The effectiveness of the police and their Crown Prosecution Service partners in detecting and prosecuting crime is measured through the target of bringing more offences to justice. This has seen the numbers of offences brought to justice rise to 1.3 million last year and sanction detection rates increase from 19 per cent. in 2003-04 to 24 per cent. at the end of 2005-06.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Overall detection rates remained static at about 27 per cent. in 2006, while the figure for violent crimes reduced from 69 per cent. in 1998 to 50 per cent. Can we be certain that a cash squeeze involving more than £250 million, as set out in the recent Treasury paper on delivering a step change in police productivity, will not mean a real-terms cut in police funding? Such a cut would have a huge impact on front-line policing and on detection rates.
I certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s point about productivity, efficiencies and how much further police forces can go. As one commentator said on the radio this morning, they are very adept at squeezing down efficiencies. But in reality the police, like other public services, will have to do more with the same amount of money, on the back of the best part of seven or eight years’ significant increases and of record resources and police numbers throughout the 43 forces in England and Wales.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of the fixed-penalty notice for disorder has played a part in increasing the detection of crime by ensuring that officers are not spending time taking people to the police station after they have been arrested and going through the courts? Instead, people are being punished straight away for minor offences of disorder; they pay their fixed-penalty notice, and the police can get on with the job and arrest somebody else if necessary.
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, since 2001 there has been an almost continuous improvement in the number of offences brought to justice. Certainly more needs to be done, but it is estimated that fixed-penalty notices save between one and a half and two and a half hours’ worth of police time, which must be in the interests of everyone who has policing as a core concern.
Indeed, the chief constable of north Wales, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on these matters, said that penalty notices for disorder
“are an extremely effective way of encouraging the police to do more enforcement particularly against anti-social behaviour and carry with them an absolute right to a court hearing if the offender so chooses.”
Does the Minister agree that detection rates might be improved if the police had accurate information about offences committed by British citizens abroad? In that context, will he answer a very specific question? Did his ministerial colleague who replied to the letter from ACPO that was sent to him draw that letter to the attention of the Home Secretary, as ACPO had specifically suggested she should, or not? If not, why not?
I certainly agree with the starting point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question. We will put it in the context of a regime where the number of convictions fell by a third, where the chances of being a victim of violent crime trebled and of being a victim of burglary more than doubled, where crime doubled and where violent crime, by the by, increased by 168 per cent. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), made it very clear in last week’s Standard that she did not refer the matters in the letter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary because they were not about the backlog and the 27,500 cases—they were about the ACPO contract and the efficacy of that contract since May 2006. In terms of the more general points, we will take with a very, very strong dose of salt anything said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, given his lamentable record.
I thank the Minister for his reply concerning fixed-penalty notices. Does he agree that the Opposition, by opposing fixed-penalty notices, seem to be supporting more—
If the letter of October to the Minister did not refer to the problem that ACPO was having in detecting the offenders on the files passed to ACPO in May last year, will the Minister tell the House whether, at any earlier stage, ACPO asked for more resources when it realised how great the backlog was? To whom might that request have been addressed, at ministerial or official level, and what was the answer?
Will my hon. Friend take a look at the excellent work done by volunteer police cadets in my constituency, who are helping Merseyside police to detect shopkeepers who sell alcohol to children? Is not the sale of alcohol to children a significant factor in youth offending, and did not youth offending convictions fall dramatically in the 10 years between 1984 and 1994?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is entirely right, and there are any number of programmes and projects, voluntary and otherwise, that work with the retail industry and others to ensure that, where possible, we drive down alcohol-related crime, particularly violent crime. All of them are to be commended, as is their work with police community support officers and police officers, particularly in the context of rolling out further neighbourhood policing. I commend the schemes in Liverpool and elsewhere.
The Minister has admitted that it does not help to improve detection rates if police forces do not know about criminals’ previous convictions for crimes committed while abroad, and on Friday he admitted that he did not know whether crimes committed by British criminals in non-European countries were reported to British police. Will he tell the House two facts: first, whether he is confident that the criminal convictions from all non-European countries are properly recorded on the police national computer, and secondly, whether the foreign criminal convictions of foreign citizens approved to live and work in Britain are put on the police national computer?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we are seeking to write to all Cabinet colleagues to ensure that there is a root-and-branch review of all aspects of the notification, across all Departments. As I understand the position at the moment, the system is in part rooted in Interpol, and beyond that in bilateral and other relationships between the UK and other countries. On a factual point, I think that what I actually said on Friday was that I could not say with confidence that every single record from every single source, under whatever treaty, was on the PNC. The review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is carrying out will clear the matter up entirely, and will take us to a stage at which the House, collectively, can be assured about public protection.
If I understood what the Minister said in toto, I think that his answer was “Yes, in part.” The fact that the actions are taken in part undermines the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau, because many people have been missed out. It also undermines the sex offenders register, and as a result, it undermines the detection rates that the police can achieve. The public want the police to be able to do their job, and as a result they want to know three things: what has gone wrong in this fiasco, who is responsible, and what will be done about it? As the answers may involve ministerial decisions, it is entirely inappropriate for a civil servant to carry out the inquiry. It is also bogus nonsense to claim that an internal investigation should preclude the public’s knowing what happened. Why can the Minister not publish the letters and minutes now? Why can there not be an independent inquiry, and why is it that civil servants are suspended for admitting the truth, but Ministers are not suspended for hiding it?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the permanent secretary wrote to him today, although I do not know whether he has received that response yet. To respond directly to his three points—what has gone wrong, who is responsible and what is to be done—they are precisely the points that the Home Office is considering now, by getting to grips with public protection issues, carrying out the inquiry, and remedying the situation in Europe and beyond, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in relation to his conversations earlier with Commissioner Frattini.
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the role played in crime detection by PCSOs such as Tracey Taylor and Sarah Nicholson of the central sector in Plymouth, who, much to the relief of John Boyd and other residents of Federation road, have solved some intractable antisocial behaviour problems? Does he agree with the basic command unit commander of Plymouth, Morris Watts, that PCSOs do not need to be marketed, because when people meet them, they market themselves?
Members throughout the House, whether or not they favoured the introduction of PCSOs, accept that those officers have made an enormous contribution to fighting crime and improving detection rates up and down the country. I am happy to commend my hon. Friend’s BCU commander, because PCSOs are complementary to, rather than replacements for, the police. They work alongside them in neighbourhood policing in a truly effective way throughout the country.