HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc605-7
4. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the level of recruitment into the police force.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summer-skill)

I am pleased to say that police recruiting continues to improve. Strength increased from 102,086 at the end of 1974 to 109,075 at the end of 1978, a total increase of 6,989. During January 1979 there was a further increase of 869, bringing the total strength to 109,944 and total increase since 1974 to 7,858.

Mr. MacKay

Does the hon. Lady agree that the figures are at least superficially encouraging? Will she be good enough to explain how many of the new recruits are women? Does she agree that many of the difficult jobs that have to be done by police officers are not able to be undertaken by women officers and that therefore the figures may be slightly artificial?

Dr. Summerskill

I regret that the hon. Gentleman is so churlish as not to be able to give a strong welcome to the total increase in the strength of the police. All he can find to do is chauvinistically attack the policewomen in his own constituency, who, I am sure are doing a very valuable job.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister further confirm that, as regards provincial police forces comparing the main period of office of this Labour Government and the main period of office of the last Conservative Government, the number of policemen on duty has increased and that the gap between authorised establishment and those on duty is considerably less?

Dr. Summerskill

Yes, I can confirm what my hon. Friend says. The increase is also largely due, according to the full figures for the last quarter, to the recent pay award to the police forces.

Mr. David Howell

Although I strongly agree with the hon. Lady about the value of the pay award and the Edmund-Davies report—though we would have liked to see that award paid all at once—and although we certainly welcome any increase in the strength of the police force, may I ask the hon. Lady whether she agrees that resignations are still appallingly high and that there is now talk of many more resignations later this year? Does that give grounds for complacency or contentment at all?

Dr. Summerskill

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. A substantial part of the drop in wastage which has occurred over the second half of 1978—a drop of 30 per cent.—has been caused by deferment of retirement due to this pay increase.

6. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there are any plans to lower the minimum age of recruitment into the police service from 18½ years to 18 years.

Dr. Shirley Summerskill

We have no such plans.

Mr. Townsend

Bearing in mind that people are maturing earlier and that those aged 18 can do jury service and enter into a legal contract, why can they not join the police force at 18? Why should there be this strange anomaly between the Armed Forces and the police forces?

Dr. Summerskill

This subject has been given a lot of consideration. The Association of Chief Police Officers considered the age limit only two months ago and said that no further reduction was necessary at the moment. The present age limit means that after allowing for initial training very few constables are on the streets below the age of 19, and that is what the association prefers.

Mr. Sever

Those figures are welcome. Since recruitment is obviously being stepped up, does my hon. Friend think that it is possible to indicate to chief constables, particularly in the inner urban areas, that it is advisable where possible to put new recruits into training in the community and on the streets, rather than driving around in patrol vehicles?

Dr. Summerskill

That is a matter for the chief constables. Any boy or girl who leaves school at 16 and wishes to enter the police force can join the police cadet service at the age of 16.