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Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): I wish to address two issues—crime and antisocial behaviour in my constituency and the consultation process on building schools for the future that will take place after Christmas in Hull. The policing of crime and antisocial behaviour is a key issue for all   Members of Parliament. The police force that covers   Hull is Humberside, which has recently had a somewhat chequered history, including an unfortunate involvement in the Soham inquiry, a chief constable who got into difficulties with the then Home Secretary and a poor result in the police performance assessment that was published recently.

I therefore come to the debate on police restructuring with an open mind. At the moment, Humberside police force is not necessarily serving my constituents as well as it could. We had an interesting debate on the issue yesterday, but it was unfortunate that we had no speakers from Yorkshire on what should happen in that county. Hon. Members will know that Yorkshire has four police forces at the moment—Humberside, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and North Yorkshire.

As I said at the outset, crime and antisocial behaviour are key issues for almost every constituent in the country, and I am proud that measures to deal with them have been high on the Government's agenda. Police numbers have increased; there are 14,000 new police officers on the streets. A range of antisocial behaviour measures has been brought in and the use of closed circuit television has been expanded.

The attempt to modernise the police force is a key factor. We are looking at the jobs that we ask police officers to perform to see whether some of them can be undertaken by civilians or police staff, which is right and proper. We are considering more practical measures, such as the use of non-emergency telephone numbers so that the public can contact the police without using 999.

For a short period, I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and I was keen on the   work being done by the Mayor of London, Ken   Livingstone, to devolve to neighbourhoods through local policing teams. He did well in that and I   wish him every success in the future. Police community support officers played an enormous part in providing that neighbourhood policing. As a member of the MPA, I learned to pay heed to what the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner was saying about the threat of terrorism not only in the City of London, but nationally. That is of particular importance to me now, as the port of Hull and the Humber estuary could be major targets for terrorism.

Against that background, having regard to what Sir   John Stevens said about terrorism and to what was said in the debate yesterday about level 2 crime, I am keen that we ensure that our police force is fit for purpose. Yesterday, I listened carefully to the comments about the report "Closing the Gap", produced by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Humberside police force is made up of just over 2,000 officers and about 1,000 staff, so it fits the criteria in the report for the optimum size—4,000 officers and above—to meet area policing needs. I   am persuaded that Humberside's current operational level does not give the force the capacity to deal with major incidents and the cross-regional crime that comes
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into Yorkshire. If it came to pass that the port and the Humber estuary were a target for terrorist activity, we would not have the resilience we need. As all Members are aware, abstractions from our local policing teams are far too frequent, so I am persuaded that we should change the structure in Yorkshire.

Two options are being discussed: a south Yorkshire and Humberside force of about 5,500 officers, or a regional Yorkshire force of about 12,000. On 16 December, a letter was signed by the chair of Humberside police authority and the chief constable, expressing the view that their preferred option was a regional Yorkshire force, although I stress that they were not asking for a voluntary merger. There will be four months of consultation on the preferred structure, which is right and proper.

It is important to the people of Hull, North that they   have the local neighbourhood policing that they deserve. Police community support officers are effective in London, but I am sad to say that our previous chief constable in Humberside did not like the idea of PCSOs and we were the last police force to introduce them. There are only 22. Our new chief constable, Tim Hollis, believes that PCSOs have an important role to play in policing Hull and the general Humberside area and is moving towards the employment of 285 of them by March 2007. I am sure that everybody in Hull will welcome that. The Government have made available £340 million to increase the use of PCSOs across the whole country, and the target is about 24,000 in the   near future.

Community wardens have been amazingly successful in Hull. The scheme is run by a community resource team at the Goodwin centre, which shows how the voluntary sector—the third sector—can get involved in providing services that really meet the needs of our communities. Our wardens have won awards and they train wardens throughout the region. I am proud that they are based in Hull.

Neighbourhood watch and victim support schemes also have an important part to play in ensuring that our streets and areas are safe. The whole police family has a key role—be it uniformed officers, PCSOs, community wardens or victim support and neighbourhood watch groups. The Home Secretary gave reassurances yesterday about the localised nature of policing, keeping the basic command unit strong and accountable to the local community. That is the right way to go, while recognising the need for a more strategic role—if there is a Yorkshire-wide police force—to deal with level 2 crime.

Of course, restructuring will be difficult. We have to acknowledge that, but I am convinced that Humberside, which has not done terribly well in the past, will benefit from the advantages of working with other police forces   in Yorkshire. There will be savings from ending the duplication of human resources and payroll departments and headquarters. I look forward to seeing the nitty-gritty of what those savings will mean. A regional force would give staff more opportunities to develop specialisms, so that their careers can advance without their needing to move to other police forces.
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I want to say a few words about centres of excellence. When I was member of the MPA, I was very impressed by Operation Sapphire, which was an attempt to concentrate resources and effort to deal with sexual assault and rape. Money was put in, on a partnership basis, to build and develop havens for victims, where they could be interviewed by the police and receive medical treatment and counselling. It was not like going to a police station, which can be a difficult experience for a victim of sexual assault.

There are two havens in London. The Humberside force has looked into setting up a haven, but has neither the specialism nor the money to do so. With a regional police force, we might be able to develop centres of excellence and set up havens in Yorkshire. I would very much welcome that.

In the debate yesterday, many people talked about the accountability of police forces, especially strategic police forces. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety will ensure that the voices of people who are not often heard on policing issues, especially young people, get a hearing before any new structures are set up. They are the most likely to be victims of crime, yet often they do not have the chance to contribute to debates about resource allocation.

Finally, I want to talk about building schools for the future in Hull. We were lucky enough to be allocated £180 million and in January consultation will start on proposals for building new schools. Newland school for girls is the only single-sex school in Hull. It has an excellent head teacher and a good reputation. It is based at the centre of the campus of Hull university, which provides an excellent role model for young women and girls to further their education at university.

The school, which has been open for almost 100 years, is under threat of closure. One proposal is to close it at the existing site and move it to east Hull. I have received many representations about the need for single-sex schools. There must be choice in education and if parents want a single-sex school, they should have that choice. In particular, the growing ethnic minority community in Hull very much wants the school to continue. We do not need to close old buildings; we can remodel them. The school can be extended, to make it fit for purpose.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise those two constituency issues, and I wish everybody a happy Christmas.

2.49 pm

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am conscious of the fact that these debates, as hon. Members who regularly attend them will know, can turn into a bit of a Christmas whinge, but I am hard-pressed to bring glad tidings of joy from the wonderful county of Devon this year, because we have so many issues that I need to bring to the Minister's attention.

I want to reflect a little on what my right hon. Friend   the Member for Penrith and The Border (David   Maclean) said about the large rural parts of this country, particularly of England, which seem to be ignored and overlooked by the Government. Like his constituency, the far south-west, particularly Devon and Cornwall, is a very beautiful part of the country that
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is famous for its tourism, its coast and its river valleys, such as the one that I represent, but that does not mean that it is just a picture book. Real people live there. Real people have to run businesses and earn their living there. We have a younger generation growing up, and we want them to stay in Devon and feel that they have a future there, not elsewhere.

Every time I look at the way in which the Government address Devon's needs, however, I find that the rural parts of this country apparently have a different set of rules from the others. At the beginning of this year, I saw a map of what the Government regarded as the strategic road network for this country, only to find to my astonishment that anything west of Bristol—including the M5, which runs from Bristol to Exeter—was not regarded by the Government as a strategic route. In fact, there were absolutely no strategic road routes in the south-west peninsula west of Bristol at all.

My first port of call was to contact the chief executive and the chairman of the regional development agency—after all, I understood the Government's regional policy to mean that the RDA would look for the inward investment and economic regeneration of an area. When I asked what representations the RDA made to the Government in reaching the decision that there was a total wasteland west of Bristol, I was told that the RDA was not consulted at all.

All credit to the RDA. Over recent months, it has knocked on the Government's door, and I now understand—although no one has received any official notification of this—that the M5 from Bristol to Exeter is apparently now regarded as of strategic importance. However—one must be grateful for small mercies, particularly at this time of year—the rest of the road network that serves my constituency and the far south-west is totally neglected.

We were told that regional assemblies would have a strategic role in considering housing and infrastructure. Indeed, when the regional assembly sat down to consider road and rail infrastructure, it was officially told halfway through its deliberations to forget the railways because there was no money for them. It therefore dropped the railways from its agenda.

Only recently, I received a consultation document about the main rail routes in and out of the south-west. Again, I was absolutely astonished to find that, although we are to have a new town in my constituency, just east of Exeter, and that the main line from Exeter to   Waterloo will go through that town and that there will be a new freight depot, supposedly bringing a lot of   investment and jobs to the new town and to my constituency, freight is barely mentioned in the consultation document on the future of the railways in the south-west.

In fact, when I asked how freight could be hauled to that depot on what is a single-line track with a 1:32 gradient between Exeter St. David's station and a new station, which will be built in the new town, I was told that there was no money for rail infrastructure, that no one will be able to dual the track or do anything about the gradient and that half a load will be hauled twice a day.

Where is the planning in any of this? Where is the Government's strategic involvement? They seem to ignore the regional assemblies and RDAs that they have
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set up. Is not the Deputy Prime Minister's personal agenda really to divide England into bite-sized chunks, however the map is drawn. We heard from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) how our   region—the south-west region—stretches from Swindon to Gloucester, down to the Isles of Scilly and along the coast to Bournemouth. It is an enormous area, yet the Government, having arbitrarily divided up the country, do absolutely nothing to recognise the area's needs. Likewise, as other hon. Members have also mentioned today, there is a regionalisation of our public services, particularly the police force, the ambulance service and the fire and rescue services, all of which seems to be done to fit things into a Government agenda regardless of how the services will be delivered to people on the ground.

Hon. Members who represent sparsely populated areas—there are three moors in Devon and Cornwall—know that services for people in very remote, isolated areas will go almost completely off the map. We heard about the delivery of health services. I am concerned that we will have a pan-Devon primary care trust. That is too big. I know what will happen because it now happens in just about every other area, whether in relation to public services or the delivery of grants for sports. People come along with a clipboard and a check list. If certain things on the check list are ticked, the area gets some inward investment and people get some help, but sparsely populated areas do not have the critical mass, so the things on the list are not ticked and the people get nothing at all.

I should like to tell the Minister that it really is about time that we saw what the Government trumpeted as their main ambition for this country—something that comes near to fairness and justice. I can remember that, when they first took office, almost every other speech by a Minister said that they wanted to govern with fairness and justice. There is no fairness and there is no justice for   people who live in sparsely populated, rural communities because the whole system has been geared not to devolving things down to local decision making, but to taking them away from local decision making, so the services or the inward investment is not tailored to the needs of specific communities. Everything is decided from a central point, further away from the point of delivery, purely to fit an agenda that is political, arbitrary, unfair and unjust. That is how I see my constituents being treated by the Government, and they are not unique.

Since the Government took office, we have been asking, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will know, for a second strategic route in and out of the south-west servicing the coastal ports from Weymouth and Poole and on to Kent. Such a route would be important for our businesses, for inward investment and   especially for industries such as tourism. The Government kept kicking the plans into the long grass. They eventually said that we could not have a second strategic route, but that they would put the money into some other road. They have not produced the money for the other road. There is no money. There is no inward investment anywhere. One can look at the south-west from Bristol down and see that we are treated like second-class citizens, and I tell the Government that that will not do.
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Let us forget the political representation, whether by a Conservative or Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. I realise that the Government do not have too many MPs in the south-west. In fact, only about one   in 100 people voted for the Government in the south-west, but that is not the point. The point is that, when people govern, they should govern for a nation, not for selected parts of a nation that happen to share their own party political prejudices.

As this is surely the Labour Government's last throe, given that the Prime Minister is running out of time to make his mark as the great man of Europe or whatever—all those things that he wanted to tick off and be remembered for in the history books—let him get back to basics. Let him get back to what he said on the day that he took office. Let him at last in this Parliament deliver fairness and justice for the whole country, not just selected bits of it.

I am sorry that my speech has not brought you a great deal of light-hearted joy at this time of year, Madam Deputy Speaker, but these debates give us an opportunity, for which I am grateful, to raise issues that really matter to our constituents and communities. I   hope that the Minister will take on board what I have said and make my views on behalf of my constituents known to Ministers, especially those in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Despite the democratic vote in the north-east that showed clearly that people in this country do not want regionalisation, the Deputy Prime Minister is pressing on with it none the less. He does not have a mandate for it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said of Cumbria, we will not have it in the west country. We will not have this dictatorship of a Government imposing things on us and running the west country in a way that is to the detriment of the people who live there.

May I wish everyone a very happy Christmas? I wish an especially happy Christmas to the staff and Officers of the House and thank them for the work that they do for us throughout the year, for which we are all extremely grateful.

3.1 pm

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