HC Deb 15 February 1968 vol 758 cc1555-9
5. Mr. Dodds-Parker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the need to recruit and train against the increase in crime, he will refrain from making any proposals for placing any numerical restrictions on the recruiting of police in the United Kingdom or the Metropolitan Police District in 1968–69.

26. Mr. Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the effect the Government's proposed cuts in public expenditure will have on police recruitment in 1968–69 and 1969–70; and what the net effects of the cuts will be on police manpower.

45. Mr. Grieve

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department by what figures police strength in England and Wales is now short of authorised establishment; and what proposals he has for bringing it up to strength.

Mr. Callaghan

Arrangements have been made to increase the strength of the service in England and Wales by some 1,200 officers between 1st January this year and 31st March, 1969. The Metropolitan Police will increase its strength by over 500 officers. Plans have not yet been made beyond 31st March, 1969.

On 31st December, 1967 the strength of the police service in England and Wales was 89,597, namely 17,839 short of the authorised establishment.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

In view of the increase in crime and the shortage of police, under establishment, as against the very satisfactory upsurge in recruitment in the last 12 months, is it not the craziest of all false economies to put any restriction in the way of recruiting and training more police? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to deny the rumour that it is proposed to close down Peel House?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know about Peel House. To answer the earlier part of that supplementary, I am bound to say that those comments come oddly from an hon. Gentleman opposite. The increase in police strength has been unparalleled in the last three years, and we have been making up past deficiencies. We have now reached the stage when I think that the question of establishment needs to be looked at on a much more scientific basis than it was in the past, especially in view of the change in policing systems. I take it that the hon. Gentleman does not wish me to spend more public money than I need, even on this.

Mr. Carlisle

Since the right hon. Gentleman has agreed that the police are still over 17,000 men short, on what possible basis does he deliberately limit recruitment to below the rate at which recruits have, in recent months, been coming in?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not accept that the police force is 17,839 short of the numbers it requires. The fact that the various establishments have been built up on an unscientific basis in the past in the reason why we are now working them out properly and are not recruiting men if they are not necessary. I repeat that the strength of the police force has increased very substantially in the last three years; it has increased in an unparalleled way.

Mr. Grieve

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, though 17,000 short of establishment, the police have adequate men to deal with the appalling rate of crime prevailing in England today?

Mr. Callaghan

I am glad to say that because of the success of the Government in strengthening the police force, the increase in the rate of crime is now very much lower that it was before. This is a matter for congratulations by everybody and, on the question of establishment, I have pointed out that it has not been measured scientifically. It must be measured in that way and I intend to ensure that it is. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may bury their heads in the past, but if, at the end of the day, the examination shows that, as a result of the introduction of the new police systems—which, by the end of this year, will cover 80 per cent. of the people of Britain—more men are needed, we will take them on However, I will clearly not authorise an excessive increase in strength until I am certain that it is required.

Mr. Hogg

While rejoicing, as I suppose the whole House will, at the recent increases in recruitment, does the right hon. Gentleman really ask the House to believe that all that we need this year is 1,200 extra policemen? If he does not ask us to believe that, then in what possible way does it help devaluation to work to keep the police force below its requirements?

Mr. Callaghan

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite wrong. The police force is not being kept below its requirements. Its authorised establishment is quite different from what it requires, and it is the authorised establishment on which I intend to concentrate. As to whether I know what I am about, I had 10 years' experience of this before the right hon. and learned Gentleman opened his mouth on the subject. I intend to ensure that the level of establishment is measured scientifically and accurately, to carry out the policy of the party opposite, but to see that we do not waste public money unnecessarily.

18. Sir D. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he will take to ensure that the manning of police forces will be adequate to enable them to combat the crime wave with increased success.

Mr. Callaghan

It is intended to press on with plans to introduce mobile systems of policing, and to provide the necessary equipment. There will be no interruption of these programmes, whose main purpose is to enable the same work to be done more efficiently with less manpower.

Sir D. Renton

Is the Home Secretary aware that in spite of equipping the police better and in spite of there having been more police in the last three years, the crime wave has increased very consider- ably and the detection rate still remains well below 50 per cent.? Will not he reconsider the matter and bear in mind that without more policemen we shall not effectively tackle the crime wave?

Mr. Callaghan

Indictable crime rose throughout England and Wales by no more than 1.5 per cent. in the first nine months of last year, which was a very considerable improvement. I think that this is due to the increased manpower in the force, but I cannot go back over all the ground which we discussed in previous Questions. It is the Government's job to hold the balance between better equipment and fewer men. On the whole, I think that what we need in the police at present is equipment more than men.

Mr. John Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the recruitment of Commonwealth citizens as special constables as well as as ordinary policemen?

Mr. Callaghan

I believe that this is being done in the ranks of special constables, but I could not give my hon. Friend an answer offhand as to how many have been recruited. It is certainly policy.

24. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he had with the Police Advisory Board before reductions in police recruitment were announced.

Mr. Callaghan

None, Sir. This was a decision for the Government to take.

Sir G. Sinclair

But does not the Home Secretary, who has just boasted that he has been in this game for 10 years, realise the importance of consulting the police over a matter which vitally affects their capacity, on behalf of the nation, to cope with the crime wave?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir. If I may repeat the boast, I was one of the authors of the idea of joint consultation between the police and the Government. I am glad to say that I saw officers of the Police Federation yesterday, and I think that they are quite satisfied that there will be full and adequate consultation on all matters which are within our purview.

27. Mr. John Hall

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent the rate of police recruiting has been affected by the cuts in Government expenditure; and when, at the new permitted rate of recruitment, the police force in England and Wales and, in particular, the Thames Valley Division will be up to strength.

Mr. Callaghan

The level of recruiting allowed will be related to the rate of wastage, which cannot be precisely predicted. The strength of the police in England and Wales increased last year by 4,124 officers, and the forces comprising the Thames Valley Force by 143, compared with permitted increases of 1,200 and 59 respectively between 1st January, 1968 and 31st March, 1969. The rates of recruitment after 31st March, 1969 have not yet been settled.

Mr. Hall

Unless I misheard, the Home Secretary did not answer my Question. I asked when the establishments would be up to strength, but all he told me, as I understood it, was the increase there had been over the past year or so. Will the right hon. Gentleman now say when the establishments in England and Wales, and in the Thames Valley Division in particular, will be up to strength?

Mr. Callaghan

I could tell the hon. Gentleman that only if I could anticipate the rate of wastage and if I knew what the rate of recruitment was likely to be after 31st March 1969. Neither is as yet vouchsafed to me.