Speech to the Conservative Conference 1999
My team and I have been listening carefully to the debate today. It reflects the debate that is going on across this country. It has shown the overriding need for Common Sense in the way we approach issues such as law and order and asylum.
"We need to build a more secure society.
"In just two years, the Labour Government under Tony Blair and in particular the Home Office under Jack Straw, have managed to make a total mess of things.
"Their incompetence, mismanagement and ill-thought out policies have touched the lives of every member of our society.
"They’ve been making mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake.
"They are a sham government.
"A government that is obsessed with the headline-grabbing knee-jerk reaction.
"A government that governs by gimmick.
"A government that says one thing and does another.
"A government that lacks Common Sense.
"Where’s the Common Sense from Labour on asylum? When Labour came to power, asylum applications were falling.
"But what a mess they have made of things in just two years.
"We have learned and continue to learn from other countries which have managed to cut asylum applications.
"Labour have refused to learn. They have reversed many of the measures that were set up specifically to combat the vast numbers of bogus asylum applications.
"Labour refused to keep the list of safe countries from which asylum applications could be fast tracked.
"They refused to implement employment checks put forward by the Conservatives to combat illegal working.
"They reversed deportation decisions. In at least one case they actually brought back someone who had already been deported!
"And they proclaimed an amnesty for over 20,000 asylum seekers regardless of the merits of their case.
"All these policies Jack Straw’s policies have turned Britain into a ‘soft touch’ in the eyes of many bogus asylum-seekers.
"Record levels are flooding into the country now nearly 80,000 a year. More than three-quarters of these are not genuine refugees. The system is struggling to cope.
"I went to Dover myself and saw the effects of the Government’s disgraceful concentration of asylum seekers on one town.
"I live in Kent, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Conservative councillors across the county, and to Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the Leader of Kent County Council, in particular, for all they have done to deal with the problems that we face.
"Labour’s record on asylum is not one of which Jack Straw can be proud.
"Fairer, Faster and Firmer"?
"Come off it, Jack!
"More like feckless, feeble fudge from the hopeless Home Secretary.
"In contrast, we will institute tough measures to combat the flood of bogus asylum seekers.
"We will reinstate the list of safe countries from which applications can be fast-tracked.
"We will increase the use of detention.
"And there will be no more amnesties.
"It is not only asylum where Labour have seen the figures go through the roof.
"They have turned a crime rate that fell for four years in succession into a rising crime rate.
"Jack Straw has admitted that the crime figures which are coming out later this month will show a 20 per cent rise in recorded crime.
"Why is this happening?
"I make a direct link between the rising crime rate and Labour’s disgraceful treatment of the police service in this country.
"Labour’s manifesto said ‘The police have our strong support. We will“ get more officers back on the beat.’
"Their promises on the police like so many of their promises have been empty ones.
"They have said one thing and done another.
"The statistics tell a sorry tale.
"Police funding cut last year, standing still this year and a tiny increase of just 0.3 per cent next year.
"We will have to wait until after the next election before Labour’s cuts to police funding are reversed.
"There are also fewer police officers over 1,000 fewer.
"Recruitment down by a fifth. Some forces have not been recruiting at all because of lack of money.
"The thin blue line is getting thinner.
"Last week, Jack Straw announced 16,000 police recruits over the next three years. What he didn’t say was that over the last three years, total recruitment has been 18,000!
"Labour have said one thing and done another.
"Jack Straw and Tony Blair promised to be tough on crime but instead they have been tough on the crimefighters. That’s not Common Sense.
"We will provide whatever money it takes to reverse the cuts in police numbers that have happened and will happen under Labour.
"This reflects the importance the people of this country, and we in the Conservative Party, place on law and order.
"Unlike Labour, who have cut police funding and presided over rising crime rates.
"Labour’s gaps in the thin blue line must be filled and after the next election we will do just that.
"We will also undertake a comprehensive review of the way in which this country is policed. The police can’t do everything at once, and you simply cannot have a policeman on every street corner yet we all have massive expectations of the police.
"Too many police officers are still spending too much time on things other than fighting crime.
"I don’t just mean form-filling, but other duties, such as escorting wide loads, for which highly trained, highly skilled crime-fighters are not essential. There is still scope for more civilianisation of non-essential and administrative tasks.
"Coupled with our pledge to reverse Labour’s manpower cuts, this will get more officers back on the beat.
"We will also be looking at the problems of policing rural areas.
"Many police stations are many miles from the communities they serve, leading to high response times that, in turn, make crime, and the fear of crime, into a serious problem.
"We need faster response times and more visible policing, returning the feeling of local law enforcement to our countryside.
"Why should rural people have to wait more than twice as long as those who live in urban areas before they receive a police response to an emergency call?
"Putting more officers into rural communities will make sure that our countryside is safer. That’s plain Common Sense.
"Jack Straw’s response to rising prison numbers is to let them out early. Under Labour, criminals sentenced to six months are getting out on an electronic tag in just six weeks. Worse still, these criminals re-offend while they are on the tag.
"Persistent criminals need tough sentences which is why we are proposing mandatory sentences for those who will not stop peddling drugs to children.
"And across the whole of the prison system, we must give prisons a purpose.
"Private prisons have been leading the way.
"A recent Home Office study concluded that they provide more purposeful activity.
"Work in prison makes sure that the system is not a ‘soft touch’.
"It also helps the rehabilitation of prisoners by providing them with the skills to help them lead purposeful crime-free lives outside.
"Rehabilitation is not a soft option it is a way to protect the public.
"Too many prisoners spend too much time doing too little.
"Prison work will be real work based on outside contracts and competing on an unsubsidised, commercial basis. The Treasury rules which currently make it impossible to reinvest profits from workshops will be relaxed.
"Prisoners will be paid a realistic wage from which deductions will be made to cover some of the costs of their upkeep, money for their families on the outside, money for savings to help them adjust when they leave prison and money to help their victims recover from the effects of crime.
"We will institute a full working day in all prisons.
"Labour said that their policy on youth crime was ‘zero tolerance’.
"Anti-Social Behaviour Orders were to be their flagship but just three have been issued against under 18s
"No local child curfew orders have been issued.
"Perhaps that’s where the ‘zero’ came from.
"They have even been forced to cancel the monitoring exercise for child curfews because there no curfews to monitor!
"All this despite Labour’s Crime and Disorder Act being on the statute book for over a year.
"Zero tolerance? Zero results.
"Zero Common Sense.
"Too many young menaces are still out on our streets.
"Too many younger offenders laugh at the courts. Too many re-offend.
"Just a handful of young offenders commit over a quarter of all youth crime.
"Our policies to tackle youth crime address the real issues unlike Jack Straw’s gimmicks.
"We will increase the number of places available in secure training centres tenfold.
"We will introduce new flexible detention orders ranging from six months to two years.
"But it’s not just locking them up that’s the solution.
"We need to provide them with a stable, constructive environment that encourages their rehabilitation.
"That’s why we will also introduce one-stop justice for these younger offenders.
"They will no longer have to spend days travelling to court.
"They will be able to concentrate on their rehabilitation without the constant distraction of court appearances.
"Realistic targets will be set for each younger offender such as an educational standard or even the basics, like simple good behaviour.
"And they will be given a real incentive to achieve those targets.
"If by the end of the minimum six month period they have achieved the target, then they will be released
"If not, they will have to serve the remainder of their sentence up to two years.
"Unlike Jack Straw’s useless policies, our measures will be effective and will tackle the causes of youth crime.
"They will punish younger offenders by depriving them of their liberty
"They will deter them by providing a custodial sentence not a soft option
"They will rehabilitate them by taking them out of the environment that has failed them and giving them a real incentive to change.
"And they will protect the public by getting them off our streets.
"For too long, victims have been ‘just another statistic’. A great deal is said about the rights of criminals rather than the rights of victims.
"People should be able to defend themselves and their property.
"Parents should be able to stop their children from going out at all hours and getting involved in trouble.
"And parents should be secure in the knowledge that those who take advantage of under-age girls will be punished, regardless of whether or not the girl makes a complaint.
"Public authorities should not stand in the way of anyone who wants to exercise their rights in this way the right to reasonable self-defence, the right to determine what is best for one’s children, and the right to have those who seek to take advantage of your children prosecuted.
"The state should be helping, not hindering. That’s Common Sense.
"But victims have been ignored by the system even though they are the ones who suffer most from the actions of criminals.
"Victims must be put back at the centre of attention.
"That is why we have launched the ‘Victims First’ initiative.
"If you are burgled, if you are mugged, if you are assaulted, if you have your car broken into, indeed if you are a victim of any crime, it is all too easy at the moment for you to feel sidelined, and to feel rejected by the criminal justice system.
"Our proposals will change all that.
"Victims will no longer be ‘just a number’ they will have a named police officer whom they can approach directly for information at any time.
"They will have a named Crown Prosecution Service official whom they can talk to about the progress of their case.
"They will have a right to regular progress reports and an input into the decisions that are being made at every stage.
"And they will have a right to look at their case files if and when they want to mount a private prosecution.
"One of the things that hurts the victims of crime most is the fact that offenders do not serve the full sentence the judge hands down.
"We will restore our proposals for honesty in sentencing that Labour abandoned.
"Most prisoners serve just half of their sentence.
"That sends the wrong kind of message to the victims of crime and to the general public.
"It is better that the sentence should seem lighter but actually be served than seem severe but bear no relation to reality.
"Criminals should serve the full term ordered by the judge in open court.
"That is just.
"That is transparent.
"That is Common Sense.
"Our honesty in sentencing proposals will abolish automatic early release on licence.
"We will no longer have the situation of someone sentenced to a year in prison getting out in less than six months.
"Any good behaviour discounts will have to be earned and when I say earned, I mean it and will neither be automatic nor substantial, unlike the present system.
"And the exact amount of any potential remission will be made clear at the time of sentencing.
"We will also give judges complete discretion to take into account time spent on remand.
"In future criminals who are ‘sent to prison’ will not automatically just walk away from the court because they have been on remand.
"Honesty in sentencing will make sure that the sentence that the judge hands down, the sentence that the victims of crime hear, the sentence that is reported in the media and the sentence that is served by the criminal are one and the same.
"We must restore the confidence of victims and the public in our criminal justice system.
"We must also address the many problems that afflict our society. But let us be realistic. No government has a magic wand which can be waved to reverse overnight the breakdown of our traditional society based on the family.
"A start can be made, however. Everyone has a role to play teachers, parents, the church and the media. The media must review the content of what they put into our homes and especially what is seen, heard and read by our children. They are our future and society has a whole has an obligation to bring them up responsibly. It’s about taking a Common Sense approach.
"Labour have been soft on bogus asylum seekers, soft on young thugs and soft on criminals. And they have failed our police.
"Those are Jack Straw’s and Tony Blair’s policies.
"They are a bad government and it doesn’t help that they are also an incompetent government.
"Jack Straw has gone from one embarrassment to the next. When Tony Blair asked him to be the gaffer at the Home Office, I don’t think that was quite what he had in mind.
"Just look at some of Jack Straw’s gaffes from the past few months:
"He welcomed General Pinochet to the UK and then arrested him.
"He slapped a useless injunction on the newspapers for publishing Macpherson“and then published the names and addresses of informants himself.
"He allowed enormous queues to build up outside passport offices.
"And he allowed enormous queues to build up outside immigration offices.
"He published a Freedom of Information Bill that makes some things more secret.
"He forgot to renew key parts of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and didn’t tell Parliament.
"He got his facts wrong on asylum and issued a retraction blaming his officials.
"He was slammed by the Chairman of his own racial equality commission for his ‘hollow commitments’ to tackling racism.
"We had a spy scandal a day and he didn’t tell Tony Blair, never mind Parliament.
"He mistakenly gave away his powers over some Welsh criminals to the Assembly - and didn’t notice for three months.
"So that’s Labour’s record in Government.
"A record of incompetence.
"A record of failure.
"Of saying one thing and doing another.
"Crime was falling when Labour came to power. Now it’s rising by 20 per cent.
"Labour have cut police funding and taken more than 1,000 bobbies off the beat.
"Under Labour the number of asylum seekers has risen by 60 per cent in 1999.
"The next Conservative government will not be like the New Labour Government.
"We’ll sort out the mess at the Home Office.
"Labour talked tough, but on law and order like on so many other things they just cannot be trusted.
"And at the top, Tony Blair is content to let Calamity Jack, his hopeless Home Secretary, go on bungling and muddling, knee-jerking his way through.
"I’ve said a lot about Jack Straw today well what I have said about him applies even more to Tony Blair.
"It is disgraceful that the Prime Minister of this country is content to let the Home Office be run in the way it has been run since May 1997.
"It is disgraceful that he has not protected the police from Jack Straw’s cuts.
"Tony Blair said things could only get better. Well, if you’re a police officer, if you’re a victim of crime, if you’ve applied for a passport, if you’re want to make sure that those who betray our country are prosecuted, then things have not been getting better under Labour with their policy of government by gimmick.
"They’ve been getting worse.
"Well that’s not alright, Jack.
"In the Conservative Party, the British people have a party which is listening to their concerns, which is backing the crime-fighters, which will address the real issues and which has a clear vision for the future.
"Tony Blair calls this ‘Addams Family Values’. I call it Common Sense.
"All of us, from the Shadow Cabinet to the newest member of the party, must go now and set out that vision."