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Protection of Private Gardens (Housing Development)

Greg Clark accordingly presented a Bill to protect private gardens from housing development which is out of character with the surrounding area; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 May, and to be printed [Bill 123].

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Opposition Day

[12th Allotted Day]

Police Amalgamations

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business, which is an Opposition debate on the 12th allotted day on police amalgamations. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.45 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House notes the Home Secretary's proposals to create regional strategic police forces in England and Wales; further notes the Association of Police Authorities' estimate that amalgamations could cost £600 million to implement; further notes that none of the proposed amalgamated forces has the unanimous agreement of the police authorities concerned; expresses concern about the implications of mergers for local accountability, neighbourhood policing and the level of police precepts; regrets the unnecessarily tight timetable for consultation; recognises that the potential changes are the most significant for over thirty years; and calls on the Government to consider alternative proposals to strengthen the ability of forces to deal with serious crime, including sharing services, as recommended by the Association of Police Authorities.

This is an unusual Opposition debate. Usually, we have a few hours of political combat and knockabout, all of which is very enjoyable, but the Government then carry on as they did before. Today, I shall try something a little different, and offer the Government a serious chance of achieving their stated aim of finding a better way of dealing with serious crime with the wholehearted and consensual support of all the parties in the House.   That is appropriate, because the structure and    accountability of our police forces and the decentralisation of law enforcement is a constitutional issue that should be resolved on a cross-party basis.

Let us start with what we agree on. We agree that we want to improve the ability of our police forces to deliver the so-called protective services that deal with murder, terrorism, cross-border crime and so on. We agree that the current organisation may be weak in some police forces on some of those issues. We agree that the policing teams—not necessarily the forces—that deal with those major issues should have the skills and resources to deal with them. Where possible, they should be able to develop experience in dealing with them.

We do not agree that the organisation that is best suited to deal with terrorism is necessarily the best suited to deal with shoplifting, mugging or burglary. We do not agree that bigger is better for most aspects of policing. Indeed, other issues including the quality of management and leadership, technical skills, proper resourcing and local knowledge are far more important than any imaginary police force-wide economies of scale in the delivery of better policing.

We do not agree that regionalism is a good model for emergency services in general or police forces in particular. We believe in localism. Regionalism is
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pseudo-localism, with all the disadvantages of centralisation masquerading under a local label. Most of all, however, we do not agree that this is a policy that should be analysed and proposed in a few months, barely debated, then imposed in a rush on an unwilling public and a number of unwilling police forces and authorities.

Let us start with the analysis, the so-called O'Connor report entitled, "Closing the Gap". It is subtitled, "A Review of the 'Fitness for Purpose' of the Current Structure of Policing in England and Wales". The phrase, "Fitness for Purpose", is one of the many pieces of managerial jargon that afflict modern policing. The question is, fit for what purpose? No one could seriously believe that ever bigger and ever more remote police forces will deliver more responsive, effective and accountable policing of the local robberies, muggings, burglaries that intrude into too many people's lives.

Nevertheless, the analysis in the O'Connor report implies that bigger is better when dealing with major crimes under the umbrella of protective services. The report and the Government response to it are flawed at three critical points: the original analysis; the plan and costing of proposals, such as they were; and the decision and timetable for implementation.

Frankly, the best thing that I can do is to repeat the House the coruscating opinion of Professor Lawrance, a professor of statistics at Warwick university. He addressed the analysis, which claimed that police forces need to be 4,000-strong to do their job, and found that the quality of the statistical information was questionable and that the statistical treatment of the data and the use of computer-produced statistical elaborations unjustified. In his opinion, there was minimum professional statistical science input in the planning stages, the data analysis, its presentation and the conclusions that were drawn. He concluded by stating:

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Davis: In the last debate that we had on the   subject, I gave way over 30 times. Today, with an 8-minute rule, I shall restrict the number of times I give way, but I will do so on this occasion.

Mr. Francois: I shall try to be brief. The Essex constabulary has considerable experience of fighting terrorism, not least because, as my right hon. Friend and the Government know, there are special facilities at Stansted. Also, on 7/7, the Essex police provided substantial assistance to the Met. Does my right hon.
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Friend agree, with respect to colleagues from East Anglia, that the Essex constabulary does not need to merge with other forces to learn how to fight terrorism?

David Davis: Yes. My hon. Friend is right and, if I remember correctly, he is supported in his views on the matter by Members representing Essex constituencies from all the major parties in the House, which is an important indication of the concern about the proposal. He raises another point. The Essex force, as he says, has special skills in dealing with terrorism. Other forces in other parts of the country have special skills in public order defence, or in dealing with border-related issues such as international crime. On the regional model proposed by the Government, we cannot be sure that any particular region has these special skills.

One of the great advantages of a looser federated model is that a force could take advantage from one area of one set of special skills and another area for another set of special skills. Rejecting a one-size-fits-all model will help us get better policing across the board, not least at the high levels of protective services that the Government are concerned about.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Davis: I will, but with the stricture that I made before. I am often keen to give way to Labour Members, normally the dimmer ones, but I will make an exception in this case, as the right hon. Gentleman is the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.

Mr. Denham: I am more grateful than usual. If the right hon. Gentleman is making the point that for a force of a certain size, there are a number of other factors as well as its size that determine whether it is good or not, of course that is true. Everyone would accept that. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, quite separate from the O'Connor report and that analysis, Sir David Phillips, chief constable of Kent and then president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, produced a position paper three or four years ago, adopted by ACPO, which reached almost exactly the same material conclusions as O'Connor about the optimum size of police forces? Is it not the case that that is not a one-off report, but a reflection of the dominant professional consensus in policing in Britain about the ideal size of police forces?

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