rose to call attention to current arrangements for policing in England and Wales, and to possible improvements; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate today, and am encouraged by the interest that has been shown in it. The police service is an integral part of our society; yet it is taken very much for granted. It is 47 years since the police were last exposed to the all-embracing scrutiny of a royal commission, and the totality of policing has not, I understand, been debated in your Lordships’ House for more than seven years. It is all too easy to wring one’s hands and hark back to the so-called golden days when Dixon bade you “good evening” from Dock Green. The fact is that, in the half-century since policing was last examined in the round, society has changed faster than probably at any other time in our history. No business could survive in that environment without radical restructuring; without deciding what its future core business should be; and without identifying how it can best position itself in the future.
The only real attempt to get ahead of the game was last year when the Home Office attempted to introduce a plan for the amalgamation of police forces, although I have to say that that was, in my view, without proper consultation or research. I will not comment on that, save to say that no successful business would conduct such an exercise without first being sure what its role and its offering should be in the future. Let me put it another way: until we can decide what the police service should be responsible for and what we can realistically expect it to succeed in doing, any attempt to reform its structure is wasted effort. Form should follow function and not the other way around.
I want to look at three sets of tensions: first, that which exists between local and central control and accountability; secondly, that which exists as a result of the now-extended range of police responsibilities; and, thirdly, the tensions that exist between the provision of perfect or, one might say, total security for the public on the one hand and human and legal rights on the other.
First, I turn to the tension between local and central government. The Victorians built the current policing model. They were very clear that they wanted a division of power; a tripartite arrangement, in which power and accountability were equally shared between the chief constable, the Police Authority and the Home Secretary. Policing was a local service, which was delivered and overseen locally. In the past 10 years, the gravitational pull has changed very much towards the centre. Although there is much talk about the need for local involvement and accountability, the central directive hand is very obvious. Look at examples like the annual policing plans set by the Home Secretary; PSA targets; chief constables on fixed-term appointments with central assessments and performance-related pay; ring-fenced funding to achieve ministerial objectives; a Police Standards Unit with powers of intervention if central targets are missed; and a national policing board chaired by the Home Secretary as a policy-making forum. I could go on, because that list is not exhaustive.
This tension has brought the police service to a very uncomfortable crossroads. If the broad reach of the task is local in nature and impact, but we have an agenda which is largely set and controlled from Whitehall, the dilemma is viciously circular in its consequences. The more that central government seek to control the direction and priorities of policing, so successive Home Secretaries feel responsible for the outcomes, and for the brickbats. Therefore, they look for even tighter mechanisms of control.
In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Conservative Party has recently published its policy review, entitled, Policing for the People. It contains a good many very thoughtful recommendations, but in seeking to counter the growth of central control, the paper recommends the replacement of police authorities—which noble Lords should note—with directly elected local police commissioners who are responsible for appointing and supervising, and, one may think later, for directing the professional police commanders who would be their de facto subordinates. That is the model found in some states in the USA, where it works after a fashion because all public office holders are elected. If that model were to be adopted here, there would be little to stop the idea spreading to the election of magistrates, public prosecutors, judges, prison governors and so on. I believe that that suggestion is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It flies in the face of the long-held view that the police should be accountable to the law and be able to operate without pressure or influence, especially political influence. Sensitivity to local issues is one thing; subservience to them is another thing altogether.
I turn to the second tension, which is caused by the widening mission for policing. The time was when every local police force provided patrol, response and basic crime investigation. Now every force must be competent in major crime investigation. Local crimes become national news. Examples of that are Soham and the murder of prostitutes in Suffolk. Every force needs the skills and the capability to tackle serious organised crime and terrorism. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that terrorists awaiting trial today have been arrested in places as diverse as Stirling and Thetford. Amalgamation of forces might provide a partial answer, but not to the parallel problem of the clamour for visible local policing. Current government requirements for more visible police patrolling has produced action in urban areas, but I would suggest that many rural areas are often bare, and government funding has already been withdrawn for 8,000 CSOs. The motoring organisations continue to be concerned that main road patrolling by the police is seen much more in the breach than in the observance, and the only regular driver supervision is provided by ubiquitous and wholly non-discretionary speed cameras. Meanwhile, criminals travel on main roads with only a scant chance of a check by the police.
It is fair to say that record amounts have been spent by the Government in recent years, and full-time police strength now stands at around 140,000, although I have to say that this is low by overseas standards. In England and Wales, there are 264 officers per 100,000 population. In France, the figure is 387; in New York, 457; and in Chicago, 467—almost double the figure here. It is undeniable that the public and the police remain dissatisfied. Both often focus on the increasing gap that is left in the middle reaches of police activity where there is an absence of effective action to counter crime committed across force boundaries, a weight of bureaucracy and compliance with often inappropriate targets, and resources stretched too much to make any real impact on issues that directly affect public confidence and esteem. Too often the police do not respond, or respond late, to calls for assistance. Too often the public believe that the police no longer care. In reality, the police are stretched too thinly across the middle ground.
I shall stay for a moment with the middle ground. There is a tension simultaneously upwards to deal with the most serious, and downwards to produce a visible presence. No one could argue that the thrust against very serious crime and terrorism should be lessened, and most would argue for more visible patrolling. But the bulk of police work is found in the middle ground where the tensions will grow rather than ease. Recent briefings emanating from the Cabinet Office forecast some significant future trends, including the growth of what are called “low aspiration cultures”, which I take to mean the growth of an underclass; Home Office budgets that will not rise in real terms over the next five years; race and immigration issues featuring more as a social concern; continuingly high reoffending rates; crime becoming increasingly global and therefore more difficult to combat; climate change, resource competition and demographics, all posing additional drivers for conflict; and of course the continuing serious threat of mass casualty attacks by terrorists.
The truth is that the police task is too wide to ensure a good level of response and service across the board. We have long since left the world where the police were expected to be the only true 24-hour emergency service, and we cannot put the clock back. We have to face facts, and I want to emphasise that if we are to provide what in my opinion is a professional service, the police task must be reassessed and adjusted to match available resources to ensure that what is left can be properly addressed. We cannot go forward with resources stretched to invisibility, and with the police and the public alike confused as to what is expected.
I have addressed briefly the local versus the central tension, and the tensions around the extended police task. I turn now to the third tension, which I believe is around the expectation that the police, together with other security organisations, should provide what is sometimes called the “perfect”, or total, security solution while at the same time adhering to high standards vis-à-vis human rights and privacy. Over the past 20 years or so, we have seen the introduction of PACE, disclosure rules, criminal justice processes that demand a high burden of proof regardless of whether a misdemeanour or a serious indictable offence is involved, and many other changes. I do not criticise the trend, of course, but in my opinion it sits uncomfortably with the growth both of the surveillance society and the increasing trend to make the police both judge and jury in a growing array of offences that can be dealt with by way of fixed penalty on the street.
Many lawyers share my concern. Justice, together with Liberty, both identify summary justice on the streets as one of their major concerns. Others include compliance with Section 6 of the Human Rights Act at operational level, where officers are given very broad discretion to exercise powers that can restrict convention rights; and also the broader and related question of the regulation of policing generally. How, Justice and Liberty ask, can excessive bureaucracy be avoided without compromising standards and accountability? How, Justice asks, are the police sufficiently operationally independent of government? What, it asks, are the appropriate degrees of independence and accountability? A plethora of questions, all of which, and others, demand answers if policing is not to be completely overtaken by red tape and events within the next five or 10 years.
But one other issue runs right through the debate as a central theme: what about the leadership of the police service and the quality of officers from top to bottom? Since 1979 salaries have been pegged at the retail prices index, moving the service for the first time away from the shameful situation that was last seen in the late 1970s, when the best often did not join the police, the best still serving left in droves and morale plummeted. Current suggestions that the service should once again be opened up to “market forces” ignore the lasting damage that we saw before the Lord Edmund-Davies review of 1979 and fly in the face of history. In the future, the task is going to become more complex, more difficult and more dangerous, and we need a service populated by people who are up to the job.
To be frank, for many years the police service has not been seen as a service of choice for the best. Top-class leaders like Sir Norman Bettison are thin on the ground, and will become thinner unless current arrangements for accelerated promotion are addressed. The Police Federation places an absolute premium on the need for senior officers to have experienced life on the beat, and I do, too. But, very shortly, we shall have to produce a scheme that recruits the best people; that exposes them to rigorous, extended training where leadership is emphasised; which vigorously culls those falling short of high standards; which exposes them to the proper experience of life on the street; and which sees them at the rank of chief inspector or superintendent within five years. That is not much different in concept from what exists today, but it would have higher standards, tighter time-scales and better guarantees of appropriate advancement for the very best. Neither the service nor the Government can afford to duck the issue if what is sought is the very best for policing.
I begin to conclude by asking how can a pool of only a few hundred of the very best officers be best managed nationally to avoid the present lottery where the vagaries of local police authority selection precludes any attempt at career planning and development at the very top? I am impressed with the model in Sweden. Admittedly, there it is a national police service—I do not necessarily advocate that—and Sweden is small in comparison with England and Wales. But the Swedish system is scaleable and there a cadre of top officers is developed nationally. These officers are posted to areas where they must relate effectively with the local police authority before perhaps being moved on to maximise the overall personnel thrust. It is a model that would repay some careful attention.
It would ruffle a few feathers here, but more than ruffled feathers is required if we are to ensure a police service that is up to the job, not only now but in five years’ or more time. We cannot go on simply making adjustments as we bump up against events, knee-jerking our way from problem to problem as we have for so many years.
The present police model is tired; it is largely incapable of much more responsive change; it is stretched too far and too thinly; it urgently needs a redefinition of role. Both the police and the public they serve deserve a brave, open and adventurous new approach if we are to continue to have a service that we can still hail as the best in the world. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this important debate. I have great respect for the noble Lord, who gave a valedictory speech at the Police Staff College when I was attending it on a course. He will not remember it as it was many years ago, but, as with a good teacher, you remember these things, particularly if you are a policeman.
The defence of our citizens against criminals is second only to the defence of the realm against external enemies. Let us be clear that criminals are properly described as enemies of society because of the pain, misery and despair they cause. Policing is about more than fighting crime, as the noble Lord said. It is about keeping the Queen’s peace; dealing with road accidents, air and train crashes; missing people; lost property; and safeguarding sporting events and crowds of all kinds. It is about helping to maintain social cohesion by creating safer neighbourhoods.
I could go on but the list is endless, and the problem is that it is getting longer all the time. As an example, when I joined the service all those decades ago there was no National Crime Squad, no regional crime squads and no anti-terrorist squad. There were no family liaison officers, drugs squads or riot squads, admin support units, paedophile units, child exploitation and online protection centres, or indeed anywhere near the number of vehicles or radios that are available today. That was the situation throughout all parts of England and Wales.
What we had, though, was an abundance of police officers on the streets covering their beats on foot in the towns and villages “24-seven”, using the modern jargon—all day and night. Woe betide you if you strayed off your beat without the authority of your sergeant. We did the job without all the modern technology we have now, and in my submission we did it rather well. How often do your Lordships stand in the village pub or community hall and listen to the village elders—indeed, perhaps, it is yourselves who are speaking—discussing the good old days when the village bobby caught them doing this or that? Yet they say it with affection. The vast majority of people appeared happy with the service they got. How many of your Lordships can say now, with hand on heart, that the public are happy with the quality of policing they get?
What has gone wrong? Time does not permit me to cover all the aspects of modern society that have led to the service deteriorating, but I will share my thoughts on some issues. Society itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said, has changed dramatically in the past 30 or 40 years—just look at the squads I mentioned earlier, created to deal with new forms of criminality. The public, as with anything they pay for, want a decent service. When they ring the police they expect to be listened to with courtesy and responded to in a timely fashion. Some of the horror stories I hear these days defy belief; for example, responses to burglary taking not half an hour, not half a day, but sometimes half a week. That is totally unacceptable.
My brother-in-law recently had the bonnet of his business van stolen in the north-east while parked outside his home. It had been meticulously removed by precision drilling by professionals. When they arrived, the police stated that they believed parts were being stolen to order and that he should put his van in a garage. Good advice. Even though this was clearly an organised theft, they did not fingerprint the van. That would have been unheard of only a few years ago.
Policing is also about good communications, whether it is when you ring the police station or when you are stopped while driving, or for throwing litter, or for carrying a strange item late at night. The manner in which you are spoken to quite often makes the difference. As an old sergeant once said to me, “It’s nice to be important, son, but it’s far more important to be nice”. That is pretty good advice. It would be nice if some officers occasionally remembered who was paying their wages.
Finally, I make a plea for the police to get back to their core business: enforcing the law. Your Lordships spend a lot of time enacting criminal law, which is totally pointless if the police just ignore it. Personally I am sick and tired of cyclists riding at speed on footpaths and jumping traffic lights, motor cycles often without lights at night, people in motor vehicles using mobile phones with impunity, people just throwing litter on to the streets out of vehicles, and people smoking on the Tube or generally indulging in anti-social behaviour. Those are the things that upset the public and that the public would like the police to get back to dealing with. I cut my teeth on dealing with such things. I remember standing next to a “halt” sign on Tyneside early in my career. People would drive past the sign at speed and it made for good detection work on which to cut my teeth. I remember a priest approaching the “halt” sign on a bike at very great speed. It was clear that he would not have time to stop, so I stepped out and he stopped in time. He slammed on the brakes, put his feet on the ground and stopped right on the line. I said to him, “Father, you were travelling rather fast”. He said, “Don’t worry, officer. The Lord is with me”. I said, “Excellent. Two on a bike”. So justice can prevail.
What stops the police communicating with the public? I believe that it is paperwork—the noble Lord, Lord Dear, touched on it. Every time an officer on the street decides to confront bad behaviour, they have to stop people. They have to provide them with a record of the date, time, place, the reason questioned and so on. That is a clear disincentive to officers to communicating with the public. It also upsets the public, because people do not want to give their particulars if a policeman talks to them. We should look at this. I would ask the Minister to reconsider whether this is absolutely necessary for, and in the interests of, the policing of the streets, because it causes a very real problem. We have more police officers than ever, and we are asking them to take on more and more tasks. We need to reduce paperwork, and we need officers to be more visible on the streets, building a friendly dialogue with members of the public who abide by the law, but enforcing the law against those who do not.
My Lords, much more money is being spent on the police than in, let us say, 1997, but nothing comes without a price and the price exacted by Government has been more and more central control. That was made quite clear by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. We are grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters today.
The public do not see much evidence that more money spent has meant a better service. They are told that police numbers have increased, but with police stations closing and fewer police officers on the streets, the evidence of their eyes seems to contradict what the Government say. Furthermore, the priorities followed by the police are all too often not those of the public.
The Government obviously have a duty to see that in every part of the country the dangers of terrorism and crime on a national and international scale are addressed, but, at the other end of the spectrum, the Government should certainly not be telling the police at local level to concentrate less on preventing shoplifting and more on preventing any conduct, however trivial, that might be thought by others to constitute a hate crime. Yet that is precisely what they are doing, as is obvious from a whole raft of cases which has hit the headlines, perhaps the most absurd of which was the investigation of Anne Robinson for allegedly making anti-Welsh remarks.
Senior police officers have sometimes said, “Well, we have to follow up complaints from the public”, implying that they have to follow them up however absurd they may seem; but that does not stand up to a moment’s examination when some forces say that, because of shortage of resources, they cannot follow up cases of shoplifting. Furthermore, at the Police Federation’s recent conference, police officers explained how a determination to meet targets and push up detection rates has led to entirely inappropriate action; for example, the arrest of two Manchester children for being in possession of a toy pistol, the arrest of a child for throwing a piece of cucumber from a tuna sandwich at another child, and the charging of two girls with criminal damage for drawing on the pavement.
So what is to be done? Plainly, the police should be made more accountable to local communities at every level. Contrary to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, I believe that there is a strong case for the replacement of police authorities by elected police commissioners. I do not believe for one moment that it would spread like measles to the election of judges and magistrates. Chief constables should retain operational responsibility for day-to-day policing but the elected commissioners would appoint and dismiss chief constables, make their own policing plans and, crucially, control their own budgets.
I am sure of one thing—there would soon be more police on the streets. For years that is what the public have demanded, and for years they have been told that bobbies on the beat are old hat, a poor use of police resources in the modern world, and would do little to reduce crime. However, not for the first time, the experts have been proved entirely wrong and the public have been proved entirely right. That is plain from 7/7 and from what happened in New York a few years ago. When more police were put on the streets of London after 7/7, crime fell, and there is near universal agreement that the dramatic fall in crime in New York following the election of Mayor Giuliani occurred as a result of a significant increase in police numbers on the streets, robust community policing, and reforms which enhanced the accountability of managers—the whole process being led by an elected mayor accountable to the people and an inspirational police chief.
How do we get more police on the streets? We have to free them of as many as possible of the non-productive tasks placed on them. They have to be freed from the endless form-filling, from having to meet ever more targets, and from having to take account of ever more performance criteria. In 2002 Mr Blunkett pledged a bonfire of the paperwork to free up more police time, but since then virtually no progress has been made. There is no evidence to support the Government's claim that they have made 9,000 forms obsolete. Except in the Met, progress with neighbourhood policing has been slow, and police officers still spend far more time on paperwork than on patrol. Giving patrol the widest possible definition and holding it to embrace not only time spent on foot/car/beat patrol but the time of CID and traffic officers, amazingly just 14 per cent of all police officers' time is engaged on it, and even those who are on it spend nearly as much time on paperwork as actually patrolling. What is clear is that if the time a police officer spends on the beat could be increased by a modest extent from one-fifth to two-fifths, that would effectively double the police presence on the street without recruiting a single additional officer. That is what the public want; it is one thing that is much needed.
My Lords, I declare two interests: I am a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority and have been for a long time, and of Oxfordshire County Council. First, I turn the attention of the Minister to police community support officers. We have 417 of them and will have 530 by the year end. We would have had more, but the numbers were cut. We also face a tight budget; at the moment it leaves us £8 million short for next year, which we are addressing. Having 530 police community support officers leaves us very tight to provide adequate neighbourhood policing, and certainly well short of the one-two-three—a sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers—which the Met has on the streets.
Yet, at a police consultation meeting on Monday, I was struck by the fact that contact with the police is identified as an important matter for the public. Very few people mentioned, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, did, the issue of whether police were on the beat or not, but they wanted a response to their telephone calls—and not only quickly when there is an actual crime as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, said. They also want to know what happens after they have reported something. There is a big gap there that needs filling.
At the consultation meeting there were parish councillors from places such as Chipping Norton, Tetsworth, Grove and Stanford-in-the-Vale—and I cite these places simply because I know that the Minister is aware of them. Elected representatives were there and we consulted them through electronic means as well as speaking to them, so we got a very good idea of the priorities of local people.
One factor I would press on the Minister is that 65 per cent of the people present named anti-social behaviour and drink-related problems as their number one priority. Despite the propaganda, crime has fallen, but disorder has increased immeasurably and spread out to some extent from cities to smaller places. The pressure on police to have too many officers on duty at busy times at night has reduced the number of officers available to deal with the more “routine” business. We were shown a video of some night-time scenes of people fighting with knives, which were absolutely disgraceful. To some extent, we are passing to the police the real ills of society. I hope that the Minister will say something about what is being done about anti-social behaviour and particularly whether the Government are going to review the whole question of the extension of licensed hours. That was one of their main objectives, with their desire to introduce a café culture of drinking in this country, which can be said to have manifestly failed.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned the issue of targets. There are well over 100 targets for our authority to reach and this leads to a great deal of paperwork, much of it very difficult to read and even to see, because it is produced in such small print, although my eyesight is good. The separation of the Home Office from the Ministry of Justice may give rise to the possibility that people on one side will impose bureaucracy on people on the other.
On how funding for PCSOs will be done in future, there is talk that the Home Office will make that money available through the rate support grant to local authorities, which should then pass it on to police authorities, rather than in a direct grant from the Home Office. I hope that such a proposal does not go forward but, if it does, it is important that the money is somehow passported through to the police authorities—otherwise it will not reach them. I draw the Minister’s attention to one question. If an authority is on the floor, as Oxfordshire is, it is cash-limited to 2.5 per cent this year. Even if more money is awarded, it does not get it—so the authority would not have the money in Oxfordshire to pass on to the police authority. That has happened with the concessionary fare bus provisions, which also pass through local authorities, and is a real trap that the Government must address.
On new crimes that are multiplying, last year 2,000 car number plates were stolen. Such a crime really did not happen two or three years ago. The advent of automatic number plate recognition, congestion charging and speed cameras, has caused that to become a crime that needs addressing. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, is sitting next to the Minister because we will come to that matter in our forthcoming debate on the Vehicle Registration Marks Bill.
On elected commissioners, I believe that we make very honest attempts to find out what the public really want. I am afraid that elected commissioners would be political nominees, backed up by the popular press with slogans such as, “Hang paedophiles”. However, attention would not be focused on the highly professional job of policing, which I am sure chief constables lead very effectively in most cases.
My Lords, like others in your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating this debate on policing. I speak as an ordinary member of the public who has lived in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, for the past eight years. I feel bound to draw attention to the concerns of the police forces and authorities in the east Midlands region.
At the heart of our system stands the principle of policing by consent. While the police must secure the voluntary co-operation of the public, they must have the freedom to work out their operational needs and to negotiate policy in collaboration with elected politicians, the magistracy and members of local communities. It is vital that whatever reforms take place, the sharing of responsibility through the tripartite structure is maintained so that no one person or group can gain control of the whole system.
As citizens we should have high expectations of our police service; and in turn they have the right to expect proper public understanding and co-operation. It is clear that there is a strategic challenge to combat serious and cross-border crime and I welcome the increased collaboration between the five east Midlands forces since September 2004, especially through the East Midlands Special Operations Unit. However, this must not lead to a state of remoteness from local concerns. For this reason I strongly welcome the stress in recent government policy on neighbourhood policing. For most people, their neighbourhood is the place where policing stands or falls. Policing should be regarded as a service of last resort—the longstop when order and relationships break down. Yet so often we rush to the police as the first port of call. I must confess that I am as guilty as the next one over this. For example, the fencing round my home is quite regularly the subject of petty teenage vandalism. I have called the police in the past and they have been very helpful and energetic in pursuing it, but is it really a police problem? The challenge surely is who is inspiring, leading, motivating and mentoring our young people today? Is it parents, family, extended family or local community and church groups? As one of my neighbours who stood with me surveying some damage one Saturday morning said, “It is the director of youth services you should ring, not the police”.
The truth is, we need partnership. I recognise that since 1998 we have had local crime and disorder partnerships, but there is always the danger of such arrangements becoming too bureaucratic. We have had several references to the bureaucracy that our police service is encumbered with. Therefore, I welcome the steps being taken to make those arrangements more responsive to ordinary people. I shall be interested to see how the procedures for “community calls to action” will work out, but I hope that they will not fall into the hands of unrepresentative individuals or groups.
As an example of partnership I commend to your Lordships' House the initiative known as Street Pastors, which was pioneered in London and has spread to about 10 other cities, most recently Leicester and Nottingham. This is an interdenominational church scheme which trains people to go out on the streets, to get to know the people in their area and to try to sort out problems by talking before they escalate. They work closely with the police and other statutory authorities and agencies and their presence has made a difference in the areas where they operate.
I am happy to report from the city and county of Nottingham that crime has fallen by 14.3 per cent in the past five years. Over that period burglary was down 25.9 per cent, car crime was down 27.9 per cent and 77 per cent more offenders were arrested. Last year alone saw an increase of 4.3 per cent in offences brought to justice. Furthermore, I am pleased that Nottinghamshire Police’s operational judgment is unclouded by inappropriate targets; they are not into counting kids throwing an egg at a passing bus.
However, these achievements are threatened by a growing funding gap. Despite the efficiency savings of the past eight years, the East Midlands forces face a huge shortfall, not least as a result of the funding of only 75 per cent of the pay of our community support officers. We must face the truth that the welcome improvements of recent years must be paid for and that, in the future, appropriate and responsive policing is not to be had on the cheap.
My Lords, the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is welcome and timely. The fact that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak and that we are all restricted to so few minutes is an indication of that. Of course, it is not helped by the fact that the noble Lord addressed an interesting range of issues in his opening remarks, each of which could happily take a three-hour debate in their own right. The short time that we have means that we can address only a fraction of the points that we might otherwise have wished to make.
Before going any further, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing.
My theme today is that good governance—in particular, lay oversight—and proper engagement with the community are essential and important parts of ensuring that our policing services are effective. To achieve that, the police need to address the needs of local communities just as much as they do the policing and the pressing problems of terrorism and serious organised crime, as well as the middle ground, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred.
Why is that important? In this country, as the right reverend Prelate has just said, policing is built on consent. The police are there to provide a service to the public. They should be responsive to the needs of the community and they are, or should be, accountable to the public whom they serve. Incidentally, this is as important when we are speaking about counterterrorism, which is my particular remit on the Metropolitan Police Authority, as it is when we are dealing with neighbourhood policing.
In his remarks a few days ago, Gordon Brown recognised that carrying the public’s support with counterterrorist measures is essential. One element of that is transparency and good governance, but I would go further. It is vital that the policing service is a continuum: one service dealing with anti-social behaviour, neighbourhood issues, street crime, burglary, serious and organised criminality and terrorism. There are synergies between the different aspects of policing work: traffic police who find that those speeding are wanted for other crimes; credit card fraud used to finance people trafficking; and the disposal of large quantities of peroxide bottles being spotted by local PCSOs identifying a terrorist plot in the making. The list could go on.
Critically, if it is the same police service that has to manage the community consequences of high-profile counterterrorist operations or the rounding-up of a serious crime ring, then that police service will be mindful of those consequences in the way in which those operations are conducted.
Community engagement also delivers better policing, as, through that engagement, the public can, importantly, give a steer and direction on questions such as what reassures them and what does not or how to use particular policing tactics in culturally sensitive ways that will command public support.
Building strong relationships with communities will be essential for future anti-terrorist work, just as it is in tackling Trident-type gang warfare. Getting it wrong will build resentments that will not only make co-operation with the police more difficult but be likely to act as another factor influencing a very small minority to listen to the calls of those promoting terrorist violence or pulling individuals into a violent gang culture.
To understand the problems that we may face, the police need the co-operation and support of all, or virtually all, strands of community opinion. I am not talking here about the recruitment of covert sources, although the environment in which the police are operating will also have an impact there; I am talking about ensuring that the police understand what is happening within a community and that they are aware of which meeting places are attracting people who may be vulnerable to extremists. I am also talking about ensuring that, if there are worries or concerns about particular individuals, they are articulated so that the police may monitor and supervise the situation.
None of this will happen without trust and that trust cannot be created overnight. Moreover, it will require a very high level of trust for an individual to voice suspicions about a friend or family member. But even the degree of trust necessary for individuals to talk to the police about community sensitivities will require a consistent willingness by the police to address that community's concerns. The police cannot be just fair-weather friends; they will need to be there all the time.
My noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate talked very powerfully about the importance of the way in which the police carry out their functions, doing so with respect. I was with him absolutely until he started to talk about the bureaucracy of recording stops. The reality is that to maintain the trust of the community, particularly in sensitive areas, it is important that the police are able to demonstrate that they are operating proportionately, appropriately and without prejudice. That can be done only if there is a proper system in place for recording what they do and how they do it.
I acknowledge that a procedure that takes seven minutes—longer than the interaction between the police officer and the member of the public concerned—is clearly ludicrous. I find it surprising that, in these days of information technology, a simplified process cannot be found to make that a task of seconds rather than minutes. A handheld device that simply provided a receipt, with the number of the officer and the time and date of the interaction, would at least enable an individual, if they wished, to pursue the matter. That would also ensure that the recording of the matter was entered into the police system automatically. I would urge that, if we do not want to allow myths to spread about the way in which the police use powers, we must look at those kinds of issues.
Only when individuals within communities have sufficient confidence in their local police service, in the police officers whom they know, will they start to confide their fears and concerns. Only when they have acquired that confidence, only when the police officers concerned have demonstrated their willingness to act on the full range of issues that worry the people of that community and they have shown that they can act appropriately, effectively and, where necessary, with discretion, will more serious matters be raised, such as traditional policing issues about burglary, street crime or anti-social behaviour as well as matters which are directed specifically at that community.
None of that is easy and it takes time—time that those who are under pressure to deliver results in major investigations or indeed in any of the policing key performance indicators will feel that they can ill afford. However, I believe that time is an essential investment. It is certainly not an optional extra. It is essential for the police to demonstrate that they are not fair-weather friends and that they will actively address the wider issues of concern to everyone in those communities. That is essential so that when things go wrong—as they will—there can be a dialogue, a debate, and perhaps an understanding. It is also essential so that the police will have the support and perhaps the information that they need to take forward their work.
My Lords, I, too, want to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for allowing us to debate this absorbing topic and for making a most valuable speech. Both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, whom it is a pleasure to follow, have stated that consent is the centrepiece of our system of policing. That must be so in any democracy; effective policing must be based on consent. There is not much controversy about that, but there is more room for debate when one comes to consider what consent has to be founded on. I shall adapt a famous saying and submit to your Lordships that all policing politics are local. Consent depends on local confidence—much has been made of that already in this debate—confidence born of people’s expectations and perceptions of how the police respond to local things: the relatively small, everyday things that impinge on our lives locally.
I have taken advice on this from within my own county force, and, interestingly, it seems clear that people are much more influenced by what they read in their local newspapers about law and order than by anything they see on the telly or hear on the radio. What matters most to them is how local police respond to local anxieties; the big stuff—the national scene—comes a long way down. You can see why. It is the gang of youths who mug people in your street and your neighbourhood. It is the recurring vandalism to your bus shelter. It is the used syringes chucked into your front garden. Those are the things that can turn you into a depressive commentator on the state of the country and turn you off about the police.
If you start to reckon from your own adverse local experience that the police seem to have little interest in getting after those offenders, it must become all too easy to see the police simply as remote uniforms who, when they impinge on your life, do so only to mess you about. When that attitude manifests itself, it becomes very easy for the police themselves to resent the public whom they are trying to serve, so that you then get what may be described as a state of mutually assured dislike. This may be more widespread than we care to suppose, and it does not exactly make for consent.
Fortunately there is a safeguard and a remedy, and it is not the only one. Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I wish that there were time to develop one or two additional themes, but one can take only one at a time in a debate of this character. This safeguard and remedy lies in the concept of neighbourhood policing, structured at area level and delivered on the ground by locally designated and rooted police community support officers who are given flexibility and wide discretion. At present, I know about these officers only in Kent. I hope that the Minister will have an enthusiastic report to make on them at national level. I will come back to that.
In Kent, PCSOs work like this. Given that their purpose is to enhance public confidence in the police, they need to know where and why local confidence currently exists or is lacking. So, every quarter, a crime and victimisation survey is undertaken by Kent Police headquarters, using a method of sampling that is validated by the Home Office. Each quarter, the findings are made available to each area commander, so that he can tell what the public are thinking about the policing effort in his patch and—perhaps just as importantly—in his colleagues’ patches. Out in the neighbourhoods into which every policing district is divided, the locally designated PCSOs are tasked accordingly in the light of those findings. There are currently just under 400 of them.
Not surprisingly, it is working. The old bugbear of remoteness is being dispatched, and familiarity with the local police is breeding not contempt but confidence and approval. Anti-social behaviour contracts, as distinct from orders, are increasingly showing their practicality. A separate bonus is already developing: with officers gaining a feel for their patch and the residents gaining a confident feel for the PCSOs, a supply of intelligence about local crime and criminality becomes available. That can prove, and occasionally has proved, extremely valuable. And so a circle, not vicious but virtuous, is being created, and there are not too many of those in the criminal justice scene at present.
There is, however, a fly in the ointment. The trouble is that there is insufficient confidence that the basis for the Government’s funding of PCSOs will be sustained. The right reverend Prelate told us of the concerns of the east Midlands police authorities, and there has been a helpful briefing about that. Can the Minister reinforce confidence that the funding will be sustained, or will a higher proportion of the cost of PCSOs be demanded from further efficiency savings or from partnership funding when the latter is restricted by budget deficits in local government? I hope that the Government will give practical evidence today that they can recognise and sustain a good thing when they see it.
My Lords, it is, as always, a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord. I agree with almost everything he said. This is a debate about police arrangements, but, whatever arrangements are made, the first priority must be the maintenance of public trust in the police. On that, I very much agree with the concluding remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. It is on the elusive question of trust, on which so much depends, that I wish to say a few words.
On 25 May, an article in the New York Times quoted a speech by Peter Clarke, the assistant commissioner in charge of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard. The assistant commissioner drew attention to the current lack of trust which, in his view, is endangering the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. He said that it meant that, in terrorism investigations, the police get very little help from the public. They get information, of course, from electronic surveillance and foreign sources, but they get little or no help from local residents. His solution was that the police should be able to tell the public more about the current investigations that they are conducting. He thought that that would do something to restore public confidence in the police. He was critical of the courts for imposing reporting restrictions in recent terrorist cases and especially critical of the court in the trial which followed on Operation Crevice. That was the case, your Lordships will remember, where the police had evidence of a connection between five of the seven defendants and the suicide bombers who were involved in the 7 July atrocity. That evidence could not be made known until after the trial. The assistant commissioner thought that that was regrettable.
The House will not be surprised that I do not agree with the assistant commissioner’s solution. Of course I understand the frustration of the police when they have evidence which cannot be revealed until months or even years later when the trial is completed. But surely a fair trial is the first priority in these cases. There could not have been a fair trial, for example, in the Operation Crevice case if those facts had been revealed before the trial started.
What is the cause of the current lack of trust? A major cause is the sort of case in which I was involved, the Birmingham Six appeal, which revealed the state of corruption then endemic in the West Midlands police. It did a great deal of harm to the public’s trust in the police. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, himself did so much to put that right. I have also been involved in cases that reveal corruption at a much lower level. I remember a case tried at Lewes involving two police officers who were accused of receiving backhanders in return for favours received. They were in fact acquitted, but I was afterwards told on good authority that most police forces have at least one or two corruption investigations running at any given time, which would make up to 100 corruption investigations in the country as a whole.
It may be said that corruption at that level is of no great moment. But that would be quite wrong, because corruption is extremely contagious. It spreads upwards as well as sideways. It is corruption at that level—often referred to in local newspapers, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred—that does so much to destroy public trust in the police.
So what can be done to restore trust at that level? The noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred to leadership at the highest level. He is quite right that that is where leadership is needed. But it is needed also at a much lower level, at the level of the sergeant and the superintendent. It is the sergeant and the superintendent, with whom the newly recruited police officer mixes, who can do most to influence him and his future career. It is they who can and must, at that very early stage, enforce the highest standards. That is the critical moment. If they learn bad ways then, we are indeed in trouble.
The restoration of public trust at that level will become more and more important as more and more powers are given to the police at that level. I have in mind, of course, the conditional caution which the police can now give that enables them to deal with offenders by way of caution on condition of payment of a fine. The Minister will remember how strongly I opposed that, and I still do. That type of power will not work unless the police at the very lowest level have the confidence of the public. That is what we must, if we can, ensure.
My Lords, having spent a year of my life chairing the public inquiry into the professional standards and workplace practices of the Metropolitan Police, I must declare an interest, and I pause to thank my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey for his support at all stages of my inquiry.
Today’s debate takes us to the very heart of the matter of policing in England and Wales. For me, it raises two questions: first, how can we sustain the philosophy of policing by consent and, secondly, what improvements are needed to maintain that philosophy while meeting the needs of communities? In our search for answers, we are fortunate to have in this House the experience and wisdom of a number of noble Lords who served as chief police officers and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for his excellent and informative speech. I am informed that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has been tasked by the Home Secretary to review policing in England and Wales and to report by the end of this year. Nevertheless, while we await Sir Ronnie’s report, we must seek to find answers to the questions that challenge us in this debate.
We know what the challenges are. If we set aside issues about structures that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned, the challenges are the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, which, although falling, remain too high, and the rate of detection, which remains too low. Therefore, we must reduce public fear of crime, build confidence in our communities and create a level of social capital in them. These challenges can be tackled only within a robust and enabling legislative framework that is efficient, transparent, accessible and fair, and includes reform of the criminal justice system.
During my inquiry into the Metropolitan Police, we asked police officers and the public what they wanted from the police service. The public told us that they wanted a citizen-focused service that gave special attention to victims and witnesses; initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour and street disorder; a robust response to robbery from vehicles and drug-related crimes; action to combat serious and organised crime across and within boundaries; and a narrowing of the gap between the number of offences committed and the number brought to justice.
Because police officers must deliver the programme, we asked them what their needs were. They told us that they wanted structural stability—there are too many reviews and inquiries—better leadership and training; the optimum use of science and technology to give them a quicker and more responsive tool for detection; a better deal on occupational health; the modernisation of police regulations and terms and conditions; and better co-ordination between civilian staff and uniformed officers.
So we said, “What about your operational needs?”. Operationally, the Metropolitan Police told us that it wanted a modern police service with the requisite numbers relative to population recruited from the broadest spectrum of the communities that it serves, a commitment to the highest levels of integrity and professional standards within the service, and zero tolerance of corruption. On recruitment, police officers were very clear. They see local recruitment, where possible, building confidence within the community. I recall the words of President Clinton, who said when he was forming his first Administration: “I want my Government to look like America”. I want our police service and all our law enforcement agencies to look like the United Kingdom.
However, citizens, communities and the police can only do so much in the fight against crime. In the end, it is the Government who create the culture, set the agenda, legislate, regulate, determine levels of public accountability and provide the investment. What the police service and we, as citizens, have a right to expect is consistency of approach and joined-up thinking resulting in joined-up policing. We want to see real action in tackling not just crime but also, as we were promised, the causes of crime. Experience has taught us that we cannot reclassify cannabis, extend the licensing hours for alcohol consumption, expand the numbers of gambling casinos and then expect crime to fall. That is a policy for another planet.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted to take part in this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating it. I have to make a confession: as a child, I was distinctly ambivalent about the police. My parents told me that a policeman in uniform was someone to go to if I got lost or needed help but, on the other hand, my brothers put me in the back of their Minis so that I could watch out through the tiny back window in case a policeman was coming up when they were driving too fast. I am happy to say that, by the time I grew up, this ambivalence was resolved in favour of the police.
I should like to speak about two specific areas of police work on which there is little publicity. The first is domestic violence and the second is stranger child abuse, by which I mean paedophilia. In both areas, as I hope your Lordships know, the police do absolutely splendid work, which goes largely unrecognised by the public.
First, until the beginning of this century, domestic violence by a spouse or a partner was not treated seriously by the police or, I am sad to say, by the courts. It was behind closed doors; it was termed a “domestic” and it was thought that it was better not to inquire too closely. Only recently has there been recognition of the enormous damage that domestic violence does to the immediate victim, to the children living in the house and to the community generally. There has been a sea change, at the forefront of which have been the police, with their splendid work in resolving conflict, supporting victims and charging offenders, even when the victim has decided not to pursue the case or has been under pressure from the offender not to pursue it.
This work has been supported by excellent protocol for the Crown Prosecution Service, which was presented by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, on prosecuting domestic violence even without the complainant. There has been excellent co-operation in many areas of the country—I particularly point to the north-west, where the contribution towards dealing with domestic violence has been wonderful. We have been talking about communication and co-operation during the debate; the co-operation between the police, social services, the other agencies and local judges has made a significant difference to the incidence of domestic violence.
I have been to several important conferences—in the United Kingdom and abroad—on domestic violence where the lead speakers have been senior police officers telling, among others, the judges how domestic violence should be dealt with. The police are playing an important and invaluable role in the necessary wake-up call to the public about the seriousness of this behaviour within the family and they are to be congratulated on their work on this seriously unacceptable behaviour, which remains a cancer within society.
The second area I should like to mention is child abuse by strangers: paedophilia, child pornography and chatroom grooming. The Metropolitan Police, aided by the NSPCC campaign to stop child abuse—I have been associated with that as president of one of its charity appeals—has a special unit at New Scotland Yard, which does incredibly useful work for the better protection of children. Work is also going on across the country to track paedophiles, to prosecute them, to support children and their families and to work with local agencies, notably social services.
These unsung contributions made by the police to the public good need to be better known and supported. They need to be treated as part of the core work of police forces in this country. However, we live in a world of cuts in services, and the police are not immune from that. They have, as we have heard today, considerable financial constraints. I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that this work must go on and must be supported financially. I very much hope that future arrangements will be made to protect and enhance this work for the benefit of victims, those at risk of abuse and, most important, for the benefit of local communities and people right across the country. The Minister is well aware of the issues that I have raised and I am confident that she very much supports this work, but it needs to be supported financially in the future.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Baroness. I served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to one of her brothers, out of whose Mini window she must have looked, when he was Attorney-General. So people change.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on initiating this extremely important debate and on his excellent speech. One of the points that he made has been in the public eye this past week; that is, compliance with often inappropriate Home Office targets for arrests, charges, fixed penalty notices and cautions. These problems have rightly been highlighted both by chief constables and by leaders of the Police Federation. Jan Berry, the chair of the federation, put the matter succinctly. She said:
“This target-orientated culture is damaging the Police Service, corrupting our relationship with communities, and eroding the use of discretion and common sense”.
This is very much in the Minister’s field, since I imagine that she has almost personal responsibility in this area. I am sure that she is concerned and doing something about it, as I hope she will tell us. Examples have been given by my noble friend Lord Waddington and others about silly charges: overzealous pruning by a 70-year old woman; children arrested over toy pistols; a retired brigadier bullied into accepting a caution so that he could catch a train; 540 detailed inquiries over a single possible charity fraud by a young person to get 540 offences on to the target lists; and the changing of a charge of being drunk and disorderly into one of harassment, alarm and distress, to get the offence on to the violent crime register.
Each of these points requires genuine judgment by the police. It has been one of the great traditions of the police service and one of its great strengths—it largely still is—that police officers show tact, common sense and a sense of proportion in their dealings with the public. The sad thing is that targets of this sort, unless they are very carefully explained and monitored, corrupt the system.
My other key point concerns something that I had hoped the resources of the Home Office, its excellent legal advisers and the Minister with her long experience would have prevented from happening in the first place; it is an example of where government has not been joined up in the way that this Government and all Governments would rightly wish. The system is acting contrary to the principles that underlie the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the whole prosecuting system. As Lord Shawcross said in a statement that must be known to every Crown prosecutor and every Minister in the Home Office, when you prosecute, it is not only a matter of evidence; it is essential that the prosecution should also be in the public interest. That sometimes arises in high-profile issues at national and international levels, but equally it raises important issues about ordinary people in everyday, sometimes minor offences for which prosecution is heavy-handed and inappropriate—the police normally recognise that.
The Code for Crown Prosecutors—and I looked at it again this morning—is absolutely explicit that these principles apply to police officers. They apply more and more, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, pointed out, as we entrust police officers with greater powers and greater flexibility on the ground and in the street. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us, because this has been in the public domain for at least a fortnight, what is happening in the Home Office to correct something that plainly has been going wrong and is distorting the system, which I hope will shortly and transparently be put right.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Dear on obtaining this important debate at this time and salute him for the breadth and wisdom in his most excellent opening speech.
Like other noble Lords, I suspect, one’s interest in the subject is born out of personal experience. I have had a certain amount of practical experience over the years as a member of the Army working very closely with the police, especially in Northern Ireland but also in the United Kingdom. I have always regretted that the 1969 injection of the Army into Northern Ireland by the then Government was not to be the Army to do the Army's role in support of the police and then hand the situation back but was, as it were, to be the police on the streets instead. The clear distinction between the two roles was never satisfactorily resolved.
When I was commanding my battalion in 1974, based in the Springfield Road police station in West Belfast—where, incidentally, the CID commander was one Chief Inspector Flanagan, who is now the Chief Inspector of Constabulary—I was conscious that we as soldiers were not good policemen and that the training and reaction of police to events was very different from our motivation. Not having police in those areas who were acceptable to the public left a distinct void that needed to be filled.
I was very taken by the fact that a young captain of mine retired from the regiment and became a community constable because he felt that his military experience enabled him to contribute hugely to the community and that he could, perhaps, be someone in whom the community had confidence. Five years later, I spent a day with him when he was still a constable in one of the big White City blocks built for the first Olympic Games. I saw the relationship between him and the 5,000 families in that area, which he had built up over time. That set me thinking about the fact that the people performing that role with the community need to be very different people—motivated, trained and left for a time—from those who do some of the other tasks about which we have been speaking.
When I was commanding the field Army, we dealt a lot with all the police in the country, but I remember one incident when we were trying to follow a drugs team based in Aldershot but which had links up to Sunderland. Trying to follow the team through the country was almost impossible, because we discovered that different police forces in different parts of the country had different radio frequencies. Some had drugs teams; some did not. That set me thinking that there needs to be a better system to look after what one might call national, as opposed to community policing.
That takes me back to 1962, when I was a student at the staff college. One of the set books that we were given to read was the Royal Commission on the Police. I have always been taken by the dissenting verdict, the memorandum of dissent, by Dr AL Goodhart, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to whom we listen often in this House. I should like to cite just four points from it, because they have always seemed to me to be at the heart of some of the tensions that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned. Dr Goodhart said that he regretted that he could not sign the report because he was,
“convinced that it is essential to establish a centrally controlled police force, administered on a regional basis”.
Secondly, he stated:
“Perhaps the chief obstacle in the search for a practical solution to the police problem is found in ‘a certain historical sentimentality’”,
not willing to make change. Thirdly, he stated:
“The Commission has done a notable service by refuting the argument that a national police force, whether organised on a regional basis or a unitary one, would be either constitutionally objectionable or politically dangerous”.
That is an interesting argument about those objections. Finally, he stated:
“It has been suggested that the recent dictatorships on the Continent ought to be a warning against the establishment of a strong, centrally-controlled police force here. I believe that the lesson is the exact opposite. The danger in a democracy does not lie in a central police that is too strong, but in local police forces that are too weak”.
I focus on that because it refers to the tensions to which the noble Lord, Lord Dear, drew attention. The high end, if you like—the national and international crime solution—requires a particular type of policing and of police person that lends itself to the fast-track approach, with people put in position to play a role in that as early as possible, so that their skills can be maximised. That may be very different from the low, local end, the bit that gets the confidence of the public and requires someone like my captain, who is there for a time and establishes confidence. That is why the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is so timely. We have just had the Ministry of Justice formed, which is taking on part of the oversight of the criminal justice system, but crime prevention and policing remain in the Home Office. There may well be a tension there as well. I hope that resulting from everything that has been said in this debate, the Minister will realise that there is now an opportunity to do something to resolve those tensions, because both aspects of the policing spectrum need to be covered—as well as the all-important middle ground.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for having given the House the opportunity to hold this debate today. In particular, I thank him for what I thought was an outstandingly incisive and analytical speech. If I may say so, he seems to me to characterise the enlightened professionalism that is increasingly evident in some of the best leadership of the police.
Context, perspective and purpose are beginning to be seen as vital, not least in police training. It is still too early to assess the impact of that training on the overall culture of the police, but there are indications that those whose early training includes study at centres of higher education or in universities are starting to be recognised not as softies, but as people who will contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the police. The days of any tendency towards the closed circuit of institutionalised traditional practice—dare I say, sometimes indoctrination?—are, I hope, numbered.
The magnitude and complexity of the task facing the police has been rightly emphasised by the Home Secretary—stretching, as it does, from work in the community to the immense challenges of international terrorism and modern, sophisticated, international, large-scale crime. I am one of those who is totally convinced that for the police to be successful, working with the community is essential. There must be a dynamic, positive relationship between police and society. Community support for what the police are doing is indispensable. There is a key need for the constable as the familiar friend of the neighbourhood. Top-down authoritarianism will not work or deliver. Often, the police themselves understand that better than politicians and too much of the media.
Stability and security must be painstakingly built. That involves a lot of hard work. There is no substitute for visibility, accessibility and transparency. Of course, from time to time, there will be bad eggs or serious mistakes. I hope that the police themselves are beginning to understand that the principle of an independent commission to investigate things that go wrong and to help them to learn lessons is a great asset for them, as it helps their relationship with the general public. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, emphasised a very important point, with which I have a great deal of sympathy; the police must be accountable to the law. I hope he will agree, however, that the complexity of the situation is that they must be accountable to the law while at the same time feeling that they belong to the community and the community feels that the police belong to it.
How does all this apply to terrorism and large-scale crime? Surely, the support of the community is absolutely crucial to winning the battle against terrorism. What assists terrorists is widespread ambivalence in society. People may condemn terrible things when they happen but do not feel that it is their primary responsibility to help the police to find the culprits because they believe that, however wrong the actions may have been, the perpetrators may be on their side. In such a context, the relationship that the police have built with the community is, again, crucial. My noble friend Lord Harris made the point very well that one or two ill judged operations without that relationship can be counter-productive and do untold harm, thereby playing into the hands of the terrorists.
My last point is simply this. I hope that our police service will feel that it has the full support of this House, and of the public in general, in seeing its role as defending justice. We talk a lot about the Human Rights Act and human rights, but people are not expected to do things because they are required by the Human Rights Act; the Human Rights Act is a way of underwriting the pieces that are necessary and that make up a just society. What is a just society? It is fairness. It is trials that are perceived to be fair, with intercept evidence being used if it is crucial to the action being taken, a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, frequently makes so well. It is justice not only being done but always being seen to be done. It is habeas corpus. These are the things that make for fairness and the perception of fairness. In the battle against terrorism, they are absolutely crucial. The greater the temptation to take short-cuts or to dispense with them, the greater the danger of playing into the hands of the extremists.
It is no accident that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, to whom I listened very carefully, referred several times to the police service when he introduced the debate. To sum up an awful lot of what we are saying and feeling, we want a police service, not a police force.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this important debate and on his masterly introduction. In my very short contribution, I draw on my experience as a member of the West Midlands Police committee, first as an elected member and then a few years later as a magistrate. Both gave me an understanding of police operations at that time. I was fortunate to serve at the same time as two chief constables who are now members of your Lordships’ House; the noble Lords, Lord Knights and Lord Dear. It was a privilege to work with both of them, as both periods had their difficulties and challenges.
In recent years, there has been a great drive in magistrates’ courts, and indeed in every sphere of life, to centralise decisions and take them away from local people. The motto seems to be, “Big is beautiful and much more efficient”. I query both views, and believe that it is always a mistake to take local people out of the loop and expect them to implement those decisions when they have not been at their birth. Change is always a challenge and has to be managed so as to influence and to take the maximum number of people with it. My worry is that, by removing local people, a lack of trust will develop. Any changes in either the number of personnel in police forces or the roles that they cover will be viewed suspiciously without real consultation, and will not only antagonise many people but will not be accepted by the community. I dislike anything that hints of regional government, so naturally I was delighted when the Government decided not to proceed with the merger of some police forces. However, although I do not favour combining forces, it does seem eminently sensible to collaborate on some of the services that need specialised expertise and, where possible, to encourage co-operation and collaboration between forces for specific activities.
The unnecessary burdens placed on the police force are not only structural but substantive. At a time when the Home Office’s own figures show that officers spend only 14 per cent of their time actually on patrol, and that only one in 58 police officers patrols the streets at any time, is it not increasingly clear that bureaucracy is holding the police back, as many noble Lords have said? Sadly, however, there is no evidence that Her Majesty’s Government have taken advice from my own party and others to reduce paperwork, to employ more technology and to modernise workforces to improve efficiency. On the contrary, we learnt a few weeks ago that the police are now expected to caution and arrest people for so-called “offences” such as possession of an egg with intent to throw. Surely, we can all accept that this is simply, to use an old-fashioned phrase, a waste of police time. Whatever the future holds, I hope that we will not throw the baby out with the bath water but will build on what works. It is so important to conserve the principles that have made our police service so respected throughout the world.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Dear on an excellent speech that had the benefit of taking place after our Whitsun break. That gave me the chance to talk to a number of people who are either serving or involved in the management of different police forces. It also made me realise once again just how easy it is to take for granted the vital role that the police play, not only in maintaining law and order but in upholding this country’s far wider democratic values.
One thing is inevitable; the chill wind that constantly blows, and will continue to blow, on all public service budgets, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said. Future plans for policing must therefore be judged against the background of a lack of additional resources. Equally clearly, however, the new demands on the police are considerable, and others will continue to emerge. My first point is therefore blunt and simple; public funds for a highly, and increasingly widely needed, skilled police force must remain a spending priority. Thankfully, further education and training in the police remains to a great extent the responsibility of local forces and is increasingly linked with universities.
My second point is equally simple but no less important. It is the plea, which reaches one from every quarter of our police forces, for a period of freedom, so far as possible, from undue and avoidable change. Surely further improvement in performance, which is a real need, should be attainable without round after round of additional institutional upheaval. The same is true for the law itself.
It was Tacitus who first said of the Roman Empire that formerly,
“we suffered from crimes. Today we suffer from laws”.
As Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police, said to me, it is very challenging for officers to keep pace with changes. Apparently, 1,500 pieces of new legislation in the past 10 years have affected it. She quoted one very revealing example; namely, the new police power to enter and search the homes of sex offenders for risk assessment. The required procedure was so detailed and restricted that, in practice, a registered sex offender will be given two chances to get rid of any high-risk items. Even then, if any are eventually found, there may well be no right to seize them. She said that this kind of legislation may not be a bad thing in itself, but it builds in huge complexity of policy and procedures for a very modest gain. Incidentally, I am glad to say that seven of the 43 chief constables are women, which is considerably higher than in the FTSE 100 index—so I am expecting great improvements as a result of that alone. That is just one example of the growing pressures on those who are working at the top level and, as has been suggested, is probably one reason why in some police forces applications for vacant jobs posts are noticeably fewer. I am afraid that that is in no way surprising if one bears in mind the hugely increased bureaucratic burden.
Already some police forces are taking on older, more widely experienced recruits who have relevant skills and expertise which were developed in an earlier career. Fast streaming and the sort of indications that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, are clearly important too. Pushing this point to the limit, would it be too controversial to suggest opening even the job of chief constable to a non-policeman?
I turn to one aspect of my own career. In my early days as an inner London juvenile court magistrate in the early 1960s, the police still had the role of taking any youngster who they found truanting straight back to school. I wish that they still played that part, because now that it is left to the social services to bring proceedings, very little happens until an inevitable offence takes place. By the time the court asks about the young offender’s school record, a pattern of truancy is well and truly established.
The Government have acknowledged the popularity with the public of the shift from the first phase of their reforms—the “centralising” phase—to the second “localist” approach. They have said:
“The main thrust of our reforms is to pass power from the political centre to local citizens and communities”.
The problem is that this is not yet seen to be happening sufficiently. Yet this is the central theme of the Offender Management Bill on which your Lordships have also been working this week and on which the Minister has been working even harder. End-to-end management of each offender must, by definition, include the police at local level in the many voluntary and statutory partnerships involved in finding the best way to prevent an offender’s return, but the police are hardly mentioned in that Bill.
Concentrating resources with such partners on rehabilitating “prolific and persistent” young offenders must be a key priority. A superintendent from Mercia police pointed out that this 20 per cent of offenders causes 80 per cent of the crime and—no doubt these figures overlap—80 per cent of “acquisitive crime” is to feed drug and club habits. Surely, there would be some efficiency savings if only half that number could be rehabilitated. Crime prevention is equally important. Giving maximum support to deprived and vulnerable families when their children are very young will minimise the risk of reoffending. The police have a vital role here, too.
Citizens rightly want more police on the streets. The community policing initiative is popular, but it is grossly under-resourced. Police with leadership and communication skills need to be visible in schools and local community centres, and as partners in running local activities. I am glad to say that in some areas this is happening. Certainly, they need to have authority and be respected, but they also need to be seen as normal human beings, as members of the community who are approachable by children and adults alike, and be able to build the trust about which my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick spoke.
At the same time, in today’s world there is an equally clear need for us all to be involved in the prevention of crime and the rehabilitation of the offender and for us not to back away if we are asked to stand up and be counted, to be a witness. Just how well those words coincide with the central message of Sir Robert Peel’s classic observation:
“The public are the police and the police are the public”.
My Lords, I must first declare two interests: I am president of the Association of Police Authorities and chair of the Security Industry Authority, but the views I express in this debate will be personal and will in no way represent the official views of either body. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing this debate and on setting out so clearly the growing range of pressures facing the policing service. I shall start with good news and positive achievements, then spell out what I see as two or three major challenges that need to be met sooner rather than later and end, as is my wont, on an optimistic note.
Neighbourhood policing, where it is locally embedded and based on a clear ward model, as it is in London and Lancashire, and, as we heard from the noble Lord on the Benches opposite, in Kent, is working well. Residents are keen to express their appreciation and will readily admit that the local policing team, which usually includes beat officers and a couple of community support officers, are doing an excellent job. In Lancashire, local beat officers hold monthly meetings with ward residents, which are advertised in the local press and through newsletters, to discuss what should be police priorities for action in the next four weeks and whether there are any particular issues which need tackling around nuisance or anti-social behaviour. These PACT—police and community together—meetings have been a great success. They help the police and residents have a much clearer appreciation of how the police work and what they can do.
A further development in Lancashire has been the formation of multi-agency teams at district council level to focus on common problems or on particular families or individuals, whose anti-social behaviour or drug habit is a cause of concern, not just to the police, but to housing agencies, social services and the Probation Service. These multi-agency problem solving teams—MAPS—look at issues across the district and work together to focus resources where they are needed, which maximises the performance of individual local council services and local policing.
So far so good: this model of neighbourhood policing works. The public want it and the Government, in conjunction with police forces, plan to introduce it across the country. But—there is a big but—it is resource intensive and a small force will struggle to provide good local policing on this scale, effective response to a range of incidents across its area and be able to play its part in counterterrorism activity. Such a range of national and local demands is bound to have an effect on force resilience and force budgets—even quite large forces—as inspectors of police have been reporting recently.
Therefore, the first challenge has to be: can the present 43-force structure deliver what the Government want and what local people want? In my view, the answer is no. I was last year, and remain this year, unrepentantly a firm supporter of the concept of strategic forces. They should be big enough to tackle level 2 crime and to deliver effective protective policing and liaise closely with SOCA, but they should be structured in such a way as to be able to deliver good neighbourhood policing.
I am well aware that it will not be easy to move from where we are now to where we need to be, but the range of collaborative partnerships established between forces in the past few months could, I believe, pave the way to my vision of around 20 strategic forces. We would already have one in place now were it not for the national straitjacket in which local government finance has to operate.
Herein lies the second challenge, which was clearly spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Dear; namely, to reconcile the Home Office's avowed aim,
“of reshaping the police service to become more citizen-focused and responsive, to reflect the needs and expectations of individuals and local communities in decision making and service delivery”,
with the reality that police authorities at present are powerless to deliver that. Every year, police authorities have the task of consulting local residents about the level of police community charge they think would be appropriate for the coming year and on local police objectives. Would local people like to see more officers or a strengthening of the force’s response policing capability? Are they prepared to pay more police precept, and if so, up to how much extra per week or month? Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of residents are consulted, and invariably people are willing to pay up to 20 per cent and more in return for an improved service. But police authorities are told by the Home Office that the Government will not countenance rises above 5 per cent, even though the police precept accounts for only around 8 or 9 per cent of local council tax. So much for local flexibility and the ability to shape and develop local policing, and so much for what local people want.
Last year Lancashire and Cumbria were not even able to merge to form a strategic force, at that time an avowed objective of the Government, because Lancashire needed to raise its police precept over two or three years to the level of Cumbria’s, and the Government could not promise that in the process it would not be capped. If we really mean what we say about the importance of local accountability, and I do, this has to include local financial accountability and flexibility.
That brings me to another challenge, that of local accountability. At present, police authorities operating at force level hold the force to account through its senior management team. Many authorities have input at divisional level, and soon local overview and scrutiny committees will be able to look at the performance of community safety partnerships. I believe that the current system works. The police authority acts as a non-executive body operating in a non-party political, efficient and non-partisan way. But as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, noted and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has confirmed, the party opposite is now committed to introducing directly elected police commissioners to exercise this role. I have to say that I am not clear whether a county the size of Lancashire would have one commissioner or one for each of the 14 districts, but what I do know is that elections to such a post would politicise policing hugely, and greatly to its detriment. And what, in the end, could the police commissioner deliver? He or she could not fire chief constables, as they do in the United States. They could not raise extra local resources, as I have said, and they would have to recruit a big team of non-elected assistants or pseudo-specialists to help them to achieve the level of managerial accountability that is already being exercised by police authorities. I do not see that proposal as being a meaningful or effective answer to any of the challenges facing policing.
Let me finish on a positive note. There are more police officers out there than ever before—more than 140,000. There are also more than twice that number of security guards and people working in the private security industry. What we need is for the police and people working in private security to work together more effectively to enhance public protection and drive down crime. Some exciting projects are currently taking shape to achieve this. The one I should like to mention is Project Griffin, which was originally a scheme involving the City of London Police and the business sector in the City. It has now been running for three years and involves the police briefing private security guards about counterterrorism issues and threats, current crime trends and relevant local information. It gives the police a large number of extra eyes and ears out in the streets and provides extra cover in an emergency. More than 5,000 guards have been involved so far, and they protect more than 500 buildings. No wonder the scheme has spread from London to 13 other big cities, and to Scotland, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere. Other such schemes are now being developed by the British Transport Police, among others. If these and similar partnerships can be developed to give the police additional human and material resources to draw on, and if the police role can be clearly defined and there is adequate local and national finance to support it, within a strategic force structure, I think that many of the challenges facing policing can be successfully met.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on introducing this very interesting debate, which gives me the chance to talk about roads policing, an area of policing in which I am qualified and still involved. It is also an area of policing which is overlooked by many. ACPO’s strategy on roads policing is as follows: denying criminals the use of the road by enforcing the law; reducing road casualties; tackling the threat of terrorism; reducing anti-social use of the roads; and enhancing public confidence and reassurance by patrolling the roads.
Roads policing officers are highly trained to observe drivers and their vehicles and, together with automatic number plate recognition, they are much more likely to stop a criminal on the road than an officer who is not so trained. It will not surprise your Lordships that criminals regularly travel from A to B by car, and are therefore liable to be stopped, leading to search procedures and arrest by a roads policing officer. There is that old saying:
“Most drivers aren’t criminals, but most criminals drive”.
Perhaps it is due to cost implications or how priorities are set by the Government that roads policing numbers are in danger of melting away. It may also be partly due to the opinion of many people who think that traffic officers are there only to stop people exceeding the speed limit. They are not. Perhaps people should not complain about safety cameras when they catch only people who are committing an offence. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, said that cameras are there only to catch those who are committing the offence of speeding. That is absolutely right. Inappropriate speed can kill. It has been suggested that the Department for Transport is not as powerful and influential as the Home Office and is unable to persuade chief officers to reverse the growing trend of cutting traffic police numbers and focus on casualty reduction. The Home Office determines crime priorities, and so much rests on achievement at all costs.
I have been told that policing is getting pushed and shoved about with targets set to measure performance, yet in so doing, lots of common sense and discretion is being lost. The national crime recording system is inflexible and too rigid. We allow the police to do their job independent of politics by public consent, and we must never forget the bond of trust that must exist for officers to earn the respect of the communities they serve.
Intelligence-based information highlighted three wards in Hackney as being the Met’s hotspots for fail to stop collisions—and that is 24 per cent of collisions. The Motor Insurance Bureau also highlighted these areas because crime analysis showed them also to be crime hotspots. In a period of only four weeks, more than 1,800 uninsured vehicles were seized and 290 people arrested for a whole range of criminal offences. But one of the difficulties encountered when seizing vehicles is finding a secure pound into which they can be placed. This has shown that lack of resources make such operations difficult in many other areas of the country.
Can my noble friend advise me when offences such as drink or drug driving, and driving while disqualified, will be included in the “offences brought to justice” group which includes thefts of, say, a pedal cycle or a Kit Kat? Which has the more serious implication? Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the traffic officer will not get credit for arresting a driver for many offences, whereas the officer arresting someone for stealing a Kit Kat will. That seems total madness to me. Perhaps my noble friend would also like to address the problem of drugs. If Parliament determines a drug to be illegal, why is it okay to drive while under the influence of such a drug unless the police can prove impairment as a direct cause of the incident?
Transport Select Committee reports and the Audit Commission document, Changing Lanes, have highlighted the need for roads policing and the technology to support it, but nothing seems to impact on the need for chief constables to have meaningful roads policing targets. Until this changes, we will witness the malaise that currently exists. Chief constables will still treat it as a secondary issue and more people will lose their lives or be seriously injured on the roads.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is brought in when there is a road death or other circumstances in which police drivers are thought to be involved. If blue lights and sirens are used, a driver being ordered to stop is committing an offence in failing to do so—something the IPCC rarely brings to the fore when issuing press statements. If it does, then the press is at fault for not including it in their reports. I very much hope that an offence of “aggravated failure to stop” can be put on the statute book to demonstrate the true responsibility when a pursuit ends in a collision.
Roads policing is not a bolt-on to mainstream policing but should be seen as a core business. Perhaps consideration should be given to forming a national roads policing service similar to the British Transport Police set up for the railways. If chief constables are unable to agree a corporate approach, then let us have one force for the lot. After all, we do not have any argument with the BTP and its policing of the railways, so why not take a leaf out of its book?
Motorways are used extensively by criminals, but due in part to the introduction of Highways Agency traffic officers, they are not being patrolled to the same extent as in the past. The criminals know this—most of them are not stupid—and a national road policing service would therefore be beneficial.
Going out on traffic patrol on a regular basis shows me what is actually happening at the sharp end and the expertise of those officers dedicated to road policing. In many cases reality is more relevant than theory, I tend to think, but I am sure there are those who would disagree with me. If reducing road deaths, reducing casualties, improving driver standards and behaviour and enforcing compliance are important, then the Government need to tell the people that they are important, set real, challenging targets and hold chief officers to account for delivering roads policing.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for securing the debate.
When police patrols began in 19th-century London, today’s complex challenges were unimaginable; in particular, terrorism. I thank the security services for their constant vigil against the continuing terrorist threat. I acknowledge the Metropolitan Police and all of the emergency services, Transport for London, Tube Lines, Metronet and, not least, the British Transport Police for their tremendous efforts immediately following the London bombings.
The Government and others have worked hard since that July to improve our preparedness for unforeseen events. For instance, the business organisation which I lead, London First, together with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, has prepared a booklet, Expecting the Unexpected, now distributed nationwide to businesses. As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said earlier, police experts in the City and the Met now regularly train company heads of security in counter-terrorism techniques under project Griffin. The Government are also working on an incident information cascade to deliver all businesses accurate information, quickly, with which to advise their staff. Such arrangements are welcome; the sooner the better.
Business wants policing characterised by more personal interaction and collaboration. Business leaders want to work with senior police colleagues to design innovative solutions to shared problems. They want to support the police by working together to develop management solutions; by providing intelligence to outwit criminals; and by receiving advice on changing business practices to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. Business people also want their staff to be safe. They are ready to work with their competitors and local police to ensure that local neighbourhoods are places in which people want to work and live.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned police leadership. Several years ago, London First set up a police-business leadership exchange programme, encouraging joint mentoring between senior police and business people to share best leadership and management practice. Similar programmes are now starting in West Midlands, South Wales and West Yorkshire. One example of more than 100 is in south London, where the pairing between the area manager at Royal Mail and the local Metropolitan Police business manager has resulted in postmen and women, street-cleaners and park attendants acting as extra eyes and ears for the police.
Another initiative is ShopWatch, where retail staff are trained as special constables and join police patrols twice a month. More mutual understanding between retailers and police officers is in itself a good thing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it also reduces retail crime. Similar schemes operate in other sectors, including banks and universities. Campus Watch, for instance, has served to reduce the fear of crime among university students.
These initiatives demonstrate how business and police can work effectively together, yet there remains more to do. Excellent progress has been made in rolling out safer neighbourhood teams across the capital. People want to see police officers in their local community who are responsive to local issues. But, when visiting the office of my local safer neighbourhood team, I found it open only from 11 until two, with no telephone contact number outside office hours—and that is in the middle of the day, not in the middle of the night when it might have been busier.
Sometimes business crime is considered victimless, almost invisible. It is neither. With shoplifting, for example, new villains are blooded with perceived “soft targets” and, where that funds drug habits, bigger crimes will follow; staff face violence and abuse; crime prevention costs are passed on to customers; and measures such as bars on windows repel would-be customers. All of this damages competitiveness and makes neighbourhoods feel unsafe. It can even cost jobs.
As to the so-called white collar crime, the Association of Chief Police Officers recently estimated the cost of fraud to the economy as between £14 billion and £20 billion per year, at worst just £1 billion less than the contribution of the entire financial services industry. I welcome the recent announcement that the City of London Police will take the national lead on fraud.
Fraud is no longer simply a crime against business. As technology in personal banking increases, so, too, does criminal opportunity. Individuals are now direct targets for fraudsters. Police and financial services already work together in the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, but a wider effort from police, government and business is needed to protect us all.
Finally, I should like to make an unorthodox plea for more statistics. The lack of accurate data on business crime contributes to the problem appearing invisible. The British Crime Survey does not collect information on business crime. The inelegantly titled Commercial Victimisation Survey has been carried out only twice—in 1994 and 2002. We need robust evidence, annually collated, of the scale and impact of business crime. After all, what gets measured usually gets done.
The Metropolitan Police’s stated objective is to make London the safest city in the world. Good. But how is progress towards this objective being measured? As far as I am aware, the only agreed benchmark between cities is the homicide rate, and based on this we are neither worst nor best. All business leaders recognise the need for clear objectives, but they must be measurable. Then we all will be able to say categorically whether policing works in the capital.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for securing the debate. I have known the noble Lord since his days as Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, followed by his services as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. Our paths have crossed on a number of very complex inquiries and I value his friendship as well as his judgment.
The governance of policing goes to the core of our civic society. It is the culmination of a history that has taken hundreds of years to play out in balancing the interests of the state against those of the citizen. The creation of police forces is only at the relatively recent end of this spectrum, but policing by consent is an absolutely fundamental rule of our society. This is also the envy of the world.
The police have to have the confidence of the community from which they derive their authority. Without this confidence, effective policing is not sustainable. Primarily, we have done this by ensuring that the police are accountable to the public they serve. In recent years we have also placed increasing emphasis on being responsive to public need and to ensuring that police have common cause with the communities they serve by being reflective of their make up. In essence, the present tripod consists of public accountability, operational independence and the balance of power, the factors so ably described by Lord Scarman in his report on Brixton disorder in the 1980s.
Certain aspects of the current criminal justice system are not working. The public certainly perceive that they are not working well enough. There is a widespread feeling that victims are ignored; there are worries that alcohol-related disorder, especially, has made many city centres no-go areas at night; there are concerns about criminalising children through gun and gang crime and about the way in which the system then treats them, both as perpetrators and as victims; and there is the concern that prisons and police cells are full to bursting. Add to this list the still adversarial relationship between police and the black and ethnic minority community.
There have been a number of royal commissions on the police, mostly concerned with structures, the last one in 1960. However, the key question is still to be answered: what kind of police service do we really want? Let us admit that there is much that works well and no evidence of widespread failure in governance, but there are elements that could be improved and strengthened. There are new threats to our security that we must be equipped to deal with, but it must not threaten the fundamental principles of policing by consent and its implications on rights and liberties of the individuals.
What we have at the moment is one of those British hybrids that have grown up over time in response to events and experience. It recognises that in this country policing is still organised round local forces, not centred on national structures, yet is linked to national imperatives. This has the benefit of enabling local interests and local styles to be reflected in how policing operates. The key players in this structure are the chief constable, the local police authority and the Home Secretary, with the interests and powers of all three being balanced against the others. There are weaknesses in the system. Police authorities are sometimes criticised for being invisible and undemocratic or for being the weak arm of the tripartite relationship, with perhaps rather less power than either the chief constables or the Home Secretary.
It is important that people know and understand how the system works, that there is transparency in how accountability operates and that they know who to contact about what. Police authorities could do more to raise their profile to ensure that their role is understood, but that needs to be done with great care. It should not detract from ensuring that the police themselves are more visible, because we know that that is what people really want.
The argument that police authorities are undemocratic is not wholly justified. Authorities retain democratic links, as the majority of their members are local councillors appointed according to the political balance in that area. Of course they also have independent and, at least until next year, magistrate members, which means that they can represent a wide range of local people and develop links to the rest of the criminal justice system.
We could perhaps look at that democratic link again, but caution needs to be exercised in doing so. A key strength of police authorities is that they cannot be dominated by one political party—that protects the police from political interference. There are good reasons why policing was taken out of direct council control in the 1990s. There is perhaps more value to the perception that police authorities do not have enough power to stand up to the other two tripartite partners on an equal basis.
My own experience—I have been a member of a police authority and of the Police Complaints Authority—is that the situation varies across the country. In part it is down to the resources that authorities are prepared to devote to strengthening their own effectiveness. Although they decide how much of the police budget to give to the force, most authorities feel under enormously strong pressure to prioritise police requirements over their own and ensure that as many police as possible are on the streets. But there is also a balance to be struck to ensure that authorities are able to effectively do their job of holding the chief officer to account, because it is an important one. Police authorities are corporate bodies, and we should exercise caution in proposals about a single commissioner to do the job, the proposal so rightly demolished by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and the noble Baroness, Lady Henig.
I shall add my concerns as well. The proposal for a single commissioner would give too much room for overt political interference and influence in the police. It risks the polarisation or marginalisation of views, and could have most unwelcome effects on community cohesion in certain parts of the country. It would put a lot of power in the hands of a single individual, and a four-year election cycle would be a long time in which to use it badly.
The current system has real advantages. It guards against the politicisation of policing and ensures that no one individual can become too powerful. However, we live in an ever-changing world. There are now significant threats from terrorism, and the way in which the police are governed needs to keep up with those. That could have wide-ranging impacts, varying from an increasingly national and international focus through to very local levels, where inappropriate responses to terrorist threats could have a detrimental effect on particular communities and on the very basis of consent on which the whole edifice is built.
Police leadership, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, is crucial, but there is a mismatch of supply and demand for senior posts, which needs to be addressed urgently. Police authorities are directly responsible for recruiting the most senior officers in the force and they should remain so, as they are best placed to understand the needs and style appropriate to local communities. Since these officers will lead the force, it is important that a diverse pool is available for authorities to select the skills and attributes that are best for the local policing requirement. It is not good enough to have someone at the head of the force who is a competent operational commander but lacks business management experience. Recruitment could be widened to senior executives who are not serving police officers.
At the other end of the scale, police community support officers are a valuable resource that enables forces to address both ends of the crime spectrum efficiently. They are critical to the success of neighbourhood policing, which is rightly a key policing focus. With fewer powers, PCSOs are less likely to be abstracted from communities to deal with more serious crime. The success of the PCSOs’ recruitment should be applied to police officers, to ensure that they are more reflective of the population they serve.
I have mentioned in passing some of the key functions for which police authority members are responsible, but there are many more. They need to ensure that they have access to independent advice on accounts, statistics, HR, law, community engagement and a host of other things; otherwise, they cannot be sure that they are asking the right questions to challenge their force effectively.
The Government must also support the checks and balances required in this exercise. Instead of underplaying their importance or treating them as an afterthought, they must consider how they can assist authorities to better resource not just effective policing, but also effective governance. Following the Macpherson report and the CRE’s investigations, there is evidence that compliance with diversity legislation is still very problematic. That affects the authority’s duty to set the style and culture of policing. Police have made significant advances, but they still fall short of reflecting the community they serve. The Minister shares my concern on this issue. I should add that the black and ethnic minority community cannot opt out of this process; they have a significant role to play as well.
We have been told that Sir Ronnie Flanagan has been asked to undertake a review. I hope that the first thing the Minister will do tomorrow is pass him a copy of today’s Hansard so that he can read the reflections of this House.
My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for initiating this very important debate. All sides of the House will agree with so much of what the noble Lord has said. He reminded us of the tripartite responsibilities shared between the chief constable, the chairman of the police authority and the Home Secretary, but, as he rightly pointed out, the gravitational pull has in recent years moved towards the centre.
During the debate last year about the amalgamation of police forces, so wisely abandoned by the present Home Secretary, I was able to meet a team of representatives of several forces, usually the chairman of the police authority and the chief constable. They put their case with impressive clarity, and I was struck then by the strong local identity that this partnership is capable of providing. That local identity has been the subject of many remarks today. However, if the police forces are going to loosen their centralised ties, they must be accountable to someone. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, has expressed his misgivings about elected commissioners. My noble friend Lord Waddington has made the case for such an election, but impressive cases against have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Dholakia.
I thought the House should be aware that my right honourable friend David Cameron said in his address to the Police Federation last month that, in his view, police authorities as presently constituted are too weak and too invisible—how many people know the name of the chairman of their own police authority?—to exercise local accountability. He set out his plan to replace them with directly elected commissioners, rather than police chiefs, who will answer to the communities.
As I said, the merger of police forces has been abandoned, at least for the time being. However, there is no question that there must be a centrally directed body to fight high-level, sophisticated crime. As my noble friend Lady Seccombe said, we would very much welcome the middle way: sharing facilities, back-office and forensic. It would be cost-effective and free up members of the forces for front-line duties. The forces in Surrey, Sussex and Kent and the five forces in the east Midlands, on which many of us will have received a very good brief, have shown welcome progress in combining resources. However, I think that it is generally accepted—this is in defence of the then Home Secretary—that there has hitherto been more than a little inertia in pursuing those sharing initiatives. Chief constables are naturally jealous guardians of their fiefdoms. We would like to see a statutory requirement for taking forward those initiatives in sharing facilities.
Several noble Lords referred to the bureaucracy with which police forces are encumbered. The Home Office study that my noble friend Lord Waddington quoted showed that an average officer spends almost as much time in the police station as out of it during his shift, and less than one fifth of his time on the beat. The Government have made a welcome start in simplifying the form-filling, but I invite the Minister to support the Government’s claim that nearly 9,000 forms have been made obsolete.
Perhaps I may refer to an experience that I underwent last week. Having emerged from a transatlantic flight, I was driving down the M3 and found myself following a fully marked police car at 90 mph. On being invited to give an explanation, I said that I was hurrying to open my garden as one of several in the village for the benefit of the church. The officer with whom I was speaking said that he was not totally impressed by that but that he was on his way to visit a family who had recently lost a son in a motor accident and he regarded that as more important than giving me a ticket. I suggest that his priorities were quite right: bureaucratic form-filling nil, public interest, I hope, served.
Police IT systems are still in the dark ages. The IT systems of police, courts and the CPS cannot communicate with each other; this is but one example. More resources to pay for more officers are only part of the answer; indeed, in this respect, they are not particularly effective. Britain now spends more on law and order as a proportion of GDP than any other OECD country, yet as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, pointed out, there are only 164 officers per 100,000 of the population in England and Wales, compared with 264 in France and 457 in New York. Rather, it is in upgrading internal efficiency that investment should be made.
Targets have been frequently mentioned today. Central targets are notoriously open to manipulation. Assessment of the police through these targets is bureaucratic and complicated. Targets should be set locally and police performance assessed on three simple factors; they are, I suggest: crime reduction, how safe the public feel, and how satisfied witnesses and victims are when they come into contact with the police. Targets set against these three criteria can be simple and transparent.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, realistically addressed the shortage of top-class leaders in the police and the need for a structure of accelerated promotion. He challenged the theory that any police officer must at some stage experience life on the beat—the lot of any police constable—and for a period substantially the same for all. He made a powerful case for the recruitment of top-class candidates, quite rightly subject to very rigorous culling, who by their ability and training will have the flexibility to enable them to benefit from a much shorter period of basic experience and to move rapidly up the promotion ladder, where their leadership skills will be recognised at the earliest possible stage. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us of the need for top-calibre officers at that level. This is not to advocate a return to the Trenchard system or to replicate Sandhurst-pattern training, but such an approach is essential if we are to have the quality of personnel which modern policing demands. Feathers may be ruffled, but this problem will not go away. The House will be indebted to the noble Lord for addressing this issue.
I have two specific criticisms on which I should be grateful for comment by the Minister. The Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce 24,000 community support officers has apparently been revised to some 16,000 due to lack of funding. Moreover, the Government have not delivered on their promise to introduce 112 non-urgent calls to the police. The system has proved highly effective in cities such as New York and Chicago and in areas in England where it has been trialled, such as my own county of Hampshire. It should be rolled out across the whole country.
I recently met an academic criminologist from one of the east coast universities in the United States, who was over here for an international conference on policing. He said, “You know, we in Massachusetts are the true heirs to the Sir Robert Peel tradition of neighbourhood policing”. The noble Lord referred to that also. It is true that the number of police per head of population in New England is higher than in the United Kingdom, but a return to the copper on the beat is an ideal for which we must continually aim. The Met has made considerable progress in this regard with its safer neighbourhood teams—the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to them. Let us hope that their success will be matched throughout the country.
I conclude by echoing the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It has often been said that a country gets the police service that it deserves. It is possibly worth reflecting that there are occasions when the police service needs the public that it deserves.
My Lords, this has been a truly inspirational debate. I can say without reservation that I have enjoyed it. Noble Lords who have been with me during a number of debates will know that I have never said that previously. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that I will certainly ensure that a copy of today’s Hansard is passed to Sir Ronnie Flanagan, because I am sure that he will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed listening to today’s debate.
The debate has been so powerful because it has been wide-ranging, well informed and extremely good humoured. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, appears to be the only noble Lord who is perhaps a little out of step with what we generally feel have been some quite amazing and welcome improvements.
I join all noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on securing it. I congratulate him also on the quality of his speech. As he is a former Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, we expected his remarks to be both well informed and excellently presented. He did not disappoint us.
Noble Lords will know that my position has changed. I therefore have great pleasure in responding to the debate in my new capacity as Minister for Crime Reduction. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell, made many comments to which I shall try to return, although, because of the wide-ranging nature of the debate, I may not be able to deal with every detail.
The debate offers me the first opportunity in my new capacity to speak in this House on the hugely important issue of the arrangements for policing in England and Wales. Reducing crime requires commitment across government from a wide range of delivery partners. It is the job not only of the police—the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made this clear—and we will continue to build on the contributions made by other partners. I warmly welcomed, therefore, the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and of the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, who both in their different ways identified those other parts of our community who can contribute so much to the work that we do. I particularly endorse what the right reverend Prelate said about the Street Pastors, who have made an enormous and powerful contribution that very much echoes some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the importance of full community engagement.
It is important for us to recognise the contribution from the wider family, but the police are and will remain at the forefront of tackling crime. Effective policing has been vital in reducing crime. The debate about the arrangements for policing is important to ensure that the police are in the best position to continue to lead the fight against crime. As I indicated, I am keen to respond to as many points as I can today, but I agree with those who have said that the nature and breadth of the debate might give rise to five or six separate three-hour debates on different issues.
I particularly commend the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Her powerful exhortation of the importance of the work that the police have done on domestic violence, which has largely gone unsung, needs to be heard, together with one on the work that they have spearheaded on sexual violence towards children and paedophilia.
I shall come to the root of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. It is true that the challenges facing the police service in England and Wales have seldom been so great. While crime has fallen over the past 10 years, the demands made of the police have risen significantly. From meeting the national threat of terrorism and organised crime, to tackling anti-social behaviour and low-level crime at the local level, the challenges are significant and fast-moving. Therefore it was right that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, emphasised the importance of the local position.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been both consistent and clear in his message—from his statement of common values published on Tuesday 6 March to his speech at this year’s Police Federation conference—that meeting the local and the national challenges are not “either/or” options. The public want, and rightly expect, a police service that can provide effective protection at the personal, local and national level. Of course, there is a vital role for the Government. We must do everything we can to help the police service maximise the additional and considerable resources that have gone into policing since 1997. Pressing ahead with the productivity and efficiency agenda is central to ensuring that police forces are able to meet the full range of challenges that they face. It is important for us to recognise that, because if we fail to do so nothing will significantly change.
Therefore, the Government also have an important role to play in promoting greater use of partnership; we do not expect the police service to meet these challenges alone. Local councils and NHS trusts, for example, have a vital part to play in dealing with the small number of individuals who, for whatever reason—from mental ill health to alcohol addiction—cause so many problems for the majority of society. Because the challenges are significant and fast-moving, we have to move with them. It is not always comfortable and is often difficult, but that is why we are committed to continuously seeking ways to improve our capacity and capability to meet those challenges and deliver a police service that is respected nationally and trusted locally. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, talked about trust; I agree that trust and respect are important.
Several of your Lordships mentioned funding issues—rightly so, since funding lies at the heart of the Government’s belief in an efficient and effective police service. The Government’s commitment to a well funded police force in England and Wales cannot be called into question. In 2007-08, all police forces in England and Wales are receiving an increase in general grant funding of 3.6 per cent, above the rate of inflation. That comes on top of a sustained increase in funding under this Government. I am glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, accepts that there has been such a significant increase given by this Government in total. The total grant has been £3.2 billion—51 per cent, which is over 18 per cent in real terms—since 1997-98. There has been an increase of £2.6 billion—39 per cent, which is 16 per cent in real terms—since 2000-01.
That money has been put to good use; I say that to the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Dear. Total police numbers on 30 September last year were 139,446 officers; that is 14,435 more than in March 1997, which represents a huge increase. There were also 20,165 more civilian staff than a decade ago, taking the total to 73,175. Those extra civilian staff have helped to release officers for front-line duties, where I am sure all your Lordships want to see them. A number of noble Lords talked about bureaucracy; indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the 9,000 forms that have been removed. We have done much to make sure that bureaucracy is driven down even further. The work that we have done through the NPIA, the police review, the PACE review and the IMPACT programme has all gone towards looking at how we can remove forms and bureaucracy to get people where they need to be, on the front line.
It is important that we do not focus just on inputs and that we look at what else has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, rightly spoke about the important work that CSOs have done. The government target of 16,000 police community support officers was met at the end of April. They are now widely welcomed and were an innovation under this Government. Many will know that there was scepticism at first as to whether that addition to the police family would help, yet now none of us would be without them. It is a matter of some rejoicing that we can all compliment them with one voice.
We must look at the results, which have also been impressive. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham about how much things have got better. Nottinghamshire Police particularly benefited from assistance from the centre, but it grabbed that help, ran with it and has the results to prove it. Between 2002-03 and 2005-06, overall recorded crime in England and Wales fell by 7 per cent, representing over 400,000 fewer victims of crime a year. Particularly impressive was the performance on burglary, which fell by 27.5 per cent in that period. The British Crime Survey shows a 44 per cent reduction in crime between 1995-96 and 2005-06. I pay tribute to all those in the police service and beyond whose efforts led to those excellent results.
I know that your Lordships are interested in the future funding arrangements. No decisions have yet been made on police funding for the three years of the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, 2008-09 to 2010-11. I assure your Lordships that the issues that we have talked about today are at the forefront of our minds. It is no secret that the financial climate will become tighter and that the days of the police receiving above-inflation settlements are likely to be over. However, the funding increases which we have given in the last few years have provided a very solid foundation on which the police can build as we move into what my honourable friend the Policing Minister, Mr Tony McNulty, described to the Home Affairs Committee in another place recently as, “a period of consolidation”.
There are challenges. I said that these figures are too important to ignore, and I believe that to be true; but there is another side to this. No one can now be under any illusion that, from the local challenges of anti-social behaviour to the national and international challenges of organised crime and terrorism, the police service in England and Wales faces significant and fast-moving challenges. It must meet these challenges, while delivering real improvements in productivity and efficiency.
The Home Office has done much to deliver on these issues. I can tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that what he has seen in Kent is being reflected elsewhere. In the Metropolitan Police Authority area, the safer neighbourhood teams have held 11,996 public meetings attended by 179,167 people, have conducted 1,291 street briefings, made 18,366 arrests, submitted more than 246,000 intelligence reports and closed more than 400 crack houses. All that is very impressive—and what the noble and learned Lord sees in Kent we are starting to see all over our country, with the help of the police and CBRPs, and through working with business, health and schools. That local delivery is really driving home the improvements that we seek.
We have recognised that greater accountability is needed. We are committed to ensuring that local people receive the service that they want. People want to know that the police are tackling the issues that are important to them, and providing maximum value for money. Local accountability is key to ensuring that the public can be confident in the service that they receive; it is also an important lever for improving performance. That is why we are already improving local accountability through the roll-out of neighbourhood policing and through reforms to police authorities, whose functions are changing via the implementation of the Police and Justice Act 2006. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friends Lord Harris and Lady Henig are of real importance in that regard.
The use of technology has helped us greatly. For example, the Livescan allows for fingerprints to be taken electronically within police stations, saving seven minutes per time over the ink and roller method. We are also rolling out head cams to forces so that they can video what is happening; evidentially, that cuts through a huge amount of time and effort and is very successful.
The review that we have spoken about with Sir Ronnie Flanagan is very important. As your Lordships know, one of many recommendations set out in the government report Building on Progress: Crime, Security and Justice, published on Tuesday 27 March 2007, was an independent review of policing. On the same day, the Home Secretary announced that he would be appointing Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conduct that review. I do not propose to give a lengthy discursive account of the details of the review, but noble Lords may find it useful to know that it will focus on four specific areas, identified by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for further progress and to encourage new ideas and recommendations. Those areas are: further reducing bureaucracy, focusing resources on the front line and freeing up police officer time; embedding neighbourhood policing and ensuring that it becomes a permanent part of the policing landscape; local accountability, so that we can better ensure that the public are driving local policing priorities; and how the service can best use its resources to meet all the challenges that it faces. That is a very broad, inclusive remit.
We shall of course look at the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, about how elected commissioners could be used. He could probably tell from the flavour of the debate how likely that model is to receive a great deal of support, although I am not making any suggestion about what Sir Ronnie Flanagan may subsequently determine.
Noble Lords will no doubt recognise that these areas cover many of the points made during today’s debate and that it would be premature of me to in any way prejudge the outcomes of that review. An interim report will be produced in August this year setting out initial findings on all those four areas and providing more detailed recommendations for the first two. At the end of this year, the final report will be produced, again covering all four areas but also providing a more substantive response to the last two.
My noble friend Lord Harris spoke about the police being one service and engaged in the community. I very much agree with his comments.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, talked about the maintenance of public trust. There is a balance to be drawn between the needs of a robust system in terms of appropriate trials, and those issues are very much at the forefront of our minds.
The targets referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, are not inappropriate. By looking at how they impact on the service through the work of local criminal justice boards and the National Criminal Justice Board, we have narrowed them so that they are focused on outcomes. However, we cannot legislate for good judgment. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, demonstrated clearly that good judgment can be exercised by the police, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who told us that in Nottinghamshire they do not have those difficulties. The targets are there to help to improve delivery and enhance what we can achieve. The community support that we are getting enables us to do even more of that intelligence.
I shall write to noble Lords on any other outstanding issues, but I hope that I have covered the majority of them. I end by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that I am sure that Sir Ronnie Flanagan will remember well his days in Northern Ireland and that that memory will better inform him.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on a splendid speech.
My Lords, with an eye on the clock, not wanting to overshoot—and may I say how grateful I am to the Government Whips’ Office for extending the duration of this debate from two and a half to three hours—I shall take a minute to close this debate. I am sincerely grateful to noble Lords for their interest and support, and particularly to the Minister for how she responded to the many comments in what has been a far-reaching and incisive debate, and a very encouraging one. It was packed full of very positive comments, despite fears raised on a number of issues. As the Minister said, the tone was very encouraging.
No matter what shape the police service may be in future, there is little doubt that the local element is there and will be protected by whatever means.
I leave your Lordships with one small asterisk against an issue that I raised at the beginning, which I think is a very large one, when I talked about the two dimensional pull—the pull of police resources upwards to deal with the very serious matters and downwards to deal with what everyone wants to see, high visibility policing, leaving this almost invisible stretch in what I call the middle ground and what in the trade is called level 2 crime. If that is the case, and I believe it is, and if we see that low ratio of police in this country—it is an unassailable fact that it is far lower than in most countries—and if we are strapped for cash in the future, which most of us believe will be the case, we will have to reappraise that middle ground and the way in which it is currently not covered, and honestly reappraise the situation regarding the range of police tasks across that ground.
I thank noble Lords for their attention. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.