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Lord Tebbit: A lobster?

Lord Burnham: A lobster.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I could understand if he had arrested a mobster, but not a lobster. What was its offence?

Lord Burnham: Jaywalking, my Lords.

Hendon Police College was killed by representations made by the lower ranks, who did not like that type of promotion. The system is worth further consideration to enable the best people to be in the top ranks--I do not say that those currently in the top ranks are not the best people.

The morale and self-belief of policemen have been damaged. Macpherson--and many others--are greatly to blame for that. Those who complain are sometimes prosecuted. I hope that the police get the back-up that they need and deserve in order to do their jobs properly.

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The police do not always help themselves. I declare an interest in this question. Why did the Essex police authority turn down a gift of 10,000 from the freemasons of the county to buy a heart defibrillator? What on earth are they playing at? Do they value political correctness above the possible saving of life? The freemasons have many justifiable causes for complaint. An organisation with the delightful name of VOMIT, which stands for victims of masonic--I cannot remember what the IT stands for--distributes flysheets. One, which was picked up a couple of weeks ago in Uxbridge public lavatory--sorry, Uxbridge public library--was written by a man who complained about a minor motoring offence of which he had been convicted. He blamed everybody from the constable to the magistrate, saying that they were part of a masonic plot against him. Although the leaflet was found in Uxbridge, the case took place in south Dorset. The honourable Member for South Dorset, Mr Ian Bruce, who was also mentioned in the pamphlet tells me that the case happened seven years ago.

There are many freemasons in the police force, but there is no more evidence against any of them for any wrongdoing than there is against the Rotarians, the Ovaltinies or any other body. Attacks should not be made on policemen for any reason; that will make them feel that they are not wanted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about the high morale in North Yorkshire. I wonder whether that has anything to do with the influence of the right honourable Member for Richmond. Life is undoubtedly easier in that sort of country area than it is in the metropolitan area.

I am deeply sorry that the police have to perform tasks such as clearing up motorway crashes caused by sheer bad driving and the many other extremely unpleasant jobs that they have to do. They must have all our deep sympathy as well as our support.

God helps those who help themselves. I shall finish with a parable. This morning, driving up on the A40, I found a small queue at Savoy Circus that was disturbed by the blaring of a police car, with noises and lights coming from every orifice. With great courtesy and skill--and considerable difficulty--all the cars in the queue got out of the way so that the police car could go by and it swept on its way. The public will do that for the police, but they need the police to help them when they need them.

6.37 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I think that it was F.E. Smith who confused the National Liberal Club with a public lavatory. I am worried that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, seems to confuse a public lavatory with a library. I shall let that pass.

I confess to an unworthy thought. When I saw who was moving the Motion, I thought that Tory Central Office had decided to set old knuckle-duster Norman on the issue to get the knees trembling in the home counties. I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, introduced the debate in a most statesmanlike

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way. Before the Minister gets too complacent, I advise him to read the speech with care. I have watched the noble Lord in many guises over 30 years. There is no one like the Chingford strangler for sticking the stiletto between the ribs while still smiling and reassuring the victim. When the Minister reads the noble Lord's speech tomorrow, he will find that it was not quite as gentle as a first listening might have led him to think.

One of the pleasures of this House is the expertise that is brought to debates. We have seen that recently on health matters and we frequently see it on education and defence. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, and my noble friends Lady Harris and Lord Bradshaw have brought their direct experience--the noble Lord as a police officer and my noble friends on police authorities--of the issues facing the police services. That has added to the richness of the debate.

My contribution is that of a layman. I am the voice of the consumer. As a consumer, I believe that it is fair to say that the general public are becoming cynical about politicians who constantly parade simple solutions to the problems of law and order and who constantly imply that their opponents are soft on crime and criminals. For almost a decade and two successive Home Secretaries, we have been given quick-fix solutions in response to genuine public concern about crime.

Both Michael Howard and Jack Straw have resorted to populism and panic rather than face up to the less headline-catching reforms required to tackle these problems. Each in turn has sought to give the impression that, with one more extension of police powers and one more turn on the screw of civil liberties, we could all sleep easier in our beds. The result of this decade of hard men at the Home Office is, we are told, an all-time low in police morale and continuing public anxiety about crime. The coming general election promises only more of the same from Labour and Conservatives alike. Yet, do more and tougher measures make us safer? My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked a question of the Minister to which he received a reply.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, does the noble Lord know whether his noble friend will honour us with his presence during the winding up of the debate?

Lord McNally: My Lords, he will try to do so. If he does not, it will probably be for a very good reason.

My noble friend Lord Dholakia asked the Minister how many criminal offences were created by the legislation passed in 1999-2000. The reply, which has now appeared as a Written Answer, is 123. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, constantly campaigns for less legislation. I believe that that reply provides an illustration of the type of burden with which the police have had to deal. The Home Office, in particular, has produced a deluge of legislation.

There are no quick fixes. As indicated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and in a different way by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the real

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response lies in addressing the mix of financial, political and social solutions which are at the heart of both the problems of police numbers and police morale. Of course, increased resources for pay and conditions will help. But we must accompany that with measures to reconnect police and policing to the communities which they seek to serve. We should underpin the policy with community-based solutions both to fighting crime and providing alternatives to it for the youth age group, which is the cause of most public concern.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth indicated, crime fighting is not only a job for the police. We must face the problems posed for our society by the cultural changes that have taken place over the past 30 years. A number of noble Lords have referred to our less deferential society, which produces a problem not only for the police but for teachers and other formal figures of authority.

The current modernisation programme brought forward by the Government is not as joined up as it should be in developing a better police service. That is why we on these Benches believe that the Home Secretary is foolish to continue to resist the setting up of a Royal Commission or a more permanent body with similar powers. Such a body could carry out a root and branch review of the service and make recommendations which could help to rebuild public confidence in the police. Indeed, it may be able to carry out some of the work referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, in investigating questions of police morale. Perhaps that would also promote a more balanced, national debate--one which I hope would address the whole combination of issues encompassed by the law and order problem.

Let us start by establishing some facts about where we are and how we got there. The Times expressed the situation relating to police numbers fairly and squarely in its editorial of 19th December 2000. It said:

    "The plain facts are that police numbers have been falling for a number of years but especially sharply in the capital. This is largely because of the abolition of a London housing allowance by the last Conservative administration".

Indeed, a number of police sources to whom I have spoken cite as the main cause of low morale the Sheehy report of 10 years ago which resulted in the lowering of starting salaries and the removal of housing allowances, which were regionally tailored.

However, that does not explain why, in spite of numerous warnings, the present Government have allowed police numbers to drop by some 3,000 since the 1997 election, with the most severe impact here in London. Over the past four years, Ministers have trotted out a number of excuses rather than deal with the impending crisis. We have been told that the previous government gave control over budgets, and therefore over recruitment, to chief constables. At one stage, we were assured that outsourcing, new technologies and increased mobility could finesse the shortfall. We were told that police services had to share the constraints on public spending imposed by

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Kenneth Clarke and embraced with enthusiasm by Gordon Brown during Labour's first three years in office.

Faced with undeniable public concern and the fear that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his friends might exploit that concern, we have seen a sudden change of heart by the Government. But I regret to say that it is not the persuasive power of your Lordships which has brought that about. No; a change of heart has occurred because, first, focus groups are telling them that the public want more bobbies on the beat, and, secondly, a general election is just around the corner. On such high-minded principle does our latter-day Robespierre in the Home Office make his policies.

However, let us not ignore the chance to improve the situation, no matter how opportunistic the Government's reason for their change of heart. There is no doubt that an improvement in pay and conditions will improve recruitment and morale. But other issues must be addressed.

There is the question of job satisfaction and respect. In other debates in this House, I have mentioned growing up with childhood tales from my father. He was brought up in Old Swan in Liverpool, where the policeman was called "Clear off" and would disperse young people with those two words. In my youth, in our village just outside Blackpool, Copper Whalley used to ride around, ram-rod straight, on a bicycle. Just the appearance of him at the top of the road was enough to produce the desired effect. In their own ways, they were both pillars of their community in a manner that policemen probably do not enjoy in this less deferential age.

My nephew joined the Blackpool police and then took the opportunity to emigrate to Western Australia, where he now serves in the Western Australian police force. I asked him what his motivation was for going. I shall always remember his rather chilling explanation. He said, "I found the hatred in the eyes of people I was trying to help in Talbot Square in Blackpool on a Saturday night just too disturbing". I believe that policemen do come across such hostility, particularly among young people. That is something that must be recognised. We must find ways to link the police with the communities which they seek to serve.

In that respect, we should consider in particular the question of police recruitment among ethnic minorities. The other day at Question Time I mentioned that it is 20 years since I raised in another place the matter of the deplorable level of recruitment. Even today, approximately only 2 per cent of our police force comes from ethnic minorities. That cannot simply be due to a lack of willingness to recruit. We must give greater consideration to why our ethnic minorities are not recruited to, and do not stay in, the police force.

A number of references have been made to Macpherson, who, I believe, identified a canteen culture within police forces. Policemen accept that that culture exists and that it needs to be removed. We hear anecdotal evidence about low morale, but it is often

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the complainants who feel that morale is low who refuse to accept the need for change. We must change our police force so that it is staffed and trained and geared towards policing a modern multicultural Britain. We support the Government in their attempt to bring that about.

Many other issues were raised in this debate, including, for example, car crime and phone crime. At the other end of the police force--the end that is opposite that which is involved with communities--modern policing needs cleverer coppers. Modern global crime and high-tech crime need to be combated by policemen of high quality. I am worried by the fact that there has been a fall in graduate recruitment since 1994. Is the Minister aware of that steady decline? That decline is worrying--it raises long-term issues, it will affect the ability of the police to deal with high-tech crime and it shows that good managerial skills are needed in the police force.

Political and public support for the police, which the police deserve and need, depend on a social contract, which requires from our police democratic accountability, a closeness to the communities--including the ethnic communities--in which they serve and a culture of service and tolerance within the service towards those whom they seek to serve. A police service that has good pay and conditions and training, which offers good career prospects and which is well equipped and well resourced should remove policing from the political battlefield. Such a police service will have a high morale and be held in high public regard.

As for the politicians, I can do no better than to return to an editorial in The Times of 19th December, which warned:

    "Populism is quicksand for politicians. It almost ensures maximum publicity for those willing to play it, but also an unpredictable political ending".

Our police and the public deserve better from us in the forthcoming general election than the unedifying spectacle of Miss Ann Widdecombe and Jack Straw mud-wrestling about law and order. If that happens, those politicians deserve to sink into the quicksand to which the editorial in The Times referred.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I join every speaker in this debate in thanking my noble friend Lord Tebbit for launching what has proved to be a thoughtful and constructive debate which has raised real problems. There has been a considerable amount of agreement in the House. It will be difficult for someone who reads Hansard to tell which side Peers were speaking from by their remarks.

However, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, believes that it takes the efforts of

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Conservative Central Office to set my noble friend Lord Tebbit in action. I assure him that its influence was entirely unnecessary.

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