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Metropolitan Police Service — [Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 6th February 2013.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon 2:30 pm, 6th February 2013

Before I call Mr Gareth Thomas to speak, let me just say that we have a cast of thousands this afternoon for this important debate. So, if I can impose a five-minute voluntary time limit to begin with—not including Mr Thomas, of course—we will see how we get on.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for allowing this debate. It is right to begin by saying that we in the House owe a continuing debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Metropolitan police. They are, in general, superb public servants, doing a very difficult and very important job extremely well.

The Met was rightly praised for its work during the Olympics and the diamond jubilee last year, but its less high-profile work—the bread and butter of policing work, through its contribution to keeping our communities safe, pursuing criminals and supporting victims—remains fundamental, and the overwhelming majority of its officers do that with considerable skill and dedication.

Nevertheless, the future of policing in London is under scrutiny, and with good reason. Under the stewardship of the Mayor of London and the Conservative party, the Metropolitan police have already seen a drop of more than 4,000 uniformed police—police constables and police community support officers—on London’s streets since the general election, a period in which all Members will acknowledge that there were major riots and growing concern about gang violence. To take just one borough—my own borough of Harrow—we lost 100 PCs and PCSOs, a cut in front-line uniformed police officers of 19%, which is one of the biggest cuts. A cut of almost 20% in the Government’s grant to the Metropolitan police, which was supported by the Mayor and Conservative Members, is the driving factor behind the cuts to police funding that are now being debated across London.

Using a choice of statistics that the characters in “The Thick of It” would have been proud of, the Mayor’s plan promises more police recruitment. However, the truth is that there will be fewer police officers and fewer PCSOs by 2015, and that police officers are likely to be significantly less experienced than now. That drop in police numbers is noteworthy of itself, but comparing the number and percentage of crimes solved reveals that the Metropolitan police saw in 2011-12 a sharp drop in the number, and crucially in the percentage, of crimes being solved. In 2011-12, 22,600 fewer crimes were solved in London than in 2009-10, and the percentage of crimes solved dropped to 21.6%.

Those figures are perhaps not surprising when cuts to the number of prosecutors available to the Crown Prosecution Service in London are taken into account. It would be interesting to hear the Minister and the Mayor of London explain how they think that the number and percentage of crimes solved are likely to rise with fewer police and even fewer prosecutors.

According to the figures that the Mayor of London has published, two thirds of London boroughs will still have fewer police officers by the end of 2015 than they had at the time of the last general election. Estimates for the number of PCSOs per borough have not been published, but with further substantial cuts to PCSO recruitment—some 1,100 will be cut by 2015-16, according to the Greater London assembly’s police and crime committee—it looks as though every borough will have significantly fewer uniformed police officers in total patrolling their streets by 2015 than they did in 2010.

Some people think that PCSOs are an expensive waste of time. I am not one of them, certainly not after I saw the difference that two PCSOs made to stopping trouble outside the gates of one of my major secondary schools. The head teacher said that he and members of his senior team went from being called out to deal with an incident at school closing time four afternoons out of every five to just twice in three months, after PCSOs were stationed outside those gates for the 30 minutes from the end of lessons. So PCSOs do a vital job, offering a direct reassuring presence to the public, helping to build the confidence that is necessary to gain intelligence, and—crucially—supporting the victims of crime.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I echo what my hon. Friend is saying about PCSOs. In Newham, PCSOs have certainly been valuable when incidents have occurred that could possibly have heightened community tensions, particularly around the time of the riots and shortly afterwards. Being without PCSOs would be a real problem for us.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My hon. Friend makes a very good point based on her own constituency experience. I suspect that, as I do, she feels that the cut in the number of PCSOs is noticed in her borough, as it certainly is in mine, and I suspect that it is also felt more widely across London.

By comparison with 2010, when Members last faced the people to ask for their support, there will be considerably fewer sergeants in London by 2015. Some estimates suggest that 1,300 sergeants will be axed. Inspectors and chief inspectors are also going, and superintendents’ numbers are likewise being cut. In short, the positions occupied by experienced police officers are being axed. The Mayor’s plan describes those positions as “supervisory grades”. In truth, those roles, and crucially the experience and skill mix of the senior staff occupying them, are fundamental to the effective pursuit of the criminal, the passage of the accused through the legal process and the sensitive support of the victim.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour, Feltham and Heston

Does my hon. Friend agree that the experience of those officers who have had many years in the police is vital for the coaching and support of officers who are new to the service? I have noticed in my own constituency the difference that that coaching and support has made, particularly in areas of Feltham and Heston that suffered a large number of burglaries before Christmas. The advice that those more experienced officers was able to give to PCSOs who were on the front line was vital.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the value that experienced police officers bring to the coaching of new recruits. It is worth noting in passing that the Mayor’s plan envisages specialist crime squads at borough level—such as local burglary, town centre or robbery squads—essentially being raided for staff, who will then be redeployed. So we sense that, as my hon. Friend suggests, a huge amount of vital experience is set to be lost to the Met when it is still needed.

It would be good to hear from the Minister what discussions he has had with the Mayor and the Association of Chief Police Officers staff in the Metropolitan police about how the impact of the cuts that I have described will also impact on national efforts to confront organised crime, or how cuts in the positions occupied by experienced police officers and the movement of staff from specialist units will impact, for example, on the work of Operation Trident. It certainly prompts the question how cuts in the Met will impact on its ability to support the UK Border Agency in its efforts to track down, arrest and deport illegal immigrants.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Like me, he represents an outer London borough. He has not said anything about the changes in the draft crime and policing plan to the resource allocation formula that was put in place by the previous Mayor. By 2015, my own borough will gain 117 officers compared with the number in 2011. Does he agree that changing the formula in that way is a welcome development for outer London?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

It is good to have the hon. Gentleman here. However, looking at the figures between March 2010 and April 2012, I see that Croydon lost 175 PCSOs and police officers, and it experienced the same percentage cut in police numbers—a cut of 19%—as Harrow did. Moreover, the figures for 2010—just in terms of police officers for Croydon—compared with the figures for 2015 suggest that there will be a net increase of just one police officer in Croydon. Add in the likelihood of further significant cuts to the number of PCSOs, in the way that I have described, and I suspect that the reality of police numbers in Croydon will be a significant fall.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Labour, Croydon North

I just want to point out that it depends on what people’s starting point is in 2011 as to whether we end up with more or fewer police officers in Croydon. If we take as our starting point the month immediately after the riots that deeply traumatised people in the borough, we end up with fewer police officers than at that time, and the public generally view the number that we had immediately after the riots as wholly inadequate—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Order. Interventions should be brief.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing some particularly “Croydon colour” to the point about the number of PCs and PCSOs—a number that we will see falling in Croydon.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

The hon. Gentleman is not necessarily comparing like with like. He is comparing the number of officers that were working in Croydon in 2011, which is the basic borough command unit strength plus additional officers who were temporarily allocated, with what the Mayor is saying the fundamental borough command unit strength will be in 2015. If he makes a like-for-like comparison, he will find a significant improvement for many outer London boroughs. Does he welcome that improvement?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I welcome any increase in police numbers, given the significant cuts that have been made and, in truth, will continue to be made up to 2015. The figures that I cited are from a freedom of information request about the cuts between March 2010 and April 2012, and the hon. Gentleman has said nothing about whether he supports the Mayor’s decision to axe 175 posts in Croydon during that period. The figures that I gave for the numbers of police officers in 2015 and in 2010 are from evidence given to the London assembly’s police and crime committee.

As I have said, the Mayor and his staff deliberately chose 2011, because it was the lowest point for police recruitment, with a freeze on recruitment that no one was told about. With respect, the hon. Gentleman will be judged by his constituents on what has happened since March 2010, when the general election campaign started, and what the position will be by 2015, and I am afraid that they will see a reduction in the number of police officers and PCSOs in Croydon, unless there is a dramatic change before then.

Local police teams are essentially being squashed under the Mayor’s plan. Instead of each community in Harrow having at least a sergeant, three police constables and three PCSOs, there will be only one PC and one PCSO dedicated to policing each community. In my constituency, the areas of west Harrow, Rayners Lane and north Harrow, which cover four wards, will go from having 28 uniformed police officers dedicated to those communities to just eight. Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, in July last year, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, commenting on the Metropolitan police, noted the plans to cut police officers and PCSOs, as well as police staff, by 2015.

The inspectorate’s survey of whether police officers were available when they were most likely to be needed showed a decrease in the proportion of police officers and PCSOs in visible roles at key times. In an FOI request, I asked for the proportion of safer neighbourhood team staff on duty at 9 pm on a Friday at the end of November, and the answer was just 20%. Response teams were, of course, available, but I was surprised by how low the figure was. We need to be cautious with such figures because they offer a one-off snapshot, but that underlines the concern that many constituents and many Members of Parliament have about whether enough police are now available on our streets at key times.

Although the Mayor’s plans are at pains to appear committed to safer neighbourhood policing—they retain that language—in practice, it is clear that that model of policing is as good as over. There is talk in Boris’s plans of one borough-wide safer neighbourhood panel, but local ward-based panels, which enable local people to develop a relationship with the local police teams and talk through the challenges faced in their communities, are not mentioned at all. Will the Minister explain whether such forums are to be abolished?

Victim satisfaction rates in London are poor, compared to those in the rest of the country. The ambition to lift the rates is laudable, but having fewer senior and experienced police officers and lots of new inexperienced ones, along with less of a visible deterrent in the form of vital reassurance policing hardly suggests that a convincing plan to increase victim satisfaction is at the heart of the Mayor’s thinking on the future of the Met. The plan that is being touted around London boroughs is being aired for just one hour, and the Mayor of London himself cannot even be bothered to go and hear ordinary Londoners’ concerns around the capital. The Metropolitan police service is one of our city’s greatest assets and deserves inspired political leadership, but instead it is being asset-stripped, and our constituents will lose out.

No debate about the future of the Metropolitan police can take place without a reflection on the story of Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the failure of the investigation, because it still resonates all these years later, in part because of the continuing failure to ensure that the senior ranks of London’s police reflect the communities they aspire to serve. If recent media reports are to be believed, there is not one black or ethnic minority participant on the strategic command course, which is

“the conveyor belt for middle-ranking officers being groomed for senior-officer rank.”

I find it difficult to believe that, in the 21st century, there is not one ethnic minority candidate with the talent to be groomed for a senior command position in the Metropolitan police—not one.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Will he join me in commending the local commander in Harrow, Borough Commander Dal Babu, on all his work, and does he share my concern about the commander being one of the people not chosen to go on the strategic command course? He would have been admirably suited for the course.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I will come on to that point in a second.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has pledged to act on the issue. That pledge is extremely welcome, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister that he is encouraging the commissioner to be ambitious in his thinking.

My right hon. Friend just mentioned my own excellent borough commander. He was one of the Met’s few senior Muslim officers before he retired this week. Chief Superintendent Dal Babu’s story reminds the House of the ongoing need for, in his words, “radical measures” to boost ethnic minority recruitment into the Met, into its specialist units—for example, firearms and the criminal investigation department—and, crucially, into its senior ranks. During his time in the Metropolitan police, Dal Babu helped repeatedly to challenge discrimination and bias. Just one example of his work is a pilot mentoring scheme for talented senior officers. Surprisingly, however, ACPO rejected the idea of rolling the programme out more widely, to encourage more black and ethnic minority officers in middle and senior-ranking posts to be ready for higher commands. As Chief Superintendent Babu points out, there is a significant gap between our collective ambitions for a representative police force in our city and the reality. It would be useful to hear the Minister underline publicly what I believe is a cross-party view, that the senior ranks of the Met need to be much more representative of the communities of London.

More recently, the Mayor of London announced plans to close some 65 police stations and sell them off. In my borough, Pinner police station and the front counter at the civic centre are set for closure, although I understand that there is now a question whether Pinner will be closed after all. Given that the civic centre front counter has long been manned by volunteers, I would be surprised if much in the way of revenue savings would be generated. What is striking, though, is the scale of the cuts to police stations in some parts of London. Croydon will lose five of its six stations. Barking and Dagenham will lose three of its four. Havering will lose four of its five, and Waltham Forest is set to lose four of its five. I understand that the police station in Tottenham—a visible signal of reassurance to a community devastated by the riots—is set for closure, too. What is far from clear are the rationale and criteria for each closure, particularly when the deputy Mayor has promised that, where a face-to-face service closes, it will be replaced with another such service. I ask gently, as the Minister can perhaps throw some light on this: how much money will be saved by that scale of closure, given that promise of replacement face-to-face services?

The Mayor’s plans create uncertainty about not just police stations; there has been a sharp reduction in the number of police cars available to the Metropolitan police. The car is a fairly fundamental bit of equipment for police work. According to information obtained through freedom of information requests, almost 200 police response vehicles were axed across London in the first two years of this Government—a 16% drop. I am not sure why the Mayor thought that it would be a good idea to cut by almost a third the number of unmarked and marked police cars in Haringey, which was a flashpoint of the 2011 riots.

Gang crime remains one of the most modern challenges that the Metropolitan police face. It is a huge issue in much of inner London, but it is becoming a problem in the suburbs as well. In a debate in this Chamber on 4 December, a series of Members—in particular, my hon. Friend Ms Buck, but also my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and Mark Field—pressed the Minister on the future funding of the anti-gang initiatives that are in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North noted that funding had been cut already and was likely to face further significant reductions.

The police and crime committee of the Greater London assembly has noted that community safety funding often pays for independent domestic violence advisers, who are crucial in supporting domestic violence victims to come forward. Such funding also pays for restorative justice projects, substance and alcohol misuse programmes and, crucially, programmes to divert young people from gang and youth violence. Concern about whether such funding will continue threatens to destabilise projects that have made a difference in addressing gang crime, supporting the victims of domestic violence and preventing antisocial behaviour.

I ask the Minister, as my hon. Friends did in the debate on 4 December, to clarify whether Home Office grants to London for community safety, youth crime and substance misuse will again be substantially cut back next year. Does the Home Office still plan to end funding to London through its ending gang and youth violence funding pot in March?

Championing the safety of constituents is surely a Member of Parliament’s most significant responsibility. The cuts in police funding, coupled with the Mayor’s half-baked crime and policing plan and further cuts to programmes that address some of the causes of crime, leave my constituents and Londoners in general less safe and more vulnerable. I urge the Government to think again.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

The wind-ups will begin at 3.40 pm. Eleven colleagues have caught my eye. We now move on to our voluntary four-and-a-half minute time limit for speeches.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham 2:51 pm, 6th February 2013

Thank you for allowing me to speak, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Thomas for securing this timely debate. We all know that for London to remain one of the best cities in the world it must also be one of the safest. London has been well served in that respect.

The Metropolitan police, although no stranger to controversies or mistakes—my hon. Friend has mentioned some high-profile concerns—is one of the best police services in the world, considering the challenges that it faces. Given the sheer expanse of the city and the ever-present concern about terrorism, the need to forge links across all communities is an important hurdle that the Met overcomes. We would all want to give great thanks to the men and women who serve in our areas.

That is all testament to the previous Labour Mayor, who invested in our police service and in policing technology; it is a testament to the previous Labour Government, who revolutionised neighbourhood policing. The resulting model for the Met that the previous Mayor and Government bequeathed to their current Tory masters was defined by three principles. The first principle was strength in numbers. The number of officers available to the Metropolitan police broke the 33,000 barrier, complemented by 4,000 police community support officers and 4,000 special constables.

The second principle is a relentless focus on the local and the very local. Community relations were forged on the ground, not just over the airwaves. New sergeants and their teams were embedded in neighbourhoods and communities, ensuring that they knew not only the faces of people serving the community, but their first names and addresses.

The third principle was an inescapable presence. The Metropolitan police had a permanent and visible presence in every neighbourhood in the capital. Whether it was an expensive or expansive police station or a local shop front, Londoners knew where to find their police on the high street, and residents and businesses felt safer for that.

As my hon. Friend has outlined so well, that model is now under threat. Those pillars are slowly being kicked away by the swingeing axe that this Government and their Mayor have taken to budgets. Where they have not entirely demolished community faith in policing—I shall come to concerns in Tottenham shortly—they have found a deputy Mayor who has not been present at all in the communities that he is supposed to be serving.

We have already lost 1,500 police officers and 2,000 PCSOs since the spending review. The safer neighbourhoods teams have been decimated, and a quarter of sergeants have been cut. Just last month, we found out that the Mayor has ordered the effective withdrawal of the police from our high streets. Sixty-five police stations are proposed to be closed, and the hours of more than 30 others are being downgraded. Of particular concern to me and my constituents is the fate of Tottenham police stations.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend’s flow about Tottenham, but may I tell him that Newham faces the same problem? Almost half of our police stations are going, and so is the police station in Stratford, which, as hon. Members may recognise, is a place of major growth and regeneration. How can someone possibly think that that is a reasonable police station to close?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

My hon. Friend makes her point well. She will appreciate that constituents such as ours in Newham and Tottenham fear the closure of police stations and the hours that police stations might now be open. Concerns in complex, multicultural areas must command the Mayor’s attention, and a present deputy Mayor is needed to answer them urgently.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 2:56 pm, 6th February 2013

I congratulate Mr Thomas on securing this important debate.

Ten short days ago, my constituency was home to an appalling tragedy. A 16-year-old boy, Hani El Kheir, was brutally murdered in the street. Walking along Lupus street, Pimlico, literally a mile or a mile and a half away from here, in the early evening, Hani and his girlfriend were approached by a group of 10 to 20 youths carrying a range of weapons. When he tried to escape, he was tripped and set upon, receiving a number of stab wounds as he was attacked, one of which pierced his heart. Having completed their deed, the pack of killers left Hani bleeding in the street. The emergency services arrived swiftly, taking only five to 10 minutes to get to the scene of the crime. Medical staff worked hard, but Hani eventually died some two hours after the attack.

Hani was the only child of Pauline Hickey. As a father of two young children, I cannot even begin to imagine her anguish. She has lost the most precious gift, a son with whom she had, as she put it, an “unconditional and unbreakable bond.”

Everyone here will have read the newspaper reports of the attack, and I suspect in my constituency such attacks bring more headlines than is perhaps the case in some parts of outer London. I do not wish to repeat those reports other than to say that the witness accounts were chilling and posed questions about how such people operate in our society. I am well aware that comparable brutalities occur on the streets of Harrow, Tottenham, Hackney and Peckham that are no less a tragedy because of their location.

All but one of the constituents who contacted me after Hani’s murder were women, and I suspect that such cases strike a particular chord with mothers, daughters and sisters who sympathise so deeply with Pauline Hickey. One of my correspondents said:

“Hani’s death is a tragic example of the escalating brutality that our young men in the area are being exposed to.”

A number of warrants have been issued across London and local ward resources have been beefed up, with weapons sweeps conducted on local estates in Pimlico and beyond. Police have been working closely with Westminster city council and information is being shared with local schools, especially with regards to the siblings of any victims and suspects arrested in relation to this high-profile case, and there have been many arrests. A big public meeting is taking place tomorrow to bring all of us together—police, council, residents and elected representatives—to discuss how we might prevent similar tragedies in future.

I have mentioned this in the House several times, as has been mentioned, but it is worth repeating that Westminster city council, under the energetic chairmanship of Councillor Nickie Aiken, who is a cabinet member, has pioneered innovative work with gangs in this city. Under the “Your Choice” programme led by the integrated gangs unit, gang members are given real choices. If they wish to leave their gang, they are helped with employment, mentoring and support. If they choose not to, serious enforcement action will be taken, including clamping down on those living in social housing who create misery for their neighbours through antisocial behaviour. I am glad to see that the Mayor of London is committed to rolling such measures out.

Many criticisms are made of the Metropolitan police, particularly in these difficult financial times. In the aftermath of Hani’s murder, I received some relating to the fact that there seemed to be a visible police presence only after the tragedy. Where had those bobbies on the beat been before? If they had been more visible, could they have prevented Hani’s murder? Those are the sorts of question coming through.

I confess that I do not recognise some of the criticisms that have been made by the two hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and, I suspect, will be made later by others among this great phalanx of London Labour MPs. [Interruption.] I felt as outnumbered as this in 2001, when I was first elected to the House. It may happen again in future.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

The hon. Gentleman serves his constituents well, but I am surprised that Conservative Members from Barnet, Croydon and other places are not here to join him in this important debate for London.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

This is an important debate, and rest assured that Conservative MPs have had various meetings on these matters with Stephen Greenhalgh, deputy Mayor of London, and with the Mayor himself.

The new local policing model reflects the financial constraints that any Mayor, of whatever colour, would have experienced. Part of it involves making police more accountable to local people. One reason for closing down our local police stations is that we are trying to put more money into bobbies on the beat rather than necessarily into bricks-and-mortar institutions. There will be an extra 2,600 officers in the safer neighbourhoods scheme as the role of safer neighbourhoods teams changes to cover reassurance and enforcement. Neighbourhood officers will be available for far longer hours, and neighbourhood inspectors will be a key point of accountability. That is good news, and I hope that the Met starts connecting with local people so that communities can work together to protect our youngsters.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the figures from the police and crime committee of the Greater London Assembly show that by 2015, there will be 202 fewer police constables patrolling the streets of Westminster than there were in 2010, and that does not take into account how many police community support officers will go as well. Even according to the Mayor’s figures, there will be significantly fewer police officers in the hon. Gentleman’s borough.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman answers, I would be grateful if he could draw his remarks to a conclusion.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I shall. I appreciate that many others want to speak. I just wanted to mention that particular local tragedy.

I fear that the voice of young people is often being lost in this debate. That is why Westminster city council is working in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion to deliver the youth secure streets programme, in which young people and community representatives develop a local strategy for dealing with some of these issues. In my constituency, particularly in the Ebury Bridge and Churchill Gardens estates, a lot of effort has gone into reassuring residents—in many months gone by, not just in the last 10 days—and encouraging them to come forward. That has often been something of a missing link.

There is so much more I should like to have said, and I am sure that many other Members will say those things. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, and I recognise that these are deep concerns across the political divide. As London MPs, we feel that they are our particular concerns and problems, and I hope that he will give us some reassurance when he sums up the debate.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Colleagues, by the power vested in me, I impose an official four-minute time limit from now on. I remind Members that if there are interventions, you get an extra minute, but let us try to limit them, or someone will be squeezed out.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Education) 3:03 pm, 6th February 2013

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Thomas on initiating this debate and rightly drawing our attention to some of the ways in which the debate on police numbers has been presented by the Mayor’s office. He is completely right, as he pointed out in his intervention, that the presentation showing one additional police officer in Westminster does not tell us the whole truth, and that we are down by 202 police officers since 2010. He is also completely correct to draw our attention to the changes in the safer neighbourhoods structure, which I think will seriously dilute the connection between safer neighbourhoods teams and their local ward areas. Local leadership of safer neighbourhoods teams is what has made them so important and successful over the past seven or eight years, and it is a great shame that that structure is now being changed.

Although the debate has been framed generally around numbers and premises, one important thing that we can all agree on is that what really matters is how the police demonstrate their presence in a community. It is presence that is significant, not necessarily the bricks and mortar in which police are housed. Police must be visible and accessible, and visibility is not the same as audibility. Communities want to know that their police are present, and not simply as a siren in the street.

I welcome the fact that, under the new proposals, more police officers will be moved into the safer neighbourhoods pool of police, albeit in larger local units, but that brings us back to police premises. It is all very well for the Mayor to make the case that there are 65 stations and counters with a low footfall for reporting crime, and that they can be closed without an effect on the community, but we all know that where police work from matters in terms of how they are perceived by the community. The withdrawal of police stations, particularly from areas of deprivation such as the Harrow Road police station in my constituency, will matter if we are not given a clear indication of the criteria, budget and structure for the alternative way in which police will operate.

The whole consultation has put the cart before the horse. We have been asked to make our comments on police station closures without having had any clear indication of what will replace them or, above all, where the safer neighbourhoods teams will work from to ensure their local police presence. That matters not just in terms of reassuring the community about police presence but to the close relationships between police and their local communities.

Mark Field is completely right that one important example is the relationship between police and young people. In recent years, progress has been made on improving that relationship. It is always difficult, but it has improved, and overall progress has been made on stop-and-search, which lies at the heart of a lot of the tensions. It is therefore worrying that young people have come to me who have undergone strip searches for cannabis possession under the new enforcement regime. It seems to me that proportionality is an issue in how we operate stop-and-search. It is an important tool and it should be used, but proportionality should be borne in mind.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was completely right to draw our attention to gangs and the terrible murder in his constituency. It is of deep concern to me that we have yet to hear from the Mayor’s office on the funding of the gangs unit. Westminster council has told us that the £225,000 that it received from the Home Office ending gangs and serious youth violence fund will end, and that we have yet to hear where the replacement funding will come from.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:07 pm, 6th February 2013

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Thomas on securing this debate. I want to raise a couple of local concerns, as well as an issue of which I think the Home Office and Government counter-terrorism should be aware.

I was on the pilot police parliamentary scheme with Jacqui Lait and Neil Gerrard in the late 1990s, and I am now doing the graduate police parliamentary scheme. If colleagues have not done it—I know that some have—I highly recommend it. I place on record my appreciation, which I am sure is shared by my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, of our borough commander, Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer, and his deputy superintendent, Robert Revill, for keeping us informed of all the developments throughout the consultation. Like other colleagues, we also appreciate all the staff of the Met—back-room staff, officers and support officers—for the great work that they do to protect us.

One local issue is the closure of stations. At the moment, we have six stations: two 24-hour stations, and four day stations. That will be reduced to one 24-hour and two day stations, although obviously, there must be rationalisation of some description. The reductions in numbers in safer neighbourhoods teams have been well documented by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West. Safer neighbourhoods teams were piloted in the Shadwell ward in my constituency before being rolled out to the rest of Tower Hamlets, the rest of London and then across the country, so we have seen the value of them for probably longer than anyone. The evidence in Tower Hamlets is that, for the six years after their introduction, there was a year-on-year reduction in crime. For the past two years, however, there has been an increase. There is therefore real concern about police presence, police visibility, safer neighbourhoods teams and access to police stations.

The second issue I want to raise is the future of the Wapping marine policing unit. It is based in the country’s oldest police station, and it was founded because of the docks in east London. That was before Peelers were introduced and walked the streets of this great capital city. It has been suggested that there will be a 40% reduction in staff, with the loss of night patrols. When I was a Transport Minister, one of the big security issues was the Thames. The attack in Mumbai, which came from the sea, adequately demonstrated the risk of sea-borne attacks. During the Olympics, HMS Ocean was based on the Thames at Greenwich to support marine units. That demonstrated that the risk was still there.

The problem for the Minister is that the Mayor of London’s police and crime plan—MOPAC—does not mention the River Thames or what will happen to Wapping. The Home Office has ring-fenced funding for the counter-terrorism unit and SO15, and, given the counter-terrorism role the Wapping unit performs, this is partly a Home Office matter. The question for the Minister, therefore, is whether staff numbers at the marine policing unit will be cut by 40%. That is what is rumoured, but we have no details. Will that result in there being no night-time patrols at all, which is the word that has been put out on the river? Where will the metropolitan marine policing unit be based when Wapping police station closes? Where will the museum of river police be relocated when the station closes?

Some of those matters are for the Home Office and some are clearly for the Mayor of London, and the Minister may want to deflect some of our inquiries and criticisms to the Mayor’s office. However, there is a counter-terrorism issue here, and the River Thames is very much London’s Achilles heel, so I hope the Home Office will be interested in making sure that we maintain our vigilance for the security of the city.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 3:11 pm, 6th February 2013

I thank my hon. Friend Mr Thomas for securing the debate. I want to make a few quick points, mindful as I am of the time.

First, I hope the Minister is struck by the degree of cross-party agreement on this issue. This is about our capacity to represent our constituents and to ensure that they are kept safe and secure. The concern about falling numbers and police counter closures is shared right across London.

Secondly, I want to put on record my thanks to the Met for the extraordinary job it did during the Olympics. I particularly want to reference the two borough commanders in my area—Matt Bell in Lambeth and John Sutherland in Southwark. They do their job every single day of the week, and they would never complain. However, we must reflect the hollowness of MOPAC’s stated ambition of doing more with less. We know that the resources available to our communities are stretched almost to breaking point.

On numbers, despite the commitments made in the heat and passion of the mayoral election campaign, Lambeth will see a reduction of 157 officers by 2015, while Southwark will be down by 132. That flies directly in the face of the assurances that were given.

On counter closures, I remind Members that the Mayor promised that no front counter would be closed without a new, improved facility being put in its place. All that we are being offered, however, is the empty MOPAC rhetoric about doing more with less. That is not a promise kept. In each borough, it is intended to retain only one 24-hour station—Brixton, in Lambeth, and Walworth, in Southwark.

There is enormous concern about abstractions on the part of the two borough commanders and the safer neighbourhoods teams in my area. Abstractions—the arbitrary withdrawal of police staff to deal with issues elsewhere—are unpredictable and unplanned, but absolutely required. Having reviewed the level of abstractions, I am concerned about the frequency with which police constables are abstracted from our safer neighbourhoods teams, diminishing teams’ powers of arrest and enforcement.

Finally, I want to say a word about safer neighbourhoods teams. There is unanimity in the debate about value of safer neighbourhoods teams and safer neighbourhoods policing in terms of the security and safety of London. I hope the Minister is listening and will reaffirm that in his discussions with the Mayor.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:15 pm, 6th February 2013

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. Like you, I recognise that the Home Affairs Committee, of which you were a distinguished member, constantly has inquiries involving the Metropolitan police.

I want to raise three issues, but I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Thomas on not only securing the debate, but becoming the deputy shadow Minister for London.

The first issue I want to raise is diversity. My hon. Friend was right to highlight the fact that the Metropolitan police, especially at senior levels, does not look like London, and that is not acceptable. Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Manchester, suggested that the police service adopt positive action to get a broader range of officers into the ranks of chief constable. Whatever method is adopted, the situation must change. For the six years I have been Chairman of the Select Committee, senior officers have said they must do more, but that is not enough. Given the population in London, it is vital that the police should change at the highest levels.

Secondly, I support what the Government are doing to restructure the landscape of policing, although they must carry the work force with them. That is not happening at the moment, and it is certainly not happening in the Met. I would like to hear very clearly where the counter-terrorism command will rest. Will it go to the National Crime Agency or will it stay with the Met? Judging from the speeches we have heard so far, there are a lot of bread-and-butter issues the Met should be concentrating on. I would like to hear from the Minister whether that decision has been made.

Finally, we are all concerned by the number of historical investigations—Yewtree, Alice, Elvenden and Tuleta—occurring at the moment. Yesterday, we heard that Operation Hearn, which has cost £1.2 million and which has 20 or so officers working on it, has still not concluded. At this time, it is important that the Met is given the resources it needs—not from its agreed budget, but additional resources—to deal with some of these cases. In that way, we can deal with issues such as the one that was raised with the Committee only yesterday: undercover agents’ use of the identities of dead children in performing their activities. That is quite wrong, and it is important that the families are notified immediately. When Pat Gallan gave evidence to us, she said the issue had to be investigated thoroughly. I urge the Minister to give the Metropolitan police the resources it needs to conclude these inquiries.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:18 pm, 6th February 2013

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Thomas on securing this important debate. Like other colleagues, I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police and especially the officers in my constituency and across Tower Hamlets.

The Government’s announcement that the police budget will go down by 20%—£2 billion—in this Parliament and Mayor Johnson’s announcement that a further £500 million will be cut from the Metropolitan police service budget mean that we will lose 1,500 members of staff, on top of the 4,000 uniformed officers who have lost their jobs since the cuts began.

As my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick said, police numbers have gone down and crime has gone up over the same period, and that is also true in my constituency. There are now 163 fewer uniformed officers in Tower Hamlets than when the Government came to power in 2010. Over the same period, crime has gone up by a dramatic 9% in Tower Hamlets. That contrasts with six successive years of crime reduction in the borough under the previous Government. When I raised that issue with the Home Secretary during Home Office questions on 7 January, as reported in column 14 of

Hansard

, she said that the Metropolitan police had indicated that they wanted to change the number of police community support officers to increase the number of police constables available. Yet the evidence shows that Tower Hamlets has 103 fewer police officers and 58 fewer PCOs than in 2010. I wrote to the Mayor of London to seek clarification a few weeks ago, soon after that answer, and have yet to receive a response.

We face the closure of three police facilities, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, and a cut in proven and effective safer neighbourhoods teams, from six officers to one police officer and one PCSO. As he said, we were the first to innovate and pilot the safer neighbourhoods initiative, which has proved extremely successful at reducing crime in our borough and around the country. It seems bizarre that the Government and the Mayor of London want to reverse that important provision, with its proven track record of success. It is dangerous and simply puts public safety at risk. I therefore appeal to the Minister to re-examine those issues, especially in the light of the dramatic increase in crime in the borough.

My constituents do not have confidence in the proposals of the Mayor of London. They made that clear in a recent consultation led by the deputy Mayor, who was rather short of facts and unclear about what exactly was going on. We highlighted the risks and showed the evidence, and asked him to think again. In particular, it is critical that the Mayor of London and the Government should consider the matter in the context of recent risks such as hate crime, which the police dealt with valiantly and immediately, because they still have some capacity to do so.

Similarly, during the riots, community and police working together managed to stop a major riot happening in our borough; and we stopped the English Defence League exploiting those divisions across London to create more unrest. That required 7,000 police officers, despite a ban, and it shows how desperately we need police officers working with the community, and community support officers. I ask the Minister to examine those issues closely, and to see what the risks are—not just the risk of a rise in crime, but the risk to community relations in our city.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:22 pm, 6th February 2013

Last night, Hammersmith had an unwelcome visitor—the deputy Mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, who is of course also remembered in the borough as the previous leader of the council. During his time there, he cut most of the things that are needed for civil society to be harmonious and law abiding, including youth clubs, Sure Start, housing and social services. He was a hugely divisive figure and his signature policy, of course, was the social engineering of the borough through the demolition of social housing and its replacement with luxury housing.

Since Stephen Greenhalgh was elevated to the post of deputy Mayor, he has been a controversial figure. He held the Greater London assembly in contempt by, at the first meeting, standing down the police commissioner. The tawdry incident before Christmas of inappropriate touching in a lift makes him unsuitable for his post, in my view; and for the past three weeks, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been deciding whether to investigate him for possible criminal activity. I want the Mayor to come to the borough to talk to us—not someone who is highly discredited and unfit to hold his position.

I was not able to attend the event as I was here for last night’s important vote, but my staff who attended told me that there was the usual bombast and platitudes; but that could not disguise what is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham, which is that Shepherd’s Bush police station, in the poorest area with the highest crime, will close, and Fulham police station will go on to reduced hours. Despite that, Greg Hands and the Conservative council support the strategy adopted by the Mayor and Stephen Greenhalgh. I do not accept that supermarket counters and post offices are an alternative to police stations for the reporting of sensitive and important matters. People want a police station.

A letter from my borough commander said:

“At this stage we are not intending to close Fulham or Shepherds Bush Police Station”.

However, I believe that once counters have closed, it is likely that whole police stations will close in due course, as the police sell their estates around the borough. We are told that we are merging with Kensington and Chelsea and will lose our borough commander. We are also told that the boroughs will be split into three—north, middle and south. That looks to me like a three-tier service, because the two boroughs have a poor north and wealthy south. I am sure that I know where the resources will be put.

Our safer neighbourhood teams are universally popular. The idea that they will be based on one police constable and one PCSO is disgraceful. We have already lost 5% of officers and 45% of PCSOs. That will not have changed, according to the Met’s figures, by 2015. All we get is spin and false statistics. Crime has not materially changed; concern about crime has gone up in Hammersmith and Fulham. The council spends more than £1 million on publicity, mainly aimed at telling people what a good job it does on law and order. It is a disgrace; it is similar to the Mayor of London’s saying after the riots, before the election, that he opposed police cuts, although now he proposes horrific police cuts.

It is burned into my memory that the cabinet member for policing in Hammersmith said, when asked a question at a sensitive public meeting following a murder a couple of years ago in the borough, that his solution to crime was to increase owner-occupation. Greenhalgh said last night that he was thinking of using money from estates sales to invest in policing. That is not the solution to crime in London. The political leadership—not the police leadership—of policing in London is unfit, and the Minister would be well advised to consider that and think about how we are to get the leadership that we deserve.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 3:26 pm, 6th February 2013

In my constituency, one of the most popular public policy initiatives of the past 20 years was safer neighbourhoods teams. Mitcham and Morden campaigned hard for them. Ten years ago, when my right hon. Friend Hazel Blears was the Policing Minister, she came to meet dozens of local people in Steers Mead who wanted to introduce safer neighbourhoods teams to tackle the low-level crime and antisocial behaviour that affected their part of Mitcham. Thanks to her, we were lucky enough to get one of the country’s first teams, and the model of one sergeant, two police constables and three PCSOs walking local beats has been a great success.

The police had drifted away from community policing for decades, but the safer neighbourhoods initiative meant that we had six people whom we knew, walking local beats, who could not be moved away from us. It also meant investment in communities that had been neglected. Police offices such as those in Lavender Fields, St Helier, Pollards Hill and Mitcham town centre have benefited the community in many ways. More obviously, they enabled our safer neighbourhoods teams to spend more time in the community, rather than travelling to and from distant police stations; but they also represented investment in local neighbourhoods. Previously, those offices were derelict—empty shops that attracted antisocial behaviour. Most of all, the new offices were an outward projection of the fact that the police cared about those communities, as they were part of them.

Now, all that is under threat. I feel sorry for my borough commander, Chief Superintendent Darren Williams, who has been in his post only a year. I have enormous respect for him and the energy that he brings to his job. I praise him particularly for his fundraising for Fight for Change—a scheme to encourage young men to turn away from gang violence—but he has a thankless task. Others have decided that cuts must be made, that the 1-2-3 model of safer neighbourhoods policing is no longer sacrosanct and that police offices and police stations are no longer a priority.

A campaign has been launched by the Guardian group of local papers in south-west London after, in their words,

“it emerged an area measuring about 75 miles squared—larger than any individual London borough—would be left without a 24 hour station”.

As the Guardian group explains:

“The exposed area includes Mitcham, Tooting, Earlsfield, Balham, Streatham, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Norwood, Dulwich, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Beckenham, and Catford”.

Tooting police station, which is just inside my constituency, will close; Mitcham police station will be closed at night; and the safer neighbourhoods offices that we fought so hard to get are also under threat. I want to take the opportunity to praise the Guardian group for its campaign.

When Boris Johnson’s office published plans to end the 24-hour service at Mitcham police station, to close local police offices and to scrap the 1-2-3 system, we were appalled. I am sure he will find out just how appalled we are when Stephen Greenhalgh comes to our constituency at the end of the month. The Labour leader of Merton council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, will be there, and I congratulate him and Councillor Edith Macauley on saying that the council oppose any moves to close local police stations or cut the number of police and PCSOs in our community.

People in Mitcham and Morden are beginning to feel the difference: they are beginning to feel more unsafe. They are concerned that the police are surrendering their territory. I hope that I have, in this short contribution, been able to express their views about their No. 1 priority.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Labour, Croydon North 3:29 pm, 6th February 2013

I thank my hon. Friend Mr Thomas for securing this important debate on an issue of such vital concern to residents in the areas that colleagues and I represent.

I put on the record my concern about proposals to cut policing in Croydon, particularly in Croydon North, so soon after the worst riots in a generation, for which Croydon was one of the focal points nationally. This was a huge issue in the by-election just a few weeks ago, when I was elected to represent Croydon North, although at that point the proposals were not as severe or damaging as those that we now have before us.

People living in that constituency are still shaken by what they saw during the riots. London road, which is one of the main shopping areas running through the constituency, was in flames. People were appalled to see gangs of looters and rioters smashing through local shops, stealing whatever they could find.

Many people do not just have the memory of those riots: they are still experiencing the after-effects. Mr and Mrs Hassan ran a launderette on the London road that was burnt out by arsonists. They have not only received no compensation to enable them to set up their livelihood again, but they have no other means of income. As a result, they cannot pay the mortgage on their home and are threatened with losing it.

Charlene Munro, a young single mother, and her three-year-old son had to flee their home when they saw a gang of rioters approaching. They returned next morning to find their flat burnt out and all their possessions destroyed. They also received little support. Charlene has been left in debt and her son, now aged four, is still traumatised by the experiences that he suffered.

Those are just two of many examples of how people in Croydon North are still suffering from the riots. The riots are not in the past; people have to live with them today. At a time when people in that community so desperately need reassurance about their public safety, how extraordinary that the Mayor should introduce proposals to cut the police, offering people greater fear about their personal safety, instead of reassurance.

Croydon North is a densely populated area. It is relatively poor. It is a challenging area to police. It is extraordinary that the Mayor is proposing to close every police station in Croydon North and to leave police numbers below the wholly inadequate level that existed immediately after the riots. Croydon is losing out twice. The Mayor’s justification for closing down the police stations is that it frees up resources to provide additional police on the streets. Croydon North will suffer on both counts; it will not get the additional policing that the Mayor has promised. This is a breach of the promises that people in Croydon North were made after the riots.

Crimes such as street robbery, domestic violence and hate crime are on the rise in Croydon. The legacy of the riots is still strong in people’s minds. I hope that the Minister will support me in urging the Mayor of London to bring forward alternative proposals that meet his earlier promises and are fair to Croydon.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:33 pm, 6th February 2013

Like many hon. Members, I was elected in 1997 and at that time I went out on the beat with police officers, as many of us did. Some may recall John Hannington, who used to work in the House of Commons. He was one of my beat officers and we went round Barnhill ward together. We had one beat officer per ward then.

I had one of the earliest safer neighbourhood teams. We got the sergeant, two PCs and the PCSOs and it was a major success. We set up the ward panels and mapped out the beats, in terms of crime problems in a particular area. I set up initiative meetings—I still have them every quarter in each ward—where I meet councillors, police and local residents, and we tackle the problems together. We have launched projects for the young people, including anti-drugs, domestic violence and safety for the elderly projects. It has been an overwhelming success in building confidence in policing in the local area. That process has been destabilised since 2010.

Sergeant vacancies are either not filled or there are delays in recruitment, PCs are not replaced for long periods and PCSOs are not replaced at all, in many instances. Premises on estates in my constituency, where we have relocated teams, are now under threat of closure. In addition, staff are withdrawn from the whole area—I do not know whether other hon. and right hon. Members have noticed this—to police demonstrations, and so on. I understand that there are priorities, but there was a commitment that there would be sufficient resources so that safer neighbourhood teams were not withdrawn in that way.

What has happened in my community? If hon. and right hon. Members read the newspapers this morning they may have missed it, but as a result of the changes Hayes is now in the top 10 in the country for burglaries. Drugs are becoming a real problem, particularly drug dealers preying on youngsters. We were working hard in the town centre to reduce the fear of crime and attract people back in at night. However, the town centre teams have been hit hardest since 2010. I fear that we are going backwards rather than forwards.

It is not just about numbers. Ben Bradford, the Oxford criminologist, made a valid point when speaking to the London assembly. He said that it is not just quantitative, but about the qualitative relationship: how police interact with constituents, to give them confidence, respect and reassurance. When experienced staff are lost, particularly sergeants with years of experience, and that level of supervision is lost for new, young officers coming in, it undermines the quality of the policing and the interaction between the police officer and members of the public, and it undermines an element of accountability upwards as well as downwards.

Right hon. and hon. Members may have talked to police officers. Morale is low in the Metropolitan Police. Their pay and pensions have been hit and they have been hit with increased work loads and demands on their time. When the Police Federation ballots to see whether officers want the right to strike, that is a warning that morale is at rock bottom, and Ministers, mayors and others, should take heed. There now needs to be a halt to the cuts, proper investment in the police service and engagement with the community, rather than our being ridden roughshod over as we have been recently.

We have the consultative meeting in Hillingdon tonight at 6 o’clock, although I will be here objecting to one of the cuts in welfare benefits. I will communicate these views to the Mayor and others, but the view that I am getting back from the consultative meetings so far is that they are public relations exercises, simply set up to convince people that the numbers are going up when they know that the reality is that the number of police officers is falling and cuts are taking place. I hope that this debate will help.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

My hon. Friend’s constituents should not get too excited, because I am told that the meeting last night ended with the deputy mayor saying that he was on the home run. Clearly, he believes that the task has been done and they are going through the motions. I apologise to my colleagues who still have to go through this process, but it is purely cosmetic and a matter of dressing up unacceptable cuts in false statistics in a way that will make those palatable to the media.

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

When MPs, members of the public, local councillors and the police themselves at street level are saying that the Mayor has got it wrong, someone needs to listen, and if the Mayor does not the Minister should.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:38 pm, 6th February 2013

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Thomas who has done a service to his constituents and to the people of London in bringing this important issue to this Chamber.

The fact that 15 of my right hon. and hon. Friends have attended this debate, plus the hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), shows that they share an interest in the importance of policing in this great city. I have not yet noticed a Liberal Democrat attending this debate. Perhaps they are too embarrassed about their general election pledge for 3,000 extra police officers to turn up in person. We will put that to one side for the moment.

In this debate about the future of the Metropolitan Police, my hon. and right hon. Friends have spoken with passion about their concerns for their constituencies. London is a complex city to police and faces many challenges. My right hon. Friend Dame Tessa Jowell mentioned that the Olympics was an important event. Such international events in this great city are commonplace, week in, week out.

We have heard about the importance of recognising the potential for London’s being a focus for terrorist activity and about the prevention of terrorism. My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick mentioned the river boat scheme. We heard of appalling acts of murder in this city from the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. We heard about gangs and guns, and of the importance of neighbourhood policing, about which my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh talked. We have heard about the historical hangover of the riots in Croydon from my hon. Friend Steve Reed. During his election campaign, I was pleased to go to Croydon police station to see its importance to the community. Historical inquiries were mentioned by my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Select Committee, who is also present, showing the importance of the debate.

Those are big issues, and policing London is a complex matter. The community reassurance that neighbourhood policing brings to London, which has been mentioned by all my right hon. and hon. Friends, and the cohesion not only to fight crime but to be a presence on the streets of London, to communicate with its citizens, have been important. Many of those matters are rightly devolved to the Mayor, but the central contention of my right hon. and hon. Friends today has been—I put this strongly to the Minister—that the choices made by the Mayor in London are wrong and that the choices made by the Minister on budget and organisation since 2010 have compounded those wrongs and made policing in London much more difficult.

As the Minister knows, we have an honest disagreement about funding. When I was the Police Minister, in the last year of the Labour Government, we planned to make some savings on policing—some 12%—but the Minister’s proposals have meant a 20% cut, which is effectively £540 million lost to the Met budget by 2015, or 4,200 police officers. That is a real challenge. From May 2010 to date, the Metropolitan police has lost 2,285 police officers and, importantly, 1,900 police community support officers. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy mentioned the importance of those numbers, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden.

Police station closures are pivotal. We need to make savings in the policing budget in London, no doubt, but 65 police stations are proposed for closure. Today, my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for Croydon North have mentioned the importance of those stations to their constituencies, showing that somewhere someone is getting this wrong. The reassurance demanded by the constituents of my right hon. and hon. Friends on such issues is simply not being given. No doubt the Minister will say that crime is down. I welcome the fact that crime in certain areas is falling, but it would be in certain areas, because, after all, Labour put 15 years of investment in as Mayor and as Government. As pointed out today, however, the rate of crimes solved has also fallen; and the level of recorded crime has fallen, but the level of reporting to police is falling.

The issues are serious, and in drawing attention to them I make no criticism of Bernard Hogan-Howe or the Metropolitan police. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West mentioned their service day in, day out, putting their lives at risk. Indeed, on Saturday, I will go to Southwark cathedral to pay tribute to Paul McKeever, the former chair of the Police Federation, who was a Metropolitan police officer. He knew and had pride in the service that the Metropolitan police provide to this great city. The challenges of the budget cut and of the decisions on how that cut is made have been reflected strongly in what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said today.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

Will my right hon. Friend do two things? Will he join me in congratulating Joanne McCartney, a Labour member of the Greater London assembly, who has led the effort to explore the consequences of the Mayor’s budget cuts? Will he also ask the Minister for particular clarity on the Home Office fund for ending gang and youth violence and on whether it will cease in March 2013, as many of us fear, or whether there has been a rethink?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, because we are not concerned only with the direct police budget. Resources also come through the community safety fund, which was mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members. In the last year that I set it, it was £13.2 million for London. This year, it is £5.3 million, and next year it is disappearing altogether. That is £13.2 million in the last year of a Labour Government but that is now no more, in the third year of a Conservative and Liberal Administration.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am glad that the shadow Minister acknowledged that some serious crime rates are coming down in London. We all have great concerns—I share many of those expressed today—but is it not also fair to say that, given the financial constraints that any Government would be under, to be brutally honest, there is vanishingly little between what would have happened had there been a Labour Government in office today, in the sort of grants that they could give via the Home Office to the Mayor, and what has been happening in the past year?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Let me gently slap the hon. Gentleman down. There is a difference between the 20% cut on policing introduced by this Government in England and Wales and the 12% reduction that we had planned, which had the support of Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, which said that it was deliverable and achievable, and that we could have maintained police numbers. The difference in London between the votes he has voted for and the votes that we have voted for amounts to, at the moment, £230 million lost to London policing. That is the difference between him and me. Next Wednesday, he will have an opportunity to look again at the Minister’s budget. I can give the Minister a hint. Just between you and me, Mr Streeter, we will be voting against his budget next Wednesday. My right hon. and hon. Friends will do so because that budget needs to be reviewed.

My hon. Friends have mentioned gang and youth violence funding, gangs and knife violence funding and substance misuse funding. They are all difficult challenges for which funding has been lost. On the diversity issue mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, for example, in London 34% of PCSOs are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and when we lose 986 of them by 2015, the effect on the numbers of black and ethnic minority police officers and PCSOs on the streets of London will be disproportionate.

In conclusion, my right hon. and hon. Friends have made valuable points. We need to look again at the budget. When we reject it, the Minister will have the opportunity to go back and think about it again. We need to look at accountability, because now the London deputy mayor responsible for policing is not as accountable as the police board was in the past. We need to look at the role of the Met in national policing. We need to look at how we can improve diversity—perhaps the Minister can tell me why the last time the Home Office diversity group met was when I chaired it in December 2009. It has not met since, according to his parliamentary answers. The issue is real, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken for London, I hope the Minister will listen.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 3:47 pm, 6th February 2013

It is always a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Streeter. I echo others in congratulating Mr Thomas on securing the debate, and I echo his tribute to the Metropolitan police and to the police as a whole on the remarkable job that they continue to do. Dame Tessa Jowell spoke about their performance, in particular during the Olympic and Paralympic games, when forces from throughout the country worked together in London to deliver the biggest peacetime policing operation in our history. That was a huge and undeniable success.

I will start one of the things the hon. Member for Harrow, West that I agreed with. He will not be surprised to learn that there were not many, but there were some. I completely agree with him and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee on the importance of diversity in police recruitment and retention, and I have two concrete things to say in response.

I was pleased earlier this week to help launch the College of Policing, a new body set up with support from across the House to increase professionalism within the police, to improve standards and to share best practice. Clearly, one of the areas in which the college will have fruitful work to do will be on practical ways to improve diversity, which is obviously a particularly important issue for the Met. As has been said, chief officers as well as Ministers in successive Governments have said that something needs to be done. There has been no lack of push to do it but, so far, there has been a lack of sufficient success in doing it. I hope that the college will help to achieve that.

The shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, made a point about money. I admire the elegance of his phraseology: when the previous Government were organising something, he used the words “savings” or “reductions”, but when this Government do it, it is “cuts”. They are exactly the same, and wrapping it up in nice language does not make any difference.

When we came to office, we set the police a challenge to cut crime while playing their part in reducing the country’s record deficit, which the right hon. Gentleman’s party left us. In the case of the Metropolitan police, the response to that challenge is being ably led by the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. We know about some of the difficulties that the Met has faced in meeting that challenge. They have been brought up by many hon. Members during the debate, but we also know that it is fundamentally determined to address those difficulties, and that it is being successful in doing so.

In November 2012, the Metropolitan police submitted a plan for a balanced budget and stated its intention to transform the service, prioritise the front line, and maintain officer numbers. The Mayor’s office for policing and crime is consulting on a draft policing and crime plan and estates strategy. I regret the way that the consultation has been criticised by various hon. Members during the debate. It seems to me that we should all welcome the deputy mayor’s visits to London boroughs to hear local concerns as a model of consultation.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Education)

It is right that we can have a mature debate about police premises and the best way to base the police in the community, but given that the Mayor said categorically that police stations and counters would not close until alternative provision had been found, why have we gone through an entire consultative process with no alternatives being offered, merely being asked to comment on 65 station closures?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

I will come to station closures. I take the point, which has been raised by the hon. Lady and other hon. Members. I want to deal with it.

The consultation includes commitments about not only the level of resources that the Met will have at the front line but—this point has been neglected but needs to be injected into the debate—how those resources will be used. At the forefront of the Met’s plans is the Met change programme, which is being used to transform how operational policing is delivered in London. The programme has several strands, including plans to deliver a flatter management structure, thereby putting more constables on the beat, engagement with the supply services market to examine new ways of delivering the services they provide in areas such as human resource, technology and finance, and plans to release under-utilised assets.

I hope that hon. Members agree that the Met’s recently issued plans show that it is looking at a transformational approach to the way in which it delivers policing in London. Everyone has observed that London is a fast changing city that is difficult to police, so it needs to keep ahead of the curve. Clearly, there has been great interest, not just in the debate, but across London about the closure of police stations. As has been said, decisions about the number of stations and their operating hours are matters for the Mayor and the Commissioner. I am sure that many hon. Members will contribute to the consultation.

It is important not to confuse buildings with quality of service provided to the public. Fewer than 50 crimes a night are reported at front counters throughout the Metropolitan police area. Since 2008, the number of crimes reported to those front counters has dropped

20%, and internet and e-mail reporting is up by 32%. That shows how changes in the modern world must be reflected in changes in the way the police deliver their services.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I cannot keep quiet. I will give a concrete example of what will happen. Wanstead police station will shut, and there will be no replacement whatever. Response times will lengthen, and people will be put in danger. That will be a green light for burglars in the Wanstead part of my constituency. That goes directly against what Boris Johnson promised. People in Wanstead and throughout London want to know what Boris Johnson does not understand about the word “no”.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

There is no reason why response times should go up. I have explained what is happening in the way people report things to the police. There are ever-increasing ways in which the public can contact the police. That includes contact centres on the new non-emergency number, 101, which takes some of the pressure off 999 services, and contact through supermarket surgeries and so on, where the police can meet thousands of people, instead of the very few who may come in to a police station.

Several hon. Members made the point that the quality of contact as well as the quantity of contact matters. It seems to be unarguable that getting the police out there into buildings where thousands of people are likely to be is a better way of making that contact than simply being inside a traditional big-building police station.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

There is a proposal that throughout the entirety of my constituency police station hours will be reduced to 9 to 5. The matter also involves perception. The people of Tottenham do not want officers coming into the constituency from outside. They want officers based in the constituency for reasons that were echoed time and again after the riots in the summer of 2011. The issue is not just about a 9-to-5 operation; it is about visible policing on the ground in constituencies such as mine.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

Indeed, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, one part of the MOPAC plan is to increase the number of police constables, so there will be more visible policing. The background that the right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned in passing—he is honest enough to know that it must be the background to the debate—is that crime is falling, but someone coming to this debate cold would not recognise that fact from the tenor of the debate so far. It is a straightforward fact that crime is falling, and that includes a 3% reduction in police recorded crime in the Metropolitan police area in the first two years of this Government between 2010 and 2012. That refutes any suggestion that reduced budgets and fewer officers inevitably make the public less safe.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Education)

Does the Minister accept that the reporting of crime at police counters or contact points is marginal to the argument that most of us have about the police presence in the community? People want safer neighbour teams and police to be rooted in their neighbourhoods so that they do not end up having to report to a police station at the far end of the borough and, as is usually the case, the most deprived neighbourhoods are left behind.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

I have just addressed that point. There are two things: the response to crime and preventing it, and the quality of day-to-day contact. That is why finding innovative ways of placing the police regularly in parts of the community where thousands of people go may prove to be a better way of establishing those contacts than the traditional way. I have seen that in action. The other week, I was in Newport in Gwent visiting a mobile police station in a supermarket car park. People of all ages and from all backgrounds were coming up and talking to the police naturally. That is extremely important.

The matter must also be looked at against the background of falling crime. Crime in Harrow—Mr Thomas introduced the debate—is down by 1.6%. We heard an impassioned speech from Mr Slaughter who must be aware that crime in Hammersmith and Fulham over the past year is down by 4.7%. In the interests of fairness, it is important to put that context in place, because the Metropolitan police are doing an extremely successful job in vast parts of the city.

I shall deal with one or two of the detailed points that have been made. Various funds that were mentioned have been rolled into the community safety fund, which is worth £90 million in 2013-14. The allocation of that within individual budgets is the responsibility of local areas, and in London the deputy Mayor. A point was made about abstraction of police constables, and overall the Met intends to increase the number of police constables.

Keith Vaz asked about the use of dead children’s identities, which of course shocked all of us—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Order. I am sorry, but our time is up. We now move on to our next debate.