Police: Reorganisation

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 28 February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 2:45, 28 February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the cost of the proposed amalgamation of police forces.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, initial estimates provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to the tripartite finance working group range from £430 million to £600 million. We are working closely with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and consultants to test the financial robustness of those figures. That is ongoing work, and it would be premature for me to comment further. HMIC has demonstrated that restructuring will lead to significant savings, and in some regions it is likely that those could commence within two to three years of merger.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, in expending such considerable sums, I presume that the Government must be confident that what they are doing is in accordance with the will of the communities that those police services exist to serve and protect. What steps have the Government taken to establish the views of those communities about the proposals and what are those views?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, first, as the noble Lord will no doubt be aware, the proposals have been developed over a considerable period. My right honourable friend Hazel Blears, the Minister who has led on the matter, has consulted widely up and down the country to try to ensure that we properly understand people's needs. The review is predicated on the HMIC report, which gave trenchant advice to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on the changes needed to police communities properly.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Blackburn Lord Taylor of Blackburn Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the announcement made last week that the Lancashire and Cumbria police forces have joined together voluntarily. May we express our appreciation to the Home Secretary for the financial assistance that he has given us to allow us to do that voluntarily?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I very much endorse what my noble friend said and commend Cumbria and Lancashire for putting the needs of their people first.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Spokesperson in the Lords, Northern Ireland Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Police), Home Affairs, Whip

My Lords, how does the Minister believe that accountability and the tripartite structure can be improved by the proposed amalgamations of police forces?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, of course we must ensure that accountability is clear. We have set out the role, which is focusing on critical strategic issues; appointing the chief officer and other ACPO ranks and holding him or her to account; setting the budget; and determining the level of precepts. All that is essential. We must consider the size of police authorities. They must be manageable and fit for purpose. Pulling that together is of the utmost importance.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland

My Lords, does the Minister recognise how much damage to morale the current climate of speculation and rumour—some rumours being initiated by official government papers—is engendering in police forces?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, performance is very high in the police service, and morale therefore, especially bearing in mind the investment that we have made, is equally high. There are problems. Any change will cause anxiety, and change is not easy; but we have taken seriously the recommendations made by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, which has given my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the most trenchant advice on what should be done to meet the needs of the people we serve.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Labour

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the main objective of the present proposals to amalgamate forces is in fact to enhance protective capacity and enable the police to prosecute level 2 crime more effectively? In agreeing to merge last Friday, Lancashire and Cumbria had precisely that objective in view: they want to offer the people of Lancashire and Cumbria a better protective service. Will my noble friend assure me that the Home Office will work closely with those forces and others that agree to amalgamate to enable them to offer the public a better service, which is surely what we are all about?

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how much the Government are minded to contribute to the cost of reorganisation and how much of that will be new money?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have already indicated a contribution of £125 million for the first phase. Of course we are considering figures; I gave a figure that has been given by others. We continue to consider those issues, and we will be able to say more once we have done so.

Photo of Lord Rotherwick Lord Rotherwick Conservative

My Lords, will the Minister answer the second part of the question asked by my noble friend Lord Elton on the consultation that was widely held up and down the country?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, my right honourable friend Hazel Blears undertook a series of consultations with stakeholders and others. I am happy to write to the noble Lord, setting out the consultations that were held and how they were held. Noble Lords will appreciate that the primary focus of the amalgamation will be on the services themselves.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, will the proposed boundaries of the new forces be coterminous with the British regions as set out by the European Commission?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the answer that he seeks. They probably will be, but I am happy to write to him. To be absolutely frank, I have no idea.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, there have been rumours of a trans-Manche force from Kent and East Sussex and a French force. Will the Minister say whether there are any plans for cross-national border amalgamations of police forces?