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Policing Green Paper

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Government’s policing Green Paper, which will help the police to continue to cut crime, drive up confidence and deliver for the public. Copies of the paper have been placed in the Vote Office.

Today’s Green Paper is built on foundations of success. The crime figures published this morning show that, in the past year, vehicle crime is down 14 per cent.; criminal damage is down 13 per cent.; violence against the person is down 8 per cent.; robbery is down 16 per cent.; and burglary is down 4 per cent. Since 1995, the number of violent incidents recorded in the British crime survey has fallen by half, representing around 750,000 fewer victims. We have met our target, set in 2004, to reduce crime by 15 per cent. Indeed, we have exceeded it; crime over that period fell by 18 per cent., and the chances of being a victim of crime are now at their lowest since 1981.

This success is a tribute to the police service of this country—the men and women, warranted officers, police community support officers and staff across the growing police family, to whose bravery and dedication we owe so much. Whether working in one of over 3,600 neighbourhood policing teams, forming the backbone of emergency response policing, tackling the threat of terrorism or working in specialist victim support roles, our police service is the envy of the world.

We stand today at a crossroads for the future of policing: over a decade of record investment; a bigger and more flexible work force; and now neighbourhood policing everywhere in England and Wales, alongside new technologies and improved systems. But the service also faces unprecedented challenges. From new forms of criminal activity and terrorism to new ways of working in partnership locally, the service’s scope has never been so broad and public expectations have never been so high. Both Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Louise Casey, in their separate but linked reviews of policing and crime, have emphasised how important it is that the public can feel that they are able to influence policing priorities and that people know what they can expect from their police locally.

The public want a new deal with their police service, and I know that the service wants to deliver to the highest standards for the public everywhere. The public are the best weapon in the fight against crime, but they need to be clear about what they can expect from the police. They want to see transparent, reliable and responsive policing. That will drive greater public confidence. Today I, along with the leaders of the service, accept the challenge of driving up public confidence.

To deliver on that ambition, the Green Paper will set out nationally agreed rights to be in place in every police force by the end of the year. Those rights will form the new policing pledge, with both national and local elements, that clearly expresses what we can each expect from our police service and that ensures that the public’s voice is heard during the setting of police priorities.

The police are committing to minimum service standards everywhere. That means, for example, that as well as performing excellently in getting to emergencies when we need them to, the police will now offer appointments for non-urgent calls at a time convenient to the individual concerned and within 48 hours. In addition, we will legislate to strengthen the democratic link with the public by introducing local, directly elected crime and policing representatives. They will form the majority on police authorities, and will be responsible for ensuring that the police are tackling the priorities that concern us most, including by chairing their local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Local information, with crime maps everywhere by the end of the year, will further empower the public.

To give the police the tools to do the job and the time to spend on the front line, we will invest a further £25 million over the next two years to put more mobile data devices in the hands of front-line officers. By March 2010, the additional £75 million that the Government will have invested in those forms of police information technology will have meant an extra 30,000 mobile devices.

Furthermore, we will implement across England and Wales the current pilots on cutting the bureaucracy around crime recording and on scrapping the stop and account form. Jan Berry, the former chairman of the Police Federation, will take on the work that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has begun by becoming a new independent champion for the ongoing reduction of police bureaucracy. She will be a powerful voice for the concerns of front-line officers. However, today I want to go further. I have decided that the time is now right to strip away all but one top-down target for police forces, to deliver improved levels of public confidence that crime is being tackled. That is a direct response to calls from chief officers for the space and freedom to focus on tackling crime. It is a significant mark of my trust in them.

With stronger and more accountable police authorities, a robust and independent inspectorate and the momentum that the policing pledge gives us being delivered by the end of the year, today’s Green Paper is the next stage of police reform. It is our response to the views expressed by front-line officers and staff up and down the country and by the communities that they serve. It represents a new deal, and will mean greater freedom for the police, matched by greater power for the public. I commend this statement to the House.

First of all, I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement.

Given the now daily tragedies on our streets, the public have long been waiting for sensible action from the Government on policing. I am afraid that it is not success in crime reduction that brings the Home Secretary to the Dispatch Box today, but massive public disquiet. We know what the problem is. Recorded violent crime has virtually doubled in 10 years. Police numbers are up by 10 per cent., and detection rates for violent offences are down by a quarter. We know why there is a problem; after all, we have had five Labour reviews of policing. Does the Home Secretary accept Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s surgical dissection of serial ministerial failures which revealed “perverse incentives”, a “raft” of targets and officers “straitjacketed by process”? We also know what is needed to free up the police: less red tape, fewer targets and greater local accountability of police to the communities that they serve.

The Green Paper offers some constructive ideas, but I have to say that virtually all of them originate from this side of the House. Take the Conservative crime mapping proposals; they were announced in April and are already being implemented by a Conservative Mayor of London—months later, they have been pinched by the Home Secretary for her policing pledge. Take her piloting of the abolition of the stop and account form. That is a greatly watered-down version of the nationwide overhaul that we proposed in February to free up nearly 1 million police hours to get officers back on the street. Why not scrap them altogether, as we propose? There is also the promise to review the onerous bureaucratic burden that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 places on the most basic investigations. That is a straight lift from Conservative party policy.

I also note that the Home Secretary has said that she wants to strip away all but one top-down target for the police. That, however, is not how it is stated in the Green Paper itself. Will she guarantee that these targets will not be reintroduced in some new form? There is also a string of rehashed, reheated and half-baked announcements. Neighbourhood policing teams, for example, were announced three years ago and again six months ago—why have they been announced again today? Perhaps she would like to tell the House. As far as I can recollect, monthly victim progress reports were announced in 2005, but they have been reheated today for media consumption, so presumably they were never implemented. There is also a series of police response targets. I ask the Home Secretary to identify one of them that is new.

In fairness, the policing pledge is explicit about its total lack of ambition; that is highlighted in bold on page 29, which says that

“many forces already have these standards in place.”

The Green Paper dismisses a more radical approach to slashing forms as futile, and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing can still not name a single one of the alleged 9,000 forms that he previously claimed had been removed. When will the Government learn that perpetual repackaging is no substitute for real delivery?

Then there are the typically ill-thought-through eye-catching gestures that have little bearing on reality. How will the Home Secretary implement the utterly implausible guarantee that 80 per cent. of police time will be spent on patrol, when the proportion is currently only 14 per cent? Is that not what she really means and is there not an obfuscation in the Green Paper? Who does the Home Secretary think she is kidding in announcing the appointment of a police bureaucracy champion? I am delighted to hear of Jan Berry’s appointment, but I gently point out to the Home Secretary that the previous post of national bureaucracy adviser has been kept vacant by the Government for two whole years. The half-hearted proposal for a crime representative on police authorities is a pale imitation of the Conservative commitment to directly elected local police commissioners.

The truth is that this exhausted Government can offer neither the inspiration nor the perspiration to deliver the serious and sustained reform that the police so badly need. In the meantime, there is a gun crime every hour, there are five fatal stabbings every week, and we still do not have any proper Government information on violence against under-16-year-olds, although the information has been demanded by Members on both sides of the House for years.

In conclusion, does the Home Secretary agree that the 22,151 serious offences involving knives, for which we for the first time have a figure, is a pretty damning indictment of a Government who seem consistently more interested in chasing headlines than chasing the perpetrators of crime?

How very disappointing it was that the hon. and learned Gentleman could not find it in himself to congratulate the police and their partners on the very considerable reductions in crime that we have seen today, and how unfortunate it is that he chooses to claim crime mapping as a Conservative idea—

Actually, it is a police idea that is already being delivered in some parts of the country. It would be good if people sometimes gave credit where it was due, rather than trying to claim it for political parties.

I can give the shadow Home Secretary a guarantee that there will be one target set nationally, as we make clear in the Green Paper. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) claimed earlier this year that neighbourhood policing teams had somehow not been delivered. In fact, thanks to the hard work of police forces across the country and to the £1 billion of Government investment, there is now a neighbourhood policing team in every neighbourhood in the country. That has resulted in a radical transformation in policing, and today’s Green Paper will enable us to take that reform to the next stage by making clear in the pledge the quality of service that people will be able to expect everywhere in England and Wales for the first time ever.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked which elements of the pledge were new. It is new that 80 per cent. of the neighbourhood policing teams’ time on duty will be spent on the patch. It is also new that they will reply to calls and e-mail inquiries within 24 hours. It is new that there will be a minimum standard to ensure that the police respond to emergencies in 15 minutes or less, that they respond to other non-emergency but nevertheless priority or vulnerable cases within 60 minutes, that they respond to other non-emergency calls with a bookable appointment within 48 hours, and that they deliver monthly public meetings for neighbourhood policing teams and the provision of crime information and crime maps. That is a serious and clear set of standards that people can expect to be delivered everywhere, and that the police will be committed to providing.

The hon. and learned Gentleman returned to the issue of the 9,000 forms. He knows, because I have written to his predecessor and to the shadow policing Minister about this, that we asked the now chief constable of Essex police, Roger Baker, to undertake that task. He has given his commitment that 9,000 forms were done away with, but the suggestion that we should go back and ask people to give the name of every single form in order to prove that we have cut bureaucracy just shows the misunderstanding among Conservative Members about how we should do this.

The shadow Home Secretary’s response today has been, at best, churlish in its failure to recognise the success on which this work is based. Either he reverts to claiming the credit for proposals that the police service is driving forward, or he calls important initiatives “gimmicks”. I do not believe—as he has previously claimed—that knife arches, search wands, antisocial behaviour orders and the seizing of drug dealers’ assets on arrest are gimmicks. I believe that they are serious attempts by the Government and their partners in the police service to cut crime, to respond to public concerns and to deliver a police service of which this country and the world can be even more proud. I hope that we will gain the hon. and learned Gentleman’s support for that.

I congratulate the Home Secretary, not only on the reduction in the crime figures but on this bold and imaginative Green Paper. She has obviously been listening in on the sittings of the Home Affairs Select Committee while we have been considering policing. These are our ideas, not the Conservatives’ ideas. The fact is that good practice already exists in many parts of the country. We have seen the Staffordshire example of reducing bureaucracy, and what is being done in Moss Side to tackle gun and gang crime. Will my right hon. Friend give a pledge that she will roll out these programmes immediately, rather than waiting for any further reviews? If they constitute good practice, let us have them operating in all 42 areas. I also congratulate her on the appointment of Jan Berry, but I ask her to ensure that Jan Berry is paid in full and on time, because she knows what the consequences will be if that does not happen.

The Home Affairs Select Committee possibly does deserve some credit—[Hon. Members: “Possibly?”] Okay, I am sorry. I apologise. Unlike Conservative Members, I will not be churlish. The Home Affairs Select Committee does deserve credit, because its members have been out and about listening to what police officers and those in our communities have actually said. That is why it is putting forward those ideas. I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that we will pilot only for as long as we need to in order to be completely confident of not whether but how we should roll out the initiatives nationally. As I said earlier, I am pleased that someone with a record of standing up for front-line police officers will now be working with us to free up those officers to do the job that they came into the service to do.

I would certainly like to join the Home Secretary in praising the police and add my congratulations to them on the work that they do, and on putting their lives on the line day after day to try to make our communities safe. There was a note of self-congratulation in what the Home Secretary said, but I wonder whether she is aware that crime has been falling in every single western European country except Belgium since the 1990s. Would she consider benchmarking our performance against those of other countries, possibly excluding Belgium?

Does the Home Secretary have any comment on the puzzle—which I am sure must have detained her—of the difference between the official figures showing a fall in crime and the continued rise in the public fear of crime? Does she feel that this is an opportunity quickly, rather than slowly, to put the crime figures under an independent agency such as the Office for National Statistics, as the Government have already done in other areas? If so, when might that happen?

On policing and crime, there is general agreement in principle that there should be an emphasis on what works. However, in the past week, the Government have come up with a half-baked scheme for offender hospital visits, which has already been tried and tested in the United States, and which failed, and the Conservatives have been advocating imprisoning all knife carriers even though the evidence shows that sentence severity has a negligible effect on criminality. Surely the Home Secretary must agree that the time has come for a national crime reduction agency—a beefed-up National Policing Improvement Agency—that would act like the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the health service and attempt to establish real consensus between the parties on what works. Nothing would give the police greater support in their desire to see professionalism triumph than an end to the political bickering that we have seen here today.

We also warmly welcome the emphasis on neighbourhood policing, on local crime maps, and on local accountability. This is surely the way to improve on the figure of 53 per cent. of people who say that the police are doing a good or excellent job. That figure obviously leaves some room for improvement.

The concerns about the proposals for crime and policing representatives were not allayed by reading the details in the Green Paper. As I understand it, there would be just one representative for each council in a crime and disorder reduction partnership, directly elected, presumably by the first-past-the-post system. That would be the first such proposal that the Government had made since 1997. All the other new representatives have been elected by proportional systems. Let us take the example of my own police authority in Hampshire in the south of England, which, under the proposed system, would have two Liberal Democrats, 12 Conservatives and no Labour members whatever. Does the Home Secretary really intend to disfranchise 25 per cent. of the voters in the south of England who happen to be Labour, merely because she is going to consider only a first-past-the-post system? We know from the way in which the system works that this would also cut out ethnic minorities and women. Is that what the Home Secretary wants?

I shall not take my hon. Friend’s advice, because a few of the comments made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) were quite sensible. In particular, he rightly emphasised the importance of ensuring that we not only cut crime, but raise confidence in our ability to do so. That is why setting a target that measures local people’s confidence in the ability of the police and their partners to cut crime and deal with the issues that matter locally is the appropriate way to ensure that we cut crime and clearly communicate the actions being taken—not just by the police, but more widely across the criminal justice system—to drive up confidence.

I do not accept the hon. Gentlemen’s suggestion that the crime stats are not independent, but I hope that he has noted that we now issue crime stats using the new provisions for which we have legislated. The independence of the statisticians in the Home Office is now much clearer, and there is an overview from national statisticians, too. I do not accept his view that the way to tackle knife crime is to set up a new quango. We have been very clear that knife crime is a serious problem, but more so in certain areas than in others, and that we therefore need a national knife crime programme. The programme is to be led by a senior police officer, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock, and it will focus on those issues. We need to ensure increased use of stop and search, and to ensure that links are made with our schools. This week, we made it clear in the youth crime action plan that tackling knife crime starts with ensuring that parents live up to their responsibilities, too. We have to make sure that punishment is tough, and involves custody whenever a knife has been used. Where a community sentence is given, the sentence should bring home, particularly to young people, the consequences of even just carrying a knife. That is the right way to address the problem.

The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me down the route of supporting his proposal for a new system of proportional representation; that may disappoint some people on the Labour Benches—[Interruption.]—and please others. Let me be quite clear: the intention behind the proposals is not to safeguard one political party or another, but to make sure that local people have a direct voice on police authorities. I take seriously his point about ensuring that we maintain diversity, as regards gender and people from minority ethnic communities, on police authorities. That is one of the reasons why, in our proposals, we maintain the provision for independent members of police authorities, who make a very important contribution.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement, and on the measures to empower, and ensure greater accountability for, local people, as regards the policing service? I very much welcome the further drop in crime announced today, and the appointment of Jan Berry, but will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that every time we decentralise decision making, in relation to targets and the collection of stats, we end up with a contradiction? Was it not the Association of Chief Police Officers that, just over seven years ago, changed the recording of crime, so that the number of crimes and events that had to be recorded rose dramatically? Since the original measures doing away with centrally demanded forms and statistics were put in place, the number of forms at local level has risen dramatically. With the help of the excellent president of ACPO, Ken Jones, will my right hon. Friend ensure that Jan Berry has the support and resources needed to ensure, at grass-roots level, that responsibility is taken with regard to doing away with unnecessary form-filling and collection, and with regard to implementing powers, legislation and enforcement, as that is often not present on the ground?

Yes, and as we reflect on the reform and the success that is the basis for the further steps announced today, let me say that my right hon. Friend deserves considerable credit for the changes that he made to policing when he was in my role, not least as regards the development of the work force and the strong emphasis on standards, which has led to some of the results that we see today. He makes a very important point about where bureaucracy and form-filling emanate from. He is exactly right that the job for all of us, and for Jan Berry, is to continue to drive forward the reduction in bureaucracy, whether it comes from national Government, police forces or other partners, and to ensure that there is a sensible approach to driving out bureaucracy and implementing future initiatives. An important role for Jan Berry and her team is to make sure that we implement any future changes, both nationally and locally, in a way that minimises burdens and maximises the effectiveness of the police.

May I congratulate the Home Secretary—I pause for a moment to allow those words to sink in—on her acceptance of recommendation 24 of the Flanagan report on the stop and account form? Is she aware that I have questioned the need for that form ever since—indeed, since even before—it was introduced in November 2004? Will she give the House an estimate of the number of police hours that would have been saved, the number of knives that might have been discovered, and the number of lives that might indeed have been saved, if that unnecessary and ridiculous piece of bureaucracy had never been introduced?

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his prescience in relation to the stop and account form. Unfortunately, I cannot congratulate him on his record in bringing down crime when he was Home Secretary, but I do not want to be churlish. As I think he is aware, the increased monitoring, particularly of stop and account, understandably emanated from concerns—not least those that came out of the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death—about whether, and how, it was possible to ensure proportionality in the way in which the police dealt with people, whatever their background. That was an understandable reason for the development of that form, but I think—and others agree—that it now does not serve that purpose, and it is right that it be removed.

Ben Kinsella was a constituent of mine, and I agree with his family that the only way to stop kids carrying knives is to ensure that they know that they will be stopped, searched and punished for carrying them. I remember the sus laws well, but nevertheless I fully support the random use of stop and search on young people in Islington, because local statistics show that no group is being disproportionately targeted in Islington. Will we build on best practice, and can we have more police officers randomly to stop and search our teenagers, to make them safer?

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. She and I know of the dignity with which the Kinsella family have responded to a terrible tragedy, and that they are making very constructive suggestions. My hon. Friend is right, and in London we have had considerable success with Operation Blunt 2, which uses Government investment in search arches and wands to step up stop and search operations, particularly in areas where there is considerable concern about knife crime. People have been stopped, knives have been recovered, and those concerned will face the consequences of carrying knives. I want that sort of activity to continue in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I want it to happen not just in London. Through the national knife programme, I want it to be spread to other areas of the country where there are concerns about knife crime.

Will the right hon. Lady investigate the circumstances in which serving police officers can take second jobs? May I draw her attention to a matter about which I have just written to her? She will not yet have got the letter. I represented a man in the criminal courts who was an officer in the Metropolitan police. He agreed with his superior that he would work but two days a week. For the rest of the time, he ran a very large estate agency, handling hundreds of thousands of pounds of cash. That is, by any standards, undesirable. He was convicted of fraud. First, is it right in principle that a police officer should work but two days a week? Secondly, if it is right that he should have another job, should it be that kind of job, in which he would inevitably be exposed to huge temptation, and would handle very large sums of money?

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not expect me to comment on an individual case. I will, of course, respond to his letter, but it ill behoves Members of this House to comment on others having more than one job.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on both the Green Paper and the excellent statistics. The national statistics have been exceeded by those in Hove and Port Slade, where in the year until the end of June crime as a whole was down by 21.4 per cent. and violent crime down by 21.9 per cent. That is partly to do with our wonderful neighbourhood police team, with whose youth disorder operation I had the pleasure of touring my constituency a couple of weeks ago. We visited areas where large numbers of youths gather to speak to them and to see what was going on. That team’s successful approach involves sending letters to parents, which could form part of the initiatives that the Home Secretary aims to pursue. Does she plan to do that, and will she visit that team?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the youth disorder team that she has mentioned on the innovative way in which it is tackling youth crime in her constituency. I am sure that she noted the youth crime action plan on Tuesday, which seeks to build on such good practice. For example, we have proposed the greater use of, as she has identified, assertive youth work, which involves teams going out on the streets. Such teams sometimes involve people who were previously involved in gangs or serious violence, and they help young people whom they meet on the streets to move away from crime and violent crime. My hon. Friend is right that parents play an important role in preventing children and young people from turning to crime. The idea that parents should be told when children are picked up is important, and it is already happening in several places. We propose to take that approach forward through the youth crime action plan.

I want to congratulate the Home Secretary on her wise words about how useless the stop and account form is, but the statement does not make the position clear. Does she believe that the form is useless? If so, why is it not being scrapped today, rather than at some time in the future?

I do not believe that the form is useless, but I accept Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s recommendation that it should be scrapped, which is what we are working to achieve.

It is clear that several national newspapers pay police officers for information about impending arrests and ongoing investigations. That is clearly bribery and corruption, and it occurs regularly throughout the United Kingdom. I have asked several Home Secretaries about that practice—they always say that they will put a stop to it by clarifying the law on suborning a police officer, but so far none of them has done so. Is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who will?

I am not sure whether I can quite give my hon. Friend that commitment today. We will, of course, have a policing and crime reduction Bill in the next Session, and perhaps he would like to raise that issue at that time, although I must say that it is not a priority in our policing plans today.

The Home Secretary has rightly emphasised the virtue of local accountability. What plans does she have to develop the accountability of the police force in Wales to the National Assembly, which now provides a substantial and increasing proportion of the budget?

No case has been made that devolving responsibility for policing to the Assembly would lead to a better service for Welsh people, which is what we all aim to achieve.

I welcome the Green Paper and join the Home Secretary in praising the police. In particular, I want to praise West Midlands police and its supporting agencies in my local authority of Sandwell, where there has been a remarkable 34 per cent. drop in crime, which is reflected in the drop in the crime-related case load at my surgeries. During the deliberations, consultations and considerations in the Green Paper process, will she address the issue of business crime, which is the one area that still seems to cause major problems?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Local police and their partners deserve congratulation in the west midlands. He raises the important issue of business crime, which we take seriously. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), met the British Chambers of Commerce yesterday to discuss it.

I thank the right hon. Lady for responding on the issue of targets, which will help forces in rural areas, such as my area in Bedfordshire, respond to rural crime in the way they want rather than focus on urban issues. She also mentioned a series of other measures, which sounded like a compilation from the briefings and policy points that I have received from Opposition Front Benchers over the past two years.

I want to raise a practical problem on mapping about which I have written to the Home Secretary. When Bedfordshire police provided the details about incidents around Travellers’ sites to the planning committee of Bedford borough council in connection with a planning matter, the council felt that it could not publish the information, because that would contravene legislation on race relations and discrimination. Is the Home Secretary confident that her plans for mapping will be consistent with other legislation, because that issue needs to be sorted quickly, otherwise appropriate information will not be in the public domain?

We will ensure that we respond to the hon. Gentleman’s specific point. I am confident that we can find a way to deliver the primary objective, which is allowing local people to see the detail of the crime that impacts on their communities. That is my No. 1 priority, and I have no doubt that we can find a way through any legal hurdles that might be put in our way.

I welcome the Green Paper and congratulate the Home Secretary on listening to Labour Members and the police by cutting bureaucracy and freeing up the police to do their work on the streets. On strengthening the democratic link with the public, it is important that members of the police authority are accountable. Will she assure me that there will be more powers to hold chief constables and senior police officers to account, so they do not make controversial remarks that divert attention from the police’s real job of catching criminals?

There is an important responsibility on the new, stronger police authorities, which, incidentally, will be inspected from next year, to ensure that they hold to account, and play a role in the performance review of, chief officers in the way my hon. Friend outlines.

I invite the Home Secretary to join me on a visit to Kettering police station, where she will have the opportunity not only to thank the police for their endeavours but to see on the police station notice board the pictures, names and addresses of the 35 persistent and prolific offenders who cause the bulk of crime in and around Kettering. I am sure that the situation is the same all over the country: the police know who the criminals are; the police catch the criminals; the criminals are sentenced; but the criminals do not spend enough time off the streets in prison. Is there anything in the Green Paper that will help the police to tackle persistent and prolific offenders?

If those persistent offenders have committed some of the most serious, violent crimes, they will on average spend longer in prison now than they would have done previously. Some of them will, of course, be subject to the kind of indefinite sentences opposed by Opposition Members. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman has made the important point about the need to focus on persistent offenders, which is why the persistent offender programme continues to proceed with the investment and commitment that the Government have put into it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s proposals. Will she say whether she has given any thought to the role of police community support officers, who are an important addition to the policing community? Some of my constituents would like to see them given stronger powers, in particular the power of arrest.

The Green Paper praises and considers the important role played by PCSOs. It publishes the results of a review of PCSOs, which was carried out by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It recommends further standardisation on uniforms, makes it clear that the minimum age should be 18 and invites further comments on the extent to which there should be further standardisation of powers.

Bridgend basic command unit, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), has had remarkable results in many respects. Neighbourhood policing teams are running effectively, packed meetings are held regularly, burglary is down by 17 per cent., theft of cars is down by 12 per cent. and theft from cars is down by 20 per cent. However, I am concerned that, in contrast with previous years when we had a 12 per cent. fall in crimes of violence against the person, we have now had a 12 per cent. rise in such crimes, equating to 188 additional offences across the constituency. The superintendent in my constituency tells me that in 2008 only 0.2 per cent. of offences involve harm by a knife. How do I reassure people about knife crime when the number of crimes of violence against the person is rising? How can we begin to tackle that issue?

My hon. Friend is right. We need to provide more information about what is happening and about the nature of violent crime, which covers a wide gamut of crime, including that which happens within the family as well as between strangers—50 per cent. of which involves no actual injury to somebody else, notwithstanding the fact that it is a very serious form of crime. I am strongly of the view that the provision of more local information helps to reassure people and ensures that they then, through reporting to the police and being willing to act as witnesses, feel confident of being part of the solution to solving that crime.