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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

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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: Yes.

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

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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 debate--feel that matters are getting out of control.

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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?

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