[Relevant documents: Thirteenth Report from the Public Administration Committee, Caught red-handed: Why we can’t count on Police Recorded Crime statistics, HC 760, and the Government responses, Cm 8910 and HC 645.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(John Penrose.)
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the report of the Select Committee on Public Administration, “Caught red-handed: Why we can’t count on Police Recorded Crime statistics”.
The Public Administration Committee’s remit includes oversight of the work of the UK Statistics Authority and the Government Statistical Service. We attach the highest importance to that responsibility. We took a decisive role in decisions leading to the appointment of the present chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot. The Committee announced a programme of work for this Parliament that involves a series of studies to examine statistics and their use in Government, their accuracy and relevance, and their availability, accessibility and intelligibility to the public. A full description of that series is set out on our website, along with the reports that we have published so far.
We must ensure that the UK Statistics Authority is doing all that it can to deliver the very best statistics for Government, the public and public services. That helps deliver better policy, improved scrutiny and media reporting and ultimately better democracy. Measurement is a key way of holding Government to account. We can be proud of UK statistics, which are renowned throughout the world and trusted. I pay tribute to the Government Statistical Service and to all statisticians in Government and the public services, on whose professionalism and impartiality we all depend. The Committee’s programme of work aims to ensure that all statisticians and others who work with data and evidence across the public sector have the tools to do so effectively. We made it clear that we remain prepared when necessary to take up issues that might arise concerning statistics and their use in Government.
The process leading to the inquiry on crime statistics started when a Metropolitan police constable—James Patrick, a constituent of mine who worked in the statistics section of the Metropolitan police—walked into my advice surgery. He told me that he had been trying to raise concerns that the crime figures recorded by the Metropolitan police were being manipulated. For example, despite all the attention given to improving the police response to women reporting rape and to other sexual offences, they were still being under-recorded, according to him, by between 22% and 25%. Moreover, his persistent efforts to raise his concerns with his command chain had been met with indifference and then resistance. When he started to blog and write publicly about his concerns, it turned to outright hostility as the command chain resorted to disciplinary measures in an attempt to silence him.
Although I am now a proud member of the Public Administration Committee, I was not a member when the report was done. Does my hon. Friend agree that PC James Patrick’s actions were both courageous and in the public interest, and that he has done a great service to this country in ensuring that this matter is highlighted, as the Committee has done?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is worth emphasising that under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, PC Patrick should have been afforded some protection. I will come to the position of whistleblowers later in my remarks.
Our report, which was published this April, draws on evidence that we took under full parliamentary privilege from James Patrick. However, that was by no means the only evidence on which our conclusions relied. Our witnesses included Paul Ford, secretary of the Police Federation National Detective Forum; Dr Rodger Patrick—no relation—a former chief inspector at West Midlands police; and Peter Barron, a former detective chief superintendent at the Metropolitan police. They all fully corroborated Mr Patrick’s analysis. We heard about the various techniques that have crept into the culture of policing to help police meet crime reduction targets, leading to the corruption of police recorded crime statistics, so that they are less meaningful than they should be.
Those techniques include cuffing, in which multiple incidents are recorded as a single crime, and crimes such as burglary being recorded as less serious offences, such as theft or criminal damage. James Patrick also told us about nodding—offenders admitting to a number of offences in exchange for being charged with a less serious crime and getting a lighter sentence. There is also skewing, which is when more resources are put into the specific areas measured by performance indicators at the expense of other work.
All those techniques are designed to make constabularies look as though they are doing a better job than they actually are, as became evident after a sharper fall in crime was recorded by the police than in the crime survey for England and Wales. It was a statistical indicator that had already raised eyebrows in the UK Statistics Authority. Such things are done to improve individual officers’ job performance appraisals, promotion prospects and, ultimately, salaries.
We also heard about the terrible effect of such practices on the effectiveness of the police. It fails the victims of crime, because the crimes that they have attempted to report are not attended to. It results in the misallocation of police resources, because under-recorded crimes become neglected. Indeed, Mr Patrick believes that it contributed to the Metropolitan police’s failure to contain the London riots three years ago, because the new shift systems established by the Metropolitan police were based on a false understanding of crime patterns across London drawn from police recorded crime statistics. This adds up to a lack of trust, and raises questions about police leadership that must seriously affect police effectiveness.
We also took evidence from police and crime commissioners, such as our own from Essex, Nick Alston, who warned, in my view wisely, that however much police may think they have taken action to address the problems, ingrained attitudes and behaviour can have a long tail and take a long time to change. We also heard from academics Professor Stephen Shute and Professor Mike Hough of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee, who told us:
“Lack of leadership results in decay in the recording systems.”
They said that there was
“no doubt that there has been dishonest manipulation at one end, through wilful blindness, to misunderstanding and ignorance, to the inappropriate exercise of discretion within a complicated set of rules.”
The Committee found that police recorded crime statistics were unreliable and inaccurate. Lax supervision of recorded crime data meant that police were failing in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime. This is not just about inaccurate numbers; it is about the long crisis of values and ethics at the heart of our national police force. The poor data integrity that we found reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police. Whether the police comply with the core values of policing, including accountability, honesty and integrity, will determine whether the proper quality of police recorded crime data can be restored. I emphasise that there is much evidence that action is now being taken on that.
We found strong evidence that the police have under-recorded crime, particularly sexual crime such as rape, in many police areas. There remain wide disparities in no-crime rates—that is, where police decide that a crime did not take place—following reports of rape, for example. In January 2014, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, on behalf of the Rape Monitoring Group, released a compendium of statistics on recorded rapes in each force over the previous five years. I invite right hon. and hon. Friends and colleagues to look at the table showing how wide the variation is among different forces across England and Wales in their no-criming of rape. According to the figures, in Lincolnshire, for example, 26% of all reported rapes were no crimed in 2012-13; by contrast, in Merseyside, only 4% were. The national average was 11.9%.
The main reason for misrecording was the continued prevalence of numerical targets, which create perverse incentives to misrecord crime. A police officer is presented with a conflict. Does he or she record attempted burglary, or downgrade it to criminal damage in order to achieve the target? That creates conflict between the achievement of targets and core policing values. We deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms, because most police forces are still in denial about the damage targets cause, both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour. We found an amazing disparity of attitude towards targets across police and crime commissioners and among chief constables. Our official police witnesses, most notably the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, were somewhat defensive and seemed unready to acknowledge that their statistics were inherently flawed. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told us that the accuracy of data on rape and sexual offences was
“a lot better than it was, if we took it back five to 10 years.”
However, he did not think that it was entirely reliable and agreed that there was cause for concern.
The UK Statistics Authority has overall responsibility for the assessment of the quality of Government statistics. It designates a reliable series of statistics as national statistics only if they are good enough. As a result of the Public Administration Committee’s inquiry, shortly before the chair of the UK Statistics Authority appeared before us to give evidence on police recorded crime, it stripped police recorded crime data of the quality kitemark of national statistics. What our inquiry had already exposed demonstrated that the numbers produced by polices forces were simply not good enough to rely on. The Home Office, the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority had all been far too passive in addressing the problem, even though they had all known about it for years.
I congratulate the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee on his tremendous work in taking the matter forward and on securing today’s debate. How serious is the decision to remove the kitemark of national statistics from the police recorded crime statistics?
It simply means that the raw data, on the basis of which so many decisions about the allocation of police manpower and resources are made, are of questionable accuracy. That cannot be a good thing. It also means that we found that there is a culture and attitude and ingrained behaviours that are in conflict with how we expect our police to behave and how the vast majority do aspire to behave. That is what we must address. A leadership model based on targets is a major cause of the problem and is flawed. I have been told anecdotally that there is a generation of “target junkies” in our police forces who have been brought up on and believe in targets and will find it difficult to move away from them. However, that is the cultural and attitudinal change that police leaders must bring about.
When looking at the Government response to the report, I was delighted to see that the Home Secretary had taken positive steps in making it clear publicly that she has actively discouraged commissioners from setting performance targets, which is a good step. Does my hon. Friend have any more information on that? Failing that, hopefully the Minister can provide some information on how successful the Home Secretary’s public pronouncements have been, without interfering with the police and crime commissioners’ independence, in bringing influence to bear on the subject of targets being quite the wrong way to proceed.
Our inquiry found that, for example, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, through the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, has continued to set targets. It is tempting in our political culture to set high-level and public targets, but I wonder whether the public believe the numbers anyway. It is the first law of science: as soon as one tries to measure something it changes its properties. That is what is happening in this case. Poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police, which the Home Secretary and the Minister here today have understood. That is why the Government have abolished national policing targets. It is for police forces and police and crime commissioners, including the Mayor of London in his equivalent role, to embrace and understand that and to believe it. That is a cultural change to which I hope this report is contributing. Otherwise, we are encouraging what amounts to institutional dishonesty about police recorded crime. What does that say about the police’s ability to comply with the core values of policing, including accountability, honesty and integrity? That is why PC James Patrick felt that it was his duty to speak out against what he found to be going on in his force.
Our report of course came on top of all the other controversies that have raised questions about the values and ethics of the police and their leadership. I will not list them all again now, but the whole question of leadership and values needs to be addressed. I yield to no one in my admiration and respect for so many police officers, chief constables and, indeed, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who has had a distinguished career in public service and whose senior officers and force daily put themselves at risk in the line of duty. Yet those same officers have overseen a deeply cynical culture about the quality of leadership, honesty and integrity by presiding over such a thing. That is why we recommended that the Committee on Standards in Public Life conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new code of ethics, in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining those values.
I note that the CSPL will now investigate the public accountability structures of the police. I have to say that that is not quite the inquiry which Parliament, through my Committee’s report, has asked it to conduct. We recommended that the CSPL should conduct
“a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new Code of Ethics; in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining these values in the face of all the other pressures on the force.”
Accountability structures will not of themselves promote the right values in police leadership and in policing. Accountability depends upon effective leadership, which in turn depends upon leadership that is trusting and is trusted by its subordinates, and that in turn depends upon high levels of trust and integrity within the organisation. If the CSPL is to conduct its inquiry effectively, it cannot avoid the issue of ethics and integrity. I am somewhat mystified about why it is not prepared to confront that question directly and openly, even if Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is already looking at it. After all, CSPL stands for Committee for Standards in Public Life and its remit is ethics and standards. If it avoids the issue of ethics and standards in the police, it will achieve nothing except to mess with a highly charged political debate about whether police and crime commissioners should continue to exist, which does not seem to be so relevant to the remit of the CSPL. Our recommendation reflects our understanding of the need to challenge police operational leadership about how they promote and sustain the values set out in the new ethics code. I am encouraged by the engagement of the new College of Policing and of many chief police officers around the country, but the CSPL’s unique and independent perspective has more to offer.
Turning to whistleblowing, one of the most depressing and saddening parts of our inquiry was discovering how the Metropolitan police treated James Patrick, my constituent. I was not able to address that as fully as I will now, because an employment tribunal was pending. He withdrew from the process. He could not take any more; it had taken too heavy a toll on him and his family and he was forced to resign from the Metropolitan police. Acting as a whistleblower, PC Patrick tried to highlight serious concerns about police-recorded crime and the target culture. We are indebted to him for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service, despite intense pressures to the contrary. Paul Ford of the Police Federation told us that his organisation
“was dealing with a lot of stifled whistleblowers…We have lots of anecdotal information but, unfortunately, people are fearful of coming forward and raising concerns. That comes down to the whistleblowing aspect of the lack of protection for people, the peer pressure and the fear factor in terms of their future”.
I am pleased the Minister for Crime Prevention has told me that the Home Office is looking at a range of radical proposals to strengthen protection for whistleblowers in the police, but that has all come too late for my constituent. Nevertheless, I look forward to what the Minister will add in today’s debate.
Our inquiry, the evidence presented to the Select Committee and the reaction of the UK Statistics Authority, which withdrew its approval of the police recorded crime stats, vindicate Mr Patrick and his actions utterly and completely. As I quoted earlier, even the Metropolitan Police Commissioner agrees that
“there is clearly something that PC Patrick raises that we need to get to the bottom of.”
Despite that, I can only describe the treatment of my constituent James Patrick as shameful. By doing his duty and raising the issues, he showed the highest commitment to the core policing values, but as a result he became the victim of the most monstrous injustice. He was in effect hounded out of his job, following a long period of harassment by the Metropolitan police command chain, which, I dare say, used and abused the disciplinary process to get rid of him. It does the police no credit that a whistleblower should be treated in such a way. He was, for example, accused of a conflict of interest for publishing a book about the misuse of police recorded crime statistics, even though the proceeds were paid to a police charity. In an LBC radio programme in December last year, Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that he would meet PC Patrick. He never did so.
Most shameful of all, the Police Federation saw fit to finance a libel action at the choice of a serving police officer against a former Cabinet Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but I could not persuade it to fund the legal expenses and representation of PC Patrick in the employment tribunal that he was due to appear before as part of his defence. I find that completely and utterly inexplicable, particularly after the Police Federation itself told us in evidence to our Committee how difficult things are for police whistleblowers in this country.
I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said so far in his excellent speech. Given what he has told us about the Police Federation, do we not need a proper trade union for police officers, which would defend individuals as he suggests, instead of having an organisation that is in effect half controlled by the Home Office, rather than by its members, whom it is supposed to serve?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman, who is also a member of the Select Committee and took part in our inquiry, says. After what the Home Secretary said about the Police Federation, however, I do not think that it can be regarded as part of the Home Office. I am afraid that the Police Federation is more a branch of some of the worst aspects of police culture. It needs a dose of ethics and integrity as much as some parts of the police do. I will not make a speech about the federation now, but the incident we are discussing is yet another one that utterly vindicates what the Home Secretary told the Police Federation about six months ago in her courageous and outspoken speech.
The Government, in their response to our report, state that they aim to secure redesignation of police-recorded crime as a national statistic by the spring of next year. The Home Office is working on that with the Office for National Statistics, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and others. That was confirmed by the chairman of the UKSA in his response to our report last month.
HMIC is in the process of an all-force inspection on forces’ approach to crime recording and no-criming. Sexual offences is one of the six main crime types that the inspectorate is reviewing, and a specific sample of rape cases is being collected to assess police recording of rape. That is the only way in which to check the quality of police-recorded crime figures—to follow individual cases through, interviewing the person who originally reported the crime to see if the record is corroborated by what people thought that they had reported. It is called audit, and there needs to be more of it. Evidence shows that forces that carry out internal audits produce figures of much higher quality.
HMIC is conducting a 43-force inspection of police crime-recording policies and practices. An interim report was released in May 2014, with a final report to be published in the autumn. In addition, we are told that in 2014-15 HMIC will begin a new annual programme of all-force inspections of core policing work, to include crime recording. The work on that programme is in the planning stages. There is a commitment that HMIC will make specific recommendations for each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales to improve the accuracy and consistency of their recorded crime data. I very much welcome that.
In the HMIC inspection of the Essex police, my local constabulary, for example, the inspectorate found that crime is largely recorded accurately and ethically. Of the incidents in Essex examined by HMIC, fewer than 7% were incorrectly recorded as “no crimes”, which is still 7% too many, but compares well with a national average of 20% across the constabularies in England and Wales that were inspected for the interim report.
The HMIC interim report provides independent validation of the robust processes that exist in the Essex police to ensure that crimes are correctly recorded. Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh has shown clear and strong leadership on the importance of accurate crime recording, developing and building on the work of his predecessor, Jim Barker-McCardle. The progress that has been made in moving away from a slavish reliance on strict performance targets and a lazy culture of chasing the figures is an important part of that. The Essex constabulary is setting an example that other forces should follow.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the importance of audit is that it provides the data with which to challenge what is going on. Otherwise, the only option is to accept the figures given.
Scrutiny from the police and crime commissioner in Essex has been instrumental in encouraging the positive progress in the county. Nick Alston has supported Chief Constable Kavanagh and the independent inspection by HMIC, which means that the people of Essex can have a high level of confidence in the figures for police-recorded crime in Essex. The process, however, is ongoing. We must embed a culture in all our police forces based not on chasing figures but on the core tasks of policing: protecting people from harm, bringing criminals to justice and keeping our communities safe.
The Government have accepted some of our recommendations, but they have rejected our recommendation that the Home Office
“takes active primary operational responsibility and accepts accountability for ensuring the integrity of the data which it collates, validates and submits to the ONS for publication.”
The Government argue:
“It is for chief constables to ensure the quality of crime recording in their force area, and for PCCs to hold them to account.”
The Government also reject our recommendation that the UKSA should hold the Home Office to account, and instead argue that
“it is the responsibility of chief constables to ensure the quality of crime recording in their force, and for PCCs to hold chief constables to account.”
Nor are the Government taking up our recommendation that HMIC should set a minimum suitable rank for force crime registrars—something that we believe is necessary to ensure that they have sufficient authority within their force and direct access to their chief constables.
One reason why all the problems with crime statistics have developed is that no one appears ready to accept responsibility for the quality of police recorded crime statistics. Although the Government accept and welcome our report and its conclusions, they do not yet seem to be willing to address the fundamental questions of leadership nor to accept responsibility and be accountable.
I accept that the Government are addressing the leadership question through the College of Policing, but in the end it is Ministers who must take ultimate responsibility. In reality, the very fact that the Minister is sitting here shows that he is doing so; I only wish the Government would admit it. I am pleased that the Government’s response to our report has recommended that various agencies take action, but that will never absolve Ministers if we find further problems. Our system works by making Ministers accountable, and if there is not a measurable improvement, the PASC will hold Ministers to account.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley, in a reversal of roles, with you keeping me in order rather than the historical position.
This is an important report. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), the Chair of the Public Administration Committee, on the very thorough way in which he introduced it and explained its contents. I will focus on its substance; however, I note that the Committee’s inquiry was initiated in an unusual way. I want to make it absolutely clear that it is right that we, as parliamentarians, stand up for a courageous whistleblower and look carefully, as the Committee has done, at the details that lie behind the complaint.
One recommendation in the report was that the Home Affairs Committee hold an inquiry into the treatment of whistleblowers in the police. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of whether that has happened or whether there is any possibility that that will be looked at by the Home Affairs Committee, as it was quite a strong recommendation?
I understand the recommendation. It is indeed a strong one and one that I support, but it is no longer my function to try to sort out demarcation disputes in this place, so although I have some experience of trying to do so, I will leave that to others, who are perhaps in a better position than I am to give a definitive answer to the point that the right hon. Lady quite rightly raises.
Today’s debate is the culmination of the Public Administration Committee’s work, which has been an effective parliamentary activity, and I congratulate the Chair and the rest of the Committee on their work. The Committee found strong evidence of under-recorded crime, which it attributed to lax compliance with the agreed national standards of victim-focused crime recording. In particular, sexual crimes such as rape were under-recorded as crimes.
The principal underlying cause is the conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values. That is a tremendously important point. The resources available to individual police forces must have a bearing on all this. However, especially in the case of sexual crimes such as rape, the emphasis must be on core policing values. Victims of those crimes must know that the police force is there to protect them, to take their complaint seriously and to be proactive in both recording the complaint as a crime and dealing with it as such.
The report has struck a raw nerve. As the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex has already pointed out, the UK Statistics Authority has stripped police-recorded crime data of its quality kitemark. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) quite rightly asked in an intervention how serious that is. It is very serious. Decision makers rely on statistical evidence. If we believe in factual, evidence-based decision making, the evidence has to be accurate; if it is not, the decisions that follow will not necessarily be as focused as they should be. It would be important for any public authority, but given the special duties that go with the office of police constable, it is extraordinarily serious for the police.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one problem with regard to sex offences, and particularly with sex offenders under the age of 16, is that there is an assumption that many girls—sometimes boys, as well—get into their own mess? They must be treated as victims in all these cases, and each and every case must be investigated, even if the girls or boys thought it was a nice thing to do.
The hon. Gentleman’s question is about minors. If a minor complains of an offence of that kind, or somebody does so on their behalf, the facts should be recorded and investigated. Children are not playthings for adults to do with as they want. Our whole society should protect children, not leave them exposed to the sort of criminality that has been going on. That is why both the recording and the investigation of that sort of offence are of fundamental importance.
To make a plea of mitigation in defence of the police, there are occasions when an offence is reported—perhaps even one as serious as rape—that involves two minors and it might actually be the right decision not to involve the criminal law. There must be an element of discretion, as it might be in the interests of neither party to involve the law in a particular case. The point that we are making is that that discretion has been used so widely in some constabularies that it cannot possibly be justified.
I have made no argument against the use of discretion. My argument is against not treating such matters seriously in the first place—putting the statistical outcome before the value-led policing outcome. Minors, who are under the age of consent, are entitled to society’s protection. It may be that invoking the criminal law is not an appropriate response, but that should be decided after all the facts have been investigated and are known, and a decision has been made on the individual merits of the case. The decision about whether to investigate the case or to treat it as a crime should be driven not by the need to get a statistical outcome, but by the real outcome of protecting the youngster. That point comes through very strongly in the report. The hon. Gentleman raises a slightly tangential point. I do not think we are arguing against each other about the thrust of the report or what should be happening.
The report finds that the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”. We should not be incentivising the mis-recording of crime through a drive to meet numerical targets. The integrity of crime data is vital, as is the response of individual police commissioners, chief constables and their police forces.
At this point, I want to say something about my police force. The response of the Northumbria police force, which covers my constituency, has been exemplary. It is a good police force’s reply to just criticism. For Northumbria, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary made relatively minor criticisms of the no-crime recording for robberies. HMIC found slightly more serious discrepancies for the recording of violent offences and real cause for concern over the recording of reported rapes as “no-crime”—the issue that is absolutely at the core of the report.
The criticism is just, and the response clear and firm. Rather than wait for the report’s publication, Northumbria police, with the police and crime commissioner working closely with the chief constable, have gone back and reviewed every “no-crime” case involving rape since October 2011. That amounts to 153 cases in total and of the initial assessment, 54 cases were identified as requiring further investigation. That is about a third of cases, which tallies broadly with the results of HMIC’s sample. Each case has been reopened as a crime and will be reinvestigated by the review team, which will contact victims and work jointly with a local rape support group to ensure that proper support is in place for individuals. A new team of officers has been brought in to conduct this review and 48 officers involved in the previous investigation have been given formal notifications as part of the standard procedure in such cases.
The proactive good governance and strong challenge provided by Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner, working closely and well with the chief constable, have brought about that swift and responsive action. It was the objective of Northumbria police to ensure that the force takes crime seriously and that, when issues emerge, it responds promptly and properly. Nowhere is that more important than with brutal crimes of violence against the vulnerable and defenceless, who are almost always women.
The police are right to take this stand—I support them in what they are doing—but it comes at a cost. Police budgets are under formidable pressure, and for historic reasons, Northumbria police are more reliant on national funding for a proportion of their total income than any other force in the country. Further budgetary cuts will make it even harder to run the service in the way that we want.
In Northumbria police, we have an example of an able police and crime commissioner working closely with an able chief constable to achieve the results that the public want. All three police and crime commissioners in the north-east of England are making an effective contribution to the role, so much so that, at least in our region, we should give this new idea a chance to bed in. Contemplating abolishing the role and reverting to the previous arrangements is premature.
I will make only a short contribution. I was not a member of the Committee when it carried out its excellent work. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), on his work. I pay tribute to his constituent, who seems to have paid a high price for making a valuable contribution to the way in which we record crime statistics.
I rise only because today the Office for National Statistics put out a release on crime statistics for the year ending June 2014. The latest figures in the crime survey for England and Wales show that, for the offences it covers, there were an estimated 7.1 million incidents of crime against households, which is a decrease of 16% compared with the previous year. I hope that the statistics are more accurate these days, because if so that represents good news across the board for us all. We all know victims of crime in our constituencies who suffer dreadfully and that decrease is welcome.
I was struck by two elements in the release. It says:
“In contrast, police recorded crime shows no overall change from the previous year, with 3.7 million offences recorded in the year ending June 2014. Prior to this, police recorded crime figures have shown year on year reductions”.
It goes on to say:
“The renewed focus on the quality of crime recording is likely to have prompted improved compliance with national standards in some police forces, leading to more crimes being recorded.”
I hope that that is a direct result of the sort of highlight that the Select Committee was able to provide in this place.
I share the concern of the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) about rape in recorded crime, but it is telling—I hope the Minster will refer to this in his response—that the Committee said:
“Sexual offences recorded by the police saw a 21% rise from the previous year and continues the pattern seen in recent publications. Current, rather than historic, offences account for the majority of the increase…(73% within the last 12 months). Despite these recent increases, it is known that sexual offences are subject to a high degree of under-reporting.”
It seems that the Committee’s report has contributed to improving what happens in the United Kingdom, or at least in England and Wales, to statistics, which is important. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex, other members of the Committee and particularly those who provided evidence for making a valuable contribution to debate in this place.
It is a pleasure, Mr Bayley, to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I never thought you were an hon. Member who was causing problems for our former Chief Whip. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on his excellent presentation this afternoon and his excellent work in leading us in the production of this first-class report. As Chairman, he does a great job generally and has done specifically with the report.
My police force in Bedfordshire is small, but I have the highest regard for our police and crime commissioner and our new chief constable who is doing good job in difficult circumstances with serious resource constraints. Some hon. Members may have seen the recent television broadcast about Bedfordshire police working at Luton police station. One could see that they are doing a good job and I have a particularly high regard for senior local officers. The police force has its problems and inevitably from time to time complaints come to me about face-to-face experiences, but that is in the nature of things. I hope that over time we can improve that, but more resources are fundamental.
The problem with targets, as we have heard this afternoon, is that they distort justice. My concern has always been that they distort in a particular way and away from the prosecution of crimes of violence and abuse, which are my main concerns about crime and those of most ordinary people. Most voters want crimes of violence and abuse to be sorted out first.
When I was a young man a long time ago, I was seriously concerned that sentences for crimes of violence seemed to be too weak and those for crime against property were much stronger. I thought the balance was wrong, but it was part of a culture, which may still be with us to some extent. In those days, the police would not investigate domestic violence. They just said, “It’s a domestic”, and tended to leave it for those involved to sort themselves out.
My wife was on the committee of Luton Women’s Aid and 40 years ago the first refuge was set up. I helped to move in the furniture, but I was warned not to be seen by women in the hostel because they were nervous of men, even relatively benign ones such as me. There was a feeling that crimes of violence, particularly against women and, as we now know, young people, were not taken seriously. Recent events have shown that there has almost been a conspiracy not to prosecute people who had done dreadful things to and with young people. I need not mention the towns where such things have happened, but the police and local politicians have had a wake-up call to take such things more seriously.
One problem with targets is that one wants quick wins that make the numbers go up, and that sometimes means crimes that are easier to prosecute, such as simple crimes of violence, driving offences and so on. Crimes of domestic violence, violence against the person, or abuse are more difficult. They might take more resource, but in my view, they are still more serious than crimes against property. Being in fear of one’s life or in danger of injury or violence comes uppermost in most people’s minds. They will live with other things, but not violence. We have seen, through the statistics, enormous variations in the numbers of prosecutions and crimes recorded across the country, showing that there is something profoundly wrong, and the report identifies that. There have been too few arrests, too few charges and too few prosecutions in crimes of violence, and particularly, in crimes of sexual violence, and the no-crime approach has been one reason for that. We must now, as a society and through Government, take greater steps to protect women and girls, and indeed, some men, so that they can walk safely and live safe lives, and not be in fear of constant violence or abuse.
I may be a Labour Member—we tend to have a more liberal view of such things—but I believe that rapists and sexual abusers should be put in prison, and where necessary, given long sentences, not just for revenge, punishment or even reform, but to protect society from them, if they are the sort of people who would repeat offences. More prison places and longer sentences, and so on, may be needed—indeed, it is rather surprising perhaps, but sometimes I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who takes a particularly strong line on these matters. If people do things that are wrong, they should be constrained by the law.
Again, when I was a child, which was a very long time ago, I used to play outside in the street—we used to disappear all day and come back late in the evening for our tea, and our parents did not worry about us. Parents cannot do that any more. It is shameful and tragic that society is now regarded as so dangerous that children cannot be allowed out unless somebody is keeping an eye on them. There is something wrong there, and I want to do what we can—through policing, through the law and through the justice system—to try at least to recreate that world where we lived safer lives. That means putting away some of the more dangerous people—the wife beaters, the child abusers, and so on—which means that we have to get the police focusing on those areas. Take away the statistics, the numbers, the counting of heads and the counting of how many people have been prosecuted, and let us look at the nature of crimes, and get Parliament, Government and local government to get the police to focus on the things that most concern human beings, which are crimes of violence and crimes of abuse.
That may need more resources, as I have said, but the pattern of prosecutions varies a lot across the country, and constantly, there is too much bias towards crimes against property rather than against the person. We have to shift the focus of the police, which may mean taking away the target culture altogether, and saying, “We want you to make sure that your society and your areas where you police become safe places for everybody to live in and not suffer the fear of violence on a daily basis.” I used to walk the mile from my house to the station, but I no longer do so because I do not want to walk home late at night because of the fear of attack. It may not happen. I could probably walk home 1,000 times and nothing would happen, but it might. When I was younger, that would not have been the case.
I finish by saying how much I support everything that the Committee Chairman has said. I hope very much that the Government will act on the report’s recommendations, and, in fact, go further on some of the points that he has made. Where the Government have not entirely accepted the recommendations, I hope that they will, in time, go on to accept the report in its entirety, and that we will see the return of a world where violence and the abuse of children is seriously reduced, and that we will live in a more civilised society in future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I welcome the decision to make time available for this debate, and I congratulate the Public Administration Committee and its Chair on doing a service to our country by tackling a series of problems—I shall refer to them in detail—in a thorough, impartial and forensic way, rightly challenging all those with power to act, be that the police service or those responsible at area level, including police and crime commissioners and the Government. This debate is well timed, because it comes against a background of a year during which there has been, to say the least, lively debate about police statistics. There is the work of not just the Public Administration Committee, but the UK Statistics Authority, the Office for National Statistics and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
Why does accurate crime reporting matter? First, it is crucial that criminal activities in local force areas are identified properly if the police are to deploy their resources efficiently and effectively, according to real need. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), it is about an evidence-based approach to how we commit local police resource. Secondly, accurate crime reporting is vital with regard to the victims of crime. Proper recording has an effect on getting victims to come forward and, crucially, informs the decisions that have to be taken to support the victims of crime, particularly sexual crime. Thirdly, accurate recording of crime helps politicians—at area and local level, in Parliament and at Government level—properly to hold the police to account.
Fourthly, proper recording of crime also informs other interventions. The Chair of the Select Committee referred to the excellent chief constable of Essex. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently, and I can give a rather interesting example from that. As in Northumbria, there was a welcome focus on the rising problem of domestic violence. The assessment made was that it was a very significant and growing problem in the county, so Northumbria police introduced a world-class system. They brought in a systems engineer with a background at Ford to construct the ability to track perpetrators and victims, and potential perpetrators and victims, of domestic violence, and also to identify domestic violence hot spots, so that other interventions could take place. For example, if there was a particular problem on some estates, that might require interventions in the schools on those estates. Having an accurate picture of crime is absolutely key on all those fronts.
We were briefed yesterday by the chief constable of Essex, and many of my colleagues were astonished to learn that whereas most people think of crime as burglary, auto theft or violence against the person, there are four times as many incidents of domestic violence as burglaries every day in the county of Essex. The scale of the domestic violence problem is something that all constabularies will have to spend much more time on in order to protect the public, who are becoming victims of these crimes.
I totally agree with the Chair of the Select Committee. Historically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, this crime was simply not taken seriously enough; it used to be described as “a domestic”. There has been welcome progress in the past 10 years and more—of that there is no doubt—but it remains a crime substantially hidden from history. Ensuring that we have an accurate picture, that we encourage victims to come forward, and that they are properly supported when they do is therefore of the highest importance.
Let me turn to the police recorded crime statistics. It was absolutely right to strip those statistics of their national statistics status—the gold standard—on the back of evidence heard by the Select Committee. Considering the substantial weight of evidence that has come forward of significant under-recording of crime, it would have been dangerous to let ourselves be drawn into the false sense of security that those statistics were providing. I therefore commend the considerable courage of PC James Patrick, who alerted the Chair of the Select Committee to his concerns and then appeared before the Committee so that its members could hear at first hand, from the sharp end, just what was happening. It heard very powerful evidence of—the Chair used these words earlier—cuffing, nodding and skewing. As the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) rightly acknowledged, PC Patrick was a brave man who exposed what was clearly wrong.
The ONS has raised a number of hypotheses, including some very similar to what PC Patrick said, as to why the police were recording crime incorrectly, including the idea that there were performance pressures associated with targets. The time has clearly come to move on from that old-style performance target regime.
In addition to what PC Patrick, the ONS and others have said, there was compelling evidence to the Select Committee from Dr Rodger Patrick, a former chief inspector of the West Midlands police service. He set out his research, which suggested that
“the perverse incentives embedded in quantitative performance management…encourage a range of ‘gaming’ behaviours that result in under-recording of crime.”
As the Chair of the Committee said, there have been other “incentives”, including the desire for promotion.
Let me turn to the crime survey for England and Wales. That was historically relied on as more accurate. However, we must recognise that the situation is far from ideal. It is true that the CSEW stats are based on interviews with adults about their experience of crime, regardless of whether or not it was reported to the police, but the CSEW stats cannot give us a detailed indication of crime trends at local level. We are missing that vital piece of the puzzle.
Additionally and very importantly, several crimes are not included in the statistics, and that ultimately skews our understanding of crime and where it is headed. For example, according to an ONS study released in July 2013, the number of fraud offences could total between 3.6 million and 3.8 million incidents of crime a year. However, most fraud offences in England and Wales are now referred to a central organisation, Action Fraud, rather than being logged by local forces. It is therefore believed that if bank and credit card fraud were included in the CSEW stats, the estimated number of annual offences would jump by almost 50%. When we listen to Government rhetoric on crime being at an all-time low, we must remember that the Government tend to pick and choose which crimes to pray in aid and which statistics to refer to, ignoring these very significant and growing areas of crime, which are not properly reflected in the statistics. That is both wrong and dangerous.
Professor Marian FitzGerald, a criminologist at the university of Kent, was absolutely right when she said to The Times in August 2014:
“Ministers were readily persuaded that the Crime Survey represented a gold standard for measuring crime when it started to show a continuous fall from the time Labour took office in 1997. Yet here we have an admission from its own results that crime is 50 per cent higher than the figure it claims.”
In addition, the CSEW does not cover a range of other things. It does not cover those living in group residences such as care homes, student halls of residence and prisons, or crimes against commercial or public sector bodies. The CSEW figures exclude murder and manslaughter because the victim is dead; figures on rape and other sex offences, which are calculated separately and differently because of their sensitive nature; and crimes, such as drug possession, that are considered victimless.
Both the Chair of the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East referred to no-criming. Another important issue identified by the Select Committee in its report was the prevalence of no-criming. In response to the
“damning indictment of police complacency, inertia and lack of leadership”,
the Select Committee recommended that the Home Office undertake a comprehensive analysis to explain the extraordinary disparities in no-crime rates for sexual offences across all police forces.
The gravity of the impact of no-criming should not be underestimated. Let us consider this example given by HMIC of a case that was no-crimed. A woman alleged rape by a man in a car after she changed her mind about having sex following a discussion about use of a condom. The rape was recorded as a crime. She reports that she did not run away because she was scared of being beaten up. There had been no violence or pinning down, although the woman said that her chest was sore and she had felt intimidated. The incident was no-crimed because the man said that he did not know that she did not consent to having sex, but there is no additional verifiable information to show that the victim had in fact given consent. That was “no crime”.
Let us imagine, first, the difficulty of coming forward to report a rape during which the woman was so afraid for her well-being that she felt powerless to do anything. Let us imagine then what happens if the authorities doubt her, in effect favouring the perpetrator, despite no evidence being given to disprove her allegations.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East rightly praised the excellent work of Vera Baird in Northumbria. When the issue that he referred to was looked into as a consequence of her action, more than one in three rape allegation cases initially deemed to be no crime were reopened, following a review of 153 separate cases. An audit by HMIC identified that the force may have incorrectly no-crimed many of those cases. As a result of the action taken by Vera Baird, the chief constable ordered a review of all such reports going back three years, and a team of experienced officers have now checked 153 cases. In addition, 48 officers involved in the incorrect no-criming and failure to act have been warned that they may face disciplinary action as a result of the inquiry by the force.
Concern about this issue is all the greater today; statistics show a 29% increase in rape, and a worrying justice gap: in the last year on record, there was a fall of 28% in referrals for prosecution, and a fall of 14% in prosecutions.
On unreported crime, in its interim report released earlier this year, HMIC noted a “significant under-recording of crime”. Basing its comments on the assessment of 13 police forces, HMIC stated that up to 20% of crimes may be unrecorded. Only yesterday, I had the privilege of attending an event organised by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, at which I heard some heartbreaking cases of violence against shop workers, including the case of a man whose whole life was ruined as a consequence of being seriously assaulted at work. A survey by USDAW of its members revealed that one in five of those who had been assaulted did not report the incident, not least because they often lacked confidence that any action would be taken if they did.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about shop workers, having visited the USDAW meeting the other day. On the tube, there are now notices saying that if staff are abused, the perpetrators will be prosecuted. We ought to adopt that approach for everyone who is abused while doing their job.
I absolutely agree. It is important that people have confidence that if they report an assault, they will be taken seriously. The police may spell out a good reason why they cannot investigate, but it is critical that the victim has the right to appeal against that decision. There is disturbing evidence to suggest that a culture has been created in which people feel that except in very serious cases, violence against shop workers is not taken seriously. It is not surprising that shop workers who have been assaulted do not come forward as often as they should, as the USDAW survey showed.
Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I want to make a general comment about the under-reporting of crime. The Conservative police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, has said that he would not be complacent about a drop in crime in Suffolk because in his assessment, half of all offences go unreported.
As we know from tragic experience over the past two to three years, the scale and obscenity of some crimes—including domestic violence, sexual offences and child abuse—have been hidden from history. I welcome the growing focus on those obscene crimes that are the legacy of history and that sadly persist to this day. When it comes to tackling child sexual exploitation—I say this with all respect to the Minister—I have no doubt whatever that the Government are taking the matter seriously, but it is the worst possible time to cut 16,000 police officers; demand is rapidly growing. In the West Midlands police, 10% of officers are working on nothing but historical and current CSE cases. In the words of the chief constable, that is the tip of the iceberg. The debate today reinforces the need to take action on sexual crime and crime against children. To do that, the police need determination and focus, but they also need the resources that will enable them to do their job.
We all share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the pressure on resources. However, the chief of the Metropolitan police has reported that he has been able to take all the savings out of the back room, and there are just as many officers on the front line as there were before the spending reductions. In Essex, we are finding that technology can enable police officers to do much more. Technology can release resources for the extra tasks that we are demanding of the police, despite the overall reduction in resources. Furthermore, there are still huge savings to be made in the way in which police forces buy technology and communications equipment. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not think that we need to despair about it.
The Chair of the Select Committee makes an interesting point. It is true that the police have coped remarkably so far, in the circumstances. There has been some interesting innovation in the use of technology; I mentioned a classic example in the Essex police service. In addition, there remains significant scope to develop the use of technology. For example, the 19 basic technological requirements provide remote access and allow police officers to operate in the field with all necessary support, intelligence and access to intelligence, so that they do not have to go back to police stations. The electronic submission of witness statements is speeding up the criminal justice process, as the Camberwell project has shown. Video-link evidence can allow cases to be brought quickly and effectively to court, particularly domestic violence cases; some interesting experiences have arisen out of the Camberwell project in that regard.
Having said all that, I want to provide one example from the West Midlands police service to illustrate why resources matter. In the west midlands, 40 people have been brought before the courts for serious terrorist crime in the past five years, and there have been 31 convictions. That conviction rate was the result of highly effective and patient building of relationships with communities—all bar one of the defendants were of a Muslim background—and good neighbourhood policing. Year in, year out, the police have patiently built trust and confidence with the community, to the point where the community now comes forward and identifies wrongdoing in its ranks.
With all respect to the Chair of the Select Committee, all over the country neighbourhood policing is being hollowed out; that is eroding the ability of the police to form relationships that are crucial not only to the detection of wrongdoing—in the cases that I have just mentioned, serious wrongdoing—but the prevention of crimes and the diversion of people from crime. I have been conducting a tour of police services all over the country, including Essex. Everywhere I go, I hear that we are getting close to what the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers has called the “tipping point”. The Government must reflect long and hard on the continuing trajectory of significant cuts to our police service.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the benefits on the Isle of Wight is that police officers cannot get away? For them, there is no difference between “during working hours” and “outside working hours”. They are there, and people will collar them in the street and ask them to do things. They cannot pretend that they are not working, because they are there. What can we do about the fact that London’s policemen are brought in from Hampshire, Berkshire and so on?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, and I will say two things in response. First, it was Robert Peel who said:
“The police are the public and the public are the police.”
In the past 25 years, we have seen the importance of the evolution from those principles of neighbourhood policing. The emphasis is on the notion of local policing, local routes, local say, local familiarity and the building of relationships of trust and confidence. The police are entitled to go home, but if they come from the communities that they serve, they are better able to understand the nature of those communities.
Secondly, there is a problem in the Metropolitan police. My view of the police service is different from, and perhaps more positive than, the Government’s view. However, I also believe that there are many things wrong with the police that have to be put right. I remember telling the ACPO conference the maxim:
“The police are the public and the public are the police,”
but saying that the only problem was that they did not look like the public. The Metropolitan police is a classic example of that, because it does not look like the communities that it serves. Frankly, due to housing pressures and the cost of housing, too many Metropolitan police officers live in counties adjacent to London, up to 50 miles away. We can address that in a range of ways, including with affordable housing.
Steps must be taken to widen the pool from which we draw police officers, including in London. Last week I met an impressive chief inspector from Police Now who is doing exactly that by, for example, targeting universities in London—including the old polytechnics in north London, which have diverse student populations—with the notion that students can become a police officer for two years and then have the option of continuing with a career in the police service. Police Now is reaching out and targeting communities within those geographical areas to encourage people to become members of the police service. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) makes a powerful case and, going back to my starting point, I believe in Robert Peel’s maxim, but we must ensure that the police truly reflect the people.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, I remind Members that this debate is about the recording of crime statistics, rather than a general debate about policing. We have plenty of time for the debate, but we should focus on the content of the Select Committee’s report and the Government’s response.
That brings me neatly to my concluding remarks. Frankly, there is a problem with the stats, which simply cannot be relied on. The debate over the past 12 months is therefore hugely welcome, in terms of ensuring that in future the stats can be effectively relied on. I counsel the Government not to be overconfident in their reliance on some of the stats. More importantly, I echo the words of the Chair of the Committee. It is not only the Select Committee saying this; the ONS, HMIC and UKSA are saying it, too. There is a widespread view that the stats, and the culture giving rise to the stats, are deeply problematic, and in those circumstances it is ultimately about responsibility and accountability from the top downwards. The Select Committee is therefore right to challenge the Government on what they intend to do about it. I wait to hear precisely that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) on introducing this debate and on his Committee’s useful report. I have no doubt that the Committee will continue to hold Ministers to account on such matters, as it should. This is an important debate because it is about not just an arbitrary matter of crime statistics, but how victims are treated within our system. The debate has hugely affected the public’s perception of the police’s integrity, transparency and accountability. I have listened with great interest to what has been said in this helpful and intelligent debate, and I will do my best to respond to the points that have been made.
By way of context, today’s figures confirm that crime is down by more than 20% under the coalition Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. I will come back to that survey in the light of the comments made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). At the outset, I want to say that we have confidence in the survey, which has been running since 1981, and the trends are very clear.
In January 2013, the ONS published a report highlighting divergence between trends in the crime survey and police recorded crime going back to 2002-03, but the report stated that there is no simple explanation. The same report also stated that the analysis does not suggest that the general pattern of recorded crime falling since 2002-03 should be questioned, which I am pleased is also the conclusion of the Select Committee’s report. Since the ONS report, more victims have come forward to report previously under-reported crimes such as fraud and sexual offences, and ONS analysis shows that the police are improving how they record crime, and we should all welcome that improvement.
[Mr James Gray in the Chair]
The coalition Government has always believed that the crime statistics—both the crime survey for England and Wales and the police recorded crime figures—must be as robust and independent as possible, and I am confident that the Government is taking the necessary steps to improve the accuracy of police recorded crime. I make it plain that no Government has an interest in inaccurate statistics, not least for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington. We have no interest in reducing crime figures; we have an interest in reducing crime, which is our motivation every day. As he says, accurate recording matters.
It is particularly important that the police record crime accurately, so that victims receive the services they deserve and so that the public can hold their force to account, including through their elected police and crime commissioner. Last year, before the Select Committee’s inquiry began, the Home Secretary commissioned HMIC to undertake a detailed inspection of crime recording in every police force. The inspectorate’s interim report, published in May, unfortunately indicated significant failings in the first 13 police forces to be inspected. So far, HMIC has published detailed reports for 21 police forces, with detailed recommendations on the need to improve.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, but I must insist on accuracy on one point. There may be a bit of wishful thinking in his Department. HMIC was not specifically tasked with that responsibility until after our inquiry started. There has been some retrospective interpretation of what HMIC was asked to do, as HMIC was tasked to do that only after our report got going. I understand why everyone is a bit defensive about what our inquiry started to uncover, and the Government want to be seen to be ahead of the game, but I honestly believe that he is inadvertently misleading the House by suggesting that all that had started before our inquiry began.
I have no wish to detract from the Committee’s work, which the Government welcomes. Anything that helps to improve the accuracy of figures is entirely laudable and correct. Who started what and when is a small point. This happened before my time in the Home Office, but my understanding is that the Home Secretary had discussions with HMIC at an early stage. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend has made his point on the record.
HMIC’s final report, due to be published in the near future, will give an independent and comprehensive picture of overall crime recording quality and rates of compliance with recording standards across all 43 forces in England and Wales. The Home Secretary wrote to chief constables at the start of the year to emphasise that the police must ensure that crimes are recorded accurately and honestly. Since then, I have met a number of chief constables—including Chief Constable Jeff Farrar of Gwent, the national policing lead for crime recording, and chief constables from poorer performing forces—to reiterate the importance of that message and ensure that action is being taken. That is an example of the ministerial accountability that the Chairman of the Select Committee seeks.
The HMIC inspection has been one of the most comprehensive ever into police crime recording practices. To ensure that the issues that have been identified are addressed and that the improvements in recording that the ONS has already noted are sustained, HMIC’s new annual programme of all-force inspections will include a crime recording element. The work on that programme is currently in the planning stages, and more detail will be available as soon as possible.
To regain national statistics status for police recorded crime data, Home Office statisticians are working with colleagues in the ONS, HMIC and the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee to take forward the requirements proposed in the UK Statistics Authority’s assessment report. That is being done as a broad programme of work, with much of it led by the ONS. The Home Office is leading work with forces, so that it can better understand the quality of their crime figures, and it is supplying additional information and documentation on processes to the ONS. In particular, we have fulfilled the UKSA and PASC recommendation to clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of the Home Office and the ONS in the production of police recorded crime statistics. That is set out in the ONS’s user guide to crime statistics. The ONS is working towards being in a position to apply for reassessment by the UKSA at the earliest opportunity next year, and I fully support the ONS in that aim.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee mentioned in his introductory remarks, the Government is not convinced that the Committee’s proposed minimum rank for force crime registrars is needed, not least because not all registrars are police officers, and it is beyond HMIC’s statutory remit to set a minimum rank for registrars. All police forces are different, so a minimum rank would not be appropriate for all registrars, but it is vital that the status of crime registrars is enhanced and supported and that their decisions or reports are taken seriously by chief officers.
The Home Office guidelines, published in the Home Office counting rules, state that registrars should be independent of those responsible for performance and should report directly to the chief officer with responsibility for crime data. We consider that that should be the deputy chief constable, or equivalent. We believe that registrars should meet with or report regularly to the DCC and that those interactions should be evidenced. To better support the status of registrars, the College of Policing is developing a national training and accreditation programme, and I myself will speak at the annual force crime registrars conference next week.
Before the Committee’s hearings, a joint decision was made between the Home Office and national policing leads to develop more formal training for force crime registrars to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge needed to carry out their role. The College of Policing has been commissioned to develop the national curriculum for the role profile for force crime registrars, with the aim of developing an internal national course for them by the end of the year. The course is expected to include provision for a form of national accreditation for registrars, with a requirement for routine reassessment. The college will work with forces to identify gaps in knowledge and any additional training requirements, and we will consider matters further once we see HMIC’s final inspection report.
Some senior police officers have publicly stated a desire for officers to be able to use discretion about deciding whether, and when, to record a crime. That is an important matter, as the Chairman of the Committee and his colleagues will recognise. The Home Office counting rules state that
“a crime should be recorded as soon as the reporting officer is satisfied that it is more likely than not that a crime has been committed”
“at the earliest opportunity that the system allows”.
To do anything else would be a clear breach of the counting rules.
The Home Office counting rules and the national crime recording standard require the recording of certain categories of crime, so that an accurate picture of crime in communities is presented. That is vital to ensure a consistent national picture. In particular, it is required for police-recorded crime figures to regain their national statistics status. The police have wide discretion in the choices that officers make in relation to the subsequent action, including being able to decide to take no action at all where that is in the public interest, but they must always first record the crime; making an administrative record of a criminal offence reported by a victim does not, and cannot, criminalise anyone. I make it very plain that that is what the Home Office expects of police officers up and down the country.
I turn now to targets, which a number of hon. Members have referred to this afternoon. A target-driven culture existed under the previous Government. I do not wish to make that a party point; the previous Government had targets for what were no doubt well-intentioned reasons, including to try to cut crime. However, as Members across the House have accepted, those central targets led to perverse and unwanted consequences, and therefore it is right that this Government abolished them. We have one target for police forces, which is to cut crime; that is the only target we are interested in.
To pick up on a comment by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), it is true that some police and crime commissioners have set targets locally; we think that about a third of PCCs have done so. Clearly, that is a matter for them, and they are accountable to their own electors. I would just caution them to be careful to ensure that they do not repeat the mistakes that occurred in the past with target setting.
The Minister says that police forces should just cut crime, but I think that all Members who have spoken today have suggested that the emphasis should shift to ensure that the importance of crimes of violence and crimes of abuse is raised and that the police ought to be refocusing. It is the job of government to put that case to the police.
I am grateful to the Minister for the information that approximately a third of our PCCs have unfortunately fallen into the trap of resetting targets. Will he tell the Public Administration Committee what avenues he has open to him to draw the attention of those PCCs to this debate and to the Committee’s work, so that he could perhaps suggest to them that they might like to take on board the Committee’s remarks and consider revising their policies? I appreciate that PCCs are independent, but is there some vehicle whereby the Home Office could be proactive in that regard, given that the Home Secretary has made that point about targets very clear at an earlier stage?
As my right hon. Friend will know, Ministers of course regularly meet not only chief constables but PCCs. I do so; the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims does so; and of course the Home Secretary does so. PCCs are in no doubt that the Home Office’s view is that targets are inappropriate, and no doubt they will be listening to this debate; I would be very surprised if they did not, as it is a major debate on policing. Nevertheless, I will obviously take the opportunity, as other Ministers will, to reinforce that view. However, as my right hon. Friend recognises, PCCs are independently elected, and they are responsible to their electors for their decisions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is making a good fist of responding to the debate, but are there not better targets that PCCs should pursue? For example, by surveying the public whom they serve, they could ask them how safe they feel from crime and how much confidence they have in their local police forces. Are those not better targets? Indeed, they tackle the question of perception, which is so often what crime is really about—people feeling fear of crime and often irrationally so, because they live in a very safe place.
It is certainly right for PCCs to—how can I put it?—set the background music for their area. For example, in my area, the PCC has made it very plain that she thinks that tackling domestic violence and domestic abuse is an important issue, and I think that she is both within her rights to do so and, indeed, right to have made that a priority. However, giving a clear steer that she expects the police in Sussex to make tackling domestic violence a priority is quite different from saying, “You must have a certain number of convictions or prosecutions.” That approach would lead to perverse behaviour. Giving a steer without setting a target is probably what I would expect PCCs to do, and my local PCC does that in Sussex on that issue.
The difficulty with targets is that, if we put down the track, that is the way the train goes—if I can revert to a previous ministerial role in saying that—and the train does not always end up at the terminus where we would want it to end up. So we have given chief constables genuine operational independence by scrapping national targets. Of course, chief constables have a responsibility to ensure that crime recording in their force is accurate, whether or not their PCC has set local targets. Accuracy is vital, both to ensure that data are robust and—more importantly—to ensure that victims of crime are getting the service they deserve.
Although HMIC’s interim report did not find written evidence of performance pressures leading to failures in crime recording, it did not rule that out. The final report will include the results of a survey of police officers and it may reveal that officers sometimes feel under performance pressure to misreport crimes. Obviously, if that is what HMIC concludes, we will pay close attention; clearly, it cannot be right if such behaviour does exist. The only pressure that officers should feel is to perform for the public and to do their jobs well and with integrity.
Of course, there may also be some genuine human errors and cases where the police are legitimately exercising their discretion, but we have been clear that any officers who deliberately mis-record a crime are crossing a thick red line. Any officer suspected of falsifying crime figures should be investigated and, if it turns out to be the appropriate way forward, prosecuted.
Strong safeguards are in place to ensure that police recording of crime is accurate. Clear rules govern crime recording, and each force has a crime registrar who will arbitrate on crime recording decisions. The code of ethics is now established as a code of practice, and it has been distributed to all officers and to staff of all ranks. It sets out a clear declaration of the principles and standards of behaviour that are expected. It actively promotes ethical reasoning, which encourages officers and staff to question and challenge both themselves and others, and to make ethical decisions in the policing context. Changes have been made to Home Office guidance to ensure that breaches of the code could amount to misconduct.
In drafting the code, the College of Policing was of the firm belief that the code would be counter-productive if it drew up a list defining what each officer and member of staff should and should not do. However, an exception was made in respect of compliance with the national crime recording standard, which was included as a specific example to reinforce the importance of integrity in the recording of crime. If an officer or member of police staff deliberately or negligently fails to comply with the national crime recording standard, the degree of failure will be considered and appropriate misconduct action will be taken.
Members—not least the Chairman of the Committee—referred to whistleblowing. Forces locally have their own systems in place to allow officers to blow the whistle. Officers can report a concern directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as I confirmed to the Chairman in a letter in April, and they can do so under any circumstances. The IPCC has a national dedicated hotline, and as I mentioned to the Chairman when he raised these matters with me earlier in the year, officers can use it with a degree of anonymity, should they wish to do so.
On 22 July, the Home Secretary announced plans to strengthen protections for whistleblowers in the police. In the first instance, the Government will create a single national policy for police forces on whistleblowing to set out best practice and ensure consistency of approach across all forces. Forces will also be required to publish information on the number of conduct issues raised by officers and staff and on the action taken by the force as a result.
A public consultation later this year—by definition, it is not that far away—will consider a range of further proposals to protect police whistleblowers. In a letter to the Chairman of the Committee, I set out—as the Home Secretary did in a letter of 7 April—some of the options being considered as part of that work.
That is a very wide question, which goes beyond the reporting of crime statistics, but, as we have made plain through the College of Policing—my colleague the Policing Minister has taken a clear lead on this—we are looking at police integrity. The Home Secretary has not been backward in coming forward in addressing the issue in her speeches. We are determined to drive up performance in the police and to eliminate bad practice. I hope that will reduce the need for whistleblowing, but it does not reduce the need for a proper channel for whistleblowing, as and when it is deemed appropriate by an individual officer exercising his or her conscience genuinely about an issue in the police force.
I am not in a position to go into the case of PC James Patrick in great detail, and I hope Members will understand. Clearly, the commissioner is ultimately responsible for how the Metropolitan police operates. However, I can confirm that we will strengthen protections for police whistleblowers. I can also confirm, as I said a moment ago, that police officers have the right to access the IPCC, should they wish to do so, on matters in their force.
The Minister talks about access to the IPCC, and I am glad he has clarified that. PC Patrick clearly understood he had to go through his line management to have his complaint referred, and he was not allowed to do that, so that was either a mistake or there has been a change, and if the Minister could clarify what that is, I would be grateful. It has to be understood that going to this anonymised hotline really does not provide any protection at all. What is the IPCC meant to do to pursue the complaint? It will go back to the force and say it has had a complaint about such and such. Of course, those on the force will instantly know who has complained, unless they are completely stupid, which they are not—they are detectives, after all. The anonymous hotline sounds good in principle, but it does not provide the protection that whistleblowers need; they need immunity from disciplinary proceedings while the complaint is being investigated. Even if it is shown to be illegitimate and wrongly founded, they still need protection, providing they made it in good faith.
I know the Chairman of the Committee feels strongly about this matter; indeed, it was central to his Committee’s report, so it might be helpful if I put on record part of the letter I wrote to him on 4 April this year. I confirmed that if
“an officer is dissatisfied with the way their concerns have been dealt with by their force, or they do not feel comfortable raising their concerns with their force in the first place, they can raise their concerns directly with the Independent Police Complaints Commission…The IPCC runs a dedicated telephone hotline specifically for police officers and staff…Officers can raise their concerns with the IPCC anonymously or in confidence…We are looking at a range of possible options, including… 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 so as to preserve evidence and prevent collusion…immunity from disciplinary/misconduct proceedings or prosecution…financial incentives for whistleblowers, for example, a share of recovered criminal assets from the case…protection against vexatious or malicious allegations.”
Those options are under consideration. I mentioned that a consultation will start shortly, and it is open to my hon. Friend and his Committee to make representations accordingly.
Let me turn now to the issue of “no crimes” and sexual offences, which were mentioned by the Opposition spokesman and by the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—I almost called him my hon. Friend because we have taken part in a number of debates over the years.
The overall “no crime” rate for rape has fallen year on year under this Government, from 12.6% in 2009-10 to 7.3% in 2013-14. It is encouraging that a number of forces have stated a determination to further bring down “no crime” rates for rape, and the HMIC rape monitoring group data provide PCCs and chief constables with core information to drive improvements in their response to rape.
The then Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green)—and I wrote to chief constables and PCCs in February, encouraging them to use the figures to improve the response to victims of rape, and we stressed that
“every allegation of rape should be recorded as a crime at the point it is reported, when it is reported without question or challenge.”
That will drive up some of the figures we are seeing.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member that a shift is taking place—the Government is encouraging this, but it is also where society is going—on what we might call crimes against the person. In the past, a lot of these crimes have not been taken seriously. The hon. Gentleman said domestic abuse behind closed doors was not a matter the police got involved in in the past, and that has to change. Clearly, there has been an issue with child sexual exploitation, which concerns everybody in the House, and society has to take it more seriously. Some police forces have also failed to deal properly with rape, and there is no point pretending otherwise. We have to sort these matters out, and we are making significant progress.
That work will lead to a change in the focus of the police. Fortunately, we are seeing a significant decline in what might be called traditional crimes, and we are seeing more reporting and more recording of them. However, I should make it plain that the reporting and recording of them is not the same thing as the number of incidents that occur—that is a different matter entirely. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned the figures that came out today. In the police recorded crime figures, there is an 11% increase in violent crimes; in the crime survey for England Wales, there is a 23% decrease. Those figures are not wrong; they just mean that the police are now more accurately reporting and recording. That is what Members on both sides of the House are trying to get to, and it is a good thing.
We will, therefore, see more emphasis on these matters, and so we should. I want to leave Members in no doubt whatever that crimes such as domestic abuse, rape and child sexual exploitation, which is an abominable crime, are very high on my priority list, as well as that of the Government and, I believe, the House. That is reflected in what Ministers say; it is also increasingly reflected in what the police are doing, and they are recording these matters more sensibly and more accurately than they were; and it reflects where society is as well.
That will lead to an increase in reporting of historical offences, where people did not have the confidence to come forward before, and of offences that take place now, which people may not have wanted to report in the past, and which I hope they will have the confidence to report now. I encourage anyone who has been subjected to a crime of violence to report it to the police and make sure that they pursue that matter if they feel that the police are not taking it as seriously as they should. Violent offences such as rape are of course devastating crimes that ruin lives. We expect every report to be taken seriously, every crime to be recorded, every investigation to be conducted thoroughly and professionally, and every victim to be treated with dignity. We recognise that vulnerable victims are often unwilling or unable to go directly to the police. That is why it is vital that the police take crimes passed on to them by third parties seriously, and record them appropriately. Many victims will of course feel that they want to go to a non-statutory person in the voluntary sector, for example, to let them know about those matters, so the police need to take that into account in how they deal with the issues.
Last year, the prevalence of sexual assault recorded by the crime survey was the lowest ever since its introduction in 2004-05. Nationally, police recorded crime figures showed an increase of 21% in all sexual offences, and a 29% increase in recorded rape, so I think it is encouraging that more victims have the confidence to come forward. We know rape and sexual violence are under-reported crimes and want to correct that. We want more people to report to the police, and more cases to be brought to justice. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned the increase in rape, so I want to mention that rape prosecutions were up 5.3% in 2013-14 and rape convictions were up as well, so there is a helpful effect now coming through the court system.
Sexual offences are one of the six main crime types reviewed by HMIC as part of its audit of crime recording quality. The first tranche of the reports has been published, and the remaining force reports are expected to be published shortly. We want PCCs and chief constables to use the findings and figures to improve the way their force responds to rape and supports victims. It is encouraging that some forces have already announced reviews of earlier “no-crime” decisions following the HMIC reports. Vera Baird, the Northumbria police and crime commissioner, was mentioned in that regard in the debate. The new rape action plan, led by the Crown Prosecution Service and the national policing lead for rape, will aid the Government’s drive to ensure that every report of rape is treated seriously and every victim is given the help they deserve.
Whether the role and composition of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee should be reviewed is a matter for that committee and the UK Statistics Authority. The Home Secretary values its advice and I spoke to the committee recently to stress the importance that the Government places on the ability to ensure that the public have accurate, reliable crime figures.
I want to pick up a few points made by hon. Members during the debate. I agree with the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) that the emphasis must be on core policing values. That is exactly right, and I also agree that we must deal with the under-reporting of sexual crimes, as I mentioned a moment ago. I think that the reason for it is, frankly, that in some cases the police have not been as sympathetic or treated those crimes as seriously as they might, or recorded them as they should have. Those matters are now being addressed, as I have suggested, and I think that the police are making good progress.
It is dangerous to assume that the only way to change the culture is to have women in key positions. The Home Secretary is a woman, and I have not noticed that effect. It is important to change men’s attitudes. That is how we will ultimately make progress—by changing the way men look at things.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to the conflict—or the different messages coming out—given the decrease shown in the crime survey figures compared with police recorded crime. I hope that I have dealt with that matter. Police recorded crime is catching up with the crime survey by recording more accurately. That is the explanation—the divergence between them is now closing. That also explains, as I think I set out, why the figure for sexual offences is up.
The hon. Member for Luton North referred to his concern about crimes of violence. I agree with him about that, as I have said. He slipped in a suggestion that his party tends to have a more liberal view on home affairs matters. I have not noticed that in my time at the Home Office; liberal is not the word that I would use to describe the shadow Home Secretary and her team. However, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view; perhaps he is in the more liberal element of his party. I do not know.
I agree that we need a shift in policing. It may interest the House to know that I have established two panels with that in mind. One is a crime prevention panel, which is considering the steps that can be taken to reduce crime before it happens. That can involve a range of things, including designing crime out of buildings and some technological solutions. That panel of experts has some good ideas. There is also an horizon-scanning panel, considering where crime will be going in 10 to 15 years’ time, with experts from all parts of society, including young people. Their ability to suggest where online crime might go is much better than mine or the other panel members’. That has been a useful exercise and recommendations will be made shortly, which I am sure the House will be interested in. I mention that because it picks up the shift in crime, which relates to the shift in policing that will have to be made, in relation to crimes against the person. I think that it will be a greater priority for the police in the years ahead.
The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, was a little unhelpful in his description of the crime survey. He appeared to cast doubt on its value, calling it far from ideal. It is the same one that his party’s Government ran for 13 years. We have not changed it; any change that we are making is to strengthen it, to bring in some of the issues that he and other hon. Members mentioned. The crime survey is regarded throughout the world as the gold standard. It has been running since 1981, and it captures most crimes and enables trends over long periods of time to be discerned.
There has been a substantial reduction in the sample size of the crime survey, and it does not capture a lot of crime where there is a growth trend, such as cybercrime. We need to consider the crime survey, and I reserve the right of my Committee to conduct a proper inquiry in future into the crime survey for England and Wales.
I do not pretend that the crime survey is perfect, but I think calling it far from ideal is over-egging the pudding.
As to whether plastic card fraud is covered, evidence from the crime survey on such crime shows a fall, from 6.4% of card holders falling victim in 2009-10 to 5.2% in the year ending June 2014. That fall is broadly in line with the reduction in crime in the survey during the same period. It would be disingenuous to imply that that such crime is not captured, or that including it would skew the figures dramatically. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics, which is of course independent of the Government, made the point in a press briefing this morning that the pattern of plastic card crime and victimisation in recent years would not change recent downward trends in the overall crime survey figures. It was fairly strong on that point.
Figures for the number of victims of plastic card fraud have been published since 2005-06 but have not been included in the headline count in the crime survey, for several reasons, including concerns about double counting of frauds and thefts, and questions about whether the victim is the card issuer or the issuing bank. However, we know that the number of holders of plastic cards who have been subjected to such fraud has declined during the relevant period.
The Minister is selectively taking one area of fraud and online crime. It is true that there has been significant progress in chip and pin technology, but does the Minister agree with the opinion of the ONS that about 3.5 million crimes—fraud and online cybercrime—are not properly recorded in the statistics that he regards as gold plated?
No other national crime survey that I am aware of, including that of the USA, covers fraud as well as the crime survey for England and Wales. It is not true that fraud is not included, although more certainly needs to be done to ensure that our society is aware of the extent of fraud, which is potentially much greater because of online activities. That is certainly true. This morning, the Office for National Statistics recognised that the transfer of fraud recording from forces to Action Fraud has led to an increase in the number of recorded fraud offences, although that is beginning to level out now. There was underreporting of fraud, but Action Fraud has been taking steps, by its very existence, to deal with that matter to some degree. Yes, there is more work to do on fraud—I fully accept that—but it would not be fair to suggest that the crime survey’s overall trends, which I have mentioned, would be skewed if fraud were fully captured in the way that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.
If the Committee wants to return to how the crime survey is conducted, that is a perfectly legitimate exercise, which no doubt it will wish to carry out. Even if I did not want the Committee to carry it out, it would still do so anyway. I look forward to that happening in due course.
In conclusion, we have an independent crime survey in England and Wales, which is the gold standard and has run since 1981, producing figures that can, I believe, be relied upon to a large degree. We also have police recorded crime, which has varied in quality; I fully accept that. We have taken steps, as a Government, to try to deal with that matter, along with the HMIC. I welcome the Committee’s work on that as well, which will lead to good results in due course. We are working with the ONS to develop a separate fraud module for the crime survey for England and Wales. We have already identified more work that has to be done in that regard and that is coming through in due course, to try to make that better as well. I think the public at large can be confident that the crime survey for England and Wales is a fair reflection, that police recorded crime is now improving and, most of all, that crime in this country is down.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Gray. It is a pleasure to conclude this debate under your chairmanship.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Minister on the comprehensive nature of his response, which I will come to in a moment. It underlines the advantage of a Westminster Hall debate: the devoted few can turn up and discuss at length, and cross-examine the Minister at length on, the issues raised in a report. I speak as one who was a little bit cynical about the Westminster Hall idea when it was first mooted.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who contributed to this debate, and I particularly thank Committee members, present and not present, who have supported this work. I think that they will agree that this has been one of the most exciting, influential and important reports that we have produced in this Parliament. It is already having quite an impact, alongside the impact of others, whom I commend, who are having to put this matter right.
I welcome the support of the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) for this report. He was, if I caught him correctly—if I may intrude on an internal debate in the Labour party—questioning the wisdom of the Labour party’s decision to abolish police and crime commissioners in what appears to be a precipitate way.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s courage in breaking the rules, as all ex-Chief Whips do; they all finish up ignoring the injunctions of their own Whips.
Police and crime commissioners or elected mayors have been agents of change in this debate; I have witnessed it myself. They are there as people to talk to who are directly accountable to their publics, albeit that the turnouts were lousy and the by-election was a fiasco. There is great opportunity to build for the future. I hope that the shadow Minister will reflect on the fact that we want more democracy and more accountability, not less. Let us see how we can improve the institution, not just go back to what was there before—to anonymous, ineffective police committees that may have contained many worthy people, but people who did not have the profile, legitimacy or resource to carry out the function of local police accountability that we need them to carry out.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who brought our attention to today’s ONS release about the crime figures, and to the difference between police recorded crime and the crime survey for England and Wales. That early pointer should perhaps have led to more action more quickly on this subject, because it indicated that police recorded crime was falling fasting than the survey suggested could be justified, and that should have been acted on sooner.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), whom I nearly call my hon. Friend because he sits on the Committee with me, emphasised rightly that we want a society in which we can live without fear of crime, and where we can send our children out to play in the streets without fear. I certainly had that kind of childhood, as he did. I suspect that most of our constituents can still give their children such a childhood, but the fear of crime drives people to be risk-averse and fearful. That is why police and crime commissioners should be setting targets on how to reassure their public that they live in safe neighbourhoods, safe counties and safe cities. Essex, for example, is one of the safest counties to live in, but on talking to people about crime, it is clear that they do not believe that. We do not talk about crime in terms of reassurance; we tend to highlight what is going wrong and mount campaigns to defeat crime, which just increases fear of crime. The hon. Gentleman raises an apposite point.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for speaking so comprehensively in support of this report. I am mindful of what he said about the crime survey for England and Wales. We had some evidence, but did not feel that we had enough to make comprehensive recommendations. The Committee may embark on another inquiry, although possibly in another Parliament, because we are running out of time in this one.
There is an issue about how to keep the crime survey for England and Wales up to speed and, indeed, how to keep its sample large enough so that we can have regionally and locally specific information. At the level at which we conduct the survey, local information is completely meaningless, because the sample sizes locally are much too small. In that regard, we are entirely dependent on police recorded crime to tell us what is going on, which is why those are such important statistics.
Again, I commend my right hon. Friend the Minister on his comprehensive reply to this debate. He emphasised that nobody has an interest in having inaccurate crime statistics. I recognise that, as do the police. He listed a number of actions being taken, including the responsibility of Ministers to clarify the respective roles, responsibilities and tasks—the various component parts of the system—in relation to producing crime figures. The Home Office is now taking much more responsibility for that, and laudably so. In my conversations with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, she responded positively to this report. I am grateful to her and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for their responses.
The Minister mentioned the force crime registrars. I reluctantly accept that the practicality of our recommendations in that respect could have been refined. I welcome his point on reporting; access to the chief constable is vital and the relevant people should be able to go directly to the chief constable when they are concerned. Their training is important, too.
The Minister emphasised the obligation to report a crime, even if it is subsequently to be no-crimed. He does not question that that discretion has to exist. He talked a bit about the target-driven culture, but said this was a matter for operational independence. It took a long time—for me—for the penny to drop in respect of how wasteful it is for organisations to try to function without the necessary trust and integrity in relationships between the people working within them.
On this business of misreporting crime, I cannot emphasise enough to the House that when all that was in the media, I walked around the Palace, my constituency and London and spoke with police officers. I asked them, “What do you think of police recorded crime? Have you heard about this?” Absolutely to a man and a woman, they would say, “Oh, we all knew that that was going on.” The cynicism with which they expressed their contempt for their command chain for allowing something to continue under its nose, month after month, year after year, because it was in its interest, cannot be overstated.
It sounds as though I am being very hard on police leadership and saying that they are all very bad people. I have been taken to task by senior police officers and police and crime commissioners for being too outspoken on this matter, but I believe that we have an opportunity to release the energy pent up in the anger and frustration on this issue, and use it to ensure better policing and that we use our resources much better, instead of hiding information within the system and suspiciously looking up and down the command chain and fighting the authorities within the police. A genuine atmosphere of openness and co-operation would release energy and resources to serve the public better.
Essex police is having a real root-and-branch think about how it applies the ethics code. It is releasing people to have conversations about how they regard and treat each other in a way that has not happened before. That needs to happen in every constabulary. There will be some people who feel threatened by those conversations and think that they undermine their historical position, their authority or how they have done business, and they will fight it. They are the ones who need to go. The vast majority of police officers will feel, “At last, we are talking about the real stuff and we will get stuff done better than we have ever done it before, because we will tell each other the truth.”
It is the lack of truth behind these statistics and the way that they have been falsified—in some cases very badly—that indicate that all has not been well in the culture and ethics of the police, and that is why I lay so much emphasis on the recommendation that the Committee on Standards in Public Life holds an inquiry. Public confidence demands it. We have had Hillsborough, Savile and the Lawrence affair. So many things have left a big question mark and a deep scar on the public’s confidence in policing. It is not that the police are bad people; they are good people who might have got into some bad habits. That happens in every organisation. To change habits and behaviour is the hardest and most painful thing to do in any change programme in any organisation, but it has to be done. We have the opportunity to do it on the back of this inquiry. I am not sure that the Minister has yet grasped the scale of the problem and the scale of the opportunity to improve policing. I leave it at that.
I am grateful to the Minister for reiterating the points he made in his letter to me on whistleblowers. He emphasised the need to consider immunity from disciplinary proceedings for whistleblowers. That is incredibly important. What we are doing in the health service, with the post-Mid-Staffs inquiry and all that, is exactly parallel to what we need to do in the police, and to what is happening in our fire service in Essex. It is about empowering people who have to tell the truth. At their best, that is how the armed forces have always worked. There is a belief sometimes that in the uniformed services, it always has to be about command and control, instilling discipline and people doing as they are told. Relationships in the armed forces at their best are not transactional in that way; they are about sharing intent, understanding objectives, supporting each other through tasks and then reviewing and learning from the mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes. I spoke to a rather more traditional senior police officer, who is now in the House of Lords, who told me that his philosophy of police leadership was that provided the officer could explain that what they did on the night was the right thing to do on the basis of the information they had at the time, he would always back them. It is that kind of supportive leadership that most chief constables understand and aspire to, but it obviously has not existed for police recorded crime. It does not exist all the time in all police forces in the way that it should, which is why we have such an opportunity. Whistleblowers are an important part of leadership by involvement, listening, understanding and supporting. The shutting down of people who try to tell the truth is one of the indicators that an organisation is not functioning optimally. That is what we want. [Interruption.]
Finally, the Minister mentioned the crime survey for England and Wales. We may return to that, although I might not be on the Committee in the next Parliament. I might not even be here; we always have to remember that. I very much welcome his emphasis on sexual crimes and credit card crimes, but we need to look at the new kinds of crime emerging in our modern, globalised, electronic society and how we deal with them. We need to ensure that they are picked up in a crime survey that is truly comprehensive.
I am proud of the work that the Committee has done, and I am grateful for the support that members of the Committee have given me on this report and in all our work. I am also grateful to those who have contributed to the debate. I hope that we will continue to contribute to a positive debate on the improvement of policing in this country.
Question put and agreed to.