HC Deb 30 November 1995 vol 267 cc1319-20
3. Mr. Sutcliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to visit West Yorkshire in the near future to discuss crime levels. [1354]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

My right hon. and learned Friend has no immediate plans to visit West Yorkshire. However, we congratulate West Yorkshire police force on the 10 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime, the 3 per cent. reduction in other theft, and the 5 per cent. reduction in burglary recorded in the 12 months to June 1995.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I congratulate the police, but will the Minister tell us how many extra police officers will be on the beat in West Yorkshire as a result of his proposals? Is he prepared to fund the pilot schemes like the one in my constituency, where two dedicated officers are funded by city challenge? Will he guarantee that, if those schemes are successful, they will receive long-term funding from the Home Office?

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman is behind the times. He should know that we do not dictate to chief constables how many officers they may have. As a matter of interest, with the funding made available to West Yorkshire since the Government came to power in 1979, there has been a 7 per cent. increase in police officers and a 65 per cent. increase in police civilian staff, allowing more bobbies to go on the beat. This financial year, the chief constable of West Yorkshire plans to recruit more bobbies and hopes to have 135 more this year alone.

Mr. Riddick

May I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the chief constable's announcement of 135 new police officers by the end of this financial year? Is he aware that the chief constable has managed to achieve that by slimming down the bureaucracy in Wakefield and reducing the number of senior ranks? Does not that show that extra money from the Government is not always needed to put more police officers on the beat?

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right. That pattern is being repeated throughout the country. In nearly all police forces, chief officers have streamlined senior and middle ranks—particularly inspectors, chief inspectors and superintendents—and used the savings to recruit more constables. That means that more constables are out on the beat. They are available for operational duties and that practice has been encouraged by this Conservative Government. There is also the fact, of course, that the first thing that the Government did in 1979 was to recruit the 8,000 bobbies that that lot let slide.

Mr. Straw

Is the Minister aware that over the three years since the last general election, the number of police officers in West Yorkshire has gone down by 107 and across the country, according to the chief inspector's latest report, by 823—wholly contrary to a pledge given at the last general election of 1,000 more officers on the beat?

Given that broken promise, what guarantee can the Minister give that the latest promise on police numbers of 5,000 over three years is going to be honoured or is that going to be yet another broken promise from the Tories?

Mr. Maclean

With that statistic, as with all the others that the hon. Gentleman uses, especially when he tries to compare falling crime in Britain with crime in other countries, he gets stuck at a particular point in time. He does not like to take the latest, up-to-date facts. He should be aware that the chief constable of West Yorkshire is predicting that by the end of this financial year, he will have 135 more bobbies. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that getting rid of senior ranks and recruiting constables instead puts more people on the beat, then God help this country if he were ever Home Secretary.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary visits West Yorkshire and meets the chief constable, could he suggest that when the chief constable deals with the case of PC Godber, the policeman who clipped a young thug round the ear, that police constable should be congratulated rather than disciplined?

Mr. Maclean

I am sure the House heard what my hon. Friend said and no doubt those remarks will be drawn to the chief constable's attention. Neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary nor I interfere in these disciplinary matters. Cases such as this come to the Home Secretary on appeal once the procedures have been followed. I could not comment.