HC Deb 22 May 1986 vol 98 cc518-20
3. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his Department has carried out any research into differences in perceptions of police priorities between the police and the general public; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

The Home Office has carried out or funded a good deal of research into public attitudes to the police, and the wishes of the public appear to be broadly in line with police priorities.

Mr. Hoyle

Is the Minister aware that independent surveys, including the one by Merseyside council, have shown that there is a different concept in the minds of the public as to what they would like from the police and what they are given by the police authorities, particularly chief constables? Does he agree that if we are to conquer the fight against crime we must have the collaboration, co-operation and confidence of the public in the police? Despite what he said about having carried out surveys, will he look again at this matter to discover what the public really want from the police?

Mr. Shaw

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If he looks at the studies that were done in Merseyside and in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), he will see that the public are most concerned about immediate emergency response, crime investigation and deterrent presence on the streets. Those are the three priorities that they have in common with the police. Where I part company from the hon. Gentleman is in the belief that locally substituted so-called police watch committees can produce anything of worth in the fight against crime, and the sort of rubbish that is produced in the Greater Manchester area is a disgrace which I trust the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will get rid of.

Mr. Forman

Are not police priorities already set out, at any rate in the Metropolitan area, with admirable clarity in the various divisional and district plans? Are not those a good way for senior police officers to consult, and take soundings from, the local population and to respond to concerns about such vital problems as vandalism and hooliganism?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is right. He will be aware that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in designing his force goal for 1986–88, took into account a wide range of opinion polls as well as the needs of the police. In his goal he sets out the reduction of criminal opportunity, the enhanced detection of specific criminal offences and enhanced support for the victims of crime. I am sure that everybody would concur with those attitudes.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister confirm that the priority to recruit more regular police from ethnic minorities remains a high priority in his Department? In this context, will he confirm that his Department will support the expansion of the police cadet force in West Yorkshire, which is seen as an important way to recruit more young people from the ethnic minorities into the regular police?

Mr. Shaw

On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I am very much interested in that suggestion. However, cadet forces are extremely costly and the police authority in West Yorkshire must take a view on that proposal.

As to the first part of his question, I assure the hon. Gentleman that chief constables all over the country, as well as in the Metropolitan police area, are doing everything that they can to increase ethnic recruitment. The Metropolitan police had a recent exercise, as a result of which 139 applications were received, which was encouraging, but in the end few applicants decided to press on. I hope that they can be encouraged to do so.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing has done more damage to the public perception of the police than the attitude of many Labour councils? Does he also agree with the perception of many of my constituents in Norwich that the police are burdened too much by administrative paperwork? Is he aware that many of my constituents, particularly when vandalism occurs on housing estates, would like a greater police presence there and available when required?

Mr. Shaw

Yes, and there is much room for improvement in the recruiting of police in Norfolk, where the police authority has for some time allowed a substantial range of vacancies to exist. I trust that they will now be filled.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Minister agree that it is the perception of the public that children should enjoy the benefit of police coming into schools to explain dangers to them? Will the Government accept the amendment that has been carried in the other place to enable that to be ensured?

Mr. Shaw

I am sure that the answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is not for me, but in regard to the objective that he seeks he must be right. Surely every education authority should welcome police presence in schools to deal with the many pressures with which young people are faced.

Mr. Hayes

Now that the Labour party is somewhat humourously masquerading as the party of law and order, will my hon. Friend ensure that as many members of the public as possible go into Labour party committee rooms, where they will see a poster on the walls of most of them saying, "It is far better to break the law than to be poor"? Will that not show the public the perceptions of the Labour party towards the police?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is right. There is far too much paranoia about the way in which the Labour party seems to view the police. The police are the custodians of the law, and everybody in government and in opposition should support that concept.