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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.
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.
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:
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.
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. 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
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.
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.