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Police (Foot Patrols)

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 26 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there has been an increase in the number of foot patrols now operated by the police.

I know that chief officers share my view that it is desirable to put more officers on foot patrol, both to improve contact between the police and the community, and to provide more effective policing.

In view of the acknowledged importance of this matter, will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to that part of the Scarman report that is concerned with the status of the beat officer? Is he satisfied that police establishments are sufficient to enable enough people to carry out this duty?

On the first point, "Most certainly, yes". On the second point, the strength of the police service in England and Wales has increased by about 7,500 since the Government came to power. That should provide the opportunity for more foot patrols. That is the purpose of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and chief officers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement that he appreciates the importance of having more police on foot on the beat will be widely welcomed, because there is a wide demand for it all over the country? Now that the Metropolitan Police are, I understand, up to strength, has he made any progress on this matter? Has he been able to relieve the police of any of their other duties? Is there any increase in foot patrolling?

Yes, indeed. The Metropolitan Police are not fully up to strength, although they number about 25,000 for the first time in their 150 years of history. Following a recent review the Commissioner has been able to release over 900 officers from mainly internal or civilian duties for operational street duties, so I think that he has done a great deal, as the right hon. Gentleman would want him to do.

Has my right hon. Friend been made aware of reports that since the number of police foot patrols in Brixton has been reduced, the level of street crime has increased? What deductions does he draw from that?

Police foot patrols in Brixton are extremely important, as indeed—and we must be perfectly clear about this—is the need to deal with crime in Brixton. Nothing that Lord Scarman or anyone else has said leaves any doubt that it is essential to deal with crime without differing standards throughout our community.

Has the Home Secretary any fresh proposals to encourage members of the ethnic minorities to join the police force? In the United States, in Washington and New York, we have seen that, despite accusations of "Uncle Tom", blacks join the police. It is worrying that we do not have enough young blacks coming into the police force.

Yes, that is true. It would be very helpful if we had more. I hope that the House will reject the idea, which has been tried in America and, I believe, failed, of having quotas within the police service. That was a mistake. I trust that we shall not go down that road. Lord Scarman did not suggest that we should do so.

We need more such recruits, but, first, those in their own communities have to encourage them to join, to treat them well when they do join, and not say that they are scabs, or whatever the term may be, for doing so. That is important. At the same time, they have to reach the right standards so that when we have a chance to increase the quality of our police constables they will qualify for the police service.