Examination of Witnesses (Questions 501
THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2002
DENHAM MP AND
501. Minister, welcome. I think this is your
first visit to us from the Home Office.
(Mr Denham) It is, Chairman.
502. As you know, we are attempting a little
hasty pre-legislative scrutiny of your Police Reform Bill and
that is mainly what we are going to ask you about today. Can I
just start by asking you to clarify one matter. In the White Paper
at paragraph 1.34 you say that detection rates were 40 per cent
in 1980 and 24 per cent in 1999-2000. My understanding is that
the old way of calculating detection rates included so-called
TICs, taking into consideration, which as we all know was a scam
to a large extent and, therefore, that artificially improved the
figures and that is not, therefore, a fair comparison with the
situation in 1999. Your thoughts on that point, please.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, Stephen Rimmer
is with me who is the Director of Policing Policy. Two points
I think, Chairman. One is that of course the White Paper went
on to say after paragraph 1.34 that part of the decline in conviction
rates reflected better ethical standards in recording crime and
increased evidential standards in courts, so there has been a
progressive change over time. As I understand it there have been
two changes to counting rules since the figures published in 1980:
in 1998 when there were changes to the counting rules and in 1999
in guidance on how the Home Office recognises detections. RDS,
which is our research department in the Home Office, do not believe
that the 1998 changes would have had a significant impact on detection
rates and that the 1999 changes might have made a one to two per
cent difference to detection rates but not enough to account for
the downward trend outlined in the White Paper. That is the advice
that I have on this issue. I am perfectly happy to write further
to you if there are particular points you think are not covered
503. I would be grateful if you would. As you
will be aware, some forces used to have squads of detectives touring
the nation's jails persuading convicted felons to sign up to things
on the unsolved book, some of which they might have committed,
many of which they had not committed, some of which they were
in jail at the time of the commission. That practice is the one
that ended in 1998, is it?
(Mr Denham) That is my understanding in terms of our
own guidance. Clearly if there were changes in force practice
in individual forces at different stages over the period of time
that we are talking about that could have had its impact on the
figures recorded by forces, which is why we try to acknowledge
in the White Paper that over a period of time there have been
changes in the ethical approach to recording. It probably is a
good idea to distinguish between those places where the Home Office
formally issued guidance and where there may have been an evolutionary
change in recording practices. The White Paper went out of its
way to say that this is not comparing directly like with like
because there have been changes of standards over that period
of time. Whether it is possible to disentangle perhaps force by
force changes or changes in professional standards from the overall
figures I am not sure but I am more than happy to ask RDS if they
can provide any further information to what I have given to you.
504. Are you satisfied that all forces have
now cleaned up their act on this point because some of them did
(Mr Denham) I think that if there was
any major problem on this it should by now have become apparent
from the inspections by HMIC and I am not aware of any current
concern about falling standards.
505. Presumably HMIC knew this was going on
for many years. It was the journalists rather than HMIC that drew
it to the attention of the public.
(Mr Denham) When new standards have been established
then HMIC will certainly inspect to those standards.
506. So you are satisfied that the practice
is now extinct and that in any case even when it was not it is
not likely to have made more than a one or two per cent difference
to the overall figures?
(Mr Denham) I am advised that the impact of Home Office
guidance at the time that it was issued would have been no more
than one to two per cent. I am less confident, Chairman, in saying
that there may not have been changes in force practice over the
period between 1980 and 1999 that could have brought about further
changes and we have tried to reflect that in the White Paper.
If we are able to estimate what the impact of those changes might
have been then I will certainly come back to you. I am not confident
that we will be able to do that.
507. As I am sure you will appreciate the forces
against whom it would discriminate are the ones with the best
records, ie those who never indulged or stopped at an early stage
these unsatisfactory practices, and would then be at a disadvantage
in relation to those that simply carried on.
(Mr Denham) I think that would be true.
One of the big drives that is under way at the moment between
the Home Office, ACPO and, particularly within the Home Office,
the Police Standards Unit, is to make sure that all of the sources
of data that come into the Home Office and will be used in the
future for performance measurement are accurately audited and
verified because clearly we cannot pursue our aspirations to raise
the standards of performance of police forces unless we can all
rely on the quality of the information that we are getting in.
We cannot go back, in a sense, and improve past data but I think
we can take every reasonable measure to make sure that the data
we use in the future is sound.
508. Have you received any representations on
this point from any of the police organisations?
(Mr Denham) On what we are now doing?
509. About the 40 per cent figure.
(Mr Denham) I do not think we have had any representations
on the 40 per cent figure. We have had representations, or at
least comments, about the dangers of relying exclusively on detection
rates as a measure of police performance. Because of the danger,
if it becomes an exclusive measure then you put incentives in
the system to up your detection rates which may not be the same
as your effectiveness in catching criminals overall or reducing
the level of crime. I cannot recall seeing any strong representations
about the use of the 40 per cent figure in the past. My sense
is that whatever people say about particular figures, there is
not any challenge to the idea that detection rates have fallen
or that the detection and conviction rate is lower than it should
510. To what do you attribute that big fall
over 20 years, assuming one has taken place?
(Mr Denham) Partly, as we say in the White Paper,
it is due to better ethical standards in recording crime, so that
would include the issue that you yourself covered, Chairman. Beyond
that I think it is quite difficult to know with any precision
as to why the detection rates should have fallen as they have
511. Just turning now to the Bill, which is
the main purpose of today's event. Are we correct in expecting
that you are proposing by the time the Bill comes to the Commons
to put in amendments that would require the Home Secretary to
consult bodies like ACPO and police authorities before drawing
up a national policing plan?
(Mr Denham) Yes, and I think there will be a number
of amendments along similar lines to the Bill to specify certainly
APA and ACPO as consultees in relevant parts of the Bill, often
where it currently says that the Home Secretary consults those
who he sees fit. I think there has never been any doubt in anybody's
minds that we would be consulting those bodies but we will be
bringing amendments forward along those lines.
512. I think there was some doubt in the minds
of the police authorities judging by what they said to us.
(Mr Denham) There was never any doubt in our mind
or, indeed, in what we ever said to the police authorities on
513. Minister, you will not be surprised, or
you will know, that the police authorities and ACPO were not overly
impressed by the powers in clauses 4 and 5 that the Secretary
of State is going to have in terms of direction. Did you ever
consider strengthening the powers of the police authorities to
tackle the problem that you clearly believe to be there in terms
of directing chief police officers?
(Mr Denham) Obviously in developing the Bill and the
White Paper we considered a number of options. The police authorities
have responsibilities for the efficient running of the police
force and they have responsibilities certainly in the areas of
finance and of best value. They do not have responsibilities over
some of the operational aspects of policing which are covered
by clause 5 of the Bill. I think our view is that it would certainly
be a very major change to the role of police authorities to extend
that power to them which they do not have at the moment. To the
extent that we believe it is necessary at the end of the day for
the Home Secretary to have powers to intervene, our view is those
are ones that should lie with the Home Secretary rather than with
the police authorities. It was a conscious choice, as it were,
to have constructed the legislation in the way that we did so
that the Home Secretary has the power at the end of the day to
intervene rather than to give that power to the police authorities.
514. I remember Home Secretaries in the past
coming before the House of Commons when some disaster had taken
place in some police force somewhere or other saying "It
is not my responsibility to deal with operational matters, that
is a matter for the chief constable". You seem now to have
taken on board, or the Secretary of State is going to take on
board, a role in operational matters.
(Mr Denham) We are very clear in the Bill, and I think
we have laid it out for the first time, that it is not our intention
and we do not want to be able to intervene to direct the way a
particular operation is carried out or if Bill Smith is to be
arrested or whatever. We do think it is part of the Government's
job to help to ensure that people enjoy high quality policing
in every part of the country. If, therefore, a circumstance arises
where the performance of part of the Police Service is persistently
poor, persistently bad, local communities are failed, local people
are failed, and all of the other measures which are available
to address that have failed, we do think that the Home Secretary
needs to be able to act. I think that is right.
515. Why can that not be done through the police
(Mr Denham) Police authorities do not have the ability
to get involved in the way, for example, that resources might
be deployed within a police force, that is beyond the powers of
police authorities. Police authorities are an important body,
they are an important part of the tripartite system. They are
not directly accountable in the sense that the Home Secretary
is accountable to Parliament for the exercise of his powers and
we actually think that it is more acceptable that it should be
the Home Secretary who has these powers of intervention rather
than 43 individual police authorities up and down the country.
516. If these powers are supposedly powers of
last resort, how often would they have been used in the last ten
(Mr Denham) It is really very, very difficult, I think,
not least because I have only been a Minister since June, to look
back, as it were, through the files and say we would have used
it in this situation or that. It is certainly true that I think
in any case we have brought through the Police Reform White Paper
a much sharper Government focus on police performance and the
variations of police performance than has existed previously.
There may have been circumstances in the past where Government
would have said "it is not very good but it is nothing to
do with us", where Government is now saying that it is our
responsibility to work with the Police Service to raise the standards
of performance. I do not think it is feasible to go back and pick
up individual instances over the last ten years and say we would
have used it in those circumstances.
517. Can you give any example where you think
they might be exercised?
(Mr Denham) If you have a situation where, for example,
in a particular part of a Police force area it is very clear that
the crime levels are way above those that exist in comparable
areas, and it would need to be a comparable area, that the fear
of crime in those areas is completely out of hand, the anti-social
behaviour is completely out of hand, and yet there is a refusal
to ensure that an established best policing practice is applied
in those areas to tackle those problems, so you have in a sense
both a failure of performance, a failure of outcome, and a failure
to use the best policing tactics and best policing methods in
those areas, that is the sort of circumstance where if all else
has failed, support from the HMIC, support from the Police Standards
Unit, discussions with the police authority and so on, the Home
Secretary needs to be able to have the power to intervene and
say "you have got a problem, you need to address this problem
and we want to see how you are going to address that problem".
That requires, as I was saying at the outset to the Chairman,
good robust information on performance measures, which we partly
have but partly do not have at the moment and which we will construct
over the coming year through the Police Standards Unit so we have
a solid base for that type of intervention. That is the sort of
circumstance that we have in mind.
518. I understand in the debate in the House
of Lords the Government is going to reconsider how it is going
to come to that conclusion through objective evidence. I will
just remind you of what Lord Condon, the former Met Commissioner,
said on that. He was concerned that it would be "giving carte
blanche [to] an unreasonable Home Secretary [who] could take a
doctrinal, subjective, idiosyncratic view of inefficiency and
ineffectiveness. . . ." What guarantee can you give Lord
Condon and others that an idiosyncratic Home Secretary would not
misuse these powers?
(Mr Denham) What we set out in the Police Reform White
Paper was that we would want to have a protocol between the Home
Office and the Home Secretary, ACPO and the APA, about how the
use of these powers would be governed. We are considering whether
it would be to the advantage of the House, certainly in the Lords,
certainly in the Commons, to see how that protocol would look,
what its key features would be. This is a matter really of trying
to put into legislation things that we had always intended to
have perhaps in a protocol. There is a case for saying that the
Home Secretary would need to present the evidence on which he
or she were making the case that something needed to be done,
that there would perhaps need to be the ability for the chief
officer to show how he was going to put his house in order before
receiving a direction from the Secretary of State. Changes of
that sort I think, which we have always intended to be part of
the procedure, might make it clear that this cannot be, and should
not be, a power that is used, in Lord Condon's words, in an arbitrary
or subjective manner.
519. We will probably come back to that again
because there may be idiosyncratic Home Secretaries as there have
been idiosyncratic chief constables, I am sure, in the past. Just
one more question on clause 5. The Home Secretary has powers to
give direction, either following a report "or otherwise".
We all love phrases like "or otherwise". What other
circumstances might there be where a Home Secretary would give
direction without first ordering an inspection under clause 3?
(Mr Denham) "Or otherwise", for example,
could include information provided to the Home Secretary by the
Police Standards Unit, which is part of the Home Office and has
no statutory existence, so cannot be referred to separately in
the legislation. But if the work of the Police Standards Unit,
following up poor performance in a particular force or Basic Command
Unit area, brought solid information to the Secretary of State's
attention to say that there is a clear pattern of under-performance
in this area, the way the legislation is phrased would enable
him to respond to that. It clearly gives the ability, if necessary,
to respond quickly to a major problem. That is the sort of circumstance
that we have got in mind.
1 See Appendix, Ev 162-4 & Ev 166. Back
See Appendix, Ev 162-4 & 166. Back
See Appendix, Ev 162-4 & Ev 166. Back