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Street Crime

11. Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): If he will make a statement on the level of street crime in London. [38883]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and I agree that the increase in street

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robbery that has occurred over the past year is unacceptable. Post 11 September, there was a diversion of resources in the Metropolitan police area away from police on the streets, but that has now been reversed by the safer streets programme, which I welcome very strongly and which has seen a halving of the increase in street robbery over the past five weeks. Equally, the measures that the mobile phone industry has at last agreed to take will make a difference.

However, in the end, we all agree that we need more police on the beat and that they need to be better backed up and better supported by the community. We need to send out the message clearly that we are not prepared to put up with the violence, street robbery and thuggery that has occurred over recent months.

Mr. Francois: I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. He referred to what happened in New York, but is he aware that, according to last year's figures, a Londoner is now twice as likely to be mugged as a New Yorker? What material action is the Home Office, under his leadership, planning to take to reduce the soaring level of street crime in our capital? Clearly, what Ministers are attempting to do at the moment is not working.

Mr. Blunkett: I mentioned mobile phones, and it is estimated that 51 per cent. of the street crime in London involves that form of robbery. We now have a programme with the industry to deal with that problem. We are also targeting advice at young people, and that campaign has been helpfully backed up by the London Evening Standard. We have 1,100-plus additional officers on the streets of London since last March, and we have a budget that is only marginally less than that for New York, but with 12,000 fewer officers. That, of course, begs the question about the use of resources and prioritisation, and that is why the Metropolitan police authority, the Commissioner and Ministers are all determined to make sure that we use those resources to get a visible police presence when it is needed and that it is backed up by the technology that the police deserve to be able to do the job of reducing the unacceptable level of street crime and robbery to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Martin Linton (Battersea): Will my right hon. Friend provide us with any more details about the success of the safer streets campaign in reducing crime in some of the nine boroughs in which it was originally introduced? Does he appreciate that there will be a warm welcome in Wandsworth for the extension of the operation to other London boroughs, including Wandsworth? Can he give us any assurances about the extension of the scheme beyond 31 March, which is when it is currently due to end?

Mr. Blunkett: I shall be having discussions this week with the commissioner about the potential for retaining the diversion of resources from traffic duties into the safer streets campaign—which I believe has contributed considerably to the reduction in street crime—about the potential for carrying forward the additional resources for anti-terrorism work that we provided just before Christmas and about the ability to continue the programme for the urgent recruitment of additional police officers in a way that has not occurred for many years.

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However, as requested by the Metropolitan police, we are also committed to providing back-up community support officers combined with local street wardens so that there can be an effort that mobilises the community as a whole and not just the police service in tackling the problem of street crime.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I hope that the Home Secretary will recognise that one of the factors that leads to an increase in street crime is the lack of respect that sections of society, particularly young people, have for the police force. What measures is he putting forward to address that problem?

Mr. Blunkett: We have drawn together a youth taskforce of all the agencies, including those in education, that have a role to play. I have worked with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to ensure that schools welcome the police service and work with the police not only to build respect but to develop an understanding of their common cause. We are working with black and Asian community leaders to ensure that people understand that much violent crime and street robbery is black on black and that it often involves young black people being attacked by other young black people. That is why I strongly welcome the brave stand taken by Mike Best, the editor of The Voice, who simply told the truth and has focused attention on the issue, as we have been doing today by revising the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code A on stop and search to ensure that we protect those members of the community who are most vulnerable from those who are most violent.

Crime and Terrorism

13. Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): What assessment he has made of the role of air support to police forces in combating crime and terrorism. [38885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Guidance on

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the use of air support on good practice is provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers air operations committee, which includes the Home Office. The role is kept under constant review. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary also carries out inspections of air support units. Operational support—whether in the fight against crime or terrorism, or in other areas such as searching for missing persons—is a matter for individual police constables, but aircraft can provide a unique additional resource in such circumstances.

Mr. Hammond: The Minister will be aware that, in response to budgetary pressures, the Metropolitan police have had to cut their flying hours by nearly a third. They have now announced that they will try to sell one of their three helicopters, leaving just two. That compares with the seven that are available to the New York police, and 10 to the Berlin, Tokyo and Los Angeles police forces. Having only two aircraft will mean that no more than one will be operational at any one time. In the face of rising crime and the constant threat from terrorism, that represents a real threat to the security of London and the safety of police officers and the public alike. What is the Minister going to do to rectify this appalling state of affairs and ensure a proper level of protection to London and Londoners?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman should tie up more closely with his hon. Friends. Last year saw a 30 per cent. increase in capital allocation—in revenue terms, a 6 per cent. increase overall. We are a Government who put money into the police service to increase police numbers, following the pause under the Conservatives. Most Conservative Members say that they do not believe in operational control, yet the hon. Gentleman says that we should tell the police exactly how they should spend their money and how many helicopters they should buy. The Conservative party cannot have its cake and eat it. Either it believes in operational independence, or it does not. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not, but some of his hon. Friends do. There is something strange going on.

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Points of Order

3.32 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to examine the circumstances surrounding the tabling of early-day motion 949 entitled, "Introduction of progressive beer duty" tabled last Wednesday by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)? I ask you to do so, Mr. Speaker, because the early-day motion printed on the Order Paper the following day contains the names, including my own, of several hon. Members who did not sign it. Inquiries at the Table Office revealed that the names were submitted—clearly without permission of some hon. Members, who are seriously concerned that a breach of procedure may have occurred.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me deal with the first point of order, and the hon. Gentleman can decide whether a further point of order is necessary. I assure the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) that I will look into this matter.

Norman Baker: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) had not contacted me to inform me that he was going to raise that point of order, so it is fortunate that I am present to clear it up. Every Member whose name appears on the early-day motion had signed an earlier motion. I contacted—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Rather than the hon. Gentleman clearing up the matter now, I shall look into it further. That is the best course of action.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This arises from Home Office Questions, so I am sorry that the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs has just left the Chamber. May I ask that the Minister correct, when next he can, a possibly unwitting misrepresentation of our party's drugs policy? We debated drugs policy at the weekend and we decided on reform proposals. However, we absolutely did not decide to legalise any drug—international conventions preclude it—and we specifically did not recommend the legalisation of heroin, which we oppose.

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