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Mr. Paterson: I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments about the 4,000 officers. May I add that those of us who live on the border with Wales are also bitterly opposed to having a monster force based hundreds of miles away in Cardiff?
Mr. Llwyd: I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I know that the Dyfed-Powys force is in daily contact with forces over the border, and that they have an excellent exchange of information. The North Wales police have hourly contact with the Cheshire and Merseyside forces, exchanging information and intelligence. A huge and dangerous drugs ring was busted by the police forces of South Wales, Gwent, and Avon and Somerset, working together on Operation Triban, giving the lie to the idea that the existing forces cannot handle organised crime. I presume that terrorism will stop this side of the Scottish border, because the Scottish forces, although the same size as the Welsh ones, are thought to be able to handle terrorism and organised crime. That is nonsense.
Mr. Llwyd: Well, there we are. These proposals have been rushed through since September with a great deal of urgency, and perhaps even the Scots are discussing the idea. I wonder whether they will go down that route.
Mr. Paterson: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Scottish Labour party is proposing that Strathclyde police should be broken up because it is too big, and has stated specifically that it is not "going down the English route"?
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Thank you very much for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and may I repeat the apology that I made at the beginning? I was here for the opening remarks, but there was such anger locally that I was asked to make comments outside the House on the extraordinary statement that has been slipped through in the most skulking and underhand manner by the Home Secretary. I was rung up by my local radio station, BBC Radio Shropshire, at about 1.30 pm. It had already had notification that there had been a statement and asked whether I knew anything about it, which I did not.
My secretary immediately looked on the Home Office website, but there was no mention whatever of such a statement. I then rang the chairman of the police authority, who knew nothing about it. Then I went down to the Library and got this copy, which brought the most unwelcome news that the West Mercia police force is going to be rammed into a monster regional force. Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you pass on to Mr. Speaker the fact that I find it scandalous that such a huge decision is being announced in a two-page written statement placed in the Library?
I congratulate West Mercia on being judged the number one force in the country, according to the widest range of criteria established by the Home Office, although its geographical area is the fourth largest, and it is the largest landlocked force. It is dramatically less well funded by central Government than all the forces that surround it. It receives £94.38 per head, and as we have just heard, North Wales receives £116, while Dyfed-Powys receives £105.24 and Gwent £131.45. We are massively worse off than the Welsh forces.
Let us compare the funding of forces in the north of England. Cheshire is well in with £112.36, Staffordshire receives £107.96, West Midlands receives a massive £167.25, Warwickshire receives £99.69, and Gloucestershire receives £107.52. That is because West Mercia was one of the first forces toif I may use a ghastly piece of jargoncivilianise. It took police officers away from routine activities such as answering telephones, putting those duties into civilian hands. The force is thus being penalised for its historic efficiency. This is not just a whinge about money. I am trying to draw attention to the fact that West Mercia has still emerged as the number one force in the countryalthough for reasons that I do not understand, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety rubbishes it at every opportunity, and tries to run down its achievement.
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Only 10 days ago, I took the chairman of the authority and the chief constable to meet the Minister. They have made a strong case for the view that no financial gains can result from the huge amalgamation of the west midlands forces. As they have said, West Mercia is already an extremely efficient force that has made prudent savings, which it intends to invest in strategic policing measures to deal with issues such as terrorism and serious crime, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). West Mercia proposes to spend £2.9 million of its own funds on an extra 95 officers who will handle those issues; it has a record in that regard. I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has just come into the Chamber, because I was about to say that when the IRA blew up Shrewsbury castle, West Mercia dealt with it. When the IRA blew up Tern Hill barracks in my constituency, West Mercia dealt with that as well. Bizarrely, when the IRA turned up at Weston Park for the summit, West Mercia police were actively involved in protecting the terrorist leaders. They were also involved at Weston Park when President Clinton was there.
West Mercia has been involved at the highest level in key strategic policing issues. For instance, Hereford contains the headquarters of the SAS, which must be a serious target for those who do not have the good will of this country in their sights. The force has handled all those duties most efficiently, and I cannot understand for the life of me why the Government are ignoring the fact that it is so efficient, and also so popular.
West Mercia carried out a survey of public opinion, which is probably unprecedented among police forces. Not one of the Members of Parliament who were consultedincluding a Minister and a Parliamentary Private Secretaryand not one county council, unitary council or district council has written in to approve what is going on, but 108 parish councils have written in to support the idea of retaining West Mercia as a strategic force with its own boundaries. Following a telephone survey, 96 per cent. of respondents said that they wanted the force's status to be maintained, because it spent its funds well. That is what the debate is aboutefficient policing, and local policing.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case for West Mercia. The amalgamations were supposed to be based on a business case. Does he believe that the Government even constructed a business case, let alone examined and judged it, before making their decisions?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Although the question of amalgamation obviously touches on the debate, it is not the principal subject of it. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) should direct most of his remarks to the orders that we are debating.
I am grateful for that helpful comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not be drawn too far down the road along which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) would like to take me. I shall simply say that with some of the funds allocated to it by
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the Government last year, West Mercia commissioned a survey by Tony Lawrance, professor of statistics at Warwick university. I cannot resist commenting that the force used its public funds wisely. The professor simply said
"The conclusions drawn in respect of the 4,000 minimum force size almost totally ignore the variability of protective services performance at each force size, and no evidence is provided that this will be small at the 4,000 level."
It is extraordinary that a professor of statistics, who may have an even greater knowledge of mathematics than my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) with his A grade at A-level, has completely trashed that proposition.
West Mercia is the number one force. It is the worst funded in my region, but it is not whingeing. It is putting money aside for strategic policing. I consider it scandalous that the Home Secretary did not have the guts to come here today, look us in the eye and answer questions from 13 Members of Parliament, not one of whom supports this outrageous, unprecedented move to create a monster police force that will be the beginning of a national force. We shall have 12 toadies around a tablechief constables beholden not to us as Members of Parliament and not to those who pay the council tax, but to the Home Secretary. He will set the targets, he will provide the pay and the pensions, and that is where the promotion will come from.
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