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A long time ago, I had the temerity to address a conference of police authority members and chief constables, and I was talking about leadership in the service. I gently criticised the chief constables for being “much of a muchness”. Of course, the clear exceptions to that suggestion are to be found in your Lordships' House, but the argument was as valid then as it is today. Where are the leaders of a highly complex and expensive organisation—one that is getting ever more difficult to manage without major new skills being imparted to them—to be found? Times have changed, and the type of person now needed to run a huge public service such as the police has perhaps changed as well. Now, chief constables have to contend with even more, especially under the performance regimes of recent years. Barry Loveday, reader in criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth, writes that,

Reforms are on the way and the National Policing Improvement Agency, the APA and others have great interest in the area, but how can we be assured that the leaders of the service in the future will be able to meet the harsh challenges coming their way in the next few years? There is no more money in the coffers, a huge pensions bill to fund, a shrinking workforce, greater public expectation and so on. What will be offered by way of training for the people who will head up the organisations? Many years ago, I was told by a number

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of chief constables that they had no need for further training once they had made it to the top. In fact, I was vilified for even suggesting that they might need anything at all. I only hope that today’s chief officers see that differently. Crime may have fallen by a third since 1997 and confidence in the police may have risen since a low in 2003-04, as Sir Ronnie states, but much more needs to be done to sweep away some of the practices that have been endemic in policing since before 1981, when I first became interested and engaged in these matters.

That leads me to talk about the area that may well be most contentious, but that we have a duty to address—workforce modernisation. Twenty per cent of officers’ time is still spent on paperwork. I am delighted that the Home Secretary has made money available for the handheld computers for police to be able to input information, and that they will need to do that only once. However, that is only a small part of what is needed if we are to see real changes in policing structure and make-up. In his paper “Policing a Liberal Society” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, John Blundell writes:

of control—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I apologise, my Lords—a slip of the tongue. The paper reads:

So what might the answers to these thorny questions be? We are, I hope, going in the right direction with neighbourhood policing and the support now being given to PCSOs. Perhaps now another area needs serious consideration: that of mixed-economy teams. To explain these teams, Barry Loveday, again dealing with workforce modernisation in the police service, gives just two examples of excellence in the pursuit of this goal:

He goes on,

In the Bexley pilot, we find—I am sorry about all these quotes—that,

It is my understanding that this pilot was so successful that it was shut down. Can the Minister throw any light on that? If he is not able to do so today, I would happily receive a response in writing.

At the beginning of my speech, I quoted Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, and now quote another of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Police, Mr. Robin Field-Smith, who says that, properly, workforce management,

We must look at basic command units—BCUs—to deliver the local and particular service demanded by our communities. In order for them to do that, power must be devolved from the centre, including the resources to enable a BCU commander to perform effectively. Will chief constables give up that power? The question needs addressing at the very least, so I ask the Minister whether he is aware of any changes within the service that will change the structure of policing. Will the long-awaited Green Paper do so? When will that be published?

In any reform it is necessary to get the balance right, ensuring that protection against serious crime is balanced with the reassurance role now expected by communities. We also need a more skilled and specialised workforce for our fight against international criminal activity and terrorism. We need leadership at all levels, complex problem solving, using coercive powers and negotiating with partners, which will take up more and more time. Flexible team structures will be needed to ensure effective and efficient action. What do police officers actually do and what do police staff do? There need to be changes to training and development. There appears to be a consensus now that training and development programmes are not quite right and need rebalancing.

There needs to be proper reward for skills. Effort and performance need to change. It should be about not just the length of service but competence and delivery. If someone is a good neighbourhood officer, why not keep him there and reward him properly to reflect his experience and skill? Finally, perhaps it is time we looked at the whole issue of warranted officers, but that must be for another day and another debate.

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We support our police in the work they do on our behalf. The job is demanding, can be dangerous and is often extremely unpalatable, but society has changed completely since the days of “Heartbeat”, and we must now help the police change for the future. Enlightened police officers know that this must happen and are anxious for change. We have been shown a way forward by many eminent academics and policing professionals. All we need now is the will to take that change forward.

12.21 pm

Lord Dear: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and congratulate her on securing this debate. Our association goes all the way back to the 1970s, when I was a very young and, no doubt, rather callow divisional commander in Cambridge and she was already flying high a large flag on the local authority scene in Cambridge. It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I endorse what she said about Crimestoppers. I have long admired what it does and the way it achieves results. I declare an interest because, as many of your Lordships know, I served in all ranks in the police up to 1997.

We face an acute problem. Despite government reassurances that volume crime is falling—as indeed it is, for which the police and the Home Office can take credit—public confidence remains stubbornly and understandably low. Only 42 per cent of people believe that the system is effective in bringing criminals to justice; only 40 per cent believe that it deals with cases promptly and efficiently; and, even worse, only 34 per cent believe that it meets the needs of victims.

More than half of criminals apprehended by the police do not go to court; most of them are dealt with by caution, on-the-spot fine or cannabis warning. This growth in non-court dispositions has led a number of senior police officers to criticise the Home Office’s preoccupation with targets to increase what are termed “offences brought to justice”. They say that this preoccupation with targets has led to a police culture of neglect of the serious. On 13 November 2007, in a front-page article in the Times, Richard Ford reported at length about this. He quoted a senior officer who said that the target-driven culture was diverting the police from investigating more serious crime and was causing a concentration on minor, easy-to-detect offences. The officer called for an improvement in the way in which the police deal with violent and sexual attacks, as well he might, because the number of under-18s committing violent crime has risen by 37 per cent in only three years and the number of those in that age group committing robbery has increased yet further, by 43 per cent.

In last Wednesday’s Question Time in your Lordships’ House, I asked the Minister whether he anticipated that the police’s task would diminish in the future. He did not answer that question, but he might have been aware of the Cabinet Office briefings to which I referred on 7 June last year in the last major debate on policing in your Lordships’ House. Those briefings forecast significant future trends that would affect the police, including a growth in low-aspiration cultures, as they put it, which I take to mean an extension of the

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underclass; continuing high reoffending rates; crime becoming more global and therefore more difficult to combat; and no real-terms rise in police budgets.

That debate was seminal and raised fundamental questions about the shape and nature of policing in the 21st century. Nine months later, however, we still await answers. In your Lordships’ House last week, the Minister was thin on detail when replying to questions on policing, but he was no doubt working to an impossibly tight Home Office brief to avoid detailed comment while further discussions took place and further responses were considered. We have been in the dark for months. First we waited for the Flanagan interim report and then we waited for the Flanagan final report. Now we are asked to wait for the Green Paper on policing that was due this January. We are still waiting.

Sir Ronnie’s final report is tightly focused. The Home Office terms of reference to which he had to work were concerned with only three major issues: reducing bureaucracy to free up officer time; embedding neighbourhood policing; and better resource management. All those are important, but there was no focus at all on altogether more fundamental issues that should necessarily have been addressed before any detail was considered. There was nothing at all about level 2 crime, which is the category that most affects the general public; nothing about the growing influence of central government; little about the place of local authorities and police authorities in accountability; nothing about the essential issue of structure, which has already been referred to in this debate; and nothing about dealing with major issues and events.

That list is not exhaustive—I could go on—but so far as we have been allowed to judge progress to date, I see only a continuation of Home Office micromanagement. One has only to turn to the glossary in Sir Ronnie’s final report and count the organisations, bodies, partnerships, assessment units, programmes and initiatives—I counted 29—that bear down collectively on the service. That is not so much a minefield as an area that should be signposted, “Danger: Unexploded Bureaucracy”.

However, Sir Ronnie did very well with a limited brief, and peeping out from under the skirts of the final report are occasional glimpses of some of the matters that I have identified. These critical issues are vital to the future efficiency and development of a service that for far too long has been subject to far too much interference and far too much constant, small-scale adjustment. Those adjustments have done little to advance the professionalism of the service, while major questions that go to the root of the problem have been ignored.

The growth of central government influence and control sits uncomfortably and paradoxically with the stated intention of central government that local involvement should be championed—an intention that seems simultaneously to diminish and sideline the local issue. How can local police divisions, which are now clumsily labelled BCUs, demonstrate real local authority while contributing at the same time to national initiatives and demands? What about the funding model, now that central government contributes so much

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more than it did even 10 years ago? What real role is envisaged for police authorities, as the police’s task becomes ever more stretched between the requirements for national and international responses on the one hand and local demands on the other? Is there not a case to revisit the question of regional crime squads after the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency or, at a lower level, the question of greater involvement of community and business partnerships, which have already been referred to in this debate, in the work of the police?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said, where are the future leaders of the service to come from? Despite the Minister’s sanguine reassurance last week in this House, many experienced observers of the police scene remain very concerned about recruiting the best and encouraging the development of not only managers but leaders in a service that is urgently seeking a redefined role and direction. Only when those and other questions have been answered should we finally turn to the vexed question of the structure and the shape of the service—in other words, mergers and amalgamations. Form should follow function, not the other way around.

I hope that I have said enough to encourage the Minister to recognise that the police task is too complex, too multilayered and three dimensional and too fundamental and integral within society to benefit from further tinkering with peripherals. Those of us with a detailed knowledge of the service and with a concern for its future all hope that the Green Paper—shortly, one hopes, to be published—will demonstrate a new high degree of courage and vision that will set the service confidently on a new path.

I close on a point that is important to me, to the general public and to the Minister, given his special responsibilities in the field; namely, the London Olympics 2012. In the light of what I have said today, I ask the Minister to tell us now whether he is confident that the present structure and state of readiness of the police service in England and Wales are resilient enough, robust enough and flexible enough to provide a first-class response to the undoubted additional pressures and challenges that will arise in 2012. Those pressures will fall not only on London but generally throughout the country. I harbour serious doubts about whether we could cope as we stand at present. We have four years to do something not only about the lower-level, volume-crime issues that this debate is primarily concerned with, but about the much more important and obvious challenges that 2012 could bring. Within the bounds of sensible discretion, I hope that the Minister will feel able to help us on this fundamental point, for much will turn on his assessment of that situation.

12.32 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for initiating this debate. I certainly echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on her apposite and deserved remarks about Crimestoppers. In following the noble Lord, I am once again aware of how fortunate this House is in having the benefit of the advice and experience of senior police officers such as him and the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who is also to speak in this debate.

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I shall speak about cybercrime. This is against the background of the phenomenal rise in the use of the internet. I am sure that your Lordships will be aware of the statistics. In 2007, 15.2 million households had internet access. Additionally, people are purchasing goods over the internet in greater numbers than ever before. In 2007, 53 per cent of adults purchased goods or services on the internet. The Office for National Statistics shows in its latest e-commerce survey that in 2006 internet sales increased by 29 per cent to £130 billion. The rise in internet banking has been even more dramatic. The numbers using these services rose from 6.2 million in 2001 to 17 million in 2006.

At the same time there is evidence that internet users are feeling increasingly unsafe. In a recent survey, more than one in five people interviewed felt that they were more at risk from crime on the internet than from any other crime. For them, internet crime ranked higher in their minds than the risk of having their homes burgled, having their cars broken into or being mugged on the street.

An estimate produced by online identity experts Garlick suggests that 3 million offences took place last year—one every 10 seconds. Yet nine out of 10 offences go unreported because victims believe that the police will be unable or unwilling to investigate. Sadly, that view is reflected within the police. In 2007, a report to the Metropolitan Police Authority from the commissioner suggested:

In fairness to the police, I should add that the same report noted that many organisations were unaware that their computers were being compromised,

In 2001, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit was set up in response to the threat of online crime. This provided a useful link between police forces and business. The NHTCU worked well in combating national and international serious and organised high-tech crime, including serious offences such as fraud, blackmail and extortion, online paedophilia and identity theft. However, at the start of 2006, the NHTCU was absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency as SOCA e-crime, despite criticism that that would leave a yawning gap between local forces and national policing—misgivings that were not misplaced. The widespread opposition to this move was predictable.

In April 2007, the ring-fenced funding for computer crime units in each police force was cut off. Since that date, online financial fraud can no longer be reported to the police directly. It first must be reported to the financial institution concerned and it is up to the bank or credit card company to decide whether the matter should be reported to the police. It is a cumbersome procedure, which distances the victim from the prosecuting authority. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on how the Government now regard these changes. All this adds up to the inescapable conclusion that the Government do not consider cybercrime to be a serious offence. I understand that 33 offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 are not listed as serious crimes under the new Act, although, for example, salmon poaching is.

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Between 2001 and 2006, there were only 88 convictions under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which is a derisory figure. As a further indication of the low priority accorded to cybercrime, police databases do not now distinguish between crimes committed electronically and those committed otherwise; Home Office prosecution figures do not make that distinction, either. The Government have little knowledge of the number of criminals brought to justice for cyberspace crimes.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s security Statement yesterday and the fact that attention is being given to cybercrime in the international context. We must all be aware of the huge damage reaped on the Republic of Estonia—almost certainly at Russia’s instigation—when the whole operation of the state came to a halt for quite a period.

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