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Lest my charge of government inaction on this matter appears to be substantially negative, I advise your Lordships that my party has, on the initiative of my right honourable friend David Davis and my honourable friend James Brokenshire, put forward proposals in some detail in a paper. I shall highlight one or two of the most important proposals. First, there would be a real show of leadership by the appointment of a single Minister for cybercrime reporting to the Home Secretary and by the establishment of a police national cybercrime unit to work closely with the SOCA e-crime unit. As part of the law enforcement process, there needs to be a cybercrime unit within the Crown Prosecution Service and, significantly, the restoration of the important role of the police in the reporting loop, so that once again financial fraud can be reported online to the police. All that is to be instituted after consultation with industry and users. The paper concludes:
Cybercrime is a growing and serious threat to individuals, business and government. It is a problem that will continue to escalate as technology changes. The Labour Government has failed in its duty and remains with its head stuck very firmly in the sand. Conservatives will take action and treat the online threat with the priority that the future security economic and personal interests of this country demand.
I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that the Government are treating this growing and menacing threat with urgency. If they feel able to adopt some of the policies that we have put forwardwith considerable publicity and, I hope, constructivelywe would be delighted to have some of our foxes shot.
I now turn to the DNA database. The role of DNA in crime detection has, as your Lordships will be aware, been highlighted by the conviction of Steven Wright for the murder of five women in Suffolk and of Mark Dixie for the murder of a woman in September 2005. In both cases, DNA samples were crucial to the convictions. In the latter case, Dixie was convicted five months after the murder only after samples had been taken following a minor scuffle in a pub.
These two incidents have highlighted the need to strike a delicate balance between the continued development of the National DNA Database and the rights of individuals. Two examples of the sensitive matters currently under debate in various formsone
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Lord Judd: My Lords, without reservation I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for giving us the opportunity for this debate. Her helpful and constructive remarks set the tone for what is proving to be a reflective occasion.
It would be quite wrong to speak in a debate of this kind without placing on record a tribute to the police and security services for all that they do on our behalf. Their courage, commitment and professionalism which usually prevail are special assets for the nation. The quality of their service is often outstanding, not least that of senior police officers. To maintain high standards, the importance of accountability and monitoring and of independent scrutiny and investigation when things go wrong is great. But that scrutiny and investigation must be seen to be independent and it must itself be of the highest quality.
There has been emphasis in the debate on the importance of training. I would underline that and say that I believe that higher education has a vital role to play. There are many examples now of how that contributes to the development of the police services. I declare an interest because I professionally advise De Montfort University, which is involved in this kind of work, and I serve voluntarily in the governance of the London School of Economics, the University of Newcastle and Lancaster University. If this work is to succeed, it is important to have continuityto be able to plan ahead so that proper resources are there. One cannot switch it on and off just like that.
A lot of emotion and sensational journalism surrounds crime. I hope that the House will forgive me if I take the opportunity of this debate to look at the facts for a moment or two, albeit that some calculations are obviously less statistically significant than others. The British Crime Survey arguably provides the most reliable measure of trends over time since it has a consistent methodology and is pretty unaffected by changes in the reporting and recording of crime. The BCS for the year ending March 2007 showed that over the previous 10 years all crime as measured by the BCS was down 32 per cent. Burglary was down 55 per cent, all vehicle thefts were down by 52 per cent, all household offences were down by 33 per cent, all BCS-recorded violence was down by 31 per cent and all personal offences were down by 32 per cent.
Figures for the year ending September 2007, compared with those for the year ending September 2006, are interesting. Overall level of crime remains unchanged at around 10.7 million crimes. The risk of crime, according to the BCS, came down by 1 per cent. Violence largely remained unchanged, but with a 2 per cent decrease. All personal crime saw a 6 per cent decrease, all household crime saw a 2 per cent decrease and vandalism was down by some 4 per cent. Domestic burglary did see an increase of 5 per cent, but theft from the person saw an 11 per cent decrease.
In applauding all that, as I do, we must recognise that the challenges remain great. Ethnic realities and perceptions and the implications of those for stop-and-account, let alone stop-and-search, people trafficking, prostitution, rape, gun crime, drugs and, some would argue, even more exactingly, alcohol, and of course youth-on-youth violence are all examples of those challenges. They are complex social issues necessitating effective law enforcement and highly imaginative, wider, sensitive and co-ordinated social policies. Education is often highly relevant and we must beware of criminalising significant numbers of the young.
It is impressive that the police themselves can be ahead of existing public opinion in understanding all that and working towards it. In recent conversations that I have been able to have with a few key police personnelsome still serving and some recently retiredthe point repeatedly emphasised by them has been that successful policing depends critically on working with the community. In effect, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his important report, had that as a central theme. Public confidence and trust are vital. That is why in my home county so many of us welcomed the decision to keep the Cumbrian force as a Cumbrian force rather than seeing its dynamic drawn towards urban areas in Lancashire, which would have been inevitable had the forces been combined. Neighbourhood and local policing really do matter.
This priority of working with the community is nowhere better illustrated than in counterterrorism policy. Without trust and confidence where it matters, the task is made immensely more difficult. That is whyI hope my noble friend will forgive my taking the opportunity to make this pointsome of us are totally unconvinced by the proposal to hold people for 42 days without charge, and totally convinced of the need to move forward on introducing at least some element of intercept evidence in court proceedings. Justice has to be seen to be done and procedures have to be as transparent as possible.
Quite apart from the human rights and natural justice concerns to which I hope we all subscribe, there is the issue of counterproductivity. I believe that counterproductivity is unforgivable, and whether it happens inadvertently is irrelevant. Counterproductivity undermines the efforts to contain terrorism. Some significant players in the police with frontline experience and operational responsibilities, with whom I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak recently, share this anxiety. To pretend that all those involved in the struggle against terrorism want detention for 42 days is just not what I have encountered. It behoves us to take the views of those in the police service seriously.
I referred earlier to certain crime statistics, and perhaps I may talk a little about what is happening to the police service in terms of personnel. Over the past, decade the police workforce has increased by 27 per cent. On 30 September 2007, the personnel of the police service totalled 231,822, of whom 139,170 were police officers, an 11 per cent increase on March 1997. Police numbers fell by 800 between March and September 2007. However, a decline of 0.6 per cent in officer numbers must be looked at in the context of the 0.8 per cent increase in police personnel overall during the same period, an increase of some 1,796. In any case, it was the first time there was a reduction in police officer numbers since March 2000 in the 43 forces in England and Wales. As forces more critically examine the roles of officers and look for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, their police staff are taking on more roles from police officers. In the past 10 years, police staff numbers, excluding police community support officers, have risen by 19,529 to 76,721, an increase of 34 per cent.
Of course the focus should not be on officer numbers, but on making the best use of officer time. Equally important is how policing is delivered. The workforce mix must reflect the best way to deliver policing. In this context, it is encouraging that many forces are already employing police staff in operational support roles that do not need the powers or training of a police constable, and surely that is exactly what should be happening. On a like-for-like basis, government grant and central spending on services for the police will have risen by nearly £4.8 billion, from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to £11 billion, a 77 per cent increase which in real terms is more than 39 per cent. For 2007-08, the Government provided £350 million in funding for neighbourhood policing, representing a 41 per cent increase towards the cost of achieving the target of 16,000 police community support officers by April 2007, and towards having a dedicated neighbourhood policing team embedded in every area of England and Wales by 31 March. The three-year settlement for 2008-09 to 2010-11 for policing at least provides a background of stability and continuity, and I believe that it is altogether welcome that the Government achieved the target of 14,000 special constables by 2007.
I conclude by returning to the issue of counterterrorism, which preoccupies us all. The Home Office has provided record funding for counterterrorism policing. In 2006-07, it allocated £106 million of the counterterrorism specific grant to the ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters scheme and £142 million for the Metropolitan Police Service. I understand that in 2007-08 the Home Office plans to increase still further this extra funding by £95 million to the ACPO TAM scheme and by £45 million for the MPS. I welcome that, but I implore my noble friend and his colleagues to recognise that it would be tragic in this context to undermine it all by an ill-advised insistence on a totally as-yet-unargued extension to 42 days of the ability to hold people without charge.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, as the long years of this Labour Government draw to a closeI say at once that they are a Labour Government who
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I remembered that acronym when I introduced and secured an amendment to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to set up a national register of firearms which could be accessed by any police force, as has happened for many years with driving licences. There was endless resistance from Home Office officials who were able to fight a successful battle against it until November 2007, when finally the scheme came into force. I am grateful not so much to the Home Office, but to a succession of Home Office Ministers who fought with me and my party, and with the Liberal Democrats who were very helpful on this issue.
The real problem is that Home Office Ministers tend to survive in inverse proportion to their effectiveness. We have had an awful lot of Home Secretaries. We had Mr Straw for four years; I think that he was rather good and I am glad that he is now in charge of the other half of the Home Office. On balance, the split of the Home Office has been a good idea. We then had Mr Blunkett for two and a half years. He had many of the right instincts and there was much affection and admiration for him. We had Mr Clarke for a year and a half, and it was rather sad that his career came to an end. The best Home Secretary by one measure was Dr John Reid, who was the first to come out with the profound truth that the Home Office is not fit for purpose. Others had realised and recognised this but there had not previously been a Secretary of State who had said it.
I am a great fan of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord West, because I am a great fan of Britains Armed Forces and you do not become the First Sea Lord unless you are pretty good. The odds against most Members of the House of Commons reaching that level are rather high, especially nowadays.
I always remember Ernest Marples, for whom I worked when I was very younghe was a most effective Minister and a true visionary in that he recognised the scope for applying technology in government long before otherssaying that any Prime Minister faced a real problem in having to fill nearly 100 ministerial posts from a short list of about 350 who had been primarily selected for their pastoral inclinations rather than their executive talents.
Yesterday we had a White Paper on national security. I have not yet had time carefully to study it, but I have looked at it. Frankly, I am not very impressed. I think it is a somewhat bogus document. When you are trying to focus effort and get results, you cannot usefully put in one document all these different
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I wondered why it had been produced and I thought that perhaps it was meant to balance our Prime Ministers obsession with plastic bags. Think of a Prime Minister under pressure who is lucky enough to be given the chance of writing an article in the Daily Mail, which has a huge readership of those who are not his natural supporters. What does he write about? He writes about plastic bags.
I want to refer to two specific matters which are the responsibility of the Home Office and the particular responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord West. The first matter is identity cards and the second is border control. I have received many helpful Answers to Written Questions over several months which have raised certain specific questions.
Dealing first with what I see to be the primary problem with identity cards, the Government have made a major conceptual error and focused on the card. I support the concept of identity cards but they have focused on the card, which is a rather inflammatory thing anyway. What matters is that there should be a register so that the Government know who people are. A card which has on it biometrics is not sensible for a simple reason: if you are a serious criminal or terrorist you will ensure that the biometric details on the card match your own. You may say that a chip is not easy to forgeand many people would find it hard to forge onebut seriously bad people would be able to do so. Of course you want biometrics, but you want them in a central record which can be accessed online. There is no advantage in accessing the data on a card. It would be a great deal cheaper if people were to carry a card with a photo; I would have no objection to that. But the crucial thing is the number and that that number is linkable to a central record which authorised people can check and quickly find information. With modern data links, it would be every bit as rapid as it is for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which works extremely well and has done for many years. It would be a great deal cheaper to have cards that did not have on them these biometric chips.
Biometrics are going to be a proper answer to identification, and growingly so. I have no objection to my fingerprints or DNA being held anywhere. The technology exists to ensure that central records can be firewalledI am assuming a level of competence for the purpose of this argumentand the different data bases can be separated from each other. So instead of us all having a multiplicity of numberspassport numbers, driving licence numbers, tax numbers, national insurance numbers, which are about the most insecure of all of them, national health numbers and so onone number would be quite sufficient and you should get a net cost saving.
I have said much of this before but I have been unable to persuade the Home Office. However, that failure does not necessarily convince me that I am wrong. I think it would be a great deal cheaper and more efficient to have a central register of people with merely a card as the first thing to prove identity.
Moving on to the crucial issue of border control, the United Kingdom is not a member of Schengen and I think we are right not to be. But the premise on which we are not a member of Schengen is that, because of our geographical design, it is easier for us to defend and protect our own borders without being in Schengen. The Schengen borders, by definition, are not points at which people can be checked. But this argument, which I support, is undermined by the fact that our borders are not properly controlled.
Before the British left Hong Kong in 1997, there was there full electronic border control which worked extremely well. That was 11 years ago now. But we still do not have it in Britain. When you have your passport swiped as you come into Britain, the officials are checking to see whether you are on the watch list, on which there are about a million people. It is quite useful. But there is no record kept that you have arrivedif you are not on the watch list you walk straight throughand, therefore, if you allow a certain number of people to come into the country for a limited length of time, there is no way of knowing that they have left. Amazingly, no record is made of peoples departures. If you do not have a record of someone departing, the chances are you do not know whether or not they have. And if they are meant to depart by a certain date, that does not seem to be a very sensible system.
The e-borders system of control is not expected to come into full force until 2013. We had a wake-up call on this with 9/11 in 2001. There has been plenty of time to get it right and it is not acceptable that our e-borders control will not be introduced until 2013-14, when it will be complete. I ask the Government to make a new attempt to bring this forward much more rapidly.
I come now to the question of passports. Around 250,000 passports are reported lost or stolen every year in the UK. The cost of checking to make sure that they have been lost or stolen is considerable, and I have no reason to think that the agency concerned does not do that quite carefully. However, the charge made for a lost or stolen passport is exactly the same as the cost for getting a new one. It ought to be a lot higher, if only as a great deterrent against losing a passport. When I put that to the Home Office, the answer was, Oh, it wouldnt be fair if you had looked after your passport and you lost it and then you had to pay more for a new one. That is in one of the Written Answers. I could say the same if I am silly enough to leave my suitcase in a trainbut you insure your suitcase. A passport is just as insurable as anything else. If the Government had proper fees for replacing lost or stolen passports, not only would that be a deterrent but it would give the Home Office some extra money that it very much needs at the moment.
Lord Imbert: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for securing this debate, in which she has already highlighted the role of Crimestoppers, together with the part played by that charity in the prevention, solution and reduction of crime and, in turn, the support given to and received from the Crimestoppers Trust by the police and the Home Office.
One of these, which is of particular relevance to todays debate, was Working in Partnership to Reduce Re-Offending and Make Communities SaferI emphasise make communities saferwhich was published in March 2007.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has highlighted one such important partnership, the Crimestoppers Trust, which makes communities safer. So important is the work done by that community-based trust that I shall endeavour to put a little more flesh on the bones for the information of noble Lords. I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said about community involvement, and this is a prime example of it.
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