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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Home Secretary, as my right hon. Friend will have heard, said that he was prepared to consider all options. However, West Yorkshire police force is large enough to meet the Home Secretary's requirement. The chairman of the police authority, a Labour councillor, is opposed to the move, yet the Home Secretary has already ruled out the possibility of West Yorkshire police remaining independent. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows that the consultation is a sham, and that it is about driving the   Deputy Prime Minister's agenda of regional government by stealth?

David Davis: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not return to a previous incarnation as the shadow of the Deputy Prime Minister—an interesting concept in its own right.
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In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook), whom I cannot see in the Chamber, was vocal on this subject. He quoted the   report's author, Denis O'Connor, as saying:

That suggests that the Home Secretary was trying to use his report as something that it is not. As so often, the Government seem to have come to a decision and then tried to find the evidence to support it. Perhaps that is why the Home Secretary was so quick to decide which of the five options outlined in the report he preferred.

The Home Secretary supports the proposed move to fewer strategic forces. There was absolutely no mention of that in the Labour party's election manifesto earlier this year, perhaps because it knew how unpopular that would be. One opinion poll, conducted by MORI for the Cleveland force, found that public support for the plan was just 8 per cent. A similar poll for the Cumbrian force found that a majority were against the merger proposal. In the earlier debate in Westminster Hall, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) reported how his police force in Hampshire had told him:

There has been burgeoning concern across the country, as people have come to realise that their local police force might disappear.

Mr. Denham : May we return briefly to the question of the assessment of police forces, because the right hon. Gentleman referred to the police performance assessment framework? He will be aware, as I am, that that framework, though robust, does not effectively measure level 2 crime, cross-border crime and serious crime. By far the strongest case for police service reorganisation is that it will provide the ability to deal with that type of crime. Will he tell the House what size of police force he believes is necessary to provide the critical mass of officers and support staff to deal with that type of crime?

David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman makes the mistake that his Government make—the idea that one size fits all simply does not work. The clear point that I   will make, with which I think he will agree when he thinks about it, is that in order to address level 2 crime—the serious crimes that we are talking about—we should not jeopardise the way in which the police deal with so-called volume crimes. There are methods of dealing with level 2 crime that do not jeopardise the police's normal day-to-day business. I shall return to that point in a moment.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon.   Friend accept that he is completely right in concentrating on the localisation of police forces? In the context of Staffordshire, for example, nothing would be worse than to amalgamate our force with other forces,
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because the nature of crime that is committed in Staffordshire is completely different from that in the west midlands as a whole?

David Davis: My hon. Friend is right, and he is right to point out that I am right. The point is simple. Some of the proposed new forces are simply too huge to be as effective as those that they would replace.

Emily Thornberry : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Davis: In a moment.

If the proposed mergers in the south-east proceed, Kent officers could be closer to Calais than to their new   regional headquarters.—[Interruption.] Labour Members obviously think that that is a good idea. Some officers in the proposed south-west regional force would have to drive for five hours to reach their new regional base. Officers in the north-west would have to travel for two and a half hours from one side of their area to the other. As was pointed out earlier, some officers in Wales would have to travel for about five hours to visit their headquarters in Cardiff. We would accept that if we thought that there would be genuine benefits for the local community, but, as I have said, all the evidence demonstrates that the best police forces are the smallest because they are able to respond to the needs of the local community.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary noted, with regard specifically to level 2 criminality, that Gloucestershire constabulary was of very high quality, had a comprehensive level 2 capability and had led development of a comprehensive information system, thus proving that smaller forces are perfectly capable of dealing with challenging and complex issues.

David Davis: My hon. Friend is right. The Gloucestershire force is a good example of smaller forces' coping very well. Moreover, there is nothing to stop forces from co-operating, as my hon. Friend's chief constable has pointed out. It is entirely right that they should co-operate, but it is not right that they should be forced to amalgamate or to merge.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend received any adequate explanation, or indeed any explanation at all, from the Government of why, if we have to go down this route—to which I object—rather than retaining Cheshire as it is, forces that are already collaborating effectively cannot collaborate with forces across national boundaries in north Wales, where we collaborate most effectively, or indeed with forces in north Shropshire, where policing demands and threats are more akin to those in Cheshire than those in Merseyside or Manchester, which have unilaterally rejected any merger with Cheshire anyway?

David Davis: The Home Secretary has not come up with such a proposal. The one thing that he did say earlier, when it was pointed out that Manchester had refused to be involved, was—in effect—that it would do
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as it was told. That principle, in fact, underlies the whole proposal: police forces and police authorities will do as they are told.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that our excellent chief constable of Gloucestershire, Dr. Tim Brain, told me in a letter that any forced amalgamations were likely to have a significant impact on the Crown Prosecution Service, the probation service, the combined court service and the youth offending service? The whole matter goes much deeper than has been suggested. There will be much more reorganisation, and it will cost much more than the £500 million to £600 million estimated by the Association of Police Authorities.

David Davis: My hon. Friend is right. It should be borne in mind that his chief constable is also the representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers responsible for resources, and probably understands the issues better than most.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Earlier this week Ian Laidlaw-Dickson, the Labour chairman of Hertfordshire police authority, wrote to Hertfordshire Members:

We in Hertfordshire want to know what the rush is. Are we going into something that we shall regret at our leisure?

David Davis: Almost certainly, if the Home Secretary proceeds as he intends. My hon. Friend has raised another point, however. The words of a Labour chairman have had the interesting effect of uniting Conservative, Labour and Liberal police authority chairmen up and down the country against the haste, the method and the approach that are proposed.

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