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Police Restructuring

19. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): If he will make a statement on progress with his plans for police force restructuring in the north-east. [59242]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): The Home Secretary's ministerial statement of 3 March provided a further update on the position on restructuring, including his decision with
 
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respect to the north-east region. That instigates a four-month statutory consultation period and allows forces, authorities, and local authorities to comment on the Home Secretary's proposals. We will provide further support, through existing links with Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the Home Office, for all forces in the region in any preparations that they may wish to make in respect of implementation planning.

Dr. Kumar: I thank the Minister for that reply. When the final option has been considered by the Home Secretary—I think we all know that the option will be the one that he has outlined so far—will he be willing to put it to a referendum of the people of the north-east? After all, we had referendums on the mayor and the north-east assembly, so why should we not have one on such an important matter as police restructuring?

Hazel Blears: I understand the strength of feeling that my hon. Friend expresses on behalf of his community, but it is right and proper that we take into account the professional and expert advice that we have from HMIC on getting the right level of protective services for people in the whole of the region. It is important that we examine policing across England and Wales to ensure that we can respond to the serious threats that face us and establish neighbourhood policing—I am sure that he welcomes that in his constituency—that does not get abstracted to deal with serious incidents. I am afraid that I cannot promise my hon. Friend that he will get the referendum that he wants.

20. Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): What assessment he has made of the likely impact of his    proposed police force amalgamations upon neighbourhood policing. [59243]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): Since the beginning of the consultation process in September 2005, the Home Secretary has made it consistently clear that the main focus of restructuring the 43 police forces in England and Wales is to enable forces to provide the full range of protective services at level 2. This must be done while maintaining and enhancing neighbourhood policing at a local level in all police forces. The basic command unit will remain as the primary tool in ensuring that the Government pledge that neighbourhood policing is extended to all communities by 2008 is achieved.

Mr. Gale: The lead spokesman on neighbourhood policing of the Association of Chief Police Officers has expressed the view publicly that the introduction of the mergers of police forces is likely to distract attention and resources from neighbourhood policing and is likely to weaken the cause of the one element of the Government's policy that might just do something about antisocial behaviour. Given that the Home Secretary has indicated that he prefers to listen to the police rather than the Prime Minister's delivery unit, why is he not listening to the police about that?

Hazel Blears: We work extremely closely with Matt Baggott, the chief constable of Leicestershire, who is leading the neighbourhood policing programme team. He is doing an excellent job and he welcomes the
 
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additional resources that this Government have put into neighbourhood policing—£88 million this year, £350 million next year and an extra 14,000 police officers over and above the number that the Conservatives were able to put into policing. I have no doubt that the amalgamations will enable us not only to tackle the
 
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serious nature of organised crime, but to enhance our neighbourhood policing teams, which are being established across the country. The hon. Gentleman will have heard from colleagues on both sides of the House how much they welcome that, and I am determined to keep our focus where the public want it to be.


 
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Party Political Funding

3.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): With permission, I wish to make a statement on amendments to the Electoral Administration Bill. The Government intend to amend the Electoral Administration Bill, currently before the House of Lords, to make it compulsory for political parties to disclose any loans they receive. That is an issue that affects all political parties—[Laughter.] I hope that the Government, all the political parties of this House and the Electoral Commission will be able to work constructively together to find a solution that allows for transparency and fairness.

My intention is to achieve as great a transparency for loans made to political parties as applies to donations under the regime in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has today written to the leaders of all political parties represented at Westminster, and to the Electoral Commission, seeking their views on the elements of a reporting regime, including whether it should be retrospective. I have placed a copy of his letter in the Library of the House.

The Prime Minister has announced that Sir Hayden Phillips will conduct a review of the funding of the political parties. The terms of reference of the review were announced earlier today, and I have placed a copy in the Library.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I thank the Minister for her usual courtesy in giving me early sight of her short statement. I welcome the inquiry into the funding of political parties under Sir Hayden Phillips and the terms of reference to which she referred, a copy of which is in the Library. An inquiry was inevitable, given the revelations of the past few days, and we are happy to give our full co-operation to Sir Hayden. However, why is he undertaking the review and not the Electoral Commission? It seems inexplicable. The Government set up the commission to oversee such matters. The Minister knows that the commission has produced a report already on the funding of political parties and it has a credibility on the issue that, frankly speaking, no politician or civil servant is likely to match. Despite Sir Hayden's ability, surely the commission was the obvious choice.

Is the Minister able to shed any light on how it was possible for such large amounts of money to enter Labour coffers in loans without the full knowledge of Labour's leading figures? Perhaps it is understandable that the Deputy Prime Minister would not be told, but can it really be sustainable that the treasurer of the Labour party was not informed? Why were the fundraising activities—[Interruption.] I hear the words "purer than pure", but I do not think that we need to go back to those long-ago days. Why were the fundraising activities centred on 10 Downing street rather than Labour headquarters? Does not that raise concerns that civil servants may have been put into situations too close to politics, and not for the first time under this Government?
 
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The only leading figure who knew what was happening was the Prime Minister. Does the Minister agree that he acted wrongly in not being open with his colleagues, his party and the country? His behaviour caused the crisis.

The Minister says that loans should be declared and she wants to change the Electoral Administration Bill—[Interruption.] I will treat that positively and co-operatively. However, that Bill was in the House for months and nothing would have been done if Jack Dromey had stayed silent.

Can the Minister explain why Sir Hayden is apparently to have so long—until the end of 2006—to report? Does not that mean that further changes to the law will have to wait for 18 months, given the timing of the Queen's Speech? Does she agree that the matter is urgent? Does she also agree that the review of party funding must include trade union donations, just as much as company and individual ones?

An important part of solving the crisis should be cross-party co-operation—sitting down together to work out a fair and transparent system of funding and how to take honours out of the funding of politics. The Minister knows that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is writing today to the Prime Minister and to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) suggesting such talks. Will the Government sit down with the Opposition and other parties to discuss the important proposals put forward by the Conservatives to clean up party political funding?


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