§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)
My right hon. and learned Friend will be making a statement in the near future when he lays before Parliament his White Paper on police reform.
§ Mr. Moss
Does my hon. Friend recognise that chief constables will warmly welcome the freedom to take their own decisions regarding manpower levels? Is it not absurd that the knee-jerk opposition to the proposals so aptly shown by Labour Members will lead them to oppose a reform which will give chief constables the option of putting more police on the beat?
§ Mr. Wardle
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under the present system, a chief officer who wishes to increase his funding effectively has to express his bid in terms of additional police officers, but it cannot make sense for the Home Office to determine how many officers each force should have. It must be up to the chief officers to decide on the basis of local intelligence and local needs.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
May I express my surprise that the new Secretary of State expressed support for the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which we are currently in the process of seeking to amend? Will his support for more policemen on the beat be enhanced by the Government's proposals for restrictions on spending on police recruitment for the next three years?
§ Mr. Wardle
Many aspects of the 1991 Act made a great deal of sense. If the hon. Gentleman is following the Committee proceedings on the Bill, he will understand how it is now to be improved.
As for police funding, the hon. Gentleman and the House must agree that it is up to chief officers to use their resources and to decide what to spend on manpower and what to spend on equipment. That must make sense.
§ Mr. Brandreth
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the past 14 years police numbers have risen by 16,500 and funding for them has risen by about 80 per cent? That shows the priority that we attach to the police. Does he agree that civilianisation and other ways of putting more police on the beat are to be encouraged and that it must be up to the local chief constables to decide how best to serve the community?
§ Mr. Wardle
My hon. Friend is right. In addition to the statistics that he has just provided, I am sure that he will bear in mind the fact that, since 1979, almost 15,000 more civilian posts have been created and about 6,600 uniformed officers have been released for beat duties as a result of the civilianisation process.
It must be up to chief officers to decide how to deploy their resources. The House will understand that I cannot speculate about the White Paper, but some pointers were provided in the statement on 23 March. I can assure the House that the theme of the White Paper will be partnership between the police and public, and locally based and locally organised policing—so much was clear from the statement.