HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc10-1
5. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

If he will make a statement on the level of allowances made to Metropolitan police officers and the effect on recruitment of officers from other forces. [137449]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I increased the London allowance for Metropolitan police officers who joined after 1 September 1994 by around £3,300, bringing it to £6,051, with effect from July 2000. That and other changes now appear to be easing that force' s recruitment.

During the current financial year, 21 officers have transferred to the Metropolitan police service and 197 officers have transferred from the MPS to other forces. Because of the recruitment difficulties of home counties forces, as I have already mentioned to the House, the employers offered to increase the allowance for officers in those forces working within a 30-mile radius of London by £2,000, and in the 30 to 40-mile band by £1,000, with effect—if it is agreed—from 1 September 2000.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that reply. Is he aware that in the county of Essex, the number of police officers is 129 below the funded establishment, and that part of the problem in the current recruitment campaign is the distorting effect of the London allowance? May I press the right hon. Gentleman on two points? First, is the 30-mile band realistic? A town such as Chelmsford—a major commuting area—will be outside that band; £1,000 will not be an attractive enough sum to stop people seeking a career in the Met rather than in Essex.

Secondly, as the matter has dragged on for so long, what more can the Home Secretary do to ensure that a decision is reached before Christmas rather than in February? He urgently needs to address the recruitment problems experienced in Essex and other home counties.

Mr. Straw

We think that the 30-mile band is realistic, but obviously we are open to argument about the overall amount of money that has been allocated.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I want to see progress made in the Police Negotiating Board. Under the constitution of that body I have no power even to order it to meet, but, because of his question, I have said that I want it to meet as quickly as possible. Not everybody will be happy with the final outcome, but I believe that that type of increase in that type of band will help to overcome the recruitment problems—which I recognise—of the home counties forces. We allocated quite a lot of extra money to Essex to ensure that if the police can attract the recruits, their numbers rise significantly above the March 1997 levels—hopefully rising to record levels after that. Even now, the MPS is a net exporter of officers, not a net importer.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Officers in my constituency have welcomed the increase in allowances, but recruitment is still affected by the supply of affordable housing. Will my right hon. Friend continue to liaise with his colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to promote the potential for local authorities to introduce a requirement for key worker housing in planning applications for housing developments above a certain scale? Will he report to the House on that as soon as possible?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He has my support, and I shall report to the House and to him about it.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, despite the very welcome increase in allowances, the monthly figures for recruitment suggest that they are insufficient to prevent a further decline in Metropolitan police numbers? What further measures does he have under consideration to alleviate a position that is no longer just a problem, but is becoming a critical emergency in many parts of London?

Mr. Straw

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. All the evidence now suggests that overall police numbers—including, we hope, in the Metropolitan police area—are beginning to bottom out, although there are inevitably lags in terms of getting recruits into the system. He will have seen reports in the newspapers from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis showing the relative success of recruitment inside the Metropolitan police. In addition to improving recruitment and increasing the speed of getting recruits into the training schools, which has been a big problem in the past, the Commissioner of Police is putting much effort into dealing with the problem of retaining officers in the service. The combination of those measures and the additional funds that we have provided will ensure that police numbers start to rise.