My Lords, I am pleased and honoured to introduce this timely and important debate. I was looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, but I have been informed that he has flu and therefore will not be able to attend. I am sure that the House will extend to him our best wishes under the circumstances, and we look forward to his maiden speech on a future occasion.
Crime is an issue that is never far from the news headlines. Policing and crime affect all our lives. Television and films depict criminal enterprises as entertainment—and that is fine; I love a good detective or gangster film myself. It is important, however, that when politicians engage in debate on these vital issues, they do so on the basis of fact and evidence, not pure invention for the purpose of political advantage.
One of the first duties of any state is to safeguard its people from both within and outside its territory. Citizens from inside our borders need to be protected by those seeking wealth, advantage or gratification through the commission of crime against innocent victims.
I intend to touch on three main issues today: to expose the myth asserted recently by the Prime Minister that violent crime rose under the previous Government; to voice the fears of many citizens that serious crime will grow over the coming years because of cuts in front-line policing caused by the slashing of police budgets, the review of security cameras and the reduction in the DNA database; and to express the concern that the coalition Government, against all advice by respected chief officers and others, intend to politicise the police by introducing elected police commissioners, thereby risking for the first time the political independence of a police service that is respected throughout the world.
First of all, on the crime figures, at Prime Minister’s Questions on 7 July in another place, the right honourable David Cameron said:
“The point is that under the last Government violent crime and gun crime went through the roof”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/10; col. 364.]
Not true—the latest annual update on national crime statistics for England and Wales, released last week on 15 July, demonstrates that the Government are misleading the public about levels of crime.
Both the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime figures show that overall crime is down on last year by 9 per cent. I will cite the British Crime Survey, which is accepted as the most accurate measure of trends. Vehicle-related crime is down on last year by 17 per cent. Domestic burglary is down on last year by 9 per cent. Violent crime is down on last year by 1 per cent. Police recorded crime shows that firearms offences are down by 22 per cent since 2002-03 and knife crime is down on last year by 7 per cent. Since 1997, when the previous Government took office, the British Crime Survey shows that overall crime is down by 43 per cent; overall crime against the person is down by 41 per cent; overall household crime is down by 44 per cent; burglary is down by 59 per cent; and violent crime is down by 42 per cent. I could go on but by any standard these figures demonstrate how impressively the police and the criminal justice system have tackled crime under the policies of the previous Administration.
The Prime Minister has since been rebuked by the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, for misusing violent crime figures. He confirms that the authority remains of the view that the British Crime Survey provides the most reliable measure of the trends in violent crime. Any attempt to suggest otherwise by misquoting or disbelieving the British Crime Survey, which is accepted as a gold standard by most British academics and internationally, is beneath contempt. It deserves to be exposed as a scaremongering propaganda effort of which Joseph Goebbels would have been proud. I know that the facts get in the way of a good story but I ask the Minister, in replying, to apologise on behalf of his right honourable friend the Prime Minister for recent utterances on these important matters. It is accepted by most informed commentators that the fear of crime is far worse than the risk of crime. By stoking the fear of crime the coalition Government create unnecessary concerns, particularly among the elderly.
While dealing with Ministers and their statements, I will comment on the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke. He said last week in his Mansion House speech:
“Crime has fallen in Britain throughout a period of both rising prison populations … and economic growth, with strong employment levels and rising living standards. No one can prove cause and effect. The crime rate fell”.
He went on to claim credit for his improved economic legacy, which by implication he suggested caused the drop in crime. Again, this is a travesty of the truth. Last year’s crime figures which I have just quoted are from a period of recession, which refutes the Justice Secretary’s argument that falls in crime are solely down to greater prosperity. He also omitted to say that when crime was remorselessly rising in the early 1990s, Ken Clarke was the Home Secretary. I know because I was the vice-president of the Police Superintendents’ Association at that time. While Home Secretary, like a bull in china shop, Ken Clarke took on the police service head-on. He had a history of belligerence in dealing with other public services and appointed the chairman of British American Tobacco, Sir Patrick Sheehy, to bring private sector efficiency and values to the police. How about that? It is just what our respected police service wanted: the moral and ethical values of an international tobacco company.
In the summer of 1993, a mass rally of 20,000 police officers gathered in Wembley Arena to protest about the Sheehy proposals, such as performance-related pay—presumably based on the number of arrests made by each officer. It was a truly historic occasion. I remember the star political speaker against Sheehy being the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who I see in his seat today as part of the Government on the coalition Benches. The point is that Kenneth Clarke totally demoralised the police service; under his stewardship crime really did go through the roof.
Fortunately for the police, the economic crisis at that time, when Britain crashed out of the ERM, led to the resignation in 1992 of the then Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. He was succeeded by Kenneth Clarke—you’ve guessed it—whose legacy left the police service in total disarray. The new Home Secretary at that time, Michael Howard, is well known to your Lordships and has just been introduced into this House. He immediately scrapped the controversial Sheehy reforms and declared famously that “prison works”. I spoke yesterday with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who cannot be here because he is in France. He said to me, in terms, “Michael Howard, put it right”. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, demonstrated that prison works because crime fell dramatically under his stewardship as prison numbers rose. Ken Clarke now talks of bringing the same private sector values and profiteering to community service in place of short prison sentences. He says that he will empty prisons to save money, thereby putting decent people at risk of becoming victims of crime. Does the Minister agree with the Justice Secretary, Mr Ken Clarke, or with his noble friend Lord Howard, the previous Tory leader, who said yesterday that Ken Clarke is totally “misguided” on this?
There are also rumours in the press that the Sheehy report is being dusted down and revisited. Will the Minister give us an assurance today that this report, with its private sector values, is dead and buried, because the police service is very concerned that it is being revisited? The police are a public service, not a private company. The last thing that is required, on top of all the planned cuts and upheaval on the scale of what appears to be being planned for the National Health Service, is a similar operation for the police. Is this really what Liberal Democrat voters expected when they placed their cross on the ballet paper? It certainly was not in the manifesto.
What has brought crime down over the past decade has been record numbers of police and uniformed support officers on the streets, and the willingness to use prison as a deterrent against people who simply refuse to comply with the courts. The police service increased by 16,000 to 143,000 officers under the previous Administration—record numbers—plus 16,000 uniformed police community support officers. This is what the public want. Only this week, Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said that only 10 per cent of police officers were available at any one time on the front line to help the public and respond to calls. This is because of specialist posts, shift rotas, leave and the like. Is it not time for a royal commission to examine the police to see how they should be organised? It is estimated by the House of Commons Library that the £125 million of cuts proposed by the coalition would result in a reduction of some 4,100 police officers. This is on top of the 25 per cent reduction in the Home Office budget.
Another bright idea of the Tory wing of the coalition is the election of so-called police commissioners. It is said to make the police more accountable. Whatever else is wrong with the police, it is not a lack of accountability. They are accountable to the Home Secretary and to police authorities, which have elected members among their number. They are accountable locally to district and parish councils, which have regular meetings with local officers. Most importantly, of course, they are accountable to the law in the courts. I spent some time with the FBI in the United States and saw at first hand how the police were dragged into the political arena through the election of sheriffs. Judges and district attorneys are also elected in some areas.
The system we have has stood the test of time. Police are accountable and the last thing we want is a commissioner standing on a party ticket or on a single issue. I remember talking to a deputy sheriff in America who was a crony of the sheriff, of course, because he appoints them. He was canvassing on behalf of his boss, as his job depended on it. Is this really what we want in this country? The criminal justice system should be above party politics and independent of political pressure. Can you imagine a British National Party member standing on a tough law-and-order and anti-immigration ticket being elected a commissioner of police? Once we allow this poisonous genie out of the bottle, it will be very difficult to put it back in.
Parliament must scrutinise all this very carefully and any planned legislation to take our cherished police service kicking and screaming down this road should be rejected. The police service is totally against such changes and Sir Hugh Orde, the respected president of ACPO, has said that there could be senior resignations if such a policy were to be implemented. Similar caution has been expressed by Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, when he stated that regional and national gangs would be allowed to flourish because of a lack of national co-ordination, as local commissioners would stand, quite understandably, on local issues, and we do not have a federal system of law enforcement, as in the United States.
Caution is the watchword. Let us not destroy the good simply for the sake of change. I leave the Minister with the following questions to answer. I hope that he answers, because there is a tendency in this House for Ministers not to answer the questions that they are asked in debates. Does he accept that it is not true that violent crime increased under the previous Administration? Can he assure the House that front-line policing will not be reduced by the proposed cuts in policing budgets? Is he prepared to accept the risk of rising crime and more crime victims by preventing the courts from using prison as a final deterrent and introducing community sentences for profit in their place? Can he reassure the police that the discredited Sheehy report will not be revisited? Finally, does he accept the very real dangers of the politicisation of the police by the introduction of elected commissioners?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, for instituting this important debate. We also have the benefit of a very balanced report, produced jointly by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the two audit bodies for England and Wales.
I should like to add my support to the Government’s intention to consult—I repeat, consult—on plans for the election of police commissioners. This strikes a balance between the practice in, for instance, the United States—on which the noble Lord gave us a valuable insight—where chief police officers are elected on a political basis, and the United Kingdom. The former is quite rightly anathema to senior police officers in this country, since it would remove the ultimate operational independence from the chief police officer, while the Government’s proposal would make the commissioner accountable to his electorate.
However, this is a sensitive subject on which there are differing views from within the police forces and outside, as the noble Lord articulated. The Government are wise to consult on this. A factor to be considered will not least be the actual control that a commissioner would have over the selection and employment of chief and senior police officers in the respective forces. I should be very interested to hear the contribution of my noble friend Lady Harris from the Benches of our coalition partners.
I turn to SOCA. At a recent conference of the Police Foundation, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson left his audience in no doubt on the resourcefulness of the masters of organised crime, not only in the sophistication of their methods, but in the ever widening geographical scope of their operations. For instance, I understand that SOCA keeps closely in touch with the US Coast Guard. I believe that SOCA in its short life has made a promising start, but it must be resourced to enable it to have multifocused vision, as it were, on its global activities, while being able to address domestic considerations in the United Kingdom. It is in the latter environment that more co-operation between forces would be beneficial to SOCA’s effectiveness.
That leads me on to the subject of amalgamation of forces. I entirely support the Government in their view that this can be only on a voluntary basis with mutual agreement between forces. We saw a few years ago the tensions that arose from what was perceived by certain forces as attempted shotgun marriages, if your Lordships will pardon the metaphor.
Where there is real scope for co-operation is in relatively non-contentious areas, such as IT and the back office in general, in forensics and in motorway policing, where a regional or even a national unit might be considered. In many of these areas, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have taken the initiative and that could provide a good example nationally.
Let us not forget the main thrust in this debate. The police community in England and Wales is understandably concerned at the impact of the cuts that will inevitably be required to be made. It has been well said that every country has the police it deserves. We are proud and well served by our police forces, and it is incumbent on the coalition Government that these unpalatable measures are handled as sensibly and sensitively as possible.
My Lords, before I begin, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the national Association of Police Authorities, a former chair of a police authority and a patron of the National Victims’ Association, about which I shall speak later.
According to the British Crime Survey, whose statistics, as we heard, were released last week, crime is at its lowest level for three decades. It dipped below 10 million offences to fall by 9 per cent last year to the lowest level since comparable records began in 1981—the year in which I became a member of a then police committee. Crime recorded by the police also fell by 8 per cent to 4.3 million crimes in the 12 months to April this year.
These statistics do not, however, include some of the more serious violent and sexual crimes, such as homicide and rape, but these are covered by police figures, and even accounting for these gaps does not shift the overall downward trend in crime statistics, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, has told us. However, the figures still mean that 26,000 people fall victim to a crime every day, and the one area that proves resistant to such welcome falls in crime rates is sexual offences. This rise may represent the implementation of new guidelines to improve the recording of rape; nevertheless, it is extremely worrying. However, we should all be very happy and congratulate those who have contributed to these considerable falls in crime. I am sure that your Lordships will wish such gains to be maintained, and indeed built on, because 26,000 people rendered as victims of crime every day is far too many.
We recognise that to wish for continued falls in crime in our present economic context is perhaps to place hope over experience, as previous periods of economic downturn have generally been followed by upwardly mobile crime figures. Let us hope that that will not be so this time. I believe that we all have a part to play in helping to ensure that it does not happen. We know that proposals to come before Parliament would fundamentally alter the form and nature of police accountability in England and Wales. I should have thought that the recent crime figures might have persuaded the Home Secretary that police accountability, through the police authorities, had finally come good and that the structures put in place to ensure that police forces focused on providing police services to the satisfaction of their communities was working.
The arguments around this proposal will be brought out when we shortly see the consultation document. I understand that it will not be in the form of a White Paper, which is a little disappointing, but I hope that my noble friend will reflect on the success of police authorities and not consider putting in their place untested and potentially expensive experiments which will deflect politicians and professionals alike from the core policing tasks.
We have been reminded about the Sheehy proposals, which were indeed disastrous, but I also well remember the last time that we were engulfed in proposals to alter police structures and accountability, between 2005 and 2006. Then, we saw considerable falls in police performance in serving the most fundamental of the public’s needs, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred. I am talking, of course, about the proposed mergers of police forces which, thankfully, were dropped because of massive opposition across the country. I hope that we learn from that mistaken proposal.
The present system has since 1995 delivered success, huge falls in crime and year-on-year efficiency savings—more than 30 per cent over 10 years. There are welcome signs that the service and national agencies are increasingly making inroads into the terrible threats posed to every neighbourhood by both serious organised crime and terrorism. All those developments are to be applauded and we would be foolish to throw away a system that has delivered such results.
Within the statistics that I spoke of earlier there are others that are more insidious and below the radar. So I now move on, briefly, to voice a very real concern about how victims of crime are treated. Last weekend I attended a meeting of the National Victims’ Association, of which I am a patron. This amazing organisation, led by its chair David Hines, supports families of those who have lost loved ones through murder or manslaughter. On another occasion I will bring to the attention of noble Lords much more detail about how both policing and the criminal justice system as a whole have so grievously and badly let down those who have to turn to this charitable organisation for help. It exists from hand to mouth and almost certainly will not be able to continue unless core funding for its services is provided in the very near future. Those families are the lost survivors who receive barely any help or recognition and it is a national shame that that is so.
We heard the most chilling and horrendous stories of how relatives of murder victims were treated. I will, if I may, quote two instances which illustrate areas which the police will have to address to improve their help to victims. We were told about Hughie and Betty, whose son was drugged and then beaten to death. The people responsible put his body in the boot of a car, drove it on to the Derbyshire moors and set fire to it. They were caught but because they simply blamed each other, the police did not know which one to charge with delivering the fatal blow and no one was ever charged with George’s murder. On top of that, to this day, Hughie and Betty are regularly intimidated by the families of the murderers.
Then there were Carla and Rachel, two young women. Their father, a retired police officer, was beaten to death in the kitchen of his home and his blood covered the floor, walls and ceiling. The police said that there was no funding to pay for a professional clean-up team, so those two young ladies had to do it themselves. On their hands and knees they cleaned up their murdered father’s blood, and years later they are still deeply traumatised by the experience.
I met all these relatives and was struck by their dignity and bravery, so I determined to tell noble Lords their stories. I have many more, sadly, to remind us that policing also needs to focus on those many, many victims of crime who are not helped sufficiently by either the police or the criminal justice system. I will most certainly be speaking about the National Victims’ Association on other occasions.
This has been an opportunity to talk about policing generally and I welcome that and thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, for bringing it to your Lordships’ attention. I sincerely hope that the comments I have made about the National Victims’ Association will not be lost in the overall concern being expressed about police funding or crime statistics.
My Lords, this debate addresses an issue of rising salience, not least with the White Paper on the presses, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on his superb timing. It is also a pleasure to participate on what we should term “Mackenzie” day in your Lordships’ House, with two successive debates—albeit with slightly different spellings—inspired by a Lord Mackenzie. I, too, regret that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, is not able to make his maiden speech in today’s debate. A long time ago, when he was a young man and I was a slightly less young man, we worked together in broadcasting. It was clear even then that he was a figure of exceptional authority and real ability. He will, as your Lordships will see, adorn this House.
No one who has had experience of the police in recent years, at any level, could fail to be impressed by their thoughtfulness and by their sensitivity to the public in general, and—dare I say?—to victims in particular, although the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, powerfully reminds us that there is still, and always will be, scope for improvement. Individual officers deal routinely with bad or extreme behaviour, and we have just heard some vivid examples of that. They come face to face daily with the consequences of social malaise or policy failure. They do so with courage and without complaint.
There are many agencies in the criminal justice system, and all have made a contribution to the long-term decline in offending—and there can be no doubt that there has been a long-term decline. However, no one can doubt that the police, alongside those other agencies, have played their part in these important advances too. Yet there can be no room whatever for complacency. Offending in the UK is still high by global standards. Crime is still responsible for enormous individual harms and for massive social and economic costs. Therefore, we need new policies and ever more effective agencies that can bear down on crime, and can reduce it yet more substantially. This needs to happen now against the grim backdrop of deficit reduction, from which no public sector organisation can be immune. This is, then, an opportune moment for a fresh and fundamental look at policing in the UK—a good moment to scrutinise the model that in all its essentials is now 50 years old, a model which was left relatively untouched by the previous Government.
The first challenge is to create a structure that focuses on different categories of crime. It is not self-evident that 43 forces structured around metropolitan areas and old county lines is an appropriate model for dealing with crime and disorder today. SOCA is a real advance, as is the regional focus on counterterrorism. However, many policing functions in the 43 forces may be better provided at local, regional or national level.
At grassroots level, in the immediate locality with which we can all identify, we need an intense and accountable focus on anti-social behaviour and locally generated volume crime. There are issues, too, at regional level. I recently saw an excellent programme on television about a truly impressive and innovative specialist police unit for rape set up by Hampshire police. At the end of the programme, the rape unit was closed down. That was because serious sexual crime in Hampshire was infrequent and its incidence unpredictable, so the utilisation of officers was uneven. The obvious answer, perhaps, was that this very real centre of excellence should have extended its geographic focus to a more appropriate regional level, but structural impediments stood in the way. On the other hand, some crime has a more national or global focus. Cyber crime costs our economy literally billions of pounds, but the police's focus on online fraud is simply lamentable. Here I declare an interest as chairman of PayPal Europe.
At all those different levels, not just at the most local level, the police need to be more accountable for the outcomes that we want them to deliver. At national level, we should also re-evaluate the architecture of the oversight institutions, including ACPO, to ensure that there is a challenging, strategic and performance-enhancing centre at the very heart of British policing.
Secondly, the police need to bring their workforce practices into line with the world around them, which has changed massively over recent decades. Frankly, Governments have, for perfectly understandable reasons, dodged that issue for too long. As with MI5 and SOCA, policing at every level needs to focus more on the offender and less on cleaning up after the offence. That points to more intelligence-based policing, greater analysis and a smarter use of technology. Modern policing needs greater flexibility and a wider range of capabilities than a single point of entry currently allows, with different kinds of specialists and front-line officers focusing on different kinds of crime. Moreover, police pay should relate to achievement, not to tenure. Weak performance should also be addressed, as in other organisations, and pensions should be portable, offering greater workforce mobility.
There are operational issues as well. Shift patterns should be more flexible, allowing commanders more easily to match resource to operational need. There is more crime and disorder on a Saturday night than on a Monday morning. Police productivity can be increased in other ways. Procurement of helicopters and the like should be centralised, not localised. Back-office services inefficiently duplicated across multiple forces can be outsourced, and all core policing processes should be re-examined and made fit for purpose and cost-effective—a common call.
I note, as did a previous speaker, the joint report released this week by the Audit Commission and HMIC suggesting that only 12 per cent of police costs could be saved through greater efficiency. From my experience, I would say that, for a mature bureaucracy, that is a very modest target indeed.
The third challenge is one for Ministers, not for the police. Much public and, indeed, political rhetoric connects the notion of reducing crime exclusively with uniformed front-line policing. In truth, we will not bear down on crime as we could and should unless and until policymakers, and all the multiple agencies in and around the criminal justice system, work harmoniously together with matching and complementary objectives and focus hard on the offender. Together, they must aim to prevent individuals entering the pathway to offending and to address the causes of the offending behaviour in those who do, particularly in relation to drugs. Finally, they must strive at all costs to prevent repeat offending.
Only when we have effective multiagency working in democratically accountable structures with high-quality information and performance reporting have we any hope of achieving the massive further reduction in crime which I am sure is possible, and which I am also sure all here desire.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, for giving us an opportunity to discuss policing. I am sorry not to be able to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wills. I was going to ask him whether he had left any notes for my noble friend Lord McNally, who succeeded him in his post at the Ministry of Justice, because my noble friend has not found them yet.
The expectations of the police among the public are very high. For one thing, the public expect to see a lot of them and to see almost instant results and success. In this television age we have become accustomed to seeing cases solved within an hour, minus seven minutes for commercials, and often using cutting-edge forensic techniques—would that life were quite so simple. Whenever I have raised this issue directly with senior officers, they have been keen to acknowledge the public’s wish for highly visible police on the streets and have played down the problems of competing calls on the funds of expensive forensics, but I cannot help thinking—the noble Lord, Lord Birt, touched on this—that there is a major tension here of which we will see more in the next few months.
Public trust and confidence are among the building blocks of successful policing. Without them it must be difficult to achieve policing by consensus. I am afraid that it is inevitable that statistics will be bandied about regarding police numbers, crime rates, detection rates and so on. I was interested to see in the report published a few days ago from the Audit Commission and HMIC, to which several noble Lords have referred, that the forces that achieved the highest cashable efficiencies do not have lower levels of public confidence, which may be something to take on board.
The British Crime Survey tells us that there is a disparity between perceptions about crime rates nationally, which are thought to be constantly on the rise, and people’s perceptions in local areas, which are closer to reality. The issue of public trust in crime statistics behoves us all to use them responsibly. If the figures are to give a realistic picture, it is important to understand that in the case of some crimes an apparent increase in the rate may be a sign of success because the victim has been able to report the crime.
I had expected the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, to talk about prevention—he is nodding and I think that he has anticipated what I am going to say—which is an important role of the police.
Indeed. The rollout of Safer Neighbourhoods teams has been welcome in that connection, as well as in others, which is why local authorities have invested heavily in them. It will not be easy for local authorities buying that service or for the police to weigh up the competing calls on money. Policing is a particularly people-heavy activity. I understand that it accounts for about 80 per cent of the budget. There are not the same powers to make employees redundant as in other areas of employment. I am not trying to encourage noble Lords to leap up and say that we are predicting massive redundancies. I am pointing out that there is an issue.
A number of ways of working are perhaps a bit out of date, to which the noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred. There will be outcomes from cutting down on recruitment, and not just in the numbers. It is still a struggle to get our police forces to look like the public they serve. Recruiting from BME communities and promoting those officers to higher ranks has long been an issue and has an impact on the trust of the different communities.
The numbers game has meant that, over a long period, there has been something of a misrepresentation about the numbers in operational roles, at any rate as I have seen them. It does not seem necessarily to be better to have a warranted officer dealing with, for instance, human resources problems. I suspect that this is likely to become more of an issue because of the matters to which I have referred. Police officers cost considerably more on average than police staff members. I understand that not only have the headline figures for spending on the police increased, but within those, overtime payments have increased by over 90 per cent. It has long seemed to me that overtime needs to be addressed. Furthermore, officer numbers have increased over the past 10 years by 12 per cent while civilian staff numbers have risen by 46 per cent. That in itself has been a move in the right direction and I hope it does not row back.
Although I hate the term, I was interested to see that a new key performance indicator has been introduced in London regarding the front line: to maximise the use of warranted officers deployed into operational policing in order to produce an annual 2 per cent improvement. This is not wholly new. Something similar has been used in the Met for eight or nine years, with an operational policing measure to accurately reflect the number of police officers and police staff who provide a visible uniform presence, but it has become a performance indicator.
If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, did not serve his cause well by rejecting wholesale, as I heard it, the lessons that might be learnt from the private sector. I do not support transferring every private sector approach into the public sector, but some can work well. Indeed, the private sector can also sometimes learn from the public sector. One of the findings of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s review of policing was the negative impact of risk aversion on decision-making, something which the private sector is better at tackling. I was interested to read Jan Berry’s comments, in her recent report, that:
“Over-reliance on compliance with set rules and targets has reduced the ability of many officers to use their professional judgement”.
She said also that there are,
“strong links between a predisposition to avoid taking risks and levels of professional knowledge, skills and experience in the use of discretion”.
Those are important points.
Just before the election, the CBI published a paper on what in its view the private sector has to offer the police by way of smarter working and different working in order to increase productivity and reduce costs. It talks about the need for,
“the right people with the right skills doing the right things at the right times—the fundamentals of a modern workplace. But too often the debate about crime at a national and local level has tended to focus on overall officer numbers and has avoided questions about how these officers are deployed and their overall effectiveness”.
It also makes the point that:
“Success has frequently been measured by inputs—the overall number of officers—rather than outcomes—reducing crime and dealing with the consequences of crime”.
I share the focus on practical measures contained in the report, and while I do not support everything it says, there is a lot that is sensible. There is also a focus on practical measures, which characterises much of the coalition’s programme for government on crime and policing. They range from the use of technology to make policing more effective at lower cost and with fewer time-consuming activities that give bureaucracy a bad name—bureaucracy does have a place—to requiring hospitals to share non-confidential information so that the police can target work on gun and knife crime hot spots.
In the short time that we have today, and without the consultation paper, one can only scratch the surface of what is to be said about crime and policing. There will be plenty of opportunity to extend our discussions to the issues of structure and accountability later in the Session and I, for one, am sure that I will find myself expressing quite firm views about accountability and how to achieve it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Mackenzie for introducing the debate. I was rather hesitant in putting down my name to speak because I lack the credentials of many other noble Lords who are taking part.
I have long been concerned about the relationship between crime rates and the incidence of repeat offending among those released from custodial sentences, particularly among young offenders. I have been impressed by the way in which education initiatives in prison, together with a focus on training for skills for employment, can make a huge impact on reoffending rates. So I was particularly proud of the way in which the Labour Government focused laser-like attention on this issue, developing nationwide schemes through the offenders’ learning and skills scheme, the Learning and Skills Council and FE colleges, as well as hugely successful collaborations with the Open University. These were accompanied by the encouragement of a range of initiatives, including many employer-led schemes such as the National Grid Transco young offenders’ scheme, which I have long supported. While I was chief executive of Universities UK I encouraged the scheme to find places in the university sector for the employment of young offenders.
Like other noble Lords, I shall refer to the crime statistics published last week which show that the Labour Government’s commitment over more than 10 years has paid off. The British Crime Survey showed a 9 per cent drop, the lowest since the survey began in 1981, and crimes recorded by police forces across England and Wales fell by 8 per cent. The statistics show—other noble Lords have referred to this, as did the Daily Telegraph—that crime is at its lowest level on record. Indeed, the Independent newspaper said that the figures,
“paint an impressive picture of the [Labour] party’s record on crime during its 13 years in power”.
Although I entirely agree with the Home Secretary in another place that figures for offences are still far too high, I hope the Minister, when responding to the debate, will pay tribute to the impressive way in which the police and other agencies have tackled crime over the past 10 years and that he will not be churlish in acknowledging the previous Government’s commitment to reducing these figures.
Governments often have difficulty in seeing beyond the short term and there are many pressures which dissuade them from doing so, including the media. I hope the coalition Government will be just as determined as my party was in government to stick with policies that work in the longer term. That is why focusing on reoffending pays such dividends in cutting crime rates. There are a huge number of social, economic and other issues that cause first offences, and these have been explored in many debates in your Lordships’ House. For many offenders, a prison sentence is a wake-up call and can provide a chance for greater self-awareness and true rehabilitation, largely through education and the prospect of developing skills that most prisoners did not even begin to think they had.
In a Question earlier this year in the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, who was a moment ago in her place, I was glad to see, said that,
“education in prison is a proven pathway to reducing reoffending”.—[Official Report, 8/2/10; col. 471.],
and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, emphasised the importance of all-round education for mature prisoners who can neither read nor write. My Government increased investment in education for all offenders threefold and increased spending on education for young people in custody more than sevenfold. Will the Minister commit to similar levels of investment in this hugely important area at a time when, because of greater economic challenges, ex-prisoners will find it even harder to be accepted as good citizens and potentially good employees?
I hope the coalition Government do not throw away the huge strides that have been made. Only a few days ago, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, in her valedictory address, emphasised the considerable progress that had been made in prisons. On education, she said that in 2003, 78 per cent of prison education was assessed as inadequate by the education inspectorate; in 2009 it was 6 per cent. That is not to deny her criticisms in other areas—including a lack of action on the Corston report and the Bradley report, both produced by Members of this House—but there is no doubt that there has been a sea change in emphasis on education and skills development as the key to reducing reoffending.
I hope the Minister will acknowledge the importance of this in delivering the aim of the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke,
“to end the revolving door of crime and reoffending”.
He reminded us that prisoners not given access to education in custody are three times more likely to reoffend.
This should be an entirely non-partisan issue and, although it is important to acknowledge the strides made by the Labour Government, there is no room for complacency. There is a huge challenge ahead. In a recent factsheet on education in prisons, Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, found that 76 per cent of prisoners do not have paid employment to go to after release; almost 90 per cent of prisoners under the age of 21 reoffend within two years; and almost two-thirds of adult prisoners reoffend within two years. Employment is said to reduce reoffending by between a third and a half. If that were not compelling enough, the total cost of recorded crime committed by reoffenders is estimated at around £11 billion per year.
The key to much of this is that half of all prisoners do not have the skills required by 96 per cent of jobs. That is what the Offender Learning and Skills Service is working hard to address, along with the heartening number of education and training programmes produced by other bodies at national and regional level.
I conclude with a further reference to the young offenders’ programme led by National Grid Transco. This scheme now involves scores of employers and has demonstrated dramatic achievements for the hundreds of offenders who have gone on to rebuild their lives and the 80 companies that employ them. The reoffending rate of young people through this programme is less than 6 per cent, as opposed to the national average of 70 per cent. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place has, like his predecessor in the previous Government, commended the scheme as demonstrating what can be achieved by sustained effort and commitment.
The coalition Government are committed to the values of the big society. Reducing reoffending is a key area where these values are most relevant and will be tested. Will the Minister confirm that they will continue to support these programmes and the important programmes and initiatives delivered via public funding?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate on securing this timely and important debate. I go further in congratulating him because, with the authority of the experience and knowledge that he brings to policing issues, he has presented a devastating case to the House and made my task much easier. I totally endorse his case and associate myself with the pertinent and crucial questions he has put to the Minister. I look forward to the Minister’s reply with great interest. I recognise that sometimes we tend to overburden Ministers with questions—when I was on the other side of the Chamber I counted 43 on one occasion, but I do not think there are 43 questions today—and, if he is unable to answer all the questions, I trust that he will, in his usual courteous manner, provide written answers to those who have taken part in the debate.
The admirably brief contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, touched on two issues. He referred to the resourcing of SOCA. Several noble Lords said that SOCA is an innovative step forward in co-ordination, both nationally and internationally. That begs the question of whether the resourcing of SOCA will remain adequate. Are there plans to maintain funding of that very important element?
The noble Viscount’s second point was on elected police commissioners and the balance, as he put it, between the United Kingdom and the United States. In my experience of the United States, it is not the case that police commissioners are elected in major cities. In New York, Los Angeles and Chicago they are appointed by the mayor. There is quite an interchange between city chiefs of police moving from one major city to another. In each case, once they are appointed, they are answerable to the mayor and the authority—be that the city council or city management committee. Therefore, they are accountable to the public of the city of which they are chief of police. It is true that in the county system, the sheriff or deputy sheriff in many cases is elected, with all the dangers that my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate set out.
It may have been Winston Churchill who said that truth was the first casualty of war. I sometimes feel that language and its meaning are the first casualties of political exchange. That is certainly the case at the present time with many of the political exchanges that we have had between the Government, the opposition parties, the public, within the coalition and beyond. For example, the Government talk of the millions of pounds to be saved by efficiency savings when in truth that means cuts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said in her very thoughtful and wise contribution. The Government would do themselves a great service by reading it with interest, taking her experience and knowledge into account. She made the point that efficiency savings had been with us for a decade. They have been achieved, but to pretend that they can continue and to multiply that achievement and call it efficiency savings is a misuse of that phrase.
Statistics have been given by a number of noble Lords and the facts are simple. Crime has gone down, according to the BCS on 15 July 2010. But the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that crime has gone up. The Home Secretary said that on 7 June. The truth is that violent crime as recorded has fallen by 50 per cent since 1995 according to the BCS. The British Crime Survey was endorsed, as has been said by my noble friend, by Sir Michael Scholar and the ONS as the best and most authoritative survey to tell us what crime is doing within the country in which we live. The BCS was introduced by the Conservatives in 1991, but now, when its figures produce an inconvenient truth, the Government seek to question them.
Accountability is another word that is strangely abused and misused. My noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate spelt out the accountability currently falling to the police and the people and representatives to whom they are accountable—everything from courts at one level to the Home Secretary at the other level, through police authorities and so forth. For the life of me, I fail to see how accountability or transparency is improved by taking the accountability currently afforded to the police through the policing pledge and elected and independent members of police authorities and investing that in a single individual—leaving aside the fears and warnings my noble friend spelt out. The Government would do well to consider that when the consultation comes. I am sure the opinion that will be voiced will be that accountability is hardly likely to be increased by such a move.
Another misuse of the language is the word “targets”. The Government tell us that they have removed targets in the health service and in the police service. The target of seeing a cancer specialist within 14 days in the health service and the scrapping of the police pledge were described as the removal of targets. I get off the train on a Monday morning at Euston Station and for the past couple of weeks have been bombarded everywhere by big posters promising me that the National Westminster Bank will do a whole series of things about answering phone calls and dealing with my complaints. They rightly call them commitments because they are committed. They are promises. They are something that they would give me were I a NatWest customer, in return for being such a customer.
In that sense, I look to the police pledge as being precisely that—a pledge and a commitment. It was not a target. What did it promise the public? There were a series of 10 pledges that covered treating people fairly with dignity and respect and ensuring fair access at a time reasonable and suitable to them. Others included responding to messages within 24 hours, answering 999 calls within 10 seconds and going to a whole series of regular public meetings. If you were a victim of crime, they would see how often you would like to be informed of progress. You had the right to be kept informed at least every month if you wished for as long as was reasonable. Those were not targets: they were levels of service that we promised the public as part of our commitment in government.
Therefore, my question is a relatively simple one. What are the real reasons for that being scrapped, as it is not a target but a commitment? Has the policing pledge been scrapped because the Government believe that the public do not require the promised levels of service that were being delivered via the pledge? Or is it that, as they know, the intention is to cut policing budgets by 25 per cent, which would guarantee that there would be fewer police and fewer resources, thereby rendering the pledge impossible to meet? That, it seems to me, is the central question and one that I would be grateful if the Minister could address.
The Minister was asked a series of other questions that arise from the commitment to substantially cut funding. Several noble Lords referred to the Audit Commission and HMRC report published on 20 July. Do the Government accept the report of the commission that a funding cut of 12 per cent will negatively affect and impact on front-line police numbers? The simple translation of that question is, do the Government expect police numbers on the front line to be as great at the end of the exercise—perhaps the life of this coalition in four years’ time—as it is now, or are the Government for the first time prepared to admit that there have to be substantial cuts, if only because we know that some 90 per cent of the budget goes on policing and police support finances and only 10 per cent is spent on other issues? Taking 25 from 100 does not leave 90. You have to get something substantially less, which can only mean a loss of numbers. Central to that is whether the Government will continue to fund centrally police salaries. Will that be maintained? Given that the Home Secretary seems to be in denial regarding the record falling crime numbers over a period, and to echo the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie, do the Government accept the view of the Lord Chancellor, who said that the crime rate had fallen under Labour?
All of the contributions to this debate have been valuable. A number, including those of my noble friend Lady Warwick and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, have brought wider issues into the debate. All point to the difficulty of maintaining anything like the level of service that we provide to the community, which people expect. They will hold to account very closely a Government who reduce that level. They will be even less impressed with a Government who are not honest enough to tell them what they are doing.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, for initiating this very important debate. These are vital issues and rightly deserve the proper consideration of your Lordships.
Perhaps I may start by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and paying tribute to the police for their tireless work on all of our behalves. They work under extreme pressure, often risking their lives, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
I have listened carefully to the contributions of all noble Lords today and take note of what they have all said. I was very much looking forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, whose former constituency is very near my home, on his maiden performance in this House. Perhaps his noble friends will pass him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour is a priority for this Government. We believe that the best way to achieve this is with a democratically accountable police service that adopts a commonsense approach to policing and is free to tackle local priorities. We need to move away from a centrally micromanaged police service, shackled with unnecessary bureaucracy. The public expects, quite rightly, that police officers should be on the streets, tackling crime and criminal behaviour and helping communities to feel safer, not stuck behind desks, away from the public, completing unnecessary forms. Regrettably, that is what we find—a police service tied up in red tape and denied the discretion to do its job properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, points, among other things, to a 9 per cent drop in crime levels, reported by the British Crime Survey, as a measure of the previous Government’s success. Of course, any fall in crime is very welcome, but this does not show the whole picture. Crime, by any measure, remains too high. As my noble friend Lady Harris said, 26,000 crimes take place every day in our country. The police continue to record more than 1,000 incidents of grievous or aggravated bodily harm each day and perhaps even more worryingly, around 100 incidents of serious knife crime. Muggings and violence against strangers remain stubbornly high, with more than 1 million offences last year, according to the British Crime Survey. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the fact that we are still a country, in the international context, with a high relative rate of crime. Levels of victimisation are much higher in the UK than in many other countries. The latest International Crime Victimisation Survey in 2004— admittedly that is some years ago now but it is still important—found that over 20 per cent of the population of England and Wales had been the victim of a household crime that year, compared with just 12 per cent in France and 13 per cent in Germany.
My noble friend Lady Harris asked about victim support. We provide funding of £30 million to Victim Support, an organisation that works alongside the National Victims’ Association. I assure my noble friend that we will ensure that victims are at the centre of the criminal justice system, and a new victims’ commission has been appointed to help this. We will not lose sight of the awful anguish that victims feel, and we are reviewing the services provided.
The British Crime Survey is an important survey, but it does not cover all victims or all crimes. It omits rape, sexual assault, drug offences, fraud, forgery, crime against businesses, and even murder. We have long argued the need for it to capture the experience of young people, and only now, for the first time, is there an experimental element to it which reveals, depending on your definition, anything between several hundred thousand and 2 million crimes against those under 16. The Government share the UK Statistics Authority's desire to have crime statistics that are robust and generate public trust. This is a complex issue and we are considering how this should be achieved in consultation with the UK Statistics Authority and others.
The police service needs more freedom from central control, with fewer centrally-driven targets and less intervention and interference from government. That is why we have abolished the centrally-imposed target on police forces to improve public confidence and have scrapped the policing pledge. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form fillers. And yet the police have been spending more time on paperwork than on patrol. That is unacceptable. We will be ruthless in identifying and eradicating processes and procedures that are unnecessarily time-consuming for police officers and support staff, including in the wider criminal justice system. For example, by November we will scrap the stop form in its entirety and reduce the burden of the stop and search procedures. We will also consider how we can maximise the use of technology to reduce the paper work in policing.
To cut crime, policing relies on the consent and co-operation of the public that it serves, but conditions that support this, such as trust in the police, confidence that the police and councils deal effectively with crime and anti-social behaviour and confidence in the wider criminal justice system are still too low. The bond between the police and local people is too weak. This is because the police have been focusing on the issues that national politicians have told them are important rather than their local communities. The police have been reporting their performance to civil servants in Whitehall rather than giving information to their local communities, so they can judge how well they are doing. I respectfully remind the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, that only 7 per cent of the public are aware that they can go to their police authority if they are unhappy with their policing. As his noble friend Lord Rooker wisely noted during the passage of the Police Reform Bill in 2002:
“The fact is that if one person in three knows the name of his Member of Parliament, I doubt whether more than one person in a thousand knows the name of any member of the police authority in his area”.—[Official Report, 16/4/2002; col. 828.]
Effective democratic accountability of the police is the bedrock of the policing model in this country. Robert Peel set this out as long ago as 1829, when he said that,
“the police are the public, and the public are the police”,
which continues to be our guiding principle today. The fact is that the existing accountability model is not working. Police authorities are too invisible and in some cases ineffective. People still do not know how to influence how their streets are policed, let alone how to get involved. Only 8 per cent of local councillors are police authority members, and there is no simple way for the public to change them if they feel they are not doing a good job. We need to replace bureaucracy with democratic accountability.
The Minister is painting a picture of a populace that is totally unaware of what is going on. I live in a small village with a parish council. The local police officer attends the parish council at least every three months and has made everybody aware of the policing pledge, which is printed in a newsletter that goes to everybody in the village. I am not on the parish council and do not take any active part in it, but it seems to me that that would belie the black picture being painted. I do not think that there is any particular peculiarity about Irthington or Brampton in the county of Cumbria compared to other parts of the country.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brett, for his intervention. He is very lucky to live in a small village. I am assured that the case that he has portrayed is not the same everywhere.
We need to replace bureaucracy with democratic accountability, which is why we proposed introducing directly elected individuals, elected by and accountable to the public. They will ensure that the police are held to account by the public that they serve, rather than bureaucrats based in Whitehall who cannot fully appreciate local concerns. As my noble friend Lord Bridgeman said, later this month the Home Office will publish a consultation document, with the final policy to be announced in the autumn. We are very keen to hear the views of the public and policing professionals on how this model should work. As the Home Secretary announced at the APA/ACPO conference earlier in the summer, we will soon be bringing forward detailed proposals and introducing the necessary legislation to be implemented in this Session of Parliament.
On the subject of ACPO, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked about its role. The Government’s position is that ACPO has an important part to play in the effective delivery of policy. We are working with it to focus its role as the organisation responsible for the professional leadership of the police service and we will do so by ensuring that it is properly accountable and transparent in fulfilling that function and spending public money. We also want to see a return to common-sense policing. We must trust the police service and treat the police as professionals, with the discretion to make key decisions. That is why we will be taking action to return more charging decisions to officers for minor offences.
We believe that the police are only part of the solution. Lasting success in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will lie in the response of local services and communities to the problems they face, and the Government are committed to empowering that response. That is why we will make sure that crime data are published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets.
We will also support the police to be available and accessible to their communities through regular police beat meetings, giving residents the opportunity to put forward their concerns and hold the police to account for how they are dealing with problems in their area. We would like to see all adults being part of an active neighbourhood group and playing a role in tackling crime in their communities. We want the voluntary and community sector to play an enhanced role, contributing its expertise and innovation.
Engaging other local services and building a culture of local co-operation is vital. These partnerships need to drive joint action, not further bureaucracy, and be more accountable to communities. As we reduce the ring-fences on central programmes, streamline funding and allow autonomy for local agencies to set priorities, we will want them to answer for outcomes, not inputs or processes.
I turn to funding. I have heard the concerns expressed today by noble Lords about this issue. We have made it clear that value for money must be a key driver of everything we do as a Government. The Government’s priority is to cut the budget deficit and get the economy moving in the right direction.
The Budget on 22 June set out our plans to reduce the deficit, including £32 billion per year in spending reductions by 2014-15. The police, along with everyone else, will have to bear a share of that burden. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for his helpful recommendations, which we will consider carefully.
There has been some speculation—the noble Lords, Lord Mackenzie and Lord Brett, asked about this—that this could lead to a reduction in the number of police officers. All government departments are subject to the comprehensive spending review, which is due to be completed in October. Before then, it would be misleading and unhelpful to speculate about the outcome.
In any case, policing is not a numbers game. The test of an effective police force is not how much it costs or the number of officers it employs but how it protects the public it serves. Our challenge is to use our resources most effectively by freeing up officer time to deal with crime. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made some useful suggestions about certain back-office functions.
I turn to some specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, raised a point about co-ordination of effort across the piece, from crime to arrest to documentation and through the criminal justice system. That is why the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, Nick Herbert, has a combined role to enable him to bring together the reform of policy within the wider reform of the criminal justice system. This includes making sure that processes elsewhere in the criminal justice system do not generate excessive bureaucracy for the police.
My noble friends Lord Bridgeman and Lady Harris asked about our approach to serious organised crime. We agree that we need to ensure that the police and agencies have the capacity and structures to fight serious organised crime. Our proposals will enhance the local accountability of police and create stronger arrangements to tackle crimes that cross force borders, including serious organised crime. For example, we are looking at steps that can be taken to strengthen and further develop collaboration between forces. We are committed to ensuring that SOCA makes an effective contribution to the overall law enforcement approach to tackling serious organised crime.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked about risk aversion. We agree with her and with Jan Berry that police officers need to be less risk-averse. That is why the Government’s approach to reducing bureaucracy has at its centre the need to return discretion to police officers. Examples of this, as I mentioned earlier, are returning charging decisions to the police for more minor offences and taking action to amend some of the health and safety practices that get in the way of common-sense policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, and my noble friend Lady Harris asked about our attitude to the Sheehy review. We have announced a review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. The terms of the review will be announced shortly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, asked about rehabilitation, a subject that we consider very important. We are conducting a full assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending, something that she specifically referred to. We will take time to get this right, and we will consult widely before bringing forward coherent plans for reform. We intend to publish proposals for reform in the autumn that will then be subject to public consultation.
If I have not answered every question that has been raised today, I will write to noble Lords. The changes to policing that I have outlined today will play an important part in giving the public the police service that they deserve—one that is democratically accountable, effective and free to tackle local priorities.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in the light of the crime figures published last week showing dramatic reductions in crime, does he believe that the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions, when he said that crime had gone through the roof under the previous Administration, was grossly misleading the public?
My Lords, in this debate we have discussed at some length the fact that the British Crime Survey figures do not include a number of important types of crime. The key fact is that violent crime remains unacceptably high. Furthermore, internationally, we are still a country with a high relative rate of crime.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and informed debate, including the contribution of my noble friend Lady Warwick, who was far too modest about her contribution. I am sure that we will be revisiting these issues in the months after the Recess. All that is required now is for me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.