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Metropolitan Police Force

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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How many police officers are serving in the Metropolitan police force; and how many were serving in May 1997. [109758]

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

The Metropolitan Police Service had 26,868 police officers on 30 September last year, 191 more than in March 1997. The increase should be seen in the light of boundary changes that have reduced the metropolitan area. In addition, the Metropolitan police have 498 community support officers, and the Metropolitan Police Authority's budget for this financial year allows for an increase of 1,200 officers by March next year.

I note that reply and welcome the improvements that have been made and, according to my hon. Friend, will continue to be made. Is he aware that many London Members such as me, who have large ethnic communities in our constituencies, are deeply concerned about the lack of police officers, men or women, who come from an ethnic background? London's police force is totally unrepresentative of its population. Will my hon. Friend and his Department urgently consider the recruitment of ethnic police officers, men or women, into the Metropolitan police?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it is not only recruitment but retention that we need to bear in mind. The Metropolitan police have 1,286 officers from ethnic minorities, which is 4.9 per cent. of the force strength. That is well above the national average, but of course it is nowhere near a reflection of the community that the force is policing, so we need to continue all our efforts not only to recruit but to retain officers from ethnic minorities.

Ministers will know that the beginnings of the increase in numbers in the Met are very welcome, but is that recruitment at the expense of other police forces in the country? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that six police forces—City of London, Merseyside, Cumbria, Staffordshire, Sussex and West Yorkshire—have between them lost 633 officers in the same time, even though their council tax increase this year is, on average, 29 per cent.? Nine forces have had no increase at all—[Interruption.]

Will my hon. Friend continue increasing police officers in the Met until they number 28,000 and, in due course, 30,000? We recognise that the increase, together with the appointment of street patrols and community support officers, has already borne fruit in the form of the sharp reduction in street crime that the Home Secretary was able to announce last year in Wandsworth.

We intend to continue investing in the crime fighting fund opposed by the Conservative party. The increase in police numbers in the Met is far higher than the 191 that I mentioned because the boundary changes effectively result in 890 officers moving from the Met to other forces. The increase, boundary for boundary, is already of the order of 1,000 and, as I said, the new budget for the coming year allows for the further recruitment of 1,200 officers.

Having recently finished the parliamentary police service scheme, I pay the highest tribute to the quality of officers serving in the Metropolitan police, regardless of their ethnic background. While it is welcome that an extra 1,200 uniformed personnel are expected by March next year, in my borough of Hillingdon we are promised only one extra uniformed officer. Will the Minister therefore consider appointing reserve officers, who will meet exactly the same criteria for training and experience as the regular force, but will be paid only when they serve, not as specials but as regular reservists?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about the quality of people coming into the Metropolitan Police Service irrespective or their racial background, but may I correct him in one regard? There will be more than 1,200 additional uniformed staff—he and his colleagues like to forget that, as well as those extra police officers, there are already 500 community support officers in the Met, and their numbers will be augmented in the year ahead. The allocation in the Metropolitan Police Service is a matter for the commissioner, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that it is for the Home Secretary or me to tell him where he should deploy that force.

Last year's pay reform package allowed police authorities and, indeed, the Met to make special priority payments to officers where there are recruitment or retention difficulties, greater than average responsibilities or where the needs of the job are more demanding than average. The Police Federation points out that in some cases that has had a perverse effect, leading to constables being paid more than sergeants, sergeants more than inspectors and inspectors more than higher ranks. Does the Minister believe that that is good for the effective organisation of the Metropolitan police?

We wanted to reward police officers on the front line and those whose performance is exceptional, and have sought to do so. Of course, we will keep the way in which those payments have been arranged and made under review, along with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the commissioner and the Metropolitan Police Authority.

In common with every other questioner, I welcome the slight increase in numbers in the Metropolitan police, but does the Minister accept that the lesson of New York is that it is not a slight increase that is required but a step change in the numbers of police officers in London? Does he accept that, as part of a national programme of adding 40,000 extra police officers, we need to add about 8.000 in London to get to the point where the level of policing in London is comparable to that in New York?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I shall just ask him, if I may, to go back to his figures on New York. He may have noticed that there has been a drop in police numbers there in the past few years. He should not underestimate the number of additional police officers here. As I have said, taking boundary changes into account, there are already 1,000 additional police officers in the Metropolitan area, and there are plans for a further 1,200. The right hon. Gentleman comes up with these ideas but how he is going to pay for additional police officers? Who knows where that money will come from? He belittles the fact that we have record numbers of police officers, something that his party failed to achieve when in government.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving the House a taste of the various rhetorical devices that the Government have used to avoid addressing this question. I wonder whether we can strip away the party political badinage for a moment, because Question Time is a good opportunity to try to get clear answers to difficult questions. It is clear that the Minister has two options, and I hope that he can tell us which one he is choosing. One is that he does not accept, for some reason or other, that a step change is needed in the level of policing in London, and the other is that he accepts that one is needed, but does not have the funds to achieve it because it is not one of the Government's priorities. Which of those two positions is the Minister taking in the face of our proposal for an increase of 8,000 officers in London and 40,000 in the country as a whole?

The right hon. Gentleman should at least accept that, in the 12 months to September 2002, there were an additional 4,337 officers, which is the biggest single increase in any one year since 1976—when a Labour Government were in power. How on earth does he reconcile his promises on police numbers with the insistence of his hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) on a 20 per cent. cut in public service spending? The right hon. Gentleman cannot do so despite his best endeavours.