HC Deb 22 May 2000 vol 350 cc663-5
6. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What progress he has made with preparations for collating statistics about crime, police numbers and achievements in preventing and tackling crime by basic command units. [121536]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

We are committed to publishing information that allows local people to judge and compare performance. Recorded crime statistics were published at basic command unit level for the first time in January this year. The next publication will be in July. We are currently preparing an analysis of statistical families of basic command units, which would allow more effective comparison between different parts of the country.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. However, is he aware that the figures that have been published so far seem to demonstrate that police in the town of Slough work much harder than do police in the rest of the Thames valley? Will he consider making that information more widely available by publishing how many constables are attached to each basic command unit, as well as the number of crimes that have been committed? That would show where the police have to work hardest, and it might persuade our chief constable that he should allocate more constables to Slough.

Mr. Clarke

The question of the work rates of officers in different parts of the Thames Valley police force is a matter not for me but for the chief constable. We are prepared to consider publishing more data about what is happening at basic command unit level. That data would include the number of officers allocated to each unit. The inspectorate of constabulary intends to carry out a rolling range of inspections at basic command unit level from April 2001, which will allow a detailed analysis of the sort of matter that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Figures from the Home Office research department and the British crime survey show that, out of every 100 crimes committed, 47 are reported and 27 are recorded. However, only five crimes are cleared up, and only three result in a caution or conviction.

Does the Minister agree that the priorities are to prevent crime and to detect it? To avoid an increasingly ridiculous British auction of ever-more draconian sentences being imposed—an approach that has not been effective in the past—will he convene a meeting with his counterparts in the other two main parties to examine what works to deter crime? Will he undertake to ensure that every community, rural and urban, can at least have officers on the ground? That would reassure those communities, and make sure that someone is in the front line, preventing and detecting crime.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman asks a compendium question. I certainly agree that we are focusing on reducing and detecting crime by all means possible. The whole thrust of our policy is, as the hon. Gentleman says, on what works, identifying the best technique and driving it forward. That is why we established the best value regime for the police earlier this year. I wish that politicians of all parties would share that aspiration and stop trying to undermine confidence in the police, as some of our opponents frequently do in what they say. I confirm that our approach is to see what works and to drive crime down.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

There is a wide welcome in my constituency for the provision of such information at basic or operational command unit level. Does the Minister agree that it makes it far easier for members of the public to understand what the police are doing—their success and the challenges that they face—if these partnerships are built from the bottom up rather than from headquarters down?

Mr. Clarke

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The purpose of what we intend to do is to raise public debate and have much more positive discussion about strategies and ways in which people can work together. An important part of publishing the data at BCU level is also to align the boundaries of basic command units and local authorities and therefore crime reduction partnerships. That allows us to establish the best ways of reducing crime in different parts of the country.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

But surely the Government's statistics demonstrate that after five years in which recorded crime consistently fell, we are now seeing a disturbing upward trend in recorded crime in England and Wales. What is the Minister's explanation for this renewed surge in crime?

Mr. Clarke

The statistics actually demonstrate strikingly different levels of crime reduction performance in various basic command units. That is the single most striking factor. It is true for police authorities generally but, more important, it is true at basic command unit level. Basic command units which might be thought to be broadly similar in character are in fact demonstrating dramatically different levels of performance in bringing crime down. That is why we introduced the best value regime and why we are publishing the data—to get a much more effective and accurate fix on what really will bring crime down, which is the whole focus of what we are trying to do.