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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In Surrey, central Government support for the police has reduced from 86 per cent. of their budget in 1997 to 55 per cent. of their budget. The remainder has been made up by Surrey council tax payers. Will my right hon. Friend explain why on earth Surrey council tax payers should continue to bear that burdenand the increased burden due to the cost of the amalgamationwhen the police force will not be theirs?
David Davis: My hon. Friend makes a good point that reinforces my earlier comment that the majority of the money that has been spent on increasing the number of police on the street has come from local council tax payers, not the Government.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
In supporting what my right hon. Friend said earlier, may I point out that it has been reported today that the chairman of Hampshire police authorityI apologise in advance for using these words again, Madam Deputy Speakerhas stated:
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"I am absolutely disgusted with the Home Secretary for his blatant attempt to bribe police authorities into accepting voluntary mergers . . . This surely illustrates how police authorities across the country have got him running scared by standing together in protest against reforming the structure of policing in England and Wales"?
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to encourage police forces throughout the country not to be divided one against the other due to the offer of money if they agree to something with which they disagree in an impossibly short time scale?
David Davis: Of course I will do that, but I will also encourage forces to try to take a rational approach. What is wrong with the Government's approach is its sheer speed, haste and thoughtlessness. If they had come to the House with a deliberate plan of consultation and a way in which the various options and costs could be worked out, the response would have been completely different from what we are seeing today.
Paddy Tipping: The right hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Given that there are 43 different police authorities and forces, is he really telling the House that there is no scope for efficiency savings? Surely we should examine such efficiency savings carefully and look at bigger organisations. Yes, there will be up-front costs due to reorganisation, but he must accept that such a way forward could reduce costs in the long term.
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman is right that I served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. No Opposition Memberor any Labour Member, I thinkwould say that there is no scope for improving the efficiency of our police force. That is why every party stood at the last election on reform plans of one sort or another, although notably the Government did not have this reform plan in their manifesto.
When I started as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I told the National Audit Office that the Committee and the NAO had the three requirements of examining economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Effectiveness is the issue at play here because we are considering the responsiveness and effectiveness of our police forces as they serve their local communities. That will not be advanced by replacing effective police forces, some of which are very efficient, with super-forces of an enormous size.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con):
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) will be able to talk about the reaction of Sussex police authority and will probably confirm that not a single person has written to any Sussex MP to say that they are in favour of the changes. Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that if the Audit Commission or
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the National Audit Office examined the spending that the Home Secretary contemplates and considered what would happen if it were all spent on improving the strategic ability of our police forces, they would find that we would get far better value for money than we would by spending most of the money on changing uniforms and IT systems earlier than would naturally happen?
I hope that the Government will accept that they have handled the debate appallingly, which is why we are discussing such an important matter in the last week before Christmas, which is a week in which there will be no votes. Frankly, as the chief constable of Dyfed-Powys police saidthis weekend, I thinkthe Government's plans are "verging on a shambles".
The Home Secretary needs to pause and reflect on the full implications of his proposals. We are not opposed to any change to the existing structure of 43 police forces, but we think that there are serious problems with the current proposal. It will make policing remote when we should be making it local. It will make policing unaccountable when we should be giving people greater control. It threatens massive costs for no extra benefits, and it is driven by a regional agenda that has already been rejected by the British people. Quite simply, the proposal seems to be an attempt to meet a resources problem with an organisational solution. We should be designing the right organisation and then finding the resources to implement it. It would be a tragedy if we sacrificed good and effective policing on the altar of regional dogma. It will be a tragedy if the Government push through this hasty, ill-considered, costly, disruptive and dangerous plan.
I want to say something personally to the Home Secretary because I have a great deal of regard for him. This is an extremely important constitutional, policing and security issue. There will be no vote today because
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this is an Adjournment debate, but I make a plea to him. He has in his hands something that is very important to the future of British life. Will he please think again? Will he go back to the Home Office and reconsider his timetable? He could take just six months to consult properlynot four yearsand get the figures and assessments right, and then come back to put a proper proposal for policing in Britain before the House of Commons.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): The debate is important, but I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) rather disappointing. I try, in my position as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, to avoid being partisan in these debates, but I tell those of my colleagues who might have been worried about a newly revitalised Conservative party that is preparing for government that one of the measures of a party that is preparing for government is the ability of its Front-Bench spokesmen to turn around to Members behind them and say, "I'm sorry. I'm not going to let you say that you can promise everything that your constituents want to hear." The real problem with the Opposition's position is that there are serious issues to do with whether our police service is effectively structured to deal with some of our most serious crime, but the right hon. Gentleman failed to deal with those issues so that his Back Benchers can go back to their constituencies and put out a press release saying, "I called for no change in our area." That is a great shame, because there is a serious debate to be had on the process being undertaken by the Government and the way in which they are handling it. I am surprised to hear the major Opposition party challenge the fundamental basis of the Government's proposal. We need serious reorganisation.
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