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Chris Grayling: Labour is soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime

Let me tell you a story about life in Britain today. It was told me by the father of a serving soldier, who will be risking his life for us in Afghanistan this spring.

He was home on leave and was out in his local town centre when he was the victim of an unprovoked attack from behind by two youths. He was able to hold them off and the police were called.

He was left badly bruised after what was a completely unpremeditated attack.

The two young men were arrested, but then extraordinarily they were let off with a caution.

That's life in Britain today.

A nation where we appear so used to a violent assault of this kind that police only deem it fit for a caution.

And where the incidence of an attack like this is routine and not a rare exception.

I don't think there could be any clearer example of the fact that our society desperately needs change.

Once upon a time - a few years ago - a now well known politician used the phrase Tough on Crime - Tough on the Causes of Crime to great effect.

Twelve years after that man, Tony Blair, became our Prime Minister, twelve years since the Labour Party took office, that phrase is now a hollow memory.

We have a Government that has quite simply failed to deliver. It has been soft on crime, and soft on the causes of crime.

And that just has to change. It's time we dealt with the wrongs against society - not just the rights of their perpetrators.

Fewer rights, more wrongs.

The starting point has to be that reality of life today. Not the statistics. Not the cut and thrust of political debate.

But the real experience of real people up and down the country.

Let me tell you another story.

Of a visit I made to a run down area of Toxteth.

To a family living in a seriously run-down block of flats.

Two small girls and their mother.

And every night, almost without fail, a gang of local teenagers gathered on the staircase outside their flats to take drugs.

Leaving a state of debris and chaos around them.

Breaking down doors to get there.

And leaving a very scared family living in a state of misery.

And I left the building after talking to them with one dominant thought in my mind.

Why is this being allowed to happen?

Another snapshot of a broken society.

Where antisocial behaviour is endemic.

Where violence has become a norm.

Where the offenders don't seem to give a damn.

Where carrying weapons is increasingly the norm.

Where families can be terrorised by teenage gangs.

Where pensioners are in fear of their safety from the troublemakers outside their houses.

Where too many communities are being disrupted by things that just shouldn't be happening.

What we've had for the past ten years has been a whole string of announcements and initiatives from the Government, all designed to create a sense of activity and action to tackle the problem.

And it simply hasn't worked.

Ill-focused - too bureaucratic - constantly trying to control from the centre, this Government has, quite simply, failed on crime and antisocial behaviour.

Worse still, many of the things that disrupt our society are now treated as almost a norm.

That's not good enough.

I call it crime - when somebody vandalises a bus stop - that's not anti-social it's criminal.

When somebody shouts at an old person in the street and leaves them shaking and scared - that's not antisocial behaviour - that's criminal.

When a teenager jumps on a car bonnet - that's not antisocial behaviour - it's criminal.

This behaviour is far worse than being anti-social, it's anti-society.

But these are things that will very seldom turn up in the official statistics - very seldom lead to consequences for the person doing them.

I think it's time that we did something about it.

And that means two things. It means really getting to grips with the root causes of a broken society where so many of these things are allowed to happen almost unchallenged.

And it means being unashamedly tough when they do happen.

The root causes of much criminality are clear to see.

Disaffected young people, mostly men, growing up in broken homes, often with little structure in their lives, in an environment where no one has much of a sense of responsibility.

Endemic educational failure - truancy often the norm as they grow older.

Generational worklessness in the family, and a culture of benefit dependency where the expectation is that society will just deliver for you, rather than the other way round.

And the growing problem of addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, which destroys family life and immunises the consciences of many of those young people as they cause trouble on our streets.

In some parts of our communities, the problems are so deep rooted that a gang culture takes over when children are still relatively young, offering them a perverse stability in life that their families could never provide.

And it's just a short step from there to the horrors of weekly knife murders of gang members on London streets and of innocent bystanders like Rhys Jones.

The problems are most acute in our cities - but they can be found in every town in the country on a larger or smaller scale. This is not just a problem of big city deprivation - it is a deep rooted issue right across our society.

And at the heart of this challenge is a simple fact in the lives of many young people. There is nobody who really says No to them. So the misdemeanours of youth go unpunished. And so they get away with it, and do it again, and again.

The other consequence of people turning against society and becoming ghettoised is a haemorrhaging of the values which kept crime in check, particularly violent crime. Too many people just don't care. And can't tell the difference, or don't want to, between good and bad.

And the Government just doesn't know what to do about it. 

Violent crime is up almost 80% under Labour. Nearly 1.1 million violent crimes were recorded last year - half a million more than in 1998-99.

Robbery is up 27% under Labour.

Criminal damage is up past 1 million offences - that's nearly 3000 incidents each day.

There are over 400 serious knife crimes a week - 22,000 in one year.

Fatal stabbings up by a third.

Gun crime has nearly doubled under Labour - a gun crime was committed every hour in England and Wales in 2007-8.

Injuries from gun crime are up almost four fold.

And how has the Government responded?

By being soft on crime

Letting people out of prison early - that's soft on crime

Since Gordon Brown came to power 47,000 people have been released on early release, including 9,000 convicted of violence against the person.

Nearly 1000 crimes have been committed by criminals who have been released early.

Rejects our calls for a presumption of prison for those carrying a knife.

Lets five out of six offenders convicted of knife possession off without a jail sentence

Lets more and more offenders off with a Penalty Notice- half of which are not even paid.

Labour has not just been soft on crime itself.

It's also been soft on the causes of crime.

When a culture is allowed to grow outside society's mainstream - alienated, with no hope, "a culture of broken homes, truancy, poor education, drugs, no job, or dead end jobs . . . when we sow the seeds of such a culture, we should not be surprised at the harvest we reap".

The sentence I've just read was not my own but was Tony Blair's, given in November 1993. He was absolutely right - to be tough on crime you have to be tough on the causes of crime.

"I have no doubt that the breakdown in law and order is intimately linked to the breakup of a strong sense of community. And the break-up of community, in turn, is to a crucial degree consequent upon the breakdown of family life. If we want anything more than a superficial discussion on crime and its causes, we cannot ignore the importance of the family".

Again, not me, Tony Blair, in June 1993.

Nice analysis - shame about the delivery.

Labour has singularly failed to address the very issues it sought to tackle.

In true backstreet fashion, Gordon Brown took all four wheels off welfare reform back in the 1990s when he disagreed with Frank Field thinking the unthinkable. He left it on four piles of bricks for a decade, and only now have we persuaded them to start to be as radical as is needed. Even so, we've still only had words and not action.

Family breakdown is getting worse, not better. The work Iain Duncan Smith has done at the Centre for Social Justice shows the profound impact that family breakdown can have on children and ultimately on their communities.

Recent analysis suggests that around 2% of families - or 140,000 families across Britain - experience complex and multiple problems. When parents experience difficulties in their own lives, it can have a serious and lasting effect on both their and their families lives. The consequences of family breakdown can influence the rest of peoples individual lives and may also carry significant costs for public services and the wider community

We have a growing number of young people growing up in an environment where education is of secondary interest to them and their families, and where they fall behind even before they have started at school. Hundreds of thousands of children play truant. Discipline in the classroom has eroded steadily. A substantial minority of children leave school with no qualification, and sub-standard levels of literacy and numeracy.

The area which stands as a totem of Labour's failures to get to grips with the causes of crime is drugs.

UK drug abuse is the worst in Europe. A report by the UK Drug Policy Commission found that the UK has the highest level of problem drug use and the second highest level of drug-related deaths in Europe.

The UK is the cocaine capital of Europe. A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, which compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe, revealed that the UK has the highest proportion of cocaine users amongst adults and 15 and 16 years olds.

The UK has the third highest teenage cannabis use in the OECD.

Half of prisoners are drug addicts - some prisons report up to 80% of inmates testing positive for class A drugs on reception.

Drug offences are up 68% - there were 228,958 recorded drug offences in 2007-8 - that's more than 600 per day.

We have big challenges ahead if we are to change things.

In my last brief I was responsible for setting out our plans to tackle some of the root causes of the social challenge we face, and particularly to dramatically reform our welfare state - ending the culture of benefit dependency that blights so many communities.

Michael Gove has set out in detail plans to deal with the endemic educational failure that blights those communities as well - with early intervention in primary school to help those children who have fallen behind even before they arrive in school.

But tackling the causes of crime was a key part of my last job. If I am Home Secretary after the next election, my job is very simple - to be tough on crime.

I think we need big changes in the field of law and order and policing - to stop people getting onto what my colleague Oliver Letwin once rightly called the conveyor belt to crime.

Among the many things we will need to do if I am Home Secretary after the General Election, there are four which I think should be immediate priorities.

The first is to find a 21st century alternative to what would once have been a clip around the ear from the local bobby.

Plenty of teenagers stray off the straight and narrow sometimes.

But today there are no consequences when they do.

That has to change.

All too often if you look at the case of a fifteen or sixteen year old who is starting to commit serious crimes, you find a story of years of minor misdemeanours that have all too often gone unpunished.

That just can't be right.

I don't want to criminalise children - but I do want our police and our society to be able firmly to say No. Before those young people get used to flouting the law.

At the moment, the tools given to the police by this Government have been largely ineffective.

ASBOs have become a badge of honour for some - and they take months to impose.

Section 30 orders just move young gangs on to the next potential hotspot.

Ministers are now even proposing measures to move on ten year olds if they are causing trouble in the evenings. I don't think we should be shifting ten year olds out of their home areas - I think we should be sending them home to bed.

So I will instruct our police to remove young troublemakers from our streets altogether, not just move them on to disrupt a different street.

If police find young people doing something stupid out in their communities, I think we should give them the power, sometimes, to take them back to the Police Station and make their parents come and get them. For their own safety and protection as much as anything.

We're exploring the best way of making this possible but it's got to be the right thing in some cases.

Our police should have powers to go straight to a magistrate and get an order against that troublemaker confining them to their homes for up to a month - except for during school hours. And if they break that curfew order they should expect to find themselves in the cells.

I will expect someone who is picked up by police for being drunk and disorderly in the town centre on a Friday night to spend a night in the cells, not a night in the A&E department.

In my own constituency, I've learned two lessons on tackling antisocial behaviour from the local police.... that's when they've got it right.

A clash between two gangs of youths a few years ago was dealt with by thirty police, dogs and a helicopter overhead. The trouble has never been repeated.

And when we had another gang causing systematic trouble, I and others in the local community put pressure on the police to take out the ring leaders. When they finally did, the problem melted away.

So we're not going to deal with the problem of antisocial behaviour with a gradualist strategy.

It just needs to be stamped out - and we should demand tough action from our police in doing so.


The second big change needed is in licensing.

We should be much more robust about our licensing rules.

There is now a strong case to end Labour's twenty-four hour drinking regime. It has not created a continental café culture - it has just made things worse in many town and city centres.

Retailers who systematically break licensing laws should simply be closed. Permanently. So should clubs that allow drug taking on their premises.

And the powers to do so should be simple, and quick. 

I will take other steps to stop unacceptable practices in the sale of alcohol to young people. I know of one place where it is possible to get alcohol deliveries to a local park. That should be stopped.

We cannot allow a culture of public binge-drinking and the resulting public nuisance to continue unchallenged.


The third thing we need to do is to stop the ridiculous system of cautions that has built up even for serious offences.

Remember that young soldier, beaten up by local hoodlums.

Why did the police choose to caution the offenders?

Because issuing a caution means case closed - a tick in the box - a crime solved for the official figures to be sent to the Home Office.

And avoiding the danger that the Crown Prosecution Service will say - three young men, a fight - too difficult to prove so we won't bother.

That's just not good enough.

Giving someone a caution should not be a way of scoring an easy win in the case closed league table.

That must be a thing of the past. 

If you are found carrying a knife in a City Centre, you should end up in the courts - and then behind bars. Not getting a caution - or as I heard recently, a £65 penalty notice for carrying a three foot Samurai sword around.

That must stop.

If you attack a stranger in the street, you should end up in court - and then behind bars. Not getting a caution and being sent on your way.

I will change that.

And if you're a young person who has ignored that new generation clip around the ear, you should end up in court quickly and at the very least should be doing some form of tough community service as a punishment. No more should we have young people cautioned for committing dozens of offences. They should be arrested, charged and punished for what they have been doing. 

I will end the caution culture and make sure that serious offenders are treated as such.

And we will give charging powers back to the local sergeant for some crimes so that many offenders can be packed straight off to court and dealt with properly.


The fourth change we desperately need is that oldest political of political chestnuts. More police on the streets. More bobbies on the beat.

Always promised. Never delivered.


Because we give the police too many reasons not to do it.

Too many things that keep them in the police station.

Too many reasons to stay away from the front line.

Police spend their lives filling in forms instead of out on the beat - another clear example of Labour being soft on crime.

Just 14% of all Police Officers' time is spent on patrol compared with 20% of their time on paperwork.

It takes almost half a day to process an arrest - the Prime Minister's strategy unit found that it takes 11 1/2 hours to process an arrest.

Most police officers only arrest someone once a month. Yet only a small minority of offenders are actually caught.

We've already put forward ideas to change that situation.

To remove the barriers that this Government has put between the police and doing their job properly.

The Government knows we are right. They've copied the rhetoric. But they've yet to deliver real change. As always.

In Government I really will deliver that change. And quickly.

But don't just blame the Government. Sometimes I think the police get it wrong as well. I've seen community meetings with more officers in attendance than are out in the local response cars on a Saturday night.

So we need a renewed determination in our police stations as well as in the Home Office.

If I'm Home Secretary, the police should expect to get much more freedom to do the job - but I want to make it absolutely clear to our police chiefs that I will expect them to deliver real improvements in return - and if they don't there'll be all hell to pay.

And when we move to locally elected police commissioners, they'll have big local pressure to make sure they deliver as well.


I began this speech by talking about the reality of life in Britain today, about the reality of what happens beyond our front doors.

I'm not content to just accept that we have to manage the slow decline of our public space and our communities.

That's why it's the Conservatives who have led the way analysing Broken Britain.

We know that in the midst of a deep recession that combating crime will become more difficult - that's why it's so important to turn the oil tanker around and to do what needs to be done.

The Conservatives are the party of law and order - law and order based on common sense, strong families and communities and a system which places the victim above the criminal.

Labour has had eleven years and they have collectively failed - their musical chairs based system of Home Secretaries has left Britain a more dangerous, less civilised place to live in.

They have been soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime.

My clear pledge is that under a Conservative government, that is going to change.

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