We are committed to reducing police bureaucracy, including the time spent on unnecessary administrative tasks. This is why I have taken steps to reduce the amount of data that we collect from police forces, scrapped the lengthy stop-and-account form and invested in mobile phone technology to allow officers to work in a much more efficient and smarter way.
The Minister will know that, whenever the police are criticised for how they do their job, they invariably say they are hampered by the number of forms that they have to fill in. The Home Secretary said that he would deal with the matter in a radical way. How exactly has he addressed form filling and bureaucracy in a radical fashion?
I take it that the hon. Gentleman has not looked at clause 1 of the Crime and Security Bill currently going through the House of Commons. Has he? I suspect that he has not. If he had, he would have seen that it contains radical proposals, approved by this House, to reduce the stop-and-search form—a measure that by itself will ensure that around 700,000 hours of police time are saved.
In addition, we have accepted 13 recommendations from Jan Berry, the independent adviser on police bureaucracy. We will implement them over the next six to nine months, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will keep up to speed on these matters.
When the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Tim Godwin, gave evidence to the Select Committee last Tuesday, he said that only 30 per cent. of his officers had hand-held devices. The Minister will know that we recommended in our report last year that every front-line officer should have a personal digital assistant, as that would help to cut bureaucracy significantly and ensure that police officers are more visible outside police stations. What are the Government going to do to ensure that every officer has such a device?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who will know, I hope, that we have invested £80 million in securing support for mobile data services. They will save an average of 30 minutes per shift for officers who will not have to go back to the station to complete paperwork that the House does not wish them to do. We want to extend that. I was in Manchester this morning, visiting the Stockport police. They are due to receive their hand-held devices in the next week or so, and that positive approach is being rolled out across the country to ensure that we reduce bureaucracy and improve efficiency.
Will the Minister tell us what actions, in addition to those that he has set out, have been taken to introduce voice recognition technology? In his answer, he mentioned the Government’s approach to hand-held computers for police on the streets, but what steps are being taken with regard to hiring civilian staff to help to complete forms over the telephone? What progress has been made in pilot schemes to cut the proportion of officers’ time spent on paperwork?
There are a number of measures. In the Bill currently before Parliament, we have reduced stop-and-search forms, which will save time, and we have invested £80 million in hand-held devices. I am looking at how we can develop still further the use of modern technology to reduce paperwork and, as I mentioned, through Jan Berry’s work in her second year, we will look at implementing the recommendations that we have already accepted to reduce paperwork. There is more that we can do, we have an appetite to do it, and I am confident that that will help support police officers to be more efficient and to reduce the unnecessary paperwork that is being undertaken.
We can all agree on the need to cut red tape, even if we disagree on the speed at which the Government have moved. Despite the latest initiatives, the figures show that England and Wales are under-policed by international standards. We had 264 police officers per 100,000 population, compared with a European average of 357. Does the Minister agree that that is the main reason why our offences per head of population are so much higher than in other countries, and that a real increase in police numbers, such as that proposed by my party, is what is needed to cut crime?
There are 24,000 more police officers than when the Government were elected in 1997—147,000 police officers now. There are 17,000 police community support officers, whereas there were zero when the Government were first elected. Crime is down by 36 per cent., burglary is down, robbery is down and violent crime is down. That is a record worth defending. We can do more, we should do more, and we are committed to support the funding. The hon. Gentleman can always outbid us because he knows he will never be in a position to have to implement any of those decisions.
In a speech earlier this month, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s
“commitment to protecting the record numbers of police officers . . . is clear.”
Can the Minister guarantee to the House that if the Government are re-elected in May, over the course of the next Parliament there will be no reduction in the total number of police officers currently serving in England and Wales?
The hon. Gentleman will know that for 2010-11 we have given a 2.5 per cent. minimum increase, and that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said that there is no reason whatsoever why police forces should reduce the number of warranted officers or police community support officers because the resources will be available. That commitment contrasts with the position of the hon. Gentleman.
I notice, interestingly, that the Minister did not answer my question. The reason is straightforward. Last week the Home Office published details of progress on its plans to modernise the police work force. Its document specifically refers to it being difficult for forces to use work force modernisation
“as one of their levers to meet the cost pressures ahead if they are not able to reduce officer numbers.”
Why is the Prime Minister promising to protect record numbers of police officers, if the Home Office is quietly working on plans to cut officer numbers?
Let us be clear about this. The Home Office is not planning to cut police officer numbers. The Home Office will support sufficient resources to ensure that the number of police officers and policy community support officers that we currently have can be kept in place, should police chiefs wish to do so operationally. The challenge is for the hon. Gentleman to match that commitment on resources when we go in to the election. Last year the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) would not commit to the funding for next year’s police funding. That is the challenge, and the electorate will see it.
I will be delighted to answer questions from the right hon. Gentleman if we swap sides in the House after the election in May.
The document to which I am referring clearly states “Home Office” on the front of it. Last time I looked, he and his colleagues were Ministers for the Home Office. The document concludes that
“there will need to be constructive engagement”
with politicians and staff associations
“regarding the impact on officer numbers.”
The Government are quietly planning cuts in police officer numbers. Why can they not tell the truth for a change?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a commitment from the Government to maintain the level of numbers if police chiefs wish to have those numbers. We will maintain the resources to do that. We have a record of 24,000 more officers and 16,500 to 17,000 police community support officers. I do not believe that that record would have been maintained if an alternative Government had been in place. I commend that to the House in due course.