Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Crime has fallen in each of the past five years. It has fallen by an average of 5.5 per cent. in the past three years, despite what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) said in his opening remarks. Those are the irrefutable facts about policing in London.
We can bandy figures around, but a trawl around the websites of Conservative local authorities in London makes interesting reading. They are not consistent with anything that we have heard from the Opposition today. Barnet council says that it has seen a 17.5 per cent. reduction in crime between 2005 and 2008. Croydon council boasts that the borough has experienced a 5.2 per cent. decrease in recorded violent crime. Enfield council states that offences have
“fallen by nearly 10 per cent. between 2003-04 and 2006-07”.
We are grateful to Councillor Greg Smith of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who welcomed the safer neighbourhoods teams rolled out by Ken Livingstone. He said:
“More Bobbies in Fulham Broadway and Shepherds Bush Green are resulting in more arrests and less crime, with no evidence of any displacement to neighbouring wards. We have seen some staggering results, for example, in Shepherds Bush, robbery is down by a colossal 46 per cent and in Fulham Broadway, total crime is down by 10 per cent, with burglary down 27 per cent.”—
Justine Greening: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Clive Efford: I am coming to you, don’t you worry.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to use the correct parliamentary language.
Clive Efford: I am coming to the hon. Lady.
Harrow council carried out a crime survey and found that 71 per cent. of residents surveyed felt safe. The council said that
“residents’ fear of crime, and perceptions of anti social behaviour, have shown significant improvement year on year for the last three years.”
Havering council—the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) might want to use this when he sums up—states:
“Although Havering is an extremely safe place to live, the fear of crime is higher than the probability of being a victim of such a crime.
We are committed to tackling fear of crime through educating the public about the facts and ensuring they are not overtly frightened by stories that might appear in the newspapers and on television or the radio.”
I say to the hon. Member for Hornchurch that we could add “in Hansard”, could we not?
Hillingdon says on its website— [ Interruption. ] I am quoting your colleagues in support of my argument.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want to keep intervening on the hon. Gentleman, but he must use the correct parliamentary language.
Clive Efford: Thank you for correcting me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am using the colleagues of the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) to highlight the fact that they do not agree with the arguments being put by Conservative Benchers.
Hillingdon council boasts that
“crime figures are at a 5-year low. Personal robbery is at its lowest for 3 years, vehicle crime is at its lowest for 5 years and assaults are at their lowest for 5 years.”
Kensington and Chelsea council says that burglaries have been “slashed”, and that
“Kensington and Chelsea residents are less likely to be a victim of burglary today than at any other time this century.”
I come to Redbridge council—is anyone from Redbridge? The council welcomes the reduction in street crime by a third and attributes that to the safer transport teams, which are part-funded by the Mayor of London.
Wandsworth council says:
“Despite recorded crime falling in the UK and burglary at its lowest for decades in London, research shows that a third of people believe crime has risen ‘a lot’.
By helping to make people feel safer in their community, Safer Neighbourhoods Teams will provide reassurance to help bridge this gap.”
Clearly, Wandsworth council regrets the fact that Conservative members of the Greater London authority consistently voted against the Mayor’s budgets that introduced the safer neighbourhoods teams.
Justine Greening: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has finally allowed me to intervene, given that he has been talking about my constituency. I was trying to make the point that the crime survey that I carried out, to which more than 3,000 people responded, showed that people felt less safe in their area. The hon. Gentleman has failed to mention that my council and I, as the local MP, have campaigned tirelessly to get back the lost police officers—we have had fewer police officers over the past decade. The hon. Gentleman is selectively taking points from what the councils are saying and giving an erroneous picture to suit his own ends.
Clive Efford: I am slightly confused, as I used the words of the Conservative-run Wandsworth council—“despite recorded crime falling”. What is erroneous about that? Is the hon. Lady saying that the information on the council’s website is erroneous? Does Wandsworth council want to mislead people about crime falling in the area? Is it wrong for it to claim that the incidence of burglary is at its lowest for decades?
The council states that research shows that a third of people believe that crime has risen, and that is consistent with the point made by the hon. Member for Putney, but it also says that the safer neighbourhoods teams will provide reassurance. Where is the consistency in the Opposition approach to these matters?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend began his contribution by referring to Barnet council, but I think that the figures that he gave are out of date. That is not surprising, as the up-to-date figures show that crime in Barnet has fallen by 24 per cent.
Clive Efford: There we are: crime in London is falling even as we speak.
We need to put the figures in context, and to do that we have to recall that there once was a Conservative Government. That is not easy to do, but we must not forget the lessons that we learnt at the time. Under the Conservatives, police numbers in London peaked at 28,455, but then, on 1 September 1994, the Government implemented the Sheehy report, and police pay was cut.
When I was first a Member of Parliament, two police officers who worked in Camden borough visited me in my surgery. One was earning £4,600 a year less than the other because he had been employed after the Sheehy report was implemented. What impact did Sheehy have? By March 1995—six months after it was adopted—police numbers in London had fallen by 1,800.
When this Labour Government came to office in 1997, the police training college at Hendon was empty. Police officers could not be recruited because they were not being paid enough. The first thing that this Government had to do was sort out police pay. As soon as we made the money available to employ officers, police numbers started to rise.
Police numbers in London have increased consistently under this Labour Government, and crime has fallen in response. Since 2002-03, almost every type of recorded crime has fallen, in line with the extra police numbers funded by this Labour Government and our Labour Mayor.
Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is interested in history, so will he ask the Home Secretary to tell the House about the impact that the Government’s failure earlier in the year to backdate the police pay award has had on police recruitment and retention in London? Would not some more recent history be useful in the debate? After all, I am sure that he would not want to risk it being suggested that he was the pot calling the kettle black.
Clive Efford: I sometimes wonder where the Conservatives come from. If they ever talked to police officers in the community or knew anything about the safer neighbourhood teams, they might join me in complaining about the loss of our community support officers. The fact is that they are applying to become police officers.
If we are to have any consistency in safer neighbourhood teams, we cannot use them as a training ground for police officers. Intelligence about and knowledge of a local area cannot be built up in a few months, and if someone moves on rapidly they never get that intelligence and we never get the full effect of safer neighbourhood teams. My complaint is not about police numbers but about the churn in police community support officers. Many go on to become police officers, because we are recruiting more and more. That means that we lose the intelligence and the knowledge of local areas that we need, which are vital to safer neighbourhood teams.
Harry Cohen: My hon. Friend has made some very good points, but may I put it to him that he has not quite set out the whole picture of the history? For a start, he has missed out the fact that under the previous Conservative Government, overall crime doubled. Is that not a point that Londoners should take into account? Secondly, he seems to imply that police numbers have gone up because of police pay. That is certainly a factor, but is there not also an aspect of political will, from both the Government and the Mayor of London, who has put money for more police in his budget and his precept?
Clive Efford: Absolutely. The Mayor has to be commended for the resolute approach he has taken to delivering what people in London have told all of us, of whatever political persuasion, is their priority: community safety and more police on the streets. The Mayor has delivered that and had the political guts to stand up and say that if we are to have it, we must pay for it. He has put it in the precept, and people can see where the money has gone.
Angela Watkinson: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the matter of PCSOs? He said that he regretted that some are training to become police constables. Does he not think that it should be for each borough commander to decide the balance between PCSOs and constables and to allocate his own establishment budget, rather than have the decisions made centrally for him?
Clive Efford: I do not really see that as a major issue. The fact is that people would rather have police officers than PCSOs. We all understand that, but when people begin to understand the role of community support officers, they value them equally. PCSO numbers have grown rapidly in London, and people are getting used to them. Borough commanders should have some flexibility, but they should also be accountable to local communities. Communities should know what they are entitled to get, and having a model of safer neighbourhood teams helps. There are safer neighbourhood teams of different sizes in my constituency, due to the action of my local police commander. However, a minimum number should be set so that people understand what they are entitled to.
Angela Watkinson rose—
Mr. Dismore rose—
Clive Efford: If the hon. Lady does not mind, I shall give way to my hon. Friend and then make some progress.
Mr. Dismore: I have just a short point to confirm what my hon. Friend said about police recruitment. As he knows, I represent the area where the training college is situated. When I was first elected in 1997, recruits rattled around like peas in a pod. Once the pay went up, the training centre was full. That is anticipated to continue, and the police are about to take leases on a block of flats opposite, which is being developed into 250 flats for the foreseeable future. That shows that they anticipate that recruitment trend continuing, even though officers spend far less time at the police training college than they used to because they train more on the job.
Clive Efford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who illustrates the fact that there is more to recruiting police officers, and to the cost of doing so, than just paying for them. The infrastructure has to be put in place to get qualified police officers.
It is a shame that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) is not in the Chamber, because if he were he could intervene on me and clarify exactly what he was on about. He said that he wanted to get rid of stop and account forms. I hope that I did not hear my hon. Friend the Minister incorrectly, because I would find it extraordinary if we were to get rid of the forms completely. I went to see my borough commander and local inspector to talk about the forms and how we could get our safer neighbourhood teams and police officers out on the street, rather than having to spend too much time on bureaucracy. They sent downstairs to have the form brought up and we went through it. I said, “Wouldn’t you want to get rid of this form?” He said, “No, absolutely no way. This form provides us with a lot of intelligence. If we stop someone, take a brief description of them and later on find that a crime was committed by someone who fits their description, we have a record that we can follow up.” That approach has led to the clearing up of a lot of crime in local communities. The idea that the forms are a waste of time and resources is completely bogus. It is not accurate at all.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Conservatives would spend money on hand-held scanners, so will the police stop people in the street, scan them with no explanation, keep no record of who has been stopped and why and let them go on their merry way? When there is an incident the police will have no record of who has been stopped. If somebody wants to check why they were stopped and make a formal complaint there will be no formal record of what has taken place. It does not make sense. It does not add up. The Conservatives say that they want to get rid of bureaucracy and to make the police more effective, but they would take away a tool that is essential for the operational efficiency of the police. They claim that they want to make the police more accountable, but they would take away the form that allows an individual to check why they were stopped and what intelligence was gathered about them.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that by reducing police accountability over stop and search the Conservative party is aiming for a return to the bad old days of the 1980s when there was no trust between many communities and the police, which was a recipe for poor policing? Local Conservatives in my area have said exactly that, and it is to be deplored.
Clive Efford: I agree absolutely. People from all sections of our communities need confidence in their police force. Stop and search was one of the things that undermined not only the relationship between police and local communities but police efficiency. To go back to it would be a retrograde step.
As the Member of Parliament for Eltham, I paid close attention to the issues brought out by the Macpherson report. One of the factors that came out loud and clear from members of ethnic minority communities was that they wanted better and more police accountability. Woe betides anybody who wants to go back on that in the future.
My local authority wants to deal with the rise in crime among young people, which is clearly a problem. Young people are the victims of crime committed by young people and everyone is rightly concerned about that. My local authority will invest £1 million in setting up a taskforce to tackle the problem in partnership with the local police, but local Conservative councillors oppose the plan even though it is a priority for the whole community. If we ask people what concerns them most about crime in their community we realise that it is not necessarily fear of being a victim of crime; they are actually concerned about young people.
We are attempting to deal with the problem. Young people have been murdered in Greenwich and the council is responding, but the Conservative response to that attempt to work in partnership with the police is to oppose the £1 million investment and say that the Mayor should pay for the taskforce. That is okay, but I cannot see £1 million for tackling those crimes in Greenwich in the Conservative mayoral candidate’s budget for London—I cannot see it anywhere. Again, there is inconsistency and local opportunism from the Conservatives.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that the debate is taking place because the Conservative campaign for London Mayor has faltered, and the Conservatives are desperate to try to score some political points. Their candidate is fraying at the edges. In every public debate, he humiliates himself. The man has had an Eton and Oxbridge education but cannot add up; there is a £440,000 hole in his budget. He wants to pay for extra police community support officers, but the money is not there. There is a £140 million hole in his transport budget. Out of generosity, we should start a campaign to get back the money spent on his education, as it was clearly wasted. That is clearly the biggest crime to debate tonight. This debate is taking place because the Conservatives’ campaign has faltered, and we have proved why it has done so in this debate on crime in London.