Police: Reorganisation

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 2:30 pm, 7th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

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

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

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

"wholesale amalgamation of the smaller police services . . . will remove local policing further from local people when there is no evidence that it will create a more effective police service"?—[Hansard, Commons, 5/7/94; col. 273.]

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

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 tell officials at the Home Office that local policing can be delivered only if local representatives are involved at the strategic level of policing?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Blackburn Lord Taylor of Blackburn Labour

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.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister for Constitutional Affairs & Legal Affairs (Also In Home Affairs Team), Constitutional Affairs, Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

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:

"we will listen carefully and there are several different directions that reform could take".—[Hansard, Commons, 25/1/06; col. 1426.]

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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 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.

Photo of Lord Imbert Lord Imbert Crossbench

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.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Wales

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.