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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I recently received a detailed assessment of the comprehensive multi-agency preparations that will be in place for the World cup. They will include an extensive policing operation at home and abroad, including the deployment of police officers and prosecutors in Germany. Co-operation with the host authorities is excellent, and I recently signed an agreement with Herr Schauble, the German Interior Minister, regarding UK-German governmental, police and judicial co-operation.
The Home Secretary says he is confident that everything possible is being done, but I fear that the Government are sleepwalking into disaster this summer. Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the most important steps that could be taken would be for the Germans to suspend the Schengen agreement temporarily, as happened during Euro 2004 in Portugal,
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so that fans going in and out of Germanywhether law-abiding or otherwisecould be subject to proper border controls?
Mr. Clarke: That is a matter for the German Government. The Schengen agreement allows particular security provisions to be applied at national borders within the Schengen area, but, as I have said, that is a matter for German Ministers and not for me.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): The question refers to "hooliganism by British fans", but surely the reference should be to hooliganism by English fans, as everyone knows that Scottish fans are a perfect joy. [Interruption.] Let me tell those who are remarking that Scotland has not qualified that qualification for the World cup is now a devolved responsibility.
Has the Minister been watching the Commonwealth games, at which the anthems of Scotland, England and Wales have been played? Has he noticed that none of those countries use "God Save the Queen"? That is because they distinguish between nationalities. Would it not be appropriate for England to have its own anthem?
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to point out that I referred to English fans in my answer, although the question referred to British fans, because I was particularly sensitive to the point that he has made. I am well aware of the famous sporting achievements of Scottish sportspeople, for example in curling, and I hope that they will take place more widely.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Home Secretary has met the chief constables and chairs of all four police forces and authorities in the Welsh region. The purpose of those discussions has been to proceed with the option that will be the most effective in protecting the people of Wales, namely a single strategic force for Wales. We will continue to have discussions with all key stakeholders in Wales.
Mr. Jones: As the Home Secretary has announced twice that he intends to proceed with the all-Wales option despite the opposition of the Welsh police authorities, what is the purpose of the consultation? Could anything possibly be said by the Welsh authorities that might change the Home Secretary's mind, or is this simply an exercise in window-dressing?
Not unusually, the hon. Gentleman's opening premise is entirely wrong. The Home Secretary's initial written ministerial statement triggered a four-month consultation, which is currently taking place. When it has ended, my right hon. Friend will present his view to the House.
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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): Unsurprisingly, the Home Secretary has received a substantial volume of letters and views from police forces and individual officers and staff, from police authorities and their members, from local government associations and members, and from members of the public. We continue to have discussions with all the key stakeholders.
Mr. Hoban: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for listening to representations from Hampshire and I am glad that Hampshire will remain a stand-alone force, but will the Minister assure us that where mergers are forced through, there will be enough support for them to ensure that resources are still spent on front-line policing and not diverted to meeting the considerable set-up costs of the merged forces?
Hazel Blears: Even where forces stand alone, it will be absolutely vital for them to carry out a thorough assessment of their services to ensure not only that they can provide really good local neighbourhood policing, but that they can enhance their protective services capability, so that they can be certain that they can cope with increased threats from serious and organised crime, and can counter terrorism and ensure public order. We are absolutely determined that every strategic force in the country will be able do both those parts of policing extremely well and to the best of their ability. That is what the public expect.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure us that these amalgamations and mergers will lead to better police response times, particularly in Coventry and the rest of Warwickshire?
Hazel Blears: The police authority amalgamations are designed to ensure not only that we can cope with the threat from serious crime, but that local neighbourhood response is improved. We want to ensure that local neighbourhood police officers are not drawn away from the front line to deal with serious incidents. My hon. Friend may be aware that we are introducing national call-handling standards from November this year. That will be the first time that members of the public have had such standards, and they can expect the police to respond in timely manner to their concerns.
The Home Secretary is absolutely determined[Interruption.] I was not going to say that he is absolutely infallible; I doubt whether there is such an expression. He is a man of great wisdom and he will be assiduous in ensuring that he takes into account all the representations made to him. As the hon.
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Gentleman of course knows, when proposals are made they are subject to a four-month consultation period during which people can make representations. All such representations will be properly considered before final decisions are taken and orders are laid before this House.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Staffordshire is an early candidate for a merger with the west midlands regional forceprobably the second biggest in Englandjust as we are developing a county-wide community policing system. That system is very welcome, especially in rural areas, as I saw last Friday when I walked the beat with PC Ellie Sewell in Wheaton Aston. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that those large regional forces will not draw police officers away from very important community work in rural areas?
Hazel Blears: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, which is not merely warm words. We are putting £88 million into neighbourhood policing this year and £350 million next year, to make sure that we recruit the 24,000 community support officers who will form an integral and essential part of the neighbourhood policing teams. The amalgamation of forces will enable us to respond to serious crime and to ensure that the neighbourhood policing teams are not drawn away from the front line, which is exactly where the public in my hon. Friend's constituency want them to be.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): In his statement today, the Home Secretary is proposing amalgamating the Norfolk constabulary with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. That gives rise to a raft of questions, not least whether the new force is to be known as the North Anglia constabulary. When will the Home Secretary produce some firm proposals on, for example, political responsibility? When will we know the size of the police authorities and whether the figures will change? When will we know about resources and who is to be the chief constable? As yet, we have no information on those fundamental questions.
Hazel Blears: Those are perfectly proper questions and we will discuss those important issues, about which the public are also concerned, with the chairmen and the chief constables in the forthcoming period. I am pleased to say that Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire have a history of collaboration, and I am sure that the amalgamation will work well. As we have pointed out, we want to ensure that every top-tier local authority has a place on the new strategic police authorities, and that there is a strong connection between the authorities' democratic element and their local communities. All those issues will be discussed and scrutinised properly as we take this matter forward.
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