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8 pm

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): I welcome the Bill and the Government's commitment to tackling crime in all its forms. I especially welcome the Home Secretary's response to the many points that the Select Committee on Home Affairs made when we scrutinised the measure. That pre-legislative scrutiny might not have been ideal, as part of it took place while the House of Lords was debating the Bill; none the less, we managed to see almost everyone who was interested in the progress of the Bill.

I shall concentrate especially on community support officers and on police costs, despite the fact that in the case of the latter the Committee declined to make specific recommendations.

Much has been said about community support officers since they were proposed in the Bill. Many vested interests have raised their voice in protest: such officers would water down policing; we should end up using more police resources than we would have done otherwise; we would be policing on the cheap, and so on. The Select Committee rightly noted that the only way to know for sure is to try out the proposal. After all, if the largest police force in the country—the Met—is enthusiastically in favour of such a scheme, surely we should have the courage and confidence to see whether it works.

As has already been said, no one will be forced to join in. However, I believe that other forces will want to use such officers when they see the results in London. Indeed, I understand that, after the initial flurry of negative responses, more and more chief officers and police authorities are beginning to see the merits of the proposal.

Perhaps London, as the capital city, is different. I do not know, but I find it difficult to believe that Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds do not have much the same policing needs as we do in London. However, if they do not—so be it.

I speak as a Member who represents an inner-London constituency where crime is at the top of everyone's agenda and where the added problems of higher security risks and terrorist attacks are at the forefront of everyone's mind, so when Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan commissioner, told us that, post-11 September, 300 plus officers had to act as eyes and ears for suspect packages in central London, we had to ask where they were to come from. They came from boroughs such as mine—from Lewisham, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Hounslow and so on.

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When my borough commander said that street crime had soared in Lewisham post-11 September, no one was very surprised; but because Lewisham is the safest inner-London borough in which to live, it was also deeply disappointing. Of course, the reason was obvious: as long as highly skilled police officers were being taken off the streets of Lewisham and elsewhere to look after the security needs of Members of Parliament here in Westminster, the rise in street crime was inevitable.

Surely it would be better to use between 300 and 500 community support officers—or auxiliaries as the Met calls them—to do the job of being eyes and ears, like the superb security staff in this place, thus allowing police officers to go back to the boroughs and do the highly skilled job for which they were trained. I really wonder at the stance taken by some people on that issue when that solution is so obvious.

I turn to community safety accreditation schemes. The Select Committee heard evidence about neighbourhood warden schemes and I want to consider one in my own borough—sadly, we do not have one in my constituency, but I hope that we shall soon remedy that. The scheme is based on the Honor Oak estate, in the north of the borough, where residents consider that crime has a major impact on their quality of life.

Lewisham council is extremely proud of its partnership with the local police force and the community—rightly so. Furthermore, it is important to remember that with crime and disorder people do not react only to the most serious offences—the tip of the iceberg. As Martin Ryan, the council officer in charge of the scheme, said:

So-called low level crime and disorder such as graffiti, abusive and loutish behaviour and vehicle crime all have a major impact on the fear of crime in our communities.

The wardens are helping to resolve those problems. Since the patrols commenced on that estate, there has been a 25 per cent. reduction in calls to the police; a 69 per cent. reduction in auto crime; an 80 per cent. reduction in racist crime; and a 75 per cent. reduction in burglary. That is against the background of a general increase in reported crime. Neither I nor anyone involved would suggest that the scheme is a panacea, but it is clearly having a positive impact, especially in reducing the fear of crime.

Accredited community safety organisations, of which local authority warden schemes would be an example, must surely be welcomed in the overall fight against crime, in the partnership between the police, the council and the local community.

I want to turn to an aspect that is not covered by the Bill but which was raised with the Committee by the Met and to which we refer in our recommendations: the cost of policing commercial events. The Met argues that it receives only 10 to 20 per cent. of its costs in policing some sporting and other events. It gave the example of a low-level Chelsea game where the force received £397 from the club for an exercise that cost £13,705.

When the Committee considered that point, we accepted the comment of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety that the matter was problematic in that smaller, less well-off football clubs and other organisations might not have pockets deep enough to cope with those costs. However, we ask the Government that guidance be reviewed in that area.

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That point is especially important in the light of the remarks I am about to make. When the Second Reading debate was scheduled for today, I did not know that we should have to refer to the dreadful and appalling events in Lewisham on Thursday night after the Millwall- Birmingham game. I emphasise the fact that Millwall football club, under the excellent chairmanship of Theo Paphitis, has done wonders in changing the behaviour at the ground of fans who, in the past, had a well-earned reputation for disruptive and violent behaviour. The work carried out by the club in the local community is excellent and deserves wider praise and support.

However, Thursday night's violence was not down to one or two hooligans. It was an orchestrated assault on the police. I asked Commander Humphrey, the borough commander, about it when he returned to the election count shortly after the events. He described how between 400 and 500 thugs directed each other on mobile phones about ways to attack and injure police officers and horses, innocent bystanders and fans. Thunder flashes were exploded; cars were set alight; 47 officers were injured; all 34 horses were injured; and so, too, were many fans. No doubt some of the cars that were set alight belonged to law-abiding Millwall fans. A children's playground was wrecked and equipment used as weaponry.

I know that Millwall football club will do everything possible to help to identify those thugs, but I have to point out to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), that that is a dark example of what the police have to put up with and we have to pay for in the general policing budget. That event may serve as a powerful and timely reason for giving more thought to how such occasions are paid for. I would make every hooligan found guilty of any crime in that attack pay directly to the police, the community and the fans for the shame that they have brought on the club and the devastation that they have wreaked on the local community.

The Bill goes a long way towards making the police more able to do well the job that we entrust to them. There are aspects that need further clarification, but I hope that the Home Secretary will not be diverted from the main thrust of the Bill by the concerns of vested interests when my constituents want policing at its best—catching criminals and reducing crime.

8.9 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I am delighted to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), who, like me, sits on the Home Affairs Committee. I commend our report to the House: we did as good a job as we could in the limited time that we had, and, in many ways, we were chasing a moving target—the Bill kept being amended in the other place, the Government kept being defeated, and we kept having to comment on something that was changing. The current Bill is an improvement on the one that was published, and some parts of it are widely supported, particularly the independent complaints commission for the police, which is supported on both sides of the House.

I believe, however—this is where I differ from the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, although we were able to sign up to the report together—that the Bill was wrong in

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its conception and remains wrong in much of its execution. What was wrong with the conception is the point about centralisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) spoke clearly about that. This seems to be a default setting for the Government: they know, and they are right, that many things are wrong in the public services, and they rightly want to address them. Their answer, however, always seems to be to draw more power to the centre, which is profoundly the wrong way to go about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) pointed out that the Secretary of State is mentioned 21 times in the first four pages of the Bill. It is very much the Secretary of State who is being given the power. Remarkably, police authorities are barely mentioned in the Bill. If the Government think that police authorities are not good enough, they are not doing a good job, or they are not correctly constituted, they should come forward with proposals to change them. We could talk about that. What is not right, however, is taking all the power and handing it to the Home Secretary. It has been mentioned that clause 5 was removed in the other place, but the beginning of clause 6 states:

That is drawing powers towards the centre, which is wrong. Clause 5 itself was called "Directions to chief officers". The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety is therefore wrong to say that the measure is not about centralisation.

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