Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Letwin: A fair deal on crime means neighbourhood policing

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2003

"Our debate today has been about something that has a real effect on our lives, and on the lives of our fellow citizens up and down this land.

It has been about millions of people who haven't had a fair deal.

It has been about the grandmother who was killed in her shop last week, when she was trying to save her daughter from being shot by armed robbers. That family didn't get a fair deal.

It has been about the seven year old girl shot dead a week before, the innocent victim of a vicious drugs war. She didn't get a fair deal.

It has been about the two young girls who were tragically murdered earlier this year in streets in Aston that are run by gangs, not the police. They didn't get a fair deal.

It has been about the shopkeeper I visited in North London, whose shop has regularly been pillaged by a gang of youths, but who can't remember when he last saw a policeman on his street. He doesn't get a fair deal.

It has been about the estate I saw in Peterborough, where a group of young men leave cars burnt-out after joy-riding, buy and sell drugs with impunity, and laugh in the faces of people who complain. The decent, hard working people who are trying to live in peace on that estate haven't had a fair deal.

Today's debate has been about the people held back and about the people left behind: the victims of crime left behind by a society that can no longer give its people freedom from fear; a society each of whose police officers contends with ten times as many crimes as fifty years ago; a society in which people have lost faith in the ability of the police to deal with crime; a society in which too often it is the law abiding citizen not the criminal who feels the full weight of regulation and authority.

We have a story in Dorset that may or may not be true, but certainly tells an important truth about our society:

A farmer sees someone entering his barn at night.

He calls 999.

The police say "sorry, no one available."

Inspiration comes to the farmer.

He calls back: "I forgot to say, I'm about to shoot the intruder."

Minutes later, amidst the helicopters, police cars and searchlights, the Inspector says to the farmer, who is standing idly by, "I thought you said you were going to shoot the intruder."

The farmer replies, "I thought you said you had no one available."

Now if we believe in a fair deal for everyone, we have to mean everyone. And that includes…the Government.

So let us be fair to the Government. Yes, it is true that they have failed. But it's not because they don't care. And it's not because they haven't tried. It's because they are the only people in Britain who really believe in bureaucracy, who really think they can work it all out from Whitehall.

I am going to tell you this afternoon one of the most extraordinary facts about modern Britain.

For every one extra police officer recruited under Labour, the Home Office has hired more than one extra administrator in Whitehall.

That's 9,000 extra police officers... 10,000 extra bureaucrats. So far as I can ascertain it's a world record. Congratulations, Mr Blunkett.

The constables are in despair. They joined the police to do a job. They didn't join to fill in forms for the Home Office. They didn't join to tell crime victims 'there's nothing we can do'.

That isn't a fair deal for anyone - not for the police, and not for the people they're meant to be protecting.


To provide a fair deal, to rescue the neighbourhoods left behind, to pull young people off the conveyor belt to crime, to create a neighbourly society in Britain, we have to begin by reclaiming the streets.

We need a quantum leap in treatment and rehabilitation of young hard drug addicts. We need a quantum shift to longer more constructive and rehabilitative sentences for persistent young offenders. We need more help to rescue troubled young children and to give excluded pupils the training and discipline they need to return to the mainstream.

But all of these measures to lift young people off the conveyer belt to crime, all of these efforts to be tough on the causes of crime, won't work unless we also get tough on crime and disorder by policing our neighbourhoods properly.

Just as they have in Brixton town centre, where back in June, I saw Inspector Sean Wilson and his team reclaiming the streets for local people.

Burglary is down, robbery is down, graffiti wiped away, abandoned cars towed away. Central Brixton is a safer, happier place than it was a couple of years ago.

What made the difference?

I'll tell you: real and sustained neighbourhood policing, bobbies on the beat.

Call it what you like, but it works. It worked in New York. And it can work over here.

I've also seen policing that doesn't work. Or rather I've not seen it, because there were no police to be seen. That was the case when I visited other parts of Brixton and when I visited the Clarence Way Estate in Camden.

They had their police patrols too, of course. Present on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every other Saturday. Unfortunately I was there after they had gone home. And so were the drug dealers I saw...and the junkies and the pimps and the vandals.

The police are so overstretched that they have become part-time. The criminals are full-time. In fact they do over-time, blighting the lives of local people every day of the week, every hour of the day.

I spoke earlier about the tragic killing of the grandmother last week. Her husband said:

"The law has vanished…the police are completely demoralised. Thirty years ago, there were always two officers walking up and down the street and the crime rate was nil. Now there are hardly any. People know they can walk into a shop with a gun and no one will stop them"

A National Newspaper noted that he was speaking for millions of people up and down the land. The Newspaper asked: "is anybody listening?"

There is at least one person listening. I am.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must put the police back on our streets.

That is why the Conservative Party is committed to having 40,000 more police officers than there were at the beginning of this year.

We'll fund a great part of this by sorting out the shambles of Labour's asylum and immigration system which costs the country £1,800 million a year - over a thousand million pounds more than it cost in 1997. We will replace the present asylum system - in its entirety - with a system of quotas for genuine refugees and the offshore processing of all claims, to deter all but genuine claims for protection from persecution.

Of course, we won't be able to do this if the new EU Constitution comes in, but that is just one more reason why we have to have a referendum, one way or another, and throw that Constitution out.

Once we've thrown out the Constitution, and totally replaced the current asylum system, the savings made will pay for the recruitment of 5,000 extra police a year in each of the years of the next parliament.

As I said a moment ago, over the years from 1997 to 2003, the Labour Government has provided an average of 1,500 extra policemen a year. We will provide 5,000 extra policemen each year until we reach our 40,000.

But we have to do more than just provide the extra police officers. We have to make sure that instead of being stuck behind desks, they are put onto the streets and into the neighbourhoods. If they are properly deployed, our 40,000 new police officers can triple the number of officers actually on the beat.

This is our pledge to the nation, our challenge in Government.

Your police.

On your streets.

Reclaiming your streets for the honest citizen.

And by your police, I mean just that. Your police force under your control.

Mr Blunkett believes that local policing needs central control. From West Dorset to West Yorkshire, he wants to run the lot from Westminster. I want him to be the last Home Secretary who does that.

I want to be the first Home Secretary who doesn't run any part of local policing in Britain. The age of interference at an end. The web of bureaucracy swept away.

No more so called National Policing Plans. No more centrally imposed targets. No more Whitehall-based units and initiatives and performance-monitoring.

Central government off the back of local police officers.


The worst thing about the so-called low-level crime and disorder that wreck so many neighbourhoods, is that law-abiding people feel powerless to do anything about it.

Everyone in this hall, and all our fellow-citizens know what I am talking about: the small town, powerless to stop the police station closing at night; the old lady at the police community group, powerless to get a bobby to patrol her staircase where the addicts leave the needles; the owner of the local curry house, powerless to stop yobs jumping on his roof.

Why should honest citizens be powerless in these ways? It just isn't fair.

They don't need to be. And if I am the next Home Secretary, they won't be.

We are going to give people a real say on the policing of their neighbourhoods.

Today, I'm publishing - and publishing for public consultation on the web - radical proposals to hand power over neighbourhood policing back to local communities. It works in other countries. Why can't we have it working here?

We will remove, by law, the Home Secretary's power over local policing.

We will give every Chief Constable a cast-iron legal guarantee of operational independence.

And we will put each local police force under the direct, democratic control of local people.

That means wherever you live, your Chief Constable will answer to someone you elected.

If you don't like the way your neighbourhood is policed, with a Conservative Government, you will be able to vote for change.

Giving people a fair deal means trusting people. Trusting people means giving people power over their own lives, their own communities. Giving people power means giving you the power to change. It means giving the police the resources they need and giving people the power to ensure that those resources are used to reclaim our streets for the honest citizen.


Edmund Burke once said:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

What could be more apposite, more relevant to our predicament as a nation, today?

If there is one thing in the man made world I believe in, that thing is Britain's liberal democracy.

But we cannot and must not take the continuity of that precious liberty for granted.

I remind you:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

If we do nothing; if we fail to address the fears and concerns of our fellow citizens in hard-pressed neighbourhoods who are despondent about the social and physical decay that surrounds them, who are appalled by the drugs and the crime on their estates, and who are terrified of the gangs that roam their streets; if we leave these people behind; if we hold back the police through lack of resources and a suffocating blanket of central bureaucracy; if we do not trust the people enough to give them the power to bring about change; if we leave them with a justified sense of unfairness, then we foster by omission an evil extremism that imperils our peace, our prosperity and our liberty.

Today, as we go out from this hall and work together towards the re-election of a Conservative Government, we take to the inhabitants of the hard pressed estates, we take to the victims of crime who have been left behind, we take to the hard-working police officers who have been held back by stifling bureaucracy, we take to the people of this country a single, simple message: We are on your side."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech