HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc3-5
2. Mr. John Baron (Billericay)

What plans he has to reduce the administrative work load of police officers. [21144]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Recent research commissioned by the Home Office showed that up to 43 per cent of police officers" time was spent in the police station. "Policing a New Century" outlined our proposals to provide support staff with the necessary powers to undertake certain roles that do not need to be carried out by a police officer. The Home Secretary has established a taskforce, chaired by Sir David O'Dowd, to co-ordinate the steps necessary significantly to reduce the unnecessary burdens on police officers' time. It will report in the spring.

Mr. Baron

I thank the Minister for that response. The findings of that study will result from the great burden of paperwork, including 58 performance criteria, the best value regime and a raft of arrest paperwork. Given that detection rates are at their lowest ever, when will the Minister allow the police to do the job that they want, which is to fight crime, not push paper?

Mr. Ainsworth

The hon. Gentleman throws back at us some of the issues that we have exposed in order to make progress on that issue, which we are doing in the police reform White Paper. He is right that we are looking to streamline the number of targets to which the police are subject through best value and other regimes, but other issues include the amount of time spent in a police station on arrest. Some of that work can be done by other people, and is being done by other people in some police forces. Those are some of the issues that we intend to address, so that police constables can spend more of their time doing the work that they are highly qualified to do and that the British public expect them to do.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will my hon. Friend pass on the congratulations of many hon. Members to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his pungent remarks a couple of weeks ago about delays caused by the legal profession? The administrative work load on police officers and the administrative work done by housing officers, police officers and councillors in pursuing antisocial behaviour orders—in my city of Nottingham and elsewhere—cost massive amounts of money. The case gets to court and then some smart alec lawyer finds a way to get the little brat—which would be the parliamentary expression—off and out into the community again. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the joined up thinking continues so that the time of council officers and councillors is used productively?

Mr. Ainsworth

I am not sure that I would dare refer to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as pungent, and I do not know whether my hon. Friend meant his remarks to be pungent. However, efforts are being made better to align court time with police time, so that police officers do not waste their time unnecessarily waiting for court cases. We need better co-ordination and communication to avoid that happening.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Is it not a sad indication of the state of police morale that they should consider working to rule? The police cannot strike, so will the Home Secretary and the Minister agree that the flexibility that we all know is necessary must be achieved by agreement? To achieve that, what will the Government do? It is a question not of setting people to do different jobs, but of getting rid of paperwork. What forms will the Government abolish? What reports will they stop calling for? What will be the Government's side of the bargain in reaching the agreement needed if the police reforms that the Home Secretary wants are to be achieved?

Mr. Ainsworth

The Government published "Diary of a Police Officer", and we seek to halve the number of best value indicators as part of our efforts to cut bureaucracy. Such things underlie the whole agenda of the White Paper. We are in the middle of negotiations that could affect terms and conditions for the police, and the hon. Gentleman should not be surprised if the press comments on that. While we are handling such important issues, the British public will consider both how the Government handle matters and how the Opposition respond. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respond reasonably and sensibly instead of playing games on the back of an important issue.

Forward to