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Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that as Lincolnshire has a much lower crime rate than the counties with which the Government propose we should be merged, if the merger takes place policing effort in Lincolnshire will in future target an average crime level that is currently much higher than ours? There will therefore be little pressure on the police who are still in Lincolnshire to improve their performance. Rather, they will be under a great deal of pressure to switch resources from what will be viewed as a lower-crime area in Lincolnshire to other parts of the merged police force area.

David Davis: My hon. Friend makes a good point about very large police authority areas. The simple truth is that we cannot be sure, particularly where there is a mix of rural and urban areas, that resources will not be
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moved from low-crime to high-crime areas. That is one of the concerns that the Home Secretary has not addressed.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Davis: I apologise for keeping the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) waiting for so long.

Emily Thornberry: It is clear that, in respect of policing, Conservatives believe that small is good and local is best, so is it their view that we need more than the present 43 police authorities? If so, would not their policy cost more than the 56 per cent. increase in spending that has been invested over the last six years?

David Davis: Labour Members basically fall into two groups—the Whips' narks and the people who really care about the issue. [Interruption.]

Ed Balls rose—

David Davis: In this particular case, of course, there is no doubt about the classification.

Ed Balls: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for confirming that I am one of the people who really cares, particularly about policing in my constituency. It is because I care that I have taken the trouble to consult local police leaders and it is clear to me, unlike to Conservative Members, that they are in favour of reform. Having spoken to them in detail, I know that they are completely opposed to the idea of electing local police chiefs, which would be a fast track to the politicisation of the police at a local level. Is the right hon. Gentleman really proposing that as a serious reform, or is it just a hangover from the last manifesto?

David Davis: I will tell him in a few moments what I   believe about localism, but I will say that the hon. Gentleman worked in the Treasury during a period in which our police forces were starved of cash over the years—[Interruption.] I am quite happy to debate the matter with the hon. Member for Normanton (Ed   Balls). Perhaps we could debate what happened to the police precept during the Government's term of office and how huge amounts were raised from local people, which were more than enough to pay for all the policing increases during the entire period of the Labour Government. They, and particularly the hon. Member for Normanton, should not be making any great claims about how much money they put up.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Davis: If my hon. Friends will forgive me, I would like to make a little progress before taking another barrage of interventions. [Interruption.] Well, welcome to the House of Commons.

The Home Secretary has claimed that local policing will remain through the basic command units, which he says are accountable, but there is not true accountability
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there at all. He obviously does not understand the difference between accountability and consultation, which are indeed rather different. The BCUs take their direction from above and report to those above them. Local people have no control over them whatever. What happens if the BCUs do something wrong? Can they be fired? No. Can they be replaced? No. Can they be held to account in any way by the people they serve? No. The Home Secretary says that he desires the establishment of mechanisms that will effectively hold BCU commanders to account, but then he admits that those mechanisms will be non-statutory. It is not enough for him to "desire" accountability; there must be a formal mechanism to put local accountability in place.

The Government have shown minimal real interest in the issue—and we know why. There is a wider agenda behind the Government's plan. We can already see how their failed regionalisation agenda is being introduced through the back door. What began in planning is now filtering through to the emergency services. The ambulance service is being reorganised, as is the fire service, and the police are simply the latest body to face the zeal of the Government's great drive towards regionalisation.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that Denis O'Connor is part of this conspiracy?

David Davis: What Denis O'Connor has demonstrated is that if the Government ask the question carefully enough, it determines the answer that they get. As is demonstrated in this case, it is as simple as that. I will come back to Mr. O'Connor's comments on that very point.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no real reason why Warwickshire police force—my local police force—should not be permitted to amalgamate, if that is the appropriate solution for it, with counties such as Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, except that they cross regional government boundaries and that doing so does not fit in with the Government's regional government agenda?

David Davis: My hon. Friend makes the point exactly. If this reform is not driven by a regional agenda, why would Hampshire police authority be forbidden from amalgamating with neighbouring Dorset or Wiltshire forces? The answer is that they would then cross arbitrary Government office boundaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) mentioned Warwickshire police force, which is the smallest force in the country outside the City of London's. As it said in an early response to the report:

If it is so important that we create larger strategic forces to fight terrorism and organised crime, why should we let regional boundaries dictate how those forces are formed? Are criminals going mysteriously to respect regional boundaries? If this reform is truly about operational effectiveness, it should be solely about doing
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what is most effective—not about fitting the Government's discredited, one-size-fits-all prejudices and preconceptions. The Government's plans for regional government were defeated soundly in a referendum of the people; it is time that they accepted that fact, rather than trying to implement them through the back door.

Tom Levitt: Pausing only to note that it was the Conservatives who established the current regional boundaries, I want to return to the question of accountability. The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless agree that the person responsible for policing in a particular area should make policing his priority. If we have elected commissioners at basic command unit level who are elected once every four years—my Tory opponent referred to that proposal at the last election—regardless of what level they are at, one year will be spent playing to the gallery in the run-up to the next election, rather than being spent putting policing matters first.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman gives an interesting description of his own job and the way in which he fills it—playing to the gallery every four years. I am sure that his local papers will have fun with that. That is not our policy: we believe in district commissioners at force level, rather than at BCU level. Perhaps he should read our manifesto, instead of believing bits of his own propaganda.

There may be a case for amalgamation in some parts of the country—

Mr. Charles Clarke: Just to make sure that I heard the right hon. Gentleman correctly during that last exchange, does he stand by the manifesto commitment of having an elected leader of each force in the country? Is that correct?

David Davis: It is correct that the manifesto said that we would have an elected police commissioner, and there is nothing wrong with that. There may be a case—[Interruption.] Is the right Home Secretary having difficulty hearing? The answer to his question was yes.

We accept that there may be a case for amalgamation in some parts of the country; our concern is that the Government are forcing it on police forces that do not want or need it. As one chief constable said:

The speed with which this restructuring is being done is one of our greatest concerns. As that same chief constable outlined:

The last time such a change was proposed, a royal commission was indeed established. As was pointed out in an earlier intervention, it was established in 1960 and reported in 1962, and its recommendations were put in
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place between 1964 and 1965. This time, the report was called for in June and published in September, and it will be implemented—if the Government get their way—as early as next year. As the Labour chairman—another Labour chairman—of Cheshire police authority, Mr. Peter Nurse, told the Home Secretary,

That is a comment from a Labour chairman of a police authority.

The speed leaves many questions unresolved. One of the most important of those is cost.

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