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Police Bureaucracy

Volume 586: debated on Monday 13 October 2014

We have cut red tape and given the police just one simple target: to cut crime. The work that we have undertaken to reduce bureaucracy could save up to 4.5 million hours of police time across all forces every year. That is the equivalent of more than 2,100 officers back on the beat.

I remember that when I was a young barrister practising in Bow Street magistrates court—I could not get a better brief anywhere else—the police officers just rolled up with their note books and justice was swift and usually fair. [Interruption.] Yes, it generally was fair—if they weren’t guilty of that, they were guilty of something else. Ever since then, every single Home Secretary has tried to cut police bureaucracy, but it now takes up to a third of police time. Can we just cut through this matter and repeal the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which started the rot?

I am not about to repeal the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which contains some important safeguards in respect of the way in which the police should conduct investigations. However, my hon. Friend’s overall point about the necessity of ensuring that the criminal justice system works smoothly, efficiently and effectively, not just for those who are investigating and prosecuting but for those who are brought to trial, is important. That is why the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice continue to do such work. The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is continuing the work that was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) when he was in that position to reduce the paperwork in the criminal justice system as much as possible so that we get the police doing what everybody wants them to be doing, which is preventing and cutting crime.

In her reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the Home Secretary said that the reduction in bureaucracy was the equivalent of 2,100 additional bobbies on the beat. How many bobbies were on the beat a couple of years ago and how many are on the beat now?

The purport of the hon. Lady’s question is that there has been a cut in the number of police officers over the past few years as police forces have dealt with the changes in their budgets. I am pleased to say that, despite that, the proportion of police officers on the front line has gone up over the past few years.

A couple of years ago, I was stopped for the fairly inoffensive crime of failing to clear the frost from my windscreen. The police officer who stopped me inquired what my ethnic origin was. When I asked why he wanted to know, he said that it was demanded by the Home Office. Will the Home Secretary therefore tell me whether there are officials locally, regionally or in the Home Office itself collecting that information? Would those people not be better deployed catching criminals?

There are a number of circumstances in which police officers ask for the ethnicity of the individual they have stopped—for example, they record that information for stop-and-search. That is why we know that in stop-and-search cases, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are six times more likely to be stopped than young white males. Such information has enabled us to bring about changes in stop-and-search, which I believe are absolutely right, to ensure that nobody on the streets of this country is stopped simply because of the colour of their skin.

The Home Secretary talks about cutting bureaucracy, but does she seriously think that spending £50 million a year on the salaries and offices of police and crime commissioners is money well spent?

It was absolutely right to introduce police and crime commissioners. They have introduced a degree of local accountability to local policing that was not there when the police authorities were in place. I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s party thinks that at local borough command level, police borough commanders should be jointly appointed by the local council and the chief constable. That would be a wrong move; it would mean the politicisation of the police, and I suggest that his party think again.