Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 18:06 UK

Home Secretary Alan Johnson criticised over police vow

Johnson, Grayling and Huhne's pitches to crime debate

The home secretary has refused to guarantee police numbers would not fall if Labour won the general election.

Alan Johnson was challenged during a "yes, no" section of BBC Two's Daily Politics Election Debate.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said Gordon Brown had been caught out as he had made that exact commitment during the first TV debate last week.

A Labour spokeswoman said Mr Johnson was asked for a one-word answer, and was not contradicting Mr Brown.

Asked if he could "guarantee that numbers won't fall" if Labour formed the next government, Mr Johnson replied: "No".

When asked the same question, Mr Grayling responded: "The home secretary doesn't have the power to do that. No."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Yes."

'More violent'

After the programme, Mr Grayling said: "Gordon Brown has been caught out by his own home secretary. He mentioned his commitment to the police seven times in last week's leaders' debate, but now it turns out that he's going to cut police numbers after all."

The Labour spokeswoman said: "We've given enough money to forces nationwide so there is no reason why they should cut staff however we cannot say to individual chief constables that you must spend your money on this."

Meanwhile, the three men also clashed over whether crime has fallen in the UK in the past 13 years.

Mr Grayling said most people would feel it was more violent than a decade ago, but Mr Johnson said he was looking at the wrong figures.

Mr Huhne agreed crime was falling but said Labour could not take the credit for it.

Mr Grayling said: "We have a great debate about this, but the official figures recorded in our police stations, the ones recorded by people turning up and saying, 'I'm a victim of crime', have shown a big increase. Even if we have to take into account the many times the government has changed the system for recording those figures over the past decade.

"What matters is what peoples' real experience is. I think that most people would think this country is a more violent place than it was a decade ago."

'Crime falling'

But both Mr Johnson and Mr Huhne criticised the Tories for not using figures from the British Crime Survey (BCS), despite advice from the UK Statistics Authority, which shows violent crime has fallen.

Mr Grayling said his party did not use the BCS as it did not include crimes such as murder and manslaughter in its violent crime figures.

Mr Johnson said: "The British Crime Survey was introduced by the Tories in 1980, which was the right thing to do as it picks up unrecorded crime as well, and what the UK Statistics Authority says is that violent crime is down by 41%.

"It's very important to be honest with the public about this. If you look at the recorded crime figures from 2002 onwards you'll find that violent crime is down and crime overall is down. This is a great tribute to the police and PCSOs [police community support officers] and shouldn't be undermined by being less than truthful with the public."

Mr Huhne said: "We had a rise and it has been followed by a fall. I don't want Alan Johnson to run away with the credit for the fall in crime, because crime has been falling for all sorts of reasons in every western European country except Belgium.

"That's due to technological reasons, and also changes in the demographics, fewer young men for example."

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