The measure, which will probably feature in the Queen's Speech, is expected to deal with issues of recent debates - ranging from force mergers, funding arrangements and membership of police authorities to changes in the disciplinary system, dismissal of inefficient officers and new shift patterns.
It will also encompass the expected recommendations of the Sheehy report - due in May - on abolishing some middle-ranks, merit-related pay and tighter restrictions on medical retirement of officers in disciplinary cases.
Mr Clarke, who is under intense pressure from local authorities and chief constables to announce his plans, is expected to make a policy statement in the next few weeks spelling out firm proposals for discussion - such as the final number of forces envisaged.
Whitehall sources have repeated assertions that no firm decisions have yet been made. 'The decisions will take as long as they need, but they won't take much longer,' one source said. But it is known that Mr Clarke has already decided, in principle, that future grants to police authorities will be cash-limited but that police will be given greater flexibility in how the money is allocated.
Sources say that final plans are to be published around midsummer. The resulting legislation is unlikly to deal with matters such as a national anti-terror squad or a national detective force.
A Police Bill in the autumn is said to rule out swift legislation in response to the report of the Royal Commission, due around June, which is likely to make recommendations across the entire criminal justice system, many of which will affect the police.
A senior Whitehall source said: 'We need to bring forward the police legislation as soon as possible because we cannot keep a major public service in limbo for much longer.'Reuse content