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Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): It is fascinating to hear that when the right hon. Lady wants a sensible reply, she asks herself. Who did she ask when

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she introduced, at the recent Tory conference, her policy to deal with minor drug offences? Was it just herself, or was anyone else involved?

Miss Widdecombe: It involved a very large number of people who are concerned to eliminate the scourge of drugs from society. Is there a single measure in the Queen's Speech to attack the scourge of supply and demand of drugs? No, there is not. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about sensible measures to tackle that problem, he need not look to the Labour party, because it simply does not have the answers.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: No, I want to make some progress.

I was asking whether the Home Secretary was introducing a draft Bill because he was having trouble making it comply with his human rights legislation. The Home Office briefing note on the Bill says:

I am not an expert on spin, but that seems to be saying that the Home Office has no idea how to make the Bill compatible with other policies. This Administration continually lecture us on joined-up government, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot even join up his Department.

Just a few months ago, the Bill was supposed to be important. Let us look back a bit. A Minister said in May:

Who said that? Well, it was the Minister for the Cabinet Office. Another Minister said in June:

Who said that? Perhaps if I continue, I will jog his memory. He went on to say:

By now, we must all recognise the empty rhetoric. It was, of course, the Home Secretary promising to legislate as soon as parliamentary time allowed. What is wrong with now? I thought that he believed in speeding along.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is dilatory in his alleged failure to legislate, what was wrong with introducing such measures during 18 years of Conservative Government, when there was a complete failure to address the issues and to protect the communities that suffer from those serious organised criminals?

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Lady cannot have been following the debate too closely. We introduced legislation on the confiscation of drug dealers' assets when we were in government. It is not an invention of the right hon. Gentleman. He has merely failed to follow it

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up, despite endless promises to do so. He stands convicted of failing to deliver on his promises. It is all spin and no delivery.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche) rose--

Miss Widdecombe: Come on--let us have some more.

Mrs. Roche: Will the right hon. Lady confirm that legislation on the proceeds of crime which was introduced in the previous Parliament was, in fact, a private Member's Bill, and was wholeheartedly supported by Labour? It was not introduced in Government time.

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Lady cannot rewrite history. If she is looking for which Government promoted that piece of legislation, she will find that it was the previous Conservative Government.

Before that entirely futile interruption, I was asking why the Home Secretary was, to use the word of the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), dilatory. I did not say anything so harsh; I asked why he was dithering. If he is so attracted to early release, why does he not release some of his legislation early? He has found time for a totally unnecessary Bill on trial by jury, to which he has not previously committed himself, but not for a Bill to confiscate criminal assets, to which he has committed himself time and again.

What has the right hon. Gentleman to offer? There is no Bill to end the crisis in policing--just further burdens on the patrolling officer. There is no Bill to tackle last year's rise in sexual offences; no Bill to enhance the rights of victims in the justice system; no measure to make prisons more purposeful; no Bill to make sentences more transparent. Does that not show that his priorities lie not in effective action, but in headline-grabbing announcements in an attempt to salvage his long-gone reputation for being tough on crime?

The public will not be fooled by the announcements. They have seen and suffered from the decline in police numbers.

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

Miss Widdecombe: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. It would appear that he denies that people have suffered from the decline in police numbers.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: I want to tackle the right hon. Gentleman first. When I said that people had suffered from the decline in police numbers, he shook his head. Does he dispute that? If he does, I shall give way to listen to him. He does not dispute it; he denies that people have suffered from the decline in police numbers.

Mr. Blizzard: The right hon. Lady has made much of headline-grabbing announcements and eye-catching

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measures. Would she regard automatic fines for first- offence cannabis users as an eye-catching measure and a headline-grabbing announcement?

Miss Widdecombe: I regard the fight against drugs as a top priority, and I am sorry that the Government do not share that ambition.

The public lived through the massive rise in crime last year. They do not understand--it is as simple as that--the Home Secretary's decision to release nearly 27,000 prisoners from jail early to offend again.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My right hon. Friend was with me when I talked to the chief constable of Dorset. Is it not a plain fact that it does not matter how much legislation this place passes if the police do not have enough people on the ground or enough resources? They have no overtime budget, so they cannot take special measures. Crime is going up while police resources are being kept unacceptably low.

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend speaks correctly for his constituents and for those of many other hon. Members, including those of Labour Members who are unwilling to admit the facts and who cheer in derision when we claim that people have suffered from more crime. If those hon. Members think that the real world does not consist of rising crime, they do not live in it.

Several hon. Members rose--

Miss Widdecombe: I shall make a little progress; I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would want me to do so.

The public want action to tackle the rise in crime through effective sentencing and through an increase in police officers. They want action to ensure that prisoners serve the sentences given to them by the court. We are committed to such action. The Prime Minister describes that as "nonsense". Nothing better encapsulates how completely out of touch this Government are.

The Prime Minister once said:

However, he is now saying that the people's priorities are "nonsense".

Mr. Straw: As the right hon. Lady has got on to the issue of resources, will she clear up a certain amount of confusion between her and the shadow Chancellor, who has gone out of his way to say that there would be protection for resources allocated to health and education? Regarding the Home Office, he has said that money allocated to asylum and immigration would have to be additional and that savings would therefore be made elsewhere in the Home Office. Those savings could come only from the probation service, the Prison Service or the police. Which service would they come from?

Miss Widdecombe: The right hon. Gentleman can do better than that if he puts his mind to it. It is only three years since we funded 3,000 more police officers than the right hon. Gentleman is funding at the moment. If it was possible to do that then, it is possible to do it in the future. We had a record prison building programme, which we could afford. If it was possible to do that then, it is

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possible to do it in future. We made probation more effective than ever before. If it was possible to do that then, it is possible to do it in future. The real difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is willpower. He does not have the will, but we have the will to tackle crime.

Mr. Straw: I hope that the right hon. Lady feels better after that. I have a simple question for her: would she increase police spending above the level that we promised?

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