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Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

10. What steps she is taking to maximise the amount of time that police officers spend on front-line policing. (254646)

Since April 2008 there has been a neighbourhood policing team in every area. The Green Paper confirmed our commitment to reducing bureaucracy and developing technology to free up officer time. It is vital that the police are able to do their jobs efficiently, without being constrained by unnecessary bureaucracy. The policing pledge includes a commitment for neighbourhood policing teams to spend at least 80 per cent. of their time visibly working on their patch.

What reassurance can the Minister give that the Policing and Crime Bill will effectively tackle the bureaucracy and targets placed on the shoulders of police officers, which have been described by Sir Ronnie Flanagan as straitjacketing them and prevent them from doing the job that local people expect them to do?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, but we do not need the Policing and Crime Bill to achieve several of the things that she would like to happen. We have already announced a large number of measures, about which I think she and officers in her constituency in Cheshire and others will be pleased. They include the removal of all top-down targets except one. For example, the “offences brought to justice” target has gone. The only target in which the Government are interested is the confidence target, whereby we ask local people whether they have confidence in the policing in their areas.

The hon. Lady knows that Jan Berry is working on the other points that she made about bureaucracy. She also knows that Sir David Normington is compiling a report. There will be an announcement in the next couple of weeks, which will help to tackle some of her concerns and those of the officers in her area, about the way in which we intend to reduce the bureaucratic burden on our police officers.

The police have had shedloads of money in the past 12 years, and most police officers work very hard. However, throughout the country, reports make it clear that police forces do not work especially efficiently and need to learn to work much more smartly. Will the Minister say a little more about the steps that central Government are taking so that the 43 police forces get their hard-working officers working more smartly?

We have a number of programmes on work force modernisation—for example, to consider the best mix between warranted police officers and those who perform back-room, but none the less important, functions. Does some of the forensic work that goes on require a warranted police officer or an expert computer analyst? I think the answer is the latter. Similarly, it is clear that everyone would welcome it if we could modernise the work force so that we released fully warranted police officers from back-room functions to the front line. Indeed, to give my hon. Friend a concrete example, one of our measures is examining the balance between back room and front line to ascertain whether we can get a better mix that puts more uniformed officers out on the street, where people want them.

Is the Minister aware that front-line policemen are despairing about what they can do with the 1,107 Roma children who have been trafficked into Great Britain by serious organised crime in eastern Europe for criminal activities? They despair because, if the children are under 10, they have no criminal responsibility and there are no Romanian or Bulgarian foster parents. If they are over 10, local authority social services have no room for them in care. If they are taken into care, they abscond, and if they are sent back to the country from which they come, they have nowhere to go because many have been sent to Britain by their families—their own parents have sold them into slavery. What is the Minister going to do about it? What can we do?

The hon. Gentleman, who has raised issues about trafficking in general on several occasions, makes a good and valid point. He makes an important point about children. The Government are considering what to do about trafficked children. We are wrestling with the important question that he asked—not only what police officers should do, but what the state should do if it takes a young child into protective custody. What are we supposed to do—lock up a child? Yet, if the child is not locked up—in Holland, there is protective custody—the criminal gangs come and get the young people, or the children abscond because the people who trafficked them contact them and tell them that the state is their enemy. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are trying to find a way in which to deal with the matter. I have been to Holland to see examples there. However, although many people point to Holland as a utopia for dealing with trafficked children, the Dutch are wondering whether the policy is appropriate because children are absconding from the protective custody that they have established. Clearly, even the Dutch have not got it right, but we are trying to learn from them.

Can my hon. Friend say what the cost of the fight against terrorism is and what impact it has on police budgets up and down the country?

We spend considerable sums of money on counter-terrorism. We have expanded the budget for counter-terrorism activity across the country. Indeed, the counter-terrorism unit in the west midlands, my hon. Friend’s area, is one of the most effective in the country at co-ordinating activity, both in its own area and nationally. Let me also say that counter-terrorism policing is not done instead of neighbourhood policing; it is done with neighbourhood policing because, as I said earlier, if we want to tackle terrorism, we need effective neighbourhood policing, as well as counter-terrorism policing.