This Government are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers by March 2023—an unprecedented increase in the next three years that reflects the biggest recruitment drive in decades. I am pleased to tell the House that, as at 31 December, the police have recruited an extra 6,620 police officers—620 ahead of target and three months ahead of schedule.
It is great to hear about the huge increase in police numbers, especially here in South Yorkshire, but what we really need is these new police to be visible and accessible. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need these new police officers to be front of house at Maltby police station, so that they can speak to residents and address their concerns, and to be established at a new base on Dinnington High Street, to clamp down on antisocial crime?
It is no surprise that so diligent a Member would take every opportunity to maximise the benefits from this enormous uplift in police officers for his constituents. While the decision on particular police stations is an operational matter for the chief constable, in consultation with the police and crime commissioner, my hon. Friend is quite right that an expansion in numbers on this scale means that all police forces should be reviewing their property strategy, to ensure that the presence he looks for in his constituency is felt across the country.
Under the leadership of our chief constable Lee Freeman, Humberside police has made good progress from the position it was in a few years ago, and we have benefited from increased officer numbers. If we are to maintain that progress and meet the expectations of my constituents, we must continue to increase force numbers. Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that we will be able to further increase the number of officers in Humberside?
In my nearly six years in the House, I have watched with admiration as my hon. Friend, terrier-like, holds the Government to their commitments; he is doing exactly the same today, and I do not blame him for it. He is quite right that we have seen a big increase in police officer numbers, but there is much more to come. We have done 6,620, which means that there are 13,000-odd yet to go. The Government’s commitment to the number of 20,000 is about as solid as it gets. It is the same as if the ravens were to leave the tower: if we fail to fulfil this promise, there will be fundamental problems and consequences for Government, not least, I am sure, from my hon. Friend.
I welcome the brilliant work of my hon. Friend’s Department, putting more bobbies on the beat in Darlington. Does he share my concern that those same officers will spend more time ferrying detainees across County Durham and less time on the beat if the plans of the acting police and crime commissioner to spend £21 million on a single custody suite for the whole county go ahead, robbing my constituency of its accessible custody suite? Does he agree that this decision should wait until after we have elected a new, democratic police and crime commissioner?
What a joy it is to hear a Conservative voice for Darlington once again! You will be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that in my very first general election in 1987, I fought in Darlington for the then young and fresh-faced Michael Fallon, who was the successful MP in that election.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. When deciding about the disposition of custody suites in police stations across a particular force area, chiefs must have in mind the amount of time that will be spent by police officers in ferrying miscreants to and from those custody suites. I applaud him for pushing his temporary police and crime commissioner, and I hope there is soon to be a Conservative one—George Jabbour is a fantastic candidate—who will make a sensible decision in favour of all the people of Durham.