Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue and to those noble Lords who have added their names to speak. My interest in policing is a parliamentary one; the police interest in me, I hope, is no more than my firearms and shotgun licences. However, were it not for the work of the late Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, to whom I pay tribute, I doubt if I would be speaking on this subject today.
We have heard a great deal about the police recently but I would not wish to appear anti-police. I am certain that the vast majority of serving officers are diligent and honest. Rather, my Question is about the organisational environment in which they operate. Many corporations use performance management but the public service often lacks suitable external benchmarks. Dr Barry Loveday, professor of criminal studies at the University of Portsmouth, in a 2008 article in Policing magazine, described performance management as,
“commitment not to an organisational vision but to conformity in both running and delivering services … The primary emphasis here is directed to the effective management of targets rather than on qualities of leadership”.
He goes on to say,
“‘Gaming’ techniques now characterise the operation of most public service managers … the primary purpose is not … to demonstrate leadership … but to ensure conformity to the target culture by ‘managing’ such data in order to reach targets set”.
However, it is also the collectivisation of risk, anonymity, abrogation of individual responsibility and denial of leadership. The police are not alone; large parts of the public sector, especially in areas of health and education, are affected. Under the Police Reform Act 2002, the Secretary of State sets National Policing Plan objectives and priorities but there is no benchmark equivalent to the hospital standardised mortality ratio.
“Gaming” is academic speak for numerical, definitional or behavioural means of presenting figures to suit outcomes and its use in police recording of crime is the specialist research subject of Dr Rodger Patrick, a former detective chief inspector in the West Midlands force. I have seen his doctoral thesis, his evidence to parliamentary committees, noted the coherence of his analysis and the absence of contradiction by others. His referees testified to his credibility. I therefore invited him to address interested Peers last month and have placed in the Library my note of his talk with its links to further information.
He identified four categories of “Gaming”. There is “cuffing”, so called after the magician’s act of making things disappear up the sleeve; in other words, making crime figures disappear altogether by, for instance, not recording some types at all. In “nodding” figures are enhanced, notably by getting offenders to admit by a nod to other offences to be taken into consideration, or TICs. “Stitching” is coercing suspects to confess to guilt under threats or perhaps promises of more lenient treatment. “Skewing” involves applying resources solely to whatever targets are being measured to the exclusion of others; it is the principle of “what does not get measured does not matter”.
Such issues were brought to the attention of HM Inspector of Constabulary as long ago as 1998, but little if anything has altered since. In its 1999 report, HMIC repeats the police viewpoint that:
“Any bending of the rules is ... seen as ... not being for personal gain but to protect society, and therefore not at the worst end of corruption”.
It rejected this justification but recognised the problem.
Dr Patrick has attempted to quantify the effects of gaming. His conclusion that it is an endemic organisational phenomenon rather than the activities of a few officers makes for uncomfortable reading. The Office for National Statistics thought that cuffing alone might cause a 16% underrecording of crime; Dr Patrick considers that it is likely to be far higher. The truth is that we do not know and the change from an evidential to a prima facie basis of crime recording further confuses the issue.
Unsurprisingly, last January’s ONS national crime survey was received with disbelief by criminologists and it was subsequently admitted that the recorded figures might be defective. But the ONS relies on police figures and the appearance of a decline in crime fits the purposes of many others. Did Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary advise Home Office officials about the extent of a problem going back many years? If so, why has so little changed? Can we be sure that the figures form an adequate basis for analysis? If they are not founded on fact, truth and logic, how can Ministers and Parliament rely on them? Furthermore, what is the role of Home Office officials and statisticians in the oversight of police recorded crime, given the ONS admission? Is it true that cross-checks on police recording, formerly part of the British Crime Survey process, have been discontinued, and if so, why? If the figures are in doubt, what else may be in question?
The list of high profile cases reads like a roll call: Hillsborough; North Wales care homes; the Bradford sex trade; the theft of child identities; the retention of body parts without consent and falsification of evidence; the sale of confidential information to the media; and the cases of Michael Atherton, Andrew Mitchell, Jimmy Savile and Lynette White. All identify procedural, evidential and investigative failure and have attracted public criticism. In the Daily Telegraph of 22 December last year, Andrew Gilligan pointed to seven police forces where sackings, forced resignations, suspensions and criminal investigations of chief constables had occurred, with almost as many more deputies and assistants under a cloud. He put the level of “infection”, if I can call it that, at 20% of police forces. I am hoping that other Lords will pick up on the issue of informal cautions, local criminal records and non-sanction detections. I would simply ask Her Majesty’s Government: what data do police hold on people and what independent oversight exists? Have things improved since 2007 when the matter was raised with the Information Commissioner?
Even if the position has been exaggerated, it adds up to a very disturbing picture with significant implications for the taxpayer, national policy, the maintenance of law and order and, last but not least, public confidence. On regulation and oversight, I note that the Home Affairs Select Committee recently described the Independent Police Complaints Commission as,
“woefully underequipped and hamstrung in achieving its original objectives. It has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt”.
While the Home Secretary moved with what I can only describe as commendable speed to strengthen the commission, I must question whether she went far enough to address all the issues.
As to HMIC, its report of a review into allegations about intelligence concerning the Jimmy Savile case highlighted failings in the quality of investigations and sharing of information. However, it has repeatedly expressed concerns on similar matters since the late 1990s. What is this? Is it a resource issue? In July 2011, it was asked to review police integrity. Can the Minister tell us where that review has got to? I believe it is too early to expect the police and crime commissioners to have taken significant action, but I hope they will be reading this debate carefully and that these matters do indeed lie within their remit. We learnt only last week of some close relationships between health service employees and allied business and procurement services that might be a conflict of interest. Are the Government satisfied that this is not also a factor in the police?
I now refer to the Association of Chief Police Officers. It is more than just the senior policeman’s trade association and, until recently anyway, has been in receipt of substantial public funding. It makes strategic policing decisions, guides policy and issues procedural guidance. It is immensely influential on police force co-ordination and in international crime. In some respects its work is akin to that of a government agency and its relationship with government should be open. Even now, as its direct funding is reduced, I learn that it is asking police forces for a large increase in its subscriptions. But this is still taxpayers’ money and requires full accountability.
I am led to believe that fees for security checks and the like end up in an ACPO unit or subsidiary, that there are several operating under its umbrella and that significant sums of money are involved. I am also told of persistent resistance to Freedom of Information Act requests. It is time for full disclosure of ACPO’s affairs, its companies, subsidiaries, directorships, accounts and activities—everything that either involves taxpayers’ money or is as a result of a public or quasi-public activity. Can I have the Minister’s assurance that this will be done?
I do not have a problem with commercial activities offsetting costs to the public purse but I take issue with the involuntary merchandising of personal information other than in the clearest overriding public interest. I take exception when the process lacks transparency.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, continuing where I left off, I was talking about the commercial activities and how I took some exception to the fact that the process lacks transparency and oversight. I also point to the secretive nature of some of these activities, which suggests something to hide.
Many other issues have come to my attention, including: tow-away, vehicle recovery and storage contracts; insurance industry concerns; and a degree of partiality, particularly as evidenced in the BBC programme “You’ve Been Trumped”, where police simply failed to protect residents from the most serious bullying and harassment by golf course developers.
If the Home Secretary’s statement on police integrity was intended to draw a line in the sand, I hope that the Government realise that nobody is fooled and there is very much more to be done. If the police are not straight with us on the crime figures, how on earth do we know what is going on? Secrecy has no benign purpose here. We need transparency, good professional practice as the norm, compete legality and accurate recording as a basis for policy decisions, and we need it now.
My Lords, I will make one or two of the same points as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Unlike some other Members who are going to speak today, I do not have great experience or expertise in this field. With one or two exceptions, my relationship with the police has been generally okay. I am merely a concerned citizen here, in that I really want to know what is happening to crime in this country. Politically, both this and the previous Government congratulated themselves on a falling level of crime. I did not seriously query this claim until recently.
Of course, government and police claims of crime reduction have always been treated with a degree of cynicism by the general public. Public perception of crime rates in all neighbourhoods tends to exaggerate the degree of actual crime. Of course, there are horrendous crimes, which receive massive publicity. Although harrowing to those immediately concerned, as I know, these are probably not typical. There is a general public perception that the level of particularly low-level crime is higher than the police and the Government claim.
Sometimes the police go over the top. I am told that the South Wales Police notepaper says that crime is the lowest for the past 30 years. I doubt that anybody in south Wales actually believes that—nor would people in Dorset or the City of Westminster. There is a credibility issue underlying this, and some of it has a good statistical basis because of the way in which the police record crime as against, for example, the crime survey and the way that victims see their complaints. So there are some rational explanations for it.
However, I was quite alarmed to see that the ONS itself was seriously querying the degree of crime reduction. That is probably where I am. I probably logically accept, despite the psychology of it, that there has been some reduction, but it is the degree. There was quite a significant difference between the police figures and the other figures to which the ONS referred. The ONS gave a number of quite good reasons for this but at the same time I became aware of the work of Dr Rodger Patrick, to whom the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has already referred.
According to Dr Patrick’s analysis, some crimes are no longer recorded on the basis of reporting by victims or the public but on the evidential assessment of police officers and on the balance of probability. That was always the case with third party reporting but used not to be the case where victims themselves reported. Other cases are lumped together and given the same crime number to appear only once in the statistics. Minor crimes can go unreported altogether: some are on a local crime data list; some are subject to informal caution and are cleared, one way or another, and do not get into the national statistics.
Meanwhile, on the detection side, issues such as “take into consideration cases”, to which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred, are sometimes lumped together as solved or cleared as a result of a deal with a defendant or prisoner, without real conviction and due process. I have read parts of Dr Patrick’s analysis, and I have no way in which to assess the validity of all this or how widespread it is. But it is also true—and this is in the title of the debate—that with some crimes under the last Government there was a drastic fall, following the introduction of targets and performance management criteria. That might mean different things: it might suggest that the target culture was instantly incredibly successful in increasing overall efficiency against targets; it might suggest that the priorities and resources were, as in other public services, concentrated on those areas that were measured and defined as targets while other areas were left underresourced; or it might mean—and this is something that we regrettably know about in bits of the NHS—that figures were reclassified or manipulated to exaggerate performance improvement.
What we need to know from the Minister tonight is two-fold. Does he recognise the figures on descriptions of malpractices in individual police forces to which the noble Earl referred? What arrangements for quality control and challenge of statistics coming from individual police forces are there in England and Wales? Secondly, I recognise that the Home Office and the ONS give guidance to the police on how to record crime, but who checks the compliance? Is it the police authority, the new police commissioners or the Inspectorate of Constabulary? What is the role of the Police Support Unit—or is it the ACPO high command, or the Home Office itself? How does it work and, in particular, how far is it guided, checked and quality controlled by non-police bodies, or is the guidance and advice from ACPO to chief officers dominant? Like the noble Earl, I have some concerns about the role of ACPO in this area.
There are also reports that those who query the current system, whether from within the police force, from community bodies or even from the Home Office, suffer repercussions—they have been victimised or moved to other duties. Is the Minister aware of such allegations, and what would he instruct the Home Office to do about such allegations? I have to phrase this in the form of questions, partly because of the difficulty of proof and partly, frankly, because of the litigiousness of some of those who defend their position. But these are questions that the Ministers in the Home Office and, perhaps, the Ministry of Justice, need to ask.
The present Secretary of State has made two key decisions in relation to crime statistics and performance. First, she transferred responsibility for oversight and reporting of crime statistics after 2011 from the Home Office to the ONS. That is a very sensible move, which will probably pay off in the long run. However, the ONS analysis is only as good as the statistics that come in. Unless we can improve the accuracy and integrity of all sources of information and eliminate natural bias and contrived distortions, the ONS and Ministers will still be working on flawed systems of statistical records, and hence a flawed evidence base. Secondly, the Home Secretary determined that the police service should move away from target-based performance indicators and, in the light of experience, we would probably think that was the right move as well. But local commissioners will still need authentic, undistorted statistics on which to make their decisions. If not, we are going to end up in the worst of possible worlds, where there are no performance targets, but the police go on recording the same statistics in the same way.
It is time that we had a proper analysis of this—the review by the ONS goes just so far. But as the noble Earl said, unless we are confident in the statistics that we receive, bad statistics will distort the basis for operational decisions by chief officers and strategic decisions by police commissioners and distort the very basis on which Home Office Ministers and officials make national policy in England and Wales. We need a new, expert review, probably judge-led, without an axe to grind, distinct and separate from the police force itself, and we need it soon.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for bringing forward this important debate this afternoon. Before I begin, I remind your Lordships of my former interests in policing matters. I have been involved in policing for over 30 years and a member of my police authority for 20 years, chairing it for eight of those. I was a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities, a member of the Police Negotiating Board and the Service Authority for the National Crime Squad and I sit on the Independent Police Commission. Of course, I speak here in a personal capacity only.
The Home Office ostensibly set only one policing target when the current Government came into power: to cut crime. The previous Government did much the same: to improve confidence in policing. Yet under both these seemingly simple and unbureaucratic targets lay a plethora of indicators, with more targets, measures, priorities and the like. Police authorities were bewildered by their complexity but had to comply with them through their policing plans for their local communities.
Then, about a year ago, the Home Office handed all responsibility for analysing crime statistics to the office of the National Statistician, the ONS. The idea was to make the collection and analysis of data more transparent and at a stroke reduce public scepticism about crime statistics. We must not kid ourselves that the Home Office does not continue to collect large amounts of performance and crime data. It needs to, to inform the collation of performance statistics nationally. Some of these data are used to support the crime mapping tool on www.police.uk that enables local people to check crime in their area. That is a very good thing. The data inform the national performance monitoring functions of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary—HMIC. There is also the Crime Survey for England and Wales—formerly the British Crime Survey—which is carried out independently.
Historically—certainly during my years working in the policing environment—there have always been problems with the way in which crimes are recorded in different forces. The former Audit Commission and more recently HMIC noted significant variations in practice and an unacceptable level of mistakes, as we have heard. Commenting on the analysis of variation in crime trends published by the ONS in January this year, the Association of Chief Police Officers—ACPO—recognised possible reasons why the variations existed. It cited,
“potential over-zealous recording practices in the early years of the national standard in crime recording being introduced as well as the move to neighbourhood policing teams resulting in more low-level crimes being dealt with informally and outside the formal crime recording system”.
Be that as it may, the general public need to be assured that crime figures accurately reflect what they see happening on the ground. It would appear that there is a great deal more work to be done to convince people that the police are performing at a consistently high professional level. In some parts of the country, that clearly is not happening. We know from the many recent press reports that concerns are being widely expressed about significant underreporting of crimes such as rape and violence against women, about 101 calls not being answered in a timely and professional fashion and about complaints about police corruption not resulting in any prosecutions, et cetera.
The flurry of media reports of bad policing up and down the country—more in the past two years than I can ever remember during the whole of my time on a police authority—truly grieves me. It is shocking to read of the bad behaviour of some police officers, possible corrupt practices and abuse of the very special powers of a constable. These people have no place in today’s police service and should be rooted out quickly so that the vast majority of utterly professional and dedicated police officers—who, incidentally, deplore this behaviour but seem powerless to stop it—can do the job that they are asked to.
Which forces are using these methods and what will the Government do to get to the heart of these allegations? Will the Government conduct an assessment of the policing and crime plans due to be published imminently to see whether there are any patterns, commonalities or significant areas of difference emerging, especially in those forces where problems may have arisen? Can the Minister say what has been done to encourage other government departments to promote the duty to co-operate with the police and crime commissioners among partner organisations? My feeling is that they will need to be able to develop a coherent range of cross-sector services, matched to the needs of their local communities. It should also help working with other agencies to try to answer some of the concerns that have been expressed here this afternoon.
If it is a matter of culture change—how often have I heard that expression over my years in policing?—the College of Policing must begin to address this as a matter of critical importance. Will the Minister ensure that, where actions need to be taken in regard to forces within which rogue officers are found, they are undertaken as a matter of urgency, and will he seek the help of HMIC to consider undertaking thematic inspections of those forces where these problems appear to be arising?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising an issue that, however one dresses it up, amounts to a system that encourages carelessness, misrepresentation and possibly even corruption among today’s police service. I come here with more than 50 years of policing experience. I first donned a police uniform when I left college in 1958 and I served until 1965. Then, as a commissioned Army officer from 1970 for almost 12 years I liaised daily with the RUC and, when I came to Parliament, I acted as its parliamentary adviser. My natural instinct is pro-police.
I spoke during the previous debate about how arm’s length government has now become, and how remote and ineffective are the multiple layers of delegated accountability so that most of us no longer believe that the Home Office is in control. Certainly the elected commissioner aberration, rather than representing better management, is but another waste of resources, as the electorate have made very clear.
I want to give a practical example of how command responsibility has been eroded to a point where accountability has become little more than a paper exercise and, bluntly, of how this is leading to carelessness, mistakes and, ultimately, corruption. I am not even talking about a Hillsborough or a Savile. I want to talk about a conman called Mark Heslehurst, who has been able to use the Cleveland Police for nigh on a year in order to persecute a local councillor, Councillor Joan McTigue, because she, although initially sympathetic to his story that his son has been abducted to Cambodia, eventually saw through his intrigue and challenged his attempts to extract money from a sympathetic community.
Quite independently of Councillor McTigue, I met Heslehurst, made a few simple inquiries and came to a similar conclusion. I do not have time today to go into his cover story in detail. My complaint is that Cleveland Police have, on behalf of Heslehurst, exclusively concentrated their inquiries to the point of harassing a local councillor, a lady who worked in education and is now semi-retired. Yet Heslehurst, using various aliases—for example, Ian Blagg, who by coincidence tweets with exactly the same grammatical and punctuation errors as Heslehurst—is allowed free rein to publish outrageous claims against this lady and against me.
Community compassion has enabled Heslehurst to travel to the United States and to stand for the Middlesbrough parliamentary seat after the death of our late friend, Stuart Bell, an individual who, like Councillor McTigue and me, was badmouthed by Heslehurst because he was too astute to fall for this conman. Enough about Heslehurst—I am running out of time, but I can provide the Minister with literally reams of evidential material.
What I must ask is why Cleveland’s Sergeant Copley seems to concentrate only on the actions of Councillor McTigue, to the extent that he has seized and held this lady’s computer for the past four months, but has found no reason to do likewise with Heslehurst’s, despite the fact that she and I are blackguarded on an almost daily basis. When I spoke about this to Inspector Wrintmore, he told me that the matter was awaiting a decision from the north-east Crown Prosecutor’s office and that it had asked for more information. However, that is not true. Let me read from two letters that I received from the CPS. On 19 February the deputy CCP wrote to me saying:
“I confirm that the CPS has now given the police early investigative advice … I appreciate your concern regarding the impact of the case on Cllr McTigue … the matter now rests with Cleveland Police”.
Just a few days ago, on 14 March, he wrote again, saying:
“As the only offences under consideration are triable in the magistrates’ courts, the decision as to whether someone should be charged falls to the police”.
After months of aggravation, this was very useful in terms of police statistics but of absolutely no public benefit.
If I had time, I could tell a similar story about an 83 year-old lady in the North Yorkshire Police area, where police have conspired to ensure that she is kept out of her home and where those who have tried to help her, particularly a Tim Hicks, have been threatened with arrest, only to find out when he came on an errand from Luxembourg to face that charge that it was merely an intimidating bluff.
In conclusion, I had similar personal experiences with the Met and the PSNI when I was threatened with arrest due to totally unsubstantiated complaints of assault. Do I look like I would assault anyone? I shall leave that. Once in a Committee Room here, it was alleged that I assaulted someone and that there were more than 45 witnesses, but not one turned up. It also happened once after I gently reprimanded a road hog. That is two more non-offences solved. I rest my case.
My Lords, I am not sure how I follow that, but I will do my best.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for raising this important issue and I am sure that he will not be surprised if I do not buy entirely into his rather pejorative view of modern policing. Even though I am 13 years into retirement, I still believe passionately that the vast majority of police officers are honest, decent people doing a very good job. I declare my registered interest in policing and as a former police commissioner.
Performance management is vital in the public and private sectors, both of which I have worked in for the past 40 years. Performance management drives improvement, can provide transparency and comparability, and ultimately assists accountability. However, I agree with others that for too long reported crime figures have been overrelied upon as the most important police performance measure, despite their fragility as a true reflection of crime levels and their vulnerability to manipulation and massaging by rogue police officers. Others have spoken about that.
Many years ago, as a young and new Chief Constable of Kent Police, I tried to broaden the basket of police performance measures beyond the traditional crime figures. After wide consultation with the public in Kent, three additional measures were regularly published by my force: first, on the police response to emergency calls; secondly, on visible and reassuring police presence and availability on the streets; and, thirdly, on overall public satisfaction with Kent Police. That force became the first and only police service to be awarded a Citizen’s Charter for its overall service to the public, and I think that that was partly because we did not overrely on crime statistics.
Reported crime in recent years, however, has fallen throughout the developed world. Despite wide variations in police resources, methods and accountability, there has been a relentless fall in reported crime in all the major developed countries. Why has crime fallen? Policy, police and government issues have clearly helped, but I firmly believe that the main reason is the significant advances in technology and product development that have dramatically changed the volume and patterns of theft. For example, new cars are now very difficult, if not almost impossible, to steal. Pin numbers and other anti-theft characteristics have dramatically reduced the motivation to steal electronic goods. If you cannot use or sell an item you have stolen, what is the point of stealing it? The volume crime of theft has dropped dramatically throughout the developed world.
Similarly, and even slightly frivolously, there is scientific speculation that the removal of tetraethyl lead from petrol and the consequential reduction of harmful pollution to babies has led 20 years later to reductions in violent crime levels in developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and West Germany. There are very strong correlations between improvements by not using lead in petrol and dramatic reductions in violent crime.
Moving on to police manipulation, the perhaps understandable but flawed overreliance on crime figures has also led to the manipulation and massaging of crime figures by some rogue police officers. During my first few weeks as Chief Constable of Kent, I had to deal with a major discipline case involving Kent detectives who had been visiting convicted burglars in prison. Through various inducements such as taking them out for the day, letting them meet their girlfriends and extra cigarettes, the detectives got them to admit to crimes they had not committed, thus fraudulently improving the Kent crime detection figures.
There is an overreliance on crime figures with not enough being done to prevent fraudulent behaviour. What should be done to improve the situation? I think that the Government have already taken some important steps, including the transfer of responsibility for the independent reporting of national crime statistics to the Office for National Statistics. That is vitally important. Improvements have been announced to the British Crime Survey. Transparency through making changes to the collection of crime statistics is, as I say, very important. I also welcome the statement by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice earlier this month about changes to police recording practices and how crime will be recorded. Some of those changes will come into effect from April of this year, with others to follow in April next year.
In conclusion, it is vitally important for all stakeholders in this arena to acknowledge the strengths, limitations and frailties of recorded crime statistics. Crime figures must not be the only significant proxy for police efficiency. Of course good policing and intelligence-led policing help to reduce crime, while equally, bad policing and confused priorities allow crime to flourish. However, reported crime is only a part, albeit a vital part, of measuring police performance. It does, has not, and will never provide the full picture. ACPO, the inspectorate, the Home Office and now the new police and crime commissioners must accept the limitations of crime figures, and they must give clear and unambiguous signals that only the highest ethical standards are acceptable in recording crime and detection figures. They must be ruthless in dealing with malpractice by rogue police officers, whatever the motivation for corrupting crime figures. It is wrong, however they try to justify it, such as by using the euphemism of “noble cause corruption”. These abuses must be exposed and dealt with.
I am confident that the Minister will be able to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to improving standards in this area and that, with the support of the police service, further improvements will be made. This is a vital area which impacts on public confidence in policing.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for securing today’s debate. It is a good opportunity to express some opinions that a lot of us feel strongly about.
I have become increasingly worried about the build-up of resentment over actual or perceived corruption among police forces the length of this country. Corruption, where it exists, affects only a tiny part of the police service. Thankfully, this point has already been made. The majority of police are honest and decent, and it is for that majority that I would like to know from the Minister if he will set up a whistleblowing scheme for officers, preferably independent from the police service.
I have been made aware that some South Wales Police officers have contacted non-Welsh Members in the other place with their concerns over the improper actions of supervising officers or undue pressure to undertake actions that conflict with their oath to Her Majesty the Queen or their professional judgment. These actions have done much to damage the image of the police.
I am told that the police nationally now adopt a process of informal cautions. This apparently allows them to hold a database of information as a local criminal record. Does this enable them to circumvent the DNA issue and to hold such material indefinitely? Such local data are not accessible via the police national computer and do not necessarily show up on a standard Criminal Records Bureau check or on enhanced disclosure or subject access requests. Persons entered on these databases usually have no idea what is logged or why, and cannot challenge the accuracy of something that could easily affect their personal finances, employment or later be dragged up in court proceedings or other activities.
This practice has apparently been going on since 1997 and was raised in correspondence in early 2007 between Ken Jones, ACPO’s president, and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. I gather that even a fixed penalty notice or a police warning letter is sufficient to trigger a “non-sanction detection” and resultant entry on a computer. Needless to say, the Information Commissioner was most concerned and I would like to know if this issue has been addressed. Does the Home Office know how many such databases are operated by police forces or associates, what they are used for and how they are authorised, and will it ensure from today that all data are disclosed to those whose names are so held? Further, is it going to regulate the activity and insist on a formal register?
I now turn to south Wales and a matter that I last raised on 15 May 2012 in a debate on the Queen’s Speech. It would appear that little attention was paid by the Home Office to my comments, nor did it take steps to use the powers it already has or, if necessary, to seek new regulations. South Wales, its police force and the independence and governance of its commissioner concern me. It seems that the chief constable, Peter Vaughan, was part of the selection panel for the deputy and assistant commissioners, the deputy being a political appointment. I do not feel comfortable with this, or with the appointment of his former ACC, David Francis, as assistant commissioner. Surely this process should have been free of cronyism? I thought that the idea was to introduce independence and new ideas.
What I previously called systemic corruption by a small number of that force’s officers seems to have been endemic in the area for many decades, and now appears to have been compounded. I wrote to Assistant Chief Constable Matt Jukes on 17 July 2012 and in that letter I included a number of FOI requests, which he neither answered nor acknowledged receipt of in his reply of 10 September 2012. I therefore submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner for him to pursue answers in full. The answers to the FOI requests appear to have been blocked by the sector inspector for east Cardiff, Inspector Nicky Flower, whose actions and management they concern.
An appalling case happened in south Wales that was very similar to the type of case that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, was referring to in Kent. A young person was taken out of the prison in Bridgend and treated in the sort of way mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, except that he was plied with four cans of cider and then asked to agree to a considerable number of “taken into consideration” dwelling burglaries that he had not committed. Unfortunately for the police officers doing the questioning, the young chap was actually in police custody on the days concerned. The two detectives received written warnings only as a result of the IPCC investigation; the chief constable would have exposed himself if he had committed the officers to trial. Why am I not surprised? How long do we have to wait for a criminal judge or judges to be appointed by the Home Office to carry out a root-and-branch investigation of that force?
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this has certainly been an interesting and very wide-ranging debate and we should be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for giving us the opportunity to look into these issues and get some response from the Government, who I understand also have concerns. He certainly raised some significant concerns about the accuracy of crime statistics, which have been endorsed by other noble Lords. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether he intends to pursue this further.
I will not repeat what has been said but will instead look at some of the evidence for the points made, particularly concerning the accuracy of statistics. The UK Statistics Authority recognises two main sources of crime statistics: police-recorded crime and the national crime survey. Although they have different numbers, the trends are often very similar as to whether certain categories of crime are rising or falling and to what degree. It was therefore quite worrying to read a BBC report that said falls in crime in England and Wales may have been exaggerated by the police. According to the report, the Office for National Statistics said the “rate of reduction” in recorded crime “may overstate” the decrease. It went on:
“The ONS compared certain categories of crimes and found police-recorded offences had fallen by 33% over the previous five years, while data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales”,
which is used by the UK Statistics Authority, is highly regarded and is recognised as an accurate method of counting,
“suggested a decline of 17%”.
That is a significant change.
My colleague David Hanson MP has asked the HMIC to look into these discrepancies. It was interesting to try to get some information from the Office for National Statistics about why there could be a discrepancy and what was the real issue about the falling level of crime, which all of us want to see. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that we want to believe that crime has fallen. I suspect it has been doing so for some time now, but to what degree and how accurate are the figures? That impacts on the kind of crime strategy that we have. One reason given by the ONS for underrecording is that more low-level crimes are being dealt with informally and outside the formal crime recording system, with officers being given greater discretion to do so. The Office for National Statistics spokesman added that it was also “possible” that lower budgets and fewer police meant that less crime was being recorded—basically, there are not enough police to record and act on all crimes.
There are different ways to deal with low-level crimes. At present there is a very streamlined process of out-of-court disposals, which are non-judicial measures available to the police, such as cautions. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that the Magistrates’ Association has raised concerns about out-of-court disposals being used far more widely than was originally intended. In response to a Home Office consultation on this issue, it said:
“In our view the use of non judicial disposals is being promoted for economic reasons”.
This comes back to my question about whether there are enough police to deal with all the crime that is being reported and dealt with.
With that process being available to police, it is difficult to understand why other low-level crimes have not been recorded by the police in official statistics. However, if we look at some of the figures from industry, the British Retail Consortium has reported a 15% increase in the cost of retail crime and yet there has been a drop in the proportion of crime reported by retailers from 48% to 16%, which is highly significant.
It is difficult to get to the reasons for this, but it is clear that the police are under increasing pressure. There are fewer officers, and that could play a role. The Home Office recently published the summary of a consultation titled A Revised Framework for Recorded Crime Outcomes. The Government looked at the change in the way that crimes which have been cleared up by the police are actually put into the framework:
“Since April 2011, to address the fact that the current framework does not recognise informal disposals, the Home Office has been receiving data … on crimes ‘cleared up’ by the application of local community resolution or restorative justice disposals”.
Can the Minister assure me that these informal reports are actually recorded as crimes in the official statistics from police forces? I suspect they are, but I would like an assurance that this is not a way of sliding statistics in another direction.
It has been recognised for some time that there is a lack of confidence in crime statistics; it is nothing new. In May 2010, as one Government left and another Government came into office, the UK Statistics Authority produced a report. I have to admit that I was the Minister responsible for the statistics authority at the time, but I was not responsible for implementing the report. Titled Overcoming Barriers to Trust in Crime Statistics, it recognised the problem of lack of trust in statistics on crime and made recommendations for enhancing public confidence and the government action to be taken. Many of them dealt with making published statistics easier to understand and increasing clarity on how the information could be used. Transparency often means producing lots of statistics that no one can get to the bottom of or understand. Real transparency means that people know what the figures mean. Of the recommendations made by the authority in 2010, how many have been implemented and how many others are being acted on now? If the Minister cannot respond today and wishes to write to me, I would appreciate that.
Finally, I turn to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. In any debate about crime and crime statistics, there has to be room for reference to the statistics on crime detection, which are an extremely important measure of crime. They concern how many criminals are brought to justice, which is the reason we support our police service. Last year, some 30,000 fewer crimes were solved. Does the Minister have any information on why that is?
I have many other points that I would like to make, but time is short, and I am sure that there will be plenty of other opportunities to debate this issue. However, I will say finally that it is important that the Government should get a grip on the issue of confidence in the accuracy of crime statistics. Data transparency is not enough; there has to be public confidence and the Government have to be aware that this is an issue. The 2010 report will be helpful in this. If the noble Lord is able to give us some reassurances and can address the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that will be helpful.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for tabling this Question.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I began my few words before the Division by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for tabling this debate. It has proved to be really interesting, quite hard-hitting and in many ways quite outspoken, but not any the worse for that. It is good that we have been able to air these issues in such a frank way. It says a lot for this House that we can do so. I hope I will be able to reassure noble Lords that what is on the agenda at the Home Office is what all noble Lords have indicated as being the direction of travel that they believe policing in this country must go in.
A lot of points have been raised. I doubt that I will cover everything but I will write a general commentary on the debate and circulate it to all Peers who have spoken so that everybody can see the responses to those matters to which I do not know the answer or have not had time to provide an answer.
I start from the position of being very proud of our police officers. Every day they put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Thanks to their hard work and the reforms that the Government have brought forward in the police service, the police are succeeding in their core mission to cut crime. I do not think there is any dispute about that achievement. They are also coping with a difficult financial situation. All public services—and, indeed, business as a whole—are having to cope with the economic situation and the need for deficit reduction.
Before going into the detail, it might help to place the importance of the integrity of crime recording within a wider context. As noble Lords know, this Government have undertaken a radical programme of police reforms that have placed local crime concerns and priorities at the very heart of policing. Our reforms have put an end to Whitehall interference and bureaucratic accountability and introduced a new era of democratic accountability based on locality. We have scrapped national targets. I think most noble Lords recognise that that has probably been a great stimulus to adopting a more local focus and a more straightforward approach to these issues. We want the police to respond to local concerns. We have given the public better information about crime in their area and we have changed how forces are held to account. As noble Lords will know, the website means that people are now aware of crimes in their community.
In order to empower communities to hold their local forces to account, we must strive for greater transparency. The public must have a clear and accurate picture of the issues that affect their community and what is being done about them. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, with his professional experience in this area, made a very thoughtful speech. I reassure him that we have already announced that we are replacing detections with a wider framework of outcomes, because outcomes matter, removing the incentives to manipulate those figures to meet locally maintained targets.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that informal disposals are included in the crime figures. The crime maps, to which I have already referred, enable people to compare their area with other areas. I think all noble Lords are aware what a great hit this has been. Crime data have never been more transparent to the public. People can see where crimes have been committed, not only in the area in which they live but in the areas in which they shop and work. Therefore, the integrity of crime recording and the overall integrity of the police service are interlinked, particularly in the eyes of the public. Recording crime properly is essential to maintaining public trust in policing and ensuring that victims of crime get the best possible service.
This Government take crime recording very seriously and we are committed to improving transparency and building public trust in the figures. That is why we transferred the publication of crime statistics to the independent Office for National Statistics. The Government also agreed to the establishment of an independent advisory committee to scrutinise the statistics and advise Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on issues that need further examination. The new committee will examine the statistics and advise on areas that HMIC should be auditing. That is a new development, which will put increasing pressure on accuracy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, knows, the ONS is independent of government and has an independent role in informing government and the electorate of the accuracy of figures.
The HMIC review of crime recording found that the majority of forces perform to a reasonable standard, and the ONS has recognised that the quality of crime recording by the police remains among the best in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was anxious about the figures that we have talked about with regard to a fall in crime, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was also concerned that we made sure that the figures were accurate. Crime is down according to both measures that we use; according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, it is down by 8%, while police-recorded crime is down by 7%; the Office for National Statistics, too, has recognised that crime is falling. UK crime recording is recognised, in an international context, as being among the best in the world, as I have said.
Every police officer has a duty to record crime accurately, which is made clear in the guidance and regulations that cover their conduct. Police officers are required to report colleagues whose behaviour breaches the standards of professional behaviour. I reassure my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond that when crimes recorded by the police do not reflect local crime experiences, we expect the police and crime commissioners to hold their forces to account on those issues. We continue to work with HMIC to improve the quality of crime recording and build public trust in national crime statistics.
Every organisation has bad apples, and the police are no different. Noble Lords have cited some examples today. But it is important to remember that the vast majority of police officers serve and protect the public with honour, bravery and integrity. Noble Lords have mentioned a few specific cases, such as those in south Wales and Kent. These are all historic examples of where those concerned have been dealt with and lessons have indeed been learnt. I hope that noble Lords understand that the purpose of all investigations and inspections is to help to maintain high standards. Recent reports by Lord Justice Leveson and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary have found no evidence that corruption is endemic in the police. However, with every accusation of corruption or that forces are gaming or manipulating their crime figures, public trust in the police is eroded. So I recognise the seriousness of this issue. The Home Secretary retains powers to commission HMIC to undertake urgent work if there are pressing systemic or serious issues, which, as noble Lords will know, she has recently used in the Savile case. These powers exist and are indeed being used by the Home Secretary.
Policing integrity is at the heart of public trust and confidence in the police. Without it, the police cannot do their job effectively or legitimately. If the public were to lose trust and confidence in the police, they would take years to recover. A significant minority of the public do worry about police corruption, and we must do more to tackle it. When police corruption and misconduct occur, that lets down victims, it lets down the honest majority of police officers, and it undermines public confidence in the police.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, of his concerns, and I am very happy to talk to him about the cases to which he drew our attention. I hope that he will take advantage of that. Perhaps I may say that the charging responsibility for summary offences such as those to which he referred in his own circumstances rests with the police. However, all these matters can be dealt with through the IPCC, which has the power to investigate. Therefore, opportunities to challenge decisions are in fact available to the noble Lord and to all members of the public.
The Government have achieved considerable reforms of the police. Elected police and crime commissioners are now in place and the police are more accountable to their communities. There is a new College of Policing to professionalise the police and drive up standards, and a strengthened, more independent HMIC, led for the first time by a non-policing figure. However, we must do more to improve standards. That is why last month the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive package of measures to root out corruption and misconduct from the police.
There are a number of issues that I have not been able to address in the time available but I hope that noble Lords will accept that the measures the Government are taking will make the police much more transparent, with clearer rules on how officers should conduct themselves and stronger systems to investigate and punish officers who do wrong. The measures will also ensure that the organisations we ask to police the police, such as the IPCC, are equipped to do the job.
I hope I can say with confidence that this Government can look back with pride on what has been a time of fundamental reform of policing in this country. Thankfully, police corruption and misconduct are rare and we should not let them detract from the success of the honest majority who work so hard to protect us. I thank all noble Lords and I am sorry if I have not covered all the points. I will be writing.