HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc623-5
10. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many extra recruits would be required to bring all police forces in the United Kingdom up to full strength.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

On 29th February 1976 there were 9,772 vacancies in police forces in England and Wales.

Mr. Marshall

Does the Home Secretary agree that that is a disquieting figure, in view of the problem of terrorism and the general rise in crime rates? Does he further agree that it might be helpful if he could personally encourage the police to move away from dealing to such a large extent with motoring offences—and particularly, in the future, with legislation on matters such as seat belts—so that their efforts could be channelled into much more important work?

Mr. Jenkins

I should like, of course, to see this figure diminish substantially or cease to exist, but, as I hope the hon. Member will realise, it is in a sense a less disquieting figure than one would have had to give to the House at any time in the past 10 or 15 years. It comes after a year in which there has been a net gain of 5,052 in the police force, and one in which many police forces are up to, or very nearly up to, establishment, which I regard as important.

I believe that in the great majority of cases the police are concentrating on major threats to our society. That does not mean that any lack of enforcement of traffic laws could not itself lead to a great deal of chaos and, indeed, to loss of life.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a considerable problem of vandalism in Kirkby, in my constituency, which has, per capita, a higher crime rate than anywhere else in the country? Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices with the Merseyside constabulary to increase the strength of the Knowsley division, and also to introduce anti-vandal patrols in particular, in view of the fact that the local school has been closed now for a week as a result of damage caused by vandals?

Mr. Jenkins

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, but I do not intend to take over the operational arrangements of the Chief Constable on Merseyside, or of any other police forces, which is pre-clisely what my hon. Friend was inviting me to do.

Mr. David Price

Is the Home Secretary aware that the paper establishment of a number of our police forces is too small to cope with the extra duties imposed on them by anti-terrorism at one end and the big increase in juvenile crime at the other—both of which are particularly exhaustive of police effort?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware that there is no God-given quality about present establishment figures, and I have never taken a rigid view about them. In a sense, I attach more importance to the increase in the size of police forces generally—which has been substantial and sustained, recently—than to the exact relationship to establishment. One cannot have a totally open hand at the till in regard to establishments but, as the hon. Gentleman may be aware, I have in a few cases recently agreed to increases in them.