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Policing Policies

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

4. What steps she is taking to ensure that policing policies take into account local community priorities. (254640)

Addressing community priorities is key to effective local policing. That is why we are cutting red tape to free up the police to focus on local issues. We have removed all top-down targets except one—namely, to improve the confidence of the public that their priorities are being addressed and to set out minimum policing standards in the pledge, including monthly community meetings.

When people in my constituency go through the ordeal of reporting crime, they are anxious to see the culprits punished. Will my hon. Friend tell me what guidance and advice his Department issues to police forces about the use of cautions, particularly relating to serious crime such as sexual offences or violence?

The Home Office guidance to police forces and to law enforcement agencies in general is very clear on this subject. Cautions should be used only for low-level offending and should be used for more serious offences only in exceptional circumstances. That sends out a clear statement that in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as in constituencies up and down the country, we should prosecute those who are brought before the courts for serious offences and use cautions only for low-level offences.

Crime reduction partnerships are making significant progress across the country in reducing the impact of retail crime—assaults on staff and against businesses themselves. What priority is the Minister’s Department giving to this issue since it has withdrawn all funding for action against business crime?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the funding for action against business crime was reduced a number of years ago. It was only ever initiated as a way of trying to encourage local crime and disorder reduction partnerships, where appropriate, to set up partnerships with businesses, and they have been extremely successful. We want to ensure that retail crime and business crime is taken seriously. I do not know what it is like in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but in my constituency business is part of the CDRP, works well with local policing and is a priority for the neighbourhood policing team. We want to ensure that that level of priority is available to all areas and all businesses across the country.

Greater Manchester police have made a commitment in their policing pledge to respond within 24 hours to non-urgent calls. That will be very good news for local people. However, can my hon. Friend ensure that CDRPs widely advertise their policing pledges so that local people can hold local police accountable for those pledges?

My hon. Friend will know that in the national pledge there is not only the commitment that she mentioned, but the commitment to monthly meetings. We are now ensuring that every one of the 3,600 neighbourhood policing teams across the country will have a local pledge that is clearly communicated to local people so that they know what to expect. Alongside that, we have published crime maps that will allow local people to find out quickly, at the click of a button, what the crime levels and trends are in their areas. We hope that in Stockport and elsewhere in Manchester, as well as across the country, that will give people the information they need to hold the police to account and to take action where necessary.

Now that the Home Office has ditched its proposals for directly elected police authorities, does the Minister accept that police governance is merely back to what it was before the Police Reform Act 2002, when his predecessors introduced national targets? If so, what will be different when the current Bill goes through? What mechanism will encourage police forces to adopt best practice and strive to improve if it is not a firmly elected and democratically accountable police authority?

The hon. Gentleman will know the reasons why we have, for the time being, put on the back burner the issue of directly elected representatives on police authorities. If he had looked at the debate that we have had in Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill, he would have seen a well-informed debate on both sides of the Committee that wrestled with this problem. He will know that clause 1 puts a duty on police authorities to have regard to opinions within—

It is not. Police authorities will have a duty to have regard to the views of the public within their area rather than just trying to find out what they are. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary will inspect those police authorities to see what they have done to try to find out the opinions of local people. That is an important step forward that will make a real difference.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Lancashire constabulary, which has in recent months increased the detection rate of drug offences directly as a result of intelligence-led operations and targeted police activity working locally with PACT—Police and Communities Together—and using community information about drug-related criminality? That is to be welcomed.

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police in Lancashire; indeed, I take the opportunity to congratulate police throughout the country. There is no doubt that we get the most effective policing in areas with effective neighbourhood policing teams where people bring community intelligence to the police to tell them what is going on and to inform them of those who are bringing misery to those areas through drugs or other illegal activity. Effective policing takes place when the police work hard with the local authority, with other partners and with the local community itself. I was happy to hear of the example of Lancashire that my hon. Friend gave. I am sure that that experience is replicated in many places across the country.

The Department for Communities and Local Government funds the preventing violent extremism programme in local communities. The Minister said, in a debate on the Prevent strategy on 25 June:

“We try to ensure that the police are involved in determining where money goes”.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 25 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 92WH.]

Is he satisfied that that is happening in practice, and that his Department is properly in the lead on the programme?

We work hard with the DCLG on the Prevent strategy. We also work hard with the police to ensure that the groups we fund in local areas are the ones which can help us to tackle radical extremism. The Prevent strategy is an important part of our anti-terrorist strategy.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that this is an extremely important area. It involves taking difficult decisions about who to fund in a particular local area, but if we want to make a difference, rather than just make ourselves feel better, we do have to take such difficult decisions. We sometimes have to get involved with groups that we might not wish to, but the Prevent strategy, as part of the broader Contest strategy, is successful and it is making a real difference in many communities throughout the country by preventing the radicalisation of vulnerable young people.