HC Deb 02 March 1989 vol 148 cc390-1
10. Mr. Gow

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received as to whether the police manning levels which he has announced for 1989–90 are adequate to combat present and prospective rates of crime.

Mr. Hurd

I have received several representations from hon. Friends and hon. Members concerned about this announcement. Many of them have asked for more. The 1,100 extra police officers allocated this year will be followed by a further substantial programme of increases. Along with the other measures which we are taking, increases for 1989–90 will help to build on the recent welcome falls in total recorded crime so that we can concentrate more effectively on dealing with crimes of violence.

Mr. Gow

Despite greater police manpower and efficiency and better value for money than ever before, the reality is that crime in almost every part of the country is still increasing. Was my right hon. Friend's failure to meet the request from the chief constable and the police authority for a larger police establishment in Sussex due to the fact that he believed that more police men would fail to protect the innocent, or was it because he could not get any more money from the Chancellor?

Mr. Hurd

Although my hon. Friend's statement would have been true for almost all the past 30 years, it is not true now. The latest figures show a decline, year on year, across the nation of 3.7 per cent. in recorded crime. In my hon. Friend's own county of Sussex, where the crime level is well below the average, there has also been a very slight fall of about 1 per cent. Obviously, increasing the number of police officers is not in itself the whole answer to crime, but, nevertheless, I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that the 1,100 additional policemen that I have announced for the coming year is on top of a record series of increases which have increased total expenditure on the police by 52 per cent. in real terms. That is a bigger proportion than for any other major public service, and it will be followed by a further substantial programme of increases in which any further claims from Sussex will be considered.

Mr. Alton

Does the Home Secretary agree that in inner city areas, especially those such as Liverpool, a powerful pressure for crime is the low street value of hard drugs such as crack and heroin? Does he agree that, when considering the establishments for local police forces next year, he should reconsider the size of drug squads to ensure that their activities are better co-ordinated and that the powerful drug barons are apprehended?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, indeed, I entirely agree with that. The building up of the drugs rings of regional crime squads has been a priority in policing. I am glad to say that they are increasingly effective and are gaining more and more accurate and timely intelligence from overseas. They will remain a priority.

Mr. Alexander

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the special constabulary has an important role in reducing crime? What reassurance can he give the House that its role will be expanded and recruitment to it increased?

Mr. Hurd

As my hon. Friend knows, we are certainly pressing for that. I hope that, alter the conference on the subject that we organised in London and after the lead given by many chief officers of police, we shall see a steady build-up of special constables, not just in quantity but in the quality and importance of their work.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Home Secretary confirm that West Midlands police have received an increase of only 70 uniformed officers since 1981, despite a crime rise that has been faster than the national average and ever-rising levels of crime against the person? Will the Home Secretary further confirm that those 70 extra officers came in response to a plea for 350 extra places, and that for 1989–90 there will be only 62 extra officers although the police authority asked for 1,500 over the next five years? Why does the Home Secretary insist on denying the west midlands the police officers that it needs to prevent and combat crime more effectively?

Mr. Hurd

That is ripe coming from the hon. Gentleman sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, repersenting the party which left the police in such a state in 1978. The west midlands has shared fully in both the main developments in this field in the past two or three years: a steady increase in the size of the police force and a welcome fall in the total of recorded crime.

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