improve relations between local authorities and police, will not be allowed to do so. Can the Minister give us a clear and categorical assurance that any senior police officer of the relevant rank will be able to participate in the way that I have suggested? That would be a small step on the road to a better system of accountability.
The debate has covered a wide range of issues. I appreciate that a number of hon. Members have not been able to deploy their arguments as long as they would have wished. Any hon. Member who wishes to come separately to raise with me issues that they were not able to raise in the debate is welcome to do so.
The issues raised by the report of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the policing of London are broad. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that he was worried about the ethnic attitudes of the police and ethnic requirement, and both those matters were picked up by other hon. Members. I say to those hon. Members who rightly raised these issues that the Metropolitan police are doing everything possible to increase the number of ethnic recruits without in any way reducing standards or trying to suggest that an ethnic recruit is somehow or other more special than any other recruit.
We are seeking to overcome the resistance of ethnic groups. No doubt that is based upon an unfortunate history, but we are trying to encourage them to join the police service. I beg hon. Members to recognise that they can help to try to improve the position. There are increasing signs that more people from the ethnic minorities are coming forward to try to join the Metropolitan police. Equally, there are many signs that they will not necessarily be able to stay, because pressures are sometimes placed upon them not to proceed. However, the commitment is there to do it.
The right hon. Gentleman made many references to Wapping and everything else that that entails. It is not possible to try to excise that problem from the rest of the duties of the Metropolitan police and to suggest that that is an excessive matter in the policing of London. The police must ensure that the streets of London are free for those who want to proceed upon their lawful way. There can be no question but that the incidents at Wapping, like incidents outside major football matches on Saturdays, must have Metropolitan police cover.
I shall not give way, as time is short. Although there is a major police commitment at Wapping, it was not of their choosing and the incidents there fully justify the police taking such precautions as they might. Moreover, the incidents have now spread well beyond Wapping. The News International warehouse in Deptford was destroyed by fire. On 19 June a TNT distribution depot in Kent was attacked by some 15 individuals. On 25 June another TNT depot in Luton was attacked and on 6 July a major attack was made on the TNT depot at Eastleigh in Hampshire involving about 300 individuals and damaging commercial and private vehicles, property and so on. That cannot but require the police to make substantial efforts to try to contain a massive incidence of criminal activity and public disorder.
Happily, that was not the only event that hon. Members have sought to raise. I must commend the substantial progress made on crime prevention within the Metropolitan police district. There are significant limitations on what can be achieved and I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that we cannot expect this to be a wand which will suddenly reduce crime figures. However, I trust that hon. Members will agree that it has a major effect upon anxieties about crime and a major direct contribution to make.
Let me deal now with consultative groups because that is where we must start to discuss accountability. Consultative groups were dealt with in section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and they have been a matter of great debate within London. There are still five boroughs within which no groups have been set up—Camden, Newham, Hackney, Southwark and a portion of the Welwyn and Hatfield borough for which the Metropolitan police district is responsible, but for which a consultative group is perhaps not appropriate.
Equally, there are boroughs where there is no council representation on the consultative group, such as Lambeth, Ealing, Brent and Haringey. The councils have decided not to participate. The answer to the question just posed by the hon. Member for Hammersmith is that, where statutory provision is made, and where there is a group which represents a much broader range of public opinion than the council can hope to do, it is essential that the council plays its full part in the consultative process. Not to do so is to undermine the purposes for which they were established.
I am glad to tell the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that at last there has been progress in Southwark. An agreement and a constitution have been arrived at. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the help that he gave and also to many others outside the House who have worked to achieve that. I understand that it is hoped that that group will be set up in September. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) talked about the problems of prostitution in Streatham. I recognise that in several places in London, including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminister, North (Mr. Wheeler), there have been real problems in relation to that aspect of crime. It is difficult to contain, but I shall see that the matter is drawn to the attention of the officers concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) asked about specials. Greater effort should be made in that regard, both within the police services outside the Metropolis, and, I hope, within. More police hours have been spent with specials in London than in the previous year — more than 419,500 man hours, compared to fewer than 300,000 man hours some five years ago. Here we have a big opportunity to involve people such as specials, and to recruit them. They may well come from the ethnic communites, and they could begin to assist in policing activities, such as the neighbourhood watch arrangements.
I turn to the points raised in connection with Tottenham and Haringey. I see that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) is in his place. I recognise that there have been tremendous problems, and reports have been deployed for public discussion. The report of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richards was placed before the consultative committee in Haringey—be it noted—and was publicly discussed. The Commissioner's complete report on public disorders and Lord Gifford's report have also been published. So I say to the hon. Members for Tottenham and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that I understand that Lord Gifford's report raises several important issues. One of them involves Haringey council's participation in the consultative group. Lord Gifford agrees with the council's claim that at present the group is insufficiently representative but said that its boycott is misguided. However, I shall invite Lord Gifford to see me to discuss the report, as I recognise that there are issues that we should discuss.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) raised several constituency points. I was particularly interested in his comments on the Barnsbury estate. I also recognise that many valuable lessons can be learnt from the work done by the study group that was set up in Islington. That work demonstrates a theme that ran through the speeches of several hon. Members which is that what people perceive to be the case about their communities should be important in discussing how they wish to be policed. I fully accept that. It was just that sort of contribution that worked so effectively in the Lambeth consultative group, and which enabled the return to normality following the riots in Brixton. There was a massive improvement in the relations between the police and the community, although Lambeth council seeks to undermine it at every opportunity. I accept that there are important lessons to be learnt from that.
When travelling up and down the country I often found that the problems on estates lessened as proper residents' or community associations set about reducing graffiti and vandalism, and increased the pride felt by those living there. On that basis, crime prevention techniques can surely work and improve the community.
In talking about crime prevention, we do not seek purely to provide adequate safeguards against the continued growth in burglary, vandalism and graffiti. We are trying to make the environment safer and to reduce the anxieties of local people. I think that all Members want that.
I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke strongly in support of the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the right of peremptory challenge, which will no doubt have a contribution to make in relation to the operation of our courts.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) made a thoughtful speech and stressed the problems caused by hostility and distrust. He also mentioned that speed of recovery from a situation is probably directly related to improved liaison between the police and the community. I think that he cited the case of Brixton in that regard. I also welcomed his comments about the professional handling of those who are brought into police stations for questioning. I believe that that will be accepted as the right way of going about such issues, although I recognise that the police service in turn has a major commitment in trying to achieve that in the relatively short time since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has been in force.
The debate has ranged widely, because the problems of policing in London are also wide-ranging. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, we have a large police district and by far the largest police force in the United Kingdom. Most criminal activity is centred on our capital city, especially in relation, for example, to heroin and security issues. London is unique in that regard.
The House must recognise the strains and stresses of operating in the Metropolitan police service. Examples have been quoted of inadequate policing, insensitive policing or policing which does not accord with the views of some hon. Members. Conditions cannot be improved, however, without a proper and logical basis on which dialogue with the police can take place.
It is absurd to believe—