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Police (Public Trust)

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 13 October 2010

[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate. Sir Robert Peel, the founder of policing, said:

“The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

His comments were true in the 19th century and they are true today. Policing remains a noble vocation. For many serving police officers, their duties remain much more than a job or profession. At its very best, the police service still manifests the highest of public service attributes; it is public service in uniform. I pay tribute to the 11 police officers who have been killed on duty since 2002 and the 3,271 police officers who have been seriously injured over that same period, and, indeed, to officers on the front line today who are perhaps being injured in the course of their duties.

Like most Members of this House, I was brought up to respect the police, and for the most part that respect still remains, but in recent years I have become aware—not only from the mailbag and inbox from my own constituency, but from the experience of those whom I read and hear about in different parts of the country—that public trust in the police is declining. It is indisputable that a sizable minority of officers are increasingly overshadowing the dedication, courage and professionalism of the vast majority of serving police officers—officers who do the right thing, not the wrong thing. I do not in this debate set out to criticise the police, but, as a candid observer and supporter of those who do their duty, I want to raise a number of serious concerns that I have about some aspects of modern policing, which, in my humble view, unless the police address them, will continue to undermine much needed public confidence and encourage the growing lack of trust in those to whom we entrust so much.

I understand that the police need and want a good working relationship with the media. The success of broadcast programmes such as “Crimewatch” underscore such a relationship working well, and the same is true in relation to the press. The police and the media working well together—working lawfully together—can and does bring results, which are welcomed by the law-abiding public. However, what is not acceptable to the public is when serving police officers sell their stories, whether true or untrue—stories often obtained by officers in the course of their official policing duties. In such instances, disciplinary action needs to be far more severe than it is on the disappointingly rare occasions that such action occurs now. If officers breach internal disciplinary codes over relationships with the media, what other laws and rules might they be breaking? If they break the law, action should be taken.

Police officers also need to be reminded, under caution if necessary, of their legal obligations to uphold the Official Secrets Act. Police officers are not above the law; they are subject to the law and they must uphold the law. Moreover, when senior officers fail to take action against officers who fail to uphold the law, public trust ebbs away. This personal feasting on the media can bring the whole of the police service into disrepute. That lesson applies to senior officers too. They should try to avoid losing their sense of perspective in exchange for a few moments of glory in newspapers, which are decreasingly read. It would be far better for the police to stick to policing.

It is also not for senior and chief officers to decide what is and what is not in the public interest, or what they will or will not investigate. The law is set by this Parliament, by the people and for the people, not around a large and strategic coffee table. That is why the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions must avoid any hint that it is the police, rather than the Crown Prosecution Service, who ultimately decide what cases may or may not be investigated and brought before the courts. That is why I am calling today for a review of what is and what is not “in the public interest”. What does the term “in the public interest” actually mean? Who really determines what is in the public interest, using what criteria?

One of the key areas of concern for many of my constituents and, indeed, for many serving police officers I speak to is the apparent lack of discipline exercised in and by some police forces. It is not acceptable to taxpayers or to dedicated and hard-working police officers for other police officers to break the rules—sometimes consistently—many of whom are subject to no discipline or, if they are disciplined, are only very lightly disciplined. It is the view of those of my constituents with whom I have spoken about this issue that far too many bad apples remain in the police service, often with impunity. For every officer who “gets away with it”—whatever “it” might be—public trust in the police ebbs away.

Indeed, the culture of the police service offering a job for life, or for 30 years, even to officers who have a very poor disciplinary record and years of complaints against them, must end. Honest, hard-working police officers deserve better and so do the public. As one police officer put it to me recently,

“from the junior ranks to chief officer level, there needs to be a 21st century reminder that it is not a ‘warrant card’ that gives the police service its success, but public trust, public co-operation and policing by consent.”

I welcome the Government’s review into policing pay, terms of employment and conditions, but I hope that that review will also look at that important area of discipline and especially at the public demand for chief officers to approach their disciplinary responsibilities far more proactively. That will mean far more than the call to limit payouts at employment tribunals; often, it will mean enforcing warnings and disciplines at a very early stage in a police officer’s career—early intervention. A problem ignored today will often emerge as a more costly and complex problem tomorrow. Chief officers have the rank and the pay to deal with important man-management decisions, and they need to show a little more forthrightness in doing so.

Corrupt police officers should be brought before the courts, and on conviction thrown out of the force. Being dismissed from a particular force does not serve justice in the way that the public rightly expect and deserve. Furthermore, when I say “courts”, I mean local courts. It is not acceptable that officers are brought before courts in a neighbouring county to the one in which they serve. I am sure that it has nothing to do with avoiding potentially negative media and public scrutiny, but whatever the reasons or causes for the practice, it must end. There should be no special treatment for police officers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his very interesting speech and I agree with the thrust of quite a bit of what he has said. As a London MP, I think that the mendacity of the Metropolitan police at times in relation to some high-profile events, such as the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and indeed even Mark Saunders very recently, is very worrying, particularly as it seems to be a mendacity that is implied at the very highest level.

My hon. Friend made a very important point early in his contribution about policing by consent. Does he have a view on that issue? Policing by consent is a very particular element of policing in this country, which makes us very different from many European countries. Does he not think that now is the time for a much more open and much broader debate about precisely how our policing should be organised? Historically, going back 160 or 170 years, it has very much been a case of policing by consent rather than policing on a European-type model, but perhaps the model of policing and the expectations of the general public are now changing.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I know that he has a lot of experience in this area. In response to his question, I think it is important that when the Government undertake their review, the whole issue of the relationship and building trust between the police and the public is examined. I have touched on discipline already; I will touch on some other issues shortly. I think that my hon. Friend came in just a few moments after I began the debate. I refer him to the words of Sir Robert Peel that I quoted at the outset; perhaps he can read them in Hansard. It is an important point that, of course, the police are themselves members of the public. However, on the question of policing by consent, perhaps we need to look at Bramshill, Hendon and other places where our police officers—from junior officers to senior officers—are trained. We should remind officers that they are policing by consent and that there must be a relationship with the public that does not exist through the warrant card alone but through trust and mutual respect.

As I said, there should be no special treatment for police officers. Police officers are not above the law; they are subject to the law, as we all are. Some officers forget that and as a result public trust in the police ebbs away. [Interruption.]

Order. Since there is a Division in the House, I must suspend this sitting. We are running behind time already, so I suspend the sitting for a maximum of 15 minutes, but I give fair warning to all Members that if the two Front-Bench spokesmen and the initiator of the debate, Mark Pritchard, are back before then, I will start as soon as the three of them are back in their places.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

There should be no special treatment for police officers; they are not above the law. They are subject to it, as we all are. Some officers forget that, and when they do, public trust ebbs away.

I am not convinced that internal anti-corruption units bring the conviction rates necessary to root out police corruption. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister will at least consider the feasibility of establishing a national and specialist anti-corruption unit by pooling existing resources that can be called on to investigate allegations of police corruption. The process by which anti-corruption investigations are triggered should also be reviewed. It should not be left to the discretion of chief officers alone to sanction such investigations.

Similarly, action is needed on race relations. Racism within the police or any workplace is completely unacceptable, but race should not be used by a small number of ethnic minority officers as a way to march chief constables down to the bank to hand over large amounts of taxpayers’ money in order to avoid damaging headlines about police forces. I have some sympathy for the comments of Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, on employment tribunals; many more police officers should exercise more resolve in taking on police officers who do not have a genuine employment grievance.

Although the vast majority of ethnic minority police officers undertake their duties professionally, with skill and courage, some constituents of mine fear that some look to their bank accounts before seeking to get on with their duties. White British officers are guilty of abusing the employment tribunal system as well, although their claims are mostly of a different nature. Where false claims are made, officers should be sacked, not promoted. For every spurious police employment tribunal claim, public trust in the police ebbs away.

Of course, many such issues can be minimised and mitigated by the more liberal application of a much needed attribute in some police forces: leadership. I hope that the Minister will consider how leadership might be revived in the police. Surely leadership is not only to be found hanging alongside a gold-framed MBA certificate on a senior officer’s wall.

We need a much improved way to recognise and reward leadership within the police, perhaps by introducing an officer entry qualification or new fast-track promotion for outstanding individuals. For example, the skills of ex-military personnel with experience of leading men and women should be recognised more fully. Others might come from other leadership backgrounds. I fear that bed-blocking by rank, most notably at sergeant rank, threatens to hold back a generation of proven and natural leaders within the police. The police service desperately needs such leaders, and the public want them.

I also hope for a review of the number of police agencies and quangos. It appears that scores of retiring senior police officers—usually they retire quite young—never actually retire. They have little time to spend their generous pensions and large lump-sum payoffs; instead, they leave the force to re-emerge in one of many police agencies or umbrella organisations, usually on higher pay than the Prime Minister.

Bonuses for police officers should stop. A rate of pay should be agreed, and senior officers should either apply for jobs based on that stated rate or take another career path or job. Doing the right thing, doing a good job and believing in their important public service role should be reward enough.

Far too many of my constituents agree that the police, like the BBC, are one of our last great unreformed national institutions, which is concerning. If policing by consent rather than by warrant card is to be re-established, perhaps where colleagues have witnessed a retreat in recent years, I hope that the police will embrace reform rather than rejecting or repelling it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing a debate on such an important issue. Although there are real concerns, the Kent police constabulary, for example, has a satisfaction rate of 87%, according to the Kent crime and victim survey. That clearly shows that, although there are legitimate concerns nationally, some police constabularies, such as that in Kent, are doing an excellent job.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He is right to highlight good practice and good police work when he sees it and so, too, are Members across all parties. Indeed, I hope that I have highlighted such things in trying to balance my speech.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making an intelligent and compelling argument, but are not senior police officers acting perfectly rationally in taking their lead from organisations such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, whose leadership considers it appropriate to give a running commentary on the fiscal decisions of the democratically elected Government? There is also an institutionalised lack of accountability because local police officers are essentially accountable only to the Home Office, not to elected officials or the people whom they serve at local level.

My hon. Friend brings considerable experience to bear, and he is absolutely right that senior officers in particular should stay out of politics, law making and social work and refrain from commenting on important fiscal and Treasury matters. Clearly, they have a view about their police budgets, but if far more police officers spent more time actually doing the job of policing, perhaps crime would be down even further. I agree with my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right to raise the issue.

I hope that the police will very much embrace the reforms that the Government are introducing, rather than rejecting and repelling them. Chief officers should avoid being alarmist and offering up alarmist comments and overreaction in the debate about the public deficit. They can and will form part of the reform process, but they cannot write their own terms, for that would avoid the real and lasting reform that modern policing needs if it is to re-engage with the public and public trust is to be restored where it has been lost.

I end as I began—by paying tribute to the many police officers who undertake their job day in, day out in a professional, dedicated and often courageous manner. Such hard-working officers, of whom there are many in my own police constabulary area of West Mercia, are similarly frustrated by colleagues in the police force who lie, commit perjury, sell private details to the tabloid media and break the Official Secrets Act. Like the public, they are fed up of lazy and incompetent police officers. Such officers should—I say this as a slight aside—be subject to an annual fitness test and certainly to better leadership and discipline, as I have suggested.

Policing remains a high and noble vocation. The United Kingdom has some of the most dedicated and professional officers in the world, but unless there is a marked change in leadership and discipline, the rooting out of corruption and the sacking of incompetent officers, as well as an avoidance of the growing “them and us” approach to policing the public, whom we all serve, public trust in policing will continue to ebb away. That is not in the police’s interest or the public interest, and it is certainly not in the national interest. Let us see a revival of police discipline and leadership; we will then see a restoration of public trust in policing.

Order. Four Members are trying to catch my eye. As a result of the Divisions, the debate will end at 4.23 pm. I will call the Front Benchers to speak for the last 20 minutes, which means that we have just under 50 minutes. I hope that colleagues will bear in mind that that means that we need speeches of 10 or 12 minutes if we are to get everybody in.

It is a pleasure to speak in my first Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. It is also a real pleasure to follow the contribution of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). I regard him not only as a friend, but as someone who thinks carefully before making his speeches. His was a very thoughtful speech, which raised several issues of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that the Minister and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who was in the Minister’s position until very recently, will have taken on board many of the points made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin.

The debate is well attended, which shows the tremendous interest in the House in policing issues. The hon. Gentleman was right to end his speech by praising the work of so many police officers, but he was also right to mark up a number of issues that really need to be addressed. Our debates in the House deal largely with the great issues—the structures and the new landscape—of policing, and we sometimes forget individual cases. Such cases are often brought to the public’s attention through the media and therefore have a disproportionate influence on how people regard the police. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of cases.

We live in exciting times as far as policing is concerned. The Home Affairs Committee is certainly extremely busy scrutinising the Government on a number of policing issues. We have decided to conduct three inquiries into policing this year—they are rather like “The Lord of the Rings” in that they are a trilogy. The first report will deal with police commissioners, and we will rush it out by the end of October because the Bill dealing with the issue is due before the House in November. The second report will deal with the elements of the planned national crime agency, which will result in legislation next summer. The third report will relate to the comprehensive spending review, and I fear that a number of the issues that we raise today will have to be seen in the light of what the Government decide to do about the policing budget.

I want to raise a number of issues that I think will be of use to the House. As constituency MPs, we all have examples of dealings with local people who are concerned about the police, although none of us, except the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), has actually served in a police force.

One of the easiest things for the police to look at, which actually costs no money at all, is how they deal with the public. Good customer service is essential to ensuring that we have policing by consent and it means that when people send letters to chief officers or local commanders, they get a reply very speedily. One of the points made to the Committee in its short inquiry into the Independent Police Complaints Commission earlier this year—in fact, it was in our recommendations—was that if police at the local level dealt more efficiently and effectively with concerns raised by the public, the need for complaints would diminish.

The first aspect that I want to raise is therefore very much in the hands of the police, and what happens depends very much on the personality and character of the chief constable; if the chief constable wants to make sure that something works, it will work. I had a useful meeting last Friday with the new chief constable in my area, Simon Cole. I raised my concern that when I write to the police on behalf of constituents who come to my surgery on a Friday, I do not get a reply for weeks or even months. All that those constituents want to know is what is happening about their cases. If they know, they will be satisfied. They might not be satisfied with the outcome, but they will at least know what is going on.

Providing good customer service and responding to concerns are therefore important. The Fiona Pilkington case occurred in Leicestershire. As hon. Members know, Ms Pilkington made 33 complaints to the local police force before she drove off and set her car on fire. That is an example of what happens when people do not get a response. I hope that everyone learns the lessons of what happens when the police do not respond; I know that Leicestershire police have. If forces get their house in order and provide the right service, that will be very helpful.

The second issue is visibility. I do not know whether the Minister knows how much his budget will be next year or whether he has just received a text from the Chancellor asking him to go to No. 11 to discuss it, but I am sure that his budget will be cut. If it is cut, to the levels that he and I think possible, that will have a huge impact on some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin. The police cannot perform the functions that the public expect them to unless they have the budgets to enable them to do so.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that discipline and leadership in the police do not necessarily have to come with a price tag?

I accept that absolutely; it is one of the common-sense issues that could be dealt with quickly. If someone needs to be disciplined they should be disciplined. There is a defensiveness to the public sector. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has encountered cases against the local health authority in his constituency, as well. When we write in because someone is concerned about their treatment, there is always denial—all the way to the doors of the High Court. Some of the issues can be dealt with by providing proper leadership.

That leads me to my third point, which is about the new landscape of policing. The Minister has a great opportunity, in deciding what will go into the national crime agency, to deal with issues of leadership. Leadership is not being provided at the moment. We took evidence yesterday from the deputy Mayor of London—the kind of no-nonsense politician one wants in charge of a police force. With people such as Mr Malthouse around, one wonders whether there is a need for elected commissioners; there is always someone like him in every local authority.

I hope very much that the Government will pause and think before they shove everything into the national crime agency. The National Policing Improvement Agency is supposed to go in there, with all its police improvement functions, and so is the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is going in there, and the databases will too.

I know that it is hoped that we shall save money—and we all want to get value for money from the police service—but there may be an opportunity in the few months that remain to deal with the issue of police leadership. There will be arguments on either side about whether that should go to ACPO, about which some hon. Members have concerns. I think that it is an organisation that can be developed to take over Bramshill and provide the necessary leadership.

However, to get the police constables of the future, who will be responsive to the needs of the public, it is necessary to start at a much lower level. The career development that is so vital, especially in policing, should be conducted by an agency that is not the national crime agency. All the good work that is being done by the NPIA should go somewhere else, although I do not have a fixed view on where. The Select Committee will consider the matter, but that work is not suitable for the NCA.

The hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who spoke briefly and had to attend to other duties in the House, mentioned the Kent constabulary and the good practice there. I saw good practice when I went to Staffordshire a year and a half ago. The former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, knows that I am going to raise this issue, which concerns the forms that Staffordshire police were filling in. They had reduced them from 24 to one.

I wrote to Jacqui Smith and said, “This is brilliant; can you please write to all the chief constables and make sure that it is rolled out throughout the country?” It took months and months before it happened. The Select Committee has its own website—I do not know whether the Minister has seen it—which notes good practice by police forces. One of the examples is what is happening in Kent. Guarding against bad practice, which is what the hon. Member for The Wrekin was discussing, is a good way to ensure that good practice happens. Perhaps it happens through guidance from the police Minister, or perhaps it happens when the dos and don’ts are shoved on to the Home Office website.

There is an example of good practice in Northern Ireland, where the Police Service of Northern Ireland has made clear progress over the years. Part of core policy for the PSNI is the interaction of community officers with the general public. They get to know each other and a relationship builds up. Also, for many, there are vocational callings. Some people who are community officers have that vocation in life. That is what they are called to do, and their qualities can be seen coming through in policing.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are many lessons that can be learned from the progress made by the PSNI in Northern Ireland and the way in which it is developing its relationship with the general public?

Yes, there are, and the Select Committee members look forward at some stage in the future to coming to Northern Ireland to see what has happened. The developments have been amazing, and the appointment to the PSNI of Matt Baggott, the former chief constable of Leicestershire, is very welcome. We look forward to visiting him there.

On 22 November, the Select Committee will hold a seminar in Cannock Chase. I have written to the Minister to ask him to speak at that seminar, which will deal with all the issues that I have outlined. It is only 41 minutes away from the Wrekin, so I hope that the hon. Member for The Wrekin will attend. The purpose is outside the context of Westminster, where we can get very political about policing issues. Members on both sides of the House and people on neither side—because we hope that there will also be many police officers and members of police committees there—will discuss the new landscape that is proposed.

I am not one of those who feel that the Government have gone too fast on policing. They are right to have set out a strong agenda for change, but I urge them to heed the views of others who may have an input to make into the matter. I know that the Minister respects the work of the Select Committee because he poached one of our best and newest members—the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod)—as his new PPS.

The Minister will not agree with everything that we say, but given what the hon. Member for The Wrekin has said and what others will say, let us not rush ahead on some of the issues. Of course principles are important, but we are dealing with a new landscape. Let us make one that is above party politics and based on consensus, and that will last for at least a generation.

I want to extend this interesting debate to consider what we mean by trust. We have discussed the attitude of the public to some of the leaders in the police, but equally important is the public’s trust in the bobby on the beat, and we have not touched on that. I am also concerned to retain a balance in the debate between the bad and good apples in the barrel. The good apples have not had a fair hearing, or been congratulated on what they do.

I am extraordinarily lucky because my constituency is in beautiful Devon and Cornwall and our record on policing is extremely good. In 2009-10 we cut the crime rate by 10%; we have reduced vehicle theft by 27% and overall we reduced antisocial behaviour. I am pleased to say that we are perceived to be the fourth safest policing area in England and Wales, and 63% believe that we are doing a good job, but there is a “but”: despite that record the fear of crime is disproportionately high. That brings me back to the bobby on the beat. Independent research has shown that bobbies on the beat are a key factor in deterring people from committing crime and in making people feel safe. In Devon, we have put 200 more policemen on the front line. We have very active police and “communities together” meetings—most recently, we have met in supermarkets, which makes us extremely accessible; that is where we should be. I certainly welcome the Government’s reintroduction of special constables.

Despite what the figures seem to show, however, we have found that, in relation to trust and confidence, the figures fly in the face of all we have been doing. In 2008, 53.2% of people across Devon and Cornwall said that we were doing a good job, and trust and confidence were high, measured by our approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour. That put us second out of 43 police forces across the country, and compared very well with the average of 46% satisfaction. However, in 2009, we plummeted to 35th out of 43, with the satisfaction rate on dealing with antisocial behaviour down to 46.9%. The question for me and my police team was why?

The challenge—the key issue I would like the Minister to address—is how we should measure trust in the police force. It seems rather bizarre that we have a record of crime and antisocial behaviour being cut in Devon and yet, according to the measurements, trust and confidence in the police is going down. That cannot be right. I urge the Minister to consider how, as a Government, we can introduce appropriate measures that are workable and meaningful to the public. I suggest that we start to consider things other than antisocial behaviour, because I think that a much wider remit concerns the public.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I thank you for helping the four of us who want to speak work out an equitable distribution of time in the debate.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I consider the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) a friend in the House. He is tenacious, he never fears to speak out and, on this occasion, I consider nearly everything he said to be utterly wrong. I have to say to him that I thought his contribution was intellectually disingenuous—probably the most intellectually disingenuous contribution I have heard since I became an MP. He made sweeping statements, very few of which were backed up by any empirical evidence. I consider it the duty of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to distance himself very strongly from those statements, unless he has seen the evidence that backs up those claims.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and compliments. On his latter points, can he give a specific example and provide the counterview to that example that he thinks should be put?

No, I will not be doing that. I have limited time and my real reason for being here today is to talk about the Metropolitan police and their conduct of the inquiry into phone hacking by the News of the World.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, mentioned that it would be nice if chief officers replied to MPs’ letters. Given the national interest in the issue, I would like to gently chastise the Metropolitan police for their failure to respond to what I thought was quite an important letter that I sent to Sir Paul Stephenson on 3 September. In the letter, I asked whether every person whose phone was listed in the Glenn Mulcaire evidence file was informed that they were a target of hacking; and, if they were not informed, who decided, according to what criteria and on what authority, which names were to be investigated and which were to be ignored?

When it became public that a Metropolitan police officer, Michael Fuller, was also on Glenn Mulcaire’s list, I was extremely concerned that Met police officers themselves did not know that they might have been the target of phone hacking. I therefore asked Sir Paul Stephenson if he would confirm how many Metropolitan police officers were on the Mulcaire files. He has not responded.

I would like to make my point first. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention at the end of my speech.

I also asked why people on the Mulcaire list were not informed and how many people were on the list of the Mulcaire evidence file, because that is still not in the public domain. Many Members of Parliament were on the Mulcaire lists. We still do not know how many and I do not know if all the Members of Parliament on that list have yet been informed. I asked Sir Paul Stephenson to answer that and to confirm who decided which Members of Parliament should be notified, according to what criteria, and on whose authority. He has not responded. I also asked Sir Paul Stephenson to confirm which victims were selected to be notified and on what criteria. There are a lot of unanswered questions in relation to the Metropolitan police inquiry.

On a point of order, Mr Bayley. Given that we learned today that the Metropolitan police have specifically, in relation to the case raised by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), sought evidence from The Guardian newspaper, I seek your guidance on the issue of sub judice. I do not want to fetter the hon. Gentleman’s discretion to raise these issues, but I am concerned that he may be transgressing the rules of the House on sub judice in relation to that ongoing police investigation.

If the matter is not before the courts, it cannot be sub judice. What the hon. Gentleman has raised is a matter for debate. If we have time and he wishes to speak, he might be able to make a contribution.

Thank you, Mr Bayley. I would not dream of attempting to transgress the rules of the House on sub judice. I simply seek to get the facts, and not enough of the facts are in the public domain.

The Minister has it in his power to cast light on this sorry tale. He could review the Metropolitan police advice to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and thus be confident in his own mind about whether the DPP was given all the evidence required to bring appropriate cases. If the Minister wanted to, he could ask an external police service to investigate the conduct of the inquiry by the Metropolitan police. I would like him to acknowledge whether that is an option he is considering taking. He could, if he wanted to, talk to the Prime Minister about the potential for a judicial inquiry into the conduct of this case.

Members of Parliament, senior police officers, senior members of the military, the heir to the throne and leading celebrities have been the target of criminal activity on an industrial scale by News International journalists, and that has not been adequately investigated. So in today’s debate on trust in the police, I would like to say that I have absolute confidence in the police’s ability to get to the truth.

The hon. Gentleman is being as gracious as ever and I am grateful to him for giving way. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) rightly said that he did not want to play “party politics” with this debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not attempting to do that, but I fear he is perhaps straying into party politics. I think he is at his very best when he is representing the interests of his constituents in West Bromwich—where, if he looks at the latest statistics, he will see that burglary has increased—who are concerned about and have a real fear of crime, rather than trying to make wild accusations and party political points on a very narrow matter. Let us stick to the debate on the important topic of public trust in the police that is important to his constituents and, indeed, throughout the country.

I do not believe that that was a question; it was a statement. I cannot recall one word of any of my sentences that was of a party political nature. I seek to get to the facts after a unanimous inquiry conducted by my own Select Committee—the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—and the establishment of two further inquiries agreed by both Front Benches in Parliament.

To sum up, will the Minister let me know whether he sees merit in an investigation into the conduct of the Metropolitan police inquiry into phone hacking?

I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing what has turned into a wide-ranging debate on an important subject: public trust in police forces, a subject that is quite distinct from the effectiveness of police forces. Some of the points that he made are very pertinent. It is clear that there are serious problems in the organisation of police forces: for example, the block on good officers developing and being promoted, especially to sergeant, that first hurdle of promotion. The 30-year limit on the service of police officers and the cost of the generous pension system are also issues. However, we must be careful not to damage the way policing works when we discuss whether that is effective or not. We need young, fit and able officers, but we also need the huge experience of older and perhaps less fit officers, who can often defuse situations, negating the need for a chase in the first place.

I want to concentrate on some of the factors that I feel have contributed to the decline in public trust in the police service over recent decades. The central question to which we inevitably return when discussing policing, and with which I have wrestled for 20 years since starting as a serving police officer, is: what are the police for? I must admit that 20 years ago I held a narrow view of police functions, having had the relevant sections of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 drilled into me. Much of that Act deals specifically with crime and its prevention, but it contains nothing about increasing public trust in the police. It was my firm belief then that it was the role of politicians, not the police, to deal with the fear of crime.

However, it should not come as too much of a surprise that, now that I am a politician, my view has changed substantially, although my experiences over the past 20 years have fed that change of mind. Back then I served as a beat officer, focusing entirely on crime, and community officers dealt in the main with building links with local communities, schools and businesses. When officers were needed to police demonstrations or football matches, it was generally those community officers whose duties were changed, not mine, which reflected the absolute focus on crime.

That has continued over the past 20 years, unfortunately aided and abetted by the previous Government’s top-down focus. For the 13 years Labour was in government, it continually undermined local police forces by creating central crime targets dictated from Whitehall. That means that the Home Office now judges a police force on how many crimes it detects and clears up. That measurement is the opposite of what I think we should be looking for from local police services.

The public do not necessarily want the police to be good only at solving crimes after they have been committed; they also want them to be good at preventing them. When I started serving, it was considered to be a good night when a PC came back from the beat and no crime had been committed and no victims had suffered loss or injury. With Whitehall targets, it is now considered to be better for a PC to have spent an entire eight-hour shift dealing with arrests, regardless of the nature of the offence. That culture of central target setting has put pressure on officers to behave in ways in which they might not otherwise choose to act, focusing on otherwise minor offences in order to reach targets and criminalising many groups that have traditionally been supporters of the police. That is not new. I remember being taken as a probationary constable to a local shopping centre in Edinburgh to be shown by my sergeant how easy it was to catch people as they left the car park without having put their seatbelts on. Remote target setting has many such unintended consequences.

New responsibilities have been placed on police forces, such as the recently scrapped policing pledge and confidence targets. More than 4,600 new criminal offences have been created since 1997—more than 28 a month. All that massively increases bureaucracy and overloads police officers with paperwork, removing them from the streets where the public time and again say they want to see them. Surveys continue to show that many people’s top priority for policing is to see more bobbies on the beat.

Those new responsibilities also serve to promote the indiscriminate targeting of groups, using methods that are unacceptable to the public but which police forces may feel they can justify through the potential rewards of producing statistics that show how they are dealing with a particular Government priority. A recent example saw residents in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath neighbourhoods told that hundreds of CCTV cameras and automatic number plate-reading cameras were being installed to monitor speeding vehicles and antisocial behaviour among youths. Just days before the cameras were turned on, however, an investigative reporter found that those cameras were to be used by the Home Office and MI5 to monitor people entering and leaving those predominantly Muslim areas.

A follow-up report by the Thames Valley police commissioner gave a damning assessment showing that officers failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or to conduct proper consultation. They did not obtain statutory clearance for the use of covert cameras and there was little evidence that officers had even considered their legal obligations. Furthermore, attempts by the police to conceal the true purpose of the project caused significant damage to community relations, with one community leader reporting that relations had fallen back by at least a decade.

With all due respect, it is easy with hindsight to criticise West Midlands police for that operation, but we do not know, and never will, what potential terrorist or criminal outrage that surveillance may have prevented. It is slightly unfair of my hon. Friend to take that case in isolation, because it is the duty of all police forces to remain utterly vigilant in an age of international and national terrorism.

I thank my hon. Friend for his point, but that is the defence that is used when none other can be found: “We know things that you don’t.” In fact, what is being said is: “We may know things that you don’t.” That justifies any means by which communities are policed, which simply is not acceptable. Clear guidelines have been laid down for looking into those offences. We are having a major review of much of the terrorist legislation that is being used for such measures. I hope that we reach a position where we can deal effectively with such concerns and potential problems without using the types of behaviour that have damaged public trust in that police service.

Another example, highlighted this week in The Guardian, demonstrates the far more serious flipside of the racial problem outlined by the hon. Member for The Wrekin in relation to policing and justice more generally. It showed that, per capita, seven times as many black Britons were incarcerated than white Britons, which is an even higher ratio than in the United States, where four times as many black people are in prison than white people. Those data, which come from the recently published Equality and Human Rights Commission report on fairness in Britain, show just how much of an effect decades of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system have had on the black community. Another figure that is particularly striking, and that again goes to the heart of the targets culture, shows that black Britons constituted 15% of the stop and searches in Britain in 2008, despite making up only 3% of the population.

All the factors that I have outlined contributed to public confidence reaching new lows. In response to that, Labour again reverted to type, refusing to acknowledge that central meddling was the culprit, and tried to deal with the problem through targets, setting a target for improving confidence in forces’ local crime and disorder-fighting strategies by a minimum of 12%. It also set a national confidence target, to be measured by annual surveys.

What is the answer? How do we reconnect the police with the public they serve? There must be a wholesale revision of the interaction between the police and the public. The coalition’s plans to bring in locally elected police commissioners is certainly a step in the right direction, and there is certainly something to be said for increasing the local accountability of police forces. If communities are involved, they will be able to have more input into the priorities of local police forces, which will go a long way towards restoring trust in the force.

I ask the hon. Gentleman the following question because he is a former senior officer: does he think that, within the proposals for elected police commissioners, operational independence is guaranteed?

As it stands, the position is that operational independence must be maintained, and I would argue that it must be sacrosanct. To a large extent, operational decisions have to be made quickly, but that may not be possible under new structures. The amount of information that is needed to make such decisions is immediately available to senior police officers, and they are absolutely the right people to make those decisions.

I have some concerns about the detail of the scheme. I feel that it is probably not local enough, so I hope, as we have urged in our submission to the Home Office, that the plans will be trialled to ensure their effectiveness. It is clear that accountability for policing priorities and dialogue between the consumers of policing and the providers of it need to happen at a much lower level, and in a much more regular and inclusive way. Only by doing that will we restore a degree of public trust in the police and, in so doing, re-establish the principle of policing by consent. That will ultimately answer my original question, what are the police for? This is about working with and in communities to improve people’s lives.

It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. As in the film, I am back to the future in coming back to a role that I had 15 months ago. It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, still in his place. He made his contribution in the thoughtful way in which he normally tries to take forward debates. Many of us will be in Cannock Chase to contribute to the seminar that he has arranged. Some interesting points have been made, and I would like to deal with some of them before the Minister responds.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made some important points and discussed important challenges for the police. The concern that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), I and one or two others have is that, despite the hon. Member for The Wrekin’s making a caveat at the beginning and end of his remarks, about individual cases and about casting aspersions on the whole police service, some of the high-profile cases and incidents to which he referred do just that.

The hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) asked why fear of crime goes up when crime is actually falling. I shall refer to that further in a minute. If a particular problem or scandal is splashed all over the newspapers every day—such things should be publicised, of course; I am not saying that they should not—that is what happens.

I was the police Minister when we had the horrific spike in knife and gun crime. Unfortunately, I understand from the figures that there is some suggestion that it is happening again this year. One would go to areas of the country where there had not been a stabbing for years, yet people were frightened of being stabbed.

The language and tone of any debate about trust and confidence in the police are fundamental; that was the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East referred. He raised several serious issues. No one would condone corruption, brutality or police officers thinking that they are above the law. That is why my hon. Friend gets so cross about the phone hacking, and why he wants answers and a proper discussion of the matter. At the end of the day, it is knowledge that enables public trust.

The House of Commons Library pack to inform this debate on public trust in police forces is excellent. It highlights several unacceptable things that have happened and which have seriously undermined confidence and trust in various areas. However, if we let those become the narrative and the story for the whole of the police, we will have a real problem.

I have the Home Office’s crime statistics from July, which were published by the Minister. He needs to answer this question, because it goes to the heart of the matter. One of the reasons why people do not believe the crime statistics is that politicians often play around with them and pick out bits that prove their points. If they do that, why should people believe the statistics?

According to the British crime survey, crime has reduced by one half since 1995. Does the Minister agree with that? The report states:

“The most striking new finding within this report is that both the 2009/10 BCS and police recorded crime are consistent in showing falls in overall crime compared with 2008/09. Overall BCS crime decreased by nine per cent…and police recorded crime by eight per cent”.

Does the Minister agree with that?

Does the Minister agree that the same report shows that the fear of crime is going up, despite those figures? That is exactly the point that the hon. Member for Newton Abbot made. I am trying not to be party political, but, to be honest, when the new Government saw the figures, they took the bit that was not such good news and headlined it, rather than going for a big banner headline that crime fell by one half since 1995 and that recorded crime and BCS crime were down by 9%. Is not that one of the things that we should be doing, instead of tucking it away in a little press release? That is part of the problem.

We have to use the figures and what the crime statistics tell us. The UK Statistics Authority said that the crime statistics are reliable and that therefore we should use them more than we do.

I dispute some of the hon. Gentleman’s suppositions and comments, but if he accepts that the current statistics are complex and confusing, and that there is a variety of ways to collect data on a range of things that the police deal with, why did he not make changes when he was the police Minister?

The point I am making is not so much that the statistics are confusing but that people pick out bits from them to prove their point. The overall crime statistics reflected in both the BCS and recorded crime figures show significant falls in crime. What should we do, if we want to ensure people’s trust and confidence in the police? What confidence can one have in the police?

At a recent conference, the Home Secretary said that the biggest factor was whether crime is falling in police force areas. She said that that is the measure that we should use to give the public confidence and trust in their police force, and to know whether police forces are being effective.

The hon. Member for Newton Abbot spoke about crime falling in her area. That has to be the banner headline. If we try to undermine the statistics all the time, it is no wonder that people’s fear of crime rises.

In discussing how we keep confidence and trust, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said that some aspects are not hugely difficult. What seems to be difficult is for it to happen in every community in the country consistently and persistently. The things that drive confidence and trust are neighbourhood policing and a visible police presence, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) said. There will be a debate about whether that has happened or not, but we need neighbourhood policing, visible policing and police being around and responding properly when phone calls are made about antisocial behaviour by a few kids on the street.

We are all constituency MPs. How many people come to us about terrorist incidents? Not many. How many come to us because they phoned up about what may seem a trivial incident but, to the member of the public, is fundamental? If that is responded to, even though it may seem trivial, confidence and trust in the police go up. People are not stupid. They know that sometimes things are difficult to deal with, but they expect that if they are worried about a kid who keeps banging on their door, somebody will say, “Yes, it should not happen. We are very sorry.” In the best cases—in an increasing number of cases—the police are recognising that and responding in the way that we would all want.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West discussed the targets set by central Government, which he felt were unhelpful to policing. However, as I mentioned in my speech, during the previous Administration I found that central Government were able to pass on good practice. From his experience, does my hon. Friend believe that it could have been done better? There needs to be a better understanding of the fact that the Home Office has a role in ensuring that good practice in one part of the country is occurring elsewhere. If it does not have such a role, who does?

I was coming to the point about good practice. My right hon. Friend is right. The Home Office does have a role, as do the police, police authorities and others, in disseminating good practice and good information. We have talked before about good community engagement, good communication, informing people about what is going on and having meetings. All those things are fundamentally important, as is answering letters, and so on.

The Home Office has a responsibility for disseminating information, whether through websites or in other ways. I am interested in whether the Minister believes that that is so and whether he will deal with some of the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised this afternoon, notwithstanding his not agreeing with certain cultures and targets. What role does he think the Home Office has to play in driving up confidence and helping restore trust?

Briefly, on trust and confidence, my experience is that the Minister has responsibility both for police and criminal justice. In respect of confidence and trust in the police, the issue is not only about what the police do, but what other bodies, including local authorities and local councils, do. What those bodies do drives trust as well. For example, the clearing up of graffiti and things like that makes a difference.

How the police interact with the criminal justice system is fundamental. There is a big issue here. Sometimes the police get blamed for the criminal justice system not working effectively with respect to the police. We need to get better in respect of one thing in particular. One of the biggest confidence and trust builders is for local people to know that somebody who is causing real problems in their area, and is arrested by the police and taken to court, has been dealt with by the courts and taken through the criminal justice process.

I should be interested in hearing what the Minister expects from the spending review. Other hon. Members have mentioned what will happen with respect to the coming cuts. We have all talked about visible policing and the importance of officers on the beat. How on earth are we going to maintain police numbers and the current numbers of police community support officers? How are we going to cut bureaucracy if police staff are going to go? What will happen to the number of police stations? What will happen to police station opening hours? What will happen to confidence and trust in an environment where all that is happening?

We are talking about trust and confidence in the police. Part of the modernisation of the police has been the establishment of a number of specialist units, which some people regard as a waste but I think are fundamental. Domestic violence would not have been tackled to the extent that it has were it not for the training and development of specialist domestic violence units in many police force areas.

The same is true of sexual violence. Victims of sexual violence want to know that a specialist officer is dealing with the case. What is happening to child protection? All those things are fundamental. If we want confidence and trust, it is all very well to say that that should be mainstreamed into police business and into their main work, but often when that happens there is a loss of focus with regard to such matters.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East mentioned the new national crime agency, which is supposed to take in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the National Policing Improvement Agency. I thought that the national crime agency was to be an operational crime-fighting body. The NPIA deals with training, the police national computer and so on. Why would something like that be put into the NCA? If people are to have confidence in the NCA, they want to see a crime-fighting body, not one that encapsulates some of the necessary functions of the NPIA.

Finally, on accountability, the hon. Member for Edinburgh West mentioned elected police commissioners, said that he went along with that proposal and then slightly qualified what he said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East asked whether those commissioners would have operational independence. We oppose the creation of elected police commissioners. First, will the Minister clarify whether the Government’s policy is still, as it was when they were in opposition, to have the power of recall so that another election, to get somebody acceptable, can be held if somebody unsatisfactory is elected as a police commissioner?

Secondly, if the police are still operationally independent, which they should be, of course, what can an elected police commissioner do if he does not agree with what the chief constable does? If the chief constable operates ineffectively, either the commissioner can do something about it or he cannot. How can the elected police commissioner be held accountable if the chief constable is operationally independent—something over which the commissioner has no influence? What will the role of the elected police commissioner be with respect to a chief constable, if the former sees the latter acting unsatisfactorily?

I shall finish where I started, by congratulating the hon. Member for The Wrekin on prompting the debate. He raised some real issues, as did other hon. Members. I say to all police officers out there that the vast majority do a good job in difficult circumstances and they have the full support of every Member of Parliament, notwithstanding some of the difficult incidents that we hear, see and read about. We know that there are bad officers, but we also know that they are not a reflection on the police force as a whole.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate, on putting his case with his customary clarity and forcefulness and on initiating a debate, to which many right hon. and hon. Members have enjoyed contributing, on a matter that is close to our hearts —the performance of our local police forces and their ability to deal with crime, which is still of great concern throughout the country.

First, I should like to pick up on the last point made by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and, in doing so, congratulate him on his new position as shadow Police Minister, which is particularly interesting for him as former Police Minister. He will bring an alarming amount of experience and knowledge to bear and will, I am sure, hold the Government to account through a challenging period for policing. I look forward to working with him as constructively as we can in the weeks and months ahead. I shall return to that subject when talking about crime statistics.

The hon. Gentleman recognises that the overwhelming majority of police officers could not be characterised in any way by some of the things that have been said during this debate. I echo that. I am conscious that, in the past few weeks and months, we have talked about police reform, the challenging spending environment and about the decisions ahead that need to be taken, and that we can lose sight of the fact that, every day, police officers throughout the country work hard to keep all of us safe. The overwhelming majority of them act with impartiality and integrity. Sometimes sufficient tribute is not paid to the work that they do. I should like formally to thank them.

Those of us who recently attended the national police memorial day service in Belfast or the police bravery awards and spoke to the relatives of police officers who lost their lives doing their duty in the past year, including PC Bill Barker, who was swept away when attempting to help people on a bridge in Cumbria during the floods, could not have failed to be anything but struck by the heroism and professionalism of the police and be reminded of the job that they do for us. In the course of this debate about police legitimacy, conduct and accountability, how they respond to us, and their links with the public, we should remember all those officers and what they do. We should recognise that this is a period of uncertainty for people who work in our public services, including police officers, and we should be sensitive to that.

Although I disagree with some of my hon. Friend’s sharper points, the issue, which is essentially trust and legitimacy, is a proper one to raise. He referred to Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing, and quoted his famous seventh principle of policing that

“the police are the public and the public are the police”.

My hon. Friend might have quoted Sir Robert’s second principle:

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”

In this country, we have a tradition that policing is not only carried out by consent, but that it flows from the fact that the police are of their communities and have the active support of the public. When that support has ebbed away in specific circumstances, policing has gone wrong. We saw that in the past in the way in which the police interacted with black and ethnic minority communities. When confidence in policing goes, legitimacy also goes. Our leaders in the police service are acutely aware of that important link between confidence and legitimacy.

It may help hon. Members if I add a few metrics to the debate to provide an understanding of the extent to which the public have confidence in the police. The last British crime survey found that overall public confidence in their local police was 69%. That may seem to be high, and is certainly much higher than public confidence in, for example, our profession as Members of Parliament and the media; nevertheless, 30% of respondents said that they did not have confidence in their local police overall. Other figures should make us pause: for example, 50% agreed that the police could be relied on to be present when they were needed, and less than half—48%—agreed that the police could be relied on to deal with minor crimes.

I welcome the fact that the same survey showed that the proportion of people who believe that the police in their area are doing a good or excellent job rose from 49% in 2004-05 to 56% in 2009-10. A majority of the public believe that the police in their area are doing a good or excellent job, but a significant minority do not. On public confidence in the police and local councils, there is a problem with questions that link the actions of both. It is difficult to disaggregate responsibility when they deal with crime and antisocial behaviour issues that matter locally, but only around half of respondents to the survey had confidence in the police and local councils together.

That suggests a number of issues on which we should pause to reflect in the relationship of the police with the public. First, hon. Members have mentioned specific incidents that gave rise to public concern. In every case, there were proper investigations by the authorities and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but they left an impression—

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will respond to his points.

There is a danger, as the hon. Member for Gedling said, that such incidents create a damaging impression of policing as a whole. The problem is accountability. We live in the age of accountability, and people expect institutions and individuals who hold office to be properly and transparently answerable to them. That is right. We must have a system for complaints and the public must be able to take up issues if they believe that police performance has fallen down. We must have an overall system of answerability that commands public confidence and strengthens the links between the police and the public.

The thrust of our proposed reforms is to rebuild the bridge between the police and the public, and in particular to recognise that police forces sprang from local communities. We have never had a national police force in this country. Police legitimacy essentially flows from consent in those communities, and we want to loosen the central grip on policing that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) described and, in exchange, strengthen forces’ local accountability.

The Minister refers to accountability. Does he accept that there is concern among the public, the rank and file in the police and certainly among senior and chief officers that it is difficult to sack police officers who are not doing their job correctly? Will he respond to my earlier comments and say that he will consider the matter, whether it will be part of the review, and whether we can get rid of some of the police officers who are doing such damage to the reputation of the police service?

I apologise to my hon. Friend, I will certainly respond to the specific points that he raised, but the review into police pay and conditions, which will be led by the former rail regulator, Tom Winsor, has a free rein to consider all such matters, and the way in which police officers are employed should certainly be one. People are free to offer their views to Tom Winsor and his fellow reviewers. That is reasonable, particularly given the scale of the fiscal and other challenges facing the police and their leaders

I turn to the reforms and the specific points made by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. A key element of our reforms is that police and crime commissioners should be directly elected, thus strengthening the bond between people and the police, and allowing local forces to be held to account. We also intend to introduce transparency. The public should know more about what is happening with crime in their area, and they should know how money is spent by police forces. That principle of transparency should apply throughout the criminal justice system, and from January 2011 we will introduce crime mapping at street level to provide the public with more information about what is happening in their area.

On crime statistics, I agree that we need a non-partisan debate. It is important to build public confidence in statistics, and the political trade about them has been unfortunate. Local crime mapping will give the public unimpeachable information that is directly relevant. I am afraid that national crime statistics are becoming less and less relevant because they are not believed. We have two measures of crime, but the recorded crime figures are susceptible to alteration and the way the figures are collected has been changed, and the British crime survey misses out large sections of crime.

I would like to return the challenge. I am relatively new to my position, and the hon. Member for Gedling is relatively new to his. If he would like a sensible discussion about how we can collect crime figures, so that in future months we do not have a dispute about the figures but talk instead about policy and what lies behind those figures, my door is open. That would be a sensible thing to do.

I note the intervention from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. That is a genuine offer; this is the moment to make such a move.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin talked about leadership, and I strongly agree with him about the value of leadership in policing. We have asked the former chief constable of Thames Valley police and chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, Peter Neyroud, to conduct a study into how we can ensure the right leadership and training in the police. In the end, however, that must rest with the police themselves. Part of the reforms that we wish to introduce concerns the reform of the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure that it takes responsibility for such matters in an accountable manner.

My hon. Friend also called for a review of agencies and quangos, and he will be hearing a great deal more about that in due course. We have proposed a decluttering of the landscape surrounding policing by winding up the National Policing Improvement Agency and taking those functions to a new national crime agency.

On the point raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I will of course pay attention to all issues and concerns that are raised by people about the whole spectrum of reforms to policing. As he will know, I have been attending to those issues, and I have taken care to pay attention to the views of stakeholders, police organisations and so on.

There are 30 seconds to go. I asked whether the Minister thinks there are merits in having an outside force investigate the conduct of the Metropolitan police inquiry into phone hacking. Will he respond to that point?

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I am running out of time. He has raised such matters before. It was and remains a matter for the police, who have made it clear that they will consider fresh information if it emerges. That is precisely what they are doing, and it is right to await their conclusion. Those matters have been debated in the House and are now subject to investigations by two Select Committees. The right way forward is to await the outcome of those latest inquiries.

In conclusion, I believe that the debate about how we structure our police in the future is important. The Government reforms are intended to ensure that we have a strong connection between the police and the public.