Tony Blair attempted to retreat over controversial plans to merge police services yesterday, as the chairman of West Mercia Constabulary urged MPs to save the force.
Mr Blair backed proposals to save smaller forces by allowing them to form partnerships with larger neighbours instead of being swallowed up.
His comments were a direct contradiction of Home Office policy, which is that only full mergers will be considered.
But the Government's position was thrown into confusion when Mr Blair was then contradicted by a Home Office official.
Paul Deneen, chairman of West Mercia Police Authority, was at Westminster to lobby MPs as part of a protest organised by the Association of Police Authorities.
West Mercia, named the best police force in the country by inspectors, is fighting plans to merge it was West Midlands Police, Staffordshire Police and Warwickshire Police, to create a regional super-force serving five million people.
The proposal has the support of the other three forces, and follows an inquiry by the independent Inspectorate of Constabulary which warned smaller forces could not cope with modern challenges such as dealing with terrorism.
The APA has urged the Government to allow forces to form federations, which would mean a larger constabulary like West Midlands Police took over responsibility for issues such as terrorism across the region, but smaller forces such as West Mercia remained independent in most respects.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has rejected the proposal as too inefficient.
But he was contradicted by Mr Blair in the House of Commons.
Mr Blair said: "We have got to listen to what people are saying, and there are different views about police reform.
"One possibility is we have strategic coming together on certain issues rather than merging, and we should listen to what people are saying."
He added: "The trouble, as ever in these situations, is not everybody is in agreement as to what is the way forward."
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, challenged Mr Blair, asking: "Does the Prime Minister accept that he is striking a very different tone to the Home Secretary""
"Will he make sure the Home Secretary thinks again and doesn't force through amalgamations?"
Mr Blair said: "It is not a question of forcing through, it is a question of answering the point made by the Inspector of Constabulary."
But after the exchange, a Home Office spokesman said: "The Inspectorate of Constabulary report clearly said that a federated structure would have drawbacks and be a missed opportunity."