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David Davis: "Comfortable Life"

Speech to Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004

"This morning I spoke about perhaps the greatest threat to the future of our young people: the threat of drugs. I said drug crime costs the Government more than we spend on education.

That's a net loss to our nation and a tragedy for our young people.

And it's a disgrace for David Blunkett.

Let me tell you something about David Blunkett. He loves headlines.

He will do anything for a headline.

He will say anything for a headline.

He will give anything for a headline.

Now you know I always like to be helpful - let me show how we've helped:

[screen presentation]

So much for David's headlines!

His pursuit of the limelight constantly leads to him being slapped down by Downing Street.

This week it was the naming of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Last week it was dropping the standard of proof in serious trials.

And a few weeks ago it was on his mad cap idea of levying surcharges on speeding fines.

He is so busy thinking up wild new initiatives that he is actually neglecting his job.

That is one reason why we are 19 points ahead of Labour in the polls on law and order and 22 points ahead on asylum and immigration.

Labour are so busy bossing us around, interfering in families and businesses, that they neglect to guard our borders or protect our streets.

We need a different type of government.

A smaller and a tougher one. A quieter and a stronger one. A more honest government, a better government.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we need a Conservative government.

Those headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. The facts are worse.

Between 1993 and 1997, when Michael Howard was Home Secretary, crime fell - by over 900,000 offences per year. Since New Labour came to power, crime has risen - by 800,000 offences per year.

What are these offences? They're not petty ones, I can tell you.

We have had an increase of 60% in violent crime under Labour. That's almost a million incidents of violent crime committed last year.

We've also had a 60% increase in robberies - the fastest growth in Europe.

Sex offences have gone up by 35%.

And then there's gun crime.

Since Labour came to power, gun crime in Britain has doubled. There were less than 5,000 gun crimes a year in 1997 - now there are more than 10,000. That's one an hour, EVERY hour.

Those are just statistics. There are human lives behind them.

Here in Harrogate we are not many miles from Leeds, where on Boxing Day a policeman was shot dead.

A further few miles away in Bradford a man was shot trying to catch armed robbers. He died in the arms of his friend, simply for trying to protect his local community.

Those men should not have died. Those crimes should not have happened.

Crime is not the natural order of things. Disorder is not something we just have to live with.

We can win the war on crime. But to win that war we actually have to fight it.

Michael Howard showed the upward trend in crime is not inevitable. But under this Home Secretary, it certainly looks like it.

Under Michael Howard the detection rate was rising. Under David Blunkett it is falling. Fewer than one in four crimes are now cleared up by the police.

Two-thirds of robberies were detected in 1997 - it's only half today.

Half a million violent offences went undetected last year.

What about burglary? There were 888,000 burglaries last year. Yet a mere 26,000 burglars were convicted of the crime.

When do you think David Blunkett will realise what everyone in this hall knows instinctively: that rising crime and falling conviction rates are related?

Michael Howard and I agree on most things. But on this we agree most of all. Prison Works.

But you know, it's not working under Labour.

Repeat offending is the rule, not the exception for our criminal justice system.

And no wonder.

Because when David Blunkett created all those bloodcurdling headlines about being tough on crime, he forgot to build enough prisons to take the criminals.

Our jails are full. And hardened criminals have to be released early.

We're turning out thousands of men every year for whom prison has not been a break in the routine of crime, but a chance to learn some new tricks - a sort of 'new deal' program for criminals.

Let us be clear: some criminals are incapable of reform.

And don't get me wrong - I have no intention of applying the title of this session, "A comfortable life", to prisoners. Anything but.

Prison serves a purpose - it keeps criminals locked up, so they can't hurt the community. But it doesn't necessarily reform them.

And that is the real challenge before us.

Over the coming months I and my colleagues in the shadow home affairs team will be developing our policies to reform the prison system - so that the prison system can reform the prisoners. That must be our over-riding goal: to ensure that criminals are no more a threat to the community when they leave prison than when they were inside.

Finally, we need to take the fight against crime onto the streets. Public spaces are not the property of the criminals - they are the property of the community.

To take back our streets, we need to give police officers their professional freedom once again.

We must free police from the petty regulations and form-filling which keeps them chained to their desks instead of on the streets.

And we must cut the strings that tie the police to Whitehall.

But most of all, we need more police officers.

You know, Labour likes to claim it has hired 11,000 new officers since 1997.

Actually they were all paid for out of council tax, not by the Home Office. But for every extra policeman, the Home Office has taken on two new bureaucrats.

What's more, David Blunkett has loaded local police forces with so many extra costs that for the same money, and less red tape, we could have 19,000, not 11,000 extra officers.

So I've got a promise for the people of Britain who are tired of Labour's failure on crime and want to fight back.

Conservatives won't hire 11,000 extra officers.

We won't hire 19,000.

We'll hire 40,000 extra officers to reclaim our streets, our council estates, our country towns - and we will turn the tide of crime.

There is a permanent battle in all civilised countries.

The battle between crime on one hand and community on the other. As one advances, the other retreats.

In Britain today, community is in retreat, because crime is advancing. It is the task of the next Conservative government to go into battle on behalf of community - and to beat back crime.

It is a task I relish."

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