HC Deb 18 January 2001 vol 361 cc575-626
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I must tell the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.23 pm
Miss Aim Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's failure to fulfil its manifesto commitment strongly to support the police; notes that police numbers in England and Wales were rising when the Government came into office; regrets the decline in police numbers of more than 2,500 since the General Election, including the loss of 1,900 constables, contrary to the Government's manifesto pledge to get more officers back on the beat: further regrets the dramatic decline of one third in the number of special constables; notes the comments of senior police figures that policing is in a state of crisis; condemns the Government's decision to release before serving half their prison sentences more than 200 criminals convicted of assaulting police officers; notes with regret the low level of police morale and the 60 per cent. rise in voluntary resignations from the police since the Government came to power; and calls on the Government urgently to take measures to improve morale in the police force, to restore police numbers at least to the levels they inherited, and to increase the visibility of the police in order better to protect the public at a time when violent crime is soaring. I quote: The police have our strong support. They are in the front line of the fight against crime and disorder. We will … get more officers back on the beat. Those are striking words, and Labour Members should remember them well. They are printed on page 22 of the Labour party manifesto for the 1997 general election.

The Home Secretary told the police Federation in May 1997 that the police have my wholehearted support and the wholehearted support of this new Government. We will do all that we can to ensure our police service is strong and effective. We will also support you by providing the protection and the resources you require. However, as with so many manifesto promises, it has been all spin and no delivery. No one doubts that policing in this country is in a state of crisis. The chairman of the Police Federation has said that there is a crisis of no confidence, a crisis of no cash and a crisis of no colleagues. Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, talked only last month of a crisis in the policing of London. As long ago as June, he warned the Home Secretary: We do not have enough officers to police London with confidence. Figures given this week by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), show that 29 of the 32 divisions in London are below budgeted strength. The chief constable of Lincolnshire has said: Police forces are struggling with the stark facts that police numbers have fallen, workload has increased and budgets have not grown.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problem exists in parts of the country other than Norwich and London? The office of the chief constable of Staffordshire has told me that, on Friday and Saturday nights, there are just three police officers, backed up by a small band of special constables, to police the entire Lichfield area. Does she consider that adequate?

Miss Widdecombe

No; it is entirely disgraceful. Even more regrettable is the fact that it is by no means untypical. Many police forces are telling their Members of Parliament about exactly the same sort of unacceptable policing levels, which prevail not just on Friday and Saturday nights, but on other nights as well.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

I spoke to police officers in my constituency last Friday, and they told me that the biggest disincentive to recruitment in the south-east was the removal of the housing allowance in 1994. I seem to remember that a Conservative Government were in power at that time. Will she say why that Government took away that allowance?

Miss Widdecombe

Police numbers rose after that date, which suggests that removal of the allowance was not the disincentive that the hon. Gentleman claims.

This month, the magazine Public Finance reported: Police authorities are warning of a tight year ahead, despite the seemingly generous 10 per cent. funding increase announced in November … local budgets are set to increase by a more modest 5 per cent … Police forces face increased costs of 5.6 per cent. just to keep their heads above water … this will leave many authorities with significant shortfalls. The chief constable of Cumbria has said that his force will be facing cuts again next year. No one in his right mind can doubt that policing is in a state of crisis.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I will shortly, but I want to make some progress. Only the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary cling to the notion that policing is not in crisis. The Home Secretary told the House on 12 December that he did not believe that policing was in crisis. On 17 May last year, the House was treated to the spectacle of the Prime Minister trying to defend his Government's indefensible record by declaring that he did not believe that policing was "in crisis". On the same day, the Home Secretary addressed the Police Federation conference in front of letters 3 ft high that spelled out the conference theme, which was "Policing in Crisis". Beyond doubt, this Government have brought about that crisis in policing.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of a recent Audit Commission report that measured public confidence in the police, force by force. It found that, in Norfolk, public confidence in police on the beat stood at only 8 per cent., the second lowest level in the country. Does she agree that that lack of confidence results not from the performance of the police who, given their resources, do well, but from the fact that Norfolk has lost 44 officers since the 1997 election? The Government have also failed to take notice of the advice that they commissioned with regard to the problems of policing in sparsely populated rural areas. What would my right hon. Friend do about the problem?

Miss Widdecombe

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. By coincidence, I have here a few more figures on Norfolk. Not only has there been a decline of 44 regular officers since the election, but while 23 special constables have joined, 70 have left. That is a double whammy for the Norfolk police.

My right hon. Friend asks, quite reasonably, what I would do. We have said that we will do several things. First, we will get police numbers back to at least what they were when we left office.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I shall continue answering my right hon. Friend first. After that I am indebted to the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) for an intervention, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

As I was saying, getting police numbers back to what they were when we left office should not be so impossible, given that we were maintaining and funding those numbers only three and a half years ago. Furthermore, we have said that it is not enough simply to get the numbers up. It is crucial to make sure that policemen spend their time policing, not pen-pushing in stations. Therefore, in co-operation with the police, we shall carry out a comprehensive review of all their functions, with the aim of removing inessential and unnecessary tasks and giving them to other bodies to perform. In that way, the police may do what they joined up to do and what the public expect them to do—that is, to be in the front line against crime.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No, I am still answering my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I have been asked what we would do and the list is quite long.

We have said that we will take specific measures to increase visibility in rural areas, such as having police spend some time doing necessary paperwork in public places rather than just whizzing through villages and going back to the police station. We have said that we will consider a national police cadet force. We have said that we will consider better use of part-timers. We have said that we will consider reusing the skills of those who have retired and whose skills are lost to the force. We have said that we might even look at retained policemen in rural areas in the same way as we look at retained firemen. We have further said that we will free up parish councils where necessary, to make their own policing arrangements. That is a comprehensive package, and I urge the Home Secretary to be big enough to learn from it and adopt some of its measures.

Ms Blears

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. If policing is in such crisis—and she paints a terrible picture—why, in December last year, did Greater Manchester police recruit 65 new officers to the force, the largest number it has ever recruited? Why does it have £6 million extra, through a generous budget settlement, to distribute to forces for front-line policing? That is not the kind of crisis that I recognise from the right hon. Lady's comments.

Miss Widdecombe

It would appear that the hon. Lady is at odds with every chief constable whom I have so far quoted. They believe that the police have a problem.

The hon. Lady refers to recruitment. What about retention, wastage, resignation and sickness rates? The hon. Lady cannot simply be selective and quote one figure.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

I will give way to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard), as I promised, and then make some more progress before giving way again.

Mr. Beard

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. Is it not a strange time to cry crisis, when the right hon. Lady knows full well that police numbers have been in decline since 1993, and that this is the first time recruitment has turned around? Is it also not strange to claim that there is a crisis when the number of recruits in training has gone up by 74 per cent.? Is not this part of a stunt to create gloom and despondency and a climate of fear, in the hope that something might be gained electorally for her party?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman should read less party political propaganda from Millbank and rather more facts from the Home Office statistical bulletins, to which I will now turn. He will find that just about every one of his points is either completely wrong as fact or has been taken out of context and does not stand up when considered against other factors.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I did say that I was going to make progress, but because the right hon. Gentleman is who he is, I will give way.

Mr. Straw

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady. Does she agree with the shadow Chancellor that spending under a Conservative Government should rise by only 2.2 per cent. a year in real terms?

Miss Widdecombe

That is to misquote the shadow Chancellor. For the moment—not for much longer—the right hon. Gentleman represents the Government, and it is their record that I am about to examine, whether he likes it or not. I do not think that he will like the following examination very much.

The Government's manifesto promised to get more police back on the beat. However, since 1997, overall police numbers have fallen by more than 2,500. That figure includes a drop of more than 1,900 in the number of constables. In May 1997, the Home Secretary told the Police Federation that constables were central to the success of the police the visible presence of the police on our streets is a traditional strength of British policing which is more, not less important in today's environment. Yet the right hon. Gentleman's own figures, published two days ago, show that there are 1,900 fewer full-time constables and more than 6,000 fewer special constables under this Government—a fall of one third. Yet again, all spin and no delivery.

The standard defence of ill-informed Labour Members is that police numbers have been falling steadily since 1993. However, that defence fails to acknowledge that numbers rose in the year before the Government came to power and, crucially, that the number of constables rose year on year throughout that period. Furthermore, the number of special constables was rising when the Government came to power. Labour Members need not take my word for it. The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South, revealed yesterday in a written answer that in March 1993 there were 95,501 constables in England and Wales. That figure rose year on year until the election, until in March 1997 there were 96,914 constables. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford can work out that that was an increase of 1,413 since 1993.

Under this Government, the visible presence of the police on our streets has suffered. There are more than 1,900 fewer constables, nearly 400 fewer sergeants, more than 250 fewer inspectors—all round, there are fewer front-line crime fighters.

What does the Home Secretary have to say to the 62-year-old resident of the Warwick estate at Knottingley, near Pontefract? He is terrorised in his own home by gangs of youths, and has put the local police station number on his list in his British Telecom friends and family discount scheme because he has to make daily calls for help. He says: I am frightened to death. It's unbearable … I can't live like this. The police, as individuals, are very good, but we need more of them on the streets, patrolling the estate. That is the view of the majority of people in this country.

Maria Eagle

Will the right hon Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I am going to make some progress, but I remember that the hon. Lady has been trying to intervene and I will give way to her in a little while.

As the new Audit Commission figures show, 57 per cent. of people are unhappy with the number of police on our streets. We saw on Tuesday the announcement of what was billed by the Home Secretary's spin doctors as a massive 74 per cent. increase in police recruitment, a figure repeated in today's Government amendment. The right hon. Gentleman neglects to point out, however, that that is, of course, a 74 per cent. increase compared to last year, which saw the lowest numbers recruited for many years.

He does not draw attention to the fact that, last year, the number of police recruits was just over 4,000, whereas the year before the previous general election the number was 6,500. That very much puts into perspective what he bills as a massive increase.

Rather than increasing under the Labour Government, police recruitment is only now returning to the numbers inherited by the Government after it had been allowed to fall by nearly a third. On Tuesday, the chairman of the Police Federation hit that particular nail right on the head, when he said: All additional officers are welcome but if you have previously failed to recruit adequately, then any increase will look positive. The Home Secretary fools no one with his repeated attempts to spin police recruitment statistics. People wised up to the right hon. Gentleman's methods after they found out exactly how his spin doctors misled the Labour party and the country with that fiddled conference pledge in October 1999.

Maria Eagle

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. I am listening carefully to her speech. During the 18 minutes of the first part of her speech, she has not once mentioned crime rates. Is that because they have fallen by 7 per cent?

Miss Widdecombe

I am coming to that.

Maria Eagle

Does the right hon. Lady believe that there is a direct correlation between the number of officers in post, recruited and working—I approve of the increase in numbers—and falling crime rates?

Miss Widdecombe

I certainly believe that there is a direct correlation between the number of police on the street, the overall level of crime and particular types of crime. The hon. Lady has a treat in store because I am indeed going to turn to the crime figures fairly soon—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I shall give way once more, but as I have given way several times, I want to make some progress.

Mr. Linton

I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy. Does she agree that in the period that she chooses to cite—March 1993 to March 1997—the total number of police fell from 128,290 to 127,158? Who is spinning now?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman really is clutching at straws. He ignores the fact that the only reason my comments are based on those years is because they are a direct response to a comment from the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford, who chose that particular period. Furthermore, police numbers rose by 16,000 during our time in office and, in the last year of that period—before we handed over to his incompetent lot—police numbers were rising.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Miss Widdecombe

Well, I should not give way because I said that I would not, but I will.

Mr. Howarth

I am conscious that my right hon. Friend is going to leave the question of recruitment, but before she does so, will she address the difficult situation that prevails in Hampshire? The chief constable points out that although the crimefighting fund has funded another 82 police officers, he cannot recruit them. He has to defer 62 appointments until next year. In his letter to Members of Parliament, he states: I am not convinced that any realistic solution is in sight … The current shortfall in numbers is however placing unacceptable strains on my colleagues and is selling your constituents short. That is what the Labour Government are doing to our police force in Hampshire.

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I had intended to use that very quotation from the chief constable of Hampshire. It is crucial; it echoes statements made by the other chief constables whom I have quoted and by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. It should give the Home Secretary pause for thought in the completely unrealistic complacency in which he appears to be wallowing.

The Home Secretary always produces figures that are either fiddled or muddled, such as the ethnic minority recruitment statistics. Last month, his Department trumpeted a rise of 218 officers in the Metropolitan police, but this month the statistics were "revised" to show an increase of just four. That completes the hat trick of muddled figures published by his Department—after the 248 Met officers seconded to central services in March, who were double-counted, and the 451 seconded to neighbouring forces, who were deducted twice from the overall total for September. Perhaps he would like me to give him an abacus for Christmas—then he might do better.

Even recent increases in recruitment do not appear to be solving the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) rightly says, the chief constable of Hampshire recently wrote to local MPs and council leaders, revealing that, by the end of this financial year, he expects to recruit 95 fewer officers than his target figure. That is not good news for the people of Hampshire, and if the situation is replicated in other forces it is even worse news for the rest of the country.

According to the Minister of State, Home Office, three forces—Hertfordshire, Essex and City of London—have so far failed to recruit a single person through the crimefighting fund, despite their combined allocation of 118 for this financial year. They have not found one recruit between them. In other areas, such as Gloucestershire and Doncaster, forces are unable to recruit to their target numbers because of a lack of training facilities.

This morning, the Yorkshire Post reported that West Yorkshire police are to recruit teenage volunteers in the absence of money for more uniformed officers. The Home Secretary is aware that I have been calling for a police cadet force for some time. However, there is a difference between recruiting young people to a cadet force to introduce them to the role that the police play in society—encouraging them to join the force later on—and recruiting such young people as an immediate replacement for regular beat officers. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on that announcement when he winds up the debate.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Minister of State, Home Office sent me a helpful written answer today, informing me that even with the crimefighting fund, by the end of the next financial year-2002–03there will be fewer police officers than there were at the end of March 1997.

Miss Widdecombe

One wonders how many more examples hon. Members will have to produce before the Home Secretary will actually believe that he is presiding over one of the biggest crises in police recruitment and in police numbers that has ever been known.

As we know from the aftermath of the right hon. Gentleman's 1999 conference speech, overall police numbers are determined not only by recruitment, but by the number of officers who leave. Yesterday, we learned that the Metropolitan police had revised their projected wastage figures upwards by more than a quarter since April. At the halfway point in this financial year, other forces had lost far more officers than projected; for example, Bedfordshire's projected wastage for the whole year to March was 45, but by 30 September the force had already lost 37 officers. Perhaps the Minister of State will also comment on those figures.

The chairman of the Police Federation says that morale is now the worst that he has ever seen. In late 1999, a national survey of 6,000 serving officers showed that more than two thirds would leave the force if they were offered another job. In Suffolk, the recent Police Federation survey showed that half the officers felt morale was low—just one in 10 thought that it was high.

If the Home Secretary will not take the word of the Police Federation and that of thousands of serving police officers, perhaps he will take the word of his own deputy, the Minister of State. After I asked the Minister to make a statement about police morale, he told the House in a written answer on 11 December that the numbers leaving the police force were an indicator of morale, and then proceeded to reveal that voluntary resignations from the police had gone up by 60 per cent. under the Labour Government.

It is no wonder that police morale is so low, when they are completely hamstrung by new Labour bureaucracy—so much so that the chief constable of Lincolnshire says: In my force best value bureaucracy is costing over £400,000 a year … and we are in danger of sinking under a sea of targets and measures.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)


Miss Widdecombe

I want to make some progress and then I shall give way.

Chief Inspector Ray Shepherd of West Yorkshire police says: Is Charles Clarke, the Home Office Minister, being fed so much nonsense that he isn't aware that police officers nowadays have far more paperwork to complete than ever before? … We could all make a list of the additional paperwork that creates a bureaucratic nightmare for officers who want to spend more time actually delivering the goods … The situation is far more frustrating nowadays than at any time in my 28 years' service. The public is getting a raw deal. No wonder police morale is so low when officers see thousands of the criminals whom they have put so much effort into detaining, being given the "get out of jail free" card by the Home Secretary on his special early release scheme, and when they face the type of crisis that only the Prime Minister denies exists. No wonder morale is low when the Prime Minister's crony and confidant, Lord Falconer, condemns the police for being "riddled with racism".

No wonder morale is low when an article in this month's Police Federation magazine is entitled, "Behind Closed Doors: Federation Vice Chair Jan Berry sets out the reasons for withdrawal from Home Office secret talks." So the Home Secretary has, after all, and contrary to what he told the House on 20 November 2000 about being "perfectly open", been holding secret talks about the "new agenda for reform" that the Prime Minister said last year risked alienating the police at a crucial time.

Mr. Straw

Is the right hon. Lady not aware that, far from those talks being secret, the Police Federation has been invited fully to participate in them?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed, and Jan Berry has withdrawn from what she describes as secret talks, so presumably the talks that she was invited to participate in were behind the closed doors of the Home Office. It is she who says that they were secret. it is she who believed that she was summoned in secret. Anyway, as a result of the article, they certainly are not secret now.

Where is the Government's support for the police when, under the Home Secretary' s own special early release policy, more than 200 criminals convicted of assaulting police officers have been released before serving even half their sentence? What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to the men and women of the police service, when prisoners released on his early release scheme have committed 25 further assaults on police officers when, but for his scheme, they would still have been in jail? It is yet another kick in the teeth for the police from the Government.

What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say to the police officers who were the victims of those assaults? Will the right hon. Gentleman, even now, apologise to them, despite previous refusals to do so? Will he, even now, undertake to stop the release of these criminals, despite his previous refusals to do so? The Home Secretary's refusal to apologise and his voting record on that issue, which is plain for all to see, provides the clearest possible indicator of the worth of his promises to support the police.

Before I move on to the crime statistics, which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) is waiting for, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies)—if he still wants to intervene. It seems that he does not.

Mr. Geraint Davies

Is it not the case that in the Met, reductions in sickness, which are an indication of morale, have led to an effective increase in the force of an extra 500 police? Is it not also the case that wastage rates, in terms of retirement and resignation, are half the average of those for civil servants? [Laughter.] It is no use laughing; those are facts.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman would have done better not to intervene, because we have demonstrated from the Government's own statistics, from the Home Office bulletin, not that there has been an effective increase in police but that there has been a massive decrease, not only in numbers but in effective policing, because of the amount of time that they have to spend in the police station instead of out on the beat.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The right hon. Lady has made many criticisms with which, as she knows, I agree, but she made a commitment, and it is important that I ask her a question about it. The commitment was that a Tory Government would restore numbers to their level at the last general election—

Miss Widdecombe

At least that.

Mr. Hughes

They would restore numbers to at least that level, from which they have declined. Given that, under pressure, the Labour party has now committed itself to going above that figure in the next Parliament, what is the number of police officers to which the Tory party is now committed to go, and how much money has the Conservative shadow Chancellor allocated for that police number growth?

Miss Widdecombe

In response to the last question, I remind the hon. Gentleman—he was in the House at the time—of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said. He said that if Labour Members seriously expect that we will go into the election promising to cut their police budget, they must be crazy. Indeed, I think that there is some considerable evidence of craziness on the Labour Benches. If the Home Secretary can claim that the amount that he will spend will produce, in the end, jam tomorrow—more than the numbers that we left behind—why is it so impossible for us to be able to fund at least the numbers that he left behind? The difference is that we will do it and he will talk about it.

Is it any coincidence that the latest crime statistics show assaults on police up by 12 per cent., when the criminal knows that if he hits a policeman or policewoman, and gets a maximum sentence of six months, he will be given the "get out of jail free" card by the Home Secretary in six weeks?

Just after the last general election, the Home Secretary told the Police Federation: The police constable is central to the success of our police service. In difficult, demanding and often dangerous circumstances, the constable is the physical presence of the law on our streets … the visible presence of the police on our streets is a traditional strength of British policing which is more … important in today's environment. Since the right hon. Gentleman uttered those words, there has been a decline of more than 1,900 in the number of police constables. It has happened on his watch. The chief constable of Hampshire, whom I mentioned, and whom my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) mentioned, has written: The current shortfall in numbers is … placing unacceptable strains on my colleagues and is selling your constituents short. For "constituents", read "the British public as a whole".

Maria Eagle

Will the right hon, Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe


Let the Home Secretary think on this: The reason why violent crime has risen by 8 per cent, violence against the person has risen By 7 per cent and robberies have risen—incredibly—by 21 per cent is because there is an acute shortage of frontline officers. The visible presence, and consequential deterrent, of police patrolling our neighbourhoods is falling at the same time as street crime is rising.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Member for Garston invited me to address the crime statistics. I am now addressing them, and if Labour Members do not like what they are hearing, all they need to do is to look at the Home Secretary's own figures to understand what has happened to crime under the present Government. We left him crime rates that, in the last four years of our term of office, had fallen by nearly 18 per cent., and all that he can do is rejoice at a miserable fall of 0.2 per cent. in the latest statistics.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

The fact is, the Home Secretary is failing. It is the view of the chairman of the Police Federation that crime is rising at the same time as police numbers are falling. Last year, he talked about disorder and anarchy on our streets, and the statistics have proved him right. He said: We are concerned about the sharp rise in street crime. An increase in a uniformed presence on our streets will help tackle that issue. So the Home Secretary's words in 1997 were right—the visible presence of the police on our streets and in our communities is absolutely essential.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

As the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has observed: You've got to have feet on the beat to put hands on collars. But there has been a drop of 2,500 in the number of regulars and 1,900 in the number of constables. There are fewer feet on the beat. Robberies are up; violence is up; there is more violent crime, less safety and less confidence on our streets.

There is a crisis today. There is a crisis of violent crime. There is a crisis of public confidence in the criminal justice system. There is certainly a crisis of confidence in the Home Secretary and in his Prime Minister. They promised to be tough on crime. Instead, all they have done is to be tough on crimefighters—all spin and no delivery.

In perhaps a few weeks or a few months—or, if they lose heart, rather longer than that—the Prime Minister will go to the country, and this country will give its judgment on the Government's record of shame. I commend the motion to the House.

5 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: notes that the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by 1,476 between 1993 and 1997–98 under budgets set by the previous administration, whilst the strength of the Metropolitan Police Service was allowed to fall by 1,773 between 1993 and 1997–98; notes too that morale of the service was badly damaged by the 1993 Sheehy Report, and recruitment made difficult especially in London and the South East by the abolition in 1994 of the housing allowance for officers; welcomes the establishment of the crime fighting fund to bring officer numbers to record levels by 2003–04, the recent rise in police numbers, the 74 per cent. increase in the numbers of recruits entering training in the first nine months of this financial year compared to the same period last year, the 1,000 increase in civilian staff since March 1997, and the very substantial rise in police funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Spending Review 2000; and congratulates the police service on securing a 7 per cent reduction in recorded crime since March 1997. I am delighted that we are debating this issue today. Policing is a crucial issue, in which all hon. Members have a keen interest However, there is another reason why I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miis Widdecombe) for arranging the debate: it gives us an opportunity, yet again, to remind ourselves—but, more importantly, the public—that the Conservative party's promises today on the police are as worthless as all those that it made in 1992 and 1997, which led to the current, very sorry state of a once great party. [Interruption.] As with spending on hospitals, schools and transport, the Conservative party promised one thing on the police, but delivered another. We are providing investment, but the Conservatives could only deliver cuts. That is the inevitable consequence of the fiscal policy to which they are now irrevocably committed.

When the right hon. Lady was producing her confetti of promises on police spending, I intervened to ask whether she agreed with the shadow Chancellor's commitment to keep public spending at 2.2 per cent a year in the event of a Conservative Government. As the House heard, she refused to answer in the affirmative and evaded the question, as she does so often, saying that it involved a misquotation. Let me remind her of the exact quotation; I want to know whether she agrees with what the shadow Chancellor not only said, but has committed his party to. Last December, he repeatedly said that the Chancellor was planning to increase total Government spending by around 3.4 per cent. a year over the next three years, even though he assumed that the economy would only grow at around 2.25 per cent. I gave the same figure. He also repeatedly said that the next Conservative Government would plot a course towards real Annual increases in spending, which are within the trend rate of growth of the economy-2.25 per cent. So there was no misquotation. I give the right hon. Lady every opportunity to intervene and tell me whether she agrees with that decision, made by the shadow Chancellor on behalf of the rest of the shadow Cabinet.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)


Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

I am happy to give way to the monkey rather than to the organ grinder.

Mr. Leigh

This is all very interesting, but the Home Secretary may have forgotten that he is in charge at the moment, so may I ask him to cast his eyes away from the enjoyable pastures of party political rhetoric for a moment and talk about some real issues? Will he comment on the interesting initiative of the chief constable of Humberside, who insists that a larger proportion of his officers, even senior officers, go out on the beat, which is making a real difference to crimefighting statistics in Humberside, given that many chief constables are apparently resisting such moves—for example, the chief constable of Lincolnshire?

Mr. Straw

I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, and I take back my remark. I commend him on that intelligent contribution—if I may say so without condescension. I hope that that does not destroy an otherwise great career. That initiative is exactly what we have been seeking to achieve.

We have been seeking to achieve better use of the police service's resources. Yes, of course, we want overall numbers of police to increase, but there is not necessarily a connection between overall numbers and crime. If there had been, crime would have decreased, rather than doubled, during the 1980s. Of course, the key issue is how those resources are used, and we have dealt with that. I shall refer to that later. Some chief constables use their resources with better results than others.

Miss Widdecombe

To answer the question that the Home Secretary asked before he was so incredibly abusive to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), I agree, as every sensible person does, that Governments should spend what they actually have. Of course, we agree with that.

Mr. Straw

What about the shadow Chancellor?

Miss Widdecombe

Well yes, the shadow Chancellor.

The Home Secretary spends too much time wasting money on bureaucracy. I quoted a chief constable who said that one force spent £400,000 on Labour party bureaucracy alone. If the right hon. Gentleman did not waste money, he could spend more of it where it should be spent.

Mr. Straw

I do not call that a wholehearted endorsement of the shadow Chancellor's words. Indeed, the right hon. Lady can scarcely get his name across her lips. Only when I prompted her, did she dare mention his name. What she has just said is very different from the shadow Chancellor's categoric undertaking that spending would be kept to 2.2 per cent. One of many reasons why, whenever the election comes, there will be no vote of confidence in the Conservative party is that its promises on spending simply do not add up with its promises on taxation and overall spending.

Miss Widdecombe

How does the Home Secretary square his promises with what he has delivered? He promised more police—first, 5,000; then 9,000—but all we have seen since is a fall in the number of police. He promised to be tough on crime, but he is letting people out of prison early. He has done nothing for victims in this country. The general public will not believe his promises. If he doubts that, let him go out and ask them. They are fed up with the Government's failure on the police.

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

I am going to answer. It is always my pleasure to answer the right hon. Lady's questions. I was inextricably caught up by promises, all of which could not be delivered together, made by the Labour party in the 1980s, so I understand her predicament. However, in the 1980s, the electorate rightly punished us because we were insinuating one thing, while knowing that we could not deliver it. That is exactly the bind that the right hon. Lady has got into with her shadow Cabinet. She and almost all—I exempt one or two—Conservative Members complain about spending and ask for more, more, more. Yet she now accepts that the shadow Chancellor has committed the Conservative party not to more, more, more, but to less, less, less. That is why she is not believed today, and she will not be believed at the general election.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I want to make progress, and then, of course, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I always do.

At the previous election, we did not promise to increase the total number of police officers, because we were aware that the money would not be there for reasons that I shall explain later. We were also aware that the Conservative party had promised an extra 1,000 officers in the 1992 election, whereas, as we all know, numbers declined during the following five years.

The House needs to examine the Conservative party's recent history on policing. That would be illuminating because that history is the best yardstick of its commitment to the police service and is essential in understanding some of the problems that the service faces today. About the time that the right hon. Lady joined the ministerial ranks of the previous Government in 1990, her then colleagues in the Home Office and Treasury were secretly sharpening their knives for use against the police service.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I wish to complete this point before I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Numbers rose in the 1980s as, indeed, they did under Labour in the 1970s. However, in an illuminating comment in his autobiography, Kenneth Baker, writing of his time as Home Secretary, let slip what was going on, which was secret at the time. He said: I found that while several of my ministerial colleagues and Tory MPs supported the police in public, they were highly critical of them in private. There was impatience, if not anger, that although we had spent 87 per cent. more in real terms … and had increased police numbers, there had still been a substantial rise in crime. "Where is the value for money?" asked my colleagues. I had even heard Margaret Thatcher criticise the management and leadership of the police. Once the 1992 election was out of the way, the Conservative Government got to work. They still mouthed the "more bobbies on the beat" line in public, but their intent was very different. They appointed Sir Patrick Sheehy, chairman of British American Tobacco, to mount an inquiry into the police service. His report whipped the police into a sense of collective anger not witnessed since their strikes in 1918 and 1919. The right hon. Lady may today talk about low morale, but she has an extraordinarily short memory.

The Police Federation recently commented on morale—that topic is its hardy annual—but those remarks are as nothing to the anger that the federation voiced under the Conservatives. The anger was so intense that thousands of police officers attended a protest rally against the Conservative Government at Wembley arena to protest against the Sheehy agenda. Such a protest had not happened before and has not happened since.

The legacy of the decisions taken at that time remains with us today. Investment was cut, recruitment scaled down and incentives to join the service were removed.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

On the subject of investment in the police force, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the £1 million that he announced yesterday as extra funding for the Cambridgeshire police force? Will he commend that force for achieving a 2.9 per cent. reduction in recorded crime since the election, despite its considerable difficulties in policing the protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. I do, indeed, commend the Cambridgeshire constabulary and its chief constable, Ben Gunn, for their efforts. Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I greatly regret that it has been necessary to allocate £1 million to that force to deal with the outrageous intimidatory and, in some cases, violent attacks that have been made by so-called animal rights protesters against the perfectly lawful and important activities of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Given the pressures on the police in Cambridgeshire, I think that their record is very good, and I look forward to it improving. I hope that the money makes a difference.

Mr. Howarth

I wanted to raise another matter, but as the Home Secretary has mentioned the appalling sabotage in the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, can he say why he and the authorities do not use the conspiracy laws to tackle the people who plan such attacks? I am not talking merely of the people who are engaged in the actual sabotage, but of those who plan it, because such activities are taking place across the country. As I recall, the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 was introduced for protection against watching and besetting. If it is not still on the statute book, the Home Secretary might think about bringing it back.

Mr. Straw

The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are determined to use all the powers and charges that are available to ensure that such outrageous activities are deterred and effectively addressed. If there is evidence that would add up to a conspiracy charge, such a charge would be laid. I have received representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), the right hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), in whose constituency Huntingdon Life Sciences lies, and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), in whose constituency many of the people who work at HLS live, about whether we could strengthen the powers that are available. I made it clear yesterday that I was considering that and I intend to consult other parties on whether those could be included in a Bill that is being published tomorrow. I hope to be able to proceed on an agreed basis.

Some thoroughly misguided people might believe that although the methods of the violent, disruptive and intimidatory protesters are wrong, their ends are acceptable. That is wholly erroneous. None of us likes the idea of testing on animals, and successive Governments have sought to reduce unnecessary testing, for example, on cosmetics. However, we all have to accept that if we wish to see improvements in drug therapy and other advances in medical science, we need to ensure that the drugs or procedures are safe, which means that some have to be tested on animals.

The lives of millions of people around the world have been lengthened and their health has been significantly improved as a result of drug therapy that depends on animal research. It is for that reason and because of the huge issue of public order that we must support the staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences and other people, including many distinguished academics, who have been the subjects of the most outrageous intimidation in recent years.

Mr. Heald

I preface my remarks by saying that those on the Opposition Front Bench of course endorse the Home Secretary's approach to Huntingdon Life Sciences. What is going on is completely unacceptable and must be stopped.

The Home Secretary said that he had not promised in the general election campaign to get more officers back on the beat, but in the manifesto, he said: We will … get more officers back on the beat. If he is denying that, can he give one example in that general election campaign of when he said what was actually going to happen? When did he say that he was going to slash police numbers, both of regular officers and specials? Did he say that once?

Mr. Straw

In the manifesto, we criticised the Conservatives for breaking their 1992 general election pledge to provide an extra 1,000 police officers. I made no promise about the direction that officer numbers might take. I said that we would relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to get more officers back on the beat, and that is exactly what we have done. By doing that, by introducing the Narey reforms—albeit endorsed by the previous Administration—by cutting the number of forms that are necessary for prosecutions by a third, by tackling issues such as sickness, which was mentioned by my hon. Friends, and by ensuring that there is a greater degree of efficiency, to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, and that chief constables and forces have to apply themselves to those matters, we have got more operational officers back on the beat.

Let me give one example. When the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was involved with what is now called the Police Authority for the Metropolis, everyone knew that the administration of that great police force was top heavy. Its headquarters were in Scotland Yard, but its bureaucratic work was replicated in five separate areas. With my full support, one of the many changes that the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis introduced was to cut out that layer of bureaucracy. That alone has led to more than 120 officers going back on the beat.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sir David Phillips and the Kent police on achieving a 23 per cent. reduction in recorded crime since the last general election? That is largely due to improved police efficiency. Does he agree that the only real way to make a big difference to public services is to invest in them, unlike the Conservatives who want to cut them?

Mr. Straw

I most certainly do congratulate Sir David Phillips and his force. Although his resources are tight—they have been since 1993, but they are now improving—he has shown that he has been able broadly to maintain police numbers in Kent. They have decline d by 21 out of a total force of 3,239. I regret that decline, but it is very small and the number will now rise. Sir David has also shown that, because of the methods that he has used, he has been able to target particularly prolific and persistent offenders. As a result, he has the best crime record in the south-east and one of the best crime records in the country.

Mr. Simon Hughes

On the matter of efficiency and resources, has the Home Secretary made progress on the conundrum that has been wrestled with by his Department? How does one reward a police force's efficiency? If a police force does very well, it is recognised as doing very well—Kent may be an example—and crime figures come down, there is no natural correlation at all at the moment between its record and the resources that it receives. Indeed, it is likely to receive fewer resources because there is apparently less crime. That is not an incentive to the police to do well. What is the answer to the question of how police forces are rewarded for good policing?

Mr. Straw

At any time, the system of grant for distributing money to police forces needs to be improved; it is not a perfect science and it cannot be. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the drive for efficiency is important and that forces that are successful should not be penalised for their success. This is a particularly important issue for the police service, because if a force were absolutely efficient, there would be no crime. The police service is different from any other service, because it is working to a negative—a reduction in the number of offences. Other public services—for example, in education—work to a positive, such as the raising of standards.

We have to take account of that point and we seek to do so. For example in the case of rural policing, the £30 million that we have allocated to rural forces per year is not remotely based on crime levels; it is based on sparsity and that is as it should be. We also have a whole range of special programmes under the reducing crime initiative to target help to forces that need it and that can show improvements. However, if suggestions are made about how things can be improved, we are of course available to accept them.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

How is the morale of the police force improved by the early release, over the past two years, of no fewer than 218 people who were imprisoned for assaulting police officers? While the Home Secretary attempts to answer that, will he also explain how respect for the law is increased by the release, under the home detention curfew scheme, of people who have escaped lawful custody, been recaptured and imprisoned but who are then given the sweet of being let out of jail early?

Mr. Straw

The sentences that prisoners receive are a matter for the courts. When they impose a sentence, they take full account of the release arrangements. Since 1997–98, those arrangements include the possibility, where there is a risk assessment, of a home detention curfew. I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that, when the home detention curfew scheme was included in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, it was endorsed by a unanimous report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs in 1997–98. One of the Committee's members—he has just left the Front Bench—is an Opposition spokesman on home affairs, none other than the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

I have taken a number of interventions and I want to return to the issue of police service funding. It is important to reflect for a moment on what happened in the mid-1990s. Many of the problems with which I have had to deal—I take responsibility for what has happened since 1997—have their roots in that period. There was sustained under-investment in the police service, and spending rose by only 0.5 per cent. in real terms in the last three years of the Conservative Administration and their Budgets. The housing allowance was removed from all new recruits. Of course, the service could recruit at almost any level when there was a recession but, as particularly London and the south-east came out of recession and employment prospects improved, the removal of the allowance made it particularly difficult to recruit officers in London and the south-east. Central controls over police numbers were also removed.

The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 explicitly removed the power of Ministers to set the numbers of officers in post. On the Bill's Second Reading, the former boss of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, could barely wait to be rid of that responsibility. Standing at this Dispatch Box, he said: In future, the number of constables in a force will be a matter for local decision, not for the Home Secretary. To reinforce the point, and in a phrase typifying his overall approach to his office, he added: It is not a matter for me.—[Official Report, 26 April 1994: Vol. 242, c. 113.] Just in case there is any doubt as to what the Conservatives were up to in implementing their agenda set by Sheehy, we can examine the 1994 Conservative research guide. It criticised the old system under which establishments were set by the Home Secretary and praised the new system in which numbers would be a matter for chief constables. It said that the old system provided perverse incentives to recruit police officers instead of civilians. There we have it. The removal of those perverse incentives to recruit police officers had the effect that Conservative Ministers privately intended. Police numbers went down. They started falling in 1993 and, under the Conservative's published spending plans, they were bound to go on falling.

We have been in government since May 1997 and we accept our responsibility, but the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald cannot evade her responsibility.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I may give way shortly.

The right hon. Lady cannot evade responsibility for her own part in what happened. As a Minister in the Home Office, she came to the House in January 1997 to recommend a financial settlement to the police that could provide only a reduction in the number of officers. Yet she boasted of the then Prime Minister's commitment to provide funding for an additional 5,000 police officers over three years.—[Official Report, 29 January 1997; Vol. 289, c. 457.] That funding came into effect a few weeks before the previous general election and was for the 1997–98 financial year. As a result, under that budget and the previous four, numbers fell by 1,500 across the country and by 1,800 in the Metropolitan police.

Faced with the hard truth that police numbers were declining and would have carried on declining—as I shall show in a second—what does the right hon. Lady say? She comes up with an explanation that is so crass that it either raises questions about her intellect that I do not accept or suggests—this was well illustrated earlier—that she has decided to resort to waffle and bluff as a smokescreen to cover the manacles that the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has attached to her on police spending.

The right hon. Lady has said: If the Home Office could afford almost 3,000 more police officers when you came to power—and did so on a smaller budget—where has all the money gone? That question was returned to her by an incredulous Jim Naughtie, who asked her where she thought all the money had gone, and she said that we were wasting it on bureaucracy, we were wasting it on press officers and we were wasting it on advertising.

We are not wasting the money on bureaucracy because overall staffing at the Home Office has gone down. Our advertising spending is on police recruitment, which I happen to think is quite important. The right hon. Lady chose to refer to press officers, but the number of press officers in the Home Office—I have already admitted to this in parliamentary answers; it is not a secret—has risen. It has risen from 19 to 27; the number has risen by eight. However, she seems to think that, for the audience in the House and across the country, going on about an increase of eight in the number of press officers is somehow an answer to where the money will come from to pay millions and billions of pounds for promises that she could never keep.

Miss Widdecombe

Why does the Home Secretary not actually say what I said? I did not confine my remarks just to the Home Office. I talked about this Government and the increase of £2 billion on Whitehall bureaucracy and today I have quoted a figure of getting on for £500,000 for bureaucracy alone in just one force. If he is seriously saying that there are no savings to be found from bureaucracy, his intellect is in question.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady chose to talk about advertising, which is being spent on police recruitment. She also talked about bureaucracy, but we have yet to see what she is talking about. It is easy to talk about £2 billion for bureaucrats but, in the Home Office, she is talking about people in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, people running the crime reduction programme and the civilians whose numbers have increased by 1,000 since the general election to release more police officers for front-line duties. That is what she is talking about. She chose to talk about press officers in the same breath as those other matters.

There is an answer to the right hon. Lady's question. There is a reason why police numbers have fallen even though budgets have risen under this Government. It is partly because chief officers have used the powers that they were given by the previous Administration to switch resources to civilian staff and new equipment, and partly because of the rising costs of police pay, especially pensions. Pension costs have risen from 9.1 per cent. of police spending in 1995–96 to 12 per cent. in 1999–2000.

The projections given in the last public spending plans published by the Conservative Government in March 1997 give the lie to the right hon. Lady's promises and her claim in January 1997 that there would be an extra 5,000 officers. I remember that I was sitting on the Opposition Benches when she said that. Those plans spoke grandly of an increase of 5,000 police officers.

Let me tell the right hon. Lady, because I am sure that she has forgotten, what was to happen under the Conservatives' plans to the money to pay for those officers. In 1996–97, there was to be £3,462 million of central Government support for the police service. By 1999–2000, when the number of police officers was to have risen by 4,000. from 127,901 to 131,901, spending on the police service would not have risen to pay for those extra officers, but would have fallen to £3,453 million. Those were the Conservatives' spending plans. They knew as they were making their claims that they were planning not to increase spending on police numbers, but to cut it. That was why they were not believed at the previous general election and it is why they will never be believed again.

By contrast with the Conservatives' record, we are turning round the decline in police numbers which has occurred since 1993 The right hon. Lady has asked me what happened to my promise at the Labour party conference in October 1999 to increase the number of recruits first by 5,000 over the number that was planned and then, following the allocation of additional money, by 9,000. The answer, as I made clear at the time, is that the money became available last March. The figures that we published earlier this week show that the money kicked in straight away, and the number of recruits rose by almost 500 between March, when the money was first paid, and September. The numbers are rising again, and recruiting centres have 75 per cent. more recruits than ever before.

We have also dealt with the problem of recruitment in London by increasing by £3,300 the pay of London officers who were recruited after 1994. Yesterday, I announced that there would be free rail travel for all Metropolitan police officers within a 70-mile radius of London. That has been hugely welcomed by the Metropolitan police service.

I see my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) looking at me quizzically, so I shall turn now to home counties forces. In the police negotiating board, we have made an offer to increase by £2,000 the pay of home counties officers within a 30-mile radius of London and by £1,000 the pay of those within a 40-mile radius. We believe that to be a generous offer, although we are of course open to other suggestions. We want the Police Federation and others to agree to that offer. All I can say is that if I were an officer in the Thames Valley or Hampshire, I would rather have £1,000 or £2,000 than deadlock in the police negotiating board.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

I intend to make a speech later, if there is time, but I have a question on that point. Does the Home Secretary's concession relate also to the housing problems facing police officers in the areas surrounding the Metropolitan police?

Mr. Straw

The areas with the most serious recruitment problems are in central London, and we are dealing with those effectively. We are trying to deal with other areas with less serious problems. Some time ago I made it clear to chief constables and to hon. Members of all parties that we were open to suggestions about what needed to be done, and we have come up with proposals that we think will help.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, and I need to make progress.

We have encouraged the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to modernise recruitment processes. Another problem for the Met was that the force was taking nine months to process application forms; the Commissioner has brought that down to three months. I have heard the Leader of the Opposition dismissing the huge increase in recruitment. The previous Government reduced total numbers in the Metropolitan police by almost 2,000, and at long last, after 10 years, the numbers are rising. However, the Leader of the Opposition has insinuated that because the Met has changed some of the restrictions on recruitment, the only people being recruited are those who would previously have failed the tests.

I can tell Conservative Members that the basic regulations on police recruitment and Home Office guidance have not changed. Only two things have changed. First, the Met has brought itself into line with other forces on the question of criminal convictions, so a minor criminal conviction is no longer an absolute bar to recruitment, nor should it be. Of coarse a conviction that goes to character should be a bar, and it remains so.

The second change demonstrates that the Leader of the Opposition is, as ever, ill-briefed. The Commissioner has abolished a series of archaic, simply inexplicable restrictions on recruitment. All tattoos, anywhere on the body, even those relating to a lady to whom one was still married, were a complete bar to recruitment. There was an absolute restriction on recruiting people with varicose veins, receding gums or too many crowns in their teeth.

Irritable bowel syndrome, even if cured, was a total bar to recruitment if disclosed beforehand, even though it was not a condition for compulsory resignation for serving officers. I looked down that list of restrictions; they were bonkers and needed to be removed. I commend the Commissioner for doing so. It is fortunate that there are no such restrictions on entry to the House, or we would have fewer than 60 Members, not more than 600.

I am the first to acknowledge that, other things being equal, police effectiveness is improved by more police officers, backed by good equipment. However, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) made clear, effectiveness is about much more than head counting. That is why our investment in the police is directed at technology. We are providing £143 million to expand the DNA database. A further £500 million is being invested to establish a new national digital radio system. We are putting additional money into the police force at every level. There will be a 7 per cent. increase in real terms in funding for the police service next year, and a 3.5 per cent. increase over the three years of the settlement, compared with a measly 0.5 per cent. in real terms in the last few years of the previous Administration.

We are dealing with some of the inherent inefficiencies in the service. It was completely unacceptable that 77 per cent. of all officers in Merseyside retired early through alleged sickness. We have reduced that number throughout the country. The Opposition motion mentions wastage. Overall, that has come down. We must consider the number of resignations along with the number of those retiring. As long as early retirement on medical grounds was available as a route out of the service, people would of course seek to take that route rather than resigning because they got more money. Now that the route has been closed off, there has been a increase in the number of resignations. It is tiny compared with the total, but the total of retirements and resignations, far from going up, has gone down from 5.1 per cent. to 4.7 per cent. in the past four years. That is the lowest figure for years. That is a good indicator of morale. It is not true that there is flight from the service. Apart from London, where there have been recruitment problems, that is palpably true. Sickness rates have also been tackled.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

Yes. This will be the last intervention.

Fiona Mactaggart

My right hon. Friend is right to identify London as being different from elsewhere. However, there are some places close to London that share London's problems, one of which is Slough. I am meeting my local police federation to ask the National Police Federation to stop standing in the way of extra money for Slough. Will my right hon. Friend perhaps include Slough's part of the Thames valley in some of the initiatives that he is taking to improve recruitment in the Metropolitan area?

Mr. Straw

I commend my hon. Friend for the assiduous way in which she has spoken up for Slough. I recognise, as I have done in respect of other matters, that in practical terms Slough often has to face the same cost levels as greater London, but in administrative terms, it is outside London. That is why we have made the proposals that I have described. If my hon. Friend has other proposals to make to us, we shall consider them sympathetically. Across the Thames valley, since the general election, police numbers have increased by 53. We have provided the money to Charles Pollard and his force considerably to increase numbers again.

We are making other changes. Crime doubled during the period of office of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, but the number of people prosecuted fell by a third. That was because of the catastrophic way in which the previous Administration reorganised the Crown Prosecution Service. When she was a Minister in the Home Office, there was a failure to do anything about the CPS's funding.

We are increasing the CPS's resources by almost a quarter in real terms next year so that at long last it has the capacity to prosecute people who have been charged by the police. We have made many other changes.

The right hon. Lady talks selectively about the previous Administration's record. She says that crime came down from 1993. If she wants to be judged, she must be judged on the complete record of the Conservative Administration. Everybody knows that it is indelibly fixed in the mind of every elector that crime doubled under the Conservatives. The marginal decline that took place in the last two or three years of their Administration did nothing to take away the pain of seeing crime doubling during the previous 15 years.

I am not in the least complacent about crime. Crime, not least because of the record of the previous Administration, is still far too high. However, crime is down under the Labour Administration. We have the best record of any incoming Administration for 50 years. Our record compares with the 20 per cent. increase that occurred under Margaret Thatcher, and the 40 per cent. increase—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) must desist from sedentary interjections.

Mr. Straw

I am not surprised—

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the record of the immediately previous Administration was a fall in crime of nearly 18 per cent? His record has squandered that achievement. First, the falls slowed down, and now they have declined to 0.2 per cent. Will he admit that the record of the immediate previous Administration was twice as good as his?

Mr. Straw

No. We are not judged by what happens in a month or during years which happen to be picked. I am astonished that the right hon. Lady has not worked out the fact that at the general election people were judging the stewardship of the Conservative Government. They were not selecting the odd arbitrary year. They were considering the 18 years of Conservative Government and recognising the abject failure of that Administration. They failed to make the police more efficient and they failed to tackle crime and disorder. There was the abject failure to do anything—

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be interested to know that unfortunately the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) did not tell me when she visited my constituency recently. Otherwise, I would have taken her to see the exciting results from the community safety partnership. It was actively supported by the Labour council, but it is under a great deal of threat from the current Tory council. When my right hon. Friend visits Plymouth, will he come with me to visit people in the partnership, who among other things have achieved a 50 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime? In the six months from April to October they have achieved a 10 per cent. reduction in violent crime.

Mr. Straw

Yes. I commend the Devon and Cornwall constabulary on its achievements. One reason why the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald would not have spoken to my hon. Friend is that since the general election, not only in the past six months, police numbers in Devon and Cornwall have risen, not fallen.

At the last election, people judged the previous Administration on its record. Over 18 years, crime had doubled while the number of people convicted fell by a third. That Government were planning cuts in real spending on the police service. Had the Conservatives returned to office and their plans been implemented, police numbers would not have risen by 5,000 as they were dishonestly promising. Far from falling by 2,500, they would have fallen by 4,000 more.

Our record is the best of any incoming Administration for 50 years. Crime has fallen by 7 per cent. since the general election. According to the British crime survey, it has fallen by 10 per cent. We are investing in the police service. By contrast, all that the Conservatives would do, as we heard at the beginning of the right hon. Lady's speech, would be to make promises to spend. In reality, they would cut. It is the Government and the Government's programme that are on course to make the country safer, and the Conservative party would significantly damage that prospect. As before, it would ensure that crime increased.

5.47 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Earlier this afternoon, with the Minister of State, Home Office and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), I attended the funeral of Damilola Taylor. As the House would expect, it was an incredibly moving event. Damilola Taylor was killed in the borough which in part I represent, although just outside my constituency. In his personal tribute, the pastor of the church which the Taylors had attended throughout his time here—that incredibly impressive family of faith and dignity—asked this question: what changes do we have to make to the morals and values of our society, so that little boys like Damilola do not get taken to their death at the age of 10, on their way home from school or from the library?

I start with that because, as the Home Secretary suggested earlier, a debate about the police is only one part of a jigsaw of responses that society tries to put together to create a better society. Self-evidently, if we had a crime-free society, we would not need a significant police force. The debate today is taking place because, sadly, we have far too much crime. Violent crime is on the increase, and many of our fellow citizens—people whom we represent throughout England and Wales for the purpose of this debarte—feel that matters are getting out of control.

I agree with the Home Secretary that the purpose of public policy on law and order should be to reduce crime significantly, so that police numbers can come down. As a society, we should not want ever-bigger police forces all round the country. We should be moving in the other direction. The basis of our society should be mutual respect, so that people do not attack other citizens in the street and take out their own prejudices on others.

I shall add one more comment about my experience this afternoon. As I walked away from the church in Shooters hill, a woman came up to me with a woman friend of hers. She was the mother of a 19-year-old who had been killed some months ago by a 16-year-old. She was a white woman, with her white friend. Having gone through a similar bereavement just months ago, she had come to show solidarity with a black family mourning the death of their young son. It is the example of those two women, those two families, and those two expressions of courage, that we should encourage.

Our debate, especially in the run-up to a general election, should rightfully challenge the Government's record on the police. Leading for an Opposition party, I shall also test and question the Government and seek to expose the areas in which they have failed. However, I hope that we will be united in our objective to do everything possible to encourage the good examples, the law abiding, and the morals and values of society that the pastor mentioned, so that we do not witness the social failure so often exemplified in crime

That wider debate is not principally about police; it is about family life, community life, a decent education service, and a responsible media that do not portray images of violence all the time—violence on television, violence on film, violence in computer games and violence on pitches in games that many young people watch. It is also about a criminal justice system and a prison system that work to ensure that when people go inside they are punished, but come out less likely to offend.

Another part of the jigsaw is the Prison Service, which is still often ineffective at rehabilitating people. Half of all those who go to prison reoffend within two years of coming out. It is no good thinking that the burden of dealing with crime is entirely that of the police.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does the hon. Gentleman therefore welcome the Government's joint probation and prison accreditation panel, which is designed to strengthen and accredit programmes to deal with offending behaviour?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, I do. It is important that we improve the quality and effectiveness of the Prison Service, the probation and social services and all the other agencies. The youth offender regime that the Government have introduced is a good one. There are many good initiatives designed to make sure that the pattern of criminality among youngsters is arrested.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, to whose speech I am listening with interest and respect. In the light of what he said about the need to reform prisoners so that when they go out into community they lead constructive lives, will he join me in regretting the fact that there has been a serious decline in the level of purposeful activity in prisons over the past couple of years? In particular, will he join the Conservative Opposition in calling for prisoners to undertake a full, normal working day during their incarceration?

Mr. Hughes

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), who looks after prison matters in our party, a concern about the reduction in profitable activity. I can also tell the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that, like his party, we have a policy commitment that there should be a full working week regime in prison—working or education or training, except for those who are unable on health grounds to fulfil that.

I was extremely frustrated to discover, when I visited Leeds prison last year, that the opportunity for work existed, but the prison regime insisted that prisoners spend two hours in cells in the middle of the day instead of being in the gym or the workshop or somewhere where they could train. We must get away from that old-fashioned regime. The new governor, to her credit, wanted to do that in Leeds, as do many other senior managers in the Prison Service.

The last obvious point that falls to be made at the beginning of a general debate about police numbers, which has also been a debate about crime figures, must, I hope, be an honest admission by all of us that there is no direct link between police numbers and crime figures. Of course, the more police that there are, providing that they do their job properly, the more effective they are likely to be in deterring and detecting crime. No one has ever argued to me that fewer police make that more likely. Reductions in police numbers reduce the chance of deterring and detecting crime, but there is no simple link between the one and the other.

I concede that, there having been huge increases in crime during the first three Tory Administrations, there was then a reduction during the last Tory Administration in all but one year, and, since then, crime figures have gone up and down. Violent crime went up all the time under the Tories and has gone up and down under the Labour Government, and it is sadly going up again now. Therefore, I hope that we all realise that it is difficult to establish the link between policing and crime, and that it is simplistic to think that crime figures are significantly and hugely affected by policing when so many other factors are at play in society.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I declare an interest, in that my wife is a prospective member of the probation board. Does my hon. Friend accept that resources put into the probation service and reoffending are much more closely identified?

Mr. Hughes

That certainly appears to be the case. Because many more people are treated outside prison, even though they may have offended, logically, resources—as my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and others know from their constituencies—are better directed to all the people outside. If people outside were treated more effectively, we would not be worried about so many people being inside. Liberal Democrats take the view that we are sending far too many people to prison, which is expensive and often cost-inefficient in terms of reducing crime.

Dr. Stoate

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

No, I respect the hon. Gentleman, but I should be grateful if he allowed me to continue as this is an Opposition day and Conservative Members must be allowed the majority of Opposition time.

I share the respect for the police and I understand their sense of pressure. They have many new pressures now which they never had before, such as the internationalisation of crime, making their work much more complex than before. Many more people move around and communities are less settled. There is much more pressure on society, so people suffer more mental illness and strain and criminal tendencies are as a result more likely. Technology is much more complicated, and the police are expected to deal with that when used by criminals and to use it themselves. There are more diverse communities with many more languages, cultures and traditions. There is much more legislation, and that places a huge burden on the police, resulting in much more paperwork than they have ever had before, which has a huge implication for the police. There are fewer civilians to pick up the pieces and do the work which need not be done by people in uniform at all.

Special constables tell me that there are fewer of them principally because fewer people volunteer, owing to their other commitments at work and home. Numbers have dropped significantly because people are unwilling and unable to make the commitment, often because their work pressure is too great. The reality is that the police are under the same pressures as all the other areas of public life, and our job is to respond appropriately.

Sadly, the Government have not helped. They have done many good things, and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept that I will acknowledge publicly when the Government get something right, but be strong, with my colleagues, when they get it wrong. During the previous Parliament, Labour Members were critical of the Tory party's record on these matters and made all sorts of commitments. Their two great commitments were to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and to cut by half the period taken to deal with regular young offenders from arrest to sentence. If the election is this year, it does not look as though the second commitment will be met. I do not say that, if the Parliament lasted for five years, it would not be met, but it does not look as though it will be. In addition, the perception of the public and the police is that the Government have also failed to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and that after four years it is a bit late to start to remedy that.

The recently published Audit Commission report confirmed that the Government's further manifesto pledge, to put more bobbies on the beat, has also not been realised. The number of police officers per person has gone down, not up. Those are not my figures or Liberal Democrat figures, but figures from the Audit Commission, which is respected as independent.

For many, there is a sad conclusion to draw. This past week, the BBC news website carried the headline, "Public losing confidence in police". Even worse is the fact that many police officers are losing confidence in the police. Our duty is to deal with both matters: the public need to have confidence in the police again but, above all, the police need to have confidence in the police again.

May I now make n my substantive, principal and, I hope, portmanteau criticism of the Home Office? I do not understand why the Home Office and the Government made one fundamental mistake above all else. When all the evidence points towards a need to do something, when the public say that it weds to be done, when members of the Labour party and other parties say that it needs to be done, why does it take so long to do it? When the Government came to power, there was a backlog of asylum seekers to be dealt with. It took a long time for the Home Office to get on top of that. The passport problem arose, and that was not dealt with until there was a crisis.

In relation to the police, there was a saga in which the Home Secretary, adopting the Tory position, first said that the number of police officers was nothing to do with the Home Secretary, it was a matter entirely for chief constables; but then suddenly realised that that was not a satisfactory answer to give the public, so he made the famous Bournemouth speech and said that the Government would allocate the extra money to put in 5,000 extra officers. There was a slight problem, however, as those officers were not extras, so that had to be revised— [interruption] Well, they were not extra in the sense of a net total of 5.000 more. There were 5,000 more officers, and then one had to deduct all those who were leaving via the back door.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

They were extra.

Mr. Hughes

If the Minister thinks that they were extra, he is the only person who still believes that what was said to be extra was extra. That is not what was discovered by everybody else on the day in question.

The Government then said that they accepted that they had to have more police. Eventually, last year, in the comprehensive spending review, having ring-fenced the so-called 5,000 extra police officers—after originally saying that that was nothing to do with the Home Secretary—and after the establishment of the crimefighting fund, there was a generous allocation. More police officers were identified in the settlement, which will produce more like 9,000 more police officers—9,000 in total or 3,000 a year. Hopefully, in the next Parliament, although not in this one by any means, there will be a rise in police numbers. The Government have, at last, agreed to get there, but why, as in so many other areas of policy, has it taken them so long to do what they said and implied they were going to do? Everyone else, including the public, wanted them to do that, and everyone else is disappointed that they did not do it earlier.

One of the problems now is that the police are expected to do so much that they are saying, "Please do not give us any more". I gather that, the week after next, we will have the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. We have had such Bills in every Session of this Parliament and pretty well every Session of the previous Parliament all producing more obligations for the police. The Bill will include fixed penalty notice systems for dealing with people on the streets and curfews. All that I hear from the police is that they do not want any more obligations and they will not have the officers available to do additional jobs such as policing curfews, trying to work out who is—or is not—a 16-year-old, and stopping everyone under that age, whether law-abiding or not, walking around the streets. As a last minute appeal, I urge the Government to drop the nonsensical bits of their proposed legislation and allow the police to get on with the things that they want to do, deal with the troublemakers and not worry about the rest.

There is a big morale problem, which we have a duty to address. It is partly addressed by the Government's decision to improve pay and travel arrangements for the Metropolitan police, which I welcome. I am glad that the Government have also realised that police in other parts of the country need additional resources. However, it is nonsense to have a system in which those Essex, Surrey or Thames Valley police who live in an area of their county closest to London will get paid more, while police officers who live in other parts of the county, more than 50 miles from London, will not. W ill the Government be pragmatic and put on the table a proposal that there ought to be additional payment for the police in places such as Hampshire—which is not a home county—where the cost of living is more? We have to give the police the ability to buy homes, settle and stay; they should not feel that they cannot afford to live in any particular area in question.

That brings me to one final morale question. The motion condemns the early release scheme for those who have assaulted police officers. Ministers are right to point out that the scheme had the all-party support of a Select Committee. Indeed, my party gave its support, but we now believe that there is a significant problem in respect of early release for people who are guilty of assaulting public servants. We have concluded outside the House—and we seek today to reflect that conclusion here—that we now share the Conservative view on that aspect of the early release scheme. I call on Ministers to review the scheme in relation to assaults on public servants, as it does nothing to help their morale and does a significant amount to undermine it.

My unanswered questions to the Government about their policy for improving the police are not new. First, what is happening about police pensions? The Home Secretary said that they take an increasing amount of the budget, which is correct. Indeed, that explains why we do not have as much money for the police. A year ago, on 7 February, I was told in a written reply from Ministers that we would be given an indication of Government policy in spring 2000, but we have arrived at spring 2001 and silence has reigned. It would help every police authority in the land to know the answer on pensions and to be assured that they will not continue to be such a big burden and to account for such a percentage of their costs.

My second question, which I put to the Home Secretary, concerns the resolution of the great Home Office conundrum in respect of ensuring that police forces which are efficient, reduce crime and do all the right things do not end up being penalised in their budgets. Thirdly, the Liberal Democrats have proposed the immediate production of a package to retain for another five years officers who are reaching retirement age, to deal with the immediate shortage. I did not hear the Minister of State on the radio the other morning, but I gather that he was generous and said that the Government were considering the proposal. I hope that there will be a speedy response. We also proposed to bring back good officers who have just retired and are not in full-time work. People retire from the police force at 48, 49 or 50 and are young enough to go on doing a good job. They have experience and capability and are, by definition, of far more value individually than somebody can be at 18 or 19. It would be a very good thing to bring back such officers.

Fourthly, why did the generous comprehensive spending review, which gave a 6.4 per cent. Home Office budget increase, award the police an increase of only 3.8 per cent.? That is another question to which we have not yet received an answer. Why did the police get a much smaller growth figure than the Home Office in general?

Finally, will progress now be made on sorting out the statistics? A great flurry of activity occurred about a year ago, when it was said that a committee would be established to try to ensure that statistics were correlated. The Liberal Democrats were asked to nominate a member of the committee and we did so. A year passed—at least, it is getting on for a year—and nothing happened.

Mr. Charles Clarke

A year has not passed; it was July.

Mr. Hughes

I apologise for saying it was longer if the proposal was made in July. However, it was certainly made some months ago. After it was made, a flurry of urgent activity occurred and then there was silence.

Yesterday, an example arose of the need for proper statistics. It appears that the Metropolitan police changed its ethnic recruitment statistics on its own to make it appear that it was doing better. That is nonsense. We must have common statistics so that we can see what is happening throughout the country.

The proposals in the Liberal Democrat amendment to the motion are those that we believe would most helpfully deal with current problems. I shall not repeat the suggestions that I have dealt with, but I shall add the rest.

Mr. Heald

One is always pleased to see a sinner that repenteth, but I seek some clarification. The Conservatives twice tabled amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Services Bill that would have ensured that people who assault the police—just the category of people to which the hon. Gentleman referred—are not released early. Will he acknowledge that he voted against those amendments? He has completely changed his mind.

Mr. Hughes

I concede that point; we have changed our minds, having taken the view that morale among police officers and public servants is now so poor that it means that the scheme needs amendment. I concede openly that we have changed our position. We have done so because we hear from people in public service that they regard the scheme as unhelpful in giving them the respect that they need as public servants. That is why I join the Conservative party in asking Ministers to change their policy on the matter. I hope that they will do so.

I want to make a few final proposals in addition to those that I hope I have already made absolutely and expressly clear. First, there should be a regular place where these debates can take place other than between politicians. The Police Federation asked for a royal commission. That has the weakness of being a one-off exercise. Matters move too quickly for a royal commission to be able to look into the future. I hope that the Government will respond positively to our proposal for a permanent standing conference involving all ranks and representatives of the police, politicians and the public to advise on police numbers and police efficiency. It could discuss what is needed to give us a better police force.

Such a conference could also consider whether we need so many different police forces. The regional forces should be reviewed, although I do not have a final view on that, as well as the different types of forces. Is it logical to have the British Transport police looking after railway station car parks if they are rarely present? That responsibility could be taken on by the local police, who police the area around a station car park and go past it all the time.

Secondly, there needs to be a huge, immediate increase in police officers. For five years, the Liberal Democrats have been saying that we need a minimum of 130,000 officers in England and Wales. That is still our view. That is 6,000 more than there were last April. We have asked the Government to do everything they can to bring about such an increase as quickly as possible—it is above what both the other main parties propose. If that needs more money, now is the time to spend it on public services, because, for a combination of reasons, the coffers are full of money that the Chancellor has available to spend.

Thirdly, will the Government consider attracting more police recruits by sponsoring them through college and university? Fourthly, can there be a category of retained officers, such as the fire service has, who do paid, part-time work? Fifthly, will the Government set up, in conjunction with local government, community safety forces to police estates, the streets and parks—the low-level crime policing? That would hugely reassure people.

Lastly, is it possible to ensure that every community, rural and urban, has named police assigned to it, so that all people know who their police officers are and how to get hold of them, and that they will respond speedily on the non-999 number?

The police deserve our support. The public ask us to support the police. The Government have had some success, but they have not delivered until far too late. I hope that they have got the message at last. I am, however, sad that they have failed so lamentably for so long to deliver so much of what they promised before they became the Government at the last election.

Mr. Ian Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate has been going for two hours, and there have been three speeches by Members on the Front Benches. Back Benchers have been squeezed out of the debate. Can you give any ruling on this matter?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that there is no ruling that I can give on this matter. The Chair cannot control the shape of a Opposition day—whether there is one subject or two—and has no control over speeches by Members on the Front Benches. The hon. Member highlights one of the disadvantages for Back Benchers of split Opposition days when Front Benchers take a great many interventions and make long speeches.

6.13 pm
Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

I shall try to be brief, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) is anxious to make a contribution.

I share some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about the tenor of the debate. An undue emphasis has been placed on figures, statistics and numbers of police, when we should be discussing winning the fight against crime by preventing and reducing crime, which is what people in our communities look to us to do.

The debate, however, has sharpened the choices that the British people have. They can take the Tory line as shown in the Opposition motion, which is full of cynicism, hopelessness, doom and gloom and demoralisation—as if nothing can be done. The debate in their terms is about statistics, not about people and humanity. On the other hand, they can take the Labour approach, which is about more investment, trying to tackle and reduce crime by working with local communities, and trying to give people confidence, a sense of hope and a sense that they really can make a difference. That is nod easy, as it takes time to reduce crime, but I know which approach I prefer. It is the positive one that involves practical action, taking steps, and working with communities, rather than simply running things down and making it seem as though we live in a land of hopelessness in which nothing can be done.

We have seen that Opposition Members do not like to be reminded of their record, because they think that that is boring and dull. However, it is important to place in front of the British people the fact that crime doubled under the Tories. The number of crimes involved is shocking. In 1979, 25 million crimes were committed—still far too high a figure—but that figure rose to 5.5 million under the Tories. That is an astounding statistic, and most of the people who bore the brunt of that crime lived in p corer communities. Ten per cent. of the poorest people in Britain were the victims of 42 per cent. of crime. They were people who lived in communities such as mine, where crime was allowed to reach almost epidemic proportions, destroying families and communities, and allowed to run riot.

Dr. Stoate

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ms Blears

No. I have very little time, and I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

I am heartened that the general reduction in crime figures, particularly for domestic burglary and vehicle crime, is mirrored in my constituency. Domestic burglaries are down by 20 per cent. in Seedley and Langworthy—one of the hardest inner city areas in Salford—and vehicle crime is down by nearly 20 per cent. That tells me that, for once, the poorest communities are catching up with the rest. Our crime rates are coining down at the same rate as in other areas, and poorer people are no longer being singled out as repeat victims of the crime epidemic that we experienced in this country.

Of course there is a problem with violent crime. All hon. Members feel strongly about that, which is why the measures in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill to tackle alcohol-related crime will be so crucial. The challenge will be to try to prevent that kind of crime from happening in the first place. We have to make it clear that certain kinds of behaviour are unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and that there will be swift and serious punishment for people who indulge in anti-social behaviour and disorder in our communities. At the same time, we must try to determine why they engage in such behaviour, and how we can divert them from so doing and give them more constructive things to do.

Last year, there were 50,000 incidents in which young men and women were horribly disfigured by being cut on the face by broken glasses and bottles, usually in alcohol-related crimes. A fantastic campaign has been mounted involving the Manchester Evening News; the Greater Manchester police have been involved in confiscating alcohol on the streets; and a successful byelaw has been passed. As a result, the figures for injuries in such crimes have slumped dramatically. The Home Secretary has given his personal commitment to the scheme, and hopes to roll it out nation wide. That is the kind of practical action that we can take to ensure that crime is reduced and prevented. We must be imaginative and creative in tackling crime, but the Tory motion contains a simplistic analysis. Talking up crisis and fear among members of the public is not the way to make people feel confident that they can make a difference.

Of course we need police officers to enforce the new powers that we are going to give them, and the numbers are beginning to rise after a long period of decline. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said that she wanted to civilianise and make police forces more effective. For goodness' sake, we have been doing that for years and years. In Greater Manchester, overall police staff numbers have fallen by 42 in the past 12 years. However, the number of operational police officers has risen by 1,075 because we have adopted civilianisation and found efficiency savings and better ways of using resources. There are now more than 1,000 extra police on the front line helping our communities to succeed.

The crimefighting fund will give the Greater Manchester police a further 588 police officers over the next three years, and in December it had the highest recruitment figures ever. Those are grounds for cautious optimism. This is not a brave new world; we are not going to solve all the problems overnight. However, the fact that recruitment figures are going up means that young people are regarding the police as a career in which they can make a contribution and become involved with their communities.

Police numbers are not the only issue. How the police are used is also important. The Tory analysis is simplistic, crude and unimaginative. I do not know why I am surprised at that; I am certainly disappointed by their approach. Greater Manchester police are to receive an extra £14 million, which includes £5 million for youth justice measures; £2 million for closed-circuit television; £2 for burglary reduction by helping elderly people to make their homes safer; £500,000 for tackling gun and gang crime; and £500,000 for tackling domestic violence.

The homelink scheme is to be introduced, which will use information technology to give people who have been the victims of crime or who are particularly vulnerable a portable alarm. In that way, they will be able to contact the police and obtain an immediate response in an effort to reduce crime. We have the schools liaison programme, aimed at diverting people aged between 10 and 18 from crime. The programme, which involves 12,000 young people in our area, is a real success story. We also have the drug arrest referral initiative.

I think all Members will acknowledge that a huge amount of crime is connected with drugs. We have established a partnership involving the police, drug action teams, health authorities and social services departments. There is a drugs referral worker in every custody suite in greater Manchester, and in the last six months those referral workers have screened 3,500 people, offering them advice and referral for treatment. One thousand people have been referred for treatment. Some 80 per cent. of those referred were offending to fund their drug use; 70 per cent. were on heroin, and 94 per cent. were unemployed. Those are sad statistics, which is why practical schemes such as this are so vital.

We are taking steps to prevent and reduce crime. We have invested an extra £3.2 million in Operation Hawk. The object is to bear down on the serious problem of street robbery, targeting those who are likely to be repeat offenders, looking for local intelligence, working with local people and using information technology to make efforts to reduce the number of robberies much more effective. We have set ourselves a tough target—to reduce the number by 20 per cent. over the next five years—but I am confident that we will achieve it, because there is real commitment.

It is hard to tackle crime, but I believe that if we are serious about it the last thing we will do is what the Tories have tried to do today. Talking of crisis and raising the spectre of violent attack lurking around every street corner demoralises our communities and demoralises the police.

The choice is clear. Do people want a Labour programme involving practical action, building self-confidence and extra investment in the police force—there will be 9,000 additional officers over the next three years—or do they want to accept the Tory option? That means talk of crisis and demoralisation, hopelessness and cynicism. It also means a cut of £24 million in every constituency in Britain. How many police officers does that involve? How many drug referral officers does it involve? How many police officers working with young people does it involve?

That is the Tory option: cuts, demoralisation and cynicism. I prefer the Labour option of hope and confidence for the future.

6.22 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I shall follow the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) in one respect. I too shall be brief, because I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) that there is very little time for Back-Bench speeches. That is a pity. If I may say so, as a recidivist from the Front Bench, I do not think that parliamentary debates are just debates between the two Front Benches.

If I were to engage in two reflections, they would be on what the Home Secretary said. He made much of public spending and police numbers, as the hon. Member for Salford said. During the 11 years I was a member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, we were attacked by Labour Members—including, to a large degree, the present Home Secretary—for restraining public spending. I note, however, that police strengths increased dramatically during that period.

The Government continually quote figures relating to the period between 1993 and 1997, but for some reason they do not mention the figures relating to the full 18-year period of Conservative Governments. Over that period, the strength of the police service in England and Wales increased by more than 15,000, and spending increased in real terms by some 72 per cent. By any standards, that compares well with what has been achieved by the present Government, who will go to the election reporting a decline in police numbers since they came to power.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I have observed the change in the language of Home Office Ministers in the months since I was shadow Home Secretary. We were told then that police numbers did not matter; that there had never been an age in which there was a policeman on every street corner—not that anyone had ever claimed that there had been; and, when the rest had failed, that police strength had nothing to do with Ministers, and was down to individual chief constables.

Dr. Stoate

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

The hon. Gentleman must be joking.

As I was saying, we were told that police strength was entirely down to individual chief constables, even when—as in the case of the Metropolitan police—the Home Secretary was the police authority. We have seen—to put it at its mildest—a dramatic U-turn in Home Office policy. Ministers now accept after all that police strength is vital and does have something to do with them; for why otherwise would they be promising the money and resources that they have promised? There can be no other conclusion. However, the basic point that I should like to make is more fundamental than a comparison of records.

This week, an opinion survey in Birmingham was published, conducted by MORI for the current, Labour-controlled council. It showed that only 24 per cent. of the population thought of Birmingham as a safe city. Those who were surveyed liked Birmingham and were proud of it, but they were concerned about their personal safety. I suspect that if a similar survey were conducted in the other major cities of this country—such as Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle—there would be similar results. The public are genuinely concerned. Consequently, it was quite right of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to raise the issue as a matter of public and political debate.

Of the whole range of problems of crime, I intend to concentrate, but only briefly, on the major problems facing our cities. I am intrigued to see that the new Mayor of London is in New York, studying how its police deal with crime. He is not the first to have paid that visit—the Home Secretary has gone, as have I and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary—but he is right to go. The policies that have been so successfully applied in New York have real relevance in London, especially given that the populations with which we are dealing are very similar.

There is one cautionary note to sound, however, as the description "zero tolerance policy" gives the impression of a police force that is prepared to intervene on the slightest pretext. It gives the impression of an over-officious force. That is why William Bratton, the former police head in New York and author of the scheme, is wary of the tag. What the police force in New York really do is apply modern management methods to the detection of crime The New York force is proactive, keeps up pressure on criminals, gathers intelligence on crime patterns, targets suspected criminals, deploys extra officers to areas of particular difficulty, and perhaps above all, it holds to account the different police commanders across the whole city. It also has early-morning meetings, tracks crime in each precinct and holds to account each precinct commander.

So the real difference in the New York approach to policing is that the police there regard crime as something that can be directly fought and defeated. It is a rejection of the passive policy whereby officers simply wait to respond to telephone calls from the public. Just as surely, the approach is a rejection of the defensive theory that nothing can be done until we understand the real causes of crime—an approach that would condemn tens of thousands of people to living in misery until sensible policies were introduced.

There is no question but that the New York approach to policing has been spectacularly successful. Anyone who visited New York seven or eight years ago would see the difference on returning. Crime has been reduced by about 50 per cent. and the annual murder rate is down to a quarter of what it once was. However, the most important measure is not the official statistics, but the response of the ordinary citizen. That response is the crucial measure, just as the response of the ordinary citizen in Birmingham is the crucial measure.

When I was in New York, an opinion poll in The New York Times showed that 60 per cent. of the public believed that life in the city had improved because of police action. So why have we not been able to emulate the success of New York and of other United States cities? The reason is clear. When Mr. Bratton introduced his new method, one important step was taken: New York recruited 7,000 new police officers. The result is that, today, the force has a strength of almost 40,000. A similar story can be found across the United States.

Compare that with London's Metropolitan police force—which serves about the same population size as New York—and one finds a force that has to make do with a strength of fewer than 25,000. Frankly, however, there is no way in which the New York policies can be applied here. Even in what we would regard as a generously provided for police force such as New York's, policemen still note and sometimes complain of the pressure that they are under. However, that pressure is as nothing compared with the pressure that policemen are under in this country s big city forces.

Finally, I do not say that police strength is the only factor in crime, but it is one of the most important. There is a real danger that this country is under-policed, and that there are not enough police to fulfil the duties that we give them—to which we continue to add. An example of that is the non-enforcement of the traffic laws. That may seem minor, but it leads to countless deaths and injuries.

Over the past three or four years, the Government have relied on the excellence of policemen and policewomen and allowed them to take the strain. In that way, they have hoped that the gaps in the service could be disguised. However, there comes a time when that becomes impossible.

My criticism is that the Government have taken almost four years to realise what their priorities should be. It is all very well to promise that things will be better in the future, but we have heard that once or twice before. The truth is that, since they came to office, the Government have presided over a decline in police strength, at a time when cities overseas have increased it. That was a crass error and there is no reason for the British public to forgive them for it.

6.31 pm
Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

The debate is not only about talking down the Government, but about talking down the effectiveness of the police. I want there to be more police officers, and I know that Ministers and all hon. Members do. The difference between the parties is that the Government are doing something about police numbers, whereas the Conservative party's plans to cut public spending have committed it to reducing police numbers.

Crime in this country is falling. That change has happened not by accident but as a result of deliberate policy. The Government have brought together the police, new legislation, smarter techniques, local partnerships and resources. That combination has been encouraged and developed by the Government, and it has taken effect in a changing culture where there is a greater regard and respect for building up both the sense and the reality of community; and the Government's approach is producing results.

This week's British crime survey showed that recorded crime in my county, Lincolnshire, his fallen by one fifth since the general election. It is not surprising that the chief constable of the Lincolnshire force, Mr. Richard Childs, should acknowledge that Lincolnshire is one of the safest places in the country to live.

I want to give the House some facts about police numbers. In Lincolnshire, we are looking forward to reaching, by April, an officer-strength target of 1,240 officers. Lincolnshire police have said that that will be the highest number of police officers ever achieved in the county.

All hon. Members know that the question is not one of police numbers alone, but of how they are deployed. In Lincolnshire, the police have launched a number of tremendous initiatives. They include mobile rural task forces, the Staying Alive road safety campaign, a reorganisation to release more police officers to the front line, and a positive and creative recruitment campaign. All those initiatives are making a big difference to policing and crime fighting, in Lincoln and across the county.

An interesting article appeared in last Friday's Lincolnshire Echo, entitled "Will More Bobbies Prevent Crime?" It concluded, first, that we should all keep a sense of proportion—a thought that I offer especially to Opposition Members. Secondly, it concluded that new technology—such as closed-circuit television and improved security—were great contributors to the reduction in crime.

The article's third main conclusion was that a police officer on every corner would not stop most crimes. I believe that the partnership approach that includes police officers is what brings results.

I shall list, briefly, a few examples of the support that the Government have provided in my constituency—in addition to extra police officers—to help in the fight against crime. That support is also aimed at reducing the fear of crime, which is what people really want. We have just seen a recent additional development in the Monks road and Stamp End area of Lincoln, where CCTV has completed its first month in a residential area. It has helped the police to make 14 arrests, which I consider a significant contribution, through a programme developed by a partnership of the Government, Lincoln city council—which is to be congratulated on embracing its role in fighting crime—local people and the police. They are all working together to get real results in Lincoln.

Of 750 bids submitted to the Home Office for extra Government money for the CCTV programme, the Monks road and Stamp End bid was fast-tracked into the top 30. I thank Ministers for seeing the benefits for my constituency. Sandra Donnor, secretary of the Monks road initiative, has been impressed by the scheme so far. She was quoted in the local paper as saying that crime—particularly drug-related crime—in the Monks Road area was quite high, and that a lot of elderly people were frightened to go out after dark. Since CCTV has been introduced, people have said that they feel safer. Sandra Donnor said that she feels better, knowing that cameras are monitoring the area. I think that she speaks for many people in Lincoln and across the country.

The second piece of Government support for Lincoln is the anti-burglary initiative on the St. Giles estate. I was pleased to welcome the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), there not too long ago, to see the results for himself. The St. Giles anti-burglary initiative money has been spent on alarms, locks, security shutters and improved fencing, and there has been a 30 per cent. reduction in burglaries in the area.

My hon. Friend and I were invited into the home of Tracey Kelly and George Thompson, on Robert Tressell walk in the St. Giles area. We heard and saw for ourselves just how pleased they were with the security and how the area was being transformed into a community where safety was higher up the agenda.

I have a challenge for the Conservative party. What will it do, should it win the election? Its proposed £16 billion worth of cuts in public services represents cuts of some £240,000 in each constituency. The Conservatives have not committed themselves to matching our spending on the police. To meet their cuts programme in Lincoln, the Tories would be looking at cutting some 60 police officers in the city.

What else would be at risk? Projects such as the St. Giles anti-burglary initiative; Birchwood's sure start, which gives children under four the best start in life; and CCTV, welcomed by city centre businesses and by the people in Shuttleworth house in Monks road, would all be threatened. Not one person in Lincoln would be unaffected, because crime, and fear of crime, affects us all.

There is much more to do, but I hope that the House will give credit where it is due and not be misled by the Tories' constant talking down of the Government and our police officers.

6.38 pm
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

I do not have time to indulge in the slap and tickle of debate that the Front Benches are engaged in on national statistics. I want to look at some of the problems in Surrey, and I have two minutes in which to do so. That does not do justice to the problems in the county of Surrey.

One of the problems of a successful police force, as was pointed out earlier, is that for a reward its grant is cut. In real terms, Surrey has, in effect, had a 2.8 per cent. cut in central Government grants. That is simply unacceptable. It means that over the next two years we will be down about 165 officers, unless drastic changes are made, and 250 officers over the next three years. That means a real change in policing, and the Surrey police force is one of the most efficient in the country. I have absolute confidence in Denis O'Connor, the chief constable. He says: Over the last few years we have experienced an increasingly poor budget settlement. Looking forward we cannot see any hope of a significant improvement so we are forced to examine how we work to see what changes are necessary to ensure we are as efficient as possible and the most effective service is provided. That is a further challenge added to the fact that, at present, about 60 per cent. of the recruits commute for long distances and sleep on floors during the week in order to maintain the Surrey force. We do not do badly with recruitment in Surrey, but there is a problem of bleeding to other forces—especially to the Met, because of the differential value of the housing allowance. It is difficult to maintain a force in Surrey when the cost of living in my county is as high as in most parts of London.

I have been brief. I hope that the Minister of State, Home Office is listening. I could offer him many more statistics. Please will he change the policy for counties such as Surrey and begin to be a bit more generous?

6.40 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

We have had a good debate, although I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) who had to restrict his remarks. I feel for hon. Members who were unable to have the full debate that they wanted.

I had intended to spend a little time on the fact that this is the first time that I have debated against the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), since he was tipped for the top. I had planned to read a little extract from the article in The Guardian, but I shall not have time to do so—what a pity.

Mr. Charles Clarke

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his restraint.

Mr. Heald

I shall not tell the hon. Gentleman the bit I liked best.

We heard some excellent contributions to the debate. I shall highlight first the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who really gave the lie to the line peddled by the Home Secretary on the history of the matter. My right hon. Friend made the point that, during our period in office, the Conservatives put up police numbers by more than 15,000. He also pointed out that that dramatic increase had been achieved against the sorry background of the previous time that Labour had been in power.

I do not want to go back to the 1970s, but many of us can remember the slice in police numbers, the damage to pay and conditions and the rise in crime. That was the Labour legacy in the 1970s. In the 1980s—

Mr. Straw

Why did police numbers rise by almost 10,000 during the period of the previous Labour Government?

Mr. Heald

The Home Secretary makes his point, but I wanted to make the point that—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] It is true that one can take particular dates and arrive at particular figures, but the point I wanted to make is that it took a long time to turn around the effect of those years of Labour Government—the rise in crime. The Conservatives turned that around by increasing police numbers. Every year in the 1990s, police numbers went up—

Dr. Stoate

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald

I do not have time.

The numbers of police constables and special constables rose and by the time of the 1997 general election—the Home secretary should listen to this—crime was falling and the number of police constables and of police officers in general was rising. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had had the best start as Home Secretary of anyone in many years—how right he is. That start was given to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

What a pathetic Opposition.

Mr. Heald

It is not pathetic opposition to say that we had a record to be proud of; we gave the Labour Government a good start and, by goodness, they have squandered it.

It is easy to get into statistics and talk about a fall in police numbers, but what that means on the ground is an overstretch, so when a force needs to police an incident in the town, there are no officers in the villages. If we want special initiatives to target burglars or car crime—as we do and as the Government have said we will—that is at the expense of visible policing in town centres. There is less time for police officers to talk to the public. There are fewer police stations because they cannot be manned. The police are unable to do the job that they want to do. The public do not receive the service that they deserve and that the police want to give them.

It is not merely a question of statistics. It is right of the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) to say that we should have a positive attitude; no one comes out with more policies than the Conservative party. It was the Conservative party that said that we should get retired police officers back to work. We suggested part-time police officers and retained officers. It was the Conservative party that suggested cops in shops and a new cadet service. We have ideas, but the Government must be blamed for what they have done—and what they have done is disastrous in terms of policing.

Mr. Beard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald

No, I will not. I do not have time.

The specials have a fine history of voluntary service. Special officers have made it possible to have an additional officer in the market square on a Friday night, or to double-man a rural police car so that there can be an extra night patrol. The specials mean that when there is a police incident in one place, there is cover for the gaps. When we talk about a collapse in the morale of the police service as a whole, it is often said that it is about pay and conditions, but the fact that the number of volunteer special officers has fallen by a third under the present Government gives the lie to that. It is about morale.

When the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and others say that we must increase the number of police officers, of course they are right, but it is a positive policy of the Conservative party to restore police numbers to the level that they were at when we left office. It is that sort of positive approach that we take, and take rightly.

The Home Secretary cannot get way with saying that police morale has not been fractured by his policies. The numbers are down, which means that it is much more difficult for officers to do their job. The early release scheme has meant that 200 police officers who have been assaulted have seen the people who assaulted them released early. We have won one recruit. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who opposed our policy that the early n lease scheme should not apply to people who have assaulted police officers, has decided that it is right that it should not apply in those circumstances—and he voted consistently against that proposal.

Come on, it is time for the Minister to change, too, so we want to hear from him tonight that he will protect police officers, and we would like him to apologise for what has happened—apologise to the 25 police who have been injured as a result of the actions of those who have been released.

We want a system where wastage does not run at record levels and does not increase out of control. Voluntary resignations are up 60 per cent. Just this year, the Met has revised its figures on wastage and increased them by 25 per cent. for this year. We have seen the original estimates for forces such as the Greater Manchester police, which the hon. Member for Salford mentioned. What has happened to wastage there? At the half-year point, it was running at a far higher level than was predicted earlier in the year.

We want to see recruitment levels rising, so that we can get the police that we want. There is an improvement at the moment, but we wonder whether it is a one-off caused by the change in policy by police Forces to take some recruits that they previously refused. As the Home Secretary says, it is right that people who have tattoos should be able to join the Metropolitan police; but to review the backlog of officer recruits who have been refused is a one-off exercise. Over the coming months and years, recruitment will reach a cliff-edge. It will fall, while wastage continues to rise. The Home Secretary has seen a one-off boost, about which he can boast in the general election campaign, but the underlying position is not nearly as good as he likes to claim.

Violent crime is rising, perhaps because police officers have been focusing not on patrolling the streets but on other things, because there are not enough of them to pursue all the Government initiatives and to fight robbery, street crime and violence. There is a rise in violent crime, yet the Government are trumpeting their success. Police wastage numbers are up, yet the Government are parading their success. Public confidence is down, as the Audit Commission report shows, yet the Government are trumpeting their success.

One has to wonder what sort of success it is to achieve such results, because the Government had a golden legacy—[Laughter.] They had a golden legacy from the previous Conservative Government, from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe. Crime was falling fast—it was down by 18 per cent.—and police numbers were rising. Now we have the exact opposite. If that is success, Labour has invented a new language, and it is no wonder that the Prime Minister will not hold a debate with the Leader of the Opposition, given the arguments available to him on this issue.

6.50 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

In this brief summary, I intend to address police reform, falling crime and rising police numbers and morale, but first I shall deal with the point about Surrey, made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). As his colleague, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) will confirm, we have agreed arrangements precisely to discuss some of the Surrey issues. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addressed pay and recruitment in his speech, but I acknowledge that issues remain to be discussed. I, too, pay tribute to the chief constable, who is raising those issues, and we have a process for discussing them.

On police reform and the famous secret mentioned by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), let me make the position clear for the record. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears) rightly said, it is a matter of how the resources are used and how the process is taken forward. At the beginning of September, we held a seminar with a wide range of organisations, including the Police Federation, at Lancaster house. Mr. Fred Broughton, the president, and Mr. Jeff Moseley, the secretary, were present. We discussed how to modernise the police, especially how to provide better leadership at basic command unit level; the structure of the forces, including best value and regional co-operation; how to develop what the Metropolitan police commissioner calls "the extended police family"; and better relations between the police and other organisations.

We discussed how to develop information and communication technology and science to equip the police; how to use intelligence-led policing and CCTV; and visibility and reassurance—precisely the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised. We also discussed the proposal from the Police Superintendents Association that we should consider single-officer patrolling rather than double-officer patrolling, and flexibility in the police regulations, together with the partnership development and similar issues. That important dialogue has continued since then. Another meeting will take place in a couple of weeks under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

It is true that the Police Federation decided, by a small minority vote, that it did not wish to participate in the process—its choice, not mine. I have used all possible means to urge the federation to be involved. Frankly, I think that its members will regret the fact that it is not involved in those discussions, because full engagement in the process represents the best way to involve people in modernising the force.

Lord Justice Auld is considering important reforms to the criminal justice system. That major and important agenda has been identified for all the reasons that my hon. Friends have mentioned. It is not secretive in any way; we want to engage the whole police service. Most importantly, it is led by the police and by initiatives from Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary, the Metropolitan police commissioner and the Police Superintendents Association. That shows that we want to have a serious debate about how to equip the country with the police service that it needs.

The second issue raised was the alleged rise in crime. In fact, crime is falling. The British crime survey, published last year, was the second to show a fall in crime—the first covered 1995–97, under the previous Government; the second covered 1997–99. Each of the previous six surveys, from 1982 to 1995, had shown increases in crime, but I am happy to pay tribute to the previous Administration for the decrease in crime in 1995–97. I wish they would do the same and give us credit for keeping down crime in 1997–99.

The recorded crime figures tell an important and significant tale. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) said, there was a 4.2 per cent. reduction in crime in Lincolnshire. In the Leader of the Opposition's constituency, there was a 6 per cent. reduction in crime. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knows, there was a 4.4 per cent. reduction in crime in Blackburn. In the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, there was a 4.6 per cent. reduction in crime.

Mr. Heald

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way because of the time at my disposal.

There was a 16.5 per cent. reduction in burglary in the force represented by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. The same applies to vehicle crime and so on. Although there has been a significant reduction in crime right across the range, it needs to be better. The point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about violent crime is right. I have acknowledged in many different forums that that is a serious problem, which we are addressing, but the general picture is good and positive.

Hon. Members were right to raise the important issue of the fear of crime. The survey of English housing was published in December last year. It was an enormous study and showed—I again pay tribute to the previous Administration—that in 1994–95. 1997–98 and 19992000, the number of people who considered crime a serious problem in their area was reduced year on year. For example, 35 per cent. of people on council estates thought that crime was a serious problem in 1994–95, but that fell to 31 per cent. in 1997–98 and to 24 per cent. in 1999– 2000. In affluent family areas, the figure fell from 16 per cent. to 12 per cent. to 6 per cent.

The story is one of improvement. It is absolutely not the case that crime is rising; it is falling. The debate would be much improved if, rather than telling untruths, hon. Members faced the facts and acknowledged the truth of what is happening in their constituencies.

Police numbers are also important. We have published statistics, and they are clear. After seven years of decline in police numbers since 1993—for reasons with which we are familiar—those hr ye been turned around. The national figure shows an increase of 444 over the six months to September last year which is reflected in particular forces. The number of police in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is up by 35 and in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition it is up by 10. Two Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople are from constituencies that are covered by the Thames Valley police force, in which the number of police has increased by eight. In the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the number is up by 36. Numbers are increasing right across the country.

I can go further. The House may be interested to know that the number of recruits in the North Yorkshire force is four times greater this year than it was last year. It is going up and we are going forward.

I can go further still. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is always keen to draw a comparison between March 1997 and the current state of affairs. Let me give her the facts. According to the most recent figures for police force strength, which go up to 30 September last year, police numbers in 13 forces—nearly a third of all forces in the country—are higher than they were when we came into government. Those forces include Devon and Cornwall, which has been mentioned, Dorset, Durham, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Gwent, Leicestershire, Northumbria, North Wales, South Wales, South Yorkshire and Thames Valley. I must tell the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) that there were 7,350 officers in the West Midlands constabulary last September compared with 7,113 when we came into power. There has been a major increase across the country.

We have said many times that, by 31 March 2002, there will be more police officers than there were in 1997. Between now and the n, more and more forces will exceed the number of officer who were employed when we came into office. We have introduced more changes and delivered better policing.

The story is the same for police morale. Assaults on police have decreased. We have given our figures to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, I will not.

The Government's policy is clear. First, we shall continue to increase the number of police officers in every force in the country. Secondly, we shall continue to reform and modernise the police service so that we deploy and use resources most effectively. Thirdly, we shall continue to focus on particular crimes, so that we find solutions to them, solve them and drive them out, because that is what we have to do, crime by crime by crime. Fourthly, we shall continue to build partnerships with other services across the country Finally—it is the principal goal of our policy—we shall continue to drive down crime. That is the determination of the Government; we are doing it and shall continue to do it. The country will face a choice when we go to the polls. I know that it will trust this Government to deliver what the previous Government never could.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 265.

Division No. 68] [6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fraser, Christopher
Allan, Richard Gale, Roger
Amess, David Garnier, Edward
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Gibb, Nick
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Gill, Christopher
Baldry, Tony Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Ballard, Jackie Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bercow, John Gray, James
Beresford, Sir Paul Grieve, Dominic
Blunt, Crispin Gummer, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, Tim Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hancock, Mike
Brady, Graham Harris, Dr Evan
Brand, Dr Peter Hawkins, Nick
Brazier, Julian Hayes, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Heald, Oliver
Browning, Mrs Angela Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Burns, Simon Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Butterfill, John Horam, John
Cable, Dr Vincent Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hunter, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Chope, Christopher Jenkin, Bernard
Clappison, James Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Collins, Tim Kirkwood, Archy
Cormack, Sir Patrick Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Cotter, Brian Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Cran, James Lansley, Andrew
Curry, Rt Hon David Leigh, Edward
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Letwin, Oliver
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Day, Stephen Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Duncan, Alan Loughton, Tim
Duncan Smith, Iain Luff, Peter
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Evans, Nigel McIntosh, Miss Anne
Faber, David MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fallon, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Fearn, Ronnie Malins, Humfrey
Right, Howard Maples, John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Mates, Michael
Foster, Don (Bath) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa Swayne, Desmond
Moss, Malcolm Syms, Robert
Nicholls, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Norman, Archie Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Ottaway, Richard Taylor, Sir Teddy
Page, Richard Tonge, Dr Jenny
Paice, James Townend, John
Pickles, Eric Tredinnick, David
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Trend, Michael
Prior, David Tyler, Paul
Redwood, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Rendel, David Walter, Robert
Robathan, Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Wells, Bowen
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Ruffley, David Whittingdale, John
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
St Aubyn, Nick Wilkinson, John
Sayeed, Jonathan Willetts, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Wilshire, David
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Spicer, Sir Michael Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony Tellers for the Ayes:
Streeter, Gary Mr. John Randall and
Stunell, Andrew Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Abbott, Ms Diane Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ainger, Nick Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clelland, David
Alexander, Douglas Coffey, Ms Ann
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cohen, Harry
Ashton, Joe Coleman, Iain
Atkins, Charlotte Colman, Tony
Austin, John Corbett, Robin
Bailey, Adrian Corbyn, Jeremy
Banks, Tony Corston, Jean
Barnes, Harry Cousins, Jim
Barron, Kevin Cox, Tom
Bayley, Hugh Crausby, David
Beard, Nigel Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Darting, Rt Hon Alistair
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Darvill, Keith
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bennett, Andrew F Davidson, Ian
Benton, Joe Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Berry, Roger Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Best, Harold Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Betts, Clive (B'ham Hodge H)
Blears, Ms Hazel Dean, Mrs Janet
Blizzard, Bob Denham, John
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Dismore, Andrew
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Dobbin, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Bradshaw, Ben Dowd, Jim
Brinton, Mrs Helen Drown, Ms Julia
Browne, Desmond Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Buck, Ms Karen Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Burden, Richard Edwards, Huw
Burgon, Colin Efford, Clive
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Caplin, Ivor Etherington, Bill
Casale, Roger Reid, Rt Hon Frank
Caton, Martin Rsher, Mark
Cawsey, Ian Fitzpatrick, Jim
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Rint, Caroline
Chaytor, David Rynn, Paul
Clapham, Michael Follett, Barbara
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George Mallaber, Judy
Galloway, George Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gapes, Mike Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gardiner, Barry Marshall-Andrews, Robert
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) Martlew, Eric
Gerrard, Neil Maxton, John
Gibson, Dr Ian Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Meale, Alan
Godsiff, Roger Merron, Gillian
Goggins, Paul Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Miller, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce Mitchell, Austin
Grogan, John Moffatt, Laura
Hain, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Motley, Elliot
Hanson, David Mountford, Kali
Healey, John Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mudie, George
Hepburn, Stephen Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Heppell, John Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hinchliffe, David Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hodge, Ms Margaret O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hoey, Kate O'Hara, Eddie
Hood, Jimmy Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Pearson, Ian
Hope, Phil Pike, Peter L
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E) Plaskitt, James
Howells, Dr Kim Pond, Chris
Iddon, Dr Brian Pope, Greg
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pound, Stephen
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jamieson, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jenkins, Brian Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Rammell, Bill
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Joyce, Eric Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Rogers, Allan
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Khabra, Piara S Roy, Frank
Kidney, David Ruane, Chris
Kilfoyle, Peter Ruddock, Joan
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Ryan, Ms Joan
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Sarwar, Mohammad
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Sawford, Phil
Lammy, David Sedgemore, Brian
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Sheerman, Barry
Laxton, Bob Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Lepper, David Singh, Marsha
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Skinner, Dennis
Linton, Martin Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Love, Andrew Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McCabe, Steve
MeCafferty, Ms Chris Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
McDonagh, Siobhain Southworth, Ms Helen
Macdonald, Calum Spellar, John
McDonnell, John Squire, Ms Rachel
McFall, John Stevenson, George
McGuire, Mrs Anne Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
McIsaac, Shona Stinchcombe, Paul
Mackinlay, Andrew Stoate, Dr Howard
McNamara, Kevin Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mactaggart, Fiona Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wareing, Robert N
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Watts, David
White, Brian
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Timms, Stephen Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Tipping, Paddy Wood, Mike
Touhig, Don Woolas, Phil
Truswell, Paul Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wyatt, Derek
Tynan, Bill
Vaz, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Vis, Dr Rudi Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Walley, Ms Joan Mr. Tony McNulty.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 266, Noes 129.

Division No. 69] [7.12 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cohen, Harry
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Coleman, Iain
Ainger, Nick Colman, Tony
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Corbett, Robin
Alexander, Douglas Corbyn, Jeremy
Allan, Richard Corston, Jean
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cotter, Brian
Atkins, Charlotte Cox, Tom
Austin, John Crausby, David
Bailey, Adrian Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Banks, Tony Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Barnes, Harry Darting, Rt Hon Alistair
Barron, Kevin Darvill, Keith
Bayley, Hugh Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Beard, Nigel Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Marqaret Davidson, Ian
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bennett, Andrew F Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger Dean, Mrs Janet
Best, Harold Denham, John
Betts, Clive Dismore, Andrew
Blears, Ms Hazel Dobbin, Jim
Blizzard, Bob Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Dowd, Jim
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Drown, Ms Julia
Bradshaw, Ben Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brand, Dr Peter Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Edwards, Huw
Browne, Desmond Efford, Clive
Buck, Ms Karen Ellman, Mrs Louise
Burden, Richard Etherington, Bill
Burgon, Colin Fearn, Ronnie
Burstow, Paul Field, Rt Hon Frank
Cable, Dr Vincent Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Caplin, Ivor Flint, Caroline
Casale, Roger Flynn, Paul
Caton, Martin Follett, Barbara
Cawsey, Ian Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Foster, Don (Bath)
Chaytor, David Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Clapham, Michael Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Foulkes, George
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Galloway, George
Coffey, Ms Ann Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Gerrard, Neil Maxton John
Gibson, Dr Ian Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Meale, Alan
Godsiff, Roger Merron, Gillian
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Miller, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce Mitchell, Austin
Grogan, John Moffatt, Laura
Hain, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Morley, Elliot
Hancock, Mike Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hanson, David
Harris, Dr Evan Mountford, Kali
Healey, John Mudie, George
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hepburn, Stephen Naysmith, Dr Doug
Heppell, John O'Brien Mike (N Warks)
Hinchliffe, David O'Hara, Eddie
Hodge, Ms Margaret Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hood, Jimmy Pearson, Ian
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Pike, Peter L
Hope, Phil Plaskitt, James
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E) Pond, Chris
Howells, Dr Kim Pound, Stephen
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Powell, Sir Raymond
Iddon, Dr Brian Prentice. Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jamieson, David Primarolo, Dawn
Jenkins, Brian Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Rendel, David
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Joyce, Eric Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Keeble, Ms Sally Rogers, Allan
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Roy, Frank
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Ruane, Chris
Khabra, Piara S Ruddock, Joan
Kidney, David Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Kilfoyle, Peter Ryan, Ms Joan
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Sarwar, Mohammad
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Sawford, Phil
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Sedgemore, Brian
Lammy, David Sheerman, Barry
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Laxton. Bob Singh, Marsha
Lepper, David Skinner, Dennis
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Smith, Ft Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Linton, Martin Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Smith, Ft Hon Chris (Islington S)
Love, Andrew Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
McDonagh, Siobhain Southworth, Ms Helen
Macdonald, Calum Spellar, John
McDonnell, John Stevenson, George
McFall, John Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Stinchcombe, Paul
McIsaac, Shona Stoate, Dr Howard
Mackinlay, Andrew Straw, Rt Hon Jack
McNamara, Kevin Stringer, Graham
Mactaggart, Fiona Stunell, Andrew
McWilliam, John Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mahon, Mrs Alice Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mallaber, Judy
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter Watts, David
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) White, Brian
Timms, Stephen Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Tipping, Paddy
Tonge, Dr Jenny Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Touhig, Don Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Truswell, Paul Wood, Mike
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Woolas, Phil
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Worthington, Tony
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Tyler, Paul Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Tynan, Bill Wyatt, Derek
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi Tellers for the Ayes:
Walley, Ms Joan Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Wareing, Robert N Mr. Tony McNulty.
Amess, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hunter, Andrew
Baldry, Tony Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bercow, John Jenkin, Bernard
Beresford, Sir Paul Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Blunt, Crispin Key, Robert
Body, Sir Richard King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Boswell, Tim Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Brady, Graham Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Brazier, Julian Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lansley, Andrew
Browning, Mrs Angela Leigh, Edward
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Letwin, Oliver
Burns, Simon Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Butterfill, John Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Chope, Christopher Luff, Peter
Clappison, James Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maples, John
Cran, James Mates, Michael
Curry, Rt Hon David Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) May, Mrs Theresa
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Moss, Malcolm
Day, Stephen Nicholls, Patrick
Duncan Smith, Iain Norman, Archie
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Evans, Nigel Ottaway, Richard
Faber, David Page, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Paice, James
Fallon, Michael Pickles, Eric
Flight, Howard Prior, David
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Robathan, Andrew
Fraser, Christopher Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gale, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Garnier, Edward Ruffley, David
Gibb, Nick St Aubyn, Nick
Gill, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gray, James Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Steen, Anthony
Hammond, Philip Streeter, Gary
Hawkins, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Hayes, John Syms, Robert
Heald, Oliver Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Horam, John Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tredinnick, David Wilkinson, John
Trend, Michael Willetts, David
Viggers, Peter Wilshire, David
Walter, Robert Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wells, Bowen Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Whitney, Sir Raymond Tellers for the Noes:
Whittingdale, John Mr. John Randall and
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann Mr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, 'That this House notes that the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by 1,476 between 1993 and 1997–98 under budgets set by the previous administration, whilst the strength of the Metropolitan Police Service was allowed to fall by 1,773 between 1993 and 1997–98; notes too that morale of the service was badly damaged by the 1993 Sheehy Report, and recruitment made difficult especially in London and the South East by the abolition in 1994 of the housing allowance for officers; welcomes the establishment of the crime fighting fund to bring officer numbers to record levels by 2003–04, the recent rise in police numbers, the 74 per cent. increase in the numbers of recruits entering training in the first nine months of this financial year compared to the same period last year, the 1,000 increase in civilian staff since March 1997, and the very substantial rise in police funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Spending Review 2000; and congratulates the police service on securing a 7 per cent. reduction in recorded crime since March 1997.'.

  1. SPORT 125 words
  2. c625
  4. c625
  6. c626
  8. c626
    1. c626
    2. Cleansing Services Group 247 words
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