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Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): The hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) referred to North Yorkshire, which is England's biggest county. Several times the Home Secretary has referred to murder investigations. He will know that in 2004 there were two double murders in the vicinity of York. There   was one double murder in my constituency, and Mark Hobson was sent to prison in May this year. North Yorkshire police dealt with that crime, and the people of North Yorkshire have more confidence in the performance of the police locally than in the views of Her Majesty's chief inspector.

Mr. Clarke: North Yorkshire police and forces throughout the country have an outstanding record in dealing with appalling crimes of the type that the hon.   Gentleman described. With his background in
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policing, he knows more than most of us in the House about the track record of police in dealing with such issues.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr. Secretary Clarke is replying to an intervention. Perhaps hon. Members would allow him to finish his response before seeking to intervene.

Mr. Clarke: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made his point very clearly, and everything that I say reinforces the capacity of individual forces to deal with the problem. However—and this is as true for North Yorkshire as it is for other forces—in the light of changed policing circumstances and the different forms of attack that now exist, it is necessary to strengthen that in the ways that I have described. I take seriously, as I   am sure the hon. Gentleman does, the views of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Had I decided to ignore its recommendations, I would have been more vulnerable to legitimate attack from Members such as him who have a strong background in policing.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Reference has been made to Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Does my right hon. Friend agree with its statement that the current 43-force structure is

and is based on a structure established in the 1960s?

Mr. Clarke: I agree, and referred to that statement earlier. My hon. Friend is quite right, however, to draw attention to it.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware of the serious doubts about the statistics behind "Closing the Gap"? Has he read the opinion of the professor of statistics at the university of Warwick, which was published today? He said:

He concludes:

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not supposed to be a speech, but an intervention.

Mr. Clarke: I am sure that the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) will make his points when he makes his speech in the debate. The short answer is no I have not seen that report today—I will study it, of course—but I make the point again that it is   very clear that the evidence is absolutely
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straightforward. That is why HMIC has reached its view that strategic forces are the way to deal with such issues.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I do not think that anyone would argue with the thrust of the Home Secretary's argument about efficiencies, but there appears to be a difference of view between the police authorities and the police who are charged with doing the job. I am sure that the Home Secretary would agree that there are people looking after their own positions throughout the country, but the big concern, which could defuse some of the issue, is about accountability. Under the new structure, how does he intend to ensure accountability in the new areas, given that metropolitan areas and counties may perhaps fuse?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a difference of opinion between some senior officers and some police authority members, although I draw no conclusion from that. Two key accountabilities will be enhanced by our proposals. First, neighbourhood policing teams will be established, whereby people who live in a patch will know the names of their police officers, their e-mail addresses, their phone numbers and how they operate. That is not already the case universally—I wish it were, but it is not—so we will establish that system. Secondly, at basic command unit level, a relationship of a different order will be established with the local authority. I accept substantially the case that we need to ensure that the proposals increase accountability. That is true, and it is what the proposals will do.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Clarke: I want to make some more progress.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I will not give way. I want to make more progress.

Mr. Hogg: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I shall not. I have told the right hon. and learned Gentleman that twice. I will not give way to him at any point in the debate.

Mr. Hogg: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course I recognise that it is for the Home Secretary to determine whether or not to give way to any Member, but is it not extraordinary for a Secretary of State to say in advance that he is not proposing to give way to a certain Member?

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the occupant of the Chair. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman well knows, it is entirely up to the Minister at the Dispatch Box to determine to whom, if anyone, he gives way.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. My experience of the quality of interventions over the
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past five years from the right hon. and learned Gentleman leads me to believe that they would cause no substantial addition to the quality of the discussion.

I want to make progress on the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). I well understand the points that are being made about the threat to neighbourhood policing, about which people are fearful and concerned. That is why I give the assurances that forces in those neighbourhoods will stay there rather than be abstracted to other forces, or whatever. As I said, each neighbourhood, covering roughly the size of a couple of council wards, will have a dedicated team. Every resident will know the name of their local officers and their phone numbers and e-mail addresses and so on. They are essential elements of the proposals for neighbourhood policing and will be introduced in every part of the country by 2008.

Alongside the force mergers we will introduce measures to strengthen accountability at basic command unit level in the context of the crime and disorder reduction partnership, where it will make a difference to everyone's life. At the level of the strategic forces that we are talking about, we will ensure greater accountability as well. I believe that the changes that I have proposed will provide a better police service.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, will the House please settle down? It is in the gift of the Home Secretary to decide whether or not to give way. At the moment, he has said that he wishes to make some progress.

Mr. Clarke: Throughout this process, I and HMIC believe that these changes will provide a better police service. That is why, in September, I invited police forces and police authorities to work up their own proposals and preferences for restructuring the service in the context of the HMIC report. I asked them to show how the changes that they proposed would deliver the step-change in the provision of protective services that I believe the whole country needs. Since the start of the process in September, forces and authorities have worked extremely hard to ensure that the reform has a solid evidence base and provides proper plans to deliver improvements in services. I understand the concerns raised in the House and by some forces about the timetable that has been set and about the potential pace of change. However, I should restate that the problems that we face will not go away. They exist right now and they need to be addressed.

I want to state formally my gratitude to authorities and forces for their hard work and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety for all that she has contributed. However, there is a great deal more to do. I understand that the time frames have been challenging. I have asked police authorities to submit preferred options for change by 23 December, along with draft costings of the business cases that support those options. I also recognise that, with the best will in the world, there will still be local issues that need further work and discussion. Any decisions will follow a period in January when my officials will work closely with police forces
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and authorities to refine the cases submitted on 23 December and to resolve these issues. However, I have to say that it is the Government's clear preference to move early to strategic forces given the medium-term and sustained value-for-money benefits of doing so and, most important of all, to remove the uncertainty that can be very damaging to morale.

To support forces that are prepared to merge voluntarily, I will also look at further funding options in January, and I have written to the Association of Police Authorities on this matter.

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