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James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con):
The Minister rightly identified the need to have greater co-ordination and communication with young people, which I entirely
endorse, but does he accept that very graphic TV and radio adverts might heighten the risk for young people? They may have a detrimental effect if they are wrongly timed and are not backed up with the reassurance that comes from the backing of a strong police response. By advertising in such a way, we could encourage fear, leading to more people carrying weapons on the street.
Mr. Coaker: Of course we need a tough enforcement approachI made that point earlier. Whatever else we do, we need tough police activity to deal with violent and dangerous crime. It is not often that I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but if I have understood him correctly, I do in this instance. We used graphic images in the advertising because young people themselves told us that if we wanted to have an impact, we needed to show people the consequences of crime involving knives, guns or whatever. We need to demonstrate to young people the consequences of their actions. The evaluations that we conducted and the responses that we have received so far have been positive. Those positive reactions are not only from young people, but from parents and others who believe that, far from frightening young people or heightening awareness, thus almost encouraging such crime, the advertising does the opposite and has a good impact in discouraging people from violent crimes, especially the use of knives.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Inspector Andy Woodhead, who polices the Withernsea area of my constituency? I did a survey of the town and the No. 1 concern that emerged was antisocial behaviour, especially the impact of drug dealing. I met Inspector Woodhead, who agreed to review the procedures that the police were following. We made a joint call to local people to provide information, and he and his team have made several arrests and removed at least two drug dealers from the streets of Withernsea. That is an excellent effort between the police and local people, who provided the information on which they rely.
Mr. Coaker: As I said earlier, I could give some excellent examples from my constituency, as could all hon. Members from theirs. I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Inspector Woodhead on the work he did in conjunction with the hon. Gentleman and local residents to tackle drug dealing and other forms of antisocial behaviour. We want that sort of effort to be replicated throughout the country.
The Government have put more than £100 million into our efforts to tackle youth crime and build on the work already under way in many areas of the country. Measures will include: street-based teams of youth workers and ex-offenders to tackle groups of young people who are involved in crime and disorder; increased, visible patrols during and after school hours; expanding family intervention projects to respond more effectively to families at risk; and providing positive activities for young people. In our efforts to tackle knife and other violent crime, we have allocated £3.8 million to local community projects, including positive activities for young people, and £3 million to after school patrols,
safer schools partnerships, Stay Safe operations, and the advertising campaign to which I referred. Again, all those projects involve the public and young people.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am slightly worried about advertising because evidence from the United States is mixed. For example, the Scared Straight programme, which showed young people the consequences of their actions, appeared to lead to an increase in crime. It appears to make a genuine difference when the person at risk is emotionally engaged with the consequences of a potential action. Such consequences do not necessarily emerge from advertising. What evidence can the Minister give the House to show that generalised advertising programmes, which do not necessarily have the emotional impact of a restorative justice programme, will lead to a reduction in crime?
Mr. Coaker: The evidence of young people, who tell us that the campaign will work. Some of the early feedback from the campaign also provides such evidence. Obviously, evaluation is important. The hon. Gentleman has raised such concerns previously, and he points to the evidence from the US. We will keep the matter under review, but we believe that the campaign will, as part of an overall strategy, have an impact. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a need to ensure that someone who may be involved in crime understands the emotional consequencesthat is also part of the advertising campaign. Some of the adverts try to convey the emotional consequences that people may experience. I agree about the importance of restorative justiceof trying to build public confidence in community payback schemes and using more of them. We have proposals to enable people to witness positive community payback programmes working visibly in their communities. Part of our task is restoring confidence.
I could give more examples, but I have spoken for half an hour and other hon. Members wish to speak. We have said a great deal about what we as a Government are doing to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, but our initiatives will not work if the public are not informed about what is going on in their area and the consequences for the offenders. The public will gain confidence that their problems are being taken seriously and priorities are being tackled effectively only if we make action and justice visible. The Government are committed to working with the police and the public to continue to cut crime. Peoplerightly, in my viewexpect that, and we will do it.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I welcome this debate and the acknowledgement contained within it that, despite all the Governments initiatives, all their legislative hyperactivity and all their rhetoric, the very people who are an essential part in the fight against crimethe publichave been left out of the loop.
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Those words are as relevant now as they were then. We all have a responsibility to reduce crime, by seeking to abide by the law, reporting crime, supporting the police and taking action where appropriate.
The relationship that Peel outlinedthe relationship between the public and the arms of the state intended to protect themis based on mutual trust and confidence. Yet those bonds are being increasingly tested and strained by a Government intent on intervening when that is not needed, getting in the way of the relationship between the public and the police. The perverse reality now is that people are actively discouraged from intervening to stop crime taking place. People fear that getting involved might result in getting a record. The policy approach of increasing encroachment by the state, through ID cards, increased surveillance and DNA, mobile and e-mail databases, trusts us all so much that it treats us all as potential suspects.
That breakdown in the relationship has been highlighted by the Governments own advisers. Louise Casey was right when she said that the majority of people do not think that crime has fallen, that people
do not believe the official statistics on crime
the public see the Criminal Justice System as a distant, sealed-off entity, unaccountable and unanswerable to them or to Government.
It is telling that confidence in the police is down from 72 per cent. in 2003 to 57 per cent. in 2008, but should we be surprised when the Government have reduced the discretion of the police and their ability simply to get on with the job? The police cannot be on the publics side if the Government are not on their side. The micro-management of police officers by the long arm of central Government is the biggest drain on police time, officer morale and public confidence.
a slave to doctrine and straitjacketed by process,
in Sir Ronnie Flanagans words. That is leaving aside the Governments culture of centrally driven targets, in which performance indicators on bringing crimes to justice have skewed police priorities on volume crime, antagonising the public and preventing officers from using their discretion to deal with local needs and priorities. We are talking about a regime that proved so successful that chief constables started abandoning it because it was meaningless.
On top of that, we have a performance regime of mind-boggling complexity and dubious effectiveness, in the Home Offices police performance assessment framework, which requires the police to carry out 23 baseline assessments and to record and report on 32 statutory performance indicators. That regime led one police force to undergo 15 different inspections in one year. As Louise Casey rightly notes,
the public do not want their local police service to be chasing centrally driven targets, preparing for and responding to assessments and worrying about monitoring at the expense of time and resources that could better be devoted to local issues and to the quality of service.
We have lost the morality of successful policing.
To be fair to the Minister, I welcome the Governments acknowledgements of those fundamental mistakes, as embodied in the policing Green Paper. The problem is that their proposals for change simply do not go far enough. If they are really serious about giving greater control back to the police, why will they not scrap statutory charging and give the police the ability to charge suspects for all summary and most triable either-way offences? If they really want to reduce the stifling burden of paperwork, why will they not add to the list the paperwork relating to stop and search? That would allow officers to radio in the details and free up more than 1 million police hours each year. And if the Government really believe that their new public service agreement targets are not about central direction, as the Minister has claimed, why do they make it explicit that police services should not bother with shoplifting, despite the direct relationship between acquisitive crime and drug-taking?
The Government are now seeking to dress up the much vaunted police pledge as a new way to support community working. Putting aside the fact that the pledge is full of re-announcements and existing police practice, it is interesting to note that neighbourhood police teams will
spend at least 80 per cent. of their time visibly working in your neighbourhood, tackling your priorities.
However, the point of neighbourhood teams was that their scope was supposed to be ring-fencedthey were supposed to be retained within their designated areas, and to be protected from abstraction to other areas, in order to strengthen engagement with the public. Yet this supposed pledge of better local service seems to be delivering the reverse. Will the Minister tell us whether giving a green light to community police officers to spend one fifth of their time outside the communities that they are supposed to be ring-fenced within, and which they are supposed to be protecting, represents a watering down of the commitment to neighbourhood policing?
To promote greater public trust, confidence and engagement, the public need to be assured that the information being given to them is reliable. Despite all the Governments continued assertions that the crime rate has gone down, the problem is that no one believes them. That point was accepted even by that arch-Tory, Cherie Blair Booth, in her street weapons commission.
The Governments principal measure of crime is the British crime survey, yet, as the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at Kings college, London, points out, the BCS fails to measure far more crime than it actually accounts for. At present, it does not include offences against those under the age of 16; murder and homicide are omitted; it does not measure rape and sexual assaults against women; and it underestimates incidences of domestic violence. Crimes against businesses are not included, nor does it measure white-collar, corporate or environmental crimes, all of which can have a devastating impact on thousands of people at the same time. As for the BCSs treatment of antisocial behaviour, the
Government have sought to count what appear to be seven seemingly random measures of behaviour, leading the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies to note that
it is hardly surprising that anti-social behaviour means whatever the government says it means. This has undoubtedly given ministers enormous scope to target whatever problem they consider to be of interest at any given point in time. Whether such a subjective and amorphous category provides the basis for robust, informed and evidence-based policy is a very different question.
Even when we talk about reported crime, the Government dent peoples confidence by mis-classifying it. The recent revelation that the crime figures for serious violence had been understated by 13 forces fundamentally undermines the publics belief in the information that they are being given. If those most serious offences, which have such a great impact on perceptions of public safety, have been understated for as long as 10 years, it is hardly surprising that people should question what they are being told. If we cannot even count a problem, how can we combat it?
It is telling that, according to Louise Casey, the least trusted source on national statistics on crime is the Prime Minister, closely followed by the Home Office. We welcome Ms Caseys honesty, and her backing for the Conservative proposal for public trust and confidence to be strengthened by collating crime statistics on an independent basis.
I believe that we may need to go further and examine the potential for a single definitive measure for each crime rather than the often contradictory picture of British crime survey figures, as well as reported crime figures, which confuse the public. For some crimes, reported crime numbers may be more appropriate; for others, survey data may be more definitive. Irrespective of that, it is clear that official crime statistics should be at arms length from the Home Office, so that the public know that the figures have not been chosen to suit the spin.
What of direct public action to prevent crime or to arrest offenders? According to Louise Casey, 75 per cent. of the public say that they are prepared to take an active role in tackling crime, yet only four out 10 say that they would intervene to challenge antisocial behaviourfewer than in any comparable European country, with six out of 10 people being prepared to do so in Germany.
One barrier to such direct action is peoples belief that if they get involved and challenge unacceptable behaviour by seeking to enforce their ability to conduct a citizens arrest, they fear that they will be the ones on the receiving end. Rather than being supported by police and prosecutors, such people might end up with a criminal record. As Louise Casey stated in her report:
There was a strong view from members of the public during the review that they would no longer intervene if they saw a crime taking place, for fear that they would either be attacked by the perpetrators or be arrested themselves by the police.
It is our duty to help, not hinder active citizens. That is why it is right to scrap Whitehall targets that encourage the police to pick on soft targets; why we should amend the police guidelines so that officers back those who use reasonable force to maintain the Queens peace; and why the code for Crown prosecutors should be amended to make it clear that it is not in the public interest to
prosecute those who perform a citizens arrest in good faith. If people take appropriate action to protect their communities, they should be praised, not prosecuted.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am very supportive of the idea of encouraging peopleI mean robust citizens, of course, not frail or elderly pensionersto intervene actively, and I have always been troubled by messages suggesting that they should not. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful to have clear guidance, to which the Government and police authorities have signed up, on what exactly citizens powers of arrest amount to? I do not believe that the public are at all clear about that nowadays. It would also be helpful to have clear guidance on the limit of permissible actions that can be taken without causing subsequent difficulties. If that were made clearer, people would not feel so constrained about intervening to try to break up fights and so forth.
James Brokenshire: There are two sides to the issue. Advice and guidance could be given to provide greater clarity, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but clarity is equally obtained through enforcement, from cases and the response of the police and law enforcement agencies to particular circumstances. The balance has been skewed so far in the other direction that it has led to real fear in the minds of the public. It is not just a matter of understanding reasonable force, which is clearly understood by the police and the prosecutors. I argued earlier that it is important to clarify the public interest test for Crown prosecutors so that they are clear in their assessment of these cases and the police are equally clear about what they can do to support those who conduct a citizens arrest. As I said, such people should be supported in taking proportionate and reasonable action.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is clear in the sense that reasonable force is permitted in defence of oneself or another, but that the real question is how we interpret the word reasonable? The problem, it appears, does not lie with the individual, or with the jury considering the case in the final analysis; generally speaking, it lies with the prosecuting authorities in between. They prosecute cases, but if the word reasonable were used in its proper sense, those cases would not be prosecuted at all.
James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend has summarised the position extremely clearly and made the right points. I think that the issue around the Crown prosecutors is the essential one. Yes, judgment calls need to be made, but if there were clarity on what is meant by the public interest, it would go an enormous way to help unblock the current position where members of the public are fearfulthe Governments own adviser recognised this and put it on the recordthat if they intervene, they will be the ones who end up getting punished for taking action as active citizens.
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