Labour targets Howard's police record

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Indy Politics

Labour will try to puncture Michael Howard's image as a tough former home secretary by attacking him for cutting the number of police.

A mini-manifesto on law and order, to be launched by Tony Blair and the Home Secretary Charles Clarke today, will claim that police numbers have risen by the equivalent of six for every working day since Labour came to power in 1997. During the leader of the Conservative Party's four years at the Home Office, they fell by an average of one per working day.

A Labour spokesman said: "No single fact shows in clearer terms the difference between Michael Howard's record on policing and Labour's." The document will say that overall numbers dropped by 1,132 under Mr Howard while they have risen by 13,000 since 1997.

Labour MPs are worried by the Tories' recent offensives on crime and immigration and the party is seeking to neutralise them in the run-up to the general election. Labour aides say their focus groups show that people regard Mr Howard as "tough" on crime but their view changes when they are told that police numbers fell during his term at the Home Office.

Although Labour may face criticism for "getting personal" about Mr Howard, it maintains that it is legitimate to highlight his record as a minister. Labour argues that it is campaigning on policy issues, accusing the Tories of "running away" from debate on their detailed policies on health and education by highlighting individual cases.

Today's mini-manifesto will spell out new measures to tackle the growth in the number of offences committed with knives and a "three strikes and you're banned" rule for people who commit alcohol-related offences in city centres. The link between drugs and crime will be addressed by new anti-social behaviour orders forcing people to undergo drug treatment before they have been convicted of any offence. The Government will also urge the courts to impose drug treatment orders as a condition of people being released on bail.

However, the Government's record on drug-related crime was called into question by a report saying that fewer than one in 10 criminals spared jail to undergo treatment completes it in some areas. The Commons Public Accounts Committee said 72 per cent of the 5,700 treatment and testing orders issued across the country in 2003 went uncompleted with just 8 per cent finished in Kent. Nine out of 10 of those who do not see through the orders reoffend. It said more must be done to keep people on the programme.

Edward Leigh, the committee's Tory chairman, said: "The orders should also not be used as a means of avoiding custodial sentences. Better use of the time between arrest and sentence would ensure the offender has a real intention of engaging in treatment and doesn't just want to collect a 'get out of jail free' card."

Mr Blair and Mr Clarke announced that the Government would spend £340m over the next three years setting up policing teams in every neighbourhood. The money will help to provide 24,000 community support officers to support the police in all English and Welsh neighbourhoods by 2007/08.