Does not my right hon. Friend's reply show that ours is the party of law and order? Is that not in stark contrast to the lot opposite, who would not condemn brutality in the 1984 miners' strike or on the Wapping picket line, or those Labour Members who refuse to pay their community charge? Is it not a fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who once embroiled himself in a fight outside his house, will, after the next general election, land flat on his back—as he did then, in a prickly hedge?
I am astonished at my hon. Friend's moderation in contemplating Labour's record. When we came to office in 1979, we found a police force that was undervalued, under strength, under-resourced, and underfunded. During the last 12 years, we have made it our first priority. There has been an increase in expenditure of 50 per cent., in real terms. As the shadow spokesman is not in his place today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] It may be that he is bolstering up the Labour party in Liverpool. Whoever is in charge, perhaps he could get up and tell us how many more police officers Labour would recruit if, by any chance, Labour wins the next election.
The crime rate would be even higher if we had not given high priority to law and order. Not only have we increased the size of the police force but we have increased the level of sentencing very substantially and we have brought in new crimes—[interruption.] Sorry, we have brought in new sentences. We have also brought in heavier sentences for very old crimes. For example, we introduced life sentences for people who are convicted of attempted rape. I can assure the House that if we had not supported the law and the courts in this way, the level of crime would be even higher.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in parallel with the very substantial and welcome increase in the number of police officers, there has been a very substantial increase in public confidence in those police officers and their professional ability? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that the thin stretch of police —and their apparent invisibility, sometimes, on the beat—is causing concern in both rural and town areas? Will he ask the chief constables to look carefully at their policies, especially with regard to civilianisation, so that we obtain the maximum possible profile of individual policemen in front of the citizens of this country?
As well as increasing the number of uniformed officers by 13,000, we have increased the civilian force supporting the police by 15,000. We have civilianised many jobs, which means that more uniformed officers, both men and women, are available for policing on the beat and for policing in the community. That is another very important priority, but I am still waiting to hear from the Labour party what its increase would be.
Apart from introducing new crimes, the Home Secretary has been a member of a Government who have seen astronomic increases in crime rates—up by another 17·6 per cent. this year, announced only last week. Can he estimate how many more duties have been imposed on the police since 1979? Is it not a fact that although there has been a net increase in the number of police, the number of police where the public want them—on the streets, on the beat—has declined? When will the Home Secretary start to back the police of this country and give them the resources that they deserve to fight crime?
When we came into office, the police force that we inherited was under strength, under-resourced and undervalued. I was waiting to hear about the Labour party's priority. It has priority for all sorts of expenditure. The Leader of the Opposition is giving priority to education and to pensioners. What priority does he intend to give to the police? His spokesman has just refused to give a pledge to increase the number of police, so the Leader of the Opposition will have the chance to do so later. He may like to give it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that however many police men there are in post, they need the admirable support of men and women who are working as special constables and volunteers? Can he announce today that he is planning further measures to support the excellent work that our special constables do?
I can give that assurance. There are about 15,000 special constables in the United Kingdom. We are undertaking a recruitment campaign to increase that number to about 25,000. I am glad to say that that campaign is well under way. Many young people, both men and women, are coming forward to serve as specials. Many of them go on to become full-time police officers. They make a very valuable contribution to the policing of our country.
The essential element in improving law and order in Britain is to support the forces of law and order: our courts and our police force. We have an impeccable record in that as we have increased expenditure by more than 50 per cent. in real terms and we are committed to increasing it again in the lifetime of the next Government.