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Mr. Paice: I understand that argument. The hon. Lady will not be surprised that I have had discussions on such matters with the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Met. However, it is not right to give support officers such powers. Having people out there in some uniform assisting the forces is fine, but they should not be given police powers other than perhaps the barest minimum, such as the ability to issue fixed-penalty notices.

I want to develop that argument and lead on to how we in opposition see the development of policing. I want to go back to first principles—indeed, to Sir Robert Peel. He set out nine principles of policing when he founded what we know as the modern police force. The seventh principle states:

His ninth principle was:

Those principles stand as true today as they did when Sir Robert Peel enunciated them.

We need to consider community policing not simply as people walking about the streets in uniform but as having a much more rounded function as custodians of the neighbourhood. It should be seen as important and effective. It should be seen as important by the officers, who should have a sense of possession of the community in which they work. I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with a former community officer of the year, PC Sweeny, who is currently seconded to the Home Office. His sense of pride in the community in Leeds that he policed, and where he had been born and brought up—his sense of possession—came through. That is a crucial factor.

Community policing, in its truest sense, needs to be seen as important and effective by the force at all levels, by the people who live and work in the area and by the

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public bodies that serve it. If it is to work, the community officer must also be able to take charge. He or she must be able to require things to happen, such as streets to be cleaned after drugs users, vandals or graffiti artists. He or she needs to be able to ensure that abandoned vehicles are removed, that broken windows and pavements are repaired. The force must be behind him or her to respond when there is a need for more officers.

Community policing must be seen as a critical part of policing by the officers themselves. As the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) suggested, it needs to be seen not as something that they do reluctantly and happily pass to civilians but as something that they want to do. It needs to be seen as part and parcel of an important police career structure.

There are those who say that crime is not all that bad, that people are unnecessarily afraid of it. I believe that to be a false excuse. As we know, only a quarter of crime is recorded anyway, but crime is not only about the headline stuff—murder, rape, burglary, street robbery. It includes the more minor offences of graffiti, some aspects of drugs, vandalism, intimidation and the threat of violence to anyone who is not prepared to roll over in front of the gangs and thugs that roam parts of our country. How many people can deny that they have crossed the street to avoid a particularly unsavoury character or group of characters or to avoid foul language and drunken behaviour?

The fact is that very few major criminals did not start life as minor criminals. The most staggering statistic concerns the number of children under 10 who have already entered the world of crime. They come almost entirely from broken homes, often with a succession of different father figures—I use the term loosely—in the home. They have often been abused by parents and by other children. They become bullies and start to nick each other's things. They join gangs which become more important to them than their family. They move on through assault to robbery, rape and worse. In the meantime, the people who live in those areas become more fearful and tormented. They have to adjust their lives and accept their lot, but they should not have to.

There are those who say, "Forget all this. Just get tough and lock them all up." Of course that has to play a part. Dealing with criminals—detecting, prosecuting, convicting and sentencing them—is critical. We have to remove criminals from society, but to do so exclusively achieves little. We know about the very high rates of recidivism. If we lock them up in prison, the majority turn back to crime. Amateurs become professionals. We must also reduce the flow of new criminals. It is like catching water in a bucket without adjusting the flow from the tap into the bucket. That is why I believe that there is a need for far more attention to be given to the holistic approach to community policing.

It has been said in other places that tolerance is a virtue, or so we would believe. When related to other people's views, race or religion, it is a virtue, and rightly so. However, we have allowed it to be extended to tolerating behaviour outside the norm and in doing so we have unwittingly contributed to the problem. By tolerating bad behaviour, we have given it licence to go further. The rundown housing estates did not start that way; disadvantaged communities were not always so. We have

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allowed the liberal view to prevail that children should be allowed to discover themselves and that families do not matter.

Geraint Davies: I have already said that 75 per cent. of people in prison were permanently excluded from school. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that putting those who are not achieving in school on the streets, where they are dislocated from education and society and end up in prison, is absurd? Surely the real issue is to provide intensive education for those people to get them back on track so that they do not overflow into our overpopulated jails and commit endless crimes on our streets.

Mr. Paice: Education is part of the solution but it is not the only solution. The problems facing these young kids are far wider than simply being excluded from school. Indeed, their behaviour in school and being excluded from it is probably a symptom rather than the fundamental cause. We must address education but we must also address the fundamental aspects of society that led to the problems that led to exclusion.

It is time we realised that we were wrong to have allowed these freedoms to prevail. All of us in our communities have a role to play—we must stop turning a blind eye. The role of the true community policeman is central to that. Working with local organisations—bringing together those dealing with education, social services and the other aspects of policing with local charities and the majority of good citizens—is the only way to reduce the flow, rather than simply addressing the stock of criminals.

Mr. Banks: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: No, I am about to finish.

That is the long-term way to address policing in this country. There is a long way to go. Many people say that it is too difficult and that we should not start, but unless we start we will never achieve it, and that bucketful of water will keep on overflowing and the problems that we face will increase day in, day out. As Sir Robert Peel said:

They have to work together.

10.48 am

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Rather scarily, I agreed with virtually everything that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said in his peroration about the role of the police in the community and the role of the community in supporting the police to outlaw the yobbish behaviour that is at first relatively minor but that can escalate into full-blown criminality.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in today's debate because this issue clearly concerns all our constituents. Crime and policing are consistently high priorities in all our constituencies. I want to talk about how crime is being tackled in my borough. I shall refer to some of the things that the commissioner has said recently and what he said to the Select Committee on Home Affairs in his response to the Police Reform Bill. Many people will have agreed, at least in spirit, with what Sir John had to say. His language may have been more colourful than some of us would have used, but he would receive much sympathy from people who feel that

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criminals go before the courts and often, for reasons usually incomprehensible to the rest of us, walk away again.

That said, Sir John did not perhaps hit all the right targets, and there may be something to say for examining what the Crown Prosecution Service is doing when it drops cases. Police officers find it frustrating to do all the paperwork in the station, send it to the CPS and, after months of delay, discover that the CPS has decided not to take the case forward. That is, of course, also most frustrating for the victims.

That is why the example of fast-tracking young offenders is so good. People see results more quickly, and the even greater benefit is that the young person is far less likely to commit crimes while waiting to come to trial or to commit second or third offences. I hope that the Minister can roll out that fast-tracking system for young offenders even more widely throughout the court system.

Lord Woolf's comments about discouraging magistrates and judges from sending people to prison because the prisons are overcrowded miss the point. The process needs to be speeded up, but we must ensure that those who commit crime are given the sentences that they deserve. Decisions on whether to send someone to prison should be based not on whether prisons are overcrowded but on whether the sentence is appropriate. I am much more inclined to agree on that with Sir John than I am with Lord Woolf.

I shall not go into arguments about figures on rising crime, except to say that as time passes the Opposition seem to forget how bad things were under their regime. When we point out that crime doubled under the Conservatives, they say that that does not apply if we look only at their last few years in office. Those of us who suffered 18 years of Conservative Government remember the pain from beginning to end.

Hon. Members who want crime to fall might want to examine some of the excellent initiatives that have been taken in Lewisham. People may be surprised to know that Lewisham is the safest borough in London. Crime has fallen by 6 per cent. over the past year, and one reason is the relationship between the local police, the borough council and the community at large. That partnership has worked extremely well in ensuring that the borough remains a safe place in which to live, work and learn.

The £1 million that the Government gave the borough for closed circuit television has helped. CCTV has been an outstanding success in the borough's shopping centres and elsewhere, and its use is being expanded. A local newspaper, News Shopper, has begun a campaign in which it publishes pictures from CCTV cameras to help the community to respond to incidents and give the police information to help them to catch the kind of yobbish criminals who begin with low-level crime and, if their activities are not nipped in the bud, go on to become serial criminals. That is a good example of how the local community can be encouraged to support the work of the police.

I praise the work of Lewisham police under the control of Borough Commander Mike Humphreys. The House may be interested in a couple of examples of that work, which may be of use in other parts of the country.

A joint police and probation visit system has been set up to help to curb active reoffenders when they come out of prison. As the hon. Member for South-East

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Cambridgeshire said, that is one problem that our criminal justice system must tackle. In Lewisham, probably for the first time, police and probation officers visit a person within a week or so of release from prison. They go through what is available to the person, and ensure that he or she is properly assessed. Information is passing between the police and the probation service on whether there is a high risk of the person reoffending. If there is, the person will be subject to further and extensive supervision. That is an excellent example of practical partnership between two parts of the criminal justice system which, in the past, often did not speak to each other because they were mutually wary and suspicious. I hope that that scheme can be expanded elsewhere.

Many hon. Members will be able to praise the work of their police community consultative groups. Lewisham has taken that further, thanks in part to the enthusiasm and commitment of the chair of the police consultative group, Asquith Gibbes. We have set up an independent advisory group, so successfully that Mike Humphreys has told me that he wonders how the police managed without it. The group is involved with the police on important decisions. For example, its members can read crime report entries at the police station, comment on the police force's investigations and report back. The group has been consulted on sensitive incidents such as a recent serial rape investigation across south London. The group was a useful forum for obtaining information that might not otherwise have reached the police because of the nature of both the crime and the people involved. That is a good way in which to use the local community to ensure that the police receive information without people fearing reprisal.

Hon. Members regularly raise with Ministers the problem of assaults on health service staff. We all know the dangers, particularly late at night and at the weekend, for health workers in our hospital accident and emergency units. A police office has been set up in Lewisham hospital so that health workers—doctors, nurses and auxiliaries—may know that an officer is on hand if they need extra support. That initiative has been hugely successful in reducing the number of assaults in the accident and emergency department.

Earlier this year, Lewisham and Hackney were fortunate enough to begin schemes running restorative justice initiatives. I went to the launch and was told what work would be done. I know that Ministers are keen to see how it will work. It is to be analysed by eminent researchers. Trained facilitators will bring victims and offenders together and, using appropriate methods, help offenders to understand and address their reasons for committing crimes and the effect on their victims. Our early information is that the scheme is particularly useful for victims and in dealing with those who have committed assaults. We shall be interested to see the results of the research.

Crime on buses and trains is another serious problem. Lewisham police have set up a scheme with bus companies using high-crime routes. It has worked so well that the Met has adopted it throughout London. It has helped to reduce the number of assaults and other crimes on buses, and I hope that it can be extended to trains, which I use regularly.

Another scheme in Lewisham, which is being revamped, is the ringmaster scheme, which, again, has been so successful that the Met has taken it on. Local

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police inform the community in areas where certain types of crime are being committed. The scheme is a great way of enabling the police to communicate with local people. It is particularly useful in dealing with deception crimes committed by bogus callers who go around telling people that they are from the gas board or the telephone company, and talk their way into houses—usually the houses of elderly people—to burgle them.

When the Lewisham police become aware of such activities, they can inform local people by telephone and warn them to be alert to bogus callers. Members of the community can then feed back information to the police so that they can catch the criminals.

Lewisham, along with Bromley, is one of the pathfinder boroughs. It will, we hope, be given more financial devolution to enable it to use its budget innovatively. I want the Minister to be enthusiastic about this. If the borough commander could give up 35 police officer posts and replace them with 35 civilian posts, the savings would allow him to put another 15 officers on the beat. I hope that the Minister will say that he considers that such an excellent idea that he would support devolved budgets throughout the Met area and, indeed, in police authorities throughout the country.

The Minister is aware of the need for civilians to be used to do administrative work in police stations and elsewhere so that police officers trained to do other jobs can do them. The quickest, most obvious way of reducing street crime is to put officers on the beat. That is how Lewisham did it in the past. Street crime increased when officers were moved to central London after 11 September; now that they are returning to the borough, it is falling again. There is a direct correlation between the number of officers on the beat and the level of street crime.

I want to mention some of the things that Sir John told the Select Committee about the Police Reform Bill. The hon. Member for South–East Cambridgeshire said that the Met was the only police authority that was interested in using auxiliaries, as it calls them—community support officers. There is a good reason for that. Sir John made it clear to the Select Committee that if he could have between 300 and 500 auxiliaries who would be the eyes and ears in central London, officers would become free to return to the boroughs and do the jobs for which they had been trained.

I was interested by the exchange between the hon. Member for South–East Cambridgeshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). The commissioner said that the lack of a London-wide auxiliary force could lead to what he described as the balkanisation of police work in London. Boroughs such as Westminster may be able to afford a borough community force, but boroughs such as mine, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, cannot. We strongly support the part of the Police Reform Bill that refers to community support officers.

Sir John—and many other people—would like to know more about another aspect of the Bill. The Minister said that the standards unit was currently in force, but there is still confusion about its role and that of Her Majesty's inspectorate. Perhaps in time the two will become one,

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but it would be interesting to hear whether the Minister thinks that they should have separate roles, overlap, or even merge.

The commissioner said that police officers' working hours should be more flexible. He was particularly unhappy that only 16 per cent. of his officers were women. He thought that if the hours were more flexible, women who had left after having their second child—as most do—would be encouraged to return. That is an aspect of general policing that the Minister may wish to consider.

I am very proud of what the Lewisham police service in particular is doing and of what has been achieved, but there is still much to be done. Great challenges face our police service. Street robberies are too frequent, the fear of crime is too great, and police performance is too variable. No matter how many police officers are on the streets, we must never become complacent about crime in general. That is why I support police reform, as do both my borough commander and the Metropolitan commissioner. I am pleased that the commissioner also supports the reforms suggested in the Auld report.

There is much to be done. I hope that the Minister will continue to listen and take note of some of the ideas and examples of good practice that will be cited throughout today's debate and make them a reality throughout the country. I am very proud of our police service in Lewisham, under the leadership of Mike Humphreys. It is a safe borough in London. We would be happy to share our knowledge with others but in the meantime, general reform must take place, so that not only crime but the fear of crime is reduced and people can have faith in our police service and the criminal justice system.

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