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Mr. George Osborne: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: I was trying to get out of this as quickly as possible, but go on.

Mr. Osborne: I am very much enjoying the hon. Gentleman's speech; it sounds like the type of thing that Conservative Members hear from members of their Conservative association when they visit supper clubs on a Friday night. However, does he agree that there are real lessons to be learned from New York? We have bandied around the term "zero tolerance" to such an extent that it is now completely devalued, but there are lessons for London and the rest of the country in what was done in New York—increasing police numbers, tackling low-level crime and so on.

Mr. Banks: I agree entirely. I do not want to sound like one of the more robust members of the hon. Gentleman's Conservative association, but I think that zero tolerance—an idea that is much abused—is something that we understand. I have no difficulties with that. The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who considers that people do not feel at risk, has gone, but I live in an area where the fear of street crime is palpable. It is out there, on the street. People will feel much more encouraged and feel safer if we crack down on street crime.

I remind Ministers that that policy is also politically popular. I am not suggesting that we should crack down on street crime for short-term political gain, because the long-term benefits to the community are obvious, but there is also political gain to be had. If any Government managed to secure safe streets, they would be extremely popular in an election, as Mayor Giuliani clearly demonstrated in New York.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned the growing problem of gun crime in London, and I take her point. I was woken up at two o'clock in the morning a few months

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ago by police officers who said, "Sorry to disturb you, but did you hear any gunshots?" I asked why, and they told me that someone sitting in a car two doors down had been assassinated. It was not a random crime but a yardie crime, and the Trident officers were involved. The guy who was shot had been involved in previous drug-related offences and murders himself. Such shootings are happening more and more and people feel that they can get away with them. Many do, and indeed the persons who perpetrated the crime in my example have not been caught.

We should now contemplate the routine arming of all police officers. Officers are not necessarily in favour of that approach, but it works on the continent. It would not be an original or unusual idea. People argue that we have always had an unarmed police force, but that was because they were dealing with a different sort of criminal and a different society. Criminals and society have changed, and when that happens, we should contemplate changing too.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire mentioned community policing. I am a great supporter of that approach. As the hon. Member for Ruislip- Northwood implied, we should set up a system of mobile community watches, under the direction of the local police. That would involve citizens directly in policing their own areas and give them a greater sense of self-confidence in their communities.

Mr. Mark Field: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that one of the main obstacles to the system of mobile watches that he suggests is the Police Federation? Experiments have taken place in Kensington, but the Police Federation has been up in arms about the role of the police as professionals being undermined and policing on the cheap. The fundamental reforms that the Minister mentioned would need to be put in place before we could even think in the terms that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Banks: I am trying to explore further down the road than most hon. Members would wish to go. Mobile community watches are not about policing on the cheap but about more actively involving our communities in policing their own areas. In the end, that is the best form of policing, because it leads to the exertion of peer pressure within a community. It is not a question of vigilantes and would not involve people with baseball bats taking out people that they did not like. It would be organised properly, under the direction of a civilian authority. In case hon. Members are wondering, I should say that organised activity would not include knocking people over the head with baseball bats—even I have not got that far.

The decline in mutual respect and a lack of shared values in our society, especially among the young, is extremely worrying. I have a controversial proposal to address that. We should set up a compulsory national system of community service—not national service—for all 16 to 17-year-olds. I have not got time to expand on that now, but I hope to have the opportunity to propose it in a ten-minute Bill and hon. Members may reserve judgment until then. If we are to reduce crime, we must address the causes where that matters most—among the young. We learned respect and we must ensure that our young people are encouraged to acquire it.

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The fifth element of my six-point manifesto concerns drugs, which are the cause of so much street crime—no one can deny that. At least half the prison population are inside for drug-related crimes. The so-called war against drugs is being lost and, as some hon. Members will know, I have long believed that it is an intrusion on personal liberties. I have advocated for many years in the House the legalisation of drugs because I believe that such a measure would reduce crime and enable more effective education and reduction programmes to be put in place.

I have changed my mind on one issue: identity cards. We should have compulsory identity cards. I used to oppose them, but I now believe that they would be a valuable law enforcement tool, provided that the necessary safeguards were put in place.

I also think that we should have a compulsory DNA register in this country. It would not be intrusive; it would be part of the registration process at birth. It would enable the police more effectively to deal with a number of very unpleasant and violent crimes, and it would be an invaluable tool in the event of a cataclysmic accident, where orthodox identification was very difficult, if not impossible—the twin towers is an obvious case.

In conclusion, I suppose that some of my colleagues and, indeed, others outside might think that I have turned into a neo-fascist—[Interruption]—or indeed into a fascist, but I would entirely refute that. I still consider myself, with some justification, to be that unfashionable creature, a socialist, because socialism is about social justice, mutual respect, personal responsibility, discipline and order. That is how I understand socialism. Regrettably, many of those virtues have been badly weakened or are totally absent from society, and it is up to the House and the Government to try to establish them during our period in office.

1.11 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), and I am pleased to be able to pander to the sartorial apartheid that he advocated earlier. His was an alarming and refreshing speech. According to my list, he wants to arm the police, restore national service and introduce compulsory DNA testing and compulsory ID cards. I am exceedingly grateful to him—I have been taking many notes for my Conservative women's club, which I shall speak to later this evening, because that is all interesting stuff. Perhaps he would like the name of my tailor, whom I share with his comrade the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so he can get kitted out as he expects Conservative Members to be kitted out, because I fear that next time he refers to some of his comrades who still wear their red ties he may get a poke in the eye in return, given what he has just said.

May I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I have done to your predecessor in the Chair, for the fact that I may have to leave before this afternoon's winding-up speeches for a constituency engagement?

The Minister has been very brave to hold a debate on the police at this stage—just a month after 84,205 police officers have given a vote of no confidence in the Home Secretary and his proposals and just a matter of a couple of weeks after the Home Secretary was caricatured in the

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Police magazine as some sort of Del Boy character; its editorial says that the police:


He is also brave to hold this debate less than a week before a mass lobby of Parliament by police officers who are far from happy.

I should like to talk briefly about some Sussex policing matters, as one of the few Members to have spoken today who does not represent a London constituency. Sussex is not some idyllic, crime-free rural county in England; it has many problems. Indeed, the part of Worthing that I represent is not just a sleepy, crime-free area. Sussex is a large county with many communications and strategic problems. Last year, there was a long series of murders in Worthing, which took up a great deal of police officers' time. Of course, the Sarah Payne murder inquiry took a lot of resources. In just nine weeks, there were 20 armed raids on post offices and other small businesses in Worthing. A sub-postmaster in my constituency was held up three times in two weeks—twice at knifepoint and once at gunpoint.

Near my constituency, Brighton and Hove has an awful lot of drugs problems and a big increase in crack cocaine, and outlying towns are now used as havens for dealers, where they hide with their ill-gotten business. However, the drug problem in the area has not been recognised and Sussex police receive no extra funding to deal with the influx of crack cocaine, in particular.

Gatwick airport, with all the extra police resources that it requires, is in the Sussex police area. We face the enormous problems of unaccompanied—and under-age—girls coming from Nigeria, claiming asylum and then being abducted in very nasty circumstances to end up in the sex trade in northern Italy. A great deal of police time has been taken up in dealing with that problem, and I congratulate them on the successes that they have had. Policing the party conferences also takes up an awful lot of police resources.

Despite all that, Sussex police has one of the lowest—if not the lowest, in certain areas—ratios of police to residents of any constabulary in the whole of England. I pointed out earlier that the number of police officers is down on the 1997 level and, at its worst, the number of vacancies was 273. Sussex is one of the several police authority areas that are still well down on 1997 numbers, and council tax payers are having to stump up large sums of money, because of the 19 per cent. increase in the Sussex police precept, to recruit the officers that we desperately need.

Despite that, natural wastage in the police force is high. We always hear from the Government about trying to recruit new officers, but we still face a big problem because of the number of senior and experienced police officers who leave the force early. Over the past eight months in Sussex, the total natural wastage of police officers has amounted to 182. Some 87 left to retire, and many of them retired early; 44 resigned; and 16 took medical retirement. The figures are even worse for support staff: 248 left in that eight-month period; and 219 have resigned, with only 13 taking retirement.

I repeat a question that I asked the Minister's predecessor almost a year ago to the day. When I asked when Sussex could return to its 1997 numbers, his predecessor, now the Minister without Portfolio, said:

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I would like to know when it will happen in Sussex, because there is precious little sign of its doing so.

Another problem results from the fact that we receive very little help from the key worker scheme. The assistant chief constable has written to local councils asking them to apply for funds for officers. As with other constabularies, much of the police organisation in Sussex is not entitled to money from the starter home initiative, and we are losing officers who are commuting from Sussex to London because of the better rates that are now being offered there.

Sussex has also had to deal with the highly damaging and long-running saga surrounding the shooting of James Ashley in Hastings a few years ago. As a result of that, the deputy chief constable remained suspended for a long time, before taking early retirement. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) pointed out, last year, the Home Secretary gave us an early example of his macho tendency to flex his muscles in his new job and tried to override the democratically appointed Sussex police authority. He got rid of the chief constable, Paul Whitehouse. Whatever one thought of the chief constable's record, that was not the way to approach the matter. It was however a sign of times to come and of political interference in local policing and the way in which we run it. If the Government are happy to take the credit for any successes that there have been and if they are going to interfere in operational matters as much as they seem to want to, they must also take the blame for the shortcomings and failings that we see every day.

I have a specific question for the Minister. Sussex constabulary has been the subject of an inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, so when will we see the report that was promised for the spring?

Sussex police have had a hard time, but I want to take this opportunity to praise the force. It works in difficult circumstances and I want to put on record—I am sure that the hon. Member for Lewes and other colleagues from Sussex will agree—my congratulations to the deputy chief constable, Maria Wallace, who held the fort during the difficult time when Paul Whitehouse went. She was rightly awarded the Queen's police medal in the new year's honours.

At last, we welcome Ken Jones from Avon and Somerset, the new chief constable. I am glad to say that, even at this early stage, he has been making all the right noises about high-profile, uniformed community policemen being at the front of his whole approach to policing.

I also want to congratulate—as many other hon. Members have done—some local policemen, such as Superintendent Graham Walter, who runs the Worthing division, and Inspector Chris Drew at Shoreham, on bringing a degree of stability back to our part of Sussex and on realising that nothing beats high-visibility, uniformed bobbies on the beat.

Chris Drew, in particular, has worked closely with local communities through the police consultative community group—which I praise. I have another point to raise with the Minister. I gather that the policy of the Sussex police authority—which may be a directive from the Home Office—is that PCCGs are to be chaired by nominees

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from the police authority rather than from the community members who form the groups. That sends out all the wrong signals.

Local police in Shoreham, Adur and my local area have worked with local councillors—Councillor Blunden, Councillor Julie Searle and Councillor Paul Graysmark on Adur council—to produce a video about graffiti. The video was made by pupils in local schools and includes comments from local police officers, councillors and community leaders and shows how wasteful and destructive graffiti and vandalism are, the cost of cleaning it up and making repairs, and how that money could more constructively be spent on sports, leisure and youth facilities for the young people who cause such damage. That is an excellent initiative. With the co-operation and help of the local council—Adur council—and Shoreham police, peer group pressure is being applied to the negative forces that create graffiti.

Most of all, I congratulate the local police. They go on and on pointing out that nothing is better than uniformed officers on the beat. There is no substitute for that. It is not merely a question of numbers: uniformed bobbies bring reassurance to the people who see them. When people do not see the police, they feel that they are being ignored and that no one is watching out for them. That may or may not be true, but a real presence is a great reassurance, especially for elderly people—largely the sort of people whom I represent.

The presence of police officers also brings people out more. If they see something suspicious—such as a white van or someone acting suspiciously—they are more likely to report it if they know that their local police officer takes an interest. If they know the name of the local community police officer, they will take the trouble to ring the station and ask for that officer or will try to nab them when they are on their rounds in the area. Such advance intelligence is exceedingly valuable. It does not happen when there is no interaction between uniformed police officers and the local community.

I take issue with some of the comments made by Labour Members about the new community safety officers and street wardens. The Times published an interesting letter from the chief constable of the West Midlands police. He wrote:


There is a good deal of truth in that.

The police themselves have said:


That is absolutely right.

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I agree with the good idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who proposed an auxiliary police force. There is a great deal of merit in returning to that type of professionalised body, and the Minister should consider that proposal in detail.

An important factor in my constituency is that local residents see policing as a one-way street. They have seen their police stations closed, or at least closed during anything other than normal nine-to-five working hours; five police stations a month have closed under this Government. My constituents have also seen patrol cars taken away from local police stations to bigger centres and, as I mentioned, less bobbies on the beat.


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