HC Deb 24 July 2000 vol 354 cc756-7
13. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

If he will make a statement on his projections for police numbers on 1 March (a) 2001, (b) 2002, (c) 2003 and (d) 2004. [130334]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the outcome of Spending Review 2000 for Home Office services on 19 July. We are currently discussing the detailed implications of that announcement for police numbers with the police service. However, we expect that the number of police in March 2002 will exceed that which we inherited in March 1997. Moveover, we expect that, in March 2003, there will be the highest ever number of police officers in this country.

Mr. Paterson

I hope that the Minister is right because, in April 2000, the West Mercia force was 101 policemen down compared with April 1997. Who will train those policemen? West Mercia could recruit 200 officers, but it could find only 40 places in the national training college. How does the Minister plan to increase capacity and when will those places be ready?

Mr. Clarke

Places are ready at the moment, but that is precisely the issue that we are discussing with the police service. I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge the fact that, last Thursday, West Mercia received £1.158 million of the £15 million special funding for rural areas this year. That will help to increase police numbers.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

My hon. Friend will be well aware that a further reduction in crime figures in Lincolnshire was announced this month. That, together with the considerable amount of extra Government resources, including extra moneys for rural police forces, will make a career in the police force ever more attractive. Will he consider developing a national strategy of work in schools so that young people consider a career in the police force as a more attractive option to provide a greater number of recruits?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. I congratulate the Lincolnshire force on beginning to decrease the figures. That is, of course, the test. It is a tribute to all those involved. We shall launch a major national recruitment campaign later this year, including close work in schools of the kind that she recommends. I am glad that we agree with the approach that she suggests.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I welcome the additional money for rural policing that will come to Somerset, but why was Somerset not included in the first place? How will the Minister monitor the adequacy of police resourcing for rural areas in police forces where there are also large urban areas?

Mr. Clarke

Monitoring is an important part of the statistics that we published a week ago. For example, there is a wide variation in crime against the person and so on in the districts in Avon and Somerset. I have the figures in front of me, and the hon. Gentleman has them at his disposal. The purpose of publishing figures at the crime reduction partnership level and at basic command unit level is to allow the kind of informed debate about performance—which is key—to which he refers. I hope that he will join us in trying to drive standards up in the way in which we seek to do.