HC Deb 02 March 1989 vol 148 cc382-4
4. Mr. Nicholas Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress is being made to improve the efficiency of police forces in England and Wales and to obtain value for money.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The Home Office works with chief officers of police and local police authorities to secure value for money in the police service. Significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness have been achieved, with the encouragement and support or my Department and Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. Through the civilianisation of police posts some 3,900 police officers have been released for operational duty in the past five years. Procedures have been streamlined and unnecessary paperwork eliminated. Support services have been contracted out. Efficiency scrutinies have been carried through and much has been achieved through local initiatives. Still further improvements in value for money in the police service will remain a high priority.

Mr. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Dyfed Powys police force which covers Pembrokeshire and which, yet again, has the highest clear-up rate in England and Wales and has been especially vigilant in catching a number of drugs-smuggling gangs in recent years? Does he share my concern that the clear-up record of a number of police forces is pretty poor? When does he intend to introduce performance indicators so that the police and the public may judge the records of individual police forces?

Mr. Hurd

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Dyfed Powys on the achievements that he mentioned and on securing better value for money by bringing in divisional operational support units which release officers for operational work and provide a better service. One cannot be too mechanical about performance indicators as it is not easy to measure the value of police work, but Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary is working on it as an aid, but not a total answer, to the crucial job of ensuring value for money from the police service. It is worth noting that it now costs £2,000 to provide cover for any particular place by one uniformed police officer for one week. That is the measure of the cost and the reason why we have to emphasise value for money.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Home Secretary agree that two important steps that he could take to improve the efficiency of the police would be to adopt the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to end the disturbing under-funding of forensic services and to harness genetic fingerprinting?

Mr. Hurd

I need to study very carefully the Select Committee recommendations on forensic services. Forensic services have been through a turbulent and unsettled time with many inquiries, the reasons for which were analysed by the Select Committee. I hope that, under new leadership and with extra resources and staff, they are now emerging from that and will continue to provide a service of a quality which the Select Committee recommended and proclaimed. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of local Labour opposition, one of the greatest aids to police efficiency in Wolverhampton has been the introduction of video cameras? Wolverhampton is the first town in the United Kingdom to introduce video cameras and in a very short time there has been a dramatic reduction in criminality, which is now at an all-time low. In paying tribute to the police will my right hon. Friend consider recommending that other police authorities follow suit, particularly in inner-city areas that need a considerable police force to man the streets and town centres?

Mr. Hurd

The west midlands police force, which serves my hon. Friend's constituency, is certainly a pioneer in working out new techniques and methods of effectively using police officers. Her point about video cameras in public places aroused a certain amount of apprehension at first, but if they are properly placed and organised, the public regard them not as a menace to individual liberty, but as part of the protection of the citizen which they expect the police to provide.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Home Secretary aware that in the north Wales police force there has been a civilianisation of some 54 per cent. compared with an average of only 22 per cent. for all forces during the past 10 years, yet despite that the North Wales police force is still 120 men on the beat short of the figure that was established in 1972? Is he aware that that was the only force out of the 36 that applied for more policemen on the beat to be refused? Given the serious problems in north Wales, of which he is well aware, will he reconsider that decision?

Mr. Hurd

There has been a particular problem in north Wales which I shall not describe in detail today, in regard to the allocation of people for the new probationer training. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific point that he raised.

Mr. Rathbone

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the shortage of police in Sussex as well as in Wales. In an attempt to ease their burden, will he encourage greater recruitment and the use of special constables, who can perform a useful function particularly in rural areas?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. One of our aims has been to encourage police forces throughout England and Wales to step up the recruitment of special constables. We held a conference on that matter in London not long ago. After a period of decline, I hope that people will come forward and that police forces will step up their efforts to recruit. A key element is sensibly to work out the exact tasks which special constables can do, and I hope that substantial progress is being made on that.