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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): As I was listening to the Home Secretary open the debate, I was underwhelmed. There is a lack of evidence to support his case. For some time, I have been tabling questions to the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety asking for the evidence base for that magical number, 4,000. Eventually, at paragraph 1.11 of the O'Connor report, I stumbled on the answer.
"is particularly successful at investigating all classes of crime and enjoys one of the highest detection rates in England and Wales. Gwent Constabulary has also reduced overall crime, and particularly the offences of burglary and vehicle crime".
"significant improvements in performance during the past year . . . particularly in the area of investigating crime. The force has also embarked on an ambitious neighbourhood policing programme that will see 229 community beat managers deployed to wards within the force. Managing the transition while maintaining performance and meeting demand will be a challenge, particularly when, at the same time, a central communications centre will be established".
"The force has reduced recorded crime in all areas including violent crime. Additionally, it has also maintained a good level of crime detection and has performed well in relation to its peers, delivering good performances in a number of areas. The force has a good record of detecting crime and is well placed to deal with serious and major crime with its dedicated serious and major crime investigation teams."
I mentioned my own authority of North Wales police. Burglary in north Wales is at its lowest level for 30 years. Vehicle crime is down by 22 per cent. and robberies are down by 28 per cent. All three divisions of the North Wales force are performing brilliantly and topping the performance leagues for England and Wales in many categories, so one must ask once more why we are talking about such reorganisation.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) was right: the proposal for the Welsh forces would create a national police force because one force would cover Wales. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) said that his chief constable might be hard pressed to travel 70 miles to meet him, but the equivalent distance in Wales would be 250 or 300 miles, which would be absolutely impossible to cover.
"Forces with over 4,000 officers, or 6,000 staff, tended to meet the standard across the seven protective services measured, in that they demonstrated good reactive capability with a clear measure of proactive capacity. Forces below that size tended to fall someway short of the standard, with, in general, the smallest forces faring the least well. Notwithstanding this, there are outliers: some smaller forces were almost as successful as the majority of larger forces, whilst two relatively large forces (5,000+ staff) received surprisingly low scores."
It is thus hardly written in stone that the 4,000 figure must be followed. Curiously enough, not one of the Welsh forces has a manning of more than 4,000, so we would be defeated on that criterion. However, as we were told earlier, that is not a hard-and-fast criterion. It is difficult to know what is going on because the consultation has been so poor that we do not know where the goalposts are, and whether they are still moving, or firmly in the ground.
The chair of the North Wales authority has praised the Association of Police Authorities, which has said that it will not co-operate by 23 December. I will not cite words such as "inducement" to describe the Home Secretary's offer to those that fall in line early on, but that situation compounds the mismanagement of the whole process. Ian Roberts, the chairman of the North Wales authority, says:
That is the general tenor of the debate because hon. Members simply do not know what will happen. They do not know where the finance will come from, or whether the change is the first step towards a national police force.
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The letter from the Association of Police Authorities has been quoted at length today. Its chairman, Bob Jones, says that there has been a certain amount of bullying into abolishing police forces with indecent haste. He says:
On a matter of pure democracy, the National Assembly was not formally consulted on the proposals, despite the fact that it controls £144 million of the police budget in Wales. The Assembly recently supported an amendment that read:
In case anyone is labouring under the misapprehension that I, as a nationalist, am against co-operation with other forces, let me say that I am proud of the fact that the North Wales force co-operates closely with Merseyside and Cheshire police. The same is true of West Mercia and Dyfed-Powys, and the situation is certainly the same for Gwent and South Wales forces and the Avon and Somerset police force. One of the excuses cited during the debate is the fact that small forces cannot deal with organised crime, but Gwent, South Wales and Avon and Somerset police forces recently cracked a serious crime ring in Bristol involving the most awful characters who were coming over fully armed to sell crack cocaine each day. Many of those people are now behind bars, which proves that co-operation works and can hold organised crime in check.
One of the other reasons that the Home Secretary cites for forcing the proposals through at such an undignified pace is the need to help forces to cope with terrorist outrages. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Metropolitan police, which has nearly
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32,000 officers, had 352 officers seconded to it to help it to cope with the 7 July bombings? Many of those officers came from Wales. Eight officers came from Dyfed-Powys, eight came from the North Wales force and many came from my own force of West Mercia. Many of those people are still there. The fundamental argument that we need such change to deal with terror outrages has been explodedif hon. Members will excuse that unfortunate punby a devastating parliamentary answer that shows that that argument is flawed and that the Home Secretary should abandon the idea.
Mr. Llwyd : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Let us remember that, unfortunately, the Met had been tailing those who were involved in the attacks for some time before 7 July. The Government are hiding behind a smokescreen in relation to terrorism and organised crime. Expertise is available. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) talked about extending SOCA, which I agree would be sensible, but whenever a terrorist incident has occurred, advice has been readily available within forces and from co-operative neighbouring forces. I do not buy the Government's argument in that respect.
When the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister tried to persuade the House on the 90-day custody question, they did so on the basis of a conclusive case produced by the policean expert case and one that was, to use the Prime Minister's words, "overwhelming" and "conclusive." The same police experts are definitely opposed to a hurried, half-baked reorganisation that has much to do with tightening the Home Secretary's stranglehold on a single police force in Wales, rather than dealing with four. Many of us are fearful: we remember the policing of the miners' strike.
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