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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 17:05 GMT
Straw pledges record police numbers
The number of police officers will increase to record levels if Labour is returned to power, Home Secretary Jack Straw has said.
Mr Straw pledged to increase the size of the police force in England and Wales to a historic high by 2004.
However, the Conservatives said the police recruitment campaign was failing and more officers were resigning than ever before.
Mr Straw told MPs that £454 million had been made available for this financial year and for the next three years to bring police numbers to record levels by 2003 to 2004.
He added: "Police numbers at the end of September last year were 444 higher than in March 2000. Recruitment continues at a high level."
Asked whether police numbers would be higher after the next general election than they were in 1997, Mr Straw said: "It is likely that police numbers nationally will be above their levels in March 1997 sometime in 2002, 2003, but they are already above that level in quite a number of police force areas."
'Rejected applicants accepted'
But Tory Home Affairs spokesman Oliver Heald queried the recruitment process.
"There has been a one-off recruitment boost by allowing rejected applicants to join police forces.
"This process will soon have been completed and run its course."
He said that resignations of police officers were up by 60% since the last general election and the national recruitment campaign is "obviously failing".
Mr Straw replied: "My assessment of the future is that if the Labour party continues in government then by 2003-4 we will have a police service of the largest ever in the history of the police service in England and Wales".
Under the Tories, he added, there would be "very significant" increases in crime.
Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said more should be done to stop officers from leaving the force.
Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien said police forces were getting their "biggest [pay] boost for a generation" and confirmed the government was looking at ways of retaining more officers.
Mr Straw also insisted that the government's crime strategy was proving successful with the British Crime Survey showing crime levels across the country had fallen by 10% at the end of 1999 compared to those of 1997.
This proved that the government's crime strategy has been "working successfully", he said.
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