An incoming Conservative government would make a “war on crime” the centrepiece of its plans to make Britain a country envied around the world, Michael Howard was telling his party conference today.
In a no-nonsense address, the Tory leader was also laying out plans for new action on drug abuse, tougher discipline in schools and radical measures to control immigration.
Mr Howard, who was buoyed up earlier today by news that the UK Independence party had lost its biggest financial backer, the multi-millionaire Paul Sykes, also signalled a determination to take powers back from Brussels.
He promised that on its first day in power a Conservative government would set the date for the referendum on the European constitution—the Tories want the British people to reject the document.
Although he refrained from promising to cut particular taxes, Mr Howard reassured his audience that: “When I can, I will cut taxes.”
On crime, Mr Howard pledged: “The first problem I’ll get a grip on is crime. The gloves will come off.”
He promised to copy the “zero tolerance” approach to crime pioneered in New York.
“What [Rudi] Giuliani did in New York, what Ray Mallon did in Middlesbrough, we’ll do for the whole of Britain. A war on crime.”
Mr Howard said: “We need a government that will stand up for the silent, law abiding majority who play by the rules and pay their dues. A government that will put their rights first.”
And Mr Howard, who as home secretary famously declared that “prison works” , promised: “Career criminals and dangerous offenders should be in prison—not roaming our streets. So we will build more prisons.”
Mr Howard went on to tell his audience: “Three weeks ago, on a Saturday night, I went out on the streets of Brixton with people from local churches. I saw the problems their community is up against.
“In two hours we didn’t meet a single policeman. Not one. This was inner city London, just before midnight, on a Saturday night. No wonder people feel the police have become distant and remote.
“The problem is that the police are handcuffed by paperwork. They now have to spend almost as much time at the station as they do out on the streets.
“And now this government is making it worse. The police will now have to fill in a form every time they stop someone. Not stop and search. Just stop someone.
“It takes seven minutes to complete that form. Just think about it. If a police officer stops half a dozen unruly youngsters, he’ll have to spend the best part of an hour filling in forms.
“I don’t want police filling in forms. I want them on the streets doing their job.
“People are fed up that when the police do catch criminals the punishment never seems to fit the crime. Under a new Labour law, shoplifters will only get a fixed penalty fine and no criminal record. Theft is now no worse than parking on a yellow line.
“I promise you I’m not making this up.
“And five years ago, Labour introduced an early release scheme. Since then 3,600 crimes—including rape—have been committed by criminals let out of prison early. Every one of those crimes could have been prevented.
“All this has to change.
“Day One: That form police officers will have to fill in every time they stop someone, that form will go into the appropriate filing tray—the bin.
“Week One: Labour’s early release scheme—that will go.
“Month One: We’ll start to recruit 5,000 more police officers a year.”
On immigration and asylum, Mr Howard accused the Labour government of presiding over a “chaotic and out of control” system.
“Four out of five failed asylum seekers are never removed from the country. And government officials have granted work permits which they knew to be fraudulent.
“All this rankles with people. They feel their tolerance and fairness are being abused. And they are increasingly concerned about the impact of immigration on our public services our schools, hospitals and transport.
“But that’s hardly surprising. Immigration has doubled under Labour. And we have a home secretary who believes that ‘there is no obvious legal limit to legal immigration’.”
“I think we’ve reached a turning point. We cannot allow unlimited immigration to Britain to continue. We need a government that gets a grip on this shambles.
“A government which helps genuine refugees. A government that gives priority to families who want to come here, work hard and make a positive contribution to our country.
“So in week one, Michael Ancram (now shadow foreign secretary) will signal Britain’s intention to pull out of the 1951 UN refugee convention. We want asylum cases to be decided more quickly and more fairly. We want to allow genuine refugees to get to the front of the queue. That’s what I call fair.
“And in month one, we’ll set out plans to enable parliament to put an annual limit on the number of people who come to Britain.
“No Conservative home secretary will ever say ‘there is no obvious legal limit to legal immigration’.”
Early vote on EU constitution
On Britain’s relations with the EU, Mr Howard told conference: “On day one, we will set the date for the referendum on the constitution. So if the election is next May, we will hold that referendum before we meet again next October. “Europe isn’t working properly today and the constitution will only make matters worse.
“The European Union is spewing out too many regulations. It’s holding our economy back. We cannot go on like this. It is a recipe for certain economic decline.”
Mr Howard argued that the time had come for Britain to opt out of what he described as the momentum towards “ever closer integration.”
“This is what I will do. Some of our European partners want to integrate further. I’ll say to them ‘Fine. Britain will no longer try and stop you. But we must have something in return. We want to bring powers back from Brussels to Britain’.”
Mr Howard argued: “It is not enough to say no to the European constitution—though a Conservative government will. It is not enough to say no to the euro—though a Conservative government will.
“It’s time we went further. We want out of the social chapter, which is a threat to British jobs. We want out of the Common Fisheries Policy, which is destroying communities. And we want more British aid to be distributed from London and less from Brussels.
“It’s time to bring powers back to Britain.”
He added: “My message to you is simple. If you want to bring powers back from Brussels to Britain, whatever party you’re from, come and join us.”