David Ruffley - MP for Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Needham Market

Front Bench Press

House Magazine - Careless Legislation Costs Lives

There have been forty nine crime and counterterrorism Bills in the last ten years. There are another six still currently going through Parliament and another two expected in the autumn. What has this legislative hyperactivity delivered?

More laws, more offences, more targets and initiatives are designed to make the Government look tougher on crime and terrorism. But it is doubtful that it has helped the police to be more effective. Behind the macho rhetoric, the Government have not properly consulted those on the front line who are expected to implement these new laws and meet these new targets.

Despite the talk, the Government’s record on crime is not good enough. Recorded levels of violence against the person have more than doubled from 502,788 in 1998-99 to 1,059,913 in 2005-06. Over the same period, the numbers of recorded sexual offences have gone up from 36,174 to 62,081, an increase of 71.6 per cent. Recorded robberies have gone from 66,835 to 98,204, a rise of 47 per cent. While there have been changes in the way crime is counted, the fact remains that the level of recorded crime has risen under this Government.

We had the gimmicky headlines: the introduction of night courts and marching yobs to cashpoints.

Then we had the plans to cut the number of police forces from 43 to 24 – now dropped, for the time being at least.

You get the feeling that successive Home Secretaries have just been muddling through.

But things have got to change now we face a renewed threat to our safety and security from terrorism. This calls for serious, evidence - based thinking that results in practical, workable measures. That is why the Conservative Party has been calling for the use of telephone intercept evidence to be used in court to help prosecute terror suspects. We proposed changing the law so that terror suspects can be questioned during the period after they have been charged with an offence. And we want the re-introduction of border controls and the creation of a border police force. Each of these measures would give the police practical support in their brave fight in tackling terror and rooting out extremism.

In day to day policing, central Government needs to give the police flexibility and more professional responsibility. Currently the police are subject to five Public Service Agreements, five priorities in the National Policing Plan, six priorities in the National Community Safety Plan, 23 Baseline Assessments and 32 Statutory Performance Indicators. Targets, directives and top down centralisation in matters which do not need this heavy handedness make it harder for frontline police to exercise their own judgement and discretion. At the same time it undermines police morale.

So we need to place our trust back in the professionals. David Cameron spoke last May at the Police Federation of the need to sweep away arbitrary national targets, to restore common sense to law and policing and to use far simpler measurement of police performance – such as levels of local crime. And the election of local commissioners – not Chief Constables - is an idea that may find favour with a public that does not want to hear more rhetoric but does want less crime on our streets.