I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
The Government have elected to debate the policing of London this afternoon, in what I hope will be a constructive attempt to understand where we stand in terms of that important subject. Members will know that until 2000, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who has just left the Chamber, was the police authority for London. On the first and only occasion that I criticised a Minister, I demanded that he abolish himself—at least so far as his role as the police authority for London was concerned. Happily, that has happened. He has not disappeared, which I am equally happy about—he is doing an excellent job as the Leader of the House—but it is right and proper that there are now in place other structures for scrutinising policing in London, instead of, as there had long been, a single individual who was a member of the Government.
As part of the process of the Home Secretary’s being the police authority for London, we used to have annual debates on policing in London. Since the inception of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Greater London authority and the various other elements of that family, there have been no such debates. I thought it right and proper, and the Government agreed, that this House have at least the intermittent opportunity to discuss policing in London, and I am very pleased that we are doing so today.
I am sure that all Members will join me in congratulating at the outset the staff and officers of those agencies on whom the policing of London depends, and with whom Londoners come into daily contact—the Metropolitan Police Service, the City of London police and the British Transport police—on all that they do in defending the rights and public safety of people in London. It is their professionalism, dedication, watchfulness and response that secure for us the ordered society in the capital on which our individual and collective freedoms, prosperity and well-being depend. Beyond them, I pay tribute particularly to the leadership of Sir Ian Blair and James Hart—commissioners respectively of Police of the Metropolis and of the City of London—and to Ian Johnston, chief constable of the British Transport police. I also pay tribute to Len Duvall of the Metropolitan Police Authority, to Sir Alistair Graham of the British Transport police authority, and to the City corporation for its scrutiny and oversight.
As I said, we used regularly to have such debates. It is right and proper not necessarily to reinstate an annual debate—perhaps we can debate that issue, as well—but every now and then to provide scope for London Members in particular to have an extensive and wide-ranging debate, as I hope today’s will be, on policing in London.
May I endorse what the Minister said? It is important that we have regular such debates in the Chamber on our capital city, which is also a major region of this country. We welcome this one, but we would like an annual one on more general London matters, as we used to have. Although policing is very important, we would also like a general debate on the health service, education and other such matters. I was unable to make that point during business questions, so perhaps the Minister could make it to his colleagues.
Once I have sat down, I shall have extensive discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick)—if he is still here—who is the Minister with responsibility for London, to see whether a broader, state of London debate, rather than just a policing debate, should become an annual feature. As a London MP, I would certainly welcome that, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s point. As I said, debates on policing in London were held and were right and proper, because one individual was the police authority. My hon. Friend and I between us will ensure that this issue is raised with the usual channels.
My hon. Friend will of course be aware that since we came to power—we celebrated this week the 10th anniversary of this Labour Government—we have devolved power. For the first time, we have a Mayor of London and a Greater London authority. Given my hon. Friend’s close involvement with the GLA and the Mayor, he will of course know that they regularly debate policing, health and other such matters, and that they scrutinise the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Mayor also has an annual state of London debate and regularly opens up the GLA to scrutiny. Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Mayor and the GLA on the role that they play in scrutinising and discussing issues of huge concern to Londoners?
I certainly take this opportunity so to do—in fact, I was going to do that in the next paragraph of my speech. Giving London Members the chance to have a wide-ranging debate on all issues affecting London would complement, rather than detract from, the work of the GLA, the Mayor and the MPA.
Perhaps I might build on this point. Although we are very grateful for this debate on policing, could the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and the Minister with responsibility for London discuss our ability to table questions on London? It is quite difficult to get the Table Office to agree to accept such questions, because the issues are devolved. However, unlike in Scotland and Wales, they are not devolved legislatively.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, although in saying that I in no way traduce the work of the Table Office. As she knows, as a Minister I have not had many dealings with the Table Office of late. I do not doubt that I will do so again in the fullness of time, so I need to maintain arrangements and a relationship with the Table Office.
In 1998, the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and I shared the great pleasure of serving for about four months on the Greater London Authority Bill Standing Committee. I said on Second or Third Reading that whatever we passed then would not, 10 years on, constitute the form and shape of the GLA, the MPA and the various other elements because by its nature, such legislation should be organic. I also said that, if there were to be—as I felt there should—a developing scrutiny role for the GLA, including of the police, that should not obviate or impede London Members’ ability also to perform that scrutiny function, not least because, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, such matters have not been devolved legislatively. The combining of the two functions is to the greater glory of London and they are entirely complementary; they do not detract from each other. There is no turf competition between the MPA, the Mayor and the GLA, but this House also has a role to play.
Members do manage to table questions on London to the Home Office, not least regarding policing. Sometimes, I have to respond by saying, rightly, “Actually, you want to talk to Sir Ian Blair about that, not me.” I do not think that I have ever had to say that the MPA, the GLA or some other part of the family deals with that issue, rather than the centre, and I always try to answer such questions as fully as I can. However, I take the broader point that the hon. Member for Beckenham makes. In my view, the Mayor, the MPA and the GLA need to have a greater role in scrutinising what the Government do, but that does not obviate the role and duty of London Members of this House collectively to do the same.
Like my hon. Friends, I welcome not only the advent of the Mayor, the GLA and the MPA, but the work of the latter. As the difficulties arising from the recent debate on the local government Bill have shown, some people do not understand that the MPA is unique. Naturally, it is constantly compared to other police authorities, and some people constantly suggest either that the Mayor should chair it and forge that link all the more, that it should consist just of GLA members, or that it should be abolished and subsumed into the GLA’s functions. I do not agree. Although the majority of MPA members are also GLA members, and although the latter does a very important job in scrutinising the former, the MPA, thanks to its current wider and more representative composition, does a better job than it would if it consisted of just GLA members. For example, many MPA representatives of the black and minority ethnic community and of a range of other interests are not GLA members. The current blend of the two bodies works well, and it can develop and draw on expertise that goes beyond even the great skills base of GLA members.
I share the Minister’s view that the MPA’s consisting of more than just elected GLA members is a good thing, and that other expertise is valuable. I have always felt that logically, once the Government set up, as they rightly did, a Greater London authority, the Mayor—whomever it may be for the time being—should automatically chair it. Most of the public think that one of the Mayor’s key jobs is to ensure that London police do their job well. Security is clearly at the top of the agenda of many people in the capital city.
I do not doubt that. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have facilitated that, if the Mayor chooses to do it. It is a matter for him, but I know that he has the greatest confidence in the present chair, Len Duvall. It is right, however, that it should be an option for the Mayor to choose to chair the authority. Colleagues who have fought the last couple of mayoral and GLA elections will know that policing and law and order are significantly high on the agenda of those elections, in a way that they were not in the past, certainly in the days of the Greater London council.
As someone who has fought the last two GLA elections, I agree with the Minister’s point about the importance of policing and I have great sympathy with the points that he has made so far. However, on the issue of the composition of the MPA, the Minister will know that I moved certain amendments in Committee on the Greater London Authority Bill. I shall not repeat the arguments, but—unlike police authorities in the counties—the MPA precept makes up some two thirds of the total of the Mayor’s precept. That provokes concern about democratic legitimacy, as people might reasonably expect that the person who delivers two thirds of the precept should be the person in charge of policing. Is that an argument for considering some way in which the Mayor could become the police authority? If there was scrutiny by the Assembly, perhaps the parties on the Assembly might recruit more candidates from ethnic minorities, or we could have a special committee, which included co-opted members, to strengthen the lines of accountability.
I do not share that view, given that the MPA, as a police authority, is markedly different from authorities elsewhere. It is a regional police authority and cannot be compared to equivalents at county level elsewhere. Given the intricacies of the relationships and accountability flows between the Mayor, the MPA and the GLA, it is clear that the buck stops with the Mayor rather than with MPA members. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being returned twice to the GLA, with more success than the narrow squeak by which he got into Parliament. I congratulate him on becoming an MP—
A passing phase.
We will see. To be partisan, although not politically partisan, I welcome another West Ham fan to the House of Commons. As a member of what has been called since 1997 the Friday club, I still mourn the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, who is sorely missed.
If I may now address policing in London, I wish to touch on what has happened since 2000 and then consider some of the threats and opportunities that London faces. There is much to do on a range of issues, but the past seven years since the advent of the MPA have been, yes, challenging, but also years in which the Metropolitan police, the City of London police and the British Transport police in London have stood up to and met the challenges in ways for which Londoners should be very grateful.
Those years have seen sustained increases in funding. Uniquely—the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made a point about the precept—that funding has been sustained through a combination of a significant local contribution and the central Government contribution. The Mayor made clear what he wanted to spend any additional police precept on and he also made clear the balance between the transport precept, the police precept and the other precepts. By any measure, he has delivered on the promises of safer neighbourhood teams on a ward basis throughout London.
I do not wish to bombard the House with statistics unduly and I shall try to limit my use of them. But I do want to set out clearly that the Metropolitan Police Authority has received an uplift in total grants of £827 million since its first year or an increase of some 51 per cent. It has needed that uplift for significant investments in people and infrastructure.
One area in which Home Office funding has been key—it is very close to the heart of the current commissioner—is the investment of £140 million in the C3i programme. That has upgraded call handling with the aim of better communications with the public, improved information for officers and a better match of resources in deployment. That global infrastructure investment is important, alongside the increase in communications at local ward level with the development of the safer neighbourhood teams. The concentration in three purpose-built central communication command centres has led, over two years, to 16 per cent. more members of the public getting through with calls and fewer 999 calls being abandoned, with an 87 per cent. response to such calls within 10 seconds. That has in turn led to more calls being resolved at first point of contact. The 999 interpreting service has been extended to non-emergency calls offering assistance to non-English speakers. The introduction of mobile data terminals to 1,500 response vehicles and new integrated borough operation functions for fast time intelligence and risk assessment means more effective response policing in the capital. Much of that work is still being implemented, but it is astonishing how getting things right at the first point of contact with the public—on the streets with the safer neighbourhood teams or in a 999 call—makes the subsequent resolution of issues more effective and efficient.
The number of police officers as of last September was some 31,000, or nearly 6,000 higher than in March 2001. Other than the Met, only three forces in England and Wales have a total number greater than 5,600, let alone have seen such an increase. Last September there were some 2,681 police community support officers and I understand that the Met has reached its target of 4,500 PCSOs for April 2007. There are more than 1,400 special constables—often overlooked, but very important—and more than 13,500 police support staff, an increase of nearly 3,500 since March 2001. Similarly, the Corporation of London has had an increase in total grants of £44 million or nearly 60 per cent. more in the same period.
Although there is much more to do, the figures for crime reduction reflect that investment. It is important that we look not only at inputs, but at the results of that extra investment in policing in London. Here, too, the results are on the whole impressive. Between 2002-03 and 2005-06, overall recorded crime in the Metropolitan police area fell by 8.9 per cent. and by 15.9 per cent. in the City, which equates to nearly 100,000 fewer victims of crime a year in London. In particular, recorded burglary fell 9 per cent., vehicle thefts by 21 per cent. and criminal damage by 15 per cent. I know, à la the King’s college report, that much of the decrease in the number of burglaries is because of greater awareness and better home alarm systems, but that should not detract from the police’s performance. I also know that better technology and more in-built mechanisms to prevent car theft have contributed to the fall in vehicle theft, but that should not detract from the success of the police in London and elsewhere in addressing that problem.
The Minister mentions recorded crime figures. Is he aware that between 2004-05 and 2005-06 the British crime survey has said that the percentage of crimes recorded by the police fell from 47 per cent. to 42 per cent.? Across the board, only 30 per cent. of crime makes it into police figures. Is he confident that he can draw such conclusions from a data set that does not come close to having half of the actual events included in it?
As I said, I do not want to use statistics too much today, and I certainly do not want to have a row about them. The interplay between recorded crime and the British crime survey has been known for a number of years—
Will the Minister give way on that?
In a moment—it is customary to allow a question to be answered. Many commentators now invoke the BCS, after the minor blip upward of 2 per cent. over the past few quarters, even though they spent the previous 10 years rubbishing it because they did not like the numbers that it produced. I take the point about the difference between recorded crime and the BCS, but we are finding that some low-level, high-volume crimes are being reported much more often now that the safer neighbourhood teams are on the streets throughout London. However, none of that detracts from the very good work being done by police officers in London’s 32 boroughs, and in the City, to drive down crime.
I spend a lot of time trying to use the media to convince people that crime in London is generally coming down, but does the Minister agree that much remains to be done? For example, the media often try to make things sound as bad as possible, and people in political parties put out leaflets suggesting that crime is worse than ever before to increase the fear of crime for party political ends. Should not all parties make sure that they do not exaggerate matters for cheap, local purposes?
Of course I agree with that. The hon. Gentleman has a slightly distorted view: he represents Southwark, one of the few areas run by the Liberals and where everyone else is in opposition. However, in the most non-partisan way that I can manage, I suggest that he looks to the mote in his own eye. The worst people in London for doing what he describes are the Liberal Democrats. I can give him chapter and verse about that, but I am not just a partisan politician and I do not want to miss his broad point.
Collectively—the media included—we should not indulge ourselves in playing up people’s fear of crime. Much remains to be done, though: I meet Sir Ian Blair regularly, and he would agree that, even though the changing nature of London society raises challenges in different areas, it is fundamentally wrong to over-egg the pudding. My borough of Harrow is never above 29 or 30 in any list of crime and safety, but the perception of crime there is through the roof. I love the Harrow Times and the Harrow Observer to bits, but if I took to heart everything that they say even I would never leave my home.
Everything is hugely exaggerated, but that does not mean that we should underestimate the fear aroused even by a lower level of crime, and we must not forget that very serious crimes can have a profound impact on localities. I take the point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about what people in the ranks of all parties do, but it is just that his party excels at such things. Our responsibility is to have a proper debate about law and order and crime.
The Minister is entitled to take credit for the improved crime figures. Communications have improved, and the safer neighbourhood schemes are making a difference. Even so, the figures show a clear problem with street crime, and particularly with young people attacking other young people and stealing phones, iPods and so on. Does he consider that there need to be changes to the present structure? What is his approach to that problem?
I do not dispute that, nationally as well as in London, crimes by young people on other young people are the hardest elements to shift. I shall say more about that later, but the record of the Metropolitan police in respect of street robbery initiatives is as good, if not better, than any other force. None the less, the matter remains very difficult: in every set of quarterly crime statistics, the number of such crimes seems always to rise, or at least not to fall as much as other categories.
However, I do not believe that crimes by young people on other young people can be resolved by yet another piece of legislation, and I would say that the same is true about crimes involving guns, knives and gangs more generally. After the latest horrendous round of crimes involving guns and knives in London, we made it very clear that we will do what is necessary in terms of legislation, but that our approach needs to be broader. We must look at how we do what we do, how we engage with young people and how we can work with communities to ensure that such crimes do not happen. We need to get it through to people that carrying knives is not clever or brave, or even terribly useful for purposes of defence, and that gun crime should be outlawed.
We also need to understand the consequences of the successes that we manage to achieve. For example, it is well known that the Trident programme in respect of gun crime in the black communities across London has been enormously successful. Now we have to consider whether our success with getting guns away from adults has led to even younger people getting hold of firearms and using them. I am not sure about that, but investigations are in hand. However, we must get the whole of society fully engaged in tackling knife and gun crime, and in tackling the crimes that young people commit against each other.
The theft of mobile phones, iPods, MP3 players and the other things that people in our acquisitive society carry around with them is a key element, but there is more to it than that. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is right to say that we have still to crack all the problems of street robbery and the violent and non-violent crimes perpetrated by young people against each other. However, those are problems that need to be addressed collectively, with contributions from people in education and other disciplines.
Some formidable initiatives doing precisely that are being taken in boroughs across London run by all parties. A range of voluntary and community organisations funded by the Government are doing a huge amount of work to assist in that goal, and the police are looking at the matter in much more detail.
Earlier, my hon. Friend talked about the very welcome investment that has gone into the Metropolitan police. We all welcome those extra resources, but has any thought been given to how the extra policing needed by the Olympic games will be paid for? Will the money come from central Government, or will London ratepayers have to pay additional charges?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced her spending plans recently, and they included the overall police and security budget. Sir Ian Blair and his Metropolitan police colleagues are looking at that in more detail, but the Government start from the premise that the games are national activities that happen to be taking place in London. As a result, central Government will provide the funding for them.
The starting budget for the Olympics contains elements to cover security at the sites being developed for the games, rather than policing. Over the course of this year, we will be firming up what the policing budget should be, and working out what needs to be spent now to ensure that the 2012 Olympics will be safe for everyone.
The games are a real opportunity for London’s police and population to celebrate everything that is so wonderful about London. After all, it is the only world-class city—and I say that with due respect to Tokyo, New York, or anywhere else. Those cities are very nice, but I am London born and bred.
The figures speak for themselves, but of course I accept that they do not tell the whole story. We must also take account of the impact of crime on communities, and work to develop new ways to respond to crime in London. However, murder is down by nearly 4 per cent., grievous bodily harm by over 6 per cent., common assault by nearly 10 per cent., and crimes involving offensive weapons by 8.7 per cent. In addition, gun-enabled crime is down by more than 11 per cent., Trident gun crime is down by 15 per cent., and knife-enabled crime is down by almost 4 per cent. Again, however, the Met faces daily the impact of each and every one of those crimes on communities and individuals.
The Minister has just said that common assault is down, but the figures for reporting that crime show a fall of only 9.7 per cent. whereas we would expect a far greater reduction—almost 20 per cent. Does he accept that those figures and the British crime survey figures indicate a proportionate rise in common assault?
No, I do not. As I have already said, there is interplay between the BCS and recorded crime figures, and the hon. Lady may not understand the component parts. The British crime survey measures individual responses to crime rather than crime reduction, but of course people can have a nice time quoting figures from either the BCS or recorded crime statistics to fit their argument. The reality is the interplay between the two, and the fundamental point that the hon. Lady misses is that they do not set out to measure exactly the same thing. The BCS is not a measure of recorded crime, which the police do in a different way. London deserves a bit better than a rather foolish debate about the interplay between the BCS and recorded crime figures.
The development of neighbourhood policing in London over the past five years is the jewel in the crown. It has different nuances for each borough, which is entirely appropriate. A framework of six, with one sergeant, two police officers and three police community support officers in each ward, is a far-sighted neighbourhood policing method. That the model may be adapted for different areas and that—shock, horror!—Bromley’s safer neighbourhood team may do things differently from Harrow’s or that the teams in Bermondsey and Tower Hamlets might work differently despite their proximity only goes to show the responsiveness and substantiveness of the model. As the teams bed in, I hope that boroughs will learn from each other about best practice rather than it being spread only from ward to ward.
Just as important as the visibility of the safer neighbourhood teams and the work they do on a daily basis are the imaginative ways in which they talk to and respond to the ward communities they police across London. The work of safer neighbourhood teams, either at ward level or in clusters of wards, can be extraordinarily powerful when aligned with environmental and other council services in the borough in a neighbourhood management approach.
The Metropolitan police has a good record on diversity over the past five years and a good story to tell. The work force are more diverse than ever before. One of the useful by-products of the development of the PCSO model is the increasing number of recruits from black and minority ethnic communities, especially in London; there is also a stronger gender balance than in the routine force. The same can be said of special constables, where the Met has exceeded its target of 25 per cent. recruitment from BME communities and achieved a figure of 30 per cent. Recruitment of police officers in London, especially from a BME background, remains a challenge, however, so I hope that with the advent of the National Policing Improvement Agency many of the issues formerly dealt with by Centrex will be looked at in some detail.
The British Transport police, too, does a fine job in London. The BTP is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the service in a debate on policing in London. The BTP’s responsibility for our railway and underground systems is a discrete but significant task. The routine safety of passengers and their sense of security and well-being and the terrorist threat require a robust response. In a single year, London Underground carries more than 1 billion passengers and, on 8 December 2006, for the first time ever, carried 4 million passengers on a single day. The BTP certainly does not lag behind developments in the Met and other forces; it does a fine job.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the safer stations campaign has been extremely successful? The Mayor of London ensured that there were 89 more British Transport police and that stations were better lit, which has meant that people can travel more safely.
I agree absolutely. The BTP has interpreted neighbourhood policing by working with the Mayor to increase the BTP presence, with PCSOs, throughout the network, not least—so that I avoid being described as partisan for north London—on the south London rail network, where that presence may be needed more than on the tube, which is usually far busier. The introduction of such a scheme on Southern led not only to increased revenue for the rail company but a greater sense of security at work for rail staff—importantly—as well as for passengers.
Will my hon. Friend congratulate Southern and South West Trains, whose work in partnership with the local police, council and businesses, led to Balham, Earlsfield and Wandsworth Common stations all receiving accreditation and a safe station award? Not only does that make crime figures actually go down, but it makes passengers feel safer—a point which my hon. Friend referred to earlier. That is the twin challenge we face: being safe and feeling safe.
I am happy to congratulate the BTP in that regard and apologise to my hon. Friend for making his point before he was able to do so, which is something I did earlier, too.
The BTP has a key role working with the Metropolitan police to counter the ongoing threat of terrorism in London. Although no one says that things could not be better, the efforts of the BTP have achieved positive outcomes. Last year, total recorded crime on London’s railway and underground networks fell by 8 per cent. The detection rate for crimes of violence against the person and for robbery—two issues of real concern on the network—are up by 5 per cent. and 8 per cent. respectively. Finally in this section of my speech, the Airwave system is being implemented underground—an initiative colleagues may want to discuss.
I do not want to detain the House for too much longer, so I am trying to whizz through as much as I can to allow other Members to speak. However, it is right and proper in debates such as this for Ministers to take as many interventions as possible so that Members can make their points at this stage.
As I said, London is a unique city with unique issues, which bring unique threats. Terrorism is thus rightly an element in a debate on policing in London. The focus is across London rather than simply on the west end. The Metropolitan police has a strong role in the national dimension of the counter-terrorism effort, as well as specifically in London. The Met’s seven-point plan, Operation Delphinus, identifies the need to engender trust and confidence in all communities, which will in turn provide opportunities to create local environments that are hostile to terrorists. Delphinus will ensure regular contact with local partners, obtaining and disseminating information in compliance with the national intelligence model, as well as initiating a two-way dialogue to address community concerns—with the emphasis on two-way. We must ensure that all officers—whatever their role within the policing network in London—play their role in the counter-terrorist effort. Local forces will always remain the first responders in the case of a successful terrorist attack.
As I have said, gun and knife crime is a particular concern in London.
Before the Minister moves away from the issue of terrorism, may I return him to the subject of the Olympics, which was brought up by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)? As he knows, specific and detailed security plans were drawn up before the 7/7 bombings on the London underground, but to what extent will those plans be changed and reviewed as a result of what happened?
I say to the hon. Gentleman—I mean this in the strongest terms—that the plans will be reviewed, reflected upon and analysed all the way up to and including 2012. That must be the case for security and policing. Much of what the Metropolitan police does between now and 2012 will be coloured and influenced by the multinational event that will take place then. That is the way to proceed rather than to have a blueprint of policing and security that was part of the bid book and that will not be deviated from at all. The plans must be organic and responsive, not least for the reasons that he suggests. I agree with him and happily give the assurance that the process will be ongoing all the way up to and including 2012. In the same way, other elements of policing will be coloured by the fixed event that will take place at that time.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) those assurances, but may I raise another related point? The Minister has referred to the overground network in south London and that is relevant to those of us who represent areas that do not have a tube. However, as we develop a security strategy in the light of the greater potential risks with the Olympics and everything else, I hope that he and other Departments will take on board the importance of ensuring the security of the overground rail network just as much as the security of the underground. I say that given what happened in Madrid where the overground commuter network was targeted. We need to ensure that there is security at the sidings and depots, which are sometimes quite distant from London, where the trains are stabled and on the busy overground commuter lines. I hope that those points will be fully factored in.
I think that those points will be factored in. The commissioner is clear that the police and security plans for the Olympics must be all-embracing and London-wide and include all elements of the transport network. They must not simply be a police and security plan that covers the sites where events will be held and the transport corridors between them. The plans will be developed in the light of a particular focus being on London in August 2012 and in the run-up to that.
I could go on about several other issues, but I have probably spoken for long enough. Drugs are an important dimension of policing of London. If colleagues raise that issue, I will happily respond at the end of the debate. I wanted to touch on police reform and on productivity and efficiency on which the Met has a good news story. We need not only to bed in the neighbourhood policing model for London, but ensure that it is sustained. I will shortly hold a range of assorted workshops with the presence of the Metropolitan police. The workshops will not only deal with ways to reduce bureaucracy—about which we shall do what we can—and with the efficiency of the performance framework and targets set by Government, and how policing is aided rather than hindered by them, but with a range of other issues. Given the strength of the Met’s contribution to national policing, what happens in the Met will have implications elsewhere.
I wish to make two final points. Colleagues will know that the Home Secretary has announced a review of policing under the chairmanship of Sir Ronnie Flanagan. It will look at four key areas—neighbourhood policing, level 2 services, bureaucracy and local accountability—and all the issues associated with them. While the Government and other commentators struggle with local accountability, we all start from the premise that we need some form of local accountability to complement—not to challenge—the accountability that we have in London through the overarching strategic view that is provided by the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Mayor.
There are some strong and developing informal models—safer neighbourhood teams and local community panels—but as more and more resources and responsibility are devolved to basic command units and the boroughs, we should do more about the accountability of the police and other public services at the borough and BCU level. I do not know what the full answer is, but I do not think that it is borough watch committees all over again. I do not think that the answer is borough police commissioners who are somehow accountable for policing but not responsible for it, but I commend everyone for at least thinking through what the local accountability model should be to complement the strategic model provided by the Mayor.
I have long held the view that, as we now have safer neighbourhood partnerships in every borough in London as well as overall partnerships, the logic of having separate police and community consultative groups, which are leftovers from the era of the riots that Scarman inquired into, is past its sell-by date. We need one borough-wide forum in which the leader of the council, the person who runs the courts and any prisons in the borough and the police chief are accountable on a regular basis to the community—businesses as well as residents. I hope that Ministers will be positive about encouraging the review to consider a more streamlined system that will save many people a lot of time and money and that will be more effective.
I accept the point that there needs to be some sort of streamlining. The police and all other bodies must become much better aligned. However, I am not sure whether that will be done through the development of crime and disorder reduction partnerships, the local strategic partnerships when they are successful—they are not always successful—or through an amalgam of the two joined by local area agreements and extra funding from Government if people achieve targets. None the less, I agree with the starting premise that there needs to be greater accountability, but across function and not simply of the police at BCU or borough level. Councils increasingly have a huge role in all these matters and not least in the environmental and other issues raised by safer neighbourhood teams that are more properly the responsibility of the council rather than the police. As I have made clear, I am struggling to find the answer, but just know that there must be a greater degree of accountability and community response.
I am very grateful for the interventions thus far and hope that they presage a lively but thoughtful debate. I emphasise that we are not meeting today under the cloud of some great crisis. We can reflect on a good deal of success and, importantly, on a good deal of resilience and flexibility from the Metropolitan police and other police forces in London in responding to the needs of London communities as those needs grow, change and develop. The issues of policing London—now and in the future—are complex and policing can be done well or it can be done indifferently. I hope that the House will take this opportunity for what it is—a space to discuss and debate the issues of the day and the challenges of tomorrow in a constructive way.
I repeat what I said when I started. We owe a great deal to the men and women of the three forces that I have mentioned—officers and staff. I commend the commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, on all that he has done in terms of leadership and vision for the Metropolitan police and the men and women of the police forces throughout London. We rely on their skill, resourcefulness, integrity, willingness to serve and bravery on a daily basis. The House collectively—not just London MPs—and the country should be enormously grateful for the policing that they provide to London in such a selfless way, because that matters to the entire country. I commend to the House the Metropolitan police, the British Transport police and the City of London police for all that they do.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to the work of officers of all ranks in all the forces that operate in London: the City of London police, the British Transport police and, not least, the Met. The Met is the largest force in the country. It receives a quarter of the national policing budget and has approximately a fifth of all the sworn officers in England and Wales—30,000 out of 140,000. Any debate about policing in London therefore becomes quite an important index of the shape of policing in the rest of the country.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the 30,000 police officers in the Met. Does he accept that that is an increase of more than 20 per cent. on when the Mayor of London was elected and will he congratulate the Mayor on that?
I will come to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises later.
Founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, the original establishment of 1,000 officers policed an area within a 7 mile radius from Charing Cross and a population of fewer than 2 million. Today, as well as providing territorial policing for a population of 7.2 million and covering an area of 620 square miles, the Met has capital city functions such as policing national demonstrations and protecting royalty, diplomats, politicians and Parliament, and key additional responsibilities, including counter-terrorism. The performance of the Met is critical to the safety and quality of life of millions of our citizens—not just people who live in the capital, but those who travel to work here.
The Met and the Metropolitan Police Authority state their ambition to make London the safest major city in the world. That is a fine and proper ambition. They draw attention, as the Minister did, to recent falls in residential burglary, criminal damage, violence against the person and the total number of offences. I am happy to say unequivocally that those are welcome improvements. They should not be underestimated and I will say more about them shortly. But we must not be complacent. The overall story in London in the last decade is rather less impressive—to use the Minister’s word—than some of the recent developments suggest.
Yes, there have been significant falls in burglary and motor vehicle crime, but, as the Minister conceded, much of that is a consequence of technology that makes those crimes harder to commit. Those falls should therefore have been expected, as independent think-tanks have recently reminded us. In addition, the burglary rate in London is still 2.8 times higher than that in New York, for example. More seriously, according to the Met’s figures, there were just under 130,000 offences of violence against the person in 1998-99, but more than 182,300 in 2006-07—an increase of more than 52,000 or 40 per cent. in a period of roughly a decade. Is that an impressive record? In 1998-99 there were 2,285 gun-enabled crimes, but in 2006-07 there were 3,375—an increase of 48 per cent. Is that an impressive record? In 1998-99 there were about 26,000 robberies in London, but in 2006-07 there were well over 45,000—an increase of 74 per cent. The robbery rate has more than doubled since 1991. Is that an impressive record? I do not think so.
Those rises in some of the most serious crimes should be seen against the background of what has been, as the Minister quite correctly told us, a significant increase in investment in the Metropolitan police. Since 1997, budgeted net revenue expenditure has gone up from £1.8 billion to £3.2 billion. That is a huge real-terms increase of more than 40 per cent. We have to strip out the settlement last year of more than £250 million for counter-terrorism—for reasons that all of us in the House understand. But even if the additional spending on counter-terrorism is excluded, the budget has still increased by more than 30 per cent. in the last decade. It is Londoners who are largely paying for that increase in policing. In 1997 the police precept for a band D property in London was £63; in 2007-08 the police precept for a band D property in London will be £223.60.
In answer to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter), who asked who should take the credit for funding additional police officers in London, my response is: Londoners. They have paid richly for that. In 1997 the Met received £162.7 million from precepts on local authorities; in 2006-07 the police precept generated more than £600 million. As the Minister pointed out, that extra funding has delivered almost 4,000 extra officers—up from 26,000 to 30,000—and 2,500 new police community support officers. The Minister told us that the Met has just hit its target to recruit a total of 4,500 CSOs.
That is welcome. But here is the story of the last 10 years: Londoners and London taxpayers are paying much more; resources have increased by a third; there are 8,500 more officers; there has been a 20 per cent. increase in the total work force; and yet overall crime—on the figures that were supplied to us by the MPA and the Metropolitan Police Service last week—is at the same level now as it was 10 years ago. There were 921,603 offences in 1998-99; there were 921,779 offences in 2006-07. So, with a 20 per cent. increase in the work force and a 30 per cent. increase in resources, the level of crime is the same. If I were a Londoner, I would say that that was not very good value for money.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier the increase in gun crime. Does he agree that those of us on both sides of the House who, when the ban on handguns was introduced, said that it would make no difference to illegal guns on the streets, but only discriminate against law-abiding, decent pistol shooters who could no longer compete legally in this country, have been proved right?
I am not going to get drawn into the dispute about the ban on handguns. I will say later that I think that some of the changes that have happened in relation to violent crime were predictable and predicted. There has been insufficient action to date to deal with them.
There is an important debate to have about the value that people get for the resources that are put in. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the huge extra resources, and that was the view of ordinary Londoners and their political representatives across all parties. But could it be that it takes a while for the resources to have an effect? To be fair to everybody, including the MPA and members of all parties, the total crime figures have come down consistently for the last five years. They went up for the five years before that. We are where we were 10 years ago, but the trend now is much healthier than it was 10, eight or five years ago.
Yes, I was going to come to that point shortly, but I am happy to engage with the hon. Gentleman now. The case can certainly be made that the increase in police officers in the last few years and the introduction of safer neighbourhood teams has had a positive effect, both in providing reassurance to the public and in reducing some crimes. Other crimes have not been reduced; they have increased. We must address those serious issues. There are important questions about the number of police officers on the beat, their visibility and mechanisms to ensure that they can remain there. We do not know whether the trend is going to be sustained. It is important that we apply value-for-money tests to arguments that are put to us about falls in crime and that we see those falls in context. Before we pat ourselves and the MPS on the back too much for the performance over the last couple of years—I did welcome some of the reductions—it is wrong not to see that in the context of the last 10 years.
To jump ahead further, let me raise something of which the MPS does not like to be reminded: the comparison of the performance of the New York city police in the 1990s with that of the Metropolitan police during the past decade in which their resources have increased significantly. In the 1990s, there was a significant—42 per cent.—increase in the work force on the streets in New York, which was about twice the increase in London. However, crime fell by a huge 75 per cent. over that period, so there was a disproportionately large fall in crime in New York in the 1990s.
If we are going to have an informed debate, surely we must make the point that demographic factors were a far greater determinant of what happened to crime in New York than police resources. We need to ensure that we consider not only police resources and total investment, but a range of demographic, social and cultural factors that have an impact on levels of crime.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point that is often made to argue against the impact of the policing changes made in New York in the 1990s. Factors such as changes to the abortion law are often cited as being responsible for part of the reduction in crime, but those changes also applied in the rest of the United States. A recent study conducted by an eminent criminologist that is summarised effectively in the latest Conservative party policy document on this issue—I am happy to send a copy to the hon. Lady—shows that at least half of the 75 per cent. reduction in crime in the 1990s could be attributed only to changes in policing. The two fundamental changes in policing were an increase in accountability regarding the management of data and precinct commanders—many of those lessons are being learned in London, but are yet to be learned in the rest of the country—and an increase in police numbers.
I know that my local Conservatives and Conservatives in the Greater London assembly have consistently opposed and voted against increases in support for the police in London. Do Conservative Front Benchers share that view? It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to talk about value for money, but does he support the increase in the number of police officers and CSOs in London or not?
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have spotted that I am making an argument in favour of an increase in police numbers. Increasing the number of police on the streets is important. It had an absolutely fundamental effect on the amount of crime in New York and it may be starting to have an effect on levels of crime in London.
Perhaps we can lay to rest this canard that is trotted out by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) and the Mayor of London—it seems to be believed by only the two of them. I have proposed most of the alternative budgets of the assembly’s Conservative group. Conservative alternative budgets and some of those put forward by the Liberal Democrats would have made more resources available for policing. For example, we suggested that if the Mayor cancelled the western extension of the congestion charge and the Uxbridge tram, several hundred more police officers could be made available to police London’s transport network, yet Labour assembly members rejected that proposal last year.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Since the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush and I seem to agree about the importance of investing in police officers on the beat, will he set out his position? Hammersmith and Fulham council is conducting an important experiment in which it is increasing the number of police officers on the beat by delivering 24/7 policing and massively strengthening the existing neighbourhood policing teams, which do not work across 24 hours. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the council is increasing the numbers in two target wards by five times, so each team will have a total of 30 officers, rather than six. At the same time, the council is reducing its council tax. Does he support that particular increase in police officers on the beat?
If I get the opportunity to make a speech, I will deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point in some detail. He attended a conference at Hammersmith town hall to talk about the subject. The many members of the public who came to the conference expected to be able to express their views on policing, but instead listened to two hours of political speeches from five members of the Tory party that would have put Stalin to shame. The police and the public hardly got a word in—I hope that we are not going to hear more of that today.
We will be hearing many lectures on Stalinism from the Labour Benches over the next few months. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not in the Chamber to hear the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Hundreds of people attended the summit at Hammersmith. There is massive support for the pilot schemes that the council are introducing to put more police on the beat at less cost to the taxpayer. However, it appears that the hon. Gentleman does not support the policy.
May I ask a very parochial question? Will the hon. Gentleman speak to his colleagues in Hammersmith and Fulham and ask them to ensure that the policing teams stop crime, instead of encouraging criminals to cross the bridge into Barnes, which is in my constituency? That pattern of behaviour is driving those on our side of the river absolutely insane.
If the experiment is successful, perhaps other boroughs will decide to invest some of their resources in the people’s priority—reducing crime—rather than complaining about experiments.
May I bring my hon. Friend back to his original comments about policing numbers? An interesting article in “Metline”, the London police officers’ magazine, says that following increased investment in the US in homeland security, many states that had seen a decline in crime have experienced a dramatic rise. That suggests that a change in resources for the front line can move the trend both ways. Crime goes down when there are more officers, but up when there are fewer.
My hon. Friend’s point gives us a warning. With the honourable exception of those people who do not seem to support an increase in the number of police officers on the beat, hon. Members will have to ensure that neighbourhood policing is anchored, with its resources sustained and police officers remaining in position. Given funding pressures, the frozen Home Office budget and calls to increase spending on security, as has happened in the United States, there is a danger that neighbourhood policing will not be anchored. Enhancing local accountability is therefore important because it is one of the most potent ways of ensuring that people get the officers on the beat whom they are entitled to expect. They have wanted that for a long time, even though national politicians were slow to catch up with the idea.
People believe the simple truth that officers on the beat not only reassure communities, but reduce crime. There is now empirical evidence from this country to support that view. After 7/7, officers were transferred from some outer London boroughs to inner London so that people could be reassured by additional police officers on the streets. The transfer resulted in a big drop in crime in those inner London boroughs. That demonstrated to the establishment, which had denied people for so long the increased officer numbers on the streets that they wanted, that more officers were an important factor in reducing crime.
The hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of local accountability as a means of anchoring neighbouring policing, but he said earlier that he was unhappy with the idea of Londoners having to share the cost of additional policing. Is it possible to support local accountability while simultaneously opposing local financial accountability?
The hon. Lady misunderstands me. I was making an argument about value for money and pointing out that the increase in resources that is claimed for London has largely been funded by London taxpayers and council tax payers. They want a return on their investment. Value for money in our public services is an important concept to which we Opposition Members subscribe, even if the hon. Lady does not.
The fact is that London remains a high crime area, although we may have arguments about statistics. I would say to the Minister that I believe, and we have formally proposed, that the time has come to put the publication of the statistics on an entirely independent basis. The Statistics Commission criticised the Home Office for the way it spins the figures that are produced, but we should also consider the fact that there are two different measures of crime. The British crime survey is valuable in some respects but problematic in others because it does not measure key crimes. There is also the problem of the trading and spinning of statistics once they are published by the Government. That makes it difficult for everyone—Members of the House, commentators and, most of all, the public—to know what is really going on. If we are to measure the performance of police forces fairly, we should have robust and independently produced measures of crime in which we can all have confidence.
We propose that responsibility for the figures be taken out of the Home Office and given to an independent body. That would assist us greatly in debates such as today’s, and it would enable Members of all parties to make points without the basis of their claims being challenged. Let me tell hon. Members a few home truths about crime in the capital city which cannot be disputed. There is 30 per cent. more crime in London than there is nationally. We might expect that in a capital city with a large concentration of people and a great deal of economic activity, but people are also 30 per cent. more likely to be mugged in the capital than they are in the rest of the country. That is despite the fact that there are far more police officers in London. The average population per officer outside the capital is 372; in London it is 239, or, to be fair, 262 if we allow for the commuters who travel into London every day.
As we heard, the detection rate in the Met has improved in recent years, and, in fairness, that is a significant improvement and should be welcomed. It is good news, if the fact that 78.9 per cent. of crimes are undetected can be classed as good news. However, it remains the case that the Met’s detection rates are consistently worse than those of other metropolitan police forces, even though crime levels and trends across urban forces are similar. That is an important discrepancy that we should debate. Greater Manchester police’s detection rate is more akin to the national average of 24 per cent., and that is significantly higher than the rate in London.
I welcome the improvement in the Met’s detection rates, but we should be cautious about how that improvement has arisen. There are two particular concerns that I shall draw to the House’s attention. First, it appears that an increase in sanctioned detections has been achieved partly through a significant increase in the number of cautions issued by all forces, including the Met. For example, in London last year the police issued more than 14,000 cautions for serious crimes, including assault, robbery, burglary, car crime and hard drugs offences. The cautions were then counted as sanctioned detections, enabling the police to claim that their performance has improved, but I doubt very much whether the victims of those crimes would consider the offenders to have been really been brought to justice.
The second way that forces may be improving detection rates is by considerably increasing the number of penalty notices for disorder that are issued. I do not have to hand the figures on the number issued in London, but there has been a significant increase nationally, so I can confidently say that there will have been a big increase in the proportion locally, and that may well correspond with a falling-off in the number of offenders brought to justice who are accounted for through convictions in court. If we consider that half of those penalty notices are not actually paid, in the first instance, by the person who has been given the fine, it is deeply questionable whether penalty notices should count towards the number of offenders brought to justice at all. Some of those enforcement tickets are being used to deal with matters such as serial shoplifting, although it is quite inappropriate for them to be used in that way.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case—[Interruption.] If Labour Members will listen, they will find that it is a powerful point. In my constituency, people feel that offenders are not being brought to justice, and although the figures that have been published are going down, people feel that criminals are not being punished, and are getting away with it. That is the point that my hon. Friend is making powerfully.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I agree with what he says. The Labour Members who appear to be disagreeing need to tell me whether they think that someone who is given a penalty notice for disorder and a fine for an offence, and then does not pay that fine, should count as an offender brought to justice, because that is what is happening. If we were victims of those crimes, however minor they may seem, would we be happy for them to be accounted for in that way? Yet that is one way that forces are increasing their detection rates, so there is a distortion.
That distortion emanates from one of the biggest problems affecting policing: the increasing amount of central direction and the increasing number of targets placed on the police, as on other public services. Those targets and the excessive reporting that goes with them damage morale in police forces. They also make the police perform to targets and undertake what they might otherwise think were not particularly valuable policing activities. Fishing for easy detections, as opposed to tackling more difficult offences, is exactly that kind of distortion. Before we debate the issue again, we need figures that demonstrate what proportion of the increase in detections amounts to offenders being brought to justice, and what proportion is accounted for by administrative devices. Without the figures, it is difficult for us to judge.
I welcome not only the specific falls in crime in the Met area in the past few years, but the recent improvements in trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service, as measured by its opinion surveys. Those are important, too. However, the fact is that more than a quarter of Londoners still do not feel safe walking alone in their area after dark. Four out of 10 Londoners do not have confidence in London policing, and they do not feel that the police do a good or excellent job. Some 12 per cent. have a fear of violence in their local area. We may say, “That is only 12 per cent.,” and of course it is perfectly possible to put the figure the other way round and say that the overwhelming majority of people do not have a fear of violence, but it still means that there are 900,000 people in our capital living in fear of violence, and that is unacceptable. That suggests that reversing the high tide of crime remains a fundamental challenge for the Met, and the commissioner was unwise to suggest last year that people now leave their doors open because they feel safe in a way that they have not done for 25 years. Frankly, to put it as kindly as possible, that was a little previous.
Certainly, in my constituency, people do not feel safe leaving their doors open. I assume that the statistics that my hon. Friend just read out about people’s attitudes do not include information gained by interviewing children who are 16 and under. We know that a huge number of the victims in London are secondary school children, and presumably, had statistics on children been included, the facts would have been much more negative.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and one reason why there is a problem with the British crime survey, and other surveys that interview adults and not children, is that so much crime, particularly robbery, is committed against younger people, and we are not picking that up. That is obviously a problem.
Is not the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) made about young people reinforced by the fact that the deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who stood in for the commissioner at the last Metropolitan Police Authority meeting, provided members with information that there had been a worrying increase in the number of cash-in-transit robberies and a movement away from snatches? In particular, concern was expressed that more young people are involved in cash-in-transit robberies, rather than the snatching of mobile phones that took place in the past. In other words, they are snatching more valuable property, and does that not cause concern that we are failing to capture the full extent of the involvement of younger people, for all the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)?
That is an interesting point. One aspect of performance in relation to crime in the past year about which we should be concerned is the increase in robbery. The Met, to be fair, drew attention to that itself. My hon. Friend is right that a big component of that increase relates to cash in transit, not personal robberies. It is often characterised as crimes such as the snatching of mobile phones and so on, but it can be crimes against businesses that result in harm to employees. It is something about which the security industry is increasingly concerned, and it probably merits a separate debate in future, because specific action may need to be taken. In particular, those crimes against businesses need to be recorded separately so that we can monitor what is going on.
Next week or the week after, a substantive conference will be held at which banks, individuals involved in the security industry, and, importantly, local authorities will come together. I would be very happy to make sure that Members who have participated in our debate and have expressed concern about cash and valuables in transit receive a record of the outcome and any subsequent actions.
I am grateful to the Minister. I think that I recall receiving an invitation to the conference, which I hope to attend. As ever, I look forward to his contribution.
The hon. Gentleman was about to complete his sweep of different types of crime, but may I just ask him whether he agrees that there is a worrying trend? It is apparent not just in London but in other places—it is, however, absolutely clear in London—that the crimes that have gone up in the past 10 years and are most worrying are all violent crimes: murder, gun-enabled crime, robbery, violence against the person and rape. There will be an endemic problem in our society if we do not turn that around, as the problem of more people being more violent more often is afflicting both London and the rest of the country.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The fall in many crimes, as the Minister conceded, was expected because of technology, but the increase in other crimes, such as mugging, is particularly serious and worrying for the public. The fact is that the Government knew that that was going to happen, because a strategy document produced by the Prime Minister’s strategy unit in December 2002 noted that London had a particular problem with mugging and street crime. It noted that mugging occurred principally in 10 London boroughs—the figure is 60 per cent.—and that an increase in violent crime was likely. We should have seen that coming to a greater extent than we have done, but everyone in the House would concede that the solution to the problems does not lie just with the police. I agree with much of what the Met commissioner said in his interview in The Guardian this morning, and that the solutions are wider than a simple question of enforcement. Enforcement is important, as, of course, are sufficiently robust penalties, which the Government have now accepted in relation to knife crime. Police officers on the streets are important, but what is going on has wider societal implications, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has constantly tried to impress upon us. The solutions lie in what the Prime Minister used to want to discuss—the causes of crime—so the point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is well made. I suspect that we will be preoccupied with the issue a great deal in the next few months.
I have been talking largely about the importance of getting police officers on to the streets, and I welcome the fact that, in London, the development of neighbourhood policing teams funded by Londoners, with one sergeant, two police constables and three police community support officers in 630 wards has been rolled out ahead of schedule. In 87 wards, the number of PCSOs will increase further, which is important if we are to develop the kind of policing that the public want and that operates successfully in Chicago, for instance, as I have seen for myself in the Chicago alternative policing strategy, on which much of this is modelled. There is still a problem with the visibility of police officers, and the survey to which the Met and Metropolitan Police Authority drew attention shows that, astonishingly, it is still the case that less than half of London’s population see a uniformed presence on the streets every week.
The development of neighbourhood policing must address that problem. One way in which we can ensure the effectiveness of neighbourhood policing teams is to take a resolute—and, I propose, steely-eyed—look at the effectiveness of PCSOs and what they do. PCSOs are an important development and component of neighbourhood policing teams. I understand the reason why PCSOs should not have certain powers—it is to avoid their abstraction into police stations and to maintain a constant presence on the streets—but it is important that people see PCSOs engaging with them. There are specific problems to which commanders are alive and that need to be addressed. For instance, is it really necessary for PCSOs always to patrol in pairs? The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, proposed at one point that there should be proximity policing so that police officers and PCSOs could patrol on either side of the street. They would still be in safe reach of and each other, not only would that effectively double the police presence on the streets but it would encourage them to engage with the community much more. Given that the Government have legislated to allow greater powers to be given to PCSOs, we will have an ongoing debate about the extent to which PCSOs should be given greater powers to make them more useful while avoiding their being taken back into police stations.
That leads me to reform. In the past, we tended to have a debate about the need to increase the visible police presence on the streets, thinking that that purely involved an increase in resources and the hiring of more police officers. All political parties fell into the trap of believing that that was the only way of increasing the presence of police officers on the streets. However, a considerable diversion of police officer time as a result of the bureaucracy and the way in which they have to record and process crime confronts the police.
It is part of the accountability process.
Accountability does not have to be bureaucratic. The fact that, on the Government’s own figures, police officers spend more time filling in forms than they do on patrol is a problem, and I thought that it was understood by Members on both sides of the House.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—he has been generous in accepting interventions. Does he not accept that one reason why there were so many miscarriages of justice in the 1970s and ’80s was the lack of paperwork by police officers? One reason why there are far fewer miscarriages now and why the public have more confidence in the police is the paperwork that they have to fill in, whether it is notebooks, the paperwork for the transfer of a prisoner from a cell to a custody suite, or interviews that are recorded. Those are some examples that protect the police from allegations of miscarriages by the public.
I would caution the hon. Gentleman against making the argument that all the paperwork is essential to ensure the proper operation and monitoring of what the police do. We all agree that there should be transparency and accountability in officer performance. The introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for instance, was an important development in ensuring that that took place. However, much of the paperwork that has been generated is not about that—it is about reporting back to central Government to fulfil the requirements of central targets, policing plans and so on. It is not just me saying that—it is the police. That is the first element that we need to address.
Massively inefficient processes are operating in police stations. The hon. Gentleman mentioned police officers filling in notebooks and forms. Several forces, including the Met, have very disjointed IT systems, so that officers have to key in data repeatedly. That is examined in detail in the latest policy document published by the Conservative party’s police reform taskforce, which maps out the various obstacles to efficient working. To be fair, the Government have recognised this too. Although they have constantly over the past 10 years promised bonfires of regulation, they now seem to understand that the additional bureaucracy that is being created is deeply damaging to the morale and effectiveness of police officers and needs to be taken on. I understand that that will be part of what Sir Ronnie Flanagan will look into, and I welcome that.
The danger is that for as many forms that are cut by anti-bureaucracy taskforces and so on, more are introduced. The Met’s own anti-bureaucracy taskforce claimed to have abolished 100 forms in the past 12 months, but admitted that a further 135 had been created. The Government have introduced a new form—the stop form—which, because of the time that it takes to complete, has created a significant impediment to the police’s ability to stop people. Once such things are introduced they are much harder to sweep away. We have said that we will not keep the stop form, because it is a serious impediment to efficient police performance, but will keep the stop-and-search form.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 75 per cent. of neighbourhood policing teams’ time is spent on visible community policing? Although that figure could be better, he is somewhat behind the times in his approach. Does he agree with what my local Conservatives, with whom he seems to be very much in bed, are saying about stopping the reporting of stop and search in order to reduce bureaucracy? Surely that is a dangerous route to take. In the name of opposing bureaucracy, they are removing checks that were introduced for a very good reason.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Even patrol officers are spending more time on paperwork than they are on patrol. Neighbourhood policing teams consist in half part of police community support officers, who are not having to do all this reporting.
One of the paradoxes of the way in which modern policing has been constructed is that we have created a new class, or category, of police officer who has fewer powers than a sworn police officer but is out on the streets while sworn officers are in police stations tied up in all the bureaucracy. If we are to have a debate about how we structure policing in future, we might like to reflect on that. We need to have a close look at the extent to which sworn officers are doing things in police stations that could be done by civilian officers.
A large number of police forces, including the Met, continue to have tasks run by police officers when they do not need to be. In my local force, Sussex, custody suites—an important part of police operations in which a great deal of bureaucracy is involved—are contracted out to a private supplier, and only the custody sergeant in the custody suite is a sworn officer. That has been a great success. There is no opposition to it in Sussex, and it is helping to deliver a better service and value for money. However, in many custody suites in the Met, as I saw for myself, those services are still run by sworn officers. Is it necessary to have sworn officers doing many of the tasks that they do? Another example is that of bail. A significant number of criminal suspects are on the run after skipping bail—more than 4,000 in London, including more than 500 serious and violent offenders. Could we employ the private sector, for instance, to pursue people who skip bail?
Important work force modernisation projects are going on throughout the country to assess the potential for driving up productivity of hiring civilian staff to do clerical work and, beyond that, case-building work that sworn officers do not need to do. The Treasury says that implementing such work force reform could lead to a 20 per cent. increase in productivity. It would not only lead to better value for money but release sworn officers on to the beat. That will become increasingly important, particularly against the background of tighter financial settlements for the police.
My hon. Friend is making a valuable point. My experience locally is that because of constraints on back office resources, Putney police station opens for only three hours a day. It is pretty difficult for people to report crime when the police station is open at the very time when they are generally at work in London. That is possibly one of the reasons why recorded crime is going down.
Other important factors in relation to the accessibility of the police need to be addressed. Another result in the survey that we were given showed that fewer than half of Londoners feel informed about local policing.
One of the factors that is bound up with that is whether there should be a single non-emergency number in London to assist people in reporting crime, raising concerns and so on. That was a manifesto commitment by the Government. I have seen for myself the effectiveness of a non-emergency number in cities such as Chicago. The pilot schemes of the 101 number have been successful. They revealed an enormous latent demand, with members of the public taking advantage of a service that was not available before so that they could ring up and ask for help, whether from the police or from partners. I agree with the Minister that it will be important to ensure that partners work more closely with the police and deliver an holistic approach to reducing crime in their areas. However, the 101 number has effectively been shelved and will not be available in London. The Mayor of London has expressed concern about that. He wrote to the Home Secretary, saying:
“I am extremely concerned that the Home Office has decided to delay Waves 2 and 3 of the implementation of the”
101 number, “including London.”
He goes on:
“To be a truly world class city that hosts the Olympics in 2012, should the Capital not have the facilities that New York and Paris boast?”
“There has been an unprecedented enthusiasm across the political divide in London, and across the various London agencies to implement one of our major manifesto commitments. I am concerned that we will lose the goodwill, and therefore the opportunity, to introduce this valuable service to everyone who lives in, works in or visits London.”
The House should not underestimate the significance of what a single non-emergency number can achieve. It can not only dramatically improve the service that is available to the public but provide a way of ensuring that services are delivered seamlessly and that partners work more closely together.
Does my hon. Friend accept that on this issue the Mayor of London is, for once, right? His concerns are reinforced by the cross-party views expressed in a report produced by the Commission on London Governance, which was set up jointly by the London assembly and the London boroughs. It heard compelling evidence of the value of a 101 number, and all parties on the Association of London Government, as it was then called, and the assembly supported it. Does he share my hope that the Minister will try to persuade his colleagues to reconsider this?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the cross-party cover with which he has provided me. Of course, I agree with him.
Before I leave the issue of work force reform, there are other significant ways in which the Met must play a leading role in ensuring value for money and the efficient use of taxpayers’ resources. There are concerns, which the commissioner raised, about the number of officers—nearly 2,000—on restricted duties in the Met. The commissioner correctly argues that that is potentially divisive. There is concern about the number of officers who take time off, which amounted to an average of almost three weeks last year, costing £36 million. More than 2,000 officers were off for more than 28 days. Some tough management decisions will be necessary to ensure that the additional resources that local and national taxpayers have provided to all police forces, including the Met, are deployed effectively.
Let me deal with the last key point about the way in which the Met’s performance will be important in future. It comes under the heading of accountability, which we have discussed. The Minister also raised it. The introduction of the post of Mayor and the role that he has played in helping secure additional officers and enhance the accountability of the Met locally have been beneficial. That system replaced arrangements whereby the Met effectively answered to the Home Secretary and it constitutes a significant advance. The model attracts Conservative Members to extending such arrangements to the rest of the country, where possible, or to finding some way of replicating it where there are no mayors.
However, I question the Metropolitan Police Authority’s claim that the Metropolitan police have become democratically accountable to Londoners for the first time. A body that is partly appointed cannot claim to be democratically accountable and the boroughs are losing out on the accountability to which they are entitled. In a debate in Committee on the matter and in his intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made effective points. He said that the MPA collects a large share of the precept but some of its members are not elected.
The arrangements for the Met’s accountability are slightly over-complicated. They need to be tackled in future and that will probably mean transferring accountability to the elected Assembly, which can be more representative of Londoners. I am sure that methods can be found of including the expertise of unelected individuals, but those who argue that appointed individuals should fulfil functions on the MPA miss the point of what will happen in politics and structures in future. I believe that more authority will be vested in people who are elected and have legitimacy. The public no longer find it acceptable that people over whose position they have no influence should make many decisions about their lives.
Plainly, Londoners would like more borough accountability. That is clear from all the surveys that have been conducted. However, there will ultimately be a problem of determining who runs a police force, and formal mechanisms of accountability at borough level would therefore probably be a step too far. I agree that increased answerability of borough commanders and more effective partnership arrangements are the way forward.
At the most local level, more could be done to increase the police’s accountability. That could happen through, for example, more regular beat meetings that are open to the public and not held only with selected people. Such meetings should be more widely publicised. Conservative Members have discussed creating a right to policing so that people would know that they could meet their local police officers.
Providing information about crime levels in real time could also increase accountability. The Met now makes much more information about crime available on its website to local residents, but it is not in the same league as a city such as Los Angeles, where the police department publishes impressive maps that are available to the public and show crimes that have been committed in their neighbourhood in the past 24 hours. It is a powerful tool for the public, whereby they can express their concern about crime, know where it is happening and hold the police to account.
Much more must be done in future. The trend in developing safer neighbourhoods is the right one. I am happy to credit all concerned: the commissioner, the Mayor for partly enabling it to happen and, above all, the public, who wanted it for some time and funded it. However, it has not gone nearly far enough and there is something to learn from cities such as Chicago where such strategies have been in place for longer and trust has built up between the public and local police officers, who are known in their communities. That knowledge is especially important.
I have left myself little time to talk about a subject that I suspect other hon. Members will cover: the specific challenge of gangland crime. The report presented to the MPA today reveals that at least 171 gangs operate in the city. Some involve younger children and even young women. It is plainly a serious problem, which is not unique to London, but will require a specific combination of legislation, enforcement and social action. We make a mistake if we believe that only one of those components will tackle the problem.
I cannot conclude without mentioning the importance of counter-terrorism to policing in London. As the previous director general of the Security Service reminded us, the threat is at an unprecedented level and increasing. I pay tribute to the work of the Metropolitan police, as well as the security agencies, for helping to thwart various plots and bring the perpetrators to justice. The Metropolitan police are devoting a great deal of attention, energy and resources to confronting the threat. We and all Londoners support them in that.
However, when mistakes are made—they have been made—it is important that lessons are learned in a transparent and timely manner. There has been a delay in inquiries into the tragic shooting of de Menezes and the Government continue to stand in the way of an inquiry into the allegations about whether the Security Service knew what was happening before 7/7. It is important to discuss those issues. That does not undermine the Security Service or the police in any way. When possible, an open, transparent and informed debate about such matters would help build confidence and do much to arrest the sort of media attention that currently focuses on them.
Two years ago in his Dimbleby lecture, Sir Ian Blair called for a national debate on the future of policing. He asked what sort of police service we want in future. I welcome the way in which the Minister introduced the debate and engaged in that discussion. I welcome the fact that Sir Ronnie Flanagan will conduct a review about increasing local accountability and reducing bureaucracy, which is deeply problematic for delivering more effective policing in future. Conservative Members have contributed substantially to the debate with the publication of our 250-page policy report, which proposes constructive and sometimes bold solutions.
When we are perfectly properly and constructively critical of the performance of police forces and ask them to do more, it is important to acknowledge not only the challenges that they face but the contribution that officers make and the way in which they try to do their job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) revealed last week, having obtained information through the Freedom of Information Act 2000, well over 3,000 officers in the Met were assaulted last year in the performance of their duty. Nearly 14,000 were assaulted in the past five years and a significant number of officers in the City of London police were also assaulted. In all our debates about policing and crime levels in London, and when we express concerns on behalf of Londoners and the public that there should be value for money and that the fight against crime should be stepped up, we should not forget the work of police officers on our behalf. They remain the thin blue line between us and the breakdown of law and order.
May I begin by reflecting on the comments made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) about trust in statistics, because that issue lies at the heart of not only this debate, but most of those on crime and policing. I am not unsympathetic to the idea of more independent collection of statistics, but it is unarguably true—the hon. Gentleman’s comments demonstrated the fact—that, regardless of how the statistics are collected and by whom, how they are used nevertheless comes down to individuals, whether they be in the media or in politics. That is open to a great deal of varied interpretation and occasional quite blatant misinterpretation.
I noticed from the statistics quoted by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs that the baseline year—the important issue for comparison of statistics—varied widely between 2000, which saw the introduction of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the election of the Mayor of London, and 1997, when 10 years of Labour Government commenced. In one case, the hon. Gentleman quoted figures based on 1991. Of course, that choice is very significant, because depending on which year we choose as the baseline year for studying historical trends, we find very different things in different circumstances.
The figures that the MPA uses for historical perspective give us the ability to track changes in crimes over one year, three years or five years. That will provide enormously varied results, reflecting what we all know—that there are patterns of crime that go up and then, we hope, come down as we bring resources to bear on them. For example, the figures for gun crime show that London saw a 21 per cent. reduction over the five years between 2002 and 2007, falling to an 8 per cent. reduction—still significant and important—if we take the two years between 2005 and 2007. The figures for robberies, which are a matter of enormous concern, show a significant increase, as all London Members will know, reflecting a rise in street robbery between 2004-05 and 2007. I hope, however, the increase of only 1 per cent. recorded over the course of last year, which reflected the fact that the police have been targeting that particular pattern of crime, will be a sustained trend.
If we want a mature and balanced debate about the resources required to tackle crime and about the factors that drive criminal behaviour, it is important to recognise that, whoever collects the statistics and however they are presented, the use of those statistics in debate must also be taken into account.
The hon. Lady is making some valid points, but it brings me back to my previous intervention. If we took into account the decline in the reporting of muggings, we would see an underlying increase in them. My concern in all this is that it is difficult for police officers and inspectors to allocate resources when, because of the lack of reporting, they do not have a clear picture of what is happening. Does she agree that that is the fundamental problem with all these statistics?
I agree with that up to a point, but we also heard earlier great concerns expressed about the administrative burden on policing, which leads to the conclusion that we should be collecting less data, so we need to understand that, too. I am all in favour of ensuring that we collect robust local statistics that allow us to gauge comparative performance over time and between regions. We need to discuss thoughtfully how to achieve that, but we also need to be responsible in the way that we report crime.
We heard in the opening statements earlier about the way in which we politicians tend to use stories about crime to support our campaigning information. That is a matter of great concern. We often hear at the highest level, often including in this place, some thoughtful reflections on crime trends, but it has to be said that, at the local level and in local elections, we often see literature put out by candidates that is, frankly, at odds with that more considered approach of local authorities and Governments. I am not going to make a party political point—though, frankly, I could—but we need to take a good hard look at ourselves, particularly when parties are in opposition, which is when the temptation to behave in that way is greatest. If we are to have a measured debate about what works, it is no good posing candidates in front of those yellow signs that the MPA use to signify a crime simply in order to make a powerful impact, particularly when that crime—serious and unpleasant though it may be—is wholly unrepresentative of what is happening in a community over time. If we do not do something about that, we will have a serious problem.
I believe that the figures for crime and policing in London clearly demonstrate one crucial thing—the relationship between increased resourcing for the police and reductions in crime. If we use the year 2000 as our baseline, there have been dramatic achievements of which we should be very proud. The MPA, the Mayor and all the individuals on the front line of policing deserve considerable credit. That does not mean that every single crime that occurs is not a serious and sometimes devastating event for the person who is a victim.
It is very difficult for politicians to find the narrative that manages to celebrate success on the one hand, while on the other not appearing to underplay the consequences of crime for the significant number of people—I fear that we will always have them—who find themselves victims of crime. The consequence of not finding the right narrative is, as we saw in the comments of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, a corrosive sense that nothing works. I have already said that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged some achievements, but his underlying thrust was that substantial resources have gone into policing in London without achieving anything. I am afraid that that is not true and that if such an impression is allowed to go unchallenged, it reinforces the public’s confidence that nothing that we or Governments of any complexion do can have any impact on the situation.
To be fair to the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), he said that utopia does exist in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
I accept that, but the truth is that even in those cities, the challenge of the narrative remains—how to identify and celebrate success while acknowledging that many serious crime problems still remain and impact disproportionately on certain communities.
Just to reinforce a point, I lived for 18 years in Chicago, so I am probably one of the few people here who has had three acquaintances murdered, and had a gun put to the head. My general advice for both Labour and Conservative Members would be not to exaggerate.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. It is certainly true that we can and should always learn from good practice in other areas, including other countries, and constantly refine and evaluate what we do in order to improve. Police numbers and police resources—and, indeed, the machinery of criminal justice and enforcement processes—are only one part of the story, as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs acknowledged. In New York, demographic change had an impact, though we can disagree about the extent. Demographic changes have an impact here too. London is a growing city, and it is becoming a younger city, which has an impact, as do other social changes. Sadly, economic growth tends to equate with certain levels of violent crime, often because people drink more and alcohol-fuelled crime can rise in those circumstances. In recessions, certain kinds of property crimes have a tendency to increase. All those factors have to be taken into consideration.
Our experience since 2004-05 tells us that neighbourhood policing works. Westminster has 25 neighbourhood police teams, and my experience is that that can be equated with a significant fall in crime. I congratulate all the police working in Westminster on their very real achievements, including a 7 per cent. drop in recorded offences in the past year alone. That feeds into a welcome sense among members of the public that their neighbourhoods are getting safer. A major piece of research carried out by the neighbourhood police in the Harrow road ward, one of the more deprived wards in my constituency, found that 80 per cent. of those questioned said that there had been “a noticeable drop” in crime since the introduction of that team and of the crime-fighting family of neighbourhood wardens and neighbourhood police. That is exactly what we want.
People have a tendency not to believe statistics, regardless of their source. They want to see visible policing and they want to know through word of mouth that there has been a change in their community, and all of those things are undoubtedly flowing from the introduction of neighbourhood policing. People’s perception of crime—and their willingness to believe that their streets are safer—is an important end in itself. It is a long way from being where we would ideally like it to be, but it is certainly improving.
The improvements in neighbourhood policing and the significant reduction in people’s chances of being a victim of crime have been secured with, rather than against, the communities in which they are happening. We should not understate the importance of that. We all know that assertive policing and the use of stop and search have their place as tools of effective policing, but strong personal relationships, a good understanding of the community, the ability of the police to recognise people—especially young people—and know them by name, and good community intelligence have an even more important role. Those things cannot be achieved in a year or two years, but they are undoubtedly happening. I see it for myself on the streets and I very much welcome it.
That is also partly a reflection of the increase in the number of black and minority ethnic officers in the police and among PCSOs. Such appointments are sometimes decried as being a form of political correctness, but the reverse is true. They are essential to achieving policing by consent in communities. One in five police trainees at Hendon are now from black and minority ethnic communities, compared with one in 17 five years ago, and the safer neighbourhood teams reflect the communities in which they operate even more than the general police service. That is absolutely marvellous.
We would still like to see some improvements, however, many of which I am sure would attract cross-party support, although they would not be resource-free. The members of the public who talk to me and respond to local surveys say that they want to see neighbourhood police teams patrolling later into the evening—that is one of the most important things—and very early in the morning. The Prince of Wales junction in my community has a serious problem with drugs and antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend the Minister visited the area when he came to inspect the neighbourhood policing in my constituency a few months ago, and I am grateful to him for that. The early morning drug dealing, between 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning, is a real problem. It is recognised by the residents, but the way in which the police teams are structured at the moment does not always allow them to respond to it.
Another common complaint, which was highlighted in a recent survey, is the answering of the phone by the police. We need to bear down more effectively on the level of responsiveness. Neighbourhood police teams giving out their mobile numbers works very effectively and is hugely welcome, but when people ring their local police station—not in an emergency, but as part of their involvement in tackling antisocial behaviour and identifying patterns of drug use, for example—they want to know that their calls will be answered.
I want finally to talk about children. There is no doubt that the experience of children as victims of crime—and, to a certain extent, as perpetrators—is beginning to be recognised, as we have seen from the high-profile media debate over recent months. However, it is not properly recognised either in statistics or in its implications for public policy. Two teenagers, Kodjo Yenga and Jevon Henry, have been knifed to death in my constituency in the past few weeks. Although the statistics do not appear to show that knife and gun crimes are worsening overall, people’s perceptions are somewhat different. One in three Londoners believe that knife crime is at an all-time high. That perception is a worry, and young people in particular are picking up that perception. Tragically, the fear of crime is driving too many of them to carry weapons in the misguided belief that it is all about self-defence. Others carry weapons in the misguided belief that it confers status in a respect culture.
We need to do a great deal more to understand why young people behave in this way. I do not think that we will ever know the extent to which the situation has changed. Many people talk about their childhoods in tougher areas 30 or 40 years ago, and say that everyone used to carry a knife at that time. We cannot say with absolute confidence that society or childhood are more violent than they were, but there is undoubtedly a perception that that is the case.
Intelligence-led stop and search is incredibly important in this context, as are enforcement and punishment, but the real issue is to understand why young people are vulnerable to being drawn into the gang culture and into carrying and using weapons. The projects that work with young people, including Working with Men, Boyhood to Manhood, and Kids Company—the most famous example—are doing stunning work, but it has to be recognised that they do not reach one in 200 of the communities that they need to reach. We have already heard about the extent to which local authorities are putting resources into policing, but my worry is that the voluntary and community projects that work with young people are vulnerable to reductions in local authority spending, despite the fact that they play an important preventive role.
The prevention agenda is not a soft option. People sometimes say that youth clubs, sports and so on are a soft option and that the way to deal with youth crime involves tougher sentencing and more prison places—
That is what the Prime Minister says now.
I do not always agree with my Prime Minister. The truth is, however, that he and this Government have put all the investment into the expansion of these services, so let us look at records rather than take words out of context.
In Westminster, we have taken an integrated approach involving the police, the sports unit, the youth service, Positive Futures and the use of Government money to establish a significantly improved level of youth and sporting activity. Last summer, the summer action programme—with support from Positive Futures—recorded a 50 per cent. drop in youth crime during the time in which it was operating. At Easter, we ran a Unity in the Community football tournament that took 500 young people, most of whom were not involved in any formal activities, off the street and into a football programme. The police teams said that they spent the entire weekend patrolling the streets but could not find any young people. Why? Because they were all engaged in activities that are not always on offer.
So, when people say that this is a soft way of approaching crime, let us look at the statistics. When we provide these services, we get young people off the streets and the estates and youth crime falls. That is something that every local authority needs seriously to consider, because the level of provision is not only patchy at the moment but highly vulnerable to the financial pressures that we are now facing.
I join the Minister and the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) in congratulating the Metropolitan police, the City of London police and the British Transport police. I was especially pleased that the Minister mentioned the specials, because their work in our communities, such as going out on patrol at uncivilised hours of the night and handling community events, is absolutely vital. The boroughs of Richmond and Kingston, in which my constituency lies, would not be able to function without them. I am glad that they got a tribute, as they are often overlooked.
I also echo the Minister’s comments about safer neighbourhood teams, which are the crown jewel of London policing. I say that with particular pleasure, which I shall explain in a moment. For a period, however, the safer neighbourhood teams were not fully staffed—they were officially rolled out, but manned by one, two or three people, rather than being up to proper strength. There was a genuine risk of creating a great sense of disillusion within communities, because the teams were not visible or able to carry out the necessary tasks. It is an enormous relief that this year, finally, the teams have been rolled out at full strength, pretty much across London—I hope that I am not leaving out anywhere that has yet to get a full-strength team—which is essential.
Will the hon. Lady congratulate the Mayor on rolling out the teams one year ahead of the original plan? As she is well aware, the original plan was to roll them out in April 2008.
As the hon. Gentleman should know, I will be delighted when all the teams have been rolled out. I did criticise the Mayor, however, for the promise that they would be rolled out sooner than actually happened. In the first few years, all those teams were promised, but they did not transpire. I am therefore glad that the Mayor has caught up.
In relation to safer neighbourhood teams, visibility on the beat is critical. In community after community, however, there is still a desire to see traditional police out on the beat. It is crucial that safer neighbourhood teams do not become the only contact that the police service has with people in the community. The policing role should not be obscured, and pressure on resources has moved it off the agenda at the moment. I suspect that that is not a positive development in the long term.
The hon. Lady has raised an interesting point. The danger with the safer neighbourhood team model is that most of the uniformed officers out on the streets will not be able to arrest anyone. Half of them are police community support officers anyway, and arresting officers go back to the police station the minute that they arrest someone, and spend the rest of their shift there. Is there not a danger that people will start to see uniformed officers as not having the powers that they would like them to have?
As long as the hon. Lady accepts that PCSOs have an important role, and that their visibility and presence on the street are hugely important, I will agree that the other aspect is also necessary, which was my point about resource. PCSOs establish a relationship with youngsters, and that is crucial in heading off crime. In my community, PCSOs interconnect with small shops and businesses, so that an alert is given if shoplifting or other activities are happening. That has had a visible impact on the sense of security in those shops and among shoppers who gather continuously in Kingston, Richmond or some of the smaller shopping parades, where PCSOs are constantly available.
Safer neighbourhood teams also have the time to play a crucial role in encouraging many of our older citizens to take steps to become more secure, for example, by installing better locks. In that area, I also congratulate the Metropolitan police on managing to increase the representation of people from the black and minority ethnic community to a more respectable level: about 21 per cent. Relationships cannot be created unless the faces that people see represent a cross-section of the whole London community. Over time, such relationships, by creating confidence in the policing authorities, can begin to help penetrate the gang culture and other underlying problems.
Even on the anti-terrorism front, safer neighbourhood teams have contributed a great deal. Immediately after 7/7, politicians dashed down to my local mosque on the first Friday to make it clear that we did not regard people going to the mosque as somehow alien. We wanted to be there in case anything untoward happened, and the safer neighbourhood teams were there too. Safer neighbourhood teams continue to be there regularly on Fridays to get the message across that everyone in the community has the protection of the police and policing services. That has been terribly important in maintaining, certainly in Kingston and Richmond, a positive feeling across the many different ethnic groups.
I endorse everything that my hon. Friend has said about safer neighbourhood teams. She, I and many others have argued for that model over the years. In relation to the point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the solution to the problem of losing police officers from the beat, and just having community support officers, is modern technology. That technology will deal with the processes that result in police officers having to go back to the police station for the rest of their shift.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend’s comments, and I shall deal with that point later.
There are some general issues that require attention across London, because while I love the safer neighbourhood teams, they are not absolutely perfect. The issues were somewhat addressed by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). Many teams work until midnight and, occasionally, until 2 am. In our culture, however, some of the worst behaviour takes place at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Many teams no longer work on Sundays, but in some areas, particularly on sunny Sunday afternoons, that is a time when youngsters who have been out drinking start to get out of control. Flexibility must be part of the future vision, especially as policing numbers have now increased to a reasonably respectable level.
I said that I had some personal satisfaction about the issue of safer neighbourhood teams. Several Members have congratulated the Mayor of London on safer neighbourhood teams and PCSOs, and as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in 2000, a community safety force was part of my platform. On every hustings across London, I got it in the neck from the Independent candidate Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate Frank Dobson and the Tory candidate—first Jeffrey Archer, until he was arrested, and then Steve Norris—because it was considered a classic, foolish Liberal Democrat notion of policing. We were told constantly that PCSOs were simply police on the cheap. They are not, and I hope that that has been scotched. We were told that trying to organise a community safety force was nonsensical, and that we did not understand modern-day policing.
Immediately after Ken’s election as Mayor, he came up to me and said—I cannot do his accent—“Susan, I am a magpie, and I’ll ’ave that policy.” Well, I’m very glad that he ’ad that policy, and that it has been a success. We often hear that the Liberal Democrats did not support the idea, but in fact they stood and argued for it at a time when everyone else thought it reasonably daft.
Perhaps the hon. Lady can be slightly clearer on this point than the Conservative Front Bench. Will she also point out that no Liberal Democrat candidates for seats on the Greater London authority or in local boroughs have ever gone around decrying the increase in the police precept to pay for the wonderful idea that the Mayor has implemented?
Ironically, I have never heard of any such candidate doing so. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) was right: counter-proposals to the Mayor’s budget have typically included more money for policing. Such counter-proposals are usually the result of the two Opposition parties’ joining forces on a single budget: that is the way that the GLA works. In this instance there would have been an extra £20 million for policing, much of it provided through the transport budget.
That was one charge against the Liberal Democrats. There are many others, and Members are well used to hearing them. There is a theory that if a statement is made often enough, no matter how untrue it is, it will eventually stick, and that is one of the statements that falls into the bucket.
Policing on public transport is crucial in London. The British Transport police has been mentioned, and I appreciate what it does, particularly at overground stations and on the overground routes that go through my constituency. However, it should be recognised—here I again give credit to the Mayor—that Transport for London was willing to invest in a transport operational command unit so that more policing resources could be devoted to public transport of every kind, including the underground and buses. I have seen members of the unit working in my constituency when there have been crises. However, there are a number of problems. TOCU tends to work according to a “hot-spotting map” that depends on the reporting of crime and is frequently inaccurate because events are not anticipated. We need to think about where resources are allocated, and the unit’s operation and manning should also be improved.
In October 2006 the Mayor proposed a “transport safer neighbourhood” team, or series of teams. More detail was to follow, but not enough has appeared. Presumably, the aim was to provide a more co-ordinated and coherent safer neighbourhood scheme through intervention in the transport system, but issues have arisen in connection with the scheme’s structure. London has always had a problem because of an inadequate number of sergeants. That was one of the problems with the safer neighbourhood teams, but in the case of the transport teams there is one sergeant to a team of 18. There are problems with the “on the ground” command structure, and there seems to have been no discussion about how the transport teams will integrate with the safer neighbourhood teams or anyone else. Much conflict and confusion surrounds what seems fundamentally to be a good idea. As with all policing, implementation matters. The idea matters too, of course, but if the implementation is not right, the idea is discredited.
One of the various roles of the transport police is to focus on school letting-out times, which in my community, at any rate, are among the tensest times of the day. There has been much discussion of youth-on-youth crime, and these are the times when it is at its most prevalent. They are also the times when the community feels most under pressure. A group of youngsters who emerge from school, released for the day, may allow their behaviour to become completely out of hand.
The teams have done well, but we have not gone far enough in coping with behaviour of that kind. As others have said, it cannot always be dealt with in the context of policing, and indeed it cannot always be dealt with in the context of schools. On key bus routes there should always be a second person whose primary job is to ensure that there is security on the route. On some bus routes there is a high probability of antisocial behaviour, perhaps on the part of youngsters or perhaps on the part of late-night drunks. Bendy buses are almost an invitation to fare evasion.
Will the hon. Lady join me in congratulating schools in Brent that have appointed a sort of prefect to go out on the buses during school hours? Young people are, in a way, policing themselves.
That sounds an ideal arrangement. As the hon. Lady will know, however, in many parts of London it has not been sufficient. Most ideas have been tried in those areas and have not worked; we need to become more aggressive.
I am very conscious that young people have a terrible reputation which most of them do not deserve. We need to turn that around. One way that we can do so is to focus on, and deal with, trouble times and trouble spots. In certain situations, having a school bus rather than a policing strategy might provide the right answer—for example, having a special bus in circumstances in which many youngsters leave a location to travel to a destination some distance away that is not well served by public transport. Ironically, Transport for London will put on school buses for private schools with strange travel patterns—with pupils who travel unusual journeys. We must look at providing that service for at least one or two key schools in the state sector.
Resources can be found. My party has said that we should scrap the plans for an identity card system. If that were done, we would have the necessary resources to put into police deployment. I also agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that resources would be freed up if we were to deal with the whole red tape issue. However, I wish to make a cautionary statement. My daughter’s partner is a black American and when they visit us from the United States I am very aware of how difficult it still is in London to be black and, perhaps, someone who does not dress conventionally, such as in a suit. My daughter’s partner—my son-in-law, as it were—is regularly stopped. That happens at immigration control—the Minister knows about that topic—and he is also regularly stopped by police who might just happen to be looking for someone of his description. He is followed in almost all the shops he goes into, too. That is utterly wearing. He has been unaware that he has the right to have a piece of paper from the police explaining why that is happening; he will know in the future. There is pressure in respect of having that piece of paper. It is rarely offered; it has to be asked for. We must be careful about discarding such pieces of paper.
There are further points to be made in addition to those about the individual merits of scrutiny and a system that creates transparency. As an employer, the commissioner will be able to see where there is best practice. There might be areas with a diverse population where stop-and-search figures are not high, and other areas where the population are not so diverse but stop-and-search figures are very high. If that is the case, questions can be asked about whether the police in the latter areas are properly implementing the law in respect of stop-and-search.
I agree. Information is key, especially in the highly sensitive times that we are living through. Knowing that history teaches us that this system has not always been fair and that a great cultural change is necessary, if we are to have a fair system for all it is incumbent on us to ensure that we have the information that we need, and that the commissioner has the information that he needs to monitor the system.
When I speak with police officers, by far the major complaint is the paperwork that gets done at the police station. The core of the problem is not the content of what has to be written down, but the endlessly non-communicating IT systems that require that that is done time and again. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man to pull all the relevant strands together and free up police time. I am glad that Sir Ronnie Flanagan will be looking into this. No Member thinks that it is clever that the moment an officer makes an arrest they will probably be off the streets for the rest of their shift. That does not make sense, and there must be a way around it.
Business crime is key in London, but we have not yet addressed it. I accept that in the City large-scale and highly organised business crime receives a great deal of attention and considerable resources from the City police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. However, there is also a great deal of business crime in the rest of London. That is inevitable in a city that is as wealthy as ours and that has so many small businesses. Fraud in that area is not addressed in anything like a meaningful way by the Metropolitan police. The Minister must address that. He might have constituents with similar experiences to those of some of my constituents. They might, for example, have been defrauded by someone who has set up a company as a builder, started a job and deliberately taken the cash for it, and then worked for only two days before disappearing. Such a person might then have done the same thing to someone else—perhaps to someone who lives across the borough boundary, so that the crime falls within the scope of yet another police unit. I have spoken to many firms that are the victims of serial liquidators—people who start doing business with them, take the cash, do not deliver the service and go into liquidation. I have spoken to business after business that has gone to the civil courts and secured a judgment, only to find it impossible to enforce it. I have asked one layer after another of the Met how such crimes can be addressed, and it is clear that the necessary resources are not available.
I fully accept that the process is very time-consuming, and that it is necessary to go through computer records and, sometimes, to understand a range of financial issues. Such crimes do not have the immediacy of crimes against the person—the victims have not received a blow to the head—but people often lose crucial savings as a result, and families are put under stress and companies collapse. They look to the police and to the system for justice, but it simply is not available. Under the present structure and given the current level of resources, I see no way that it ever will be available.
One underlying problem—this feeds back into our discussion on statistics—is that there is no line item that captures such crimes in the British crime survey; they fall into the category of “other”. The police, being human beings and knowing how the press will report the next set of crime statistics, inevitably focus their attention on the eye-grabbing statistics, be they on robbery or murder, which of course matter greatly. Because there is no line item for such fraud and no police focus on it, a significant number of criminals have sussed out this gap in the market, as it were, and decided that they will fill it. They know that they can function with impunity, as long as they keep the scale of each separate little activity at a level that will not trigger an adequate police response. That is not fair to the people of our city.
The hon. Lady is making an important point. Although there is clearly an opportunity to involve local businesses in safer neighbourhood panels, which frequently consist only of residents, in my experience they are often not involved. They seem to feel that such panels are indeed for residents only, so they set up their own business forum, with which the police then work. Does the hon. Lady agree that much more work needs to be done to ensure that small businesses in particular are integrated into safer neighbourhood panels?
Small businesses in the communities in my constituency have been integrated effectively into safer neighbourhood teams. However, those teams deal not with fraud but with shoplifting, graffiti and other such issues that are appropriate for them to deal with. These conversations between residents and small businesses—I did not mention this in discussing safer neighbourhood teams—are excellent. They provide detailed feedback in both directions, which those teams then genuinely use to guide their actions and to determine the issues on which they place their emphasis. They really work well.
I agree that when one steps back to a level larger than the ward and starts dealing with more complex crimes than those dealt with in the safer neighbourhoods arena, the whole communication structure breaks down. I have looked at how the accountability issue is dealt with in some parts of the United States, and direct accountability is incredibly effective at engaging the public and local businesses. I am very pleased that the Minister talked about a desire to find the right way to achieve that in a UK and London context. That is the missing piece in the current puzzle.
Others have talked about the Met’s performance, and I do not want to reiterate figures, but it is fair to say to the Met that the general trend of rising crime that we saw after the creation of the MPA can legitimately be attributed to the lack of resources, which took time to build up. I am pleased, as is my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), that that trend seems to have turned a corner at some point during 2002-03 and is beginning to get on the right track. However, we are all conscious that very serious violent crimes—grievous bodily harm, robbery—are falling outside that pattern.
I am sure that the whole House is distraught at the violent crime that we have seen among and against children. After all, teenagers are just children who are 1 ft taller. Such crime has rightly caught public and media attention. I do not suggest that there are easy solutions and I agree that the issue is more complex than can be solved by a policing solution alone. However, somewhere in the picture of the general rise in violent crime and the copycatting of violent crime by youngsters, drugs and alcohol are playing a significant role, but we do not address those issues. When we do address them, we focus on drugs and do not deal with alcohol. I am appalled that in my community much of what is called the drugs and alcohol budget contains practically nothing for alcohol issues, as it is nearly all ring-fenced for drugs issues. However only a tiny portion of the community abuses hard drugs, compared with the portion that abuses alcohol. I am not arguing that we should cut the drugs budget, but we should also give serious consideration to the alcohol budget.
This is not a debate about dealing with offenders, but behind much of the rise in violence and the gang culture—because gangs have a leadership that tends to be older than their membership—is a pattern of reoffending that is getting worse, not better. Someone else will know the statistics better than I do, but for the group of young men aged between 19 and 25 who receive short-term sentences the reoffending rate is some 92 per cent. It might just as well be 100 per cent. That suggests that things are going desperately wrong. It is crucial to tackle the issues that I have just mentioned, and if the glib notion that tougher penalties would do it had been true, all the numbers would have been falling. Instead, the complexity of the issues has been increasingly exposed.
Like many of the people in my constituency, I bang my head at the difficulty of getting through to the police on a non-urgent issue. I know that they have been trying hard to improve, but it is a nightmare. In 2003, my colleagues on the London assembly did a survey of every police station in London to check the response rate to non-urgent inquiries. Of the 132 police stations they called, they were unable to contact anyone at 52 of them and of the remaining 80, 30 took more than a minute. Perhaps a minute is not so bad for a non-urgent call. They repeated the experiment in March 2007, when one would have thought that all the improvements in communication that have been talked about would have taken effect, and the pattern was very similar. No significant improvements had been made. That cannot continue. Part of the problem is technical and part is resources, but it is not something that we should have to live with. The Met confesses that in 2005-06, 52.3 per cent. of calls were not answered in the target time. How many of those are never answered at all is an interesting question. It is an underlying problem, which undermines public confidence.
The issue of terror in London, especially after 7/7, will always be centre stage in any consideration of policing. Others will probably cover the issue in much more detail, but the post-7/7 review identified the failure to achieve really good co-ordination of the emergency services—an issue that took the London assembly some effort to tease out—and that must be addressed. The one thing that we cannot do is allow such lessons to go unlearned. I and many other people are very worried about terrorism in the context of the 2012 London Olympics. The threat is so great that there can be no bigger policing challenge than that involved in protecting the games against terrorism. It is therefore crucial that all the lessons are learned.
I turn now to the use of closed circuit television. It is one of the many tools available for keeping London secure, but a lot of my constituents are desperately concerned about its expansion, and about the addition of listening and speaking devices to the cameras. The Information Commissioner has described that innovation as “talking CCTV”.
Of course we must monitor and anticipate crime, and try to prevent it from happening, but a balance must be struck. We cannot turn London into a city in which people feel that they are constantly under surveillance. London must remain healthy and thriving, and the next step with CCTV may be going too far.
Contributors to this debate have argued repeatedly that the presence of police on the streets is what has reduced crime. Similarly, the work done by the police to build relationships with local people has helped to engender trust, identify underlying problems and create a much stronger sense of community. That is the direction that we must pursue, rather than surveillance.
I conclude by saying that I and my party very much appreciate the work that the police do throughout London. The city is much safer than it was some seven years ago, when the London assembly was first introduced. The Government deserve our congratulations, but the most dangerous thing would be for us to sit back and say that everything has been done, as there is a great deal still to do.
The Mayor’s office, the MPA, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and local forces always provide us with a lot of briefings for debates such as this. I am grateful for that, as the information shows that, in both the short and medium term, there have been substantial falls in almost all types of crime, and substantial increases in the numbers of police officers and PCSOs. I am pleased that that has been acknowledged by the Liberal Democrats.
Moreover, the figures show that there are many more officers from ethnic minorities. For example, 21 per cent. of officers in the safer neighbourhood teams now come from BME groups. The achievement is very significant, and I wish that the official Opposition had been able to give it a more ringing endorsement. I accept that the Liberal Democrats did so, although they also claimed credit for all the ideas. Perhaps some of their ideas do get pinched, but thank God the Liberal Democrats are never allowed to implement any of them themselves, as we would never get anywhere then.
I notice that the Conservative Benches are almost completely empty, but I hope that any speech made from them will acknowledge that crime statistics are very flexible and can be made to prove anything. Instead of going through endless figures, therefore, I shall share with the House some of the profound thoughts sent to me in preparation for this debate by Colette Paul, one of my borough commanders in Ealing. Normally, I would just plagiarise her and pretend that her words were mine, but instead I emphasise to the House that her comments are her own and not the Met’s.
Colette Paul states:
“We need to challenge the balance between national crime targets and what local people want…Over concentration on meeting targets skews”
the business of policing.
“Targets are useful in terms of giving direction but quite often they conflict with each other or overlap in certain areas.”
Her view is that there should be four main indicators: crime detection, which we should continue to improve; crime reduction in general, rather than specific crime targets; victim satisfaction; and public attitudes. That is a sensible approach, which, as she says,
“would lead to some considerable leeway for innovation and creativity and local response to local issues and would ultimately lead to an even better relationship between public authorities and communities.”
That message is probably accepted on all sides, including the Government. As the borough commander concedes, targets are important in that they show relative and absolute performance, but over-concentration on them is bad, so I hope that we can all move towards a greater degree of local policing.
Another red herring—or false lead—is that sometimes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) said, politicians follow the media, who in full cry are as unhelpful as they can be on these issues. Reference was made to the interview given by Sir Ian Blair to The Guardian. I have not read all of it, but I have heard the reports that led the news. It is slightly unfortunate that once again the media has gone for the idea that there is a gang culture and a rise in gangs. Sir Ian was reported as saying—I hope accurately—that there could be a child protection issue. That could be right in some cases, where behaviour amounts to criminality or where there is serious disruption in families, but I cannot see how delinquent behaviour in general can be dealt with through child protection measures. The media’s absolute focus on issues such as gang culture may be making the problem worse.
My hon. Friend mentioned the death earlier this year of Kodjo Yenga, a young man who was her constituent but was killed a few yards outside my constituency in Hammersmith Grove. I shall say nothing about the case, because four children, two of whom are 13 years old, have been charged with the murder and that extraordinary and tragic event is before the courts, but it was extremely rare—I cannot remember a similar case. There was another tragic death, of Kieran Rodney-Davis, in Fulham about three years ago, but such events, thankfully, are rare.
There was no particular evidence of a link to gang culture in either case. I talked to my local police officers in Hammersmith and Fulham about that point and their response was that although there is organised criminal behaviour by young people, which is a serious matter, it may not amount in all cases—certainly not in my constituency—to the gang culture that we are told may exist in other parts of London or the UK, and certainly exists in the United States. We need intelligence-led policing and local solutions to the problems, so the more that the media, and sometimes politicians who want cheap soundbites, get involved, the more unhelpful it is.
My theme is that local solutions, whether in target setting or policing, are proving to be the best. The clearest example, which has been discussed extensively in the debate, is safer neighbourhood policing. The Mayor of London introduced that programme in record time across all London wards. I have a particular interest because exactly a year ago, as I am sure the House remembers, I introduced the Neighbourhood Policing Bill under the ten-minute rule. It was the day before the local elections so the House was as packed as it is today to hear me speak.
In a past life, I was the leader of a London borough council, and I think that I am right in saying that we were the first local authority to pay directly for additional police services by introducing additional safer neighbourhood teams in wards that did not have them and introducing supplements to the safer neighbourhood teams in town centre areas. That idea has caught on and there are now many compacts between the police in the boroughs and individual local authorities.
My hon. Friend’s point about the role of local councils is crucial. Does he agree that, far too often, local authorities do not provide the necessary level of support and commitment, particularly with regard to antisocial behaviour? The police are expected by the community to be at the front line in dealing with such problems when the local authority that bears the responsibility and should take the political responsibility is often not engaged. As a result the Government or the police are blamed for problems that are, unfortunately, usually caused by Conservative local councils.
I am trying to be positive but my hon. Friend need not worry. There is some negative stuff coming up.
Negative but truthful.
Indeed. I fear that one or more Conservative councils may feature in that. At heart, I have sympathy for the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes).
To continue in the positive vein, I am pleased to say that both the local authorities in my area—Hammersmith and Fulham council and Ealing—have continued the trend with different schemes, although some are more credible and well thought out than others. However, the intention, at least, is to fund additional police resources.
In the London borough of Ealing, there is joint funding between the council and the police for additional PCSOs. It is a £2 million scheme that has been split between the two of them. It is early days, but it seems to be a good idea of which there is joint ownership. In addition, and thanks to the Mayor of London, an 18-person British Transport police team is also operating in Ealing. These are substantial resources on top of the safer neighbourhood team. I pay tribute to the partnership that is going on.
Hammersmith and Fulham council decided that it wanted to put an extra £2 million per year for the next two years into a scheme to which the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) alluded. I think that he underestimated the increase in numbers on the safer neighbourhood teams, because there will be an increase in two wards only from six to 35 officers in order to provide 24-hour safer neighbourhood policing.
When the hon. Gentleman made his lengthy address, he asked me a question. I think that 24/7 policing is a good idea. If neighbourhood policing has an Achilles heel or involves unfinished business, it is due to the fact that if there are six officers per ward, it is difficult to provide more than partial coverage even during core hours let alone over 24 hours. I do not think that it is a particularly innovative idea—the Labour group in Hammersmith and Fulham have had it, and I am sure that it is in the Mayor’s mind—but, having established the teams throughout London, the next step is to expand their hours. Let us be fair—the scheme has been introduced in record time so far.
The Hammersmith and Fulham scheme should certainly succeed. If one is putting 35 neighbourhood officers, including an inspector, five sergeants and numerous PCSOs into one ward, it would be incredible if there was not a substantial effect. The principle is good, but the problem is that the practice is quite insane. The first problem is that one of the wards that has been chosen is in quite a prosperous area in Fulham and does not have the highest level of crime. I have no problem with the choice of the other ward. Shepherd’s Bush Green is one of the three wards with the highest level of crime, and it is in my constituency. The scheme is said to be for two years, but there is no business plan or exit strategy for it, but the main point is that the Conservative council—what a surprise this is—did not want to put up any money at all.
The scheme in Shepherd’s Bush Green relied on a section 106 agreement for a major developer, Westfield, to develop the Shepherd’s Bush shopping centre. Somebody who knows rather more about this matter than I do is challenging, through the district auditor, whether that is a proper use of section 106 money. We have a peculiar set-up whereby the money will be given as part of the planning consent for what is going to be one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, but, in the main part, the money will be spent before the shopping centre opens. Members can imagine what the developer thinks about that. The developer was not keen on the scheme because, in its opinion, the police would be provided and then, when the influx of several tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people into the area began with the full opening of the centre, the police would be taken away again. The developer suspected that it would be lumbered with the ongoing cost year-on-year, which is £1 million—not an insignificant sum.
The response from the Conservative council was, “Well, don’t worry. We’re not going to pay it and you’re not going to pay it. The police will have to pay it in the end.” But, of course, the police are not actually contributing any money to the scheme. Although the police have welcomed the scheme, the fact that it is not a partnership scheme on an equal basis—unlike the Ealing scheme—raises some doubts about their commitment to it. I add in passing that in the other ward where the scheme has been introduced, there was an attempt to snaffle money from the new deal for communities scheme in a neighbouring ward. That would have meant taking money from a deprived area and spending it in a wealthier area. There was an attempt to pack the board of the NDC scheme with Tory councillors. It was only the protests from community representatives that meant that it was not possible to get away with that.
These are the new Conservatives.
They are pretty old Conservatives in Hammersmith and Fulham.
We have a scheme in which we have a limited period of time and intensive policing. I hope, for the sake of the people who live in that area in my constituency, that it provides results. However, some of the results that we have seen so far are proving to be detrimental. First, there is displacement of crime. We were told that that would not happen. But within days of the scheme operating, I went to a meeting of Shepherd’s Bush pubwatch, which includes all the licensed premises in the Shepherd’s Bush area. Immediately there were complaints that drug dealing and antisocial behaviour had simply been pushed to the fringes of the ward. Whereas licensed premises within the ward with extra funding were getting the benefit of the scheme, those immediately outside the ward were experiencing a detrimental effect. That is why I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who talked about crime going over the bridge. These things have to be thought about.
The second point—this is rather more disgraceful—is that resources are being drawn from the safer neighbourhood teams in other wards. I will digress slightly by telling Members what happened when I came out of my house the Thursday before last. I was about to get into my car and drive away, but then I thought that I had better not because there were only three wheels left on it. I remembered that I had heard quite a loud bang in the middle of the night. Several years at the criminal Bar have taught me that there is no one quite as stupid as a petty criminal, so I removed the jack that they had left while they were propping the car up to nick the wheels and kept it. As I was disposing of the car that day anyway, had they bothered to knock on my door—perhaps not at 4 am, but some other time—I would have given them £20 to take it away.
Two days later, I bumped into one of safer neighbourhood team PCs and told him that story, which he found quite amusing for some reason. I said, “What are you doing about this?” He said, “I’m not doing anything about it because I’ve been seconded to work in Shepherd’s Bush Green as part of this super-duper 24-hour neighbourhood team.” I am finding that, in all the other wards in my constituency, the small teams are being run down in order to increase the super-size team. That has reached an extreme in Hammersmith Broadway ward—which has the highest level of crime in the borough by a long way—where three of the additional officers that the previous, Labour council paid for have been cut completely to fund the 24-hour teams in wards that have lower levels of crime. That is complete madness.
There was an alternative proposal from the Labour group, which involved spreading the same resource over the five wards with the most crime in the borough. In my opinion, that was a sensible solution, because although I appreciate what people say about 24/7 economies and the fact that there is crime even between 3 am and 7 am, that crime is not at the same level that is experienced at chucking-out time or in the middle of busy days. The level of policing needed at 5 am is not the same as that needed at 11 pm.
If the 24-hour teams are to be sustainable and credible in the longer term, as we would all want them to be, the resources will need to fit appropriately. Are we seriously saying that we will pay an additional £1 million a year for every ward in London? Hammersmith and Fulham is cutting £34 million of spending, so I do not think that that is very likely. People are being taken for a ride. Contrary to the protestations that the scheme is universally popular, considerable unease has been expressed from those at the top—Len Duvall, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority—right down to the individual sergeants and officers on the beat.
I wish that this was not a party political issue—[Laughter.] Unfortunately, the Conservatives in my constituency, who are ideologues, refuse to let that be the case, and I fear that the Conservative Members in the Chamber who are laughing might be falling into the same trap. I hear a lot about Chicago-style policing. If that is shorthand for increasing police numbers—I am still not sure where the official Opposition stand on that—I am sure that we would welcome it. However, if on the right wing of the Conservative party it is really shorthand for zero-tolerance, robust, night-stick policing, we will find that the language used by local Conservative politicians is offensive not only to the local population, but to the police themselves, who privately put their heads in their hands every time they hear such macho statements being made.
I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman for speaking for longer than I intended, but that was because I took many interventions, including two from him, so perhaps his observation was somewhat churlish.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the community alternative policing strategy that is being adopted in Chicago is different in many ways from the strategy in New York? It does not employ the same kind of zero-tolerance policing, although that phrase was never used in New York. The safer neighbourhoods programmes in the Met are largely based on that scheme. Has he been to Chicago to see the scheme and does he really understand what he is talking about?
I do not do as much globetrotting on freebies as Conservative Members. However, let me give the hon. Gentleman a word of caution: he should check what his colleagues mean. As I said earlier, someone who sups with the devil needs a long spoon, and if the hon. Gentleman is going to follow the same agenda as the Conservative party in Hammersmith and Fulham, he will need a very long spoon indeed. Given the comments of Conservatives in Hammersmith and Fulham, there is absolutely no doubt that they are talking about the sort of policing that got the police in the borough a bad reputation 25 years ago, although they have done a superb job in getting away from that reputation over the past 20 years under a number of excellent borough commanders. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the local Conservatives are being supportive, perhaps he will explain why they are also cutting spending on youth services, which have been cited as a means of preventing crime, by more than £300,000.
I do not want to take up any more of the House’s time, although it was right that I set out my concerns about the overly robust and rather disingenuous way in which policing is being dealt with by my local council, although not, I emphasise, by local police in Hammersmith. I have taken to the theme that localism is good and I stick by that. However, when localism is subverted by the vanity and extremism of local politicians—frankly, that is what we are seeing in Hammersmith and Fulham—there is clearly a problem. In general, however, localism is a good thing.
I am delighted that the Government have chosen this subject for today’s debate not only because it gives one a cast-iron reason not to go local electioneering in other parts of England, for which I think that we are all profoundly grateful.
There is time yet.
There will not be much longer, if the speeches continue to go on for quite as long as some have done. In addition, as we all appreciate, the debate gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our concern about a subject that is very high on our constituents’ list of interests. I agree that the amount of resources going into policing in London has increased in the past few years—a point made by Members on both sides of the Chamber, in fairness—and I welcome that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) rightly pointed out, it is largely Londoners, and not the Government or the general taxpayer, paying for London policing, so we can give the Government only two marks out of 10 for that. None the less, I accept that they have increased resources generally.
Incidentally, on the point about the Mayor’s precept, I do not know what my hon. Friend found in his researches, but I found it almost impossible to discover the amount allocated to each London borough. Those figures are not forthcoming. My constituents would like to know how much they are getting in Bromley, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), whom I am delighted to see in the Chamber, would like to know the same figure, but we are denied it. I do not know whether Labour Members have the figures—
They are readily available.
Well, they are not. I have tried to find them, and it has been very difficult. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that they are readily available; I shall certainly draw that to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and perhaps to other possible sources of those figures. It is a pity that they are so hard to find.
I accept that there are more police on the streets of London, and obviously I welcome that. I also support the concept of police community support officers; whether it was originally a Liberal Democrat idea, I do not know, but none the less, it was an extremely sensible development.
I am sure that it was one of the parties that the hon. Gentleman has been in.
It was nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats, then; I am glad to hear that from the Minister. For once, I agree with him. The safer neighbourhood concept is clearly the right approach to take, and it is working. In that context, may I make my usual complaint in such debates, which is that Bromley does not get a reasonable share of London’s police? The fact is that we are far worse off than Lewisham or Croydon, and have fewer police than either, despite the fact that ours is the largest borough in the whole of London. My constituency takes up half of that borough, so I suffer particularly badly, as does my hon. Friend, from the paucity of police on patrol, when it comes to dealing with difficult areas. An example is Biggin Hill, which is right on the edge of the London borough of Bromley, and actually a lot of police happen to reside there. It takes about 20 minutes to get there from anywhere else, and that is a recipe for local crime, because people know that it takes time to get there from other parts of Bromley, and that there are not enough police in Bromley anyway.
Leaving that aside, I accept that there are more resources for the police, and more police in London, and that the safer neighbourhood concept is right. None the less, it is clear from the debate, despite varying interpretations of the figures, that the results have been pretty patchy. The figures that the Metropolitan Police Authority supplied to all of us—we are therefore all arguing from roughly the same brief—show that the total number of notifiable offences is about the same as it was nine years ago, which is more or less when the Government came to power. There has been a decrease in burglary and in motor vehicle crime, but an increase in robbery, gun-enabled crime, murder, and violence against the person. I accept that there was an increase in the first four or five years of that period, and that there is now a decrease; I understand the Government’s point about that. However, the truth is that given the way in which we currently manage things—that is the important constraint—that decrease is unlikely to carry on unless the additional resources provided over the past few years continue to be put into London policing. The truth is that that is unlikely because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs pointed out, there are severe constraints on Government spending. It is highly unlikely that the Government can maintain the increase in spending and investment in policing in London of the past few years over the next few years, and that is the difficulty with saying that the trend will continue.
The number of crimes and the amount of antisocial behaviour that we are experiencing at the moment are far worse than has been the case historically. In 1931, to take a pre-second world war year, there were three crimes for every police officer, but there are now 44 crimes for every police officer, to put the matter in historical context. Sir Ian Blair said that we could easily leave our doors open—perhaps one could do so in 1931, but one certainly cannot do so today—which was a curiously inept comment. The fact is that, historically, the situation on crime and antisocial behaviour is extremely bad. If we compare the UK with other countries, it is very bad indeed. A recent UN survey showed, once again, that Britain was at the top of a list of about 20 countries whose crime rates were analysed. We were the worst country of the 20 developed nations that it looked at. My hon. Friend made a point about New York. When the authorities concentrated on crime, there was a massive fall in the amount of robbery and crime as a whole in New York. In the early 1990s, New York was way ahead of London, but it is now significantly behind London. One would expect the application of those resources to produce results, but it has not produced as much as we expected, even though it has produced some results in London, which is regrettable.
Anecdotal evidence from my constituency shows that there is growing criticism of the way in which the safer neighbourhood scheme operates. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) made a point about the shift system, the operation of which is not entirely sensible. One of my residents was told that if he did not like the shift system that was in operation in his area, as he lived close to the border of another scheme, which might have a different shift pattern, he could ring it up to make an application if he could not get his local team to respond. We therefore need much greater flexibility. I accept that there is a learning curve but, none the less, we are not getting police at the right time of day to deal with the drugs, crime and antisocial behaviour problems that are evident.
Another problem stems from the fact that it is difficult to man the local shops that were opened to operate the scheme. For all the hullabaloo, they are typically open for only two or three hours a day, so people believe they are completely useless and ask what the point of them is. We spent taxpayers’ money on opening all those things in different wards, but they do not contribute to the solution of the local crime problem. There are therefore ongoing difficulties, which I hope that the Mayor will take into account when he reviews the system. There is clearly a difference between the resources that are put in and the outcomes, which is unsatisfactory.
The causes are interesting, and the Prime Minister himself has commented on them. Looking back over his 10 years in office, he said that his attempts to deal with the causes of crime were “misguided”—that was his word. He thought that the investment in various societal programmes such as the new deal, Sure Start, the improvement in schools, teaching and so on, would lead to a reduction in crime and antisocial behaviour. The investment has undoubtedly gone in, but we have not seen that level of reduction in antisocial behaviour. He was admitting that there had been investment, but that the way in which it had been managed was not satisfactory. That is the heart of the problem. We all agree that there has been significant investment, but it has not been managed, and the methods used to handle it have not been sufficiently good.
I point in that respect to a comment by the chairman of Kent police federation that I saw in The Times the other day. He said:
“Policing has become too focused on targets set by politicians that produce figures used by the same politicians to pat themselves on the back and that produce figures only they believe…The performance culture is choking the common sense out of policing.”
That is part of the problem. As my hon. Friend pointed out, targeting can be contradictory and over-complicated. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) agreed, citing comments from one of his local people. The amount of paperwork and administration associated with targeting is often overwhelming. Obviously, some of it is necessary from an accountability point of view, but a lot of it is not. That centrally driven, ring-fenced approach has led to a great deal of waste and discouragement in relation to honest and common-sense policing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that local solutions make more sense. If we can trust people locally more than we have done, that must make sense, even though occasionally there will be mistakes and perhaps things will be pushed from one borough to another. No solution is perfect, and local solutions will have their downsides, but we need more local responsibility. We also need a shake-up of the criminal justice system. This is not simply a question of policing—the system as a whole is causing these difficulties.
As my hon. Friend said, we need not only investment but reform. As so often with this Government, investment has happened but reform has not, so we have an unsatisfactory solution from which we are all suffering.
Let me make one final point about the difficulties that we face in this country. The other day, I read a fascinating article by a reporter in The Sunday Times which compared homes for offending children in London and in Hamburg. It said that children in the Hamburg home typically spent an average of three years there, so the staff had a chance to turn round their behaviour. There was much less time to do that in the London home, because children spent an average of only one year there. Moreover, the approach in Hamburg was noticeably more relaxed. For example, the reporter was amazed to find that some of the children got a massage before lights-out in the evening. [Interruption.] I do not want to hear any sniggers from the Labour Benches. The kids enjoyed that; it was part of the daily routine. When that was put to a member of staff at the London home, they said:
“There are all sorts of…issues involved…We wouldn’t chance it. In everything we do, we work according to strict protocols.”
The reporter is shown
“two ring folders bulging with statutory regulations and policies.”
One of the managers said:
“Many senior managers in this field are more interested in reports, statistics and numbers than the individual needs of the children we look after.”
That is the truth of the matter.
The Hamburg home got startlingly better results by dealing with the children in a much more relaxed, normal and human way than did the rules-bound London home. That is precisely the sort of point that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition makes from time to time. We are missing the point by spending the same amounts of money on getting very poor results because we are not treating people like human beings. This is a fundamental issue. We need to look at policing as a whole, in terms not only of the resources going in but how they are managed and handled in the course of doing the job.
All hon. Members agree that the way in which London is policed has a major impact on the lives of all who live and work in the capital, and all who visit it. Effective policing, especially at neighbourhood level, can not only help reduce crime and the fear of crime, but enhance community relations and cohesion.
I want to consider the way in which real policies make a genuine difference to people’s everyday lives. Mark Tolland, Brent’s borough commander, called me in for a debrief on a raid that happened two weeks ago, when Brent police, Brent safer neighbourhoods team and, more important, the Brent community, stood up to drug dealers on the South Kilburn estate and ensured a successful exercise, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of key criminals.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) spoke about lifting Lib Dem policies. A policy that was not lifted from the Lib Dem manifesto was that of ending the use of imprisonment as a punishment for possession of own-use illegal drugs of any class. I want to stress to the Mayor of London and my party that we must continue in the direction in which we are travelling because it is the right direction, and not adopt any such Lib Dem policies.
Last week, I was out with my safer neighbourhoods teams on the St. Raph’s estate. We saw the difference that the teams were making to the community and the trust that was beginning to be built there. Statistics show a significant decrease in crime in my constituency. Total crime was down last year. Violent offences, robbery, burglary, gun crime, domestic crime, racist crime and homophobic crime were all down in my constituency. That is because of the extra investment that the Mayor of London and the Government have made in the police and public services. Total crime in Brent fell by more than 12 per cent. That is better than in the rest of London, where crime fell by 6 per cent. The reduction is also due to the work that has been done in the community.
Although I hope that we will reach the position whereby there are no murders in Brent, murders in the past year reduced by half, from 10 to only four. Gun crime fell by almost a quarter from 208 instances to 162. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) asked whether our policies worked. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 has worked in Brent and we are experiencing the effect of the changes through the fall in the crime figures.
Safer neighbourhoods teams were launched in my constituency on the Stonebridge estate. Nothing demonstrates better the changes in London than the effect of the safer neighbourhoods teams. A few months ago, the Opposition made some big headlines with demands for more bobbies on the beat. Safer neighbourhoods teams are the bobbies on the beat by a different name. The full roll-out across London was completed ahead of schedule in April 2006, with all the teams at the minimum 1-2-3 model by the end of December. That has had a borough-wide effect in Brent. In Dudden hill, which I visited the other day, a lady told me that she could feel the difference.
I hope that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who made some pertinent points in condemning people who put out leaflets and information that sensationalise crime in the area and make people feel less safe, will condemn the leaflets that are being distributed in Dudden hill. They undermine the good work of our safer neighbourhoods teams.
If the hon. Lady lets me see the leaflets, I will give her an honest view. However, for a year before the last elections in Southwark, we had Labour leaflet after Labour leaflet that made people feel that the world was about to end and that they would be mugged and raped if they stepped outside their door. That added to the fear of crime. All those leaflets were put out by the Labour party, when crime figures generally had decreased in Southwark, as they had in the rest of London, simply because the council was Liberal Democrat run.
All I can say is that the Liberal Democrats are putting out the information in my constituency. In fact, the Liberal Democrats are now being called the “Fib Dems” because of the amount of lies that are being cascaded around the area. They always try to feed this fear of crime unnecessarily. The safer neighbourhoods teams spend 75 per cent. of their working hours doing visible community policing, and between April 2006 and February 2007, they carried out more than 17,200 arrests.
We heard the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs asking earlier whether what has been achieved is anything to be proud of. Well, let me tell him some of the things that we should be proud of. As I said, more than 380 crack houses were closed and we are proud of that. More than 750 antisocial behaviour orders were issued, and we are proud of that. We carried out 4,900 prolific persistent offender interventions, and we are also proud of that. We issued more than 3,300 penalty notices and visited more than 36,200 crime victims—and more. All that has resulted in a 6 per cent. overall drop in crime in the London area.
Does the hon. Lady have any views on how much crime has fallen as a result of the downgrading of the classification of cannabis?
The hon. Lady makes a point about cannabis, but where crime has fallen, it is not just in relation to drugs. It relates to all forms of crime. As regards cannabis, most of the police and the safer neighbourhood teams still take it very seriously. We do not have a Lib Dem policy of not arresting people or not putting them away for illegal use of drugs. That is not what has had an effect. What has had a real effect—and I think it is really important to acknowledge it—are the safer neighbourhoods teams. There is still further to go, but those teams are having a profound effect in ensuring that crime and the fear of crime is reduced. The hon. Member Lady should acknowledge that in some of her interventions.
I would like to conclude by talking about some of the key achievements in my Brent constituency. We have had an early warning system for retailers, who have invested in an alert box. More than 100 of them have been purchased and they are working very well. Many of my hon. Friends have talked about the importance of early interventions with young people, and we have set up a Brent partnership unit, working together with the rugby football union and Kingsbury school sports partnership, to deliver coaching sessions as well as crime prevention messages in many schools, including Preston Park, Fryent and Kingsbury Green primary schools.
We had a particular problem in the constituency with knife and gun crime, so the community has worked hard with the police to tackle it. Not Another Drop was launched in 2001 and has been extremely successful in getting the message across. A march takes place and is growing bigger every year. There is also the Don’t Trigger campaign, which is organising a march from Ealing hospital to Acton park on 12 May. It deals with all forms of violent crime and how to work together to stop it.
There are some very good people in Brent. For example, there is Raj Kohli, the chief inspector involved in the partnership, who works to build up good relationships within the community. Then there is Patsy Hopkins who, along with other mothers, has lost a young child to violent crime, and speaks passionately to young people about how to combat crime and work towards safer streets and a safer society. Bethan West has done a lot of work with Not Another Drop and is now moving on to other things: she has done some incredible work in the constituency.
The Labour Government have been relentless in their funding of the police over the past 10 years and have adopted policies to ensure that Britain is kept safe. Maria Arpa was awarded £750,000 by the Chancellor to run a mediation project with the police, involving people who have committed crimes. It will have a powerful effect on crime reduction in all areas. The Government have invested more than ever before in new services and new facilities. For example, they invested in the youth opportunities fund and the youth capital fund, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) spoke about. They mean that young people have activities to do after school. In a debate on crime in London, it is important to recognise that 10 years of Labour investment has helped Britain become a safer place.
It is a pleasure to be able to participate in the debate. As I said in an earlier intervention on the Minister, it is good that we are having a debate on policing in London, and I only hope that we can have more regular debates on London, perhaps on an annual basis, to discuss all the issues affecting it—good and bad.
So far, this has been a high calibre debate, and one thing that has emerged from it is that it is also our job to highlight the good things. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said that we should not always talk about the bad things, and that we should go on about the good things as well. We will have the opportunity to do that if we hold general debates about London issues, and I urge the Minister to put pressure on the Leader of the House to arrange for us to have regular debates on London every year, as we used to do. If those debates are of as high a quality as this one, we will be able to get across the message about the good things that are happening in London—in policing or whatever else—as well as all the other issues that must be discussed.
I listened to the Minister with great interest and I agreed with many of his points. There has been an increase in resources and in police numbers, both of which are to be warmly welcomed. There has also been an increase in the number of police community support officers—they are doing a very good job—and recorded crime is down. But a problem in my area—and in other areas of London where friends and relatives live—is that, regrettably, people do not believe the figures. The general public think that the figures are manipulated, with the result that, even where it is obvious that things have improved, they do not believe it because they do not feel it. Their quality of life has not been enhanced because they do not feel it, and because they hear stories about crime. I shall talk in a moment about the press, which the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey also mentioned.
People matter, and we must not forget that we are talking about people today, not figures. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on his excellent speech, in which he put forward many arguments and some statistics—not too many—and highlighted the value-for-money issue, which my constituents are very concerned about.
There have been falls in some serious crime, and we applaud that. We applaud the Government, the police, who have done such tremendous work, the councils and the local community groups. All have played a part in the reduction of serious crime. However, we have not heard so much today about the other side of the argument. Certain problems have got worse, including antisocial behaviour, binge drinking, drug crime, problems on public transport, vandalism, graffiti, and the fear of crime. Those are the real issues that my constituents and others across London are concerned about. Serious crime levels may have reduced, but the lower-grade crime that impinges on people’s quality of life has not gone down. In many ways, it has increased the pressures on constituents and families, to the detriment of their quality of life.
One thing that always strikes me about statistics is that people do not just get 1 per cent. mugged; they get 100 per cent. mugged. We are constantly being given the probability of being the victim of a particular crime, but such statistics are not helpful when people actually experience crime. They experience it either at zero or 100 per cent.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am sure that she will elaborate on it if she catches your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have to be honest: I was rather sceptical about police community support officers when they were first introduced. Indeed, I took the matter up with my borough commander. However, I have to say that I have been converted and convinced. The PCSOs are doing a brilliant job as part of the teams, and the work that they are putting in is very good. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned their importance, and suggested how they could be developed further, which is something that we should be looking at. I am just a little concerned that London might not be getting the numbers of PCSOs that we originally hoped for. I understand that the planned increase in numbers has been cut—I know that the Minister will tell me that it is still increasing, as he always does in his good-humoured way. PCSOs are the eyes and ears of the police—they provide a reassuring presence and report back—and they do a marvellous job. If the increase in numbers is not as we hoped, however, that will be a disadvantage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) highlighted superbly how outer-London boroughs are often disadvantaged compared with some inner-London boroughs. Resource is always an issue.
My borough of Bexley has seen great improvements. Our new borough commander is doing a tremendous job and working with the new council—I do not want to get party political, but it is a new Conservative council—elected in May 2006. To be fair, it is building on the work of the previous, Labour, council. The police, council and community groups are working extremely well together on the community safety programme, which is having a positive effective on Bexley. I commend all who are involved in it.
Our local free sheets, the News Shopper and the Kent Messenger Group’s Bexley Extra, have been fair in highlighting the improved crime figures, although that reduction is, of course, in recorded crime. None the less, they are presenting a balanced picture, and the press are too often criticised for only covering bad things, and putting tragedies on the front page. Last week, however, one of the front pages said that Bexley is a great place to live. Crime is lower, and other good things were also highlighted—perhaps its two Members of Parliaments, I do not know—to show why it was a good place to live.
I also pay tribute to the roll-out of the safer neighbourhood teams, which has been completed in all 21 wards in Bexley. All have at least six dedicated officers, and two of mine have more than that. Christchurch ward, in Bexleyheath town centre, has 10 officers, because particular issues there require extra support. Obviously, I pay tribute to the team in Barnehurst ward, where I live, as they have made a tremendous difference by being out and about.
There was a time when people said that they never saw the police. Now they see the police on a regular basis, and on foot. I have raised the issue with the borough commander, and of course police must have the mobility provided by cars when they have a large ward to cover. But nothing reassures the public more than to see, as the hon. Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) said, bobbies on the beat. The term is old-fashioned, but seeing police walking around still provides a sense of security, which is positive. Of course, we need technology and improved mobility to deal with incidents, but seeing police walking around is reassuring. If we are to overcome the fear of crime, which, apart from localised antisocial behaviour and other matters that I have raised previously, is the biggest issue, the police must be seen walking on the streets.
Partnerships are also relevant. Money is not the only issue, although it is important, and we are concerned that the Home Office budget will not increase as it has done previously, and that that may have consequences for policing in London. That is a debate for a different day.
The other issue that I want to highlight is the fear of groups of young people on public transport, perhaps at the end of school time, when pensioners are also around. Sir Ian Blair and the Mayor came down to launch the scheme for police community support officers to travel on buses. There is a great fear of crime on public transport. I have visited a number of secondary schools in my constituency to talk to sixth forms, and have been surprised to learn that a good many sixth-formers are also frightened of crime on public transport. I have the privilege of being a governor at Townley grammar school for girls, and those girls are very worried about going home on mainline trains.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a point that is of real concern to my constituents. Is there not a double whammy, in that young people are not only more likely to be stereotyped and demonised by the media and, dare I say it, politicians, but more likely to be victims of crime?
That is true. Teenage lads and girls on their way home are particularly vulnerable, yet the media highlight only the few. It should be borne in mind that the majority of youngsters are good and well behaved; it is the minority who are causing the trouble—the fear, the antisocial behaviour, the drunkenness and the bingeing.
Some girls want to go to pop concerts, and it is great that they do. Others may want to go and hear serious music or visit the theatre. However, they do not like to come home on the train after 11 pm because of their fear of crime. There is fear on buses too, among drivers as well as passengers. Those based at Bexleyheath bus garage have experienced intimidation and aggression. It may be crime at a lower level, but it is serious nevertheless. Do people want to be on a bus at that time of night? They should think of the bus driver. All those problems must be dealt with. We want more people to use public transport, but it must be safe or they will not use it.
There is a local policing matter which, I know, concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) as well. Many of my constituents travel through the Blackwall tunnel during the morning rush hour. Recently the contraflow was closed by TFL and the police, who were concerned about safety in the tunnel. Unfortunately, their action was not properly thought through. People who drive so badly that they could cause a serious incident in the Blackwall tunnel should be punished severely, rather than the contraflow being closed. The closure has had consequences for people getting to work, and for traffic throughput during the rush hour.
Apart from anything else, such actions make the police unpopular. In general they have become very popular because they are giving the public what they want, but in my area there is continuing concern about transport—not just about the safety of the travelling public, but about such matters as TFL’s closure of the Blackwall tunnel contraflow without any serious consideration or consultation with those involved. That is not good news if we want the public and the police to go on working together.
Graffiti and vandalism have increased dramatically on Bexleyheath broadway, as has bad behaviour, which is why there are more members of the community safety team in that area. I pay tribute to those who are working so hard in Bexleyheath to overcome the problems of binge drinking, antisocial behaviour and vandalism, and also to Bexley borough council, which has made a big effort to get rid of graffiti more quickly.
I know that a number of other Members want to speak, so I shall bring my few remarks to a conclusion. There has been progress, but there is much more to do. Conservative Members are concerned about how we make sure that quality of life issues are dealt with effectively. That difficult issue involves education, councils, communities and national Government—it involves all of us.
It is important to get across the point that if people think that their quality of life is threatened by what might indeed be lower levels of crime, they will react and become more fearful, and the result will be that they lead less happy lives. We are involved in this for people—not statistics. Over the years, the Minister and I have bandied about statistics on many issues, and I have a lot of time for him, but some Government statistics are manipulated. We must think about people because people matter, and we must make sure that their quality of life is improved. That is what we want to do, and that is why this debate has been of such high quality. We do not want to be party political. We are trying to improve our city, London, and that means us working together. There have been great speeches so far, but we need more action on the quality of life issues.
When the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) commented at the beginning of his speech on how important it was that this debate on policing in London was taking place on the Floor of the House, and how much he welcomed that, a mischievous thought ran through my head. I recently became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House, and it occurred to me that I might take credit for this debate taking place—that I might take the glory for that. However, I cannot do so for a number of reasons, not least because the Minister with responsibility for London was mainly responsible for the debate taking place on the Floor of the House, along with the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety. They were keen for us to have a proper debate on policing in London in this Chamber. It is the right place for it.
Six hours is not long enough to do justice to the subject of policing in London. The police service in London is now just that—a service. It was not always thus; it used to be a police force. As a result, the responsibilities of the police have changed. The content of the conversation that we should have about the police service has changed, too. There are at least 8 million Londoners, and it is estimated that there are a further 500,000 non-citizens in the city. Therefore, there are huge pressures on our police service. Also, at least 40 per cent. of our Londoners are ethnic minority.
As well as that diversity, socio-economic demographics are in play in London. There are inner-city parts of our great capital city, and there are the suburbs and outer boroughs. Members in all parts of the House have commented on the different needs of different parts of the city. There is also the City of London, and the west end and commercial parts of the city, all of which bring different problems and challenges to our police service.
I want to begin by paying tribute to the Mayor of London, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority, who do a great job in investing in our police service and in holding it to account. Previously, the Metropolitan police and the commissioner were accountable only to the Home Secretary. We have changed that. The MPA holds the Metropolitan police to account in an open, transparent way, and that is welcomed. I also pay tribute to the commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and police officers, who do a sterling job serving our communities throughout our city, and the safer neighbourhood teams, which are a recent innovation and an additional member of our family of police servants who do a great job.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) congratulated the Minister with responsibility for policing on his comments about special constables. In Wandsworth, we are blessed with having fantastic specials. One of our specials, Fred Ahmed, has now been a special for more than 25 years. Recently in the House of Commons there was an attestation ceremony at which more than 20 specials were sworn in, and recently in City Hall the GLA member Murad Qureshi organised for a further 30 specials to be sworn in, who will help police in Wandsworth make our community safer. Local authorities across the city do an invaluable job working in partnership with police officers and borough commanders. Civilians also play a huge role in preventing crime.
I want to begin by discussing police numbers. We cannot escape the fact that there has been a significant and much-needed expansion of police numbers in London. At the end of 2000-01, there were 25,430 police officers; as of this February, that figure had risen by 5,487 to 30,917, which equates to a 22 per cent. increase. Furthermore, we now have police community support officers. There were zero before 2000; now, there are almost 4,000. As my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) said, in comparing statistics the baseline from which we start is very important. Should we compare current figures with those from 1991, from 1997 or from 2000?
Those in the Chamber who complained—most of them were Members of Her Majesty’s official Opposition—that the number of police officers is not increasing fast enough, or that we are not getting enough CSOs on to our streets fast enough to make our communities safer, should ask where the money and the investment is coming from. They cannot criticise the Mayor for standing by a manifesto commitment to increase precepts and to use the money to pay for more CSOs and police officers, and then criticise him again for there not being more CSOs and police officers. The same point applies to general taxation. They cannot say that there are not enough police officers, and then say that they want to share the proceeds of growth by offering tax cuts, while investing in public services and police officers. Police officers and CSOs cost money, and that money comes via taxation—both local precepts and general taxation. When we hear expressed these mock concerns about there being not enough CSOs and police officers, we must carefully consider whether those expressing them are sincere or are simply playing party politics.
On that note, I give way to the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening).
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I note that he talked about the number of officers across London. Does he share my concern that the baseline number—the important figure—not of CSOs but of fully trained, uniformed officers in Wandsworth has fallen in the past decade? Does he agree that it is time that we got those 80-odd extra officers back on to our local force and out there tackling crime in the community?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing Members to hear the kind of party political propaganda that is used in Wandsworth, and I shall tell her why. [Interruption.] She is heckling, but I cannot hear her.
It is a fact.
The hon. Lady needs to take account of the fact that the formula by which officers are allocated was drawn up before 1997. Secondly, we in Wandsworth have the benefit of the territorial support group—a pool of officers who go from borough to borough and area to area. The third point that the hon. Lady needs to take into account is that London now has 5,500 more police officers. Fourthly, every single one of the 20 Wandsworth wards has benefited from having one sergeant, two officers and at least three CSOs. The Tooting ward, which I represented for 12 years, has one sergeant, two officers and seven CSOs.
Fifthly, when emergencies occur, officers from other boroughs come to Wandsworth’s aid. Last Saturday, I commemorated workers memorial day by attending the unveiling of a plaque in Battersea, and while there I was reminded that police officers from other parts of London came to Battersea’s aid in its time of need, back in September 2006. Sixthly, the hon. Lady needs to explain the following situation. The Mayor of London and the GLA—both elected by the people—can decide, via the MPA, how officers are allocated. However, the Merton and Wandsworth GLA member, who is a Conservative, fails to be the advocate and champion of Merton and Wandsworth that I hope a Labour GLA member would. However, I digress with my six points. I could have gone on much longer, but I know that time is short.
It is also worth discussing safer neighbourhood teams. I welcome the congratulations for the Mayor expressed on both sides of the Chamber, save by the only Member who has spoken who does not represent a London constituency. I do not blame him for that as it is not his fault. It is worth bearing in mind that the Mayor stood on a manifesto to introduce safer neighbourhood teams and he has implemented that commitment at least a year ahead of time.
In Tooting, all seven wards have a full complement of safer neighbourhood teams. In Tooting ward, we have the excellent Sergeant Lisa Hurley, who leads from the front. She walks the streets, is on first-name terms with people and is putting the bobby back on the beat. When my constituents, neighbours and friends comment on how nice it is to see an officer on the street, they do not point out that his or her uniform is not the same colour as that of a police officer, or that the number of pips on the shoulder is different. They welcome the uniformed presence and it has made a big difference to the perception of safety in Tooting.
Parts of Tooting do have problems with antisocial behaviour. We have laws to give the police more powers to take action against problems, and contact points, funded by the Mayor, in hotspots where they are needed. There are problems in the town centre and I hope that we will soon have a dispersal zone, so that the minority of young people who cause problems can be dispersed, and a contact point for the police on the high street, which could be of great benefit. Another example is in Earlsfield and Wandsworth Common, where Sergeant Ben Bond is working with local sports clubs and residents to ensure that young people have constructive things to do. At school times, police officers cycle up and down streets around secondary schools. Young people are bigger than they were when I was young and some people can feel intimidated by them—sometimes with justification. Low level antisocial behaviour—not necessarily criminal—can be deterred by a uniformed male or female police officer or PCSO cycling up and down the road, and that can be a huge benefit to the area. It is also worth noting that the Mayor not only fulfilled a manifesto commitment, but ensured that it happened at least a year ahead of time.
My third point relates to crime figures. Crime in London has fallen. There are those pedants who play numerical gymnastics and claim that using this or that criterion proves that crime has not fallen or has not fallen fast enough. However, the official figures show that overall crime is down for the fourth year in a row. It fell by 6.3 per cent. last year, meaning that there were 62,000 fewer victims of crime.
The hon. Member for Putney made the point that each crime is 100 per cent. to the person involved. That is true, but 62,000 people have been 100 per cent. prevented from becoming the victims of crime. As she said, every crime is very serious. Well, 62,000 very serious incidents have been prevented by the policies and investment of this Government and the Mayor. The number of violent crimes fell by 6.1 per cent. over the past 12 months in London. There were fewer hate crimes last year compared to the year before. Total recorded crimes fell by 12 per cent. between 1999-2000—I use that baseline because that was the year before we had a Mayor—and 2006-07.
In Wandsworth, the figures are equally impressive. If one compares the 12 months to December 2005 with the 12 months to December 2006, total crime is down, as is violence against the person, robbery, domestic crime, racist crime and homophobic crime. Those are real crimes that have been prevented and real victims who have escaped the pain and suffering that they would have experienced. Not only are we stopping crimes taking place, but the presence of the safer neighbourhood teams is contributing to a decrease in the fear of crime and of becoming a victim of crime.
My fourth point concerns diversity. We need to remind ourselves of how the police in this great city were perceived 20 years ago, and even more recently. Lessons have been learned from the murder of Stephen Lawrence, from the Macpherson inquiry and from other racist murders and, as a result, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a positive duty in respect of race relations on all public authorities, including the Metropolitan police. Indeed, the Met now has a race equality scheme, which it observes in both letter and spirit, and its recruitment and retention have both improved.
People remember the sus laws in force before 1984, and the stop-and-search approach was an improvement on them. We now have stop and account, and the hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and for Richmond Park both noted that young black people now have more positive experiences of the police, instead of the negative ones of the past.
Those young black people know that the relationship between the police and the public goes both ways. That relationship is not always negative, because the police are seen as the public’s partners—a perception that means that people who might have been victims of police misconduct in the past are today more willing to come forward and report crimes. In the end, partnership working is what policing by consent is all about.
For the first time ever, we have an independent police complaints system. One of the biggest complaints made by alleged victims of police misconduct in the past used to be that the police investigated themselves. All that has changed, thanks to this Labour Government, and the improvements in terms of representation and diversity mean that the people who police our great city represent the city that they police.
No debate about policing in London can escape the question of terrorism. This week, the long-term investigation that was Operation Crevice achieved a great success. Huge amounts of resources had been invested in it; dozens if not hundreds of lives were saved, and five convictions were secured. That was a victory for due process and the whole anti-terrorist operation, but there is no escaping the fact that our security services have to succeed every time if they are to keep us safe, whereas a terrorist need succeed only once to inflict huge suffering on us. We saw what happened on 7/7, when we were not so successful.
Over the past couple of years, our community police officers have done a fantastic job in building bridges between the various communities that live in London. At the Tooting Islamic centre there is a police contact centre, where police officers are able to meet young Muslims and black people in a positive way. The youngsters can get their property marked and report crime, and they can talk to the police about local matters. The centre does a wonderful job, and is a huge boon for the local community.
However, there have been two anti-terrorist raids in Tooting in the past couple of years, with squads such as SO13 making arrests in the middle of the night. After a few days, though, everyone arrested was released without charge, and it is clear that such incidents can have a negative impact on the local community. The local police had done wonderful work over the preceding weeks, months and years in building up relationships but that can be undone if the aftermath of such raids is not conducted sensitively.
Just as recruitment and retention among community support officers and police officers have been improved, so we must improve recruitment and retention among the specialist officers dealing with anti-terrorist operations. Notions about policing by consent and by partnership are no less relevant in counter-terrorism operations than they are in other areas of police work.
As a south London MP, I cannot escape talking about problems to do with guns, knives and gangs. People who do not come from the area assume that such problems are the only thing that happens there. For example, the manager of my parliamentary office comes from Crewe originally—I do not hold that against him—and a few weeks ago his mum and dad telephoned him because they were petrified about the fact that he was working in London. They were scared that he might be the victim of a gang, a gun or a knife.
It is true that a disproportionate number of shootings and stabbings have taken place in south London, but the police deserve congratulation on the excellent work that has been done with Operation Trident and the other specialist operations. Originally, I was nervous and unconvinced about the idea that a specialist operation team should look at black-on-black crime. I am still worried about the perception that the problem affects only one part of our community. If the problem is not regarded as a mainstream one, will it receive the mainstream resources, attention and focus that it needs?
We must not stigmatise young black people in certain areas as a consequence of that operation. After a shooting in south London, the BBC asked me for an interview, which I was happy to give, but the BBC would conduct it only if I agreed to stand outside the victim’s school. I explained that to do so would be terrible because it would stigmatise the school—the implication of the images would be that the school was linked to gang culture. The BBC refused to film anywhere else, so I did not give the interview.
There are good projects throughout south London. In Tooting, the Yahweh Christian Fellowship is doing excellent work to counter gangs, knives and guns. It is important that we do whatever we can to help in such work, but we must not turn policing into a convoluted, cumbersome process whereby our police officers become social workers.
Customer care is a problem. If the police service is really to be a service, the quality of care provided to consumers must be top rate. People should not have to wait for hours to be seen at the front desk. Phones should be answered, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park said. Police stations should be used to lock up people arrested for criminal offences, not to hold asylum seekers or as overflow prisons. As well as focusing on recorded crime, the police should pay attention to detection rates; it is important that we do not sacrifice crime detection for increased confidence in the recording of crime.
Increasingly, yellow boards are put up when a crime is committed. We understand why—to persuade witnesses to come forward and report anything suspicious—but the problem is that the boards create the impression that there is loads of crime, which breeds people’s feelings of insecurity. We need to square that circle to achieve the right balance so that we find witnesses to crime without scaring people and making them think their area is more crime-filled than it really is.
Accountability is important and it can prevent miscarriages of justice, but we need to streamline some of the paper trails that our police officers have to follow. Technological advances mean that some of the typing could be outsourced and police officers could use handheld PDAs—personal digital assistants—so that they can get on with that they do best.
Prison overcrowding is not directly related to policing in London, but it is of concern. I speak to police officers who are increasingly frustrated that when people leave prison there is nowhere for them to go; families and friends are no longer in touch so they turn to the criminal fraternity. It is hardly surprising that the reoffending rate for people within two years of release from prison is more than 66 per cent.
In conclusion, policing in London has not reached a utopian position by any stretch of the imagination. Ten years is not enough. Indeed, I question whether we will ever reach that position—Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have not achieved the utopian perfection that some people claimed for those cities. However, we have been tough on crime and the causes of crime. I do not think that Sure Start, the new deal, parenting classes, raising children out of poverty, investing in our youth services and regenerating our town centres—I could go on—are anything but dealing with the causes of crime.
The other important thing is that we have dealt with crime itself. The police are grateful for the new antisocial behaviour laws, and use them. There are longer sentences where appropriate, faster justice, so that courts deal with people more quickly, and investment in CCTV. Most important for my constituents and me, we have higher numbers of community support officers and police officers in London than ever before; it is no coincidence that it came about through the partnership of a Labour Mayor and a Labour Government.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, which I welcome. I endorse the comments made by the Minister and by my hon. Friend the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman about the desirability of having the debate. It is a shame that more people are not here, but I hope that it gets the publicity that it deserves. It is an important issue for many of us in London.
I am sorry that the Minister with responsibility for London has just departed. I pay tribute to him and to the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety for securing this debate. I was about to observe that there was a continuity of West Ham supporters on the Government Front Bench, a continuity that I can only hope will be replicated in results over the next couple of weeks.
Ever the optimist.
It is a serious debate because, as the Minister suspected, this has been the top issue in the seven years that I have served on the London assembly and in the two elections that I have fought. It has consistently been the top issue in my postbag and I think that virtually all other assembly members would say the same. That is not surprising because, for many people, the ability to feel safe and secure as they go about their lives in our city is arguably the very first social service. That applies to everybody in London regardless of background and circumstance. It is hugely important that we get things right and I am glad that the debate has largely been a measured and thoughtful one.
As well as being an assembly member, I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and that appears in my declaration of interests. I certainly recognise that good work has been done by the authority and by its chairman, who also has the advantage of taking the same sensible view of football as me even though we otherwise do not quite agree. In particular, I recognise the excellent work that has been done by the men and women of the Metropolitan Police Service and the other two police forces. Both the City of London police and the British Transport police deserve recognition. I have certainly found their work invaluable and I know that my constituents do, because many of them use overground trains to commute to the City of London. It is important that we take an holistic look at all the policing agencies in London. The Met is the main feature, but it is not the whole picture.
A number of important points have been made, and I will not repeat them. However, the views expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) about the position in the outer London boroughs, the perception of crime and the concerns that go with that are especially pertinent and are mirrored by people in my constituency and, I suspect, much else of suburban London. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends because, while I have been an assembly member, I know that both have worked tirelessly to raise these issues.
The valid point has been made that London is not only a large and complicated city, but a very diverse one. It is diverse not only in its socio-economic and demographic make-up but in spatial and geographic terms. Not only are priorities different in different parts of London, but policing responses need to be different as well. That raises two concerns that have already been touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham.
Arundel and South Downs.
I apologise to my hon. Friend; I am behind with my knowledge of constituency boundaries.
The concerns relate to the many central targets that borough police commanders have to deal with. Far too much of my excellent borough police commander’s time is taken up with chasing those targets, and the targets that are set centrally and largely by the Home Office are frequently not the priorities that are most germane to people living in the London borough of Bromley.
For example, we all agree about the key serious crimes—no one argues about that—but there is a centrally imposed target about the theft of bicycles. Any theft is important, but that is not a big issue for us. However, we can think of crimes that, in Bromley, we would put higher up the league. Greater flexibility for my borough commander, in consultation with the local strategic partnership, to set his own suite of targets for the problems in Bromley would be a real advantage for us.
That is one point: greater flexibility to reflect the diversity of London would be valuable. Another point relates to the question of resourcing. Police officers are allocated to the borough command units—I do not include the response units and the other central units—on the basis of a resource allocation formula, which is worked out by the Metropolitan Police Authority by means of a system that, I think it is fair to say, is marginally more transparent than the Schleswig-Holstein question, although I suspect that there is not much in it. That formula has been reviewed periodically and there have been some changes, but it seems to me and, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, that there is a problem.
Bromley is geographically the largest London borough. I am glad to say that it does not have one of the top levels of crime by any manner of means, and I would not pretend otherwise. Part of the formula reflects needs and demand, so that might mean that Bromley will get fewer police officers. But the formula does not adequately reflect the fact that a good half of the borough is green-belt land. In the southern part of the borough in particular, police officers—the safer neighbourhood teams and the response teams on the borough command unit—have a large amount of physical ground to cover. My hon. Friend made the point about its taking 20 minutes to get a response team from Bromley police station in the centre of Bromley down to Biggin Hill. Added to our limited total number of police officers, that means that, at times of stress, it is extremely difficult to cover the demand.
On a Friday or Saturday night, the majority of police officers in Bromley will be engaged in dealing with what are largely public order issues in Bromley town centre. Those issues have been fuelled by the increase in the drinking culture, which—I am sorry to make a partisan point—recent legislation has not helped. The officers are under a lot of pressure and are doing their best—I am not knocking them—in difficult circumstances. However, that means that the more suburban and outlying parts of the borough are hard put to get a decent response. The resource allocation formula does not adequately reflect the needs of geographically large London boroughs. I would hope that something could be done to reflect those needs.
The formula also does not adequately reflect the fact that Bromley—I suspect that it is not unique in this—is a net importer of crime. Something like 70 per cent. of the people arrested in the borough of Bromley do not reside there. That applies right across the range of crime. It applies to the professional burglar, who thinks that there might be quite good pickings, and, equally, to public order offences. Bromley town centre, in particular, and, to some degree, Beckenham attract people who travel in from further away in London. There is a night-time economy. Bromley is also a substantial commercial centre and there are shoplifting offences and other thefts associated with that. The current measures, which reflect Bromley’s normal resident population and its own internal deprivation, and other indices, do not capture the demand that Bromley’s police officers have to deal with. I hope that it would not be impossible for the formula to take those factors more accurately into account.
I accept that there have been extra resources. All of us on this side of the House recognise that. As the leader of my party on the London assembly for most of the last seven years, I supported that. That is why I was glad to lay to rest the canard from the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). We are happy to support extra resources for the police, but—this is not unreasonable and it is not being critical of the police—we want to ensure that we get the best possible value out of those resources. That is the key issue.
People in Bromley probably contribute more in gross council tax than people in any other borough in London, but we have the lowest or second lowest ratio of police officers per head of population. I expect the ratio to be at the lower end, because it is not the busiest borough in crime terms, but the gap is marked. Many people, including those involved in crime and disorder reduction partnerships locally, believe that the difference in the levels of policing between ourselves and our neighbouring boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Croydon is one of the things that causes the displacement of crime into our borough. People in Bromley feel that they are not necessarily getting a fair deal.
Another point related to making the best use of resources is the question of working practices, which my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) rightly referred to. When Sir Ian Blair was appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner, he made a great deal of the importance of the service review. He was right to do so and I made it clear at the time that my friends in the assembly and I would support him if he went through with the review. I appreciate that other priorities have arisen, such as counter-terrorism measures, but it is important that we do not lose sight of the service review.
North America is probably our best comparator, albeit not the only one. Many forces in north America get much more bang for the policing buck, which comes back to such issues as single manning and proximity policing. When I visited New York recently, I met members of the New York police department. Single manning is well established there, despite a culture in which there is probably a greater threat of violence to police officers on the streets than might be the case here. It has also been rolled out in Chicago and elsewhere. It is interesting that police officers there are encouraged to spend much less time in the precinct house. Such buildings are usually much smaller than those in this country and do not have such things as canteens. Officers are encouraged to take their breaks in the local deli—or the local café, as we would put it—so that they are seen out and about in the community to a greater extent.
We should be prepared to consider such an approach, although that would require hard discussions with the Home Office, the Treasury, the Police Federation and representative bodies of the senior ranks. If the Met is to lead the way, as I hope it will, hon. Members on both sides of the House and people at all levels of governance in London will need to be prepared to give it political support. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the commissioner and any successor will have the support of the Government—I know that he will when we shortly come into government. I hope that the Mayor and others will also give such political back-up.
I have pointed out some important large-scale issues. Bromley’s real concerns were addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, so I will not repeat them. However, I want to make two further short points. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford talked about the Blackwall tunnel. The tunnel affects my constituents. As far as the police are concerned, the risk is reputational, but if there is a question about safety, it should be debated. I am sure that the Minister will pass this on to the Minister with responsibility for London. We were concerned to discover recently that the likelihood of the closure of the Blackwall tunnel, apparently on police advice, was discussed with the London borough of Greenwich and the Highways Agency on 18 January, yet not a word was said to any of the other London boroughs, the London assembly or any other partners until about a fortnight ago, or less, when the contraflow was closed with less than a week’s notice. The lack of transparency is our real concern. If discussions were held on 18 January, it would have been mature if Transport for London had brought everyone into the loop and held an open discussion. Such an approach would have given the police’s case greater weight.
South-east London does not have a tube system, so the overground is hugely important to us. I recognise the value of the work of the British Transport police and I recently had useful discussions with Ian Johnston, its chief constable. We face the problem that the transport police are extremely thinly stretched. The London south division of the BTP runs from the river down to Bournemouth. About 420 police officers cover the whole of the network, so there are really not enough to go around. If an incident is reported at a station in Bickley or Bromley, it is likely that BTP officers will have to go by train from Victoria or Lewisham, which makes the response time virtually impossible. If BTP officers cannot respond, they have to try to farm out the call to the local Met police, who might be tied up anyway. There are thus real problems with passengers’ feeling of security on the overground network.
I am not one of those people who think that the issue would be solved by integrating the British Transport police and the Met—I am not that interested in structural change—but we should consider much closer operational integration; a lot of good work has been done that way. It ought to be possible to make it much easier for Metropolitan police officers to get on to British transport property to pursue those who are breaking the law, subject only to safety issues, such as rail currents. I hope that there can be more good will and flexibility between the forces, so that we can resolve any boundary issues.
Another concern that we have about security on the railway network involves closed circuit television. The position in relation to CCTV on our overground trains varies significantly. Some of the London commuter networks have 100 per cent. CCTV coverage of their rolling stock, and that is obviously desirable. The train operators One, c2c, Central Trains and Chiltern Railways are all virtually at the 100 per cent. mark. I am troubled to find that South Eastern Trains, which covers my part of the world, has less than 50 per cent. of its carriages covered, and that is the lowest of the lot. That really is unacceptable. If we want to encourage people to use public transport, they have to feel safe and secure doing so. Southern Railway next door manages 100 per cent. coverage on its commuter units. There can be no justification for that massive discrepancy between broadly similar networks.
Although there is CCTV on virtually all our railway stations, I discovered that it is not necessarily always monitored, and monitoring is the key thing that gives people a sense of security. We know from underground networks elsewhere that it is possible, if there is proper monitoring, to send out voice messages in the station. I have heard the message, “Stop smoking on the station.” There should be a bit of investment in providing that kind of service from a central control room. Letting people in railway stations know that they were being watched would be a real reassurance, is not expensive and is technically feasible. That is a simple, practical suggestion.
I know that it troubles the BTP that it does not have adequate input into the way in which franchise documents for rail companies are drawn up, and in ensuring that security issues are given adequate attention. It is important that when a company bids for a rail franchise, making sure that the system is safe, secure and will reassure people is top of the list. It is not too difficult to write that into the documents. It would be helpful—perhaps the Minister can take this back to his colleagues—if we acted on BTP’s suggestion that one of its senior officers be seconded to the Department for Transport to work with the officials responsible for drawing up the rail franchises. That would help us to ensure the more holistic approach to which I referred; again, that is hardly costly, and it would be a bit of joined-up government.
I have touched on just a few of the issues to do with policing in London; it is a huge topic and we could go on for a long time. I hope that I have demonstrated that a great deal of good work is done, but the last thing that anyone, regardless of their party, wishes us to do is rest on our laurels. I think that it is 72 per cent. of the Mayor’s precept that is taken up by the Metropolitan police; I undersold the amount earlier. Of course, part of the costs of policing transport services is added on to the fares paid by my constituents. All that we want is to make sure that the most rigorous attention is paid to getting the best value for money out of that valuable public investment, and to make sure that the police are freed up from the need to deal with centrally imposed targets, so that they can produce something far more closely tailored to the needs of their communities. That, ultimately, is the point.
We all accept that if policing is to work, it has to be done with the consent and agreement of the local communities. Communities can work closely in partnership with their police officers, and there are good examples of that among the safer neighbourhoods teams, but we should go further. I hope that the Home Office will consider taking on board the Commission on London Governance’s recommendation that there be a statutory right for local councillors to be consulted about policing priorities in their area. They should be consulted in their ward, as opposed to simply through the scrutiny panel process. I do not think that that is unreasonable, and I am saddened that the Minister should shake his head. Labour members of the Commission on London Governance did not have any trouble with it.
There may be appropriate accountability structures that we need, but I would certainly not favour one that isolates local councils from communities and residents panels. I have read much of the document, and I support some of it, but councils should work alongside residents panels in their interaction with the local police.
There may be less between the Minister and myself than I thought, but the fact is that councillors should have the right to be there, as they have a democratic mandate. I am a little concerned by the guidance produced by the Metropolitan Police Service on the setting up of safer neighbourhood panels, which appeared at times almost to discourage councillors or keep them at arm’s length. I hope that the Minister will make sure that the message is sent out to the Met that that is not the way to deal with the issue. If we link our police officers in with the community and its democratic representatives, that can only be to everybody’s advantage. On that note, I shall conclude, but I hope that the Minister will be able to pick up some of the points that I have made.
I sense that the centre of British political interest may be somewhere else today. None the less, I welcome the opportunity to debate policing in London, which we used to have annually when the Home Secretary was the police authority. We have not had a formal opportunity to do so for seven years, although there have been debates on policing generally as well as on matters specific to London policing.
This has been a worthwhile debate, and I am grateful to the Government for facilitating it. I sense that there is huge consensus, and we have heard some very good contributions from Members on both sides of the House. I do not have the time to respond to all the points that have been made, but we have all taken them on board. I hope that the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who has ministerial responsibility for London, find that encouraging and that when the report of our debate reaches the MPA—obviously, its officials will read it, as will the Mayor and members of the assembly—it will see the broad themes that unite us much more than the issues that divide us. It is easy for these debates to become party political, but that has not been the case today, apart from the odd spat, which is a good thing.
I am pleased, too, to have the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who represents an outer London constituency, while I represent an inner London constituency. There are differences in perspective, which has been reflected in our debate but, again, there is much that we have in common, particularly—I shall come on to this in a second—the development of safer neighbourhoods teams, for which she was right to claim the original advocacy and which, in all boroughs and constituencies, have made a difference, and can make a bigger difference yet.
We have heard lots of statistics in our debate, and we have benefited from being given a common statistical basis—that has not always been the case in the past—by the Metropolitan Police Authority, which we have mainly used. Something that no one has said explicitly on the record is the fact that all those statistics are set against the background of a considerable growth in the London population—it is growing both in absolute numbers and in diversity. If we are seeing in general a reduction of crime, it is in a city that is growing, which is an encouraging sign. Broadly, the statistical conclusions are as follows: the population of London is going up—it is the biggest city in Britain and in Europe, it is still growing, and it will grow more—and police numbers are up. Rather oddly—I have not heard an explanation for this—in the last full year for which we have figures and which ended effectively a year ago, the figures dropped a bit. They were about 30,000, but they have come down a little bit—perhaps the money was spent on community support officers—although they may have picked up again in the year for which we do not yet have the complete figures. Until last year, however, the numbers had been growing, and CSOs, whom we had never had before, are now generally welcomed. Crime is generally going down—sadly, serious and violent crime is still going up—and detection is going up, but it is still worse in London than elsewhere. That is understandable, because London is a much more difficult place to police. However, the challenge for all of us is to say that London still has far too much crime. Crime overall must come down considerably and detection rates must go up much more. For me, the judgment is not about how much money we put in, or even how many police officers we have, but the results. We could double the number of police officers, but the crucial thing is whether they do the job that we need them to do, in conjunction with all the other agencies. As many others have said, they are not the only agency with responsibility—that is now being understood much better than it used to be.
There is still too much fear of crime. Indeed, there is more fear of crime than there is crime. People think that crime is worse than it is. I made a point earlier that I felt obliged to make on behalf of my colleagues when they were fighting the election in Southwark last year. We all have a duty not to talk crime up. With respect, a lot of the media in London talk it up quite enough already. We must ensure that we are accurate when we report the position locally, in our boroughs, across London or across the country as a whole. I am perfectly happy to trade statistics about the growth in violent crime throughout the country. The Government have overseen that, although it is not entirely their responsibility. I hope that we will all, as politicians, resist the temptation to misuse the statistics in a way that suggests that crime of any sort is worse than it is.
Some people say that 90 per cent. of crimes are committed by 10 per cent. of people. Those serious, serial offenders are the people we need to target. At the back of any police station, one will often see a group of photographs and a list of names of the people whom the police know are likely to be the suspects in, say, a burglary or robbery, and I am afraid that that is often the case. Dealing with reoffending, which is far too prevalent, is as big an issue in London as anywhere else.
Let me make a short technical point about crime statistics. When I shadowed the Home Secretary and my colleagues and I received the regular monthly, quarterly, six-monthly and yearly statistics, one of the frustrations was that there were two simultaneous sets of statistics—recorded crime and the British crime survey. However theoretically understandable that is, it does not help the general understanding of what is going on. Some time ago, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) asked me to nominate somebody on behalf of my party to be on a working party to deal with crime statistics. I nominated somebody and they attended a couple of meetings. The group came up with a report, but its work still has not reached a conclusion. I think that there is now another working party.
We need more coherent and less confusing statistics. I understand all the different academic assessments. As the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) says, crimes involving people under 16 are not reported. It is not helpful if the statistics are confusing. For years, I have made pleas locally in my borough when police officers come to police and community consultative meetings or other meetings to go through the statistics. They often give only those for the previous month compared with the month before, and only in a certain bit of the borough. I say, “Let’s just have the spreadsheet that shows everything that tells me how Southwark is doing compared with Lewisham on one side and Lambeth on the other, and how it is doing compared with this time last year.” That should not require anybody to have to do the work locally. It should be done by a central department that could pull down the figures and make them available so that any member of the public is able to see them as well. We need simple comparisons and simple statistics. I urge Home Office Ministers to ensure, not only for the Met, the City of London police and the British Transport police but for all police services, that we have clear and easily comparable statistics as soon as possible.
In all the welter of statistics, there has been a common assessment of what is the most serious and worrying feature—the growth in violent crime. The tables that the Met gave us show that the murder figures have come down in the past three or four years but are still higher than they were when this set of figures began in 1998-99. Gun-enabled crime went up considerably, nearly doubling, and has gone down only in the past year. Robbery has gone up and down over the years, but it has doubled in the eight-year period and increased in the past two years. People are worried about that on the streets, where it is one of the greatest causes of fear. Burglary has decreased considerably, for all the reasons that we know, and that also applies to motor vehicle crimes. People are protecting their property better, and that is good and encouraging.
However, although violence against the person has decreased in the past couple of years, it has increased hugely—by about 50 per cent.—over the eight-year period. Rape has also increased, although it has been decreasing in the past few years. Convictions for rape form a small percentage of the allegations; 5 per cent. is a pitiful figure for the country. I guess that the same trend applies in London.
The fundamental problem is how we break out of the culture in which primarily young people, but also others, believe that using guns and knives is acceptable. We all agree that many of those crimes are related to drugs, alcohol or both. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, we must concentrate on alcohol-related crime. It happens not only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights but at all sorts of other times. Tackling drug-related crime, which happens because someone is either on drugs or committing the crime to feed a habit—or, in the case of dealers, trying to make money out of exploiting people—is central to reducing violence in London.
A friend runs an eminent Christian charity in Peckham called XLP, which has been running for 10 years, and got the Queen’s award for a voluntary sector organisation. When I asked him to describe his perception of the trend in youth crime in those 10 years, he said that, when he started, people had guns or knives—mainly knives—because it was cool. They then moved on to using them for crime, but now many youngsters pick them up out of fear. That is a serious concern. Young people are most frequently the victims of gun and knife crime. They are both the protagonists and the victims.
We must look beyond the young people and start with the families. Northern Ireland is a more peaceful place because the women in particular said that violent behaviour was unacceptable. Mairead Corrigan, who became a Nobel peace prize winner, and others rose up. They told their fathers, brothers, boyfriends, fiancés, husbands and children that violence was unacceptable. In the end, families have to say, “This is unacceptable.” Of course, it is more difficult if one has a big family or is a single parent, but the message must be conveyed. Peer group pressure, family leadership and school leadership are fundamentally important.
It is also important, when possible, not to exclude kids from school. Exclusions affect some communities worse than others. There should be better educational opportunities, training and work. Some fantastic work, which has been applauded, takes place. My friend the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I are in an area that includes the Lambeth and Southwark sports action zone, which does excellent work in engaging young people, especially young men, in using their energies. If they participate in community games and sport, and estate-based sports, thereby finding pride, self-satisfaction and respect, they do not have to do other stuff for pride, self-satisfaction and respect. I went to the Downside Fisher boxing club annual dinner the other day. Youngsters who box are not into drugs and drink because the discipline required to do well in boxing means that they train and do not drink, do drugs, smoke or stay out all night. By and large, they have to live a disciplined lifestyle.
At a lower level, people in all our constituencies regularly complain of antisocial behaviour. There are some huge gangs—of an extraordinarily large size—in Southwark. We all have a responsibility to challenge antisocial behaviour, although it is sometimes a bit risky and I do not commend it to vulnerable people. I agreed with the leader of the Conservative party when he said last week that we have a duty to remind people that manners and respect matter. Lack of manners and respect is partly a consequence of not having grandparents and an extended family around as children grow up. Some of the immigrant communities are much better at ensuring that their youngsters understand manners and respect because the extended family is around. Irish families used to be good at that and now that often applies to Caribbean and African families. However, everyone has a responsibility for ensuring that respect matters.
Terrorism has been a huge blot on London’s recent history. In commending the police as a whole in the three forces that we have talked about, I particularly commend those who deal with anti-terrorist matters. I have been able to have some close quarters experience with them over the years, and they do a fantastic job. Yes, of course mistakes are made—more often due to intelligence than the police—but they do a commendable job.
The one thing that we absolutely have to do is prevent the sort of victimising of communities that results from the sort of press and PR exercises that make a big story out of raids in certain parts of the capital city, as we saw in east London, which then start tarnishing whole communities. I do not know where these stories come from. Peter Clarke, the deputy assistant commissioner—there are so many people with titles below the commissioner these days that I get confused—or the guy in charge of anti-terrorism matters in the Met criticised the leaking of such information last week, as it hinders the police. We really must stop trying to sell these raids and anti-terrorist activities in advance. If people are arrested, then charged and convicted, it is a story; but the investigation should not be the story in the same way. There is no benefit from making it look as if a whole community is involved.
I shall say just two sentences about something that has barely been mentioned. It appeared in the “metline”, one of the Met police magazines. This week’s or month’s edition regrets the fact that traffic policing has almost disappeared. We may all be victims of traffic policing at some time, so this is a sort of double-edged sword to help make the argument. If we want a capital city that works, people cannot be allowed to sit in box junctions without being clobbered; people have to behave, so traffic policing is important. One thing that has happened in that context is that we now see lots of police on push bikes, which I think is a great initiative. There were not really any in London two years ago, but now they are all over the place. It allows the police to be more flexible. New York city police did it years ago and saw the benefit of it.
I have a few organisational points. The Minister was responsive to the need to get our structures better. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) made a very strong point about safer neighbourhoods teams, which are great, but as she and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said, they have to be at the times and places where they are needed. We have to move the police from a culture whereby they do three shifts of equal numbers every day to one that says, “Look, you don’t need to do much community safety policing between 8 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon; you need it much more between 3 in the afternoon and 3 in the morning”. That is what the communities tell us. The communities rather than the police must lead that. The combination of police, community support officers and neighbourhood wardens—including specials, which are very important—is crucial and each borough must be allowed to work out the balance of those extra people paid for by the local authority as it chooses. There will be different answers in different parts of London’s 33 authorities.
I put to the Minister my point about the need to get the old order changed to the new order of where we have consultation locally. The age of the police and community consultative group has probably gone now that we have safer neighbourhoods partnerships. I think that we could have something that allows residents, councillors, businesses, the voluntary sector and others to meet, so that there are not lots of little meetings that actually say the same thing, but more effective meetings.
It is important to make absolutely clear—the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made this point—that accountability applies not just to the police, but to the local authority in the same place, representatives of the court service and offender management teams, prisons, borstals and other young persons institutions if they are in the local authority area too. The public can then get the people in front of them on a regular basis and there cannot be any buck passing. The police cannot say, “It is nothing to do with us; it is the council” without the council being there. Every council now has not only a leader but a person responsible for community safety. I am really keen to commend this to Ministers as a way of securing proper accountability. There are lots of responsibilities. One point made by the Met police commissioner this morning is that social services have a role to play. That is a council responsibility, so the council leader—or somebody on the council executive—needs to take responsibility for it.
I very much agree with that point. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that we have had great success in the health field in Bromley by bringing together the agencies involved in health care in exactly the way that he suggests. For want of a better term, it is known as the health cabinet. Does he think that a similar cabinet that pulled together the agencies dealing with crime, disorder and community safety would be worth pursuing?
Absolutely. We need to be imaginative and to look at best practice. We cannot be prescriptive, but there needs to be a core legal statutory structure, and I hope that we can agree on that.
Recruitment has been great. The Met is not recruiting at the moment—I do not think that the City of London police are either—although the British Transport police might be. I think that they were when I looked at their website last week. Pending the ability to recruit more—because they are full at the moment—we need to ensure that the numbers of cadets and specials are expanded if possible. We also need to continue to encourage the Met and the other forces to improve their gender and ethnic mix. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park made the central point that they are still miles behind when it comes to reflecting the population of London in that regard. We need to determine whether the Met still has that culture. A constituent came to see me yesterday—a police officer—complaining about homophobic attitudes towards him in the London police. So we have still not completed the cultural change that we need for a London police force.
Just a little thing: about six months ago, a constituent came to see me who wanted to become a special constable—or perhaps a PCSO, I cannot remember—but they had been told that they could not do so because they had a tattoo. That view seems a bit 1950s; we really need to move on if such things are still a serious barrier—[Interruption.] No, the tattoo was not on their forehead. It was not visible when they came to see me.
Not a swastika?
Nor was it a swastika. This a serious point, but a little one. I am not trying to make a big point. I was assured that it was a perfectly respectable tattoo—that is what his wife said, anyway—in a perfectly respectable place. I am just trying to make the point that there should be no artificial barriers to people joining.
On borough numbers, Southwark has the third largest number of police after Westminster and Lambeth. Lambeth has an anomalous Commissioner’s discretionary extra number, which Southwark has always been jealous of, because we too have important central London sites, not least City Hall. That agreement has been in place for some years. I repeat the plea—it is non-party political; it comes from the three borough MPs, the GLA member, councillors of both colours and our police commanders—that, until we get 1,000 police, we will not be able to police the borough properly. We have massive numbers of tourists, an increase in businesses and very good regeneration and redevelopment, and we are still up for increasing police numbers in Southwark. I am sure that other boroughs will make the same plea.
On estate strategy—buildings and things—no one likes the idea of police stations being closed. Several in my borough are under threat, and the community are not happy about that. I understand the argument for thinking through these issues, but Tower Bridge, Rotherhithe, Camberwell and East Dulwich are all under threat, and I must tell the Minister that we will not persuade the public unless better alternative provision is put in place before the present provision is threatened. A police station that was built 150 years ago might not be in the right place for policing now, but closing police stations without opening alternative provision is not the answer. There have been good initiatives: we have the Blue in Bermondsey, the police shop, which has been useful in its day.
I repeat that bureaucracy needs to be reduced, and the best way to do that is through information technology. We are all agreed that this must involve moving speedily towards the police being able to enter a person’s details as they arrest them and to hand over the rest of the process—ideally to civilians. It does not take a police officer to enter all the details on to a computer in a police station or to do all the jobs in and around the custody suite. I know that the Police Federation is unhappy about some of those proposals, but when a volunteer can do something, we should have a volunteer; when a civilian can do it, we should have a civilian. We should keep the police for the key policing tasks.
We need to negotiate a satisfactory agreement on two issues. It is never satisfactory for police officers to come in one minute and leave the next, whether they are community officers or borough commanders. The tenure issue is really important: people should be given enough contact—in a way that is compatible with their career—to enable them really to be part of the community, and to stay if they want to. People should be rewarded financially if they stay, as much as if they go somewhere else, if they are doing the policing job well. And, of course, they have to answer the phone when they are called. My hon. Friend made the point that, unless the police are really responsive when people call, people will not believe that they are doing the job properly.
It is always a difficult issue, but I support Millwall, not West Ham, and am proud to do so. We nearly got into the play-offs, but not quite. We will be on our way up again soon, and the FA cup final will come round again, and I hope that next time we will win it. At the other end of the spectrum, on my constituency boundary, I have the Ministry of Sound, which was the target of the prospective attack discussed in the Crevice trial the other day.
We have never come to a happy accommodation about how to negotiate the extra policing that the private sector needs for its events. There is a certain public duty to make sure that people going to football, rugby or tennis events get looked after. An additional responsibility might have to be borne, however, by the person putting on the event and making money out of it. I am keen that the position should not be as unclear as it is now. Responsible businesses are always willing to pay their contribution, but we must make sure that that is also shared as a public responsibility. Sport, events, clubs, bars and social life are as important a part of London’s success as its commerce.
I thank the three police services and, through the Home Office, encourage them to develop their good initiatives. As everybody has said, however, there should be no complacency. There is far too much crime, and not nearly enough detection; we have a long way to go.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on an issue that is often uppermost in the minds of my constituents and is one of my top priorities as an MP.
There is a great deal of concern about crime in my part of Wandsworth, which is Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. I have been out on the beat with my local police, as, I am sure, other Members have. Last week, I met police at both the police station in Putney—which was open when I went there—and a new base, which is welcomed by police, in the Roehampton area on the Alton estate. There were some problems with its opening, but it is finally now open, and I hope that there will be a much quicker response to crime on that estate as a result of officers being on site.
I want to discuss the statistics briefly before making my main points. It is not playing politics to point out the limitations of the statistics. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise and take steps to address that if we are to have good information on policing and crime on which informed decisions can be taken, both in this place and by local borough commanders at the grass roots.
The briefing sent out by the commissioner was a classic case: what appeared to be a clear-cut story of crime falling across London was highly challengeable in a number of areas, and could be interpreted to give exactly the opposite impression when combined with other figures. The front page stated, “Crime continues to fall”, and then underneath in brackets—probably in font size 4—were the total notifiable offences. Three years of figures were provided. In 2004-05, just over 1 million offences were notified. In 2005-06, 984,000 offences were notified. Last year, 921,000 offences were notified.
Let us look, however, at the British crime survey figures used in the latest Home Office statistical bulletin, “Crime in England and Wales 2005-06”. To remind Members of its purpose, page 1 states:
“This bulletin brings together statistics from the British crime survey and crimes recorded by the police to provide a comprehensive account of the latest patterns and trends in the main high volume crimes.”
Therefore, it does precisely what we need in bringing together recording and the British crime survey. Page 57 of the document clearly shows, if we compare it with the previous year’s document, that the overall recording of crime, which is reflected in the British crime survey, seems to have gone down from 32 to 30 per cent., which is almost a 10 per cent. fall. If we applied that to the figures that I read out for 2004-05 and 2005-06—the years to which the 32 per cent. and 30 per cent. figures refer—we would expect to see a fall in crime, because we would expect to see the underlying level of crime less reported in last year’s statistics than in those of the year before. Had the drop from 32 per cent. to 30 per cent. been reflected in the figures, we should have seen crime in London falling not from 1,015,000 offences in 2004-05 to 984,000 in 2005-06—which the commissioner says represents a success—but to 951,675. That suggests to me that during those two periods the amount of underlying crime in London has increased. We do not have the statistical bulletin for 2006-07, which would help us to understand what last year’s figures mean. It will probably not be published until July 2007.
I was told earlier that I was picking holes in the statistics. I recall that when crime as recorded by the police rose during the first few years of the Labour Government, the Government’s main explanation was that people were reporting more crime. It seems that the same logic does not apply when crime is falling. I do not criticise the Metropolitan police, but I do wonder whether we have a clear picture of what is happening in the city when such a small amount of crime makes it into the figures recorded by the police. The bulletin, which refers to the whole country, suggests that just 30 per cent. of crime is recorded, but I think the position may be much worse, particularly in London. We know that in London crime is committed disproportionately more against young people, particularly secondary school children aged between 11 and 16. I myself know from a freedom of information request that I issued last year that the victims of a third of muggings in London during that year were secondary school children, and also that nearly 49 people suspected of carrying out muggings were themselves aged between 11 and 16.
Younger children are far less likely to report crime, for all sorts of understandable reasons. They are often concerned about what will happen to them. They are scared of becoming involved in a legal process that they do not really understand, which could lead to their appearing in court and having to give evidence. For many teenagers that is an understandably scary prospect. Bulletins of this kind should really carry a “health warning”. Perhaps we should agree that when we discuss crime statistics in future, we should make clear what the recorded statistics are and what is the level of recording, so that we can better understand whether or not we are seeing an holistic picture.
I know that detection rates in London have risen, and that is welcome. Of course a sceptic might say that, because a little less crime is being recorded, the crime that is making it into the figures may have a more compelling evidence base, and that is why people are going to the police. However, we need to be clear about the overall level of crime in London that may be being addressed. We know that about 21 per cent. of muggings make it into recorded police figures. We also know that the police will detect those responsible for around 13 to 14 per cent. of the muggings that they record. When the two figures are put together, it suggests that across London perhaps 2 to 3 per cent. of suspects are ever detected. The total crime figures reveal a similar pattern. If across London about 30 per cent. of crime is recorded and there is an overall detection rate of 21 per cent., that suggests that perhaps only 5 or 6 per cent. of the total crime that is being committed is ever addressed by the police—partly because they are not able to address all crime. I know how hard my local police work in tackling crime, so I do not think that such figures have anything to do with lack of effort by the police.
I raise those points because we have discussed why there is a massive gap between what the public think and what the statistics show. I suggest that the argument I have just outlined goes a long way towards explaining why there is a huge chasm between what people think about crime and the evidence of the crime statistics. It might well be the case that the public do not want to hear discussion in this House about reassurance policing and whether we should try not to concern people unnecessarily about crime, but that what they want to hear is a sensible debate about the fact that far too much crime goes unaddressed, and also that crime is endemic in certain areas.
In large tracts of the country and many of our constituencies there is not a substantial amount of crime, but I am concerned about the areas where there is a lot of crime, and I am also concerned that in some areas crime is endemic. If it is being tackled to the extent that I have outlined in terms of actual crime and detection rates, it is not at all surprising that people are so concerned.
A clear trend has emerged over the past decade, which is revealed in the figures. Crime has moved out of the home and on to the street. That is understandable because the economics of burglary have fundamentally changed. It is a lot harder to get into people’s houses. Home Office statistics on security measures show that there have been dramatic rises in the proportion of people with burglar alarms—that has risen by 50 per cent.—and with deadlocks. The proportion of people with window locks has risen from 68 per cent. in 1996 to 85 per cent. The proportion of people with light timers and sensors has risen from 39 per cent. in 1996 to 52 per cent. People are taking responsibility for making sure that their property is safe, which we all welcome. People are taking responsibility for making sure that their cars are safe. It is difficult to find a model of car that is currently in production that is manufactured without an immobiliser. Therefore, the supply of burglary opportunities is lower than in the past.
There has also been decline on the demand side. The prices of brand-new electronic goods at outlets such as Currys and Dixons have fallen. People can now buy a brand-new television for well under £100. Therefore, there is no second-hand market in stolen goods in the same way as there was 10 or 20 years ago. What would a criminal prefer to do—take a plasma TV out of a house in my constituency and try to lug it down the street unnoticed, or spend the afternoon on Putney high street stealing people’s mobile telephones, a considerable number of which they could store on their body before that was noticed?
Crime opportunities in the home have reduced, and therefore crime has moved out on to the street. There has been an increase in youth-on-youth crime because on our streets it is young people who have the richest pickings on them. Unfortunately, because of this trend they are on the front line of crime, especially in our city.
One of the key questions that we must ask is whether that was predictable. There was a long period of time when we were taking officers away from neighbourhood policing duties. Now, there is a trend to return them to such duties, which is welcome. It started too late, but I am very thankful that it did finally start.
I want briefly to discuss the role of gangs in youth-on-youth crime. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but I would welcome his visiting my constituents who live on the Alton estate, because they feel very strongly about this subject. There is no doubt that the safer neighbourhoods initiative is working throughout much of London. It is not a new concept; rather, it is the concept of beat policing re-branded. As we know, beat policing worked for many years. Only in recent times has it been rescinded; thankfully, it is now being brought back on board.
Gangs are a massive problem. I have several in my constituency, one of which actually has a MySpace page. I ask the Minister to give me guidance. If I can prove a definitive link between members of that gang and criminal activity, will he take steps to get that page removed from the MySpace website? So far as I can see, the page projects that gang, which I am not prepared to name, as a cool network of friends, although I should point out that it has a “rest in peace” memorial to one of its members, who was knifed to death in Mitcham last year.
The reality is that those gangs of teenagers dovetail neatly into the local drugs economy, which the theft of iPods, mobiles and other such low-level crime often feeds. We have asked why young people are joining gangs. It is clearly a highly complex issue, but there is no doubt that the rise in statutory overcrowding in housing means that far more children are not in their homes when they are not in school and are therefore hanging around on the streets, rather than playing on computers at home or meeting their friends at their homes, which is what used to happen. As a result, children growing up on some of our estates are far more likely to be in bigger groups of friends, which can become more gang-related as the lowest-common-denominator behaviour seems to prevail.
This issue is a concern, and I share the view expressed today that we need to look more seriously at behaviour patterns in the summer months. Examination of the youth justice system shows that the population of young offender institutions rises in the winter months. That increase perhaps emanates from crimes that were committed in spring and summer months, but which take time to work through the system. So there is hard evidence to suggest that the more that we give young people to do during the summer months, particularly when they are out of school, the better.
I want briefly to discuss how all those issues impact on my constituency. I noted with interest the comments of my colleague the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan). I fundamentally disagree with his analysis of the crime-related problems that we see across Wandsworth; however, I am probably best off confining my comments to my constituency. My constituents are concerned at the fact that our borough has some 80 fewer trained officers with arresting powers than we had a decade ago. Those numbers are being replenished—but with police community support officers. We welcome PCSOs of themselves. Everybody recognises that they have a valuable role to play in policing our streets and in improving links with our communities, particularly with schools. Given that a third of mugging victims are secondary school kids, and that half of those muggings are probably carried out by such children, we can see that the relationship between local police and schools is probably one of the most important in the whole community.
PCSOs have a vital role to play, but we have become reliant on them as a resource, which I find questionable. I hear the statistics bandied about on how many officers there are across London, but we have not seen more arresting officers in Wandsworth. We have some 80 fewer officers who can arrest people for committing crimes than we had a decade ago. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in his place to respond if he disagrees with me. He said that the problem was the formula, but in that case, as an MP, I should challenge that formula. It is perverse that we should have fewer arresting officers and that the formula does not take better account of the demographics. Wandsworth has the youngest demographic of any London borough and London has the youngest demographic of any part of the country. Young people are far less likely to report crime, so my borough suffers disproportionately more from under-reporting, but that is not reflected in the formula. We should match police resources with where they are needed, but if we do that solely on recorded numbers without considering the reasons why crime is not reported, we are kidding ourselves if we think that the resources are going to the right places.
Another example is the recent announcement of additional PCSOs for some wards. As we have heard, the standard model for a safer neighbourhood team is the 1-2-3 model of one sergeant, two constables and three PCSOs. However, for some wards, generally those with more than 14,000 residents, the model is expanded, with six PCSOs. We have had some of those extra PCSOs in three of my wards in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. However, they do not include Roehampton, the only ward that has had a murder in it in the past six months. That ward also has Europe’s largest council estate and is isolated on the edge of Richmond park, so it does not get police cars passing on their way to deal with other crimes in London.
There is always something surreal about hearing Wandsworth Tories protest about lack of resources. Wandsworth gets a huge advantage under the area cost adjustment, as it gets some £22 million more than it deserves. Why does not the council put some money in if there are real concerns, as other councils are doing?
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that having paid our part of the policing precept and getting fewer police officers, we should have to fund more officers through the local taxpayer?
I would like the hon. Lady to answer the question that I put to her. I intervened on her and I would like her to say what Wandsworth council is doing to address the issues she raises.
Wandsworth council is working closely with the police to make the case for more resources. The reduction in police officers in my area is not a gap that the council should have to plug because Wandsworth taxpayers are not getting good value for money after it has been handed over to the Mayor. It is not acceptable to take officers away from an area and expect the council to plug the gap. Apparently, it is okay for some areas to have fewer officers. I mentioned Roehampton, which has several crime issues. People from the gang I just mentioned have been seen on the local estate, which already has a gang, but it is worrying if it is now linking up with the bigger gang based in Wandsworth. As I said, the estate does not have passing police cars able to respond quickly, but the area has the bare minimum complement of safer neighbourhood officers compared to other wards. That is ludicrous.
My local inspector is responsible for looking after policing in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. He could resolve matters if he were able to reallocate his PCSOs and constables to Roehampton, but that is not possible. He can move his officers temporarily, but he cannot reallocate them permanently.
That is ludicrous. We are always talking about intelligence-led policing, but no one seems to want to rely on the intelligence of local police inspectors. That is a huge problem, because my inspector can put resources into the Roehampton estates only as and when he can justify doing so. The result is that that ward does not have the police officers that it needs, who can take responsibility for dealing with what is happening there and develop clear links with the community. If that were to happen, it might be possible for them to tackle crime in the area over the long term.
Many of my constituents do not feel safe, either in their homes or when they are out. I make no apologies that that is not what contributors to the debate are meant to say. I know that we are all supposed to say that everything in London is rosy, but many of my constituents have given up reporting serious crimes. That is not necessarily because they think that the police are not interested, but because they are scared about what will happen if they do report crimes.
The safer neighbourhood model of beat policing can be very successful, but the problem is that, in those areas of London where they are most needed, the safer neighbourhood teams and panels do not work. The one in Roehampton has broken down because residents know that gang members go to the meetings. As a result, they feel unsafe and are simply not prepared to get involved. Some of my constituents who reside on the Alton estate are not prepared even to be seen talking to police officers. They do not want officers to knock on their doors because they are scared of reprisals.
Those are genuine problems, and obviously I am not happy about them. It might be argued that local people should be able to go and talk to the police, and it would be nice if they felt that they could, but they do not feel that. It is clear that we need to find more sophisticated ways to develop safer neighbourhoods in those very difficult areas where people are scared to get involved—even though that is what they have to do if they are to help the police help them.
Finally, we should not forget the impact that crime has on small businesses and economic regeneration. It is a blight that impacts shopkeepers as well as residents. The people who run shops in shopping parades such as the one in Danebury avenue in my constituency are very worried about the levels of crime that they face. Their problems are the same as those faced by residents, which means that shopkeepers are scared about what might happen to them if they make a stand.
For example, one local shopkeeper caught a person shoplifting, and told a policeman who happened to be walking past. The officer held the suspect in his grip, and asked the shopkeeper what she wanted him to do. He was prepared to take a statement, but the shopkeeper told him to let the suspect go as she was scared about what might happen to her if she went ahead with a prosecution. She knew that the person involved was a member of the local gang, and that he would not be alone the next time he visited her shop. On the contrary: he would have many others with him, and she knew that, even if she called the police, they would not arrive in time to prevent her from being badly beaten up and her business trashed.
I am not sorry to have been less than consensual this afternoon, because I know that many problems exist. It is not my duty to spend my time reassuring residents in my constituency—rather, I must represent the concerns that they put to me. That is what I have tried my best to do today, and I hope that I have succeeded in making the Minister aware of them.
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for missing the opening speech in this important debate. I was in my constituency where I was pleased to greet, for the first time ever, the Mayor of London, who despite being Mayor for the past seven years has never before visited my constituency. He went to the bus garage in North street where he met staff and greeted 18 new police community support officers who will be working throughout Romford and the London borough of Havering.
I was pleased to give the Mayor of London a little badge like the one I am wearing—the town crest of Romford—to remind him that Romford is part of Greater London. Although he has not visited Romford until now, it is important that he and the Greater London authority do not forget areas of outer London, particularly Romford, when resources are being allocated. Until now, statistics show that Romford has been forgotten; we have one of the lowest rates of police cover per head of population in London. As the Minister knows, Harrow, too, is rather low down the scale; the boroughs of Havering, Harrow, Richmond, including Barnes, and Bromley, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) knows, are the four lowest in London. Police resources are unfairly spread throughout Greater London and their allocation does not take into account all the circumstances, so I urge the Minister and the Government to take action to ensure fairer allocation of resources so that places such as the London borough of Havering, and Romford in particular, are given the police cover we deserve and pay for.
My constituents are constantly angry because they cannot get a policeman to come out when a crime is committed, and they rarely see policemen on the beat. Although CSOs and safer neighbourhood teams have helped, we have not nearly the amount of police cover we need.
Police are needed for London-wide events; during President Bush’s visit to London a few years ago, I stood in the Mall to cheer him as he passed and was amazed to see loads of policemen with “KD” on their lapel, which signifies the London borough of Havering. That was a classic example. When there is a state visit, a huge football match or an event of note in London, police from outer London are dragged into the centre and we lose cover in areas such as Romford where we pay for it and need it.
Our PCSOs do an excellent job. I welcome their presence on the streets of London and I welcome safer neighbourhood teams. However, we should not look at the situation through rose-tinted glasses. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) highlighted many points about statistics and the failings in the system with which I entirely agree. New PCSOs will help; a visible presence on the streets can help to deter crime and give local residents reassurance that somebody is watching over them to ensure that crime is kept to the minimum. However, being a PCSO should be a stepping-stone to becoming a fully fledged policeman. It is no good PCSOs finishing work at 6 o’clock if there is no one to do the job in the evening. We need 24-hour policing and PCSOs need a career path that allows them to become police constables.
If I have understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, I am concerned. Some of the most effective CSOs in Richmond and Kingston are people who have come towards the end of their career, perhaps in business, and decided that they want to give something back to the community. They are superb officers because they have experience, knowledge and the ability to connect. They are not looking to become policemen. I would be terrified to lose them, because they are the backbone of most effective teams.
I do not disagree at all. That is tremendous and if someone is looking for a retirement job, that is absolutely fine. However, the vast majority of the community support officers that I have come across are at the opposite end of the scale; they are younger people who want to progress. I spoke to one only last week in Lawns Park in my constituency and he told me that he had become a PCSO in the hope that that could lead to his becoming a policeman. We should encourage the people who embark on that career to go further. I have spoken to senior policemen locally and they all agree that we need more police with full powers. Let us not have more community support officers at the expense of police who have the full powers to do the job. That is what people want, and most police community support officers would like the opportunity to progress.
On safer neighbourhood teams, I hope that the Minister will take on board the point that it is unbelievably silly—if I can put it that way—to base community support officers and safer neighbourhood teams on local government ward boundaries. Whoever came up with that idea needs to go back to the drawing board. We should base the teams on proper local communities. We should not base a police team on ward boundaries that depend on electoral numbers and that cut through roads and communities. I could give many examples of how administrative, ward and borough boundaries cut through things, but I will not because we do not have much time. However, community support officers cannot step to the other side of the road if it is not in their area. We need to base neighbourhood teams on neighbourhoods and not ward boundaries, which make no sense at all when it comes to policing.
I have raised this issue with my borough commander, Chief Superintendent Sultan Taylor, who I commend for his service to the London borough of Havering. He does a magnificent job. He and I have discussed the issue and put forward ideas about having teams that are based on proper communities with defined boundaries, but we cannot do that because we have to base the teams on ward boundaries. Quite what local government electoral boundaries have got to do with neighbourhood policing is beyond me. The system needs to be changed, and I hope that the Minister will look into the issue and take action.
We will have more effective policing if it is based on a proper community such as Collier Row, Rush Green, Gidea Park or Ardleigh Green in my constituency. If we simply base the teams on artificial ward boundaries with artificial names, we will have to return to the drawing board so that we can base the teams on proper neighbourhoods.
Three recent incidents in my constituency have caused me much concern. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), because he made it clear that we should be looking to improve people’s quality of life. Yes, crime is going down in certain respects—in other respects, it is not—but people do not see that. They think that we are talking about meaningless statistics that are not relevant to what is happening on the ground.
The first example relates to what is happening in Collier Row, a medium-sized shopping area in Romford. Huge numbers of incidents of antisocial, yobbish and loutish behaviour have taken place. There is graffiti and vandalism, but it took a long time for the local council to install CCTV cameras. I commend it because it has now done so, and in particular I commend Councillors Sandra Binion, Geoffrey Starns, Robby Misir, Melvin Wallace and Peter Gardner. They fought for that CCTV, and such systems must be rolled out much more quickly in local shopping centres so that we can tackle youths who make people’s life a misery.
The second example relates to Havering college in Ardleigh Green road in my constituency. Recently there were four knifings on one day, with gangs of hooligans coming to the area from outside. Three people were stabbed and four injured in total. Two weeks ago, I attended a huge public meeting at the college attended by nearly 300 people, all of whom are furious at the lack of a response by the police and the college to tackle the problem. However, it goes on. People want to live in peaceful residential areas, and they do not expect to be subjected to violence imported from outside. I am pleased to say that the chief superintendent is taking action, along with the principal of the college, but that is closing the door once the horse has bolted. Frankly, it is too little, too late. We need discipline. We need to ensure that educational establishments do not tolerate people coming in from other areas and committing crimes, particularly violent crimes.
The third recent incident was a shooting in Ardleigh Green—a drug-related murder. Those sorts of things are going on even in areas of outer London where one would not expect them to happen. Action needs to be taken. I recently visited the shops in Hornchurch road with local councillor Georgina Galpin to talk to shopkeepers who are being plagued by yobs, vandals and crime. Getting the local police to come down and take serious action has been difficult. I am pleased to say that they are now taking the issue seriously. More action needs to be taken. We need greater resources and a fairer spread of resources to the outer London boroughs.
Before I sit down and allow the Minister to respond to the points that have been made this afternoon, I have three final points to make. First, please let us give the police back the power that they need to do the job. Let them get out and do the job that they are meant to do, instead of writing paperwork all day long. Let us give them the power and respect that they deserve to tackle crime and criminals, so that people can have confidence in the police once again.
Secondly, let us have discipline. I have not heard that word this afternoon from too many people, but I hope that there will be more discipline in our schools and educational establishments, and of course at home. It is vital that young people are brought up to know the difference between right and wrong, and that the punishment fits the crime.
That is my final point: we need to have punishments that deter people. We need judges and courts to give out sentences that mean something so that, at the end of the day, people are frightened to commit crime and they know that it is unacceptable in our society. If we have a wishy-washy approach to crime and disorder and if we allow the police to be bogged down in paperwork and political correctness, how on earth do we ever expect to beat crime in our country?
With the leave of the House, I will briefly respond to the debate. On the whole, it has been a reasonable and measured debate that has covered some serious matters. It goes to show that the point that was made what seems like a terribly long time ago about having a broader state-of-London debate once a year, or at some other interval, was a point well made. We should have such a debate. Perhaps we can refine it so that it consists of London MPs, or at least give London MPs some sort of preference. Many serious issues have been raised—many of which, as some have suggested, have drawn together a broad consensus on where we need to go, although there have been quite a few discordant notes.
Broadly, what people in London want from policing is a degree of consistency of application across all boroughs, with a degree of flexibility for local circumstances. What I said earlier about Bexley safer neighbourhood teams differing from the teams in Hammersmith, Harrow or Richmond is perfectly okay. Those teams need to reflect the concerns and priorities of the local communities and, as Members have said, the geography of the areas. That is fine. They also need a degree of sustainability. People will see through gimmicks, such as those that rely on section 106 agreements or taking money out of more deprived communities—north Fulham and the new deal for communities were mentioned. They want deliverability and sustainability throughout their communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and St. John’s Wood—not St. John’s Wood, but somewhere round there. [Interruption.] North Kensington—where I was born. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) made a point about sophistry and statistics. Anyone can start with assorted base years and then make up the arguments that they choose to. That is not terribly helpful.
It is useful to start from the premise of broad statistics on which we can agree. We can all go into the realms of making utter assertions about under-reporting that are based on no facts at all and work back from them to invent any sort of fantasy that we want. Assertion is a wonderful thing, while assertion plus the sort of privilege afforded in this place makes for all sorts of wonderful speeches in the Chamber, but they do not mean anything in substance or make a useful contribution to our deliberations. However, people are of course free to make such speeches. We should start from areas on which there is a degree of agreement. Although the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) might have cited figures, she irresponsibly drew from them assertions—they were only assertions—that were not based on any sort of facts or evidence.
The points of substance that were raised in the debate were well made and the MPA and the commissioner should listen to them. Although I cannot speak for everywhere in London, even though I have been around much of it, I do not accept, certainly in north-west London, that the way in which the roles of safer neighbourhoods teams are defined is rigid, either within boroughs or across boroughs. Many of my ward teams work together in the borough because two wards are united by a piece of common geography, such as a park.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I will not.
Given the nature of north-west London suburbia, especially in my constituency, which has the Edgware road as one boundary and the Kenton road to the south as another, cross-borough talks and discussions take place and the safer neighbourhoods teams work together. Rigidity would be rooted in the borough commander, not the system.
It is not terribly mature to say that someone who has never been to Chicago cannot comment on the Chicago model of policing, which I thought was a bit of a low point of the comments made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). I take on board completely a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North: there is an utter corrosiveness about those who offer nothing but doom and gloom and suggest that nothing works, that everything is terrible, that there are no lessons to learn from anywhere, that there is nothing positive to say about policing at all, that everyone is being let down, that the policing model does not work and that everything is corrupt or bankrupt. That is not the experience of policing of most people in London.
I am not saying that if someone disagrees with that position, everything is suddenly smugness and complacency. In all the productive contributions that we heard today, I do not think that there was any smugness or complacency. Everyone, including me and the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) and for Arundel and South Downs, suggested that wherever we are, we certainly have more to do and a lot of improvements to make. No matter what stage we have reached on driving out unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy, there is still more to do. Whatever the successes in many aspects of the Met, there is, of course, much more to do. I did not hear any smug contributions.
I accept that the Met needs to keep up with new and emerging areas of crimes to the same extent as dealing with existing crimes. The hon. Member for Richmond Park and others made a point about the effect of high-end and low-end business crime on our small retailers. We could add the growing problem of e-crime to that. Such crimes have massive financial and material consequences for people, especially those with small businesses, but they are seen as victimless crimes in the broader sense that they are not part of the violent crime about which we are all worried. None the less, I accept that we should be doing more to address such crime.
One hopes that the forces abutting London are working with safer neighbourhoods teams in London to try to avoid displacement, about which a fair point was made. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler), who is soon to be the new Member for Brent Central, correctly defended the record of the police in Brent. Again, in Brent, some people from the community and other parties have taken the line that everything is doom and gloom, that nothing works and that everything is terrible, but they are slowly being brought around because huge achievements have been made in Brent, where the police have really got down to working among the community so that they can reflect people’s concerns.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) about liaising with areas beyond the riparian boroughs when it comes to issues as important as Blackwall tunnel and when it will close, and I will pass that back; that is an entirely fair point. I am grateful for his comments about PCSOs, too. Most people had a degree of scepticism about the initiative at the start, and it has been a learning process for many people. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park about the fact that many fine PCSOs use the job as a stepping-stone and become full-blown constables, but there are many more who do not choose that route, and not necessarily because they are at the end of their careers. Some want to give something back early in their career and then go on to do something else that they want to do. It is precisely that variety among PCSOs, and the fact that they are not simply reflective of the police force, that is much of their great strength.
There is a huge debate within the police family, in London and elsewhere, about whether PCSOs should, as some suggest, be subject to the same fitness requirements as police officers. I think that that would be counter-productive in terms of ensuring that people from a variety of backgrounds come to be PCSOs. If they are not doing a police job, and they are not the full equivalent of a warranted officer, they should not simply reflect the police. However, as I said, many PCSOs can and do go on to become police officers, and that is good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) made a number of points about how policing in general needs to fit in with, and be seen in the context of, everything else that we do. People—mostly Opposition Members—wax lyrical about what we need to do about rowdy and antisocial behaviour, and other things, and then do not deliver when it comes to the legislation passed by the House. Similarly, in the borough, the Opposition parties do not deliver out on the streets. When devices and tools are put in front of them, they are all dismissed as gimmicks, which they profoundly are not. I take my hon. Friend’s point about the fact that all that the Met and the Government are doing on counter-terrorism goes right to the heart of community cohesion, in the broader sense, and needs to be seen alongside what is happening daily and weekly in communities.
This is not a cop-out on my part, but although I take the point made about the balance between the allocation for inner London and the allocation for outer London, that is a matter for the Metropolitan Police Authority and the RAF—I mean the infamous RAF, the resource allocation formula, rather than the more famous RAF. As the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) said much earlier in our deliberations, the question of what elements go into that formula has been—I do not say flogged to death, but at least considered, reviewed and constantly re-reviewed. I know that people have tried to deal with the issue in part, but the difficulty is that we can no longer talk about affluent outer London and poor inner London. Both have changed significantly, so that there are affluent pockets of inner London, and very poor pockets of outer London, and I would say that that is probably not picked up as readily as it should be in Government statistics generally, but I would say that, because I represent an area of outer London. That is a fair point.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the improvement of the British Transport police more generally overland. South Eastern Trains will always be the last to improve, because of the Connex connection, and because of the way in which it got to where it is now, but that improvement will happen.
The points raised by colleagues about more readily available local statistics were well made. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) alluded to the Smith review on statistics, on which there was a cross-party presence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) insisted that it be cross-party, because it was about Government statistics. That review has reported and we are working through it with a range of interested parties. From memory, I think that we will report more formally on how we think we should go forward on the issue when we report on the July crime statistics, but we will take it forward only on a consensual basis.
There is a good-news story to tell about the Metropolitan police. There are difficulties, but we should, collectively, be proud of what it is doing. Yes, we should always demand far, far more from it—that is right and proper—but we should do it in a constructive fashion, rather than in the dirty little doom-and-gloom, “everything’s terrible and nothing’s been right since Dixon of Dock Green died” fashion that we have heard today. We have had a constructive debate, and we have the consensus that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs talked about. We should be able to take that forward, both in terms of policing in London and more generally. I commend him for parts, and only parts, of the 250-page report that he so eloquently advertised about 10 times in his opening address.
It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]
Adjourned accordingly at Six o’clock.