– in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 21st April 2004.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 3:58 pm, 21st April 2004

We now come to the second debate on the Opposition motions. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London) 4:14 pm, 21st April 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
takes pride in London's heritage and status as a leading global capital city;
notes that its outstanding success over many centuries has depended upon its rich mix of people, innovation and energy;
further notes that it is an international leader in financial services, the arts, media, higher education, medicine and scientific research and tourism;
regrets that this enviable competitive advantage is now threatened by the diminution in the quality of life of Londoners and those who come to work in the capital;
recognises that insecurity brought about by the threat of terrorist action and rising levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, failing public services, overcrowded and unreliable transport, alongside an ever increasing tax burden on all Londoners, will undermine the capital's global reputation as a great place to live and do business;
and calls upon the Government and its Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone, to address the needs of the people of London and improve the quality and choice of services in the capital.

London is a global city. Its outstanding success is based on its unique diversity, that rich mix of people, innovation and energy that has served our capital so well over the 2,000 years since its foundation. But today, for the first time in countless generations, there is a clear sense that Londoners' quality of life is not improving and that public services are deteriorating. London's historic position at the centre of the UK's political, commercial and cultural life makes it unusually important, even among leading world cities. Truly, if London fails, the UK fails. When London's economy, culture or entrepreneurial spirit suffers, so, too, does Britain's as a whole.

However, the continued success of London cannot be taken for granted. Although it faces infrastructure challenges similar to those it faced in the past, those were overcome at various stages throughout its long history. Today's global terrorist threat challenges urban policy makers throughout our nation, as well as across the world. Looking ahead, the Government need to understand the importance of London asserting its commercial competitive advantage not only among its traditional rivals in western Europe or north America, but increasingly in the face of competition from China and India, the two emerging economic powerhouses of the 21st century.

National politicians, local community leaders and businesses must recognise and embrace the diversity, vitality and energy of our capital. London needs more vision and commercial acumen than has been apparent in recent years. An increasing sense of powerlessness and insecurity is felt by many who live in London, together with a desire for the reassertion of a stronger sense of civic awareness. For although the economy has generally thrived, the overall quality of life for Londoners over the past seven years has not improved. I trust that some of these sentiments will be shared throughout the House. By moving the motion today, the official Opposition call upon the Government and their mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone to address more fully the needs of London's residents, commuters and tourists alike.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

My hon. Friend mentioned commuters, and as he knows, my constituency consists largely of commuters. He may also be aware that yesterday the Minister of State, Department for Transport referred to the work being planned for London Bridge and the bottleneck of trains there. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Strategic Rail Authority is threatening to reduce the number of peak hour trains on one line, the Hayes line through Beckenham, by one third, and to dump my commuters at Cannon Street rather than at Charing Cross? What support does my hon. Friend believe my commuters need, and what do the Government need to do to ensure that commuters from Beckenham are able to add to the commercial success of London?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I am only saddened that my hon. Friend thinks her commuters are being dumped from one part of my constituency, Cannon Street, to another, Charing Cross. There are no dumps in the Cities of London and Westminster. However, my hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I am sure will appear in the "Beckenham Evening Advertiser" and various other local papers in the next week or two.

Today I want to highlight the failings of the Government and London's Mayor in four main areas: crime and disorder, dealing with the threat of terrorist action, transport, and the burden of taxation on London's businesses and residents. Crime and antisocial behaviour are undoubtedly the most critical issues that face London. In every part of the capital it has been confirmed in every survey without exception that too many people, regardless of their background, age or income, do not feel safe on the capital's streets.

That sense of insecurity is justified by much of the evidence. Crime has continued to increase in the four years since Mayor Livingstone's election. One is more likely to be mugged in London than in New York—19 of London's 32 Metropolitan police boroughs are more dangerous than the notorious Bronx district of New York.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Sir John Stevens has written a note to all mayoral candidates warning them not to misrepresent statistics on crime in London? He highlighted the fact that London is one of the safest regions in the country, according to the latest British crime survey. Is not the hon. Gentleman committing the same crime as his party's mayoral candidate did in the Evening Standard and misrepresenting crime figures in London?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

Misrepresentation is a two-way street in this case. One of the statistics in the so-called confidential survey—I understand that it has been leaked to The Guardian today and was not due to be published until next week—makes it plain that when figures for murder and rape are aggregated with those for other assaults in the violent crime category, the picture looks quite good. However, the number of murders and rapes—the more serious violent crimes—has indeed risen over the past four years. Misrepresentation is very much a two-way street.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The hon. Gentleman is again guilty of misrepresentation. In the Evening Standard, the Conservative mayoral candidate has suggested that crime rates in London are similar to those in New York. The hon. Gentleman referred to murder rates. There are about 1,000 murders a year in New York, but the annual figure has consistently remained at about 200 in London, so the comparison is not consistent.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

Let me make it absolutely clear: overall crime rates in London and New York are not comparable, as they are now far worse in London than in New York, mainly as a result of some of the policies about which I shall speak in some detail later.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I should like to confirm the point made by Clive Efford. The Metropolitan police are concerned that the Conservative colleague of Mr. Field is not giving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the London crime figures. Representing things as worse than they are and suggesting that crime generally across London is increasing not only fails to represent the accurate position, but adds to fear of crime, which for many people is just as serious as crime itself.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

The people of London will have their say on this matter in the next few weeks. Whether or not we have more police on the streets, the message from Londoners is absolutely clear: on crime, Labour has let us down.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I am grateful to my neighbour for giving way.

Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to look at the civic newspaper of our shared borough, the Conservative-controlled borough of Westminster, which said in March:

"Efforts are having a positive impact and we are pleased to report that recently released crime statistics show a significant reduction in a number of categories of crime"?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

As I said, we will see what people have to say over the next seven weeks, during the course of the campaign.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

No; I must make some progress.

There has to be another way. The Conservative mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, returned yesterday from a four-day trip to New York, where he met Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York city, who has long observed that it is not headline-grabbing crime rates alone that induce the sense of insecurity to which I have referred. Ironically, it is the physical evidence of antisocial behaviour—the sight of graffiti, vandalism and yobbishness on our streets—that has a much greater influence on quality of life for people in the capital. Indeed, antisocial behaviour is now judged to be worse in London than in any other city in the UK.

Paradoxically, the amount spent on policing has never been greater. I accept that, and I also appreciate that we now have some 30,000 uniformed police officers and community support officers here in the capital—the highest number ever. While the costs of policing have escalated to almost £3 billion a year, however, there has been no corresponding reduction in the fear of becoming a victim of crime here in the capital. Detection rates have also fallen to below 15 per cent., after a sustained fall since six years ago, when detection stood at roughly one quarter.

Many of Steve Norris's ideas and recommendations challenge contemporary assumptions about the nature of policing in the UK, and we as Conservatives promise Londoners that under a Tory Mayor, starting on 11 June, there will be a fundamental change in the management and organisation of the police here in the capital.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

On that very theme, I hope that my hon. Friend can also reassure those in the outer London boroughs such as Bromley that full attention will be paid to their concerns. Although the overall number of police officers in the metropolitan area may well have increased—we must all welcome that—in my borough of Bromley, the number of police officers is still fewer than in 1997. I therefore hope that we will get a pledge from our mayoral candidate, and indeed from my hon. Friend, that under a Conservative administration and Mayor, the outer London boroughs would receive full and proper attention.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The threat of terrorism has increased in my central London constituency, and the number of uniformed police officers has inevitably increased, in my patch above all, since 11 September 2001. The price has had to be paid in the suburbs, which are represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the Conservative mayoral candidate will emphasise that point.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

Although terrorist targets are in the centre of London, terrorist suspects are being picked up in the suburbs.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I entirely accept that point. My hon. Friend represents part of Heathrow airport, although I understand that most terrorist suspects are moved across to Paddington Green police station before too long.

One arm of the Government is often blissfully unaware what the other arm is doing. For example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport saw the Licensing Act 2003 as encouraging all-night activity on our city streets. The widespread deregulation of pubs and other licensed premises was supposed to herald a 24-hour city culture, yet at the same time the Home Office has made much of its eye-catching initiatives, which are, in the main, failures, to clamp down on antisocial behaviour. Do the Government recognise that drunken loutishness and disturbance has skyrocketed as a result of their failure to provide effective policing on the streets in the early hours, along with round the clock public transport to ferry all-night drinkers back to their homes? Many London residents have had their lives turned into hell, not only in the west end in my constituency but in places such as Croydon, Ealing and Romford, and they recognise that Labour has let them down.

From the fate that befell Spain last month, it is clear that the threat of global terrorism is serious and imminent, and nowhere more so than here in the capital. However, the Government strategy appears to be to wait for what they regard as an "inevitable attack" and then—and only then—to act. That cannot be the right way forward. The public have been told almost nothing about the nature of the terrorist threat. There has been virtually no formal training, and the emergency services here in London would be stretched in trying to deal with the aftermath of a major incident.

The Home Secretary has spent much of the past two and a half years introducing an array of new laws to the statute book, undermining many of this country's traditional freedoms. At the same time, he has by his own admission lost control of the immigration system to the extent that tens of thousands of people find their way illegally into this country every year and simply go underground, out of sight of the security services.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the Government have adopted a wait and see policy on the terrorist threat, when exercises have been conducted and money has been spent? The efforts of the Mayor, Ministers and the Metropolitan police cannot be described as a "wait and see policy". That is an insult to dedicated professionals.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

It is not an insult. The single exercise was delayed by some six months, and training has been insufficient. Meanwhile, most people take the view, which was recently expressed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, that an attack is inevitable.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am bemused, because at a recent meeting Sir John Stevens said that one in 10 London police officers are now engaged in some form of anti-terrorism work, and we also have 200 extra firefighters specifically for that purpose. Are those not proper preparations?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that it is a question of educating the public. Perhaps 3,000 police are engaged in anti-terrorist activity, but we must educate the public at large, including tourists and people who work in London. In that regard, the policy has been little more than wait and see, and the Government have failed.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Today's Metro London reports an alleged threat to Heathrow airport, and Mr. Randall and I have attended all-party meetings with the Minister to discuss security at Heathrow. We came away reassured about the intensity of the co-operation between Government, Mayor, Metropolitan police and BAA about security arrangements at Heathrow. Indeed, a number of exercises and reports have identified individual problems that have been addressed, even to the point of putting tanks around Heathrow on that occasion. We engage in knockabout when we speak, but it is important to reassure people that Heathrow airport is the safest in the world.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I appreciate that. Equally, however, there is a distinction between reassurance and complacency, and we must not be complacent about the fact that it may be at risk.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

No, I must make some progress.

At the same time as the Home Secretary has lost control of the immigration system, we have pressed the Government to build up a proper civil contingency reaction force here in London. Although London is the prime UK terrorist target, it is massively short of such a capability and heavily reliant on Territorial Army reservists. And where is the main London TA regiment today? Many of those brave reservists find themselves on duty in Iraq, doing incredibly worthwhile work in Basra—probably during the past 24 hours, given the horrendous events that have taken place. Nevertheless, they leave an enormous gap in London's protective cover.

The Government need to instil confidence in those who live, work and travel to London and more—much more—needs to be done to keep the terrible threat posed by those tenacious terrorists at bay.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

No, I must make some progress, if the hon. Lady will excuse me.

All too often, the Government talk big about their resolve in the face of terrorism, but pass the responsibility to local authorities without adequate financial resource for contingency, resilience and emergency planning.

Labour has let Londoners down on public transport, which has become ever more overcrowded and unreliable than in May 1997, when the newly elected Government launched with a great fanfare their now defunct 10-year transport strategy. Their continued refusal to fund Crossrail is not simply a London but a national disgrace.

On the whole, then, the Government's has been rather a dismal performance; but Mayor Livingstone, the Labour party's candidate this June, has an even more threadbare record. In his four years as Mayor, he has wasted millions of pounds of Londoners' money on suing the Government in a futile attempt to block the public-private partnership on the London underground. That has resulted in his first term being characterised by the continued rapid deterioration in the capital's tube without any strategy for future investment. At the same time, he has struck a Faustian bargain with Bob Crow and the extremist RMT trade union, which has sought, through repeated industrial action on the tube—I fear that Londoners will see more of that in the hot summer months ahead—to hold London's businesses, commuters and residents to ransom.

There is a widely held myth that the Mayor has been responsible for a fabulously successful transport policy. It is certainly the case that the congestion charge in central London, which was introduced in February 2003, did not lead to the riots on the streets that many might have predicted. However, it is costing immeasurably more to administer than it is bringing in in revenue. Initial projections suggested that Livingstone's tax on London's car owners would raise some £200 million in annual revenues, which Londoners were assured would be invested in improvements to the transport infrastructure in the capital. Instead, in its first full year of operation, the congestion charge has barely broken even, while serious doubts are emerging as to the efficiency with which fines for those who flout the charge are being enforced.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I agree with aspects of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about congestion charging, but his own borough of Westminster has not been very pro-car either. Its parking enforcements have been badly handled—so much so that even I had my Mini carried away the other night. It was taken by the rudest possible people, who, when I tried to reason with them because they were towing me away illegally, behaved in a manner that was very unworthy of Westminster council, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to agree.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I am tempted to emulate my party leader and turn to song. Certainly, I used to like the Beach Boys until earlier this afternoon. Traffic enforcement is not in the hands of Westminster council alone—some of it is hived off. The phrase, "God Only Knows" comes to mind.

In short, the congestion charge is probably unique as the only tax in history that will actually lose money. As for its effect on retail business within the zone, even the Mayor's office will not dispute that it is proving extremely arduous, especially on many small family-run businesses—not, I hasten to add, that it has any great fans among retailers in Oxford street or the Strand. Meanwhile, the Mayor's obsession with subsidising the buses is becoming a financial nightmare, which will cost Londoners dear in further sharply increased council tax bills in the next five years.

Let us consider the cost of Livingstone.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

No, I want to make some progress.

Before the Government try to wash their hands of responsibility for the actions of their preferred mayoral candidate, Londoners should be reminded that the additional layer of London government bureaucracy is a consequence of Labour's election in 1997.

In Ken Livingstone's first full term as Mayor, the Greater London authority precept has risen by an inflation-busting 96 per cent. from £123 for each band D taxpayer in 2000 to the current £241 per annum. What has he done with all the money? It is true that some has gone towards bolstering police numbers in London but no less than £1.5 million a year goes on employing some 19 press officers at City hall. We all thought that the Prime Minister was spin obsessed, but the Mayor spends even more on his propaganda machine. That is before we count the £3.8 million cost of Livingstone's newspaper The Londoner, which tells the few London residents who bother to read it what a wonderful job Comrade Ken does on their behalf.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The hon. Gentleman complains about the rises in the precept and says that a small amount has been spent on policing. However, 79 per cent. of the precept increase has been spent on policing London. There are big adverts on behalf of Mr. Jarvis—sorry, Mr. Norris—the Tory candidate for Mayor. How will he fund his proposals for policing without that sort of expenditure on it?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

He has made it clear that it is not simply a question of police numbers but managing and organising the police. That shows the main difference between the two main parties on policing. We shall hear far more about that in the next few weeks of the campaign.

The Mayor has also committed Londoners to paying an additional £20 a year over 12 years to fund the Olympics should the United Kingdom bid be successful. However, as if the cost of providing the Government with a blank cheque for any financial overrun on the Olympics was not bad enough, the biggest black hole appears in the transport account.

According to the Mayor's figures, there is a funding gap of £1 billion a year from the next financial year onwards between what he wants to spend on buses and the aggregated predicted Government grant and all other income sources. The message to Londoners should be clear: more Ken after 10 June will mean more tax from the Prime Minister's hand-picked candidate for Mayor of London.

There are only two reasons for the Government's readmittance of such an inappropriate mayoral candidate to the Labour party. Neither has anything to do with his abilities as London's political figurehead. First, if Ken Livingstone had run as an independent, the official Labour candidate would have been humiliated by coming at best fourth in the mayoral race. Secondly, the split in the Labour vote that his running as an independent would cause was likely to damage many of Labour's Greater London authority candidates, with potentially damaging consequences for Labour in the capital in the next general election.

Surely the Government's failure to grasp the nettle of policy making in the capital cannot be summed up better than by their cynical readmittance of Ken Livingstone to Labour's ranks. From his vulgar criticism of the United States President, the Saudi royal family and the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel, the Mayor's penchant for grandstanding to extremist opinion does great damage to London's reputation. Although he is often portrayed as a cheeky chappie and an anti-establishment figure, Livingstone is surely not the right voice for London.

The mayoralty is an important public role, which is key to promoting London tourism and business throughout the globe. It also involves a budgetary responsibility of some £7.5 billion a year. Londoners deserve better than someone who, in his demeanour and outbursts, often appears better suited to student union politics. Perhaps that would matter little if the Government did not pass directly to him millions of pounds of annual grant, through the London Development Agency, earmarked for promoting tourism and business in places such as the United States and the middle east. Once more, the Labour Government are letting Londoners down.

I appreciate that many other hon. Members want to contribute to this important debate, but I wish to conclude with a few thoughts about the way in which we might improve our quality of life in our city. The rapid pace of change in life in London will only increase in the years ahead and that will doubtless leave many fearful about the effects of globalisation. I represent a most central inner-London seat—I appreciate that it always raises a wry smile from Labour Members when I refer to my inner-city credentials. However, although Mayfair and Knightsbridge may not be typical inner-city areas, parts of Bayswater, Pimlico and Victoria most certainly are. I find that the desire for security and a sense of urban identity and belonging is even stronger among the residents in my most built-up urban communities. Twenty or so residents' associations and amenity societies thrive in my constituency alone, and I have observed, especially in the last couple of years, how the membership and activity of those bodies has increased. They recognise the importance of preserving historic buildings and of good aesthetic design to their sense of security and well-being.

In dealing with inner-city affairs, the voices of reaction—especially, it has to be said, in my own Conservative party—often hark back to a golden age. I believe, however, that all of us in London who have a passion for our city need to be practical. The real issue is not "Globalisation, yes or no?" but how we can develop, reform and reinvigorate our urban institutions to secure the enduring values of our traditions. In London, we need to resist the temptation to reverse the tide and simply recall how much better life might have been in the past. Instead, we must be optimistic and energetic about life in cities, and adapt to the often exciting, modern globalised world in which we now live.

One of my own local authorities, Westminster city council, has played a leading role in its civic renewal initiative in developing partnerships between residents, police and Government agencies in improving the quality of life of those who live and do business in central London. Its key insight has been to break down the perhaps false dichotomy that has existed in urban policy making between the top-down versus bottom-up analysis of civic participation. It is only right to recognise that, in several of these localised initiatives here in Westminster, the Government have played an important part in providing both financial resource and legislation for projects such as the business improvement districts, which are already making a significant impact in revitalising the west end as a retail centre.

However, many people in London feel a vague yet uncomfortable state of disconnectedness from the political process. The issues of civic renewal and the restoring and revitalising of community institutions to facilitate a renewed public engagement in our capital go beyond the realms of this debate, but I hope that London Members here will play a part in developing an agenda to improve the quality of living in the capital. I certainly plan to do so.

I love cities, especially my own. Like so many young adults, I chose to come to London, and now consider myself to be one of her sons. The challenge ahead is to make London liveable for its residents and sustainable as a leading global commercial centre. I call on the Minister to assure me that this Government share the vision of what London can and should be. I also ask him to put pressure on his colleagues, in particular the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London, to set their sights on improving the quality of life here. Londoners feel let down by this Government, and London deserves better.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 4:42 pm, 21st April 2004

I beg to move, To leave out from "tourism" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"welcomes the Government's commitment to London's continuing economic, social and cultural success, and to enhancing its status as a world class city;
applauds London's high levels of productivity and success in attracting inward investment that benefits the whole of the UK;
recognises that this success is backed by record levels of funding from this Government for education, health, the arts, culture, creative industries, crime prevention, transport and other key public services that have resulted in substantially higher employment, substantially lower unemployment, record police numbers including more community support officers and police on the beat, massive increases in bus services and people using them, with an extra 100 million bus trips and an extra 180 million tube journeys taken a year;
applauds the leadership of the Mayor of London, working in partnership with the Government in the key areas of transport, planning, economic development and policing;
praises the work of the police and security services in remaining vigilant to keep the capital safe;
and condemns outright Opposition attempts to talk down and undermine the continued success of our great capital city."

I congratulate Mr. Field on what I believe is his maiden appearance at the Dispatch Box. Personally, I thought that he carried it off rather well. His speech was a minor triumph of style over content. I must remind him that he was speaking to a motion and that words are generally supposed to have meaning. The words of this motion are a farrago of nonsense. They talk down our great city, sell London short and deliberately fail to recognise the huge progress made in London in recent years as a result of the excellent work and co-operation between this Labour Government and our Labour Mayor and Labour Assembly Members. That is why I have to advise my hon. Friends to vote against the motion.

Let us look at the motion in more detail. It claims that London's "enviable competitive advantage" is now under threat. What world are the Tories living in? London is a great world city with world-class cultural and sporting resources, world-class universities and a business community that is a key engine of national economic growth. London is renowned for innovation, entrepreneurship, style and dynamism. More than 300 languages are spoken here, reflecting the wonderful diversity and strength of our population. London has more than 200 theatres, 125 dance companies and 395 public libraries. That incredible social and cultural diversity draws skilled workers from all over the world.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Of course I will give way to my hon. Friend, but I must warn hon. Members that, if they will forgive me, I do not intend to take many interventions. In these short debates, it is important that as many Members as possible have the opportunity to speak. I personally aim to speak for not more than 20 minutes.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend says about the diverse nature of our city. Can he comment on the views expressed in our local newspapers by Councillor Brian Coleman, a GLA Member for Barnet and Camden, about Middlesex university? He described it with a four-letter word beginning with c because it accepted so many foreign students.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

To be honest, I was not aware of that. I am pleased that I was not aware of such a nauseating comment and wholeheartedly condemn those sentiments, in which I am sure that all decent Members join me.

London's huge economic dynamism means that inner London is by far the richest region of the European Union, with a GDP per head of 260 per cent. of the European Union average. Ten years ago, under the Tories, the per capita GDP of London was less than £12,000. Now, under Labour, it is more than £19,000. In 1992, under the Tories, unemployment in London stood at more than 780,000. Now, under Labour, it is down to 450,000. Since Labour came to power in 1997, unemployment has fallen by more than 40 per cent.

Contrary to Tory claims, London provides a highly competitive environment that encourages innovation and experiment. Its productivity levels are 25 per cent. higher than the national average and closer to American levels than to UK or average European Union levels. London acts as the main gateway for international investment. It is one of the world's top three financial centres, alongside New York and Tokyo, and is by far the largest in Europe. It accounts for 31 per cent. of global foreign exchange turnover, and 48 per cent. of world turnover in foreign equities trading. London's attractiveness to foreign firms is demonstrated by the fact that it has 447 foreign banks—more than any other city in the world.

The motion refers to an "ever increasing tax burden". What on earth can the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster mean? There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that London is taxed more heavily than anywhere else in the UK. It is perfectly true that it is enormously prosperous and successful and that its success contributes to the prosperity of the UK as a whole. As a result of that success, it is, of course, a net contributor to the Exchequer, together with the wider south-east, with the amount estimated at between £7 billion and £17 billion each year. That is an interesting fact to which many of my London colleagues, including Ken Livingstone—and, indeed, myself—have been known to draw attention from time to time. That net contribution is a consequence of our progressive taxation system, in which the wealthy contribute proportionately more than the poor. We make no apology for that: we are the party of the many, not the few. To set the record straight, I ought to point out that, because of London's needs, public spending in London is among the highest of all UK regions, at 1.2 times the UK average and, in transport, it is 2.75 times the UK average.

In his motion, the hon. Gentleman draws attention to the shortcomings of London's transport system and it would be a foolish politician who sought to deny the stresses and strains of a public transport system that has suffered decades of under-investment and is now striving to cope with the consequences of economic success. But it is pretty rich for a Conservative politician to attempt to lay the blame for London's transport problems on this Government and this London Mayor. Between 1992 and 1997, it was the Conservative party in government that slashed capital investment in London's tube system by no less than half, cutting it massively from £700 million a year to £350 million. It is this Labour Government who are investing £1 billion a year in London's underground system under the public-private partnership, a programme that over the next 15 years will deliver a tube system that is more efficient, more reliable and fit for the 21st century, with, at last, "a decently modern metro", for an underground system that carried almost a billion passengers last year.

This Labour Government have worked with the Mayor to secure a transformation in London's bus services. Since 2000, the Government have more than doubled Transport for London's budget, which has risen from £1.2 billion in 2000–01 to over £2.5 billion in 2003–04. As a result, London bus occupancy is now twice the level of that in other English metropolitan areas, bus use has increased by 30 per cent. since 2000, bus mileage is higher than at any time in 40 years and public satisfaction with London's bus services is at the highest level ever recorded.

I understand that the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate plans to cut those services. I pay full tribute to Ken Livingstone for his clear recognition that only through a rapid expansion of bus services could London's immediate transport needs be met. I congratulate him on what he has achieved in the past three years in improving London's bus network.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am certain that he will have his chance to speak and, if I know anything about the hon. Gentleman, he will explain himself at considerable length.

The work that we have done on London's bus network is another excellent example of Whitehall and City hall working together. I also pay full tribute to the Mayor for his courage and vision in introducing the congestion charge, which has been an outstanding success.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister, of all people, to cite the alleged brevity of his speech as an excuse to take no interventions? Surely the whole point of a debate in this Chamber is to allow an exchange of views. Is there anything you can do to protect us from a Minister who will not take part in a debate?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

The content of the Minister's speech, as with any Member's speech, is his responsibility. He is addressing the motion.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I should love to take an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman. I did not take one from the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate because I was sure that he would have his own chance to speak at considerable length in due course.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I thought for a moment that the Minister might have taken me for a Liberal Democrat because I am wearing a yellow jacket. Before he leaves the subject of transport, could he explain why there is a threat of delay to the extension of the east London line?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am not an expert on these matters, although as a south London Member I take an interest in them. There are complicated issues relating to both the investment and the alignment of the east London line that I understand are, at least for the time being, impeding further development.

I was paying full tribute to the Mayor for his introduction of congestion charging. As a result of that, congestion in the zone is down by 30 per cent., at its lowest level since the 1980s. There is evidence of a faster reduction in road traffic accidents inside the zone than outside and of a reduction in air pollution as a consequence of the reduction in traffic emissions. The charge is an innovation that has inspired interest and admiration throughout the world, and the support of most Londoners.

While I am in the tribute business, let me also acknowledge the excellent co-operation between the Government and the Mayor in increasing police numbers. In its motion, the Conservative party has the gall to talk of

"rising levels of crime and anti-social behaviour".

Yet this is the party that, between 1992 and 1997, when its current leader was Home Secretary, presided over a decline of well over 1,000 in London police numbers, which fell to 26,500. Now, under the Prime Minister and Ken Livingstone, the Metropolitan police service stands at over 30,000 officers—a record number—and 3,500 of them are funded by the Mayor's budget. The step change programme aims to increase the service to 35,000 officers over the next four years.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I thank my hon. Friend and colleague in the London borough of Lambeth for giving way. Everyone in Lambeth welcomes the extra policing in the borough, but does he agree—I am sure that he has been made aware of this in recent meetings with residents' and tenants' associations—that a problem is posed by the number of our local community beat officers who are being moved to central London to guard this and other areas because of the terrorist threat? It is very important that people living in boroughs such as ours are adequately policed despite the terrorist threat and that there should never be hardly any community beat officers in Lambeth, as sometimes happens.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend and fellow Lambeth Member knows, we are absolutely at our full complement and establishment of police officers in Lambeth, and both our constituencies benefit extensively from the presence of community support officers, but she is right that there is a strain on police resources as a result of the terrorist threat. That is exactly why the step change programme, which promises to increase the Met's numbers to 35,000 over the next four years, is so critical.

Since 2001, there are 1,000 more police officers on the beat and the Home Office has joint-funded with the Mayor 1,000 police community support officers to provide visible reassurance to Londoners at a time of heightened concerns about terrorist attack. My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety will talk more about action against the terrorist threat in due course.

Contrary to the Tory claims, crime rates in London are falling. We have had a 20 per cent. reduction in reported street robberies over the past 12 months. In autumn 2003, burglary in London was at its lowest for 25 years, street crime is down by a third and reported burglary at a 27-year low. Frankly, that is better than New York, so Steve Norris can save the London taxpayer the expense of importing ex-Mayor Giuliani. We have been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

Londoners know, contrary to the assertions of the official Opposition spokesman, that London is a safer city to live in. As MORI's annual London survey shows, the fear of crime is down across a range of indicators.

Londoners also recognise the significant improvements in their public services. In education, since 1997, there has been a real-terms funding increase of £900 per pupil in London's schools and capital investment is up from £81 million in 1997 to more than £500 million today. There are 4,100 extra teachers and 13,200 additional support staff across London. Results in London at primary school level have improved dramatically, with 75 per cent. and 71 per cent. now getting to the required standard in English and Maths—still too low, but a vast improvement—and a rise in GCSE results from 40 per cent. to 49 per cent. achieving five good passes, which is a faster improvement than in the rest of the country. I pay tribute to the Education Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Twigg for his work on the London challenge with London's most hard-pressed secondary schools.

In the national health service in London, funding increased from £6 billion to £7 billion in just one year, 2002–03—part of a £4 billion increase between 1997 and 2003. Nearly £4 billion is being invested to redevelop and build brand-new hospitals across London. In 2002, there were 2,500 more nurses than a year before, and 350 more GPs in London compared with 1997. Waiting lists for in-patient and out-patient treatment in London have fallen in leaps and bounds.

I am a resident of London and a London Member, as well as the Minister for London, so of course I recognise that London is a city of contrasts between great wealth and, in some areas of our capital city, unacceptable levels of deprivation, but let us be clear: the step change in funding for public services in London since 1997 is bringing huge benefits to London's deprived communities. In addition, 20 London boroughs are covered by local strategic partnerships, supported by more than £400 million of neighbourhood renewal fund resources in the current five years up to 2006. Furthermore, 10 of the Government's 39 flagship new deal for communities partnerships are sited in London boroughs, with access to a collective 10-year budget of more than £525 million to tackle the problems of London's most deprived communities. Yes, the need is great, but so are the resources that this Government are deploying to tackle that need.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Picking up on that point, and the point about education that my right hon. Friend made earlier, is he aware that one of the most serious problems for Londoners is the skills gap? Many people in the deprived communities that he has just mentioned need training to be able to get jobs. The Conservatives say that they will match Labour's spending on schools, but not on education as a whole. Surely that would mean a catastrophic cut in skills training programmes, which is just what London and Londoners do not need.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. The Conservatives claim to have the objectives, but it is also essential to build the means. That is why our work with the London Development Agency and the business community on developing schools and our recent announcement on maintenance allowances for post-16s are so essential to build up those skills in London's work force and population.

Through the Mayor and the London Assembly, this Government gave back to London and Londoners a strong voice and restored democratic city-wide government and strategic leadership to the capital. Ken Livingstone and the London Assembly have achieved much, including the successful introduction of congestion charging, more police on the streets and an increase in bus use. They have worked with Londoners to develop strategies to improve London's environment and cultural facilities and to promote London for business and tourism.

The fact is that London is, and will remain, a great city. We have much to be proud of and we will not have our reputation debased by Tory smears. We know that the picture is not perfect and that is why the Government are working with the Mayor, local authorities and others to reverse the legacy of chronic underinvestment in our public services. Improving public services lies at the heart of Londoners' needs and concerns. That is why we are providing big extra funding for health and education and working with the Mayor to improve public transport and the fight against crime. We want to ensure that all Londoners, not least those in our most deprived communities, share a better future and quality of life.

The Government will continue to work to maintain the economic growth and stability, high levels of employment and increased public funding that will ensure a better future for all in London. This Labour Government will take that work forward with Ken Livingstone, our Labour Mayor, for many years to come. The Prime Minister and London's Labour Mayor will stand shoulder to shoulder, delivering for London.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey 5:02 pm, 21st April 2004

Little would we have expected a year ago to hear that ending.

My party welcomes the debate. When the Conservatives were in power, they were no good at integrated transport, but they would probably regard today as the peak of integrated campaigning. They get their mayoral candidate off to New York for the weekend, they manage to unveil a poster, they put an advert in the evening paper and they hold a debate in the House of Commons. The only trouble is that the premise of their argument about crime is fundamentally flawed, which is rather a pity. However, it is good that we are debating London. As Mr. Field said, this is a great city.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

He did say that. It is a great city, and my party shares that view, although we believe that it could be greater still.

I suppose that I must declare a sort of interest. In a couple of weeks' time when the election campaign starts for the London Mayor and Assembly, I might turn from being a prospective candidate in that election into being a candidate; if so, I shall be very—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

No, not yet. If that transition occurs, I shall be very proud.

I wish to start by establishing the points of agreement. The first part of the Conservative motion is not altered by the Labour amendment or by ours. We all recognise the common values and benefits of this great city: its mix of people, its enterprise, its history, its culture and its diversity. We all share those values, whether we were born here, have moved here, work here or visit here. We would all want to enhance, applaud, welcome and celebrate that.

Like the Labour party, we seek to amend the motion. Most fundamentally, we say that, although London has huge needs and problems, we must be careful not to talk it down. My fundamental complaint about the text and texture of the otherwise good speech of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster—and it applies to his Conservative colleague who is standing in the election—is the danger of talking London down. I always try not to do that, whatever the criticisms, and I hope that my colleagues do not do so either.

I would go further and acknowledge that the reinstated London government and the first, now outgoing, Mayor have done good things for London. Indeed, I have said that to his face. We accepted that congestion charging was a bold and good initiative, and my hon. Friends and I supported it from the outset in Committee and we have continued to support it throughout. We are also glad that the Mayor came round to endorsing the Olympic bid. Some of us argued for it earlier, but he came on board, and we welcome it. We are pleased that there are more buses, although the Minister would not allow me to intervene earlier and it was clear that he was unwilling to answer questions about how they would be paid for. The Mayor has not answered those questions either.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

If the hon. Gentleman can be a little more patient, I will give way in a minute.

We also supported the increased policing—not hugely different from comparable increases in policing in Greater Manchester and other parts of the country—in London. After an initial couple of years without any increases, the Labour government came to realise that increases were necessary. We support that. If my Liberal Democrat colleague had been Mayor over the past four years, she would have done the same—so there is some common ground.

The political history of the past 20 or 30 years is of the Greater London council—first Tory-led, then Labour-led—its abolition by the Tory Government, the Government Office for London under Conservative and Labour control and then the first directly elected Mayor. There has been a history of underfunding, for which the Conservatives should accept significant responsibility, and some fundamental problems.

I shall not make a single quote from any document produced by any political party, and I shall be brief on statistics as it would be possible to quote statistics about London for hours. As the Minister for London will know, the Cabinet Office produced its analytical report on London last July. Its executive summary stated that London

"has high numbers of jobless people and substantial deprivation . . . has a housing market which is under strain and which will come under increasing pressure . . . has a transport infrastructure that has not kept step with the city's developing needs in the last fifty years . . . has public services that face substantial challenges as a result of the city's unique characteristics . . . has a complex system of governance"— the one set up by the Government—

"that does not easily enable the city to focus on its strategic needs."

When the cross-party Association of London Government surveyed Londoners last autumn, it asked them about their biggest concerns. Crime was at the top; council tax was second; the health service was third; traffic was fourth; and education was fifth. Interestingly, the survey showed that the one concern that had increased was the level of council tax. In common with the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, I have no doubt that the Mayor of London is responsible for significantly increasing council tax. The increase over the past four years has been huge—greater than in any other authority in England. It is in the order of a 100 per cent. increase, for which the Mayor alone must take responsibility.

Surveys are conducted every year on the quality of life in world cities. This year's survey was produced in March. London was 35th in the league table for world cities and only 11th out of 15 European Union capitals. The Greater London Authority commissioned another interesting survey—again, one that was not influenced or instructed by my party colleagues. A comparison was made between 2000 and 2003 and respondents were asked how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with their neighbourhood as a place to live. What was the change in the satisfaction level? The number of people either totally or fairly satisfied had decreased—not significantly, but it had gone down—in those four years from 83 to 78 per cent. The dissatisfaction level has gone up. When people are asked how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with London as a city to live in, the satisfaction level has fallen from 75 per cent. to 71 per cent., and the dissatisfaction level has increased. The legacy of the four-year mayoral term of the initially independent and now newly new Labour Mayor is that Londoners are not as happy with their lot as they were when he started. He has to take responsibility for that.

One of the key issues is how much money comes into the city. Private enterprise does a huge amount: we are the world's greatest financial centre and we need to continue to be so. As we pointed out in our amendment, we need to have a debate about how much London should contribute to the UK and how much the Government should give to London. I have never argued, in all my time in Parliament, that London should not make a contribution to the rest of the UK. However, there is a case to be made—and all parties submitted their case for London to the Government as part of the comprehensive spending review—that the balance is not right. My party's leader and other colleagues have accepted that we need to renegotiate the UK constitutional financial settlement, post devolution to Scotland and Wales, given the continuing devolution that we hope to see to Northern Ireland, and with regional government on the way in England.

The ballpark figure for the net contribution to the UK economy from London is some £17 billion. The figure should be between nothing and that figure—probably about half. However, nobody suggests that London should not continue to contribute, as a capital city properly should, to the rest of the country.

We have one major disagreement in this area with the current Mayor. He appears to think that all development that wants to come to London and the south-east should be encouraged to do so without let or hindrance. The north-east, the north-west, Scotland and Northern Ireland are crying out for investment, so we need to share the pressure of development. That is why, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) have argued for the spreading of the civil service around the UK. That would make some contribution to the economies of the other regions. It is not inconsistent to want the regions to have healthy economies and to want a strong capital city.

We do not need the levels of council tax increase that the Mayor has imposed on Londoners. For example, my colleagues took over the running of the London borough of Southwark from the Labour party two years ago. Services have hugely improved—as all the MORI polls in Southwark show—on a council tax increase of 3.5 per cent. this year. Increases of 22 per cent., 15 per cent., 29 per cent. and 8 per cent.—as imposed by the GLA—are not necessary. Improvements can be made more cheaply.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I greatly respect the hon. Lady's contribution in London and I will give way in a moment. However, I first wish to give a couple of examples of how money could be saved.

City hall now has more people running its press operation than does Downing street, and that is clearly mad and unjustifiable. On new year's eve, for the first time in four years, we had a London celebration, of a sort. After nothing for three years, we had a £1 million firework display. It was paid for from public funds and had no private sector sponsorship. In theory, it was supposed to last for three minutes, but in reality it was less. However, as I know from chairing the Thames festival, one can get a much longer and better firework display for a quarter of that sum. It could also probably have been entirely funded from private sponsorship. The Mayor just does not understand that the money he spends is that of many hard-pressed Londoners, not his. We would do things very differently.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

The hon. Gentleman mentioned services in Southwark. Will he comment on the fact that in both Southwark and Islington services for children—in particular, nurseries—have borne the brunt of major spending cuts, in contravention of the Government's programme to expand child care places? It cannot be claimed that services have been improved and enhanced across the board, as the hon. Gentleman implies.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I am happy to debate that point with the hon. Lady at another time and place—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] No, I deny that spending on children's services and the quality of those services in Southwark have been cut. I do not think that that is true. I know less about Islington, but I can check. I doubt that it is true in that case either. The hon. Lady knows, from both the boroughs that she represents, that when councils are under severe pressure to keep council tax increases to the low single digits, the pressures are enormous. That is why she supported, as I did, the case for London that would give a better funding settlement to all our local authorities. Of course we want more money, including for social services, and I shall join her in arguing that case both for children and the elderly. When we took over in Southwark, we moved a lot of money in the social services budget to children's services because they had been badly underfunded, according to the Audit Commission, when Labour was in control.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

I grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I take him back to 29 January this year, when he told the Jon Gaunt radio programme that, by April—that is, now—he would be second in the polls and closing very quickly on the Mayor? In fact, of course, a further poll taken since shows that he is five points down and 30 percentage points behind the Mayor, who currently has 46 per cent. compared with his 16 per cent. Will he now answer the question that he has consistently refused to answer when asked on the Frost programme and in many other interviews? As it is obvious to anyone who reads any of the polls that he has absolutely no chance whatsoever of winning the mayoral election, what will he advise—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had a long run on an intervention. I am tempted to tell him to ask the question that he was allowed to put, briefly.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

Will the hon. Gentleman now advise the House what he will tell the few supporters whom he will get on 10 June what they should do with their second vote?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

On the first half of the hon. Gentleman's long question, I advise him to remember what happened in Brent last autumn and in Bermondsey some years ago—both of which were Labour-held seats. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Sarah Teather should behave herself properly in the Chamber, and not in that manner. She should apologise to the House for what she was doing.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I apologise to the House; it was very inappropriate.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I remind the hon. Gentleman to look at the history of Liberal Democrats frequently overtaking the Conservatives and beating Labour. I will happily talk to him about the result on 11 June.

On the second issue, my advice is for people to give us their first preference, and they can choose what they do with their second preference. I hope that the Labour party and others give exactly the same advice to their voters.

Crime and security are hugely important issues. First, I join the Government in the words in their amendment that pay tribute to our security services and the police. On Saturday, I was privileged, as the representative of my party, to join Lady Thatcher, Baroness Scotland and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at the Yvonne Fletcher 20th anniversary event. That reminded me, if I ever needed reminding, that all police officers can find themselves in the front line and that everyone's life is at risk when in the public service in that way.

There are two halves to the crime and security debate. First, the Mayor has to ensure that the security of London, not just its policing, is enhanced. I do not take the view that the current Mayor, the commissioner and the Government have done nothing, but I do take the view that more could be done. The public could be given more information and those members of the public who want to contribute could be part of a civil emergency volunteer reserve. Business could be engaged more actively in preparing against terrorism, and it would be helpful for the Mayor to have a seconded adviser from MI5 permanently on the mayoral staff.

I have suggested to London Underground that it should not continue to explore the use of mobile phones on deep tube lines until we can be sure that they cannot be abused, as terrorists have done in other European capital cities. I was grateful to London Underground for responding positively to my suggestion.

The most important thing may be to ensure that fanatics and fundamentalists do not lead young members of the minority communities, particularly the Muslim community, astray. We all have a duty to have that dialogue to make sure that they feel fully part of our communities and do not get led into fanaticism, which is a danger with every faith and not just theirs.

We have a very clear view about crime and have argued from these Benches for many years that every bit of London should have good community policing. To put it simply, we say that there should be a community policing guarantee that goes further than the current programme of the outgoing Mayor and the Government. We call it the "four-by-four proposal". There would be four police and four others in all wards, with the person leading it on a four-year contract. There would be a ring-fenced and guaranteed community police service in all wards, and it would not be taken away. Its implementation will start—as the Met tells me, if I am elected—next year and it will be fully implemented over the following three years.

I take a zero-tolerance view of violent crime. That is the priority in London. If gun crime is the real menace, and if the police in an area where gun crime is on the rise and is a real threat want to be armed, they should be able to be armed for a temporary period. If a certain group of the police, such as a territorial support group, feel that they need to be armed for a limited period, they should be able to be armed too. That is the way to protect us from an overbearing argument to arm police generally, which I resist. That is something that the police would rather have, too.

I am afraid to tell the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster that I want to refer to his colleague, crime statistics and the way in which the Conservatives are trying to misuse them. We must be careful not to allow the misuse of crime statistics. I understand that they are difficult, but we must have zero tolerance of their misuse too.

I shall not go into great detail, but I will select those things that seem to me to be important. I appreciate—and the Minister knows this—that the latest crime statistics for the year just ended will not be available until next week, just before the campaign begins. We will then have the latest picture. However, London, I believe, has the second lowest rate of violent crime of the 10 regions in England. The Met, for all sorts of historic reasons, has recorded a higher percentage of crimes than any other police service in England, although police services will soon have a common recording system, which we welcome. I realise that my figures are only recent comparables and I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, and I am willing to be corrected. However, my figures show that the percentage of adults who are the victims of violence in London for the last two full years for which figures are available has gone down from 8 per cent. to 5.7 per cent. Indeed, we are not the worst region in England. Yorkshire and Humberside and the south-east have a higher incidence of violent crime. The theft of or from vehicles in London in the last two full years has gone down from 1,472 to 1,205 vehicles per 10,000 households, and that figure is not the highest in England. The figures for the north-west and Yorkshire and Humberside have been higher for both those years than those for London. Burglaries from households in London have gone down from 308 to 284 per 10,000 households. The decline is not huge, but the figure has gone down.

There have been significant drops in those three categories and the fall has been faster than the average fall across England and Wales. London is sixth—not the worst—out of the 10 regions in terms of violent crime per capita; second out of 10 in terms of vehicle crime per capita, whereas it was first; and third in terms of burglary.

There is far too much violent crime and far too much crime. There needs to be far less and the clear-up rate needs to be higher. However, it does nobody any good to exaggerate the figures, because that undermines the work that has been done to add to the number of police, which we support, and the commitment of us all to make sure that the streets of the capital are safer. I hope that, from now on, the Conservative candidate will not misrepresent the figures in this election, because that only adds to the fear of, in particular, the vulnerable, the lonely and the isolated in our capital city.

I have two other one-sentence criticisms. The criticism of the outgoing Mayor is that neighbourhood policing, which has been a Government programme, has not been delivered any more quickly in London than anywhere else, and it could have been. The criticism of the Conservative candidate is that he speaks very good language about dealing with crime, but he puts no additional money on the table, and until we see that his proposals will be paid for people will not believe that there will suddenly be huge numbers of extra police on the streets.

Another big issue is transport—we all know that. There needs to be more walking and cycling. Scooters, motor bikes and taxis ought to be able to use all the bus lanes all the time, and some of those lanes could be used by cars at certain times of the day. We support the congestion charge and, unlike the Conservative candidate, we would not abolish it but, unlike the outgoing Mayor, we would not extend it westwards to Kensington and Chelsea. We would make it much more user-friendly, including allowing people to pay in advance and, instead of clobbering people with a fine if they forget to pay by 10 o'clock that night, we would allow them to pay up until the end of the following day.

I have talked to the London Retail Consortium, whose manifesto launch I attended yesterday. Our proposals to have no charge between Christmas and new year, to give people five charge-free journeys a year and to stop the charge at 5 o'clock are very popular with the consortium, the latter because early evening business would not be nearly as badly affected.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not want to seem critical, but I have been paying my congestion charge in advance, and if the hon. Gentleman wants a lesson I will see him afterwards.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I have been paying mine in advance too, so I do not think that it is a problem, but there are many people who forget to pay, or cannot pay, by the 10 o'clock deadline, and they wake up the next morning to find that they will have to pay £40. They are perfectly law abiding, and that charge is not necessary. We could give them an extra 24 hours' grace; I know that would be popular.

On buses, my argument is simple: of course extra buses are great, and the extra routes are great, but on some of those routes in the middle of the day buses run at a frequency that is not justified by the number of passengers. If the Minister comes with me to Oxford street, or reads what Sir Simon Jenkins wrote about buses in Oxford street, he will realise that at some times of the day one could almost walk the length of that street on the roofs of the buses, which must mean that we are putting too much money into buses. That would be fine if the Mayor had paid for them, but there is a transport deficit of nearly £1 billion. I thought that the Minister might say that that was not a problem because the Government were going to fund it, but I gather that they have not agreed to do so. If they do not fund it, the incoming Mayor, whoever they may be, will have a big difficulty dealing with the legacy of the "spend now, work out how you pay for it later" regime for which Mr. Livingstone has been responsible.

Tube services could usefully run later, but most importantly they could run more reliably. My hon. Friend Tom Brake, who looked after these matters before me, and others including me, think that one way to achieve that is to have extended periods of closure—for example, for weeks in the summer holidays—so that a lot of maintenance such as track relaying and signal work can be done and some of the endemic problems can be dealt with more quickly.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

I echo the concerns expressed this week by two Members with south-east London seats, the hon. Members for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and for Orpington (Mr. Horam), that the Government do not appear to recognise that the Strategic Rail Authority's mad plans mean that services for commuters in the borough of Bromley will be reduced from about six an hour to, in places such as Chelsfield, about two in three hours. The Mayor should have a say in that, and I hope that the Government will accede to the request that the new Mayor should have some responsibility for commuter trains. In a "PS" to the Minister, if Mr. Livingstone has administered Transport for London so well, how come it always underspends its annual budget and hands money back? Clearly, it cannot be the best-administered part of this capital city.

Another issue that Londoners raise all the time is the fact that they want a cleaner city, and many of us would argue that there are many ways in which that should, and could, have been done.

I have two last points to make. First, whatever good things the outgoing Mayor may have done, he has not done the great social justice things that he should have done. He has abjectly failed to deliver affordable housing for Londoners. Labour and Livingstone last year delivered fewer completed, affordable homes in the social housing sector per year than when Labour took office—fewer than 5,000. We need about 15,000 affordable homes a year, but fewer than 5,000 are available. We need about 30,000 new homes a year, but only about 15,000 are being built, so the policy has been a complete failure, even without taking into consideration the lack of money for decent homes, the repair of council housing and so on. When the Mayor came to office, London did not have the highest unemployment rate of the English regions. It was third in the UK league table, but its unemployment rate is now the highest. If the London Development Agency had done its job properly it would be getting people living in Greater London into the jobs in Greater London, not doing things that did not meet most of its targets.

What should we do next? The Conservatives should stop talking London down and realise that, for their choice of mayoral candidate, who has so many links with people with a financial interest in the running of London Underground, independence is the last word that could be used to describe him. They should explain why, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr. Cable, they circulated the "Richmond upon Thames Borough Herald" which does not even feature pictures of the Conservative candidate on any of its four pages. Indeed, his name is mentioned only once on the back page, and nowhere else. There seems to be a surprising lack of endorsement in a seat that the Conservatives hope to win.

The Labour party should explain why it still cannot tell us what it is going to do about Crossrail, although everyone in London has been asking for a green light on the project for months. It should explain why it cannot allow the east London line extension to go ahead. We were told that it was going to go ahead a few months ago, but the Government have put the brakes on. Labour should explain whether it will give London the comprehensive spending review settlement that all parties have asked for.

We will continue to build up our support and work, winning ground from Labour and the Conservatives, and increase the number of our councillors. There were fewer than 100 in the '70s, between 100 and 200 in the '80s, between 200 and 300 in the '90s, and consistently more than 300 this decade. We have won councils from both Labour and the Conservatives, we have made gains in parliamentary seats, we have increased the number of our Greater London assembly members and Members of the European Parliament, and we have won recent elections, such as the one in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend Sarah Teather. To answer Mr. Coleman, we fully expect that over the next few weeks we shall not only overtake the Conservatives but provide again the sort of surprise and boost for London that occurred last autumn. There will be a new assembly and a new Mayor who gives value for money, does not waste the public purse, and serves the people of inner and outer London.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you help hon. Members and me by telling us whether we are trespassing from the subject of debate into crude electioneering?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. As the Chair has already ruled at an earlier point today, the content of an hon. Member's speech is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

In a few weeks, I can promise Mr. Pound that we will engage in full electioneering. He can rest assured that I am on the last paragraph of my speech.

Some of us are determined to make London an easier and more pleasant city to live and work in, and a more united city of which to be a citizen. We want to make it a city that can win the Olympic bid next year; a city in which we house the homeless and accommodate the badly housed, keep local post offices and chemists instead of closing them, reduce unemployment while increasing skills, education and prosperity—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

Absolutely, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We want to create in the capital city a place that will be regarded as God's heaven on earth, where he, I and the people outside are proud to be, not some of the time but all of the time, and of which we can say that this is not just a great city, a great London but a greater London still.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 5:34 pm, 21st April 2004

The issues raised by Simon Hughes in relation to policing in London sounded very much like step change, and did not reflect any innovation by the Liberals. He said that the precept would not need to be increased by large amounts of money to provide all the wonderful extra services that we would enjoy across London, so presumably they will be funded by a windfall tax from somewhere like the tooth fairy, like most other Liberal policies.

I welcome Mr. Field to the Front Bench. I think that this is the first occasion when he has spoken from the Front Bench, and I am sure it will not be the last. His speech was full of scaremongering about safety issues, street crime and the anti-terrorism measures that everyone wants taken to secure London for the future. He made much of the increase in taxes that Londoners have been required to pay over the past few years, but he failed to point out that 85 per cent. of the precept has gone to London's policing, which is why we are seeing such a large increase in the number of police officers across London, and that 4 per cent. of that sum has gone towards increased work on intelligence and to counter terrorism and the threat of terrorism in London. He failed to recognise that much has been done across London.

The British crime survey does not bear out the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The risk of being a victim of crime in London is at its lowest for 20 years. Vehicle crime and domestic burglary are the lowest for 20 years. We have reversed the trend towards an increase in burglary that began in 1993. There are 1,900 police community support officers, and we are on target to introduce 4,000 by 2005. Another Tory myth is the amount of paperwork. In order to reduce the amount of paperwork that police officers must undertake, 1,200 forms in the police service have been made obsolete. That has occurred across a number of police forces, not just in London.

On police numbers, we have passed the 30,000 mark for police officers in London. The Mayor's aim is to increase that to 35,000. A telling figure from the British crime survey—or rather, in an article in The Economist of 30 November; I do not want to misrepresent the British crime survey—is that one in 115 employed Londoners will be employed as a serving police officer when we reach that 35,000 target. That is an incredible number, and we are well on the way to achieving the target.

The comparisons that have been made with Rudolph Giuliani in New York are not borne out by experience. In the period from 1991 to 1994, when Giuliani had his biggest success in reducing crime in New York, the Home Secretary of the day was responsible for London's policing. That was Mr. Howard. The Tories tell us that crime is one of their biggest issues and they put it at the top of their agenda, so one would expect the activities of the Tories to mirror what was going on in New York, but of course it did not. The reason that Giuliani achieved a massive reduction in crime in New York was that he increased the number of police officers, exactly as the Mayor is doing in London now.

Since 1993, the number of police officers in London has gone down consistently. They peaked in 1992 at 28,000 and by 1997, when the then Home Secretary left office, they were down to 26,677, and they continued to fall. The backdrop to that was the fact that a large number of London's police officers who had been recruited in the 1970s were reaching the end of their period of service and approaching retirement. It was not a shock that such a reduction would come about. It was well known and well documented, and something needed to be done to address the enormous reduction in the number of police officers that we faced at that time in London.

Nothing was done, and to add insult to injury, not only was nothing done, but the Home Secretary of the time, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, adopted the recommendations of the Sheehy report, which reduced the salary of police officers in London. As a result of reducing the London living allowance, serving officers who came into the force after 1 September 1994 were paid less than officers who had joined the force before that date. That resulted in a massive reduction in the number of police officers. Within six months of the implementation of the report's recommendations, London's police were down by 1,178 officers.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

Before the hon. Gentleman turns to Liberal Democrat policy, will he confirm that the total figures that he is giving include the community support officers, as those numbers will make quite a difference? Does he recognise that a future Conservative Government would substantially increase the number of policemen on the streets of London? The key point is not just the numbers of policemen on the beat, but what is done with them and the way in which they are organised. There is a great need for reform of the way in which the police operate, and the success of Mayor Giuliani in New York was very much based on targeting specific problems. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that that is the key to combating crime, and not just police numbers?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I shall come to that point later. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to apologise for reducing the number of police officers in London and for contributing significantly to the rise in crime. The statistics show that that reduction in police officers kicked off an enormous increase in crime across London that continued until 1999, when the rate of the increase started to level off. The level has continued to increase, but the rate of increase has now started to come down. There is a straightforward correlation between the number of police officers and the crime rate. The reduction in the number of police officers in London lead to a crime wave across our capital city, and there is no getting away from that fact.

On scaremongering, the Conservatives' advertisement in today's Evening Standard has prompted an unprecedented response from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who has vehemently denied the claims made in the advertisement and has gone so far as to issue a statement and letters to mayoral candidates demanding that they temper their claims and ensure that they are based on facts, as they are adding to the problem of fear of crime across London.

Let us consider the crime rates. Street robbery is down 20 per cent.; burglary in London is the lowest for 25 years; reported burglary is down to a 27-year low; street crime is down one third; and murder is at 200 a year and has remained steady, despite the claims made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. As I said earlier, when Giuliani reduced crime in New York, he reduced it to 1,000 a year, so we are not talking about figures that bear comparison—

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

The murder rate was reduced to 1,000 a year.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out.

The suggestion that the figures bear comparison misleads Londoners and is scaremongering in the extreme. It is an attempt to create a fear of crime that is not justified. Furthermore, I point out to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster that Mr. Norris will have a great deal of difficulty in delivering on the claims that he has published. That suggests that he does not think that he will ever have to deliver on them or that he will ever win the election. The rate of reduction in crime in London will make it difficult for him to halve crime and mirror the achievements of Mr. Giuliani.

This is the first year in which we have had a Mayor in London, and the Mayor's achievements on policing and creating safer communities are considerable. He has increased police numbers to more than 30,000, and that trend is set to continue, but his most significant contribution is the introduction of step change. We have begun to move police officers into the community and to work with local communities to address the fear of crime. In spite of the decrease in those crimes that have been targeted, the one area on which the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is correct is fear of crime, which remains frustratingly high.

Fear of crime is due to antisocial behaviour on our streets, and that is where step change will make a big difference. Our police officers must be seen within their communities, their approach must be intelligence-led and they must be in contact with the local community to identify the minority, who have a disproportionate effect on crime rates and on the fear of crime in our communities, in order to make Londoners feel safer in those communities. Step change is being introduced in 100 wards across London and it will make a significant contribution—we must work with local communities to address the fear of crime. No responsible politician should claim that there is a widespread crime wave across London and that Londoners should justifiably feel under threat.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

My hon. Friend is ably telling us about improvements in policing, police numbers and community support officers. Does he agree that local communities are reassured by the presence of street wardens, which is another Government initiative?

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

There are many initiatives, and there also partnerships between local authorities, businesses, communities and others. Strategies to tackle crime and communities have significantly contributed to reducing crime and the fear of crime. We must tackle our constituents' concerns, and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster misrepresented the issue.

The Mayor has done a remarkable job on not only policing and community safety, but transport and other areas. We must all appreciate that London, as the capital city, makes an enormous contribution to Britain as a whole, and that to denigrate our capital city is self-defeating in the extreme. To suggest that our transport network is in a parlous state, that London's streets are not safe and that we will shut down the underground during the main period for tourists is away with the fairies. It is absolutely essential not to overstate the problems that any major city inevitably faces, but the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has done that.

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington 5:48 pm, 21st April 2004

My hon. Friend Mrs. Lait made two excellent interventions, and, typically, my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth intervened on a point of order, so it is entirely appropriate that I, the hon. Member for Orpington, should contribute, thus making a full hand from Bromley.

Bromley is a great borough, and a wholly Conservative borough, which has wished, from time to time, that it were not in London and that it had remained in Kent. It has particularly wished that over the four years—not, as Clive Efford said, just one year—that we have had a Mayor of London. Millions of residents in outer London pay a fortune into Ken Livingstone's budget and get precious little in return.

I am glad to see my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), because I am sure that they agree that this has been a disastrous period of mayoralty for the leafy suburbs. I believe that that alone constitutes a reason for getting rid of this now Labour, formerly independent, Mayor. I think that even my hon. Friend Mr. Field would agree that he has been above all a zone 1 Mayor, and that the contribution that he has made to the lives of the millions of people in outer London is negligible.

Let me cite the example of crime. Hon. Members have said a lot about crime statistics. I venture into that area with great certainty, because I know for a fact that the number of police in the borough of Bromley is no higher than it was in 1997. We have not benefited in any way from the extra police who have appeared in London as a whole. I do not know where they are, but they certainly have not come to Bromley. As the hon. Member for Eltham said, there is a correlation between crime and police numbers, but there is also a correlation between antisocial behaviour and police numbers. As the Minister pointed out, antisocial behaviour is a growing problem—and it is very evident to local residents, who often care about it more than the terrible crimes that they rarely see committed. Antisocial behaviour and yobbery are seen on a day-to-day basis in suburban areas of London, as well as in the city. Places such as Bromley have no more police to deal with the situation than they had six or seven years ago, which is a tragedy for residents.

According to the figures that my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin gave when he was shadow Home Secretary, the Conservative approach would give 200 extra police to a London borough such as Bromley. Even then, adding an extra 200 to the 450 or so we already have would only give us the same number as there are today in the borough of Lewisham. That is the extent to which my borough is disadvantaged by the current system. I beg the Minister—although it is not his direct responsibility, but that of the Mayor—to bear in mind that some boroughs will continue to get a raw deal as a result of the way in which the financing of policing in London is organised.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, although the House usually is not so grateful. As the Member for Ealing, North, the leafiest of the leafy suburbs, I can tell him that we have reason to be grateful, not only because we have more police officers, but because, crucially, we have a say in how many are recruited and how they are deployed. That never happened when we had one Friday morning debate a year on the matter. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he is happy with the existing structure of the Metropolitan Police Authority and would wish to retain it?

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington

First, I contest the hon. Gentleman's claim that Ealing is the leafiest of the London suburbs. I am sure that he would agree that the green belt is rather larger in Bromley than it is in Ealing, so we certainly have more trees, and therefore more leaves.

Leaving that aside, I would certainly want to change the structure to some extent. There should be more direct election of police forces—indeed, that is part of our policy—because if an area's policing priorities are decided by the people of that area, they are much more likely to reflect their wishes than if they are decided by some remote bureaucracy in another part of London. If that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying, I agree with him; but let us see it happen on the ground, because it has not happened in any real sense so far.

That deals with crime. The Mayor has a lot to answer for in neglecting the millions of people who live in the outer suburbs of London, and I believe that he will pay dearly for that in the forthcoming election.

Transport is the other big issue in the election and in this debate. No one could seriously deny that transport has been a disaster area for this Government. I fully recognise that the problems caused by the underfunding of London's transport do not go back only seven years, but have antecedents in previous Governments—not only Conservative, but Labour. I do not blame Ken Livingstone, or even Ministers on the Front Bench or Transport Ministers, for that—I blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has been one of London's biggest enemies, despite presiding—luckily for him—over an amazing economy, of which London is the centre, as we all agree.

The Chancellor has displayed a wholly negative approach to financing the London underground in the past four or five years. We wasted much time when simple things could have been done. Labour Members, as well as Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members, have said that what needed to be done to solve, for example, London Underground's problems, was obvious. The Government have stalled for five years, during which we have got almost nowhere. The Labour Chancellor, a Scotsman, has had much to do with the endemic problem.

Ken Livingstone has admitted that things will not get better in the next decade. The London underground has reached such a pass, with, for example, constant closures and maintenance problems, which we all experience in our daily lives, that there can be no significant improvement for a decade. The Mayor has said that and it is a disastrous comment on the Government's performance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham made an important point about the Strategic Rail Authority plan that is known as the integrated Kent franchise. It is a problem not merely for Kent, but for all the train services that come to Kent through south-east London. As my hon. Friend said, the SRA proposes to cut services to Hayes by one third. In Petts Wood, which is a larger station than Hayes, services would be cut by half. Fifty per cent. of peak hour services will be cut from Petts Wood under SRA proposals. At Chelsfield, which Simon Hughes mentioned, the SRA proposes cuts in peak hour services of two thirds.

Places such as Petts Wood, Hayes and Chelsfield were built up in the 1930s around the railway stations. That is why they are there. As house prices increase in central London, more people move to Petts Wood, Chelsfield and Hayes because they recognise that those areas have a reliable railway service. However, insecurity has been forced upon them. They do not know what will happen and they are writing in their hundreds to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and me about the proposals. Creating such insecurity in transport is disgraceful. What are people to do if the proposals are accepted? We are not considering overcrowding. If peak services are cut by half, people will not even get on the platforms, let alone the trains. What will such cuts do to house prices in those areas? The position is appalling.

The SRA presented the proposals in an unsatisfactory way. It issued a document that was full of jargon and did not compare the proposals with the current position. No one therefore had a clear view of the comparison. It refused to reveal many of the statistics that lay behind the proposals, so that those affected did not know the information on which they were based. It consulted only local authorities and other stakeholders; it did not consult the passengers, who know from daily experience what the train services are like. However, few passengers were included in the loop or knew anything about the proposals. It is therefore unsurprising that the three-month consultation period has, in practice, become a month. People have taken time to wake up to what would happen under the proposals.

Although I appreciate that it is not her direct responsibility, I tell the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, who currently occupies the Front Bench, that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and I intend to fight the SRA proposals all the way down the line. They are impossible proposals and I have written at length to Richard Bowker, the chairman of the body. I warn Ministers that unless they take the matter seriously and reverse the proposals, I shall be down on them like a ton of bricks. The proposals must be ruled out of court; the Government must stop them.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North 5:59 pm, 21st April 2004

London is my city. I was born here, I represent a seat in a London borough and I have lived here all my life. I welcome the Opposition's choice of debate today, but it is a pity that it seems only to be a cloak for beefing up the chances of their mayoral candidate. I do not welcome their carping and whingeing about our great capital, which they did very little to improve during their 18 years in office. Furthermore, the public spending cuts that they propose would certainly not benefit London.

When people who are not Londoners complain about London, my city, it reminds me of a time when I shared a house in Ealing, North some 30 years ago.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

Not with my hon. Friend, I hasten to add. My housemates were all from other parts of the country, and if they complained about London, I would say to them, "Why are you here? You've come down here to work and live, and you've been given a job and a home, so don't complain about my city."

The Tory motion has a sweeping moan about the quality of life and, astonishingly, about the insecurity resulting from the threat of terrorist action—a subject that Mr. Field covered at some length. What place is safe from the threat of terrorist action? Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that Birmingham and Guildford might be targets for terrorism? We had to be ever vigilant, however, during that time, particularly in London, given the threat from the IRA, which we faced for decades.

I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Metropolitan police and the British Transport police and their vigilance against potential terrorism, especially in the light of the recent arrests, one of which took place in my constituency. As has been mentioned, the number of officers working in counter-terrorism, security and protection has been increased by almost 1,000 since 9/11, through the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police Authority.

What is the next thing that the Conservatives complained about? Rising levels of crime and antisocial behaviour. Other hon. Members have talked about the commissioner's statement that London has one of the lowest rates of violent crime and is still one of the safest major cities in the world. As for antisocial behaviour, the Home Secretary has driven through tough measures in recent years to tackle that problem. I do not remember the Conservatives introducing many antisocial behaviour Bills.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Lady get more complaints about antisocial behaviour now than she did three or four years ago?

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

Complaints about antisocial behaviour are probably on a level, but my point is that this Government have recognised the problem and are introducing measures to tackle it, particularly in relation to nuisance neighbours. They are taking action against the people who cause problems to others. I mentioned street wardens in my intervention on my hon. Friend Clive Efford, and I welcome the step change programme, which will counter some of the problems of officers being called in for duties in central London.

The Conservatives' next whinge was about overcrowded and unreliable transport. That is a result of the decades of under-investment by both Governments that Mr. Horam mentioned, and of the lack of subsidy from previous Tory Governments. I was never the greatest fan of public-private partnerships, but much-needed investment is now going into the tube. Nor, I must confess, was I ever the greatest fan of our new Labour gain Mayor, but I do salute his success with the congestion charge and the improvements that he has made to bus services, increasing their use by 30 per cent. Closed circuit television has also been installed on buses, and whose safety and cleanliness have also improved.

I chair the all-party group on Crossrail, and I welcome the Mayor's enthusiastic backing for that project.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

Well, the Secretary of State has expressed his support and backing for the Crossrail project, but financing is a problem. There is a lot of money involved. At the end of the day, however, the Government have made a commitment to it, and I know that it will be of enormous benefit to London. It will link the key business areas of the City and Canary Wharf to Heathrow, with huge increases in jobs. It will enhance our standing as the best financial district in the world and as one of three global financial centres. It will have a benefit-cost ratio of 1.99:1 and will contribute about £19 billion to the British economy. The regenerative benefits of Crossrail alone include 40,000 new jobs in the Thames gateway, so the regeneration aspect will be a huge boost to the London economy and the economy of the whole country.

There have been six regeneration projects since 1997 in my London borough, two through the London Development Agency, the town centre development through the sustainable communities fund, and the three single regeneration budget projects including a health ladder social inclusion project.

On health, there have been vast improvements to my two local hospitals since 1997. King George hospital in Ilford is now a two-star hospital, which has been improved by a cancer centre and a primary care walk-in centre, which opened this month. At Whipps Cross hospital, in which my hon. Friend Harry Cohen and I have taken a great interest in recent years, there will be a redevelopment of the whole hospital site worth £331 million, and lots of other improvements including a new renal unit and an upgrading of cardiac services. Last year, primary care services spent £400 million on schemes such as community volunteers, mental health, health improvement and user involvement and regeneration. My local health centre will be improved vastly through a new local improvement finance trust programme. Continuing improvements have taken place in reducing waiting lists and times in primary and secondary health care.

In education, children's services have been transformed, with vastly improved opportunities for parents who want their children to have nursery education at age three and four. The Sure Start scheme, which I hope to get in my area—there is already one in Ilford, South—has been an enormous success. A new museum has also been provided under the new lottery scheme, which is wonderful.

In my experience, the words "failing public services" in the Opposition motion do not apply either London-wide or locally. Services are improving thanks to the commitment and investment of the Labour Government and the London Mayor, in policing, transport, regeneration, health, education and the whole spectrum of life in London. As far as I am concerned, London is the greatest city in the world. A Labour Government and a Labour Mayor have been good for London. The re-election of a Labour Mayor and a third term for a Labour Government can only mean that things can only get better.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:08 pm, 21st April 2004

It is almost impossible to generalise about London, as its 32 component boroughs are so diverse. The London borough of Havering, for example, which includes my constituency of Upminster, is 50 per cent. green belt, and appears to have more in common with our Essex neighbour in Brentwood than with our nearest London neighbours, Dagenham and Redbridge. The difference between outer and inner London boroughs is even more pronounced, in terms of socio-economic profile, environment, density of population and development. Each has its own specific problems and advantages, which is why the provision of public services is such a challenge. Education and health services for the people of Greater London must reflect the widely varying circumstances and range of needs that prevail in all those diverse boroughs.

All-London averages of general health indices are similar to those for the nation as a whole. Of course, that masks the individual differing statistics in individual boroughs. Life expectancy and infant mortality, for example, are worse in Lambeth, Southwark and Newham than in Richmond, Bromley and Kensington and Chelsea. There also seems to be a gender divide in life expectancies, which is greatly accentuated in poorer areas and reflected in the national average. That particular phenomenon has always intrigued me. Women in poorer areas often combine family and domestic responsibilities with several part-time jobs outside the home, often of a fairly arduous nature, over a number of years; yet their life expectancy seems to overcome all the odds. It is a tribute to their survival abilities that somehow they still seem to outlive men. I do not know the explanation, but statistically that seems to be the case.

The demand for health care outstrips the capacity for supply, and always has. It follows that in a densely populated area like London that effect will be exaggerated. Most GPs, for example, are overworked and have significantly more patients on their lists than is recommended by the national health service. Many of the traditional single practitioners are likely to be replaced on retirement by group practices in health centres, as property and staff costs in London are too high for newly qualified GPs to set up in single practice.

As more GPs reach retirement age, recruitment in London will become more and more of a challenge, particularly in outer London boroughs like Upminster, which fits neither the very rural nor the inner-city profile—both of which are particularly attractive to new GPs. Hospitals in London tend to have more staff per head than hospitals elsewhere, because they also treat patients from all over the country; but according to statistics from finished consultancy episodes, which are used as a standard measure of hospital activity, the 37.9 per cent. increase in funding for health care in London has been translated into only a 1 per cent. increase in hospital activity, and waiting times for consultant appointments and operations remain a serious concern for my constituents.

One of the main challenges is increasing the capacity of the health service to enable it to keep pace with ever-increasing demand and expectations. I welcome the Government's aim not just to allow patients to book every hospital appointment and elective admission by 2005, with a choice of convenient date and time, but to allow them to choose the hospital in which they will be treated. London has a natural advantage, in that it has more hospitals and a transport system. Sixty-three per cent. of patients involved in the London patient choice project exercised that option.

It makes absolute common sense to take advantage of the spare capacity in the provision of health care wherever it is—in an NHS trust, a treatment centre or a private hospital, or with a specialist primary care practitioner. It matters little to the patient who the provider is; it is the quality of care that counts. The NHS needs all the help it can get, from wherever it can get it. There are many opportunities for the public and private sectors in London to work together to mutual advantage and, more important, to the benefit of patients in shortening their waiting times.

Whereas health professionals should be free to make clinical decisions, it is the function of Government to create the conditions in which they work and to take a wider strategic view of improving the health of Londoners. Preventive measures play an essential role in reducing demand for health care. For example, London has a higher mortality rate from asthma than England and Wales as a whole, despite having a lower proportion of individuals receiving treatment for asthma. Strategies to improve air quality through engine efficiency, to discourage smoking, to reduce alcohol and drug abuse, to combat obesity and to encourage immunisation take-up all contribute in general to improving public health and quality of life for Londoners, while helping to reduce future demand on the NHS.

Tuberculosis rates have risen consistently in recent years, and new drug-resistant strains have developed in eastern Europe. People coming to this country from some of the accession countries in Europe are more likely to choose London than anywhere else in the country to live and seek work. There will be specific health problems attached to that, and the NHS will have to cope with them as well as with superfluous numbers.

At a time when both A and E departments and GP surgeries are under tremendous pressure from the sheer numbers of patients, the expansion of the role of pharmacists in the NHS is one way—which I know the Government are considering—in which capacity to treat could be increased. It would also be more convenient for patients. Where could be more convenient to access preventive medicines such as smoking cessation, contraceptive or dietary advice than in the high street chemist?

If the relevant professional bodies were receptive to the idea, pharmacists could also prescribe as well as dispense. After all, they have a comprehensive knowledge of prescription drugs and a personal relationship with their regular customers, which makes them ideally suited to play an increased role, and densely populated areas such as London lend themselves to pilot schemes.

I know one pharmacist in my constituency who recognised the sound of a particular cough when two of his regular customers came in to buy cough medicine and advised them to go home and get their gas fire checked—it was found to have dangerously high emission levels, and that piece of advice could have been life saving, which demonstrates the level of personal service that pharmacists already provide and shows how readily their role could be expanded.

The diversity of London boroughs brings challenges in education that match those in health. Havering schools have an excellent reputation and there is fierce competition for places. Indeed, many schools are doing very well, so raising the standard of London's failing schools to the level of the successful ones is a priority. The success of a school rests largely with the head teacher. An inspirational head teacher motivates staff, parents and pupils alike, but it is an uphill struggle in schools where there is little parental interest, a high level of absenteeism, discipline has broken down and disaffected pupils are emboldened by their knowledge of the limitations of the disciplinary measures available, their perceived rights and the threat of litigation. That minority of pupils has a disastrous effect on the education of the rest, who suffer disruption of their lessons and the resulting low morale in their teachers.

Removing from the classroom pupils who are unable or unwilling to behave in an acceptable way is the first essential. Finding the reasons for their behaviour and ways to modify it is a separate and difficult challenge, but it is essential to redirect those disaffected pupils so that they do not leave school unfit for employment, with low self-esteem and unable to interact with other people in a socially acceptable way. These are the very pupils who would benefit from high-quality vocational training. Anyone who lives in London knows how difficult it is to find a plumber, electrician or bricklayer without having to wait for six months. These practical skills are in great demand and can offer more secure employment opportunities than many very popular degrees such as media studies and information technology, which are reaching saturation point, and would not involve the attendant university student debts.

It may be that more flexibility in the curriculum would benefit failing schools. Head teachers might feel that learning and achievement in core subjects could be encouraged in other ways, for example through the introduction of more sport, music or drama. A creative head teacher knows his or her own school and what changes could be tried to help to turn it round. Once a school becomes unpopular and the numbers fall, its funding is affected. This can lead to staff losses and a downward spiral towards unviability.

Recruitment and retention of teachers in London is also affected by high property prices. Outer London boroughs such as Havering have a higher proportion of older, experienced teachers, who are extremely valuable to the school but are at the top of the pay scale, which makes staffing costs very high. Schools often lose newly appointed teachers to inner London, where the additional allowance makes all the difference in meeting the cost of housing in London. Some of my head teachers have travelled as far as New Zealand and South Africa in search of staff, when the normal procedures have failed to attract applicants. Some very enthusiastic young teachers have been found by this rather drastic method and they have been very popular with the children, but the drawback is that they may not stay very long.

There are two areas of concern that affect both health and education equally: sex and drugs education. Rates in London of serious sexual diseases such as HIV/AIDS, chlamydia and hepatitis B have risen dramatically, echoing the rise seen nationwide. Last year, the Health Committee declared itself "appalled" by the crisis in sexual health. Although parental responsibility is the dominant factor in the guidance of children, sex education in schools has a strong influence, and if misguided can do untold damage. The reluctance to moralise and the simple provision of information have in effect condoned sexual promiscuity in some young people. Safe-sex education has ignored abstinence messages and led to many young people becoming sexually active long before they are emotionally mature enough to cope with the consequences. Girls need to be warned of the likely outcome of having sex with a boy who has no interest in getting married or becoming a parent, and who has no income to support a child—[Interruption.] I am sorry if hon. Members think that that is amusing.

A teenage girl will find that 24-hour-a-day single motherhood in a free council flat is not the exciting adventure that it might have seemed to her, when her education is brought to an abrupt halt, she can no longer go out shopping or clubbing with her friends and her baby is effectively fatherless. Sex education has often given too much information and too little guidance. This is not a subject on which we can afford to be non-judgmental, as our alarming teenage pregnancy statistics demonstrate. The figures are the highest in Europe.

I take a similar view of drugs education, in that it has relied on the neutral provision of information to young people before they have the maturity of judgment to deal with it. The Home Office website "Frank" is enough to tempt many impressionable young people into experimenting with drugs. I apologise because I have made these points in the House before, but I shall give examples from the "Frank" website:

"If only illegal drugs came in packets with instructions on the outside"; and:

"Give the first drug plenty of time to kick in before taking another one."

There are lots of examples like that, although I shall not go on because I know that time is short.

Drugs education material for use in schools gives more details about illegal drugs, their effects, how they are administered—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I think that I need to remind her at this stage that the debate should relate specifically to London.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I was making the point that the drugs problem is worse in London than elsewhere.

It is no good telling young people all about drugs in great detail, then saying, "OK, now you decide." The problem is greater in London than in the country as a whole, although it is greatest in areas such as Lambeth and Lewisham and less bad in more affluent areas such as Richmond and Kingston upon Thames. The Minister will know that I have consistently opposed the Government's policy on the declassification of cannabis and their view on its contribution to the drug problem.

In those respects, education and health in London are inextricably linked. Advice, enforcement, policy and treatment need a co-ordinated strategy if the problems are to be tackled effectively. London is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the developed world. The people who live in it are its greatest resource, and they deserve the very best public services.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 6:23 pm, 21st April 2004

That excellent London journal Time Out recently ran a series of articles on the theme of whether London should declare independence. Although I would not go quite that far yet, it had one excellent idea: an anthem for London. Among the candidates were those superb songs, "The Dark Streets of London" by The Pogues and "London Calling" by The Clash. I am glad to see that that dirge by Ralph McTell did not make it into the top 1,000, but my personal favourite reminds me of when I arrived in London in the late 1970s: the Leyton Buzzards', "Saturday Night Beneath the Plastic Palm Trees". It includes those superb lines:

"Dancing to the rhythm of the guns of Navarone,

Found my Mecca near Tottenham Hale station,

I discovered heaven in the Seven Sisters Road".

That is exactly what arriving in north-east London meant to me and, although I have transferred my affections to Ladbroke Grove and the Harrow road since then, I remain very much in love with this city, in all its diversity, mess and creativity.

It is because I love London that I am perfectly happy to argue London's case and point out where we need policies and investment to tackle some of London's problems. We have challenges indeed. Many of those are the challenges of success arising from diversity, rapid population growth, turnover and mobility and the exceptional costs that we face, particularly in housing. Those challenges have made the delivery of public services much harder in London than in almost any other part of the country.

Because I love my city so much, I am always happy to point out that many people are not sharing in the general growth of London's economy and its benefits. The recent figures on below-average income households showed that inner London was losing out, particularly in respect of tackling child poverty. I was disturbed to note that no Conservative Member made any mention of poverty whatever. If we are to transform London, we have to transform it for all Londoners. After 25 years of active political campaigning and representation in London, I have no doubt that only one party is prepared to provide the resources, policies and leadership necessary to rise to the challenges and make the changes for London.

Events over the last few days have amply demonstrated that in respect of policing, crime and safety. The Government have supported the expansion of the number of police officers in recent years with a huge amount of funding. Additional investment of more than £300 million has been made in the past three years alone, and the Mayor has added £184 million raised through the council tax precept. Since 2001, the Conservative group has voted against the budget on every occasion.

Reference has been made to the step change neighbourhood policing scheme, which was launched in Brent a couple of weeks ago and, at the same time, in Queen's Park ward in my own constituency. It represents a very welcome development indeed and the key question is who is going to pay for it and similar expansion under the Conservative or Liberal Democrat plans. Conservative spending plans prioritise health and schools, but say nothing about how to preserve policing budgets. On the day after the launch of step change in Queen's Park, my local newspaper, the Wood and Vale quoted Graham Tope, the Lib Dem London Assembly member, as saying that the scheme would prove

"too costly for the capital".

He also said:

"Such a financial burden should not fall on London council taxpayers", which raises the question of who is going to pay for the Liberal Democrat expansion of police services, as outlined by Simon Hughes. We cannot have a wish list for police resources without a commitment to funding.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

My hon. Friend knows that about a fortnight ago on a Friday night in Northolt, my constituent, Akberali Mohamedally, was murdered. Thanks to the exemplary work of the borough co-ordinator, Stuart McNair and the borough commander, Martin Bridger, a suspect was arrested within 24 hours. Does my hon. Friend agree that community-based policing is something that we simply cannot afford to go without? We simply have to have it. Talking about paring back at this stage is almost criminal. Labour Members cannot and will not tolerate that.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Community and neighbourhood policing is what people want, and it is paying dividends. As another example, the same local newspaper mentions Deputy Chief Inspector Richard Wood of Marylebone police station, who is responsible for a halving of robbery and theft in the Marylebone division of Westminster. He is quoted as saying:

"I am not being arrogant, but we are solving 33 per cent. of all crime in Marylebone and 20 per cent. of robbery and snatch theft. As far as I know, that's the best record in the Met."

In my home patch, as well as across London, we are seeing a real improvement in detection and clear-up rates.

My hon. Friend Clive Efford and others provided figures on London-wide reductions in crime, so I shall not repeat them now. However, violent crime is an issue that rightly worries most people. After a particularly horrific drive-by shooting in north Kensington last week, it also worries me a great deal. We should remember that, thanks to the effectiveness of Operation Trident, gun crime fell by 47 per cent. in 2002–03, which also saw a 6 per cent. rise in detections.

Extraordinary progress has therefore been made in tackling a wide range of offences, including violent crime. My local police and the Metropolitan police generally should be warmly congratulated on the effectiveness of their operations, rather than open to the sort of criticism applied by the Conservative candidate for Mayor. Remarkably, he implies that he will secure improved policing results out of the same or possibly even a reduced budget. How is he going to do it? Supposedly by working with the Met to place crime at the heart of policy. How can he work with the commissioner when his advert today screams out that London is the most violent city in the country, that crime is rising remorselessly—which is untrue—and warns, despicably in my view, that

"your child's journey to school is at risk"?

How despicable is it to frighten children and parents, and their communities, with baseless assumptions drawn from the figures published by the Met? Do the Conservatives honestly believe that slamming the Met's recent record will improve relationships or the delivery of services?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

As my hon. Friend will know, Mr. Norris has form in that area. At a Police Federation meeting, he made claims about crime figures and fell out with Sir John, who said that the statistics quoted by Mr. Norris were misleading. Sir John said:

"I'm not going to sit here and listen to those figures. They are from a Tory think-tank, Civitas. Figures from the Met show violent crime is down by 5 per cent."

How can Mr. Norris work with the commissioner when he is constantly at war with him? Or does Mr. Norris intend to sack the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis like he intends to sack the commissioner of transport for London?

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

My hon. Friend is right. I have criticised the Conservative mayoral candidate and challenged some of the figures from Opposition Members, but it would be wrong to say that all Conservatives are critical of Government policy. At a community safety awards ceremony a few weeks ago, the leader of Westminster city council, that flagship Conservative borough, thanked police and council staff for all they were doing in

"bringing down crime and improving our streets".

He also quoted figures that confirm a

"massive 53 per cent. fall in street crime and a 9 per cent. drop in violent crime."

Those figures mean 6,889 fewer victims of crime overall.

The Westminster Reporter, produced by the borough's award-winning communications team—which rivals that of the GLA for size and cost—states that

"we are pleased to report a significant reduction in a number of crime categories . . . and a close working relationship with the Met".

That is something that Steve Norris would do well to emulate. The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea also has its say, with press releases headed, "Streets are safer as police blitz royal borough" and "More police community support officers on patrol in Kensington and Chelsea". At least Conservative boroughs in central London have given a warm welcome to the strategy introduced by the Government and the Mayor.

On crime figures, should the public trust the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, their local boroughs and a Government who have increased police strength from 27,536 in 1997 to more than 30,000 today? We know that one crime is one too many, but a crisis of confidence in policing stoked up by irresponsible comments also damages people's well-being. Instead, we should congratulate the police and praise the Government on the additional investment that has been made to improve the quality of life of Londoners.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:32 pm, 21st April 2004

To be honest, because of its timing, this debate has not been one of our best debates on London. Labour Members accuse us of overstating the case, but we could accuse them of complacency. I have lived in my area all my life and I know that people think that things have changed dramatically. I am not sure that we can blame any political party for that, but in the past two weeks, and less than a mile from my house, we have seen a tuberculosis outbreak in a local school, terrorist suspects arrested and a bus attacked by a gang of youngsters. That is typical of the experience of many people and they feel a sense of desperation about it. The Government have introduced legislation such as the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, but just passing a law does not stop the behaviour.

As the elections draw near, I hope that we can all agree on one thing. London is a diverse capital city, which has always been one of its great strengths. When we go out to campaign in the streets, we must all ensure that racists and the British National party get nowhere and we must not use anything that would make life easier for such people.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 6:34 pm, 21st April 2004

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Randall in the debate and to echo his words about racism, which all of us need to bear in mind.

Before I go any further, I wish to tell Linda Perham, whose speech was extremely interesting, that I think that I am the only non-London Member present and I will do my best not to moan about her city or, indeed, to draw any inimical comparison.

Almost all hon. Members today have spoken, in one form or another, about security, crime and terrorism, on which I intend to major in a moment. Clive Efford gave an interesting deposition on crime and the policing points were well made. Similarly, my hon. Friend Mr. Horam came in with an extremely well-put series of points on crime and rail, where he was joined by my hon. Friend Mrs. Lait. Ms Buck referred in particular to crime, along with poverty. All those speeches were illuminating, but I shall concentrate on the point on which my hon. Friend Mr. Field majored: the interface between crime, security and terrorism.

This morning, a number of people were arrested in Manchester. In my shadow capacity, I would be the first person to emphasise the fact that, of course, terrorism is not simply a problem that will be concentrated around the London area. However, Riyadh was also attacked this morning. In the past two or three years, the major attacks—Washington, New York, Bali, Madrid and, again, Riyadh—have all taken place in capital cities, so the capitals will get it. There is absolutely no doubt that—I think that I am paraphrasing Mr. Adams—we have got to be lucky all the time; the terrorists have only got to be lucky once and, if they can pick off a capital, they will do so.

I do not believe for one moment that it is easy to stop the terrorists getting through. Again, to paraphrase a great socialist, the bomber will always get through—although he was not necessarily talking about terrorist bombers: in that case, it was Nazi bombers. That is a fact: it is almost impossible to stop. There is no doubt that the Government have done certain things, but I should like to underline some ideas that, I hope, will make their efforts more focused and to echo one or two criticisms—they do not necessarily come from the Conservative party, but from other parties—about the way that things are being done at the moment. I hope that the Government will accept what I say as constructive, rather than destructive.

My first point is that we had some vocal interventions, particularly from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. McNulty, when we were talking about the level of exercising in the emergency services in the capital. There is no doubt that plenty of exercises have taken place in the capital, but to the best of my knowledge, there has been only one thorough field training exercise, to use military parlance: in other words, an exercise done live, on location and involving the emergency services—the blue-light services—in a situation that is as realistic as possible.

Of course I am talking about OSIRIS II, which, strangely, happened on the second anniversary, or thereabouts, of the events of 11 September. Although the Government are to be congratulated on getting on with that exercise, it took them a very long time to get round to doing it. I was there, as was the hon. Gentleman and several other hon. Members who are here today, and it struck me that it was the most basic form of exercise. I would expect to see such an exercise five or six weeks, not 105 or 106 weeks, after a major terrorist incident.

When will Ministers get round to holding an exercise or series of exercises that practise our emergency services when traffic is on the streets, pedestrians are about and the situation is thoroughly realistic? They have not yet done that. It is a little like sending soldiers into action without ever giving them the chance to use live ammunition. Blank ammunition is just fine but, at some stage, we have got to accept the opportunity cost and get on with things. We must say, as our American colleagues do, "I'm sorry, but we are going to interfere with trade and business for the next few hours and physically practise our response." The consequences of people saying in the media that their son, daughter, husband or wife had died because the emergency services had not been given an opportunity to practise would be horrific. If the Government want an example of that, they should examine the Spanish media after the Madrid bombings.

I also draw the Government's attention to a document that has already had a bit of an outing and which is known as "Project Unicorn". Its aim was to study what the commercial sector in London might do to assist the police counter-terrorism efforts. It was commissioned by the Metropolitan police, took a long time to produce and was extremely expensive. Its conclusions, which I note with interest that the Government have yet to publish, make fairly damning reading. The first point is that

"The Commercial Sector appears to be unanimous in its criticism of the present CT Communications Policy prior to a major incident: they find it outdated, condescending, generally uncoordinated and at times incoherent."

Several Members have already mentioned the need for a proper public information campaign. I note with interest that, during the proceedings on the Civil Contingencies Bill when we brought this idea up, we were completely and totally stonewalled by the Government. We were told that the matter was being dealt with and that we should not seek to scare the pants off the population. The population had to be alert but not alarmed. However, as soon as the Madrid incident occurred, the outstanding work of the police on the underground and the Metropolitan police produced public information campaigns warning people about what might happen, what to look out for and to be alert to exactly the points that we had been making to the Government. I urge Ministers to come back on this point and tell us why a much more coherent policy has not been followed to tell the population what is at stake.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the motion that he and his colleagues have tabled for this debate. It does not say anything about the fear of terrorism. The Conservatives appear to lack a policy for London, so should we not get back to the motion and start discussing the issues rather than trying to stir up the fear of terrorism in the way that Conservative Members have throughout the debate?

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

I point out that I was quoting from a document, the aim of which was to study what the commercial sector in London might do to assist the police in their counter-terrorism efforts. There is an unparalleled opportunity for the people of London to be used as eyes and ears for the security services. That would make terrorism much more difficult.

Project Unicorn says that there is a

"perceived lack of a central focus for CT in Government which is accentuated by the belief that Government does not always understand the commercial implications of CT . . . For the vast majority of businesses in London this is accentuated by the lack of a coherent Communications Policy and confusing terminology such as 'Resilience' or 'Preparedness'."

I could go on, but I will not. However, it is crucial that London stops trying to glue together this jigsaw of counter-terrorist efforts, listens to the points that the Metropolitan police are making and tries to start to use the private and commercial sectors in particular. It should try to use all the security guards, who are already halfway trained in such skills, and to enrol people to fight the battle alongside them.

I wish to pick up a point that I heard being made, rather surprisingly, by Simon Hughes. We should look much more imaginatively at raising something like an emergency volunteer reserve whereby we use the skills, abilities and motivation of individuals to help the Government, as cheaply as possible, to prepare physically for an attack that we have been told, rightly or wrongly, is inevitable.

The report goes on to make points about, in particular, the lack of understanding of the chemical, biological and radiological threat to London. It says:

"To the public at large the CBRN threat is undoubtedly the most frightening aspect of 'the new terrorism', but it also the one that Government says the least about. It is little surprise therefore that the media fills the vacuum and the public assume the worst. Whilst the more astute commercial security directors have produced their own CBRN guidelines and contingencies, they are loth, in the absence of any official direction, to promulgate them."

I say to the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, please can we look at that advice, which comes from a wholly objective source, and do something about it? Let us see the report published and a campaign for public information and training put in place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has already mentioned the civil contingencies reaction force. That very slender force was the only answer that the Government came up with relatively quickly to try to produce more muscle after 11 September. It never reached its 7,000 operational target, but—I do not want to be churlish about this—it is better than nothing. The force exists and can be called on.

The Ministry of Defence has told us that the most effective of the 14 civil contingencies reaction forces is that founded by the London Regiment. Yet the London Regiment—not all of it, but two companies—has been called up and is serving in Iraq. I wonder how many soldiers from London were involved in the four explosions in Basra this morning. Why were they there? Why were they not in Bermondsey, where they should be, doing their job? Has the Minister raised that with the MOD? Has she made it clear that London, above all areas, needs to have forces that will prevent threat from turning into reality? If that does not happen, I very much regret that the political consequences that we saw after the Madrid attacks may well come to pass in this country.

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety) 6:47 pm, 21st April 2004

As a northerner, I am delighted to have the opportunity to wind up this debate. Like Mr. Randall, I have heard excellent contributions on a range of issues from Members with constituencies right across London, and my knowledge of the city has been dramatically enhanced by listening to the debate. The debate has highlighted London's position.

We have heard a bit of an own goal from the Opposition, and I wonder just how in touch with his constituency Mr. Field is. The leader of Westminster city council comes to see me regularly to tell me how well the crime figures are doing in his area, how the council has tackled antisocial behaviour and how it has used all the new powers provided by the Government dramatically to reduce crime in Leicester square over the past few months. Yet the hon. Gentleman spent the whole of his contribution telling us how policing is not working, crime is out of control and antisocial behaviour is a problem. If he talks to officers on his doorstep he will find that things are getting a great deal better.

I want to restate our Government's commitment to London's continuing economic, social and cultural success and to the way in which it is enhancing its status as a world-class city. It is crucial to me, in my part of the country, that London continues to do well, that it is a magnet for inward investment, that it drives the economy of the rest of the country and that it helps to ensure that we have record numbers of people in work throughout Britain. As many Members have said, we also now have record police numbers, including the new community support officers, and more police officers on the beat. There has also been a massive increase in bus services throughout the capital and in the number of people using them. There is a range of things in London of which we can be proud.

Following the references to the Beach Boys and the Pogues this afternoon, I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Ms Buck did not join together on one issue, and that was in singing the proposed London anthem. However, every Member who spoke conveyed a genuine sense of pride in representing London.

My hon. Friend Linda Perham made an excellent speech in which she outlined action by the Metropolitan police on antisocial behaviour and discussed the step change programme. She conveyed her own pride in being a Londoner and highlighted the fact that the Tory motion was—I hesitate to use these words—a long whinge that talked London down and lacked self-confidence. There was no London pride among the Conservatives.

My hon. Friend Clive Efford provided an analysis of support for policing, and praised the work of community support officers, who are on the beat, day in, day out. They are not distracted from their work, establish relationships with local people, and are making an impact in my hon. Friend's community.

There was an interesting competition between Mr. Horam and my hon. Friend Mr. Pound about which was the leafiest borough in London. I am not in a position to decide the issue, but I can tell them both that the deployment of police resources in London is an operational matter for the police. Resources will be directed to the areas of greatest need, but they will know that the introduction of the step change programme will result in 100 new teams of officers across London. In every single borough there will be three teams of police officers and community support officers dedicated to local neighbourhood reassurance policing, which is what local people have told us they want. Wherever people are in London—in a leafy borough or an inner-city area—they will get better policing and better reassurance.

Photo of John Horam John Horam Conservative, Orpington

The hon. Lady made the point that we will get teams throughout London boroughs, but only three wards out of 30 in a typical borough will benefit. What will happen in the other 27?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety)

The hon. Gentleman wants more, although we have obviously made an extremely good start. His party opposed the precept in the budget of £184 million extra for policing. He cannot have his cake and eat it—he cannot have extra police officers unless he is prepared to find the money for them.

Angela Watkinson spoke about the health service and education. The health service in London, as in the rest of the country, is improving enormously as a result of Government decisions to increase investment in the NHS, slash waiting times, increase choice and make sure that people across the capital can get better health services in future. I urge her to re-examine her party's policy on the patients' passport, which, far from being a passport, would be an exit visa from the national health service and would not lead to improvements in services for local people.

I am afraid that I was disappointed by the contribution of Simon Hughes. He praised crime reduction in London, and I was grateful to him for going through the figures. As he said, the latest figures will not be available until next week, but for some years they have shown that London is safer place in which to live and work and for businesses to operate in. We are making genuine progress, and I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. However, on antisocial behaviour, he has an extremely poor record. His party voted against the Third Reading of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, and in that debate he said that

"we must ask ourselves whether, if we were in government, we would want the Bill on the statute book, and the answer is no".—[Hansard, 24 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 991.]

That comment will come to haunt the hon. Gentleman because, in typical Liberal Democrat fashion, not all his councillors share his view, and hold different opinions in different areas of London. One power in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill to which the hon. Gentleman took particular exception was the power to disperse people who were intimidating and harassing local people. There have been huge problems on the Butts Farm estate in Feltham, including stalking, intimidation, threats to kill and abusive and threatening language, often targeted on vulnerable residents. It was decided to use the dispersal powers in Feltham, and a Liberal Democrat councillor said:

"This will have a benefit for the law-abiding majority of youth and residents. . . They have nothing to fear . . . but the people who commit anti-social behaviour have."

The hon. Gentleman takes one view; his councillors take another view. That is a familiar situation among Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Liberal Democrat, North Southwark and Bermondsey

The Minister would not dare pretend that there is never a difference between the Labour Front Bench team and any Labour member anywhere in the country. Does she agree that things are often much better when there is a partnership? Will she commend my borough, run by Liberal Democrats, which the other day was given by her colleague the Minister a beacon award for community safety for the measures we implement on the ground, which are the best in London and the best in the country?

Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety)

I understand that the foundations for the partnership, which takes a long time to mature, were laid when the council was under Labour control, but I am delighted to pay tribute to local authorities throughout the country and across London that are working hard in their community safety partnerships. I understand that about £30 million has gone into those partnerships over the past year in order to make that significant difference for us.

I want to highlight the success in reducing street crime across London—a 21 per cent. reduction in robbery, and 11,000 fewer victims. Sometimes we forget the human cost when we speak about numbers and percentages, and 11,000 fewer people were robbed in London as a result of the action taken by the Metropolitan police and their partners. I am also delighted that youth crime is down 7 per cent. in the past year alone. Our young people are the citizens of the future, and it is vital that they are able to live in a safe community. We speak a great deal about young people and antisocial behaviour, but quite often young people are the victims of crime as well. The vast majority of our young people are good, decent young people who make a positive contribution to our community.

Many hon. Members mentioned the record numbers of police in our capital, about which I am delighted. The Conservatives spoke about an extra 40,000 police officers, but they have gone very quiet about that in recent months. Since they found they could not fund that as well as the fantasy island asylum policy, we have heard little from them. Today we heard from the Opposition that they are interested not in extra police numbers, but in how they are deployed. The Labour Government, however, have a record of extra police numbers across London and extra community support officers.

I shall deal with the issues raised by Patrick Mercer about resilience and preparedness in London. The local response capability is one of our key building blocks. That is why it is so important that at the centre we keep in touch with the locality and with London about preparedness. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that regional resilience teams are in place in every Government office. In future, the Government offices will be much better organised and in a much better position to tackle not just the terrorist threat, but any of the civilian threats that we face.

But the hon. Gentleman is right. The threat from terrorism remains real and serious. It is a worldwide issue. It is not unique to the UK. It will be with us for the long term. That is why it is vital that we plan properly. I am delighted to be able to tell him that we are putting an extra £61 million into the Metropolitan police service next year to help it counter the terrorist threat. Since September 2001 we have taken a range of measures to strengthen our anti-terrorism legislation, to make sure that people cannot hide behind the immigration and refugee protections, to proscribe terrorist organisations and to increase the funding not just for the Government offices in London but for the fire service, which for the first time has all its staff trained on CBRN.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the exercises that have taken place. I can tell him that hundreds of exercises have taken place across London. They take place weekly. The exercise that he highlighted, OSIRIS II, is only the most visible exercise, but we have had three major command and control exercises, also connected with the military, making sure that we keep in constant contact with them. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the business community. The business community is totally engaged with our preparations and is part of our structure. He spoke about the need for public information—

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 308.

Division number 135 London

Aye: 143 MPs

No: 308 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 302, Noes 169.

Division number 136 London

Aye: 302 MPs

No: 169 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this House takes pride in London's heritage and status as a leading global capital city; notes that its outstanding success over many centuries has depended upon its rich mix of people, innovation and energy; further notes that it is an international leader in financial services, the arts, media, higher education, medicine and scientific research and tourism; welcomes the Government's commitment to London's continuing economic, social and cultural success, and to enhancing its status as a world class city; applauds London's high levels of productivity and success in attracting inward investment that benefits the whole of the UK; recognises that this success is backed by record levels of funding from this Government for education, health, the arts, culture, creative industries, crime prevention, transport and other key public services that have resulted in substantially higher employment, substantially lower unemployment, record police numbers including more community support officers and police on the beat, massive increases in bus services and people using them, with an extra 100 million bus trips and an extra 180 million Tube journeys taken a year; applauds the leadership of the Mayor of London, working in partnership with the Government in the key areas of transport, planning, economic developmnent and policing; praises the work of the police and security services in remaining vigilant to keep the capital safe; and condemns outright Opposition attempts to talk down and undermine the continued success of our great capital city.