HL Deb 20 May 1986 vol 475 cc283-5WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their review of police manpower has been completed.

Lord Glenarthur

On 21st October my right honourable friend announced that he was setting in hand urgent work to assess where there were specific needs for increases in the establishment of the Metropolitan Police. At the same time he asked HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a parallel review of the manpower needs of provincial forces. These reviews have been completed, and I can now announce their outcome.

When this Government first took office in May 1979 the police service as a whole was about 7,500 below an establishment of 119,000 which was itself inadequate. The Metropolitan Police was more than 16 per cent. below strength. Previous Home Secretaries in this Government took vigorous action to put this right. The result is that total police strength in England and Wales at the end of March stood at 120,848, 9,355 more than May 1979. Total strength, including civilians, has risen by 14,076 over the same period.

These substantial increases have been accompanied by a strong drive towards greater efficiency and effectiveness in line with our determination to secure better value for money throughout the public sector. We have emphasised the need to make the best use of the available manpower, for example through civilianisation, which resulted in the release of over 1,000 officers for operational duty in 1983–84 and 1984–85. This has been an essential part of our policy, and it will be maintained. The measures taken by chief officers have put their forces in a better position to cope with the increased demands which have been made on them. But those demands—to deal with terrorism, drugs, crime and public order—have continued to increase. Accordingly, last autumn the Home Secretary decided that there should be a comprehensive look at police manpower, and set in hand the reviews which he announced on 21st October.

The reviews sought to assess the proven needs for additional police officers, and also the extent to which these needs could be met by civilianisation and other efficiency measures. As a result, we have decided that our objective should be further to increase police strength in England and Wales by about 3,200 and civilian manpower by around 2,000. This priority given to the police will be reflected in the 1987–88 Rate Support Grant settlement.

The Home Secretary aims to approve total increases in the establishment of provincial forces of the order of 2,000. He is prepared to approve 430 of these additional posts in the current financial year. For the rest, he envisages a phased programme of increases over the next few years. He will be considering applications from police authorities on the basis of the proven needs of the force, and in the light of advice from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. In particular, he will need to be satisfied that any additional manpower is to be used to meet specific, measurable objectives.

Police authorities applying for increases must of course be ready to carry their share of the cost, and the precise timing of these increases will depend on levels of spending and provision for future years. My right honourable friend's approval is not required for increases in civilian manpower in the provinces, but we expect to see phased increases of approximately 1,350. This will provide scope for substantial further civilianisation, resulting, we hope, in the release of at least 650 police officers for operational duty. Altogether this will amount to an increase in operational strength of more than 2,600.

The Metropolitan Police will receive an increase of up to 1,200 police officers, on top of the increase of 50 for drugs work to which my right honourable friend announced his agreement in principle last October. There will also be provision for increases of 600 in the civil staff ceiling to assist with further civilianisation, which should lead to the release of at least 400 officers for operational duty. A further 200 officers will be released by the Commissioner's reorganisation of the force. Altogether, this will amount to an increase in operational strength of up to 1,850 officers.

As the first step in this programme, my right honourable friend has confirmed the increase of 50 in the police establishment previously agreed in principle, and authorised a further increase of 300 for 1986–87. He has also agreed to an increase of 107 in the civil staff ceiling for 1986–87, on top of the 43 agreed by his predecessor last June. The cost of these increases will be contained within the cash limit previously announced. For each of the next three years up to the end of 1989–90 my right honourable friend can indicate now as police authority for the Metropolis that he will be prepared to agree to further increases of up to 300 in the police establishment and 150 in the civil staff ceiling. Before doing so he will need to be satisfied that earlier increases have been effectively used in accordance with the agreed objectives, and that satisfactory progress has been made with civilianisation and the force reorganisation. Home Office officials will be keeping in close touch with the Metropolitan Police to monitor the results of the increases.

The day to day deployment of this additional manpower will be for chief officers of police to determine, in the light of the objectives they will have identified. We know that many wish to increase the visible police presence on the streets. We therefore expect to see a steady increase in the number of officers on foot patrol, deterring the criminal and the hooligan and protecting and reassuring the citizen. This will help achieve our twin objectives of curbing crime and reducing fear of crime. We also hope that increased resources will enable chief officers to strengthen further their investment in crime prevention initiatives such as Neighbourhood Watch.

Some specialised police units will be reinforced. The Commissioner plans to strengthen his squads dealing with organised crime, drug trafficking, fraud and armed robbery. There will also be increases for the vital anti-terrorist work of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch; and additional resources will be available for protection duties.