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Police Forces (Establishment)

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 26 November 1981

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent police forces are up to establishment; and if he will make a statement.

All forces outside London are up to or near their authorised establishments. At the end of October the strength of the Metropolitan Police was about 25,000, the highest ever, but the force still has about 1,600 vacancies.

In view of the fact that in the area covered by the West Mercia police force there has been a 20 per cent. increase in crime in the last 12 months and a 30 per cent. reduction in the rate of detection, and that there is one constable to over 500 head of population—way below the national average—when will my right hon. Friend approve the recruitment to the final 90 posts of the 350 originally recommended in 1976?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I approved an establishment increase of 87 posts for West Mercia in February 1980. Since May 1979 the strength of the force has increased by 174, and it is now at its full establishment of 1,921. In all these cases we have to consider the total number of police officers and the fact that police officers are today an expensive commodity and that we must get the full value for money for their work. Bearing in mind all those matters, I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said.

Is the Home Secretary fully aware of the depletion of the effective resources deployed in individual districts of the Metropolitan Police area because of the removal of large numbers of police for joint London and national occasions? Will he bear that fact very much in mind when next the establishment of the Metropolitan Police comes up for review?

Yes. It should be remembered that all of us are perhaps responsible for promoting strains upon the Metropolitan Police in their national duties. It should never be forgotten that marches and demonstrations of all kinds increase the pressures on the Metropolitan Police. That must be accepted. I shall, of course, consider what the hon. Gentleman has said. I wish, however, to make it clear that the figure of 25,000 for the Metropolitan Police is a very considerable increase on any previous figure.

I do not believe that it is right to increase the size of the force too quickly. We need to make sure that officers who go on the beat receive proper training to enable them to do the job effectively. I should be worried if I thought that we were rushing to a new establishment before making sure that the officers concerned were fully trained and mature enough to appear on the streets.