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Public Administration Select Committee

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 10 April 2014

We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I—or the occupant of the Chair, whoever it is—will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement and call Mr Jenkin to respond to these in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions, and they should be brief. Members on the Front Bench may of course take part in the questioning. I call the Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, Mr Bernard Jenkin.

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for this opportunity to launch the Public Administration Select Committee’s report entitled “Caught red-handed: Why we can’t count on Police Recorded Crime statistics”. The Daily Telegraph has already described our report as “devastating”. That is because this is not just about inaccurate numbers; it is about the long crisis of values and ethics at the heart of our police force.

Crime statistics are central to our understanding of the nature and prevalence of crime in England and Wales. They provide crucial information for the police, without which they would have no way of knowing how to deploy their manpower and resources. We found strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape, in many police areas. Lax supervision of recorded crime data means that the police are failing in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime. The main reason for this mis-recording is the continued prevalence of numerical targets. They create perverse incentives to mis-record crime, so a police officer is presented with a conflict: does he or she record “attempted burglary”, as was originally reported, or subsequently downgrade it to “criminal damage” in order to achieve the burglary target? That creates conflict between the achievement of targets and core policing values. We deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms. But most police forces are still in denial about the damage that targets cause both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour.

The Home Office must accept responsibility for the quality of police recorded crime statistics and do more to discourage the use of targets. As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped police recorded crime data of the quality kitemark, “National Statistics”. The Home Office, the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been far too passive in addressing this problem, even though they have all known about it for years. Leadership by targets is a flawed leadership model, and that is what really must be addressed, because poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police. What does the institutional dishonesty about police recorded crime say about their compliance with the core values of policing, which are meant to include accountability, honesty and integrity?

That comes on top of all the other controversies that have raised questions about the values and ethics of the police and their leadership: Hillsborough; Stephen Lawrence; the attempt to hide the cause of Ian Tomlinson’s death in the G20 protests; Plebgate; Operation Elveden, about the police accepting payments from journalists to leak unauthorised information; just last month, four police officers under investigation for allegedly getting a burglar to confess to 500 crimes he apparently did not commit; and many other instances.

I yield to no one in my admiration and respect for so many police officers. They put their lives at risk in the line of duty while they serve our communities. We see them around this Palace, ready to throw themselves between us and the terrorists if the need arises. Yet these same officers are deeply cynical about the quality of their leadership and its honesty and integrity.

That is why we recommend that the Committee on Standards in Public Life conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new code of ethics and, in particular, into the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining those values.

The most depressing part of our inquiry is the way in which the Metropolitan police have treated my constituent, PC James Patrick, who was our key witness. He says he has been forced to resign from the Metropolitan police. Acting as a whistleblower, he tried to highlight serious concerns about police recorded crime and the target culture. We record the fact that we are indebted to PC Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service despite intense pressure to the contrary.

I am pleased that the Minister for Crime Prevention has now written to me—he is on the Front Bench at the moment—to say that the Home Office is looking at a range of what he calls radical proposals to strengthen the protection of whistleblowers within the police. But this has all come too late for PC Patrick. By a quirk of the rules, police offices are denied what is called “interim relief” in constructive dismissal cases, so he will cease to be paid from 6 June while he awaits his tribunal, which will not be until August or September.

We are calling for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to investigate the Metropolitan police service in respect of the treatment of PC Patrick. We do not believe that the Metropolitan police service has treated him fairly or with respect and care.

I have a brief question, but first may I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and PASC for a forensic report which charts a long-standing and deep-seated problem? Sir Andrew Dilnot said in evidence to the Committee that the more accurate crime statistics become, the more likely they are to show that crime is rising. Now that we have the Committee’s verdict that we can no longer rely on crime statistics, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be most unwise, until such time as the system has been changed in the way the Committee recommended, for Ministers to rely on the crime statistics to assert that crime is falling?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his compliments, but I am not sure that that is quite what Sir Andrew said. What the Office for National Statistics has said is that crime may not be falling quite as fast as police recorded crime suggests, but the crime survey for England and Wales, which is a survey not a recording system, does corroborate the fact that crime is falling. That is the figure the Labour party relied on when in government and it is the figure the Government of any party are entitled to rely upon.

On the substantive point that we need to improve the auditing of police recorded crime statistics in order to make them a more reliable source of data, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

May I, on behalf of the Home Office, thank my hon. Friend and his Committee for the serious work they have done? We will, of course, give a proper response in due course to his recommendations. Would he accept that some, but not all, of the issues he has raised are, fortunately, slightly historical in nature? We have taken action to discourage central targets. We have also taken action to ensure that the independent Office for National Statistics is responsible for crime statistics, and we asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary last June to carry out an audit of the quality of crime recording, so we are taking action at the Home Office.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Yes, this is historical, but I am afraid that makes all the more damning the fact that police recorded crime is still being misrecorded in this country. Yes, the Home Office has handed this over to the ONS and the UK Statistics Authority, and the Home Office has ceased to set its own targets, but the Committee does recommend that the Home Office, which collects the data and gives them to the ONS, has an obligation to ensure that those data are recorded correctly. We lament the fact that HMIC has not been doing regular audits. Where a regular audit was done in the Kent polices there was an immediate increase in police recorded crime. We probably need to look forward to increases in certain categories of crime, as that would confirm that such crimes are now being recorded correctly. That should be regarded as a good thing, so long as we can corroborate that with the crime survey in England and Wales still showing a fall in crime. The Home Office has overall accountability to this House for the quality of police recorded crime statistics. So the Home Office, along with the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee, the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS, has a responsibility to ensure that the police recording of crime is improved, and overall the Home Office is accountable to this House for ensuring that the police recording of crime is of better quality than it is now.

I commend the hon. Gentleman and the Committee for their work. I have long since stopped trusting police statistics; propaganda banners in the centre of Hammersmith tell me that my constituents are safer because there are 42 extra police, but when I go to the Mayor of London’s website I am told that there are 158 fewer police and police community support officers than there were at the time of the last general election. What his Committee said about how this situation

“erodes public trust in the police and…the…confidence of frontline police officers”

is absolutely right. However, we do need accurate statistics, as well as to address the ethics points he talked about, so what can be done to ensure that we have accurate statistics in the future?

There are three steps to take to ensure more accurate crime statistics. One is regular audit. The second is to abandon targets. Many police and crime commissioners have abandoned targets altogether, because they recognise that they have a distorting effect on behaviour and attitudes. The third is that the police themselves need to emphasise the core policing values of accountability, honesty and integrity so that police officers at desks recording crimes recognise that, above everything else, recording the crimes effectively is a microcosm of the honesty, integrity and accountability that they must carry throughout their entire policing profession. It is these values that have been subverted by the target culture. That is the responsibility of both parties over a long period—it is not a partisan point. Our key witness told me that the Metropolitan police is still full of target junkies. It will take a long time to change the culture of leadership throughout our police forces in England and Wales—this also applies to Scotland, although we have not inquired into Scotland—but it has to be done.

It is never easy to be a whistleblower, but I cannot imagine a much tougher environment to be a whistleblower in than the police service. What practical measures of protection does the Committee recommend to safeguard the interests of people such as my hon. Friend’s brave constituent PC Patrick in the future?

We recommend immunity from disciplinary proceedings while a whistleblowing process is under way. That is standard practice in the financial services industry, nuclear industry, aviation sector, transport sector and many other industries, and it should be so in the police as well. I am pleased to say that, in a letter sent to me by my hon. Friend the Minister, a number of possible options have been included. They are:

“Anonymity for the whistleblower from the point at which the allegation is made…‘sealed’ investigations so that, for a set period, no-one under investigation knows that it is happening …immunity from disciplinary/misconduct proceedings… financial incentives for whistleblowers, for example a share of recovered criminal assets from the case…protection against vexatious or malicious allegations.”

All those options would have made life very different for my constituent.

As a member of the Select Committee, I was pleased to have taken part in the work on this first-class report. I congratulate the Chairman on his strong leadership in bringing forward the report and on his statement today. The issue of no-crime rates for rapes and sexual offences is a most serious matter. Although I fully support the recommendation for research, is the matter not so serious that the Government should act now to seek to ensure that all rapists are brought to justice and that women and indeed some men can feel safe from such attacks in future?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work on the PASC and for his question. I refer to chart 3 on page 17 of the report, which shows a remarkable divergence in the average no-crime rate reported for rape incidents. It is important to understand that no constabulary sets a target for rape. That lesson has been learnt, but the culture of downgrading rapes to lesser offences is embedded in the culture of the police. Generations of police officers have learnt that it is a good thing to downgrade the importance of crimes to make the figures look better. The result is a 20% variation across forces in how often they downgrade a rape to a lesser offence. That shows that there must be a very wide divergence of practice across police forces, and it demonstrates why an investigation into this question is necessary, particularly for such a serious offence. I expect the same applies to many other offences, such as domestic violence and violence against women and some of the less fashionable offences that we have difficulty talking about.

I declare an interest as a special constable with the British Transport police. In my brief career with the police, I have never come across any instance where a police officer has knowingly downgraded a crime. Nevertheless, I strongly commend the Chairman for his hard-hitting report, which pulls no punches and which is clearly an example of how Select Committees in this place should report and not be frightened of dealing with these difficult issues in a forthright way. So serious are the conclusions in the report that, if I were the Home Secretary, the matter would be right at the top of my in-tray. What indications has the Chairman been given by the Home Office about when the Home Secretary will come to the House to respond to the conclusions in his report? The conclusions are so serious that I believe they should be discussed at Cabinet level, and this House should be informed promptly of what the Government will do to ensure the integrity of the recording of crimes by our police forces, which is a hugely important issue for all our constituents.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Sadly, I must tell him that there is not a single police officer on the streets or around the Palace who has expressed the least surprise about what we were told in evidence by PC Patrick and many other witnesses. They all knew that this was going on, and everybody has known that this has been going on in many police forces, possibly most police forces, for very many years. The fact that my hon. Friend has not been exposed to it is intriguing; I will say no more than that. Let me reassure him that I am immensely reassured that my hon. Friend the Minister is in the House today and has indeed participated in these proceedings. I have already had a meeting with the Home Secretary at which we have had a preliminary discussion about the report. My hon. Friend is tempting me to apply for a fuller debate on the report so that Ministers can give a fuller response. Perhaps that can happen after the Government have responded in full to our report.

Is not the most egregious example of the waste and futility of target setting what happened in the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime? In seeking to set three targets for reducing crime, reducing costs and improving morale, it decided to have targets of 20%, 20% and 20% in what was an obvious way of headline chasing. Is the Chairman shocked by what we heard in evidence to his Committee and to the Home Affairs Committee? Although the Met has men and women of integrity in it who are entirely free of any corruption and are entirely honourable, the surprise is that, going back to the murder of Daniel Morgan 27 years ago, there are elements in the Met that are institutionally corrupt.

Our recommendation is that MOPAC should abandon targets. If it has slogans, they should be aspirations, not targets. The hon. Gentleman, who is on the Committee and for whose work I am grateful, is right that there are aspects of this that raise very serious questions about the ethics and values of the leadership of the police, particularly the Metropolitan police.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on this matter. May I draw Members’ attention to paragraph 39 which says that

“misrecording of sexual offences is deplorable, but especially so if this has been brought about by means of improperly persuading or pressurising victims into withdrawing or downgrading their report.”?

That particularly affects children.

As a member of the PASC, may I, too, congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee on his effective leadership and tenacity in this inquiry? Will he explain to the House why the flaws in the recording system were not picked up through external inspection?

In our evidence, we heard that there was not enough internal or external inspection. When Kent police were specially audited a year or two ago, it turned out that there was substantial manipulation of crime statistics. Whether it was advertent or inadvertent, it was happening. The result has been a much cleaner bill of health for Kent. Regular audit and inspection is one of the things that must happen, and HMIC must make that a priority every year.

In Lincolnshire during this Parliament, we have had an absurd spat between the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, which resulted in the chief constable being suspended for a time—not for anything operational, just some rubbish about political correctness. Meanwhile, while all this money and time wasting is going on I, speaking personally as an ordinary member of the public, have been a victim of crime twice in Lincolnshire and I have to say that the response of the police was completely underwhelming, with no follow-up and nobody caught. People are increasingly fed up with members of police forces, particularly at the top, who pay themselves quite well and seem to be enmeshed in empire building, political correctness and form filling. What we and the public want to get back to—this is why this report is so good—and what I want my hon. Friend to comment on, is old-fashioned community policing, with the police in our communities, the old bobby on the beat, walking around, knowing everyone, talking to people and not just sitting in their headquarters having these absurd spats—

Order. I am sure that there must have been a question somewhere in that great rant, and I am sure that Mr Jenkin will be able to pick out an answer.

I am interested to note that Lincolnshire is one of the outliers in the table of the average no-crime rate for reported rape incidents that shows the downgrading of rape. As I look at the table, I cannot remember instantly whether that means it is very good or very bad—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) says that I should turn it upside down. The hankering after practical policing based on common sense outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) suggests that the police would be well advised to lead according to common-sense values and the values in the ethics code. If they do the right thing on the day according to those values, their leadership should back them.

I, too, commend my hon. Friend and the PASC for this forthright and uncomfortable report. Is he aware that the figures are being distorted further by the police’s increasingly arbitrary use of police information notices? When an individual perceives that harassment has taken place, often devoid of a common-sense test of whether a complaint has substance or is vexatious, according to Sussex police, at least, there is no need for them to follow their own guidance as it is only guidance. Even more worryingly, complaints about comments made in this House by hon. Members can be registered as a hate incident by police despite our parliamentary privilege.

It did not finish up in court—that was the point, wasn’t it? It was privileged. I thought the incident was bizarre and showed an extraordinary lack of understanding of where the police sit in the constitutional framework of this country. It seemed to me to lack common sense and I agree with my hon. Friend.

I should say for the record that Cleveland, Surrey and Lincolnshire had a far higher no-crime rate than the national average when it comes to reported rapes. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough should be asking his police why they record rape and then downgrade it so much more often than the vast majority of constabularies.