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I find it difficult to express myself in terms that are clear and polite. We were asked to concentrate on forces that would be able to supply 4,000 officers. When one questioned the basis for that figure, no logical justification was given. One then pointed out that there
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are forces in Scotland—they will not be affected by the measure because it will not impinge on Scotland at all, which must be rather comforting for a Home Secretary who comes from Scotland—with only 400 officers, so how are they going to survive and provide protective services if we must have forces with 4,000 officers in this country?

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Frank Cook: If I must.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Is he aware of any evidence that is adduced to sustain the argument that that 4,000 is some sort of magic figure? The Leicestershire force, with 2,000 officers covering 1 million people, is being absorbed into one with 9,000 officers covering 4.5 million people, but that will create serious risks, especially in relation to localised policing. Is he aware of any such academic or other professional evidence?

Frank Cook: Search as I might in all sources available to me, I can find no justification for asserting that particular criterion. It does not bear examination or stand up to scrutiny for me, although it did for the former Home Secretary. I have to say to the Minister, who I see is assiduously making notes, that although I can offer him sympathy in his new job and welcome him to it, I cannot offer him support—he will not get it from me.

We were told that there was to be no money, so the forces were supposed to change livery, get new equipment, reorganise themselves and restaff new establishments with no money. We asked about the police precept—we heard about that earlier—and were told that it would take care of itself, but will it? After last Thursday, I do not suppose that that will be very much the Labour party’s problem in the next five or 10 years if what we experienced in the south happens in the north.

2.15 pm

We were told much later that the money would be provided. “Ah, fine,” said I, when I returned to this country after duty abroad, “They’ve found the money. Okay, that’s another one of my arguments gone, so I’m a little weaker than I was before.” However, I was told, “Yes, Frank, but there’s no new money.” I asked where the money would come from. I was told that it would come from the Home Office, and when I asked where the Home Office would get it from, I was told, “Oh, they’ll find it somewhere,” but then we heard about the financial problems with the Home Office. The whole situation is approaching a fantasy. Walt Disney ought to make an epic on this one—it is absolutely crazy.

I have tried to conduct my arguments through correspondence, so I have quite a large file. I have also had to argue with some policemen who seem keen for the changes to go through, although I must say that they are the ones who think that they will get the top jobs. I hope that the Minister will take this point seriously and make it his business to watch the interview with the chief constable of West Mercia in a
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recent episode of “HARDtalk” on BBC News 24. The interview will give him great cause for a rethink. There was a man who was special branch and had anti-terror responsibilities, with a remarkable record and a force with an astonishing track record on policing efficiency. He was really given a hard time by Stephen Sackur—he was not on a soft hook at all—but gave a great account of himself, as have many police officers throughout the country who object right from their roots to the form of the reorganisation. It is not that they are against reorganisation—they will go for it if it is needed. However, they are professionals. They are right into policing and have spent their lives doing it, although the previous Home Secretary and the Minister have not, as I have not. I am not an expert. The only thing that I am an expert in is mediocrity.

Michael Fabricant: Not true.

Frank Cook: You bet—I will prove it.

I appeal to the Minister, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, please, please, please go back and think again. Go back and re-examine, and think about the 82 per cent. of the people throughout the north-east who want a referendum. Go back and think of the 65 per cent. of people throughout the north-east who do not want the merger. Those people are talking to us. We are in the House because of the people. They send us here and pay us to be here, so let us listen to them for heavens sake—we might make history.

I do not enjoy voting against my Government and party, although I have done, I think, about 14 times in 23 years. It has always been painful, but I do it because of my conscience—believe it or not, I have got one. On this issue, the Government cannot count on my support, so I beg you—I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker; I beg you too, in a way. I beg the Government: for God’s sake, think again.

Mr. Paterson: It is a great honour and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook). He made a powerful speech, and spoke extremely well when he landed his debate in Westminster Hall.

I endorse virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman said. He may have been out of the Chamber when I intervened on the matter of Scotland, but the situation is rather worse. A report in Scotland on Sunday suggested that party insiders are saying that the enormous Strathclyde police force may be broken up because, according to certain members of the Labour party, it is not close enough to the community. We are subject to the extraordinary constitutional outrage of a Home Secretary from Scotland, who has no remit whatsoever for the Strathclyde police force, dictating to us—in the north-east in the hon. Gentleman’s case, or to the West Mercia force in mine—and forcing a massively unpopular amalgamation when his own party is doing exactly the opposite, back in his own home patch. On those grounds alone, this process is illegitimate and the Government should think again.

The process is illegitimate also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has said, because of the outrageous rush with which it has been conducted. On 16 September, Her Majesty’s
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inspectorate of constabulary published the report entitled “Closing the Gap”, which referred to the utterly arbitrary figure of 4,000 police officers.

My parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), was talking about resources. The issue is not all about resources, but some of us are caught financially. I am not making a call for more money, but it should be noted that West Mercia constabulary receives £94.38 per head from central Government while North Wales police receives £116. If West Mercia received the same as North Wales, our force would be well over 4,000 strong. If that were so, I would probably not be speaking in this debate, because there would not be an issue to discuss. As we have only 2,380 officers, we are, however, caught by the absurd black-and-white figure of 4,000, for which there is no basis.

The West Mercia force has a splendid chief constable in Paul West. As the hon. Member for Stockton, North said, he was given a hard time last night on television, but really stood up for himself. There is also a strong police authority under Paul Deneen. The force polices a huge area—Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Despite the low rate of funding per head from central Government, when the HMIC base-line assessment and the police standards unit assessment of performance is taken into account, which includes level 2 performance—it must be the most comprehensive independent assessment of police forces, which took place in the autumn—West Mercia was rated as the No. 1 police force in the country. In terms of geographical area, that force is responsible for the fourth largest in the country. Yet we are to be rushed headlong, helter-skelter, into an amalgamation with Warwickshire, Staffordshire and the west midlands force.

A document was issued on 16 September, and the Home Secretary wrote to the police authority on 22 September saying, in effect, “You have got to be amalgamated and 4,000 is the limit.” I have been involved in this matter and meetings took place down here. For instance, I got the chief constable and the chairman to meet the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). Our chief constable was pretty straight with the hon. Lady and told her that it was nothing short of scandalous to reconfigure British policing in a few weeks. He said to her, directly:

he was being modest because it is the highest-performing force—

To touch on my political neighbour’s comments on local policing, the chief constable said:

Most importantly, the chief constable said:

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As an example with regard to level 2, West Mercia officers are not only helping the West Midlands force after the incident at Lozells last year but helping the Met following the bombings last year. West Mercia officers are also in the Balkans helping authorities there. There must be collaboration across forces and we support that, but that does not mean subordination and a complete loss of the relationship between the smaller local force and the people.

In the Westminster Hall debate—

Frank Cook: Will the hon. Gentleman consider for a second the amount of co-operation that took place between different and various police forces during the miners’ strike?

Mr. Paterson: I was pursuing another profession at the time of the miners’ strike and I am not qualified to speak about that. However, I am sure that there was collaboration. I am sure also that the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. There has always been collaboration between forces. The issue has been made even more pertinent following the arrival of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said. SOCA is carrying out level 2 strategic work on terrorism, so there is no need to go through this massively expensive and unpopular process of amalgamation. Local policing should be as near as possible to local people.

As a final crushing comment, Paul West said:

That is the opinion of the professional. I repeat that that is the view of the chief constable of the No. 1 police force in the country. His view on statistics were supported by Tony Lawrance, who is professor of statistics at the University of Warwick. He published a statistically based opinion which completely undermined the HMIC review, which is the only basis for the figure of 4,000.

I suggest that professors of statistics are not commonly known for colourful or exciting language, but I shall give a flavour of one of Tony Lawrance’s comments. He said:

Touching on collaboration, that professor of statistics went on to say:

That is exactly as was cited.

David Taylor: Does the hon. Gentleman fear for the amalgamation in which his own force will be involved, which is parallel to the concern that many, including me, have in the east midlands, where forces such as Leicestershire and Derbyshire—good and effective
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forces that are adjacent to Nottinghamshire, which, unfortunately, has a higher than average crime rate and other concerns—face the prospect of resources being sucked in that will weaken the existing effective structures in those forces, which were always good? Leicestershire has always been good at collaborating and in dealing with serious and organised crimes, drug offences and terrorism.

Mr. Paterson: I entirely agree with that. There is no question that the targets will be set by the Home Office; those targets will be set by conurbations that are big centres of population and big crime centres. The current efficient handling of crime matters and policing in areas such as that represented by the hon. Gentleman and myself will definitely be damaged. That is inevitable.

I return to the professor, whose comments are extremely relevant. Time and again the Government come back to HMIC. They say, “We are only following what HMIC says.” It is one man’s opinion, which is trashed by Tony Lawrance, a professor of statistics, who has said:

His conclusion is damning. He says:

How can the Government base the largest change in policing in 100 years on a report that is utterly flawed in its basic statistics?

Frank Cook: The hon. Gentleman has been generous in accepting interventions. Did the professor make a comparison between the HMIC report and the report that was jointly published two years before by the Home Office and Downing street, which rejected the proposal? The Home Secretary, however, has refused to allow me sight of that report.

2.30 pm

Mr. Paterson: No, the professor’s analysis was purely of the HMIC report. Given that it is constantly thrown at us as the justification for a revolution in British policing, it is pertinent that a politically neutral professor of statistics rubbishes the data. Even though he uses such extraordinarily colourful language, the Government continue to produce that report as evidence.

Given that basic evidence and given that it is extremely unpopular, the proposal is illegitimate. The Prime Minister said before the Liaison Committee:

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On 18 January, he said:

A week later, on 25 January, he said:

Later that day, he said:

A comprehensive survey of public opinion has taken place in West Mercia. Not one of the area’s 13 Members of Parliament wrote to the police authority to support the regional proposal, including a Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), who is now a Government Whip and, lo and behold, the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), the Government Chief Whip. None of the county and unitary councils supports the measure, and neither do any of the nine district councils. None of the 108 parish and town councils supports it, and neither do the 11 police consultative groups or 15 community groups. They all support the proposal that West Mercia should become a strategic force, achieving that rank using its own resources. In more than 100 public meetings, overwhelming support has been expressed for the proposal that West Mercia handle level 2 crimes.

In a telephone poll, 94 per cent. of respondents were in favour of West Mercia promoting itself to level 2 within its own boundaries. Similarly, 96 per cent. of written responses supported West Mercia as a level 2 force. Why on earth do the Government think that the proposal, if it is rammed through, will be legitimate? The Minister effectively said that carefully selected Government toadies will have a little debate in a closed Statutory Instrument Committee to enable the measure to go through.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): My hon. Friend will have had conversations with police officers in his area, as I have had in mine. Those officers say that they police the public with the public’s consent, and that they cannot do otherwise. If the measure goes through without public consent, as he clearly demonstrated, that will not assist the strengthening of the relationship that the police need to have with the public, and with which they have had difficulty in the past few years and months.

Mr. Paterson: That is a prescient intervention, as I was about to say that policing began as a civic duty in Elizabethan times. Then, as now, jury service was a civic duty and, the citizenry were also the police. My hon. Friend is right to raise the matter, because Sir Robert Peel’s second principle stated that

Sir Robert continued:

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