Policing (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:22 pm on 16th July 1999.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 1:22 pm, 16th July 1999

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). I congratulate her on an excellent speech that drew together all the different strands that underpin effective policing and security on the streets of our city.

As many hon. Members have said, this has been a critical year for policing in London, shaped as it has been by the Macpherson report, which was, rightly, a profound challenge to the way in which we police the capital. I strongly associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow about the message that has to go out to London's police. It is absolutely right to say that the message is not that all police are racist. Many, if not most, of our police do a splendid job on the capital's streets, but we face a challenge in eradicating all traces of racism and prejudice in the city. That is what the Macpherson report asks us to do, and in partnership with the police, we must do it.

I also associate myself with the remarks of other hon. Members who have congratulated the police on rising to the challenge presented by the tragic nail bombings earlier this year. That situation showed our police at their best, and I know that the many communities involved want to express their heartfelt gratitude to the police for their response.

I warmly welcome the signs of a cultural change in the Met's approach to the policing of the diverse population of the capital, which predated, rather than followed, the Macpherson report. I see evidence of that change in the boroughs of Westminster and of Kensington and Chelsea in my constituency. I have been very impressed by the sincerity and commitment of the borough commanders, Steve Otter in Kensington and Bob Currie in Westminster, as they approach their task of effecting change at every level.

Confidence building will be a slow and painful process. There is profound scepticism among young people of all colours and all backgrounds. I have heard that said not only in the public meetings that were held and led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Grieve in the wake of the Macpherson report, but by every young person to whom I have spoken—in schools, youth clubs, and so on. Parents, particularly from black and minority ethnic communities, bring to my surgery profoundly tragic cases of the alienation of their young children who have been repeatedly picked up, stopped and searched by the police. I do not apologise for returning to the theme of stop and search; it goes to the heart of winning back the confidence of black and ethnic minority communities in the city.

The disparities between white and black and ethnic minority communities, of which we have heard so much, help to explain the crisis of confidence. Yes, stop and search is a vital tool in the fight against crime; it will and must continue. Yes, it plays a preventive role—unquantifiable but indisputable—over and above the number of arrests that arise from it. However, as has been pointed out succinctly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), the procedure is not well targeted.

As a consequence, a disproportionately high number of innocent black people, as opposed to innocent white people, are stopped and searched. That is not a good use of police resources. Last year 160,000 white people, 70,000 black people and 24,000 Asian people were stopped and searched but not arrested. That creates a reservoir of ill feeling, especially in black communities.

Stop and search is important not only because of the alienation that it engenders among black people but for two other reasons. It has a knock-on effect on the recruitment of black people particularly, and young people in general, to the police. We have heard of the Metropolitan police's recruitment difficulties, so the problem is significant. The policy also impedes the ability of the police to gain vital intelligence in their campaign to tackle crime in our inner-city communities, further impeding efficiency.

The pilot studies to which hon. Members have referred show that it is possible to bring about dramatic improvements in the targeting of stop and search, reducing the disparity between the black and the white community and increasing the arrest rate, which has risen in the pilot areas from 12 per cent. to 17 per cent. That is to be applauded; it shows what can be done. The issue is not whether stop and search should be used more or less; it is that it should be used intelligently and effectively.

We must be careful not to place all the responsibility for such disparities on the police. The Home Office study, "Ethnic monitoring in police forces: A beginning", clearly showed that many incidents of stop and search result from information given to the police by the public, which in itself is heavily skewed against black and minority ethnic communities. One of the vital pieces of information that we need from the pilot studies is whether the quality of information about black suspects is as good as that about white suspects. That seems fundamental.

I would imagine that when a white person is reported as acting suspiciously at or near the scene of a crime, information is taken about that person's characteristics other than skin colour, such as details of their clothing and hair, which gives the police more accurate information to go on. When a black person is so reported, skin colour is often deemed almost enough information. I hope that the pilot studies will reveal whether that is true, and if it is, that they will discover what can be done about it.

We know that recruitment is a serious issue for the police. One of the handicaps facing the Met is its single, citywide strategy for recruitment and training. We are, rightly, moving towards a more sophisticated approach to employment and careers advice—exemplified by the Government's adoption of the single work-focused gateway designed to provide highly tailored advice to jobseekers on their training opportunities—and our recruitment strategies must be more localised and flexible.

Colleges of further education have a great deal to offer as part of the process, by providing locally based training for people who do not initially feel confident enough to take up a training course at Hendon. I hope that preliminary and preparatory courses can be made available to young people. City of Westminster college is devoting serious thought to ways in which it can mesh in with the police's recruitment and training strategy, and I hope that Home Office Ministers will give that initiative positive support.

I echo other speakers when I say that fears about crime and security remain at or near the top of the list of my constituents' concerns. That is the case especially in large inner-city estates such as the Mozart estate, the Church Street estate and the Brunel estate. Many lives are blighted, not only by crime and the consequences of drug abuse, but by the fear of crime. Paddington police are to be congratulated on having brought about a 23 per cent. reduction in street crime in an area that has been plagued by it. That is marvellous, but perceptions take a long time to change, and unfortunately other crimes, especially crimes of violence, have increased significantly in the same period.

Pensioners are perhaps the most fearful, and often refuse to leave home after dark, but young people are the most at risk. In their early and mid-teens, when they should be enjoying their independence for the first time, many find that even the walk home from school is a time of fear, when they are at risk of being bullied, assaulted and having possessions stolen.

Understandably, members of the public love to see police officers, yet the police cannot be everywhere. Therefore we should welcome innovation and support for the policing role. In Paddington, the police have developed a new team of community safety constables to ensure that areas at risk are controlled more regularly. The local population have strongly welcomed that. The process that has resulted in the community safety plans has also been widely supported. Effective partnerships are being developed within the framework of the Paddington regeneration scheme, to complement and make best use of police resources. That is all excellent work, which has been pioneered by the Government as a result of the crime and disorder legislation.

Closed circuit television is another valuable tool in the armoury for the fight against crime. I greatly welcome the Budget announcement of the £150 million for CCTV schemes as a means of improving security. However, I return to one of the themes of my speech in last year's debate on policing in London. We must be careful to ensure that in inner-city boroughs, the needs of residential communities—such as the large estates and streets with high crime rates in my constituency—are not squeezed out by the need to attend to the pressures of the west end, where the number of crimes is much greater simply because of the daily influx of tourists and commuters. Understandably, residents sometimes feel that when they are bidding for resources for their communities, their chances are reduced because the money is hoovered up into Oxford street and the west end.

I understand that Westminster police and council are thinking of making a bid for money from the Government scheme to enable them to install CCTV in Soho. I do not wish to belittle the interests of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), but I must say that it is a great shame if the money for that CCTV scheme, however justified it may be in the cause of tackling crime, has to be drawn from the same pot as the resources for which we have to bid to tackle crime and improve security along the Harrow road and on the Mozart estate. I wonder whether we might examine the issues affecting places such as Camden, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea, where the existence of the west end and the increased daily population need special attention.

As the Minister is aware, during the past year I have made many representations on the subject of security arrangements at the Notting Hill carnival, and I am extremely grateful to her and to the Minister for London and Construction for their interest. I congratulate the main partners in the management of carnival—Clare Holder, the carnival trust, the local authority and the police—on the excellent job that has been done in recent years. Carnival has been transformed. An event plagued by crime a decade ago is now remarkable for its low level of criminal and anti-social behaviour—although residents do not always take that view when their front gardens and basements are turned into toilets for two days. None the less, there has been a transformation.

In terms of scale, carnival is the victim of its own success. That has raised real fears about crowd control. It is no criticism of the police or the carnival committee to say that the risks are real and growing, and that the level of stewarding is way below what it should be.

Each year the last-minute scramble for sponsorship limits the capacity of the carnival committee to recruit and train the number of stewards it needs to the standard required. It is not the job of the police to fill the stewarding gap. We are therefore left in a grey area of risk. The scale and importance of carnival as a Londonwide and national event demands proper investment in security. We already spend about £3 million a year on policing it.

I believe that we are reaching the time when we should remove the lottery element from the stewarding and route management of carnival, and devote a small proportion of resources to underwrite a proper programme of recruiting and training people to do the job. They would work with the police, and preferably be trained by the police, too. In partnership, they would help to minimise the risk. The present situation makes me gasp with relief every bank holiday Monday evening.