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Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

6. If he will take steps to increase the proportion of their time which police officers spend on the beat. (295130)

The policing Green Paper published last July introduced measures to reduce bureaucracy and free up police time, including scrapping a police time sheet, releasing 260,000 police hours, and axing the stop and account form, releasing an estimated 690,000 hours. Those measures and more help put more police on the beat. We will review the matter still further in the policing White Paper later this year.

Will the right hon. Gentleman thank Essex police for putting more beat bobbies in Castle Point? We need them to counter disgraceful behaviour by youths around a new school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that has been placed on Canvey Island, which is causing residents and businesses absolute mayhem. Does he agree that EBD schools should be located very carefully within communities? This one should certainly have been moved to central Essex—

If there are concerns about any issue at any location, the first port of call should be to talk to the local beat officers, as part of our neighbourhood policing pledge, about what should happen at local level. I do not know the circumstances, but I would be happy to refer this exchange to the local chief constable for examination. However, the hon. Gentleman should raise the matter with the local forces, who are best placed to deal with it under the policing pledge.

At the weekend we changed the clocks, making it light at 6 o’clock in the morning and dark at 6 o’clock in the evening. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that is helpful or unhelpful to the criminal classes, and to police on the beat?

I think that ultimately the criminal classes will try to find ways to undertake crime, and the police will always find ways to stop them, whether it is dark or light. However, I shall refer my hon. Friend’s comments to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is the appropriate Department to regulate these matters.

The public rightly want to see more visible policing. Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on the beat. Will the Minister tell us what the latest figure is?

I do not have those figures to hand, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. However, I will say this: no matter how many police are on the beat, they must be doing something right, because crime is down by 36 per cent. over the past 12 years. Indeed, the figures that came out last Thursday show that overall crime was down by 4 per cent. I hope he will recognise that the police are doing a good job, servicing the public very well, reducing crime and ensuring that the safety of the community is paramount.

Smart use of some technologies that are available to police is helping them to reduce time wasted in bureaucracy. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to evaluate the pilots that have been undertaken to improve services to the public, such as the use of palm devices in Thames Valley?

We are undertaking ongoing evaluation. My hon. Friend will know that some 18,000 hand-held devices have been put into the system over the past 12 months and we continually look at how we can reduce bureaucracy and get police focused on the front line. Indeed, very shortly we expect a further report from Jan Berry, the police adviser on these matters, which we will publish for the House and which I believe will set a further trend for the next 12 months and beyond of reducing bureaucracy still further.