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Police Time

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

1. What steps she is taking to reduce the time it takes police officers to return to their beat after making arrests. (157277)

2. What steps she is taking to reduce the time it takes police officers to return to their beat after making arrests. (157278)

We are delivering a wide range of measures to enable officers to return to their beat after making arrests more quickly, from better working practices in custody suites to a new £50 million fund to give the police access to 21st-century crime fighting technologies. One such innovation is the 1,000 new mobile computers that we intend to roll out this year, followed by a further 10,000 more next year. Those units, which reduce unnecessary trips back to police stations, have been shown to increase the time officers spend on front-line duties by up to 54 minutes per officer per day.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I spent part of the summer working with the West Midlands police, and at every level, from superintendent to custody suite, the issue of form filling was raised time and again. Can she reassure me that once information has been put into those computers, there will not be a requirement to repeat and repeat the process? Overwhelmingly, the frustration expressed to me by officers was that they had to repeat the same information on form after form.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am glad that she has been able, through the parliamentary police scheme, to spend time with officers on the front line. One of the major benefits of the mobile and hand-held machines that we are making much more widely available to police forces and individual police officers is the ability not just to enter information, but to have it ready populated into forms, which can then be much more easily transferred into other forms or case file preparation. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance she seeks; that concern is one of the reasons for the extra £50 million capital investment in this area.

In congratulating Lancashire constabulary on coming top of the policing results last week, will the Minister tell us what steps she is taking to reduce the time it takes for police officers to return to the beat after making arrests? That is a particular problem in my area.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the excellent progress being made by the Lancashire force, which, of course, came at the same time as we were able to publish the police assessments showing that progress is being made across the board in improving policing. She is also right to say that it is important for the increased numbers of police officers, supported by police community support officers and increasingly by civilian officers, to be able to focus their attention on the front line, and be visible and accountable, as local communities want them to be. That is why it is important that we are investing in the increased use of technology, and why we have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of constabulary, to look specifically at bureaucracy and what we can do to free up police officers so that they can focus their attention on the front line. We welcome Sir Ronnie’s interim report; we will look closely at his recommendations and at how he develops them in his final report, which we are expecting early next year.

I can tell the Home Secretary that those of us who practise in the criminal courts know that many of the records made are never seen again, and are basically designed to protect the reputation of the police authority against complaints. Given that, I suggest that an awful lot of the records could simply be dictated by an officer on to a secure tape, and not subsequently transcribed unless there is some form of complaint or inquiry. That would save a great deal of time.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very interesting suggestion, and one of the areas that police officers have identified as time-consuming is case file preparation. That is why considerable progress is already being made in London through the implementation of new guidance on how that progress can be sped up—for example, by saving about an hour and a half in the preparation of each case file. Given that we have made a commitment to look further at how we can extend that process, and how we can make more progress in that area, I am sure that Sir Ronnie will want to consider carefully the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s proposal.

Some of us are sufficiently middle aged to have practised in the courts before the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Appropriate arrests are right, but so are appropriate convictions. Before the introduction of the Act, defence counsel could often secure acquittal simply because police officers had not had the time to write up their notebooks properly and ensure that they got everything in order. When cases came to trial, there were therefore various gaps. There has to be a balance. If we are to secure convictions, the paperwork has to be done correctly; otherwise we pay the penalty in the Crown court, down the other end.

The hon. Gentleman’s words are wise. Of course, as well as the improvements that we hope and believe that we can make to case file preparation, we are also currently considering a review of the provisions of the 1984 Act, precisely to get the balance right between ensuring that convictions, when appropriate, can be secured, and reducing any bureaucracy that is associated with that Act. We have been working on that since March, and have already had many positive suggestions, which we will consider how to introduce.

F division of South Wales police, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), has introduced a new scheme for prioritising calls to police headquarters so that priorities 1 and 2 go to response teams, priorities 4 and 5 go to community teams and community support officers, and priority 3 calls are picked up by whoever has spare capacity. That prioritisation has reduced the amount of paperwork and previously wasted response time to calls. Could that scheme be taken up by other police forces throughout the country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which Sir Ronnie Flanagan also made. Sometimes, changes in business processes—for responding to the public and for carrying out policing—can be as effective in helping to free up time as a straightforward look at paperwork. My hon. Friend makes an interesting proposal and describes an interesting experience; I am sure that Sir Ronnie would want to consider carefully how it can be shared more widely across the country. As my hon. Friend makes clear, it all depends on the increasing availability of police officers who are focused on our neighbourhoods. That is where neighbourhood policing, to which we are committed and which already covers three quarters of the country, has an important contribution to make.

After 10 years, five Labour Home Secretaries and five red tape reviews, the police still spend more time on paperwork than on patrol. To the amazement of beat officers, Ministers claim that they have abolished 9,000 forms. Given that the Government have got “previous” on dodgy data, will the Home Secretary today publish the list of those alleged 9,000 forms?

I thought that it would not be too long before the practical and sensible approach that hon. Members of all parties had taken to this issue was destroyed—and I did not have to wait long.

We want to ensure that our increased numbers of police officers spend the maximum amount of time on the beat, doing things that are important for communities. That is why we have not only made changes, including removing forms, but asked Sir Ronnie to examine the matter carefully and ensure that we make even more progress. I note that the police performance assessment framework results published last week show that the amount of time spent on front-line policing has increased for the third consecutive year. Not only we, but—more importantly—the communities that the police officers serve will welcome that.