Before I begin my contribution to this important debate, I pay tribute to a WPC Fiona Bone and WPC Nicola Hughes, both of whom were officers in the Greater Manchester police force, which is my local police force. They went to attend a routine burglary call at short notice, and they were both shot. It is a perfect example of what my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz said about police officers who, perhaps unlike any other professionals, do not know what they are going to face when they leave home. We therefore owe them a great duty of responsibility to ensure that their best interests are looked after.
The Minister says that crime is falling. We agree: it is falling at this moment in time. If I understood him correctly, he is, in effect, trying to take credit for that, but crime began to fall just before 1997, when a Labour Government came to office. When we did so, the morale of the police force was at an all-time low. The Labour policy of increasing the number of front-line police officers; introducing thousands of bobbies on the beat, police community support officers and neighbourhood policing units; the record investment in rehabilitation centres for people addicted to drugs and alcohol; the fact that we funded various youth services and increased the number of drug rehabilitation centres; the policies of diverting young people from the criminal justice system: collectively, all those things led to a significant fall in crime. While crime was falling, no Opposition politician at the time, whether Liberal Democrat or Conservative, who appeared on television or radio or in the print media, ever acknowledged that crime was going down. In fact, every time they appeared on radio and television when Labour was in power, they argued that crime was rising. I am glad that finally that mindset has changed and that they recognise the true state of affairs.
We have been told that a 20% cut in the police budget will save money and decrease the budget deficit. However, figures show that that is not working. The deficit is £7 billion higher than it was in the same period in the previous financial year, which shows that austerity measures, which have been criticised by the International Monetary Fund, a conservative institute, are not working. Let me help the Minister: we should make cuts if, in the long run, we save money—to use a modern phrase, we should make smart cuts. What often prevents people from committing crime is the sight of a police officer, and what reassures people is the sight of a police officer. Many Members while knocking on doors in their constituency have heard their constituents say that they want to see more visible policing, as they are reassured when they do so.
Government cuts have already led to cuts in the number of police officers. For example, in the north-west region, in March 2010, police numbers were 19,649. In September 2012, they were 17,708, with a reduction of 1,986 police officers. Those cuts will continue for the next year, so by 2015, there will be 2,951 fewer police officers. I am sorry, but no one can convince me that that will not have an impact on policing and crime.