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Police Force Mergers

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2006

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in the House on 19 June that he did not intend to lay any orders for enforced police force mergers before the summer recess.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Yesterday, the Welsh Affairs Committee heard repeatedly from the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety that the Government remained firmly attached to an all-Wales police force, yet we have also heard about an extended period of consultation. Will that consultation include a full examination of what the Minister described as “innovative alternatives”, including the federated model that the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) has been advancing, or is this another example of game, set and match before the match has even started?

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen has made that point, but I will certainly check. It is significant that no chief constable—especially Barbara Wilding, the chief constable of South Wales police force, which is the largest in Wales—has supported the idea of a federation. She makes the compelling point that that would not work. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary advanced the original case for a single police force in Wales to bring together capabilities for tackling the huge new threats of serious and organised crime, drug dealing and terrorist activity. The problem with the Liberal Democrats and other critics of the policy is that they do not have a serious alternative for dealing with those new threats, and until they produce one, no one will take their criticism seriously.

I am still slightly unclear about the Government’s position. If the police authorities and, perhaps, the chief constables were to come up with a viable alternative, would it be accepted as something for consideration and discussion, or will we just have a merger because there is absolutely no other choice? If there were a viable alternative, would the Government’s mind still be open?

Obviously, we want to ensure that we proceed with as much consent as possible so that we can tackle the new threats. As I said, no one has yet provided an alternative that would deal with those threats or deliver the capabilities to measure up to them. Of course we are not going into this with a closed mind. The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety made it clear to the Welsh Affairs Committee the other day that he thought that some of the handling of the matter over recent months could have been better, so he is now ensuring that that happens. None of the four chief constables to whom I have spoken—I am seeing the North Wales chief constable next week—has come up with an alternative. If someone does, of course we will not have a closed mind to it, but I do not see an alternative at the moment.