HC Deb 13 July 1989 vol 156 cc1118-9
5. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress his Department is making towards securing greater value for money from the Metropolitan police service.

Mr. Hurd

My Department and the Metropolitan police are working hard to improve the use of resources and to secure better value for money. Measures have included a continuing programme of civilianisation, efficiency scrutinies and contracting-out of services, and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary will now conduct independent inspections of the Metropolitan police.

Mrs. Gorman

Can my right hon. Friend give us some idea of the progress that has been made in the past three years in civilianising clerical jobs in the Metropolitan police force and contracting out other non-police work? According to the audit report, less than 25 per cent. of police time is spent policing out on the job, in the case of inspectors the figure is as little as 40 per cent. Most of their time is spent in the station doing clerical work.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. Much has been done, and much remains to be done. Between 1 April 1985 and March this year more than 400 police officers were released for operational duties because of civilianisation, and I have authorised 200 additional civil staff this financial year to release 200 more officers. There is a similar story on contracting out. One result of such activity is that the hours spent on street duty by London's uniformed police officers rose by 9 per cent. last year.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Has the Home Secretary read the National Audit Office report which outlines innumerable examples of poor estate management by the Metropolitan police? What action does he intend to take, or must policemen in the London area still work in Victorian conditions without any understanding by the Home Secretary of their problems, with the resultant effects on morale?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has already answered a question on that precise point. We have a programme for improving and modernising police stations, particularly in London. I hope that some of the new capital spending arrangements that are coming into effect will enable the Met to do more than it has done already.

Mr. David Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the number of fingerprint officers were to be increased, the crime detection rate would be higher? Is he aware that only 40,000 out of 2 million crimes where fingerprints were left behind were solved in that way?

Mr. Hurd

There has been concern about the pace at which the new techniques are being introduced. It is something that I am reviewing.

Mr. Hattersley

Is the system of screening, by which the importance of 999 calls is assessed before they are answered, intended to make the Metropolitan police force more cost effective? What proportion of 999 calls are not answered as a result of screening?

Mr. Hurd

I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's latter point without notice, but I shall certainly let him know. I am glad to correct a misleading figure that has appeared in the newspapers—that only 15 per cent. of reported crimes are screened in. The figure is just about double that—30 per cent. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would disagree with the principle that the police should devote resources to solving crimes where they have a reasonable chance of locating the criminal because there are clues. No crimes are screened out by category. Crimes are screened out when there is no particular clue or reason to suppose that the offender can be located. I think that the public understand that.