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Miss Widdecombe: As we are going to increase the size of the police force, I should have thought that it stood to reason that we shall have to pay more. However, as we were paying that only three years ago, it is not an insurmountable mountain. The Government regard the matter as an insurmountable mountain and have completely failed to tackle it.
I look forward to the people repaying the Prime Minister's compliment in describing their priorities as nonsense when, with effrontery, he asks them for another go at government. I am confident that four years of utter failure will be repaid in full when that time comes.
Were the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph wrong when they reported that the Government wanted to increase the sentence for dangerous driving after the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said:
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Is the right hon. Lady aware that, as a result of inaction on the licensing laws, this new year's eve, which is the official beginning of the millennium, we shall go back to the usual free for all, rather than have the successful implementation of extended licensing laws that we saw last year? That has been a disappointment to many licensees.
Miss Widdecombe: I am sure that that has been a disappointment to many members of the public as well as to licensees. The hon. Gentleman chose his words carefully when he talked about the Government's inaction.
There is nothing to protect the person who seeks to protect his own home and property. As usual, the Government's focus is on the criminal--on releasing the criminal early and ensuring that the criminal is free to commit more crime. They have done nothing to protect the decent and law-abiding householder.
It is my view that when a man enters another's property with unlawful intent, he has forfeited his right to equal consideration. People must be able to defend their persons and property or go to another's aid without fear of penalty at law. We will ensure that making that a reality is a priority.
Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is not her point exactly made by the reintroduction of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which takes away the right of the ordinary citizen with a clean record to go for trial by jury, but causes a repeat thief who has been convicted time and again and is currently getting an average of just under 11 months from the Crown court to get no more than 3.6 months from the magistrates?
Miss Widdecombe: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. Running through the Government's approach to the justice system is a theme of less justice for the victim and more softness for the criminal.
The message that the Government have been sending is, "Don't worry--there are fewer people about to catch you, and if they do catch you, it's okay, you will never have got out so quickly." From the victims' point of view, never will criminals have been released so quickly to terrorise them still further.
For four years the Government have ignored the plight of the victim. They have released almost 2,500 burglars from jail early and allowed almost 50 more burglaries to be committed by criminals who, but for the intervention of the Home Secretary, would still have been in jail.
Does the Home Secretary agree with Sir John Stevens, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation, when they say that the police are in crisis? Does he recognise that police numbers have fallen by 3,000 since he took office? Does he acknowledge that the number of police constables in the service rose year on year throughout the 1990s until he became Home Secretary, and that there are now fewer constables than at any time for a decade? Does he understand the problems caused by the loss of more than 4,000 special constables since 1997? If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he is showing himself to be at odds with every other person in the country who knows that that is the Government's record. If the right hon. Gentleman does acknowledge all those things, why is there nothing in the Gracious Speech to rectify the situation?
So what is the Home Secretary doing? He is increasing the burden on the few patrolling officers he has left. He is asking them to stop a drunk in the street and obtain his name and address--that is, if a drunk carries his name and address. The police are then to ask him to hand over £100. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking the police to do that, he must first provide them with the support that they need by way of more officers and better protection.
The police are in crisis. The Home Secretary once said that the police would have his strong support, but, having been given the chance to act, he has failed to do so. That has been the truth of his stewardship--it has been all spin and no delivery.