The Commissioner assures me that the settlement for the Metropolitan police for 1997–98 will enable him to increase officer strength to 27,400 during 1997.
In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker), the Minister provided figures on 18 February at columns 532–35 showing that the number of Metropolitan police constables has fallen across London since 1992. In the past year, the number of constables has decreased in the Forest Gate district which serves my constituency and in London as a whole. Did the Home Secretary see the article in The Daily Telegraph last month which reported that London's only local stolen vehicles squad is to be disbanded—even though it raises £500,000 per year—because of cuts? Why do the Government continually promise so much and then fail to deliver?
Let me put the hon. Gentleman right on the facts. Since the last election, more than 800 extra uniformed constables have been made available to Metropolitan police divisions for operational duties—an increase of 6 per cent. Furthermore, the proportion of time that divisional constables spend on patrol has increased significantly in recent years.
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be more interested in congratulating the Metropolitan police on their results in the London borough of Newham, where total notifiable offences have fallen by more than 10 per cent. in the past three years, recorded residential burglaries by more than 20 per cent., recorded sexual offences by nearly 70 per cent., and recorded violence against the person by more than 20 per cent.
Although I would always be one of the first London Members to encourage my right hon. and learned Friend to increase the number of police officers in London, surely the point is that there are 4,500 more police officers in London than there were under the last Labour Government, and spending on the Metropolitan police, taking account of inflation, has gone up by nearly 90 per cent.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The strength of the Metropolitan police is more than 20 per cent. Greater—one fifth as much again—than when we took office. That is the background against which questions such as that asked by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) need to be considered.
May I preface my remarks by asking the Home Secretary to join me in sending condolences to all at Walworth police station? Two of its officers and the son of a third officer were drowned in the Solent last night. Only one officer survived. The whole of the force serving my constituency and much of south-east London will be devastated by the loss of people from three families. As we all value police officers so much, when will the number of officers in London be restored to that of five years ago?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in extending my most sincere condolences to the families of the officers who lost their lives last night and to all those who worked with them, who will have been deeply affected by that loss.
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East. More than 800 extra uniformed constables have been made available to Metropolitan police divisions for operational duties since the election—an increase of 6 per cent. The Commissioner assures me that the settlement for 1997–98 will enable him to increase officer strength to 27,400 during 1997.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the pressures on the Metropolitan Commissioner to deploy more officers to central and south-east London to deal with crime—particularly terrorism—need to be widely recognised and understood? Does he accept that that creates concern in some areas of outer London, from which police officers have had to be redeployed? What additional funds is he making available to the Metropolitan police to deal with the particular problems that they face in policing our capital city?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The demands that the Commissioner has to meet are many and various. The way in which he deploys his resources to deal with those demands is, of course, an operational matter for him.
For the coming financial year, 1997–98, the Metropolitan police will receive an extra £55 million—a 3.4 per cent. increase on the 1996–97 allocation. That is a very good settlement.
The Home Secretary should stop deliberately confusing the terms "constable" and "police officer". The Prime Minister promised additional police officers. The Home Secretary cannot claim credit for the police settlement, when the total Government contribution to the Metropolitan police is increasing by only 1.7 per cent., and, according to his figures, he is putting an additional 16 per cent. burden on local council tax payers.
Is it not a sign of the Home Secretary's failed stewardship that, as I learned today, the March intake of recruits to be trained as constables in the Metropolitan police has been cancelled to save money? Those 75 constables will not go on to the streets of London. Is he aware of that cancellation? Does he blame himself or the Prime Minister for the broken promise of extra police?
The hon. Gentleman's question is utterly astonishing. As recently as 29 January, he told the House:
The amount of money available
under a Labour Government
will certainly not change."—[Official Report, 29 January 1997; Vol. 289, c. 472.]
The Labour party says that if it were ever to get into government, it would not provide any more money. Will it put an end to the hypocrisy of Labour Front Benchers popping up day after day in the House asking for more to be spent on everything?
Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that, notwithstanding the fact that we have spent more money on the police force in the capital, the process of civilianisation has managed to put more policemen on the beat in proportion to the number of officers who are brought into the service? Perhaps he would like to correct the nonsense.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since 1979, we have not only increased the number of police officers by 20 per cent., but have improved the quality of the policing of the Metropolis by increasing substantially the number of civilians who do jobs that previously the police had to do, thus freeing police officers for operational duties on the streets.