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On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was sent to the Commons.

Cross-Bench Funding

11.44 am

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the final Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the resolution of the House of 30 July 2002 (Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties) shall have effect as if paragraph (2)(a) provided for £61,003 to be the maximum amount of financial assistance which may be given to

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the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for the year beginning with 1 April 2008; and paragraph (2)(b) shall apply in relation to each subsequent year accordingly.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, this is a very welcome addition to the independent Cross-Bench Peers’ modest income, and I thank my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton, my predecessor, who began negotiations for this heady increase. It is not a princely sum, but it will enable us to engage a part-time assistant, and I have no doubt that it will help us to provide us a better service in our office for the Cross-Bench Peers.

Lord McNally: My Lords, although these Benches support this addition for the Cross Benches, it really is very unsatisfactory that help to the opposition parties in this House is completely in the gift of the Government of the day. The sooner we have a proper structure and mechanism for providing help to the opposition parties, as is the case in the Commons, the healthier it will be for the working of this House, rather than having these ad hoc arrangements as in the proposal before us today.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, for their generous support for the proposition I put to them to enhance the extremely modest amounts of money. However, I absolutely take the point which has been made—and which the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, have made to me on a regular basis—and I am more than happy to start discussions, without any suggestion of where I might take them, to see how this might be taken forward.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


11.46 am

Baroness Trumpington rose to call attention to the contributions of the police and the Home Office in the identification, prevention, solving and reduction of crime; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am most grateful to those noble Lords who will be speaking in this debate. Their quality and experience almost, but not quite, make me feel sorry for the noble Lord who is to wind up on behalf of the Government.

For myself, I have no intention of dwelling on any particular case involving the police. Newspapers, television and the radio all inundate us with ever-growing horror stories. The trouble is that they are not plucked out of the air. The media report government figures which estimate that one in four people has been a victim of crime, and as a result the impact upon these people's lives can be immense and lasting. It is a worrying picture.

Last year the Government produced a new Home Office strategy on how to reduce crime. In it they talked about,

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and emphasised the importance of working with local communities in addressing their concerns about local crime. I quite agree and hope that the steps they lay out, such as increasing the flexibility of local units, are implemented rapidly and effectively.

Listening to local communities can result in scarce resources being targeted more narrowly on the issues that matter most to people. Engaging those most affected by the crime can give people new confidence and trust, not only in themselves and in what they can do to make their world safer, but in the police. Without this relationship between the community and the police, no amount of top-down, centrally imposed reforms will ever have a significant impact on crime.

The Government have spoken much over the past few years about engaging with various existing organisations within a community as a way of engaging this trust and acceptance. Organisations such as a local church or school can all be routes through which the police can meet and get to know sections of the community they would otherwise not have access to. And, of course, charities and other independent organisations have the most enormous potential for adding to police capabilities. The Government have acknowledged the role these organisations can play within their initiative. In their strategy paper they state:

This is where I declare an interest. I am a board member of Crimestoppers, an independent charity which runs a free telephone line and encourages people to ring in anonymously with information about crimes or criminals in their communities. It then passes the information on to the local police force for the appropriate action to be taken. One of the most interesting aspects of the operation is that, although a reward is sometimes offered, only 1 per cent of eligible callers claim it. This simple idea has led to some truly remarkable successes. Since it started in 1988, it has contributed to 83,523 arrests or charges, the recovery of stolen goods worth £100 million and the seizure of drugs worth more than £145 million. On average, 17 people are arrested every day because of information received. Once every five days, one of those people is charged with murder.

Passing on this information is not the only way in which Crimestoppers helps the police. It also runs the Most Wanted website, where police services can publicise appeals for the most serious criminals who have so far escaped justice. To date, the website has been responsible for the arrest of 400 serious criminals. It also engages in specific projects in partnership with the police, such as Operation Pentameter 2, which is a campaign started in October 2007 in partnership with the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the police to encourage people to give information about human trafficking. An earlier incarnation of that campaign in 2006 shows what we can expect from this example of genuine partnership between the police and charities; 88 victims of trafficking were rescued and 366 people were arrested or charged.

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I could continue the list of successes, but I shall resist. I shall not resist saying that the help that Crimestoppers has given the police has led to a recent surge in requests for its involvement, not only from local police forces but also from new national law enforcement agencies, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, as well as regulatory bodies such as the Security Industry Authority and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. It appears to be universally agreed that Crimestoppers is a roaring success. And yet, this success is founded largely on private donations and the work of volunteers. The generosity of those who contribute their time and money to this organisation should not be underappreciated, but your Lordships who have worked in the charitable sector know how hard it is to rely on what must, by its nature, be an uncertain and fluctuating resource.

Not all the budget of Crimestoppers is funded by private donations. The Home Office has contributed up to £900,000 a year towards the head office costs since it applied for a grant in 2002. Unfortunately, that does not meet those costs fully, and the difference must be met from reserves of donated money. Nor is this income reliable. Despite hopes following discussions with Home Office officials, a three-year funding agreement, which expired this year, has not been extended, Crimestoppers is once again in the situation of having to return annually in the hope that another grant will be made. Noble Lords can imagine the effect that this uncertainty has on forward planning. Most organisations plan for the long term. Members of staff at Crimestoppers are specially trained to deal with the thousands of calls received each day, yet job security is not extended beyond a year for these highly trained individuals.

The limitations to Home Office support extend beyond administration costs. On occasion, the Home Office commissions Crimestoppers for specific projects. For example, the Home Office has recently granted funding for a communities campaign in Southwark and Lambeth to address gun and knife crime. This project, with the help of Crime Concern, local youth groups and the New Destiny Trust, has already doubled the amount of information coming in and the number of arrests made. But it is entirely dependent on the six-month government grant and, in a few weeks, this will come to an end and everyone will have to close shop and go home, thereby threatening an intelligence stream that has become vital in fighting knife and gun crime.

The Home Office should be well aware of the potential of Crimestoppers. As far back as 2001, a Home Office evaluation concluded that even Crimestoppers underestimated its own value. Another evaluation in 2003 concluded:

The Government’s recent strategy paper claims:

suitable charities—

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I suggest to the Minister that this organisation has incontrovertible evidence of its enormous untapped potential to help the police in the reduction of crime. What more, I ask your Lordships, can a charity do to show its eligibility for government support?

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to end a parliamentary week than by examining the current situation concerning the police and the Home Office. As we speed our way home, we should remember that we are dependent on the presence, efficiency, and courage of the former, while we depend on the latter making the best use of its multiple responsibilities, which of course includes finance. The future of these bodies is our future; it concerns our loved ones, our homes, our travel and, most certainly, the future of this country. I beg to move for Papers.

11.58 am

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for, and congratulate her on, securing this debate, which, because of its wording, covers a wide spectrum of subjects and will, I suspect, prove to be very interesting. I ought to declare at the beginning of my contribution that I will speak on roads policing. It is an area in which I have up-to-date experience, as I still go out on patrol, despite my grey hairs, and in which I continue to seek a better understanding from others who say that traffic officers are there only to issue speeding tickets. They are not.

It has been said on numerous occasions that “Most drivers aren’t criminals but most criminals drive”. That is still the case. The specialist traffic officer will observe a little something in someone’s driving or vehicle that leads to an arrest, which could be for something not connected in any way with the driving or the vehicle’s condition.

The drive for efficiency through local neighbourhood policing has tended to skew policing activity in favour of fixed targets and measurable performance which, in some ways, is not a bad thing; but the consequences of this has resulted in forces becoming detached from providing a visible and operational presence to deal with roads policing issues. But there is no target encompassing roads policing that the performance of chief constables is measured against. Is this another example of what gets measured gets done and what is not measured is ignored? I shall return to the subject of targets later.

Because of that, the number of traffic officers has been reducing year on year, with the result that they rarely have the time to patrol inquisitively but can react only to calls from the control room, be it an emergency or not. I ask your Lordships how many times they have driven on a motorway, perhaps for hundreds of miles, and not seen a uniformed police presence. There are, of course, HATOs but they are not police and have very limited powers. In many constabularies, the police only go out on to the motorways in marked cars if and when they are called to deal with an incident, and the criminals are aware of this.

Motorways carry the biggest travelling community in the land. Open European borders and increased continental traffic make our borders and roads network more vulnerable to breach by criminals and terrorists.

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Observant police patrols, which have the latest technology in their cars, are able to use their powers spontaneously to stop and apprehend offenders. If they are not there—as they most certainly are not—what message does that send out?

A few years ago, I did a course called Tactical Pursuit and Containment—TPAC—which, in effect, gave instruction on how to stop a vehicle, usually on a motorway, by boxing it in with a few police cars. Before the course started, I went out on patrol with an officer who was driving very carefully, as he did not know me. After we had been chatting for a couple of hours, he said something to the effect that I had attended more police driving courses than he would ever manage to do in his whole career. After that statement, he went into proper traffic officer driving.

Now, noble Lords may well smile at his comment but it brings into focus the loss of skills among roads policing officers, which has been creeping up over the years. I am assured by operational police officers that this seriously concerns them. Gaining the required range of abilities to tackle the full extent of enforcement requirements necessitates experience and knowledge, which are not being maintained. So, if the police are not able to enforce the law—especially some of the specialist legislation that requires detailed understanding and practical awareness of the law—who can?

At the moment, there are 43 forces that have different force requirements for their vehicles. I add my voice in support of the efforts of the Police Federation and the national police fleet managers, who are actively trying to get some national consistency with the procurement of standardised police vehicles that are factory-built to police specifications. It must make economic sense and bring about cost benefits if all forces collaborate more effectively in obtaining a vehicle built to police standards rather than do their own thing.

Local communities are important and need strong, robust policing but they stretch the length and breadth of the country and across all road networks. The transient population use all sorts of vehicles and, in one way or another, they contribute to the many examples of anti-social behaviour that we often hear about and the myriad offences that are becoming routine and unenforced other than through fixed cameras.

As the criminal fraternity use vehicles to get from A to B, it makes sense to assume that they know that the chances of their being caught on a major road are very small, provided that their vehicles do not come up on the ANPR for any reason. So why do chief constables ignore roads policing? The answer is simple. There are no targets and the vehicles detract from their financial budgets. Oh, and they fail to acknowledge the fact that a roads policing officer usually has a higher arrest rate for non-motoring offences than most other types of officer.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his recently published review on policing, mentions the needs of modern policing to deal with threat, harm and risk. Applying these three key elements from Sir Ronnie’s assessment to the problems on the roads, we still have an unacceptably high death toll. Approximately 3,200 people are killed on our roads every year, which equates roughly to the

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loss of people on eight jumbo jets. The serious injury figures are worrying and the drink-drive figures are no less acceptable, with around 550 people killed each year while under the influence of alcohol—that is, 10 people killed each week due to drinking and driving. The problem of drugs and driving is difficult to quantify but police sources tell me that the figures are equally damning. Correctly, concern is raised from many areas about the high level of male drivers under 25 being involved in this terrible carnage each year. These are crimes and most certainly not victimless crimes, yet the police are not generally asked to account in their neighbourhood policing plans for their activity and intervention in tackling this local and national problem.

I used to go out on traffic patrol on a regular basis with a constable whom I have known for many years. I said that I would return to targets and I would like to read part of an e-mail I received recently from him which, to me at least, is very disturbing. He said:

that is, construction—

I conclude by providing additional food for thought. On 13 March this year, North Wales Police undertook an operation to target heavy goods vehicles using a certain road—just one road. The operation finished earlier than anticipated due to the high level of offending, with the check site becoming full despite vehicles being escorted to a secondary parking area: 59 vehicles were stopped and the offending rate, which covered a wide range of offences, was two out of every three goods vehicles stopped. Does this happen elsewhere in the country? Are there other road policing officers available to carry out similar operations in other constabularies? I wonder.

12.07 pm

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on securing this debate. It is indeed very timely. I want to talk about the leadership of policing and workforce modernisation. We all admire the role which the police service undertakes on our behalf. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the work and dedication of those officers who serve the communities of this country with bravery and honour. So my remarks may disappoint some of those whom I have always supported, but after a great deal of thought and a huge amount of reading, I have come to the conclusion that things have to change—and fast.

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In his report, The Review of Policing, Sir Ronnie Flanagan states:

A number of years ago now, I was deeply involved in just these issues. As a member of my police authority for over 20 years and chairing it for eight years, I struggled with some of the issues we are facing today. Indeed, as a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities—to whose staff I pay an enormous tribute for their leadership in the issues facing all police authorities and in their determination to solve the difficult problems—we tried very hard to bring some of the modernising issues to the fore, especially in the area of human resources. Sir Ronnie has neatly addressed many of the outstanding issues that we still need to address, and we must get on with implementing the reforms—and quickly.

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