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Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK

UK Politics

'Don't let outer London be neglected by police'

Police numbers in London have dropped, say MPs

MPs have made a plea for the outer London boroughs to be given the same police resources as inner areas to tackle crime.

They believe police targeting of central regions in the capital has been successful - but it might be at the expense of victims in the wider areas.

In an adjournment debate on crime in London, MPs congratulated the Metropolitan police for the drop in crime figures in London.

But introducing the debate, Keith Darvill (Lab, Upminster) highlighted a rise of 235% in crimes against the person in London, from 16,027 in 1979, to 53,721 in 1997.

And he argued against the view that outer boroughs do not need the resources of the inner boroughs.

His chief concern was resources for local authorities, who are important partners in the fight against crime.

"Boroughs will do all they can but it may not be enought if we fail to invest," he warned.

TV project helps cut crime

Karen Buck (Lab, Regent's Park & Kensington North) hailed an "imaginative" youth TV project in her constituency as valuable in reducing crime by keeping young people off the streets.

More than 500 young people have learned technical aspects of producing programmes and performing on TV. She said she could not praise the scheme highly enough.

[ image: War on prostitutes' cards: Karen Buck]
War on prostitutes' cards: Karen Buck
Ms Buck welcomed new closed circuit TV in Oxford Street, which had cut crimes such as handbag theft. But there was a danger of displacement, she warned, with such offences already creeping into Marylebone.

"On the big estates in the north of London people who experience street crime and are genuinely terrified to leave their homes, feel that they are not getting their share of those resources," she said.

Another example of the West End drawing resources away was the planned closure of St John's Wood police station because police want to revamp Marylebone station.

She urged ministers to consider the fact that police don't have "the most excellent" record on consulting the public and explaining decisions.

Plea for call girl cards crackdown

Meanwhile, communities often feel in despair over prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes, said Ms Buck.

"The middle of London is a sea of prostitutes' cards," she told MPs. "In the year to November, 10m cards were removed. They create an atmosphere of neglect and sleaze and an inability of agencies to do something about it."

[ image: Worried about police: Dr Vincent Cable]
Worried about police: Dr Vincent Cable
Vincent Cable (LibDem, Twickenham) said a drop in numbers of officers was very worrying. From 1992-7, numbers had dropped 1,300, he said, and the decline had accelerated since.

Mr Cable joined others in condemning the decline in numbers of accessible police stations, either through closures or cuts in hours.

"Top police officers say that given the painful option this is often the most sensible thing to do. But it shouldn't be the choice because accessibility is important to public confidence," he declared.

Tough on crime and its causes

Home Office minister Mike O'Brien, answering the debate, said there was no shortage of resources but they needed to be prioritised.

The Metropolitan police had received a 3.7% increase in its 1997-8 settlement, he told MPs.

But the government has no power to insist money is spent on police numbers.

He said: "This government is committed to being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

"Our Crime and Disorder Bill is delivering on our manifesto commitments.

"After 18 years of inaction in London we have a government that's committed to really tackling the concerns of local people and police.

"It's not just enough to increase penalties as previous governments did, we need new ideas like the parenting order and anti-social behaviour order, new strategies at a local level, new partnerships to cut crime. We now have a government which is committed to tackling crime in a serious way in London. It makes a change, doesn't it?"

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