HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1652-4
3. Mr. Renton

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

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

At 31 March 1980, the strength of the police service in England and Wales was 114,543, an increase of 4,234 during 1979 plus 1,234 so far this year. Many forces are close to establishment and this is a cause for satisfaction, but there are still substantial deficiencies in some areas, especially London.

Mr. Renton

Bearing in mind the comments made at the conference in Torquay yesterday, does my right hon. Friend think that hostile comment in the media is having, or is likely to have, an adverse effect on police recruitment? What does my right hon. Friend think of Mr. William Deedes' suggestion that a Select Committee should be urgently called to reexamine the Police Act and changes in police duties?

Mr. Whitelaw

Adverse comment is clearly not having an adverse effect on recruitment. The police should be ready at all times to listen to, and to respond to, constructive criticism. At the same time, I do not think that there is any reason for the police to be subjected, as they sometimes are, to unfair criticism.

I noted what Mr. William Deedes said. I would get into great trouble in certain quarters if, having established a Select Committee on Home Affairs in this House, I was to start saying that what it was doing could somehow be done by someone else.

Mr. Tilley

Is the Secretary of State aware of the strain that recent recruiting is placing upon training facilities, especially in the Metropolitan Police area? Hendon college, which I visited recently, is vastly overstretched. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that more resources are needed? Is he aware that many London Members feel that the present level of training should be maintained, and possibly increased, particularly in areas such as community relations?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support which I very much welcome. I agree with him. I wish to expand training, particularly for the Metropolitan Police. I am very grateful to some other forces in the country which have spare training capacity and have been able to share it. That is the best way to proceed.

Mr. Eggar

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his assurance concerning the absence of training facilities in the Metropolitan area, which is very worrying to London Members? Will he give the House an assurance that, when trained policemen are available, they will be allocated to outer London in the same ratio as to inner London, since there is a danger of their being allocated to the high risk areas which are generally regarded as being in inner London?

Mr. Whitelaw

This must be a matter under the control of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who will, no doubt, take note of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Did the Home Secretary find the forecast of the chief constable of Sussex at this conference a little worrying, since it seems that in years to come recruitment will be not of policemen but of soldiers? Is not that a decision which ought to be taken by democratically-elected people rather than by chief constables?

Mr. Whitelaw

Such decisions will be taken by democratically-elected people. I think that all the chief constables accept that our policing in this country, whether in respect of terrorist incidents or disorder, has been seen over recent years to be based on our traditional community policing methods. As long as I have any responsibility in the matter it will remain that way.