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Hague: Common Sense on Crime

Last week, I spent a day in Nottinghamshire and saw for myself how we are losing the war against crime.

I met a Victim Support Group in Gedling and they told me that in the whole of Nottinghamshire there are 42 groups looking after the needs and rights of criminals, and only one looking after the needs and rights of victims. Victims of crime feel that the whole system is slanted towards the criminal, and they don't think anyone is on their side.

The same day I visited a police station, one of many I have visited across the country this year. Police officers are working long hours, doing a dangerous job and feel they are not getting the support they deserve. They want more than anything to be able to get out on to the streets and fight crime; but over half their day is now spent filling in forms, hanging around in court waiting-rooms and complying with the latest politically correct directive from the Home Office. These policemen and women feel desperately frustrated that the politicians are not letting them do the job they were trained to do, and they are deeply demoralised.

And I also spent time with residents on a council estate in Newark. They told me about one lone young teenage thug who has made the lives of local families a misery with his thefts, and violent behaviour and vandalism. They have lost count of how many times he has been in and out of court, but his one-man reign of terror continues and the police can do little about it. These law-abiding families feel that the Government is not listening to them, and they feel abandoned.

The law-abiding majority of our country are angry that a Labour Government that promised to be tough on crime has delivered a rising tide of crime. They are angry that 190,000 more criminal offences were committed this year than last year, angry that violent crime has risen by 16 per cent and that robberies are up 26 per cent.

And the law-abiding majority of our country feel betrayed by a Labour Prime Minister who promised before the election to be tough on the causes of crime, but since the election has slashed police numbers, closed police stations, tied police hands and released early from prison thousands of serious criminals.

So the people of Britain are now looking for an alternative. That alternative is a Conservative Government that takes a tough, common sense approach to crime.

We will make criminals scared of getting caught and scared of punishment, so they will choose not to commit crime. We will make convicted criminals pay a heavy price for their actions, so that others are scared off following their example. We will put victims first and make sure they can see justice being done. We will give our police force the backing and resources they deserve, so that there is less PC and more PCs. We will wage war against crime like no other Government in the history of our country has ever done, and we will win. I say to the law abiding majority: I will give you back your country - I will give you back your streets, and you town centres, and your homes, and your shops.

The next Conservative Government will need to challenge and replace decades of liberal thinking on crime that has brought our criminal justice system to its knees.

First, we are going to tackle the whole attitude of the liberal elite to the behaviour of criminals, which for the last forty years has oscillated between denial and despair.

Over that forty years the murder rate doubled, violent crime has risen from 24,000 cases a year to 664,000, and burglaries have gone up more than ten-fold to one million a year. The only period when crime fell consistently was at the end of the last Government, when Michael Howard made the first concerted effort to turn the tide.

Yet there are some who still deny that crime and disorder are much worse today than they ever were. You don't have to believe in a golden age to know that this denial flies in the face of not merely statistical evidence but of the every day experience of each and everyone one of us.

Of course, there have been changes in the willingness of victims to report crimes and in the recording methods we use. We know that sexual crimes against women and cases of child abuse used to be scandalously under reported.

But tell any parent in this country today that our streets are safe, and they will tell you that they dare not allow their young children to have the freedom to walk around their neighbourhood or to use public transport in the way that they themselves did when they were young. Tell any elderly pensioner trapped in the rabbit warren of an urban housing estate that stories of rising crime are sensationalised, and they will tell you have no idea what it is like to be a prisoner in your own home.

If not denial, then there is despair. Crime isn't caused by individuals, they say; it is the product of deep seated social and economic trends which governments are powerless to resist.

Only last year we had yet another Home Office Report arguing that crime levels were economically determined. Perhaps that's not surprising when you hear the present Home Secretary claim that 'poverty and lack of opportunity cause crime' (18 September 1996).

I say crime is caused by criminals.

Of course there are incentives and influences on crime. The fight against crime must also be a fight against drugs, against poverty and ignorance, against family breakdown and social dislocation.

Of course the fact that thousands of boys in our towns and cities are growing up without their father, or any decent adult male role model in their lives, is going to have an impact. The fight against crime must also be a fight to defend the institution of marriage.

Of course the fact that studies regularly show that anything between a third and a half of inmates in young offenders institutions have been in local authority care speaks volumes about the disastrous record of the state in looking after those children. The fight against crime is also a fight to bring radical change to the way we look after children in care.

Of course, the environment that people live in has an effect on people's behaviour. Much has been written in recent weeks about the North Peckham estate on which young Damilola Taylor bled to death. We must rejuvenate our deprived inner cities, but we must also ask ourselves: why did it take a tragic death before the people of that estate saw policemen on their street corners? Why did it take the official visit of a Home Secretary before the hypodermic syringes and broken glass were cleared away?

But in this current much needed debate about the kind of society we live in, we must never lose of sight of this basic truth: crime is not an abstract problem. Crime is something that one person chooses to do to another person. And criminals are not victims of society. It is the people who they mug and steal from and assault who are the victims.

Until we have a Government that stops treating criminals as people drawn into crime whether they like it or not, and starts dealing with them as people who must be held responsible for their own actions, then we cannot begin to win the war against crime.

And the next Conservative Government will take on and defeat the attitude of a condescending liberal elite that has never trusted the police and now wants us to believe that they are all racists.

Last week, in the Queen's Speech, we saw Labour politicians once again promising to crack down on crime with curfews and cash-point fines and a host of other gimmicks that have been launched and re-launched a dozen times.

But these gimmicks are meaningless without the police officers to enforce them. The simple fact is that behind all this New Labour spin lies an abject failure to deliver on police numbers.

The size of our police is down by nearly 3000 in three year. Police stations are being closed at the rate of 90 a year. Rural communities are being abandoned. Urban housing estates are losing their beat officers and local detectives.

The Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation says 'police numbers are dwindling, we are at crisis point … unless we get more police officers back on the beat, crime will continue to rise' (Sunday Times, 25th June 2000).

I absolutely agree. That is why the next Conservative Government will, at the very least, restore police numbers to the levels of last Government. Today, that would mean a minimum of 3,000 extra police officers.

But if we are going to restore police numbers, then we also need to do some radical things to increase recruitment and improve morale. Written Parliamentary Answers from the Home Office this week show that the number of people resigning from the force each year has increased by 60 per cent since 1997. And as the Home Office Minister Charles Clarke candidly remarks: 'the number of people leaving a profession may be taken as an indicator of morale' (Hansard, 11th December 2000).

It is hardly surprising that more people are leaving the police, and fewer people are joining, when many police officers now spend more time at their desk filling in forms than out on the streets fighting crime. There are now 58 Home Office performance indicators, with which every local police superintendent must comply. I have seen some reports which suggest that in many police forces officers spend up to three-quarters of their time on administration bureaucracy and only a quarter of their time on catching criminals.

That is a crazy waste of talent and resources. A Conservative Government will make a bonfire of police red tape and regulation, freeing officers to do the job which they were trained to do. That will mean a major review of police functions. When an officer arrests a suspect I want to see him bring that man back to the police station, charge him and then get back out onto the beat. If that means that part of the custody function needs to be handed over to someone other than police officers then that is what we must do.

Cutting through the red tape and rebuilding police numbers are crucial parts of giving the police the support they need in the war against crime. But there is a still more urgent task facing the next Conservative Government, and that is restoring police morale which has been collapsed in so many places ever since the publication of the Macpherson Report.

Let us get some things straight, so that what I say cannot be misrepresented.

First, the murder of Stephen Lawrence was an appalling, wicked crime. His murderers ended a young life full of promise, tore apart a loving family and poisoned community relations in our capital city.

Second, the investigation into Stephen Lawrence's murder was incompetent and it is a cause for anger and shame that our criminal justice system has not been able yet to bring this young man's killers to justice.

Third, there is a serious problem of mistrust of the police amongst British blacks and British Asians, mistrust which has been aggravated by the failure of the Lawrence investigation but which has deeper roots. When we hear of the experiences of men like my parliamentary colleague Lord Taylor of Warwick or of John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney, those of us who are the staunch defenders but also the candid friends of the police must acknowledge that some things have gone badly wrong. And we welcome and encourage the efforts which Sir John Stevens and other police leaders are making to set matters right.

So yes, the police do make mistakes. Yes, some officers have behaved in ways which undermines public confidence in the force. But let us never forget either that many police officers, particularly those on duty in our cities, feel beleaguered. They are abused, threatened, spat at and sworn at - and worse. Almost 34,000 working days were lost last year because of assaults on police officers.

When rightly think it is scandal that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence should still be walking free, let us not forget that so too are the murderers of PC Keith Blakelock. His family and his police colleagues know that in that case too, justice has so far failed.

But the tragedy of the Lawrence murder and the further urgent work that needs to be done building up trust between our ethnic communities and the police, do not excuse the way in which the Macpherson Report has been used to brand every officer and every branch of the force as racist, has contributed directly to a collapse of police morale and recruitment, and has led to a crisis on our streets.

Listen to how the liberal elite have seized on the Report as a stick with which to beat the police.

Lord Falconer: '[The Macpherson Report] proved that our society and particularly the police were riddled with racism' (Daily Telegraph, 15th September 2000).

Listen to how the same liberal elite have virulently attacked anyone who dares suggest that the Macpherson Report was not perfect in every word and conclusion.

Polly Toynbee: 'If you want a perfect model of institutional racism, buy the Daily Telegraph for a whiff of Britain's Conservative Establishment. In its leaders and columns, the racism is witting and unremitting … It revels in it, rolls in it … The Daily Telegraph sounds the rallying cry that echoes from the platforms of the British National Party' (quoted in Sunday Telegraph, 7th March 1999).

Now listen to what effect the liberal attack after Macpherson has had on the policemen and policewomen who every day risk their lives to protect ours.

This is what one 38 year old Metropolitan Police Officer said after Macpherson:

'We feel that no matter what we do we are going to upset somebody. Morale is at rock bottom. The demands on us are greater than ever - what with response times, the number of reports we have to make for any arrest, the lack of officer … There is a lot more violent crime than there used to be, but because we have limited stop and searches, the villains are not afraid to walk around carrying guns and drugs … I love catching criminals - other than that the job stinks' (PC Andy Osmond, Evening Standard, 29th November 1999).

We have now had 21 months to assess the impact of the Macpherson Report. In that period the use of stop and search powers by the Metropolitan Police has fallen. In February 1999 the Metropolitan Police made 18,752 stop and searches. In September this year, new provisional figures show that has dropped by more than a third to just 11,858 stop and searches.

At the same time, street crime has soared - not just in London but around the country. This year's British Crime Survey shows robberies up 14 per cent, muggings up 4 per cent and violence against a stranger up 29 per cent. And the impression of people in our inner cities is that police have retreated further and further into their squad cars and behind their CCTV screens, withdrawing from risky frontline detective work into an ever greater reliance on new technology.

As one chief officer candidly remarked recently, the police are more interested in appearing 'caring and compassionate' than with 'messing around with criminals'.

I realised that we had reached a point of crisis on our streets when I listened to black teenagers at a Lambeth Comprehensive earlier this year. They told me bluntly: 'the police have lost it - and we're the ones who are in danger. We're the ones who get mugged and attacked when we walk home from school'.

Those black teenagers are right. The people who are suffering most from the post-Macpherson collapse in police morale and the rise in street crime are members of the ethnic communities themselves.

The next Conservative Government will tackle this post-Macpherson crisis head-on.

First, we will expect the police to use rigorously the powers which they have been given to uphold the law and fight crime. The power to stop and search suspects is there in law to help the police protect the interests of the law abiding majority of every race and religion. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act already provides strong safeguards against that power being misused. Political correctness will not be allowed to get in the way of law enforcement. Above all, we will support police officers if they are criticised when carrying out their duty.

Second, we will send a strong signal that we as a society will not tolerate assaults upon police officers. Under Jack Straw's Early Release Scheme for prisoners, 178 people convicted of assaulting a police officer have been freed from jail before even the half way mark of their sentence has been reached. That sends every possible wrong signal to our society about the support we give the police. It should end immediately, along with the rest of the early release scheme.

Third, we will have an honest and fully informed debate about crime, policing and race relations. I was immensely impressed when just a few weeks ago The Voice newspaper took a lead in calling on the British black community to face up to the truth that a disproportionate number of street robberies were being committed by young black men, often against other black people, just as street violence and burglary tend to be committed by young white men. British Blacks, and for that matter British Asians, are too often the victims of crime. It is in all our interests to re-build both the self confidence of the police and the trust of Britain's ethnic communities in the police service.

Effective policing is one key to restoring public order. But alongside that we need to have a legal system which is seen to do justice both in its consideration for victims and in the punishments which it hands out to criminals.

The next Conservative Government will take on and defeat a liberal elite that has always given more consideration to the rights of criminals than the rights of victims.

Crime causes deep distress and upset for many tens of thousands of people each year. Thankfully, the criminal justice system is now taking greater account of the need to keep victims informed of what is going on and explain to them the various stages of the investigation and prosecution.

But victims still feel shut out of a process that deeply affects them. Every Member of Parliament regularly sees constituents who are bitter at a decision to drop charges or to down grade them, and angry at the lack of any proper explanation for the decision. The whole process needs to be more open and more accountable.

That is why the next Conservative Government will place strict responsibilities on the various agencies of the criminal justice system to put victims first. We will give the victims of crime direct access to the police officers investigating their case through a required introduction of a named officer scheme.

Once a case has been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, a similar arrangement will apply there. One of the lawyers considering the case will be given the responsibility for dealing with enquiries from the victims. We will give victims who wish to pursue a private prosecution the right to inspect witness statements held on file. There will be proper safeguards to protect the position of vulnerable witnesses, but I believe the general principle to be right that the victim of a crime should be able to see for himself the strength or weakness of the evidence against the accused.

It is also time to re-balance the justice system to protect people who defend their families, their homes and their property against criminals.

Vigilantes have no place in a civilised society. But there is all the difference in the world between the career criminal who sets out deliberately to burgle a house and the terrified home-owner who acts to protect himself and his home. Unless our laws reflect natural justice, then they fall into disrepute. That is why the Tony Martin case was so emotive.

The next Conservative Government will overhaul the law - both in the way it is applied and, if necessary, in the way it is drawn up - with a strong presumption that, in future, the state will be on the side of people who protect their homes and their families against criminals.

Of course, what a homeowner whose home has been burgled, or a woman whose handbag has been snatched in the street, or the parent of a child who has been beaten up, really want to see happen is the person who harmed them or their family, caught, convicted and punished.

The next Conservative Government will also take on and defeat a liberal elite that is soft on sentencing.

Nothing dismays victims more or brings the entire criminal justice system into greater disrepute than the fact that criminals almost never serve the actual sentence handed down in court.

So the next Conservative Government will introduce honesty in sentencing. We will make the criminals serve the full term ordered by the judge in open court and discounts from a sentence will be limited and will be earned only by good behaviour while in prison.

That, of course, means abolishing Labour's Home Detention Curfew. Under this scheme 26,000 criminals have to date been released early from prison. When he launched it, Jack Straw promised the House of Commons that 'we have no plans or intention whatever to facilitate the early release of serious or sexual offenders. Let me make that clear with a full stop - none whatever.'

Since then he has broken that promise and released 23 sex offenders, 33 criminals convicted of cruelty to children, 58 guilty of manslaughter, 2,400 burglars and 3,300 drug dealers. According to the Home Office's own latest figures, those criminals have gone on to commit over a further thousand offences, including 106 drug offences, 54 assaults, 24 assaults on a police officer and two rapes. Those one thousand crimes, and possibly many thousands more that have gone undetected, would not have happened if the criminals who committed them had remained in prison serving out their sentence.

If the first duty of Government is to protect the public, then this Labour Government is failing in that duty with their early release scheme. So we will get rid of it.

And we will do much more to protect children in our society. The terrible murder of Sarah Payne earlier this year touched every person in the country. A crime of such unspeakable and random evil is very difficult to prevent. But there are things we can do to keep paedophiles under much tighter supervision and to keep repeat offenders behind bars and away from children

We will extend the principal of mandatory sentences to those convicted of more than once for a sexual offence against a child. We will look at whether more serious sexual offences against children should be subject to a life sentence, so that if paedophiles are released back into society they are done so on licence and under close surveillance. We will also the police and probation service to extend the period of supervision of a convicted paedophile beyond the current maximum of ten years, and we will also seriously consider the use of electronic tagging for an indefinite period after release.

We shall also bring the law up to date by introducing severe sentences for anyone convicted of using internet chat rooms to make a sexual approach to a child.

Protecting children in our society means protecting them against the menace to drugs too. We will introduce mandatory sentences for dealers who sell hard drugs to children and we shall update the law to give the police and courts the powers which they need to act against the small scale drug dealers who blight thousands of young lives and wreck communities especially in our cities.

One of the best criminal justice reforms of the Thatcher Government was the introduction in 1988 for the first time in English legal history of a right to appeal against an over lenient sentence. At the time many denounced this as a dangerous innovation but I believe that this measure was greeted as common sense by the overwhelming majority of people in this country, above all by those victims of crime who has seen their attacker get off lightly in court. This law has worked well and I now propose to extend the right of appeal against over lenient sentence to other serious offences tried at the crown court.

And we should apply the same common sense approach to the outmoded rule that no one may be tried twice for the same offence. By allowing a re-trial in cases of jury or witness nobbling we have already accepted that the double jeopardy rule is not inviolable. The next Conservative Government will go further. We believe that where new and compelling evidence comes to light - evidence which could not reasonably have been uncovered during the original investigation - the prosecution should be able to ask the court of appeal to order a second trial.

Imagine the case where a man had been acquitted of a violent crime in the days before DNA tests became available but then months or years afterwards DNA technology indicated that he was indeed responsible for the rape or murder in question. The injustice, injustice to the victims of crime, would lie in continuing in such circumstances to prohibit a fresh trial on the basis of the new evidence.

The next Conservative Government will also take on and defeat a liberal elite that thinks inmates should enjoy life behind bars.

I disagree. I do not believe in leaving prisoners to idle away their time in jail. Under Labour, the amount of time prisoners spend on purposeful activity has declined to just 23 hours every week. I want to end this neglect of prisons.

We have a clear policy to make prisons work. I see no contradiction between long, deterrent custodial sentences and effective rehabilitation programs once the offender is behind bars.

Almost every prisoner is going to be let out of gaol some day. The months or years which he spends in custody give us the best opportunity we have to make that man face up to the fact that what he has done is wrong, to acquire the habits of self discipline and respect for others and to obtain the educational and work skills which he will need if he is to hold down a lawful job and support his family once he is released.

We will ensure that every prison in England and Wales will have workshops where prisoners will work on real projects for real companies. These workshops will take on contracts from outside organisations, creating profits from which prisoners could be paid a real wage rather than mere pocket money. This wage could then be used to pay reparations to the victims to crime, or to help support for prisoners' families who are at present too often left as a burden on the law abiding tax payer.

The money, together with the skills learned through work in prison, would also help to bring down the shamefully high number of prisoners who at the moment re-offend within two years of being let out.

The need to combine punishment with rehabilitation is obvious when we consider young offenders. One recent report shows a small minority of under eighteen year olds responsible for a high proportion of all crime. Talk to police and probation officers and you will hear alarming accounts of how teenage villains are now employing still younger children to break into property or stand look out for drug dealers.

The sad reality is that many persistent young offenders come from homes and neighbourhoods which are chaotic and disordered. The family may be fractured, perhaps even abusive. Status in the neighbourhood and amongst the youngster's peers, the ability to afford fashionable clothes or a modish brand of trainers may well depend on that young man's prowess as a criminal.

For that hard core minority of young offenders, removal from the community to a secure training centre will give them perhaps the one chance in their lives to address their behaviour as well as giving some relief to their law abiding neighbours.

At present there are just under 200 secure training places in England and Wales to house persistent young offenders between the ages of twelve and fifteen. The next Conservative Government will increase this number to 1000 places using both new and existing buildings. This expansion of secure training centres will go alongside the introduction of a flexible detention order linking the individuals release date to specific targets for achievement. We will give the young person an incentive to meet the educational or behavioural targets set for him by reducing the length of his detention once he had reached those goals.

And, with the exception of those convicted of the most serious crimes, the youth who really did make good would be offered a chance to wipe the slate clean. Provided he can maintain two years good behaviour after release, his record will be deleted, allowing him the opportunity to enter adult life at the age of eighteen free from the shadow of a criminal record.

It is this kind of common sense policy, balancing punishment with the incentive to stop committing crime, that characterises the whole Conservative approach to law and order.

Restoring police numbers and tackling police morale. Enforcing stop and search. Putting victims first. Honesty in sentencing. Ending early release. Protecting children against paedophiles. Extending the right of appeal against lenient sentences and reforming the law on double jeopardy. Expanding secure training centres and giving young criminals a chance to live a law-abiding life.

These common sense policies amount to the most comprehensive law and order package ever presented by a Party in Opposition. It is the visible demonstration of our total commitment to putting our streets back in the control of the law-abiding majority.

Last week, the Prime Minister responded to rising crime and collapsing police morale by re-announcing their favourite gimmick, the curfew. It is a sign of how out of touch he has become, that he doesn't realise that there is already a curfew in force in Britain.

A curfew that stops women walking down their own street after dark.

A curfew that traps thousands of families and pensioners behind their own front door on crime-ridden estates.

A curfew that keeps millions of people in their homes at night, afraid to go out.

The people of Britain are under a curfew caused by a Labour Party that is now losing the war against crime.

The next Conservative Government will lift the curfew of crime.

We will take on the criminal with the toughest law and order policies ever seen in this country and scare them out of their wits.

We will win the war against crime.

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