Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir Patrick Cormack : Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that very early in the new year the official Opposition will ensure that this House has an opportunity to vote on the timetable for these measures?

David Davis: I give my hon. Friend the undertaking that we will ensure that we have the opportunity to vote on either the timetable or the substance of these measures, depending on where the Government have reached at that time.

Mr. Hogg : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Davis: Before I do, I want to say that in my 18 years in the House, I witnessed only one occasion on which a Minister, let alone a Cabinet Minister, refused to take an intervention from a Privy Councillor, and that led to an apology. I therefore give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his courtesy. Does he accept that the people of Lincolnshire are against amalgamation because they think that it would amount to a dilution of the policing in their county and a lack of response to their concerns by the police authority, which will be elsewhere? If the Home Secretary makes an affirmative resolution to bring about a compulsory merger of the Lincolnshire constabulary with an adjoining force, will my right hon. Friend join me, and I hope the other place, in opposing it?

David Davis: If that proposal is made over the heads of the people of Lincolnshire and without considering the views of the local authority and the local police force, of course we will oppose it.
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1595

Mr. Redwood: This debate is about money and people—how we can afford the specialist skills that we need in our police force. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that it is extraordinary that the Government have given no firm figures on how much the proposal might cost or how it is going to be paid for? There is an idea that it might cost £500 million, but the figures cannot be based on any proper estimate because a big police force such as Thames Valley has not yet produced its numbers. Is it not a disgrace that we have such an unprepared debate?

David Davis: My right hon. Friend is right. In fact, it is a double disgrace—first, that those numbers are not available, and, secondly, that the Home Secretary appears to expect the Association of Police Authorities to find them by the end of this week, which is a singularly untenable proposal.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Davis: I will give way in a moment.

That is the core of the matter. We believe that this is all happening too fast. It is happening without serious thought about the consequences and it is being driven by the wrong motives. Rather than taking their time, the Government are trying to force the changes through almost without proper debate. Rather than being driven by operational effectiveness, the changes are being driven by a blind belief in centralisation that defies the facts. Rather than focusing on the needs of local people, they are being driven by an agenda of regionalisation that the Government continue to pursue against the will of the people. We welcome today's debate, but the Home Secretary has a long way to go before he proves the case for the changes that he is advocating.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): I heard the right hon. Gentleman this morning on Radio 4 when he was very relaxed and talked about the amount of time that is being spent looking at the restructuring proposals. He said that not enough time was being spent on it, but he referred to the 1960s when there was a two-year royal commission followed by a two-year debate. I was not quite sure whether he thought that four years was sufficient. How long does he think should be devoted to this process now?

David Davis: I will come to exactly that point and give exactly the answer that the hon. Gentleman wants shortly.

Peter Luff : Does my right hon. Friend share my amazement that the original proposals, on the basis of which restructuring will be carried forward, were published in the middle of the parliamentary recess, and that the process for specific implementation was begun in the parliamentary recess? Should we not be having
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1596
two debates: one today on the principle of police restructuring, and one next year on how it will be conducted in practice?

David Davis: My hon. Friend is right. The whole approach has been entirely insufficient from a parliamentary point of view.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Davis: The options are enormous. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key).

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): When it comes to operational policing, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that this debate is being held as though only one police force operates in this country—the home police forces of the counties? It does not. Eight different police forces operate in my constituency at any one time, including the British Transport police and a host of others, most significantly the Ministry of Defence police, and we cannot possibly sensibly consider police reform unless we consider the interface of all police forces. In garrison towns around my constituency there is an everyday working relationship between such forces, as there is in Colchester—the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is not here but I know that he would agree—and in Aldershot, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), and we must take that into account if we are to have sensible operational results.

David Davis: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the complexity of the problem, and it brings me to my next point.

Opposition Members have long had a clear view of the kind of reform that our police service needs. We want to see genuine neighbourhood policing that is responsive to the needs of local people. We want the police to be genuinely accountable to the people whom they serve, which is why we continue to believe in the concept of elected police commissioners. Evidence suggests that smaller policing units are the most effective. Recent research from the Policy Exchange think-tank states that

In the Policy Exchange's ranking of police forces, the smaller forces, such as Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Dorset, came out on top. That evidence accords with the Home Office's own performance assessments for 2004–05, which show that three of the top five performing police forces in Britain have fewer than 4,000 officers. That evidence mirrors international experience.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab) rose—

David Davis: I will give way in one moment.
19 Dec 2005 : Column 1597

The greatest and most high-profile success in tackling crime in recent years is found in American cities. They managed to cut crime by more than half in just 10 years. How? They adopted a system of locally managed, directed and financed policing. With all that evidence to hand, we believe in retaining and enhancing the connection between local police and local people.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I was going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if that was indeed still the Opposition's policy, as we do not seem to have heard much of it over the past few months. Is not what he is describing exactly what the Home Secretary suggested—enhanced strengths for basic command units, neighbourhood forums and so on? How many commissioners was he anticipating, and would there be any strategic co-ordination of their work? If they are to be truly independent, he would have no strategic overlay, and I am sure that that is not sensible.

David Davis: That is a very simplistic point that barely deserves response. Yes, we are committed to elected commissioners, and, yes, they will be expected to respond to strategic issues.

As the House will know, the Government want to move—

Mr. Denham rose—

David Davis: I will give way in a moment.

As the House will know, the Government want to move in the opposite direction. Fuelled by the O'Connor report, on which the current debate is based, the Home Secretary proposes to replace many existing constabularies with larger and more remote police forces. He justifies that with his now familiar claim that it is necessary to tackle the new terrorist threat. That argument, it seems, can cover a multitude of sins.

Should the proposal go ahead, however? We fear that it will be the thin end of the wedge—the first step down the road to making all policing more remote and less responsive to local people.

Next Section IndexHome Page