Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-59)



  40. It was rather a tough one, as I recall, when it came out of the Home Secretary's or the Prime Minister's hat a year or two back.
  (Mr Gieve) I would contest that. We still have the target. It is to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent from 1998 to 2004 and we have made big strides towards that. It has not been all our doing or all the police's doing if you broaden out the Home Office group. The industry has had a lot to do with it too and insurance companies and so on, but I think that is the sort of target we should be set because that is what the public wants to change. You need to make sure that your ministers and the Civil Service machine is genuinely aiming and being judged on whether it achieves the progress that people want to see.

  41. Mr Narey, you have some difficult targets, I imagine. You have the prison population increasing exponentially and that jeopardises all your targets on time out of cell, education and value added, does it not?
  (Mr Narey) Yes, it does. The recent rise in the population from January, when I expected the population to be flat and it rose by more than 5,000, has eroded our performance on educational qualifications and so forth. It is very difficult, when you are having to move prisoners up and down the country to wherever there is a spare bed, not to disrupt those things. We try very hard to protect them and we are trying hard to move prisoners who are not involved in those things, but it is simply not always possible.

  42. The size of the prison population is absolutely outside your control, is it not? You have to take who is delivered, do you not?
  (Mr Narey) We take everybody who comes, no matter what, unlike some European prison systems. We do not have a waiting list. Everybody comes in.

  43. Do we have a target for the size of the prison population?
  (Mr Gieve) No. Interestingly, the two headline targets in our new PSA in this area are, firstly, to reduce reoffending and, secondly, to maintain the very low level of escapes. One is a measure of protecting the public from whom it needs protection and the other is to do with using the time, not just in prison but in community services, to best effect. It is perfectly true we do not determine the prison population; nor does it just come out of the blue. It is a product of, among other things, the criminal law, which the Home Office has responsibility for and the availability and nature of community punishments, for example, which again the Probation Service has responsibility for. We definitely can influence this but you are right, as in other respects, we cannot completely control it.

Mr Cameron

  44. The change from the 17 targets to the ten targets: what has been dropped?
  (Mr Gieve) Reducing the economic cost of crime has disappeared. The fear of crime which we used to have separate objectives for and crime itself have been merged. We have dropped something on disrupting the number of organised crime organisations. Do you want a note which shows you which ones have gone?[2]

  45. The concern is that ministers say they are great sounding targets so we are all going to think: wonderful, they are going to, for instance, enforce the immigration laws more effectively by removing in excess of 30,000 failed asylum seekers by 2003-04. The impression is given that a great bit of action is going to happen. The target is published and, a year later, the targets are altered and we do not hear about which target is dropped. A new set of targets appears and again this feeling of action. Should not targets be a bit more consistent one year to the next because some of these targets have not been met and they have probably been dropped?
  (Mr Gieve) The last spending review set a public service agreement for three years and we will continue to report on those targets for those three years.

  46. The 17 still exist?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes. You will still be able to go back and say, "How did you do against this one?" We will publish the results. However, consistency is fine so long as it is not consistency in the wrong thing. We have learned a bit over the last two years about how best to measure progress. We have come to the view that we got one or two things wrong or not quite right and I think it is sensible to have a rolling review.

  47. What is the process of dropping them? How does a target get dropped?
  (Mr Gieve) In this case, we negotiated with the Treasury and in our case the Delivery Unit at Number Ten a new set of targets starting from the old set of targets. Some of those have been dropped. If you take the removals one, we have not entirely dropped it. We are still talking about removing a great proportion of unfounded applicants, which is where we were in SR2000, but it is now grouped under a broader outcome target, which is to reduce the number of unfounded applications. Last time on asylum, we had process targets—how many people do you remove, how quickly do you deal with asylum applications; this time we have moved to an outcome target which is what is the purpose of this whole machine. It is to reduce the number of unfounded applicants.

  48. The cynic would think that they had some process targets which they have not met and they think they have to have some other targets which they might meet, so you make them a bit more general. All the time, it is like pushing jelly uphill. You will never be able to cope with what is actually happening.
  (Mr Gieve) I can see what you are worried about, but I do not think there is much risk of that because you are here to rub our noses in it. We have hit some of our process targets.

  49. It will be important to see how the process targets go on in future years.
  (Mr Gieve) Yes indeed.


  50. Most of the targets you have mentioned sound very sensible but reducing fear of crime? I ask you. If I were Permanent Secretary and somebody said, "You have to reduce fear of crime by a given percentage", I would say, "What do you want me to do? Lock up the Harmsworth newspapers?"
  (Mr Gieve) Sir Humphrey's categorisation of pledges includes courageous. This is obviously extremely courageous, but it is one of those which we are hitting at the moment.

  51. Please tell me how you do it.
  (Mr Gieve) I do not think it is difficult to explain at all. Firstly, you have to reduce crime and then you have to persuade people that it is happening.

  52. How do you measure it?
  (Mr Gieve) We have just published last week a new British crime survey which has and has had for many years a set of questions on whether people are worried, very worried or not worried at all about certain sorts of crime. Despite your prejudice, it has been falling over the last couple of years.

  53. It strikes me as something that is almost outside your grasp, but perhaps it is not.
  (Mr Gieve) These are extremely difficult because they are not about, for example, processing asylum applications quicker which, with enough people and the right IT, you can be pretty confident of doing. They are about changing social behaviour and attitudes. Therefore, they are much more risky from our point of view. On the other hand, that is what really matters.

  54. I am on your side; I just do not want to see you loaded with a lot of targets which are not within your gift to deliver but if you feel that is within your gift to deliver, who am I to contradict?
  (Mr Gieve) I am not saying it is in my gift, but I think we can influence it.

Mr Cameron

  55. In the annual report, you have your 17 targets. Then you go to each aim. You go to page 44 and you then have the targets written out again with what you have done so far, what progress you have made and what you are going to be doing. It is not until you get to page 158 that you find out whether you have hit them. Would it not be better to have that bit closer to the beginning of the book and say, "This is the target. This is where we have got to"?
  (Mr Gieve) This is the first year in which we have tried to combine our report on what we have done as well as our plan of what we are going to do in the year ahead. We may not have got the structure right, so we will take delivery of that comment and try and do better.

  56. Why has robbery risen so much over the last year? It was up 14 per cent according to this report.
  (Mr Lyon) It has increased significantly not throughout the country, but particularly in the metropolitan police area and in other metropolitan cities. There are a number of suggestions as to why. This is not an exact science as I am sure the Committee well knows. The first thing is availability. We have seen that a huge number of people now carry mobile phones. They are very desirable objects, particularly to young people, and they are very easy to take. There is that opportunity there for people to take those phones. That has had a big driving effect on the level of robbery in this country. A lot of these offences are committed by young people on young people and there has been an increase in the rate at which young people are doing that. Part of that is a real increase; part of that is an increase in the reporting rate of young people on those crimes. Some years ago, a 14 or 15 year old might have taken money from a pocket. It would not necessarily have been reported. Those children wrongly think it is the sort of thing that happens in the playground or on the way home. If you lose your mobile phone, you have to go home and explain that so you say you have had it taken and it does get reported. There is partly a real increase and partly an increase in reporting rate and partly an increase in the seriousness of goods being taken. You have seen the effect of that in the figures. The Government too have seen the effect of that and with the street crime initiative, led by the Prime Minister, have committed themselves, the police, other government departments and other agencies, to doing something about it and bringing down that very high level.

  57. The target is the reduction of the level of recorded robbery in our principal cities by 14 per cent by 2005. Yet, in the last 12 months to March 2001, it has gone up by 13 per cent and it has got even worse since then.
  (Mr Lyon) It is now 28 per cent.

  58. Does that 14 per cent target by 2005 still stand?
  (Mr Lyon) It still stands.

  59. Is the Home Office still in charge of the street crime initiative or have you been usurped by the unit at number ten? Where did this team of ministers come from? How does it work?
  (Mr Gieve) It is run from the Home Office. We have a team of people working in John's directorate on this. They work with the police inspectorate and the standards unit which also is in the Home Office. The Prime Minister has taken a personal interest in this and ensured, by bringing in other departments, education, culture and so on, and work and pensions, that they contribute by focusing their services on everything from truancy to job finding to diversionary schemes for young people. They come in behind the sharp end policing work that the police are doing. The whole thing is orchestrated by our team.

2   See Ev 39, 41-48. Back

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