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Dominic Grieve: Protecting the public, not criminals' privacy

Ladies and gentlemen 12 years ago this autumn, Labour’s newly-elected Prime Minister got up before his party’s conference and pledged ‘zero tolerance on crime.’

Then just two years ago, his successor stood up before the same party conference.

He said his answer to the crime and chaos he inherited would be ‘to both punish and prevent.’

What we got instead of ‘zero tolerance’ was zero

12 years of a government undermining the authority of police, probation and prison officers.

12 years of a government selling off our freedoms for a cheap headline.

12 years of a government content to watch seventy-thousand criminals including the man guilty of the worst terrorist crime in our history let out of jail early.

The only ones truly punished in those 12 long years were the voters of this country.

And the term of their sentence, their collective punishment has been 12 years of Labour!

Consider:

A Conservative government will inherit

Record violent crime,

Record prison overcrowding,

And record public debt.

We face a period of austerity.

So I promise you three things money can’t buy:

Honesty in government not self-defeating spin.

Long-term reform not short-sighted gimmicks.

And above all the leadership to see us through the tough times, and the tough choices we all know lie ahead.

Honesty in Government

If there’s one thing that has destroyed public trust in our criminal justice system it’s this government’s lack of honesty.

Like their claim to have cut the number of young people entering the criminal justice system by 10 per cent slammed as ‘smoke and mirrors’ by the former head of the Youth Justice Board.

Or crime statistics. Did you know a Cabinet Office review last year could only find one person who the public trust less than the Home Office to tell the truth about crime ?

Gordon Brown.

Less than 5 per cent of people trust this Prime Minister to be honest about crime.

Where Labour has been obsessed with spin a Conservative government will restore public faith the only way possible by making crime figures completely independent of government.

What I’m talking about is no pre-release access for Ministers or officials let alone special advisers.

And I’ll make this personal commitment to you today:

If I’m appointed Justice Secretary in the next Conservative administration I will end Jack Straw’s serial, selective and cynical trailing of government policy in the media.

The first place that I will announce any new policy will be in the House of Commons.

So it’s not distorted it’s debated.

So the public get the whole truth not selective snippets.

Because the Justice Secretary should be the first person not the last to respect the role of the House of Commons in holding government any government to account.

Delivery not gimmickery

But, we won’t get rid of the spin unless we also reverse Labour’s culture of government by gimmick.

In the last twelve years, we’ve seen it all:

From marching yobs to cash points, to forcing knife offenders to face their victims in A&E wards Jack Straw’s latest wheeze is giving the public a vote on criminal punishments.

Think about it:

Do people up and down this country want our justice system reduced to some cheap imitation of X-factor?

No people want their elected politicians to sort out the mess.

Like prison overcrowding.

When he was Chancellor, Gordon Brown vetoed the money to build enough prisons. Now that he’s Prime Minister he’s got an even better idea:

To release early thirteen thousand violent criminals.

That’s a thousand crimes committed by criminals who should have been in jail.

With one in seven murders now committed by offenders who’ve been released on probation.

The horrific reality I’m talking about was demonstrated all too tragically when two students at Imperial College London were robbed, tortured and murdered by Dano Sonnex and his accomplice.

Why?

All for a total of £360 in cash and a couple of computer games.

That case isn’t complex. It’s simple.

Sonnex breached prison discipline 40 times.

He should never have been released in the first place.

And when he kidnapped a pregnant woman and put a knife to her throat he obviously should have been instantly recalled to prison.

But what did he get under this Labour Government?

A verbal warning.

These weren’t isolated errors, they were systematic failings.

We won’t fix them overnight.

But we will start taking the difficult decisions on day one.

A Conservative government will build the prison places to address chronic overcrowding, and to make sure dangerous criminals like Sonnex remain behind bars,

Given the state of the public finances we will look at every option: Sale of the older estate to build new prisons. Alternative sites that can be adapted. And the extension of existing prisons.

But building more prisons isn’t enough.

Most offenders are released at some point.

So the question is whether they come out in a better or worse condition than they went in.

At the moment our overcrowded prisons just make criminals worse - we need a radical overhaul.

For a start, we will recognise the tough job prison officers do.

We will restore prisoner discipline by making offenders earn their release by behaving properly.

Then we need a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison.

Last month, Jack Straw said he wants to control addicts by supervising heroin prescriptions.

What kind of defeatist message does that send?

Well, I’m not prepared to give up prosecuting the dealers, or trying to rehabilitate those with a drug problem.

A Conservative government will expand abstinence-based rehabilitation from existing budgets to get addicts off drugs not left hooked in a cycle of addiction.

Prisoners should also be put to productive work in prison.

If we improve the skills of offenders in our prisons then we improve their chances of getting a job.

And that radically reduces the likelihood of ex-convicts returning to a life of crime.

We will cut the prison bureaucracy that shut down programs like ‘Project Barbed’ at Coldingley Prison.

Where offenders worked for a graphic design business learning new skills and earning money so they could compensate their victims.

A Conservative government will get prisoners learning skills, earning their keep and paying for their crimes.

Leadership Requires Tough Choices

As I said a moment ago none of this will be easy.

But we can begin by taking the difficult decisions that define leadership.

A Conservative government will give frontline probation staff the direction they need.

They won’t be welfare officers for offenders they’ll be the guardians of public safety.

When it comes to legal aid, we will look for savings from the costs of prisoner claims that have soared from one million to nineteen million pounds in just six years.

But if Labour has abdicated tough choices they’ve also fabricated false choices.

Like the so-called trade-off between liberty and security.

We have a government that wants to lock up innocent people for 42 days without charge, but then supports the decision to let the Lockerbie bomber, convicted of murdering 243 people walk free.

And can somebody tell me how counter-terrorism will be served by extraditing Gary McKinnon to the United States for hacking into government computers in search of UFOs?

Ministers say they can’t block his extradition.

They can’t override the law.

But we have proposed a change in that law, sitting in the House of Lords right now that would prevent the McKinnon case ever happening again.

Why hasn’t the government accepted it?

When will Gordon Brown wake up then stand-up for the rights of British citizens?

Our extradition laws are a mess.

They’re one sided.

A Conservative government will re-write them.

There’s no ‘inevitable conflict’ between liberty and law enforcement.

It’s this government’s approach to human rights that has created chaos and confusion.

How many times have we seen police or probation officers say they can’t disclose the identity of a criminal because of his privacy under the Human Rights Act?

Police in Derbyshire refused to disclose photos of fugitive murderers.

And the Serious Organised Crime Agency say they can’t name gangsters.

That’s complete nonsense.

And we’ll end it straightaway.

So today I can announce that a Conservative government will change the rules for people charged with protecting the public on the frontline.

Why?

So it’s clear crystal clear that protecting the public takes precedence over the privacy of criminals!!!

Conclusion

So let’s just think for a minute about the future: The first few years of the next government won’t be easy.

But a Conservative government will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

We’ll be straight with the public.

We’ll focus on long-term delivery.

And above all: We’ll provide leadership.

Driven by a desire to do what’s right for this country not just right for the next news cycle.

With a sense of humility that recognizes we can’t do it all in the ‘blink of an eye’.

And guided by trust in the common sense of law enforcement professionals to get on with the work they are charged to do without political interference.

Because, when our first term comes to an end.

I want us to be able to say something to the people of this country that Ministers cannot say today ‘Judge us not by our words but by what we have accomplished.’

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