West Yorkshire Police has blamed big budget cuts for a failure to recruit more black and Asian officers – as Labour vowed to force it to go further.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, pledged to put a requirement on forces to actively recruit black and minority ethnic (BME) officers.

And she said a Labour Government would explore changing the law to allow ‘affirmative action’ in recruitment, which has been successful in New York.

Miss Cooper said: “Although progress has been made in the last ten years, it hasn’t gone far enough – and more recently it has stalled.”

At present, 248 of the 5,008 police officers in West Yorkshire – only 4.95 per cent – are BMEs, the force said.

That proportion is virtually unchanged from 4.9 per cent back in March 2010 yet 18.45 per cent of the area’s population is non-white.

West Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable Dee Collins said the force was “committed to becoming representative of the communities that it serves”.

To that end, it strove to adopt “policies and procedures that support the recruitment, retention and progression of people from under-represented groups”.

However, she added: “The limited amount of recruitment activity over the past four years, brought about by financial constraints, has severely restricted the opportunities for positive action work.

“Despite this, the proportion of the workforce from a BME background has shown a gradual increase.

“The force will continue to work on recruitment, retention and progression initiatives for under-represented groups and this will be targeted as specific opportunities arise.”

The force does have a better record when it comes to special constables with 12.9 per cent from a BME background – up from 10.2 per cent, four years ago.

Senior officers in other parts of the UK have repeatedly warned that the overwhelmingly white profile of the police has damaged their ability to tackle crime and terrorism.

Positive discrimination – when people from under-represented groups are given preference to improve an organisation’s ethnic profile – is illegal under employment law but positive action whereby a minority ethnic candidate is recruited over an equally-qualified white candidate is allowed.

Miss Cooper said she wanted Britain to follow the example of New York, which has a majority of BME officers and includes language skills in recruitment criteria.

She added: “The police are calling for change. It’s time for Government action to make it happen.

“Work needs to be done to build community confidence in policing, particularly in ethnic minority communities.”

Across the country, the proportion of BME officers is virtually identical to West Yorkshire’s, at five per cent.