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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7 February 2006.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Police: Reorganisation

Lord Waddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to ensure local accountability of policing if current police authorities merge.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have had extensive discussions with the Association of Police Authorities and others about how to strengthen local accountability as we move to strategic police forces. Central to that will be the roll-out of neighbourhood policing by 2008. In addition, we are strengthening the effectiveness of crime and disorder reduction partnerships to ensure that local police commanders and other partners are answerable to the communities that they serve.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the,

Those were the words of the Prime Minister when in opposition in 1994. Furthermore, is it not obvious that a few regional forces will be far more easily controlled by the Home Secretary than the present 43 forces? When, in addition, the Home Secretary has the sweeping powers that he will be given if the police and criminal justice Bill becomes law to give orders to chief constables on how to run their forces, will we not have taken a gigantic step towards a national police force?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am intrigued by the quotation from 1994—12 years ago. Much has changed since then. The public want to see more police officers on the streets, and under Labour they have. They have also seen a 35 per cent reduction in crime. That has been achieved under Labour in government. We need effective strategic police authorities and local accountability to ensure that the basic command units work well to deliver the policing service that we need in the future.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in Thames Valley—the force which I am a member of—each constituent authority has one representative. If it is made larger, they will have none. Yet we are urged by the Home Secretary to get involved in community policing so that we can bring policing closer to the people. Those two things are in contradistinction. Will the Minister
 
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tell officials at the Home Office that local policing can be delivered only if local representatives are involved at the strategic level of policing?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his important work on Thames Valley Police Authority. I am sure that he brings his distinct abilities and qualities to that important role. However, I cannot agree with his comment that having local representatives on the police authority, which is a larger structure, necessarily affects in any way the way in which local police services are delivered. This morning, my local councillor said that what worked best for her was action that worked at the borough level and through the crime reduction partnerships, as that has a real and meaningful impact on how operations work locally to tackle important issues such as drugs, robbery and burglary—real crimes that people suffer from.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us who were involved in local government in the 1970s said exactly the same thing as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is saying now when there was an amalgamation of the county boroughs into the county? Does he agree that in Lancashire we have not lost any efficiency because of that amalgamation? In fact, we have gained through it. The only worry in Lancashire when joining up with Cumbria was whether we would have the right funds—not the representation. We are happy with the representation that we have.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Funding is linked to accountability and is an issue on which the Home Secretary has made a clear commitment to consulting in the future. That will ensure that police forces, however they are organised, are well funded, so that people can rely on them to deliver the services that they want.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, not 10 years ago but on 25 January this year, in another place, the Prime Minister cut the ground from under the Home Secretary's feet by showing no commitment whatever to force amalgamation. He said:

The Government have just done a U-turn on schools. So can the Minister save himself and all of us a lot of trouble by announcing a U-turn on the abolition of local police forces?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think that there is a fig leaf between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on the issue. What the Prime Minister sought to make clear was that the Government were in listening mode. Of course we are listening to what people have to say about the reorganisation because it is terribly important. No
 
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doubt, back in 1994 when he put in place the legislation that provided for the easy merger of police forces, Michael Howard had the selfsame thought in mind.

Lord Imbert: My Lords, if there are to be territorial amalgamations, should not Thames Valley, an excellent example of an amalgamation, be the model for the future? Thames Valley is the result of the amalgamation of five small forces that were dragged kicking and screaming into one police service. Now it is an effective and efficient service. It could act as a perfect model for the future.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, is right to highlight the fact that we can learn much from the mergers that have taken place over the past 40 years following the Police Act 1964. I do not doubt that the Thames Valley merger brought together forces that needed to work together to tackle crimes that know no boundaries.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, first, is the noble Lord aware of the widespread and increasingly intense opposition to the hasty amalgamation proposed for Wales? I understand that there has been no consultation with the National Assembly, which has a view on the matter. Secondly, how on earth can the Government carry out their neighbourhood policing policy while the amalgamation is taking place?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, neighbourhood policing is a day-to-day operational issue worked out in consultation with the local community through its elected representatives, local authorities and all those who form the various partnerships. That will continue regardless of amalgamations. Of course, a degree of concern has been expressed in Wales about aspects of a merger, but I am sure that people in Wales want to see a good, efficient and high-quality police service for that country to ensure that the issues that trouble them—drug taking, burglary and crimes of violence—are tackled effectively. As I said earlier, crime knows no boundaries. We have to wake up to that fact if we want to have a police service that is fit for purpose.

Common Agricultural Policy:Agri-environmental Schemes

2.44 pm

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

What effect the reduction in funding for Pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy over the period 2007–13 will have on new agri-environmental schemes in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): The recent European Council agreement included the setting of an EU level budget for
 
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Pillar 2 for seven years that was in line with existing expenditure. However, the allocation to each individual member state has yet to be agreed. Importantly, the agreement also included an option for member states voluntarily to modulate up to 20 per cent of funds from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 with optional national co-financing. That provides UK administrations with continued flexibility to fund agri-environmental and other schemes.


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