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Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he wants the Home Secretary or the chief constables to set the number of police officers?

Mr. Hughes: That is a good question from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. When the

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Government came to power, they said, following legislation introduced by the Tory Government, that the setting of police numbers was a matter not for them but for chief constables. Yet, at the Labour conference before last, the Home Secretary made a big speech announcing more money for the police. Suddenly, the Government intervened, saying that that money must be spent on more police officers and that police chiefs were not free to spend it on what they wanted. That is why the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) asked the right question. The answer is that the police should be allowed to choose what to spend the money on. The Home Secretary should not be telling them what they should spend their money on, as the Government have recently been doing, in contrast to their approach when they first came to office.

I noticed that there was also one other figure to which the Home Secretary did not refer: one that the Minister gave me yesterday in a written answer. I asked the Secretary of State to set out


When Labour came to office, the proportion of Government expenditure spent on policing was 2.05 per cent. That rose to 2.12 per cent. and 2.17 per cent. in 1998-99 and 1999-2000 respectively. This year, the figure is lower than at any time since Labour came to office, at 2.07 per cent.

More tellingly, police provision as a proportion of money GDP has fallen every year since 1996-97, and, at 0.81 per cent., is now lower than at any time since the Government came to office. Only from the beginning of the new financial year in April--probably a matter of weeks before the election--will there be an increase, for the first time under this Labour Government, in the money spent on policing as a proportion of our national wealth.

When people were asked to vote Labour at the election and were told that there would be more bobbies on the beat and that Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, they never imagined that every year for the first four years of a Labour Government the amount of our national budget spent on the police would fall, and that the number of police would be down, not by tens or hundreds but by thousands, or that the numbers would start to creep back up only just a few weeks before the next election.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I answered the hon. Gentleman's written question. He might have done me the courtesy of setting out in full the figures that I gave him. Here they are: in 1996-97, police spending under the Conservatives as a proportion of Government spending was 1.98 per cent; in 1997-98, the figure was 2.05 per cent., rising to 2.12 per cent. for 1998-99, 2.17 per cent. for 1999-2000 and, as the hon. Gentleman said, 2.07 per cent. in the current year. Next year and the year after, the figure will be 2.15 per cent. In every year of the Labour Government, the proportion has been higher than that under the Conservatives, and as a result of the comprehensive spending review it is targeted to keep on rising. The hon. Gentleman might have given us credit for that.

Mr. Hughes: I entirely accept that. I was not trying to be selective. That is why I read out the list. The list of

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figures for police provision as a proportion of money GDP shows that, even in two years' time, the percentage spent will be less than that spent in the year before the election. The Minister must look at both figures.

Mr. Blizzard: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: No, I will not give way.

The central point is that not only has the proportion of spending as a total of our wealth fallen but the output, to use the Home Secretary's word--people on the beat; those whom we buy--has fallen. That has had a direct effect on the amount of crime, criminality and the number of people caught.

Mr. Blizzard: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes: No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman intervened twice on the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald; somebody else can have a turn later.

The Tories are confused. They still have not sorted out whether asylum seekers should be detained or housed only in reception centres. They still have not decided whether they believe in mandatory sentences. They first believed in mandatory sentences for everybody, but were against them when Tony Martin was convicted. They still have not decided whether they are in favour of zero tolerance for drugs, or whether, even if they knew their policy, all of them are in favour of it. That all adds up to a lack of credibility, which is not overly persuasive. The Tories' policies have been tested by only one significant by-election in the past year--in Romsey--and we know that they got a drubbing there.

There is therefore real danger and sadness in a Labour Government trying in some respects to be as populist as the Tories. The Home Secretary sometimes makes thoughtful contributions, as he did on "Newsnight" the other night. Indeed, I watched his performance on Sunday lunchtime television, which seemed straight down the line and entirely uncomplicated. I do not criticise him for such contributions. However, he often falls prey to the same temptations as Opposition Front Benchers.

The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister came up with the wacky idea of walking drunken hooligans to the cash machine, before they realised that it was totally incredible. It was dropped after police chiefs told them that it was a good idea to do so. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have now come up with the idea of curfews for 10-year-olds to 16-year-olds. There has been no pilot scheme, trialling or testing and clearly there has been no great support from anybody in the know. The right hon. Gentlemen also persist with the idea that it is central to the Government's law and order strategy--the measures are in one of the key four Bills before the election--to take from people the right to choose jury trial, although there is not a shred of evidence that it will affect crime figures. As the Home Secretary has conceded, that entirely contradicts his party's position of only a couple of years ago. One regular worry about the Government is that principle behind policy is often difficult to define, and that the principle of defending civil liberties behind policies is often not to be seen at all.

There are five Home Office Bills. We shall talk about the Hunting Bill on Monday, so I do not intend to detain the House on it, other than to say that our party is opposed

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to hunting with hounds but our manifesto commitment was that everyone in both Houses should be free to vote according to their conscience. Like other parties, we shall do so. We support the Vehicles (Crime) Bill and the Private Security Industry Bill, which are in large measure uncontroversial and come in the category of what we would call sensible reform. They have been widely trailed.

We regard the jury trial Bill as absolutely foolish, wrong, misguided and not at all central to any sensible law and order policy. The Home Secretary has miscalculated if he thinks that he will get it through Parliament. It will pass through Parliament only if, first, the Government use the Parliament Act, and, secondly, it proceeds far enough by the time the relevant 13 months to have passed. My colleagues and I, and those in the other place, will do everything in our power to delay, as well as prevent, the legislation. We believe that we shall again succeed, and that for a third time the Government will have wasted their effort in trying to pass a Bill for which they have no manifesto commitment and to which they therefore have no constitutional right to expect Parliament to agree--and in relation to which they certainly have no justification for the use of the Parliament Acts.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): Is the hon. Gentleman lobbying the right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the Minister for Justice in the Scottish Parliament, to bring the Scottish legal system in line with the present English legal system on mode of trial? For as long as I can remember, the prosecution has chosen the mode of trial in Scotland, yet there has been no clamour in Scotland to change to the system in England and Wales. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman are in the same party, so is the hon. Gentleman thinking along those lines?

Mr. Hughes: I am sure that the hon. Lady has been involved in such debates before. We have been round the course often. The Scots have an entirely different system--[Interruption.] They have different courts and powers. The lower court has no power to send a case to a higher court following sentencing. Different people decide about the prosecution. The systems are not comparable, so I do not seek to lobby my right hon. and learned Friend, and he does not seek to lobby me.


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