The fear of crime and the reality of crime are potent forces in my constituency, as undoubtedly they are throughout London. In the 13 years that I have been in the House—mainly, of course, under the previous Government's tenure—I have seen a rise in crime, a rise in the fear of crime and a loss of confidence in the police and, because one third of my constituents are from ethnic minorities, the latter has been especially important.
Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we have seen dramatic improvements. Much remains to be done, and none of us can be complacent about the terrible levels of crime that we still experience. None the less, there is a new mood in the community and a new sense that we are going in the right direction.
In the past, I felt that the police often had no idea how to develop a strategy for preventing and tackling crime, and that every crime was dealt with piecemeal. My constituency contains a block of flats primarily occupied by pensioners and I repeatedly had constituency cases from there. Eventually, the tenants association met me to discuss the problems that pensioners had with crime in that block. I was amazed to find that some individuals had been burgled as many as seven times. However, when I talked to the local police, they had no idea that they were dealing with such a huge number of crimes in one specific location. In truth, there was a complete lack of intelligence-led policing. The police recorded the figures manually and sent them to headquarters, but they did not examine them locally and nothing came back that would enable them to develop a proper strategy for preventing further crimes.
It is clear that great change has been required in the policing of London. It is our Government who have begun the process of new partnerships and innovation which is making the new strategy much more effective. I pay tribute to my borough commander, Mike Humphrey, who has embraced the new philosophy—which has been led by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—and has made effective partnerships with the local authority, the London borough of Lewisham, and with other key players in the communities. He has done so against a background of some difficulties—which other hon. Members have mentioned—not least, in our case, the lack of decent working accommodation for our police service and the critical need for a new police station to be built in Lewisham.
Staffing problems have also dogged the borough commander throughout the year. At one point, the police were 50 officers short, which is an unacceptable situation. I am glad to say that the shortfall has now been reduced, and I am confident that the problem is being addressed. However, as other hon. Members have said, numbers matter and we have to ensure sufficient resources for policing this capital city.
Despite the problems, the borough commander considers that the service has had a successful year, and I wish to record the fact that Lewisham is near the top of the Metropolitan police league table for the clear-up rate for robbery, burglary and vehicle crime. However, in two of my wards—Pepys and Drake—burglary is still more than twice the national average rate. That is why I am delighted that under round 2 of the reducing burglary initiative, we have been granted £143,800 for a project that will fund not only new security for homes, but the installation work, which has not been the case in previous projects. It is the most vulnerable and needy residents who are so frequently the targets and victims of burglars, and that project will be directed at their needs.
Last year in this debate, I referred to what was then the experimental ringmaster scheme. It is essentially a giant telephone tree which draws together people in localities so that the police can share with them information about matters such as a spate of a certain crime or an appeal for witnesses to a particular crime. In the beginning, we had 4,000 participants in that scheme, but today we have 22,000—a remarkable achievement. It has even drawn in some subscribers—and their families—who have been arrested and convicted of crimes in the past. It is an enormous and worthwhile initiative, with promising early results.
I also praised last year the work of undercover officers in policing Millwall football matches, which I know are regularly attended by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), as well as myself. Those undercover officers are doing an intelligent and effective job, and I can report that 15 arrests have been made for racism and that 14 people have already been convicted. That is crucial to building confidence in my community.
Overall, the most disappointing aspect of crime in the area, as in the rest of London, is the rise in street crime. However, the local police are considering how to tackle it in a more effective and intelligent way. They have analysed the crime patterns and found that a large percentage of the crimes are gang-related, and occur within a narrow geographical corridor which reflects the bus routes. Some 75 per cent. of the robberies lie along five bus routes. That information has led to the formation of a new partnership between the police, London Transport Buses and our local CCTV team. Lewisham racial equality council, school heads and an independent advisory panel have been consulted about how best to tackle the problem. Some 40 officers are being used in a high-visibility operation on a daily basis, and the early results are promising.
That scheme has led to a determination to achieve a new partnership between London Transport Buses and the police authority against fare dodgers and criminals which will lead, we hope, to the installation of CCTV on selected buses in the autumn. That will have the benefit of catching those criminals perpetrating street crimes and riding on the buses to get away from the scene of the crime, and it will also help with the anti-social elements among schoolchildren, who have become a real nuisance on buses in the mornings and afternoons, especially to elderly passengers.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the issue of stop and search. For many years, the use of stop and search powers in my constituency led to much suspicion and anger among the black community, which had a huge sense of unfairness—much of it justified. After the Macpherson report, the situation has been uncertain and Lewisham police have been sensitive to that, as well as to the rise in street crime that we have all recorded. In response, the police have piloted a fairness health check, which examines fairness and proportionality across a range of police functions, including stop and search. All the police and the civil staff have received training in the investigation of racial incidents, in stop and search, and in race relations.
Those internal changes would not be enough if the new procedures could not be shared with the local community. The Lewisham community consultative group set up with the police a sub-group to examine what was happening because of the changes in stop and search and the new training. The group has worked effectively with the police and built new confidence in doing so, both within the group and in the police procedures. The group has concluded, as all hon. Members have done, that stop-and-search powers are important for the prevention and detection of crime.
The group has several recommendations to make. It believes that the Macpherson report recommendation on recording voluntary stops needs to be clearer. It believes that proper recording is necessary for vehicle stops, which are very contentious, and that ethnic data recording in relation to those stops is essential. The group also suggests the production of a booklet, which lays out the powers of the police and the rights of citizens and the appropriate behaviour for both parties, and which would be available to the community at large and not just to young people. I know that such a scheme has been piloted elsewhere in London. That information should also be part of citizenship teaching in schools, and police action should be underpinned by better communications with the community. Attempts to build more trust will be assisted by transparency, especially about the data collected.
I can report, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), that there has been a drop in stop and search. At the same time, the proportion of arrests has increased, which means that we have better targeting and more sensitive policing.
I note that racially motivated crimes and racial incidents in my borough, as in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, have risen. In my borough, they have risen from 411 in 1998–99 to 794 in 1999–2000. Once more, we are uncertain whether that is a genuine rise or, as the police believe, the result of increased confidence, leading to more people coming forward and better detection. The clear-up rate has gone up from 18 per cent. to 26 per cent. which, again, can only increase confidence.
I want to pay a brief tribute to three police officers who have contributed substantially to the black community's growing confidence. Detective Chief Inspector Peter Newman and Detective Constables Graham Aylett and Peter Burns have undertaken day-to-day work in the new investigation into the New Cross fire, which caused the deaths of 14 young black people in my constituency 19 years ago. Assistant Commissioner John Grieve is overseeing the investigation and I would remind him, as I would my hon. Friend the Minister, that we are now in the third year of the re-opened investigation. The families and survivors are desperate for the matter to be concluded. Excellent work has been done, but it must be brought to a conclusion, especially as many of the victims' parents are now quite elderly.
In conclusion, I want to join the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North in addressing the housing dilemma. There can be no doubt that this is an issue that affects not only the recruitment of police officers in London, but retention. People would like to become home owners and settle with their families close to where they work. As the Evening Standard revealed this week, the average house price in London has reached £185,000, which is an impossibility on the modest salaries of many of our public service workers. I therefore make an additional plea for more attention to be given to the problem and for new solutions to be found for affordable housing in the rented sector. The private sector, of course, will always depend on market value. We must acknowledge what is happening in London and address the need for decent, affordable family accommodation.
I believe, as others do, that we are now facing an important new development in London with the creation of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Having campaigned for such an authority throughout my political life in London, I, too, welcome its existence and the fact that it is democratically controlled; a major partnership now exists between the Government, the new authority, Members of Parliament and all our communities. We are in a new era in which partnership, innovation and intelligence-led policing will meet the needs of our communities, if we all continue to put our energies behind it.