HC Deb 03 December 1987 vol 123 cc1088-9
3. Mr. Watts

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next intends to review police manpower.

Mr. Hurd

At the end of September 1987 police manpower in England and Wales was at the record level of 123,740.I am constantly considering applications from police authorities for increases in their establishments. I hope to make an announcement before the end of this month about the increase which I am able to approve for the remainder of this financial year as part of the expansion programme that I announced in May 1986.

Mr. Watts

In considering the announcement that my right hon. Friend will be making later in the month, will he bear in mind that the Thames Valley police force, which serves my constituency and his, has the worst ratio of police to population of any authority anywhere in the country, that its establishment is inadequate on every measurement criterion, and that to achieve the average level of establishment for comparable provincial forces it would need an increase of 780 officers? In view of that, will he accept that anything less than full approval of the authority's application for an extra 200 officers this year would be viewed by my constituents, and I suggest also by his, as completely inadequate?

Mr. Hurd

The application from Thames Valley is one of the biggest that has been put forward, coming from a force which has had a bigger increase since 1979 than any other force outside London. That is not to deny the strength of the case that my hon. Friend has summarised. It clearly is a strong case. My hon. Friend will not expect me to play favourites simply because my constituency, like his, is in the area, but we are looking at the Thames Valley application alongside many others, for which many hon. Members will make strong arguments.

Mr. Hattersley

Why do the police forces have to wait so long for the Home Secretary to come to a decision about this? He will recall that the Thames Valley chief constable says that he is 700 men short of the realistic minimum number to police his area. He applied for the increase in June. Why is he still waiting for an answer?

Mr. Hurd

Because we look at the applications several times a year, and I have to fit that into the programme of expansions that I announced in May 1986. The programme has already brought about a further increase of 1,500 in police strength in the first six months of this year. Following a long period of neglect, we are continuing the programme of my two predecessors for a steady expansion in the police forces of England and Wales, which have had a bigger share of the increase than any other part of the public sector, thus giving the priority which we said that we would give, and which the right hon. Gentleman and his Government sadly neglected.

Mr. Mates

While our record is second to none in the increased resources that we have given to the police authorities, and while some police authorities may indeed still need extra resources, are we not entitled, now that we have put the whole policing operation in this country on to a higher footing, to look to the police forces to examine their own systems of management and give us better value for money than they may have given in the past?

Mr. Hurd

That is indeed very important. One of the first questions that we ask when we receive an application from a force is whether that force is "civilianising" — using civilians behind desks and computers, at about half the cost of a professional police officer. In London, for example, the programme of civilianisation now under way, with 600 new civilians to be recruited, will lead to the release of 400 police officers to professional duties on the beat.

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