HL Deb 09 February 1987 vol 484 cc425-7

2.56 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how much police manpower has increased since 1979.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, there has been a total increase of 15,732 since May 1979, including 10,239 additional police officers, in England and Wales.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging and interesting reply. Can he tell the House what action has been taken to ensure that more police officers are returned to operational duties?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, we are seeking to encourage the use of civilians for some police work in order to make well-trained officers available for operational duties. That is what we are seeking to encourage. A number of forces have significant posts where police officers could be replaced by civilians. I can tell my noble friend that as a result of the manpower increases announced last May, a further 1,200 posts will be made available by civilians able to do jobs that officers used to do.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, has the increase in police manpower been able to keep pace with the increase in crime since 1979?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, police manpower has increased. Of course, we all remember the low base from which we started in 1979.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, are there any plans to increase the number and the duties of traffic wardens? Also, is it thought that when the Crown Prosecution Service gets going this will provide some relief to police manpower?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that was one of the reasons why the Crown Prosecution Service was set up. As regard traffic wardens, I am afraid that under the remit of this Question, I am unable to help the noble Lord.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the strength of the police is now up to the increased establishment that has been given? Has there been any improvement in the processing of applicants? The House was recently told of the very long wait that people experience before learning whether or not they are accepted. Has there been an improvement?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, at the end of November last year, there were 1,792 police vacancies, which is an average deficiency of about 1.5 per cent. In 1979, the average was about 6.5 per cent. We hope that before long police manpower will be up to the limit for each police force and budgets have been made accordingly

Lord Mellish

My Lords, because democracy demands that everything should be made as difficult as possible for the average policeman, can the Minister say what improvement is to be made in the time that a police officer spends writing out reports? It is a known fact that eight or nine hours in any one day are devoted to writing reports on crimes committed two or three days earlier. Is it not time that something was done about that? The employment of civilians on such routine work is vitally important so that policemen can be out on the beat.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, a certain amount of the work of officers can be undertaken by civilians, but the writing of reports is extremely important, and even more important when more and more people seem to want to criticise the police. It is essential that the facts are put down accurately, and, alas, that takes time.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, what is the official terminology that is applied to the civilian assistance to the police? Are they known as "coppers' narks"?

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I raised a second point which my noble friend has overlooked. Are the applicants being more rapidly processed than they were? It was taking over six months to let an applicant know whether he or she had been accepted. Has that position been improved upon?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am afraid I do not know, but I shall look into the matter for my noble friend.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, can my noble friend say what action is being taken to encourage members of ethnic minorities to join the police force?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government is keen to see an increase in the number of black and Asian police officers. A very useful national conference of police recruiting officers was held last October and we are now considering how to put its recommendations into effect.

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