The police should be focusing on police work, not paperwork. That is why, last month, the Government announced a package of new measures to cut red tape, saving up to 2.5 million police hours a year.
I thank the Minister for that response and I am sure that my constituents will welcome measures that will cut the time that our police officers have to spend on paperwork and administration. I wonder whether the Minister would kindly update the House on what steps are being taken to improve the accountability of the police.
We want to improve the accountability of the police and the whole criminal justice system to the public and we are proceeding with our plan to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners to do that—those measures are currently under discussion in the Lords—and measures such as the introduction of street level crime mapping. The police.uk website has received more than 420 million hits since its launch.
I believe that elected police and crime commissioners will have a very strong focus on reducing the burden of bureaucracy and administration in their forces precisely because they will feel pressure from their electorate to ensure that resources are directed to the front line. We are also placing police and crime commissioners under a duty to collaborate and I am sure that they will work together to drive out unnecessary costs from their forces.
Warwickshire police in my constituency are pushing forward with innovative changes to its policing model to allow more police to be out on the streets doing what they are supposed to be doing. It is also implementing new technology to allow officers to file paperwork without having to return to their desks. Could the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us what progress has been made in implementing similar changes in other—
I welcome the steps being taken by Warwickshire police in this area and I would happily visit the force to look at what it is doing. We want to make sure that new technology is used in that way by police forces. We have inherited the problem that there is still multiple keying of data into different systems by police officers, as I heard this morning for myself, which is wasting their time. We still have 2,000 different IT systems across the 43 forces, which we have to converge and we have a programme to achieve that.
I would like to have a further discussion with my hon. Friend about what obstacles there are to that. We certainly want to ensure that the police are able to exercise their existing powers to move on Travellers who are in illegal occupation of sites, which is totally unacceptable and antisocial. We believe that the powers are there; if there are impediments or if the force is encountering some difficulty, I would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend about that.
Why are the Government increasing the administrative burden on the police by making them apply to a magistrates court to retain the DNA of those suspected of serious criminal offences? Surely, the retention of that DNA should be automatic. Is the Minister going to rethink this in time for the Bill’s Report stage?
We have to strike the right balance between civil liberties and the effectiveness of these crime-fighting tools, but it would simply be wrong to characterise the Government’s approach as increasing the burden on police. We are returning charging decisions to the police and our aim is that 70% of all decisions will now be made by police without having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service, so we are giving more discretion and control to the police and we are reducing bureaucracy.
Will the Minister accept that some of the reporting requirements placed on police are about accounting for the very serious powers that we give them to act on our behalf? In the past, a lack of such requirements led to deaths in custody, stop-and-search practices and other things that brought the police into disrepute. How is the Minister going to make sure that he achieves the balance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and not allowing the police to go back to old ways?
I accept the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we have proper processes and accountability, but we must trust officers as trained professionals to exercise their discretion and we need a proportionate approach to risk-taking. The stop-and-search form is a good example, because we have reduced the amount of data required, not scrapped it entirely. That will save hundreds of thousands of hours of officer time, but it will still keep in place important safeguards to ensure community confidence in policing.
On the question of that balance, I understand that Greater Manchester police are talking of removing face-to-face access for the public at police stations. On top of the 620 support posts that have had to be removed, does the Minister not see that the 20% cuts are now leading to a degradation in service that will cause a loss of confidence in the police?
I do not accept that there will be degradation of service in Greater Manchester, and I do not believe that the chief constable would either. He has talked about the fact that the headquarters’ staff in his force got too big and about the savings that can be achieved. As we have said, there are many innovative ways for the police to make contact with their communities that do not necessarily involve an attachment to old buildings. Forces around the country are sharing community centres and shop premises, increasing the contact time that they have with the public as a result. The number of visits to police stations can be very low.
The Home Secretary says that she is saving 1,200 police officer posts by cutting red tape, but we know that 12,000 police officers are being axed across the country. Of the six measures to cut bureaucracy, one has not been taken up by the national statistician and four are pilots. Is not the real truth that the scale and pace of the cuts is slashing front-line policing, not red tape, as we know in Warwickshire? What will be the administrative saving in this financial year as we see the deepest front-loaded front-line cuts?
I have said that the package of measures that we announced recently would save another 2.5 million hours of officer time, equivalent to 1,200 police officer posts, and we will go further with, for instance, more efficiencies in the criminal justice system. We will take no lectures from the Opposition about bureaucracy. It was they who tied up the police in this red tape with their targets, directions, policing pledge and constant interference, and it has fallen on this Government to reduce that bureaucracy and ensure that police officers can be crime fighters, not form writers.