SCOTTISH Ministers are proposing to wash their hands of recorded crime statistics amid claims the figures are routinely manipulated by police.

The Government is planning to transfer responsibility for publishing the controversial data to Police Scotland.

Opposition MSPs last night expressed alarm at the development.

Successive administrations have unveiled the figures on an annual basis as a way of talking up their anti-crime policies.

In recent years, the SNP Government has claimed that recorded crime is at its lowest level since the 1970s.

The single police force produces the data, which is then verified by the Government.

However, as revealed by the Sunday Herald, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) refused to rubber the stamp the Government's crime stats last year.

"We conclude that the statistics do not currently comply with several elements of the Code of Practice," the body noted.

The watchdog added that the Scottish Government should seek "strong levels of assurance" about the quality of the figures, but warned: "This report concludes that the Scottish Government lacks sufficient evidence to be able to provide such appropriate reassurance."

The Authority's report included the 2012/13 crime figures, which trumpeted a 21% fall in non-sexual crimes of violence and a 25% reduction in homicides.

A unit inside the Government now wants to absolve Ministers of responsibility for the annual crime stats.

In a consultation that ended on Friday, the Government stated: "We are considering changes to the way in which crime data is published."

These were: "Police Scotland would publish recorded crime data quarterly, rather than the SG publishing annually. The Scottish Government would discontinue the publication of the other bulletins."

In its place, the Government would publish "analytical topic reports".

The proposal comes after the Sunday Herald reported specific claims of the manipulation of the statistics.

Police sources said the recorded total was deliberately kept low by crimes being left as "incidents" by officers and kept off the books.

Officers are said to be using their "discretionary powers", such as verbal warnings, to stop incidents being upgraded to crimes.

In other cases, it has been alleged that victims of crime decline to pursue complaints after being told by officers that they will have to give evidence in court.

The violent crime figures can also be manipulated by recording serious assault as common assault, the latter of which is a lesser category.

Hundreds of thousands of crimes are also recorded as offences.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: "Accurate reporting of crime statistics is essential if we are to ensure that resources are used effectively and also hold Ministers to account for their record. There are real questions over whether Police Scotland is capable of producing robust data, and whether the SNP are more interested in spin than substance when it comes to crime figures.

"We also know that the Scottish Government have a record of leaning on academic researchers working on crime issues. It is difficult to see how the changes that have been proposed can help increase transparency."

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: "In seeking to transfer this responsibility solely to Police Scotland without making any attempt to verify these vitally important statistics, the SNP majority Government is failing in its duty to taxpayers and the public at large.

"This proposal will only serve to further undermine confidence in Police Scotland which has already come under criticism for lacking transparency and accountability."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "As a producer of Official Statistics, we are required to review how our resource can be most effectively used to meet the needs of our users. The current consultation forms part of that process and as a first step we want to hear the views of users on the proposal for potential changes to the way recorded crime statistics are produced.

"As a live consultation, no decisions have yet been taken and any proposals for changes in this area will be based on a consideration of the feedback we receive."