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CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE: FOWLER SETS OUT TORY PRINCIPLES ON LAW AND ORDER

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Shadow home secretary Norman Fowler's address to the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth yesterday: ...
Shadow home secretary Norman Fowler's address to the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth yesterday:

'Just after I was appointed to this job I was watching an interview

being given by the Shadow Chancellor, Francis Maude. At the end, a

journalist turned to me and said - 'Weren't you in the Shadow Cabinet

with his father?'

'And the truth is that I was - with that wonderful Conservative

politician, Angus Maude.

'The same point was put to me a few weeks later by another broadcaster

rather more crudely - 'What are you still doing here?' he asked.

'Obviously I replied that I was an ambitious man: just getting into my

stride - in China I would be at the outset of my career.

'Well, perhaps not - but let me tell you what I am ambitious about.

- After all the arguments and disputes which resulted in our defeat in

1997 I am ambitious to see this party put its divisions behind it and

fight as a unified force.

- I am ambitious to see this party train its fire not on each other but on the increasing failures of the Labour government.

- I am ambitious that together as a unified party we should attack not

only Labour but we should also go onto the offensive against Labour's

sidekicks - that absurd bunch of poseurs, the Liberal Democrats.

- And I am ambitious to see this party in Parliament and outside give

wholehearted support to the fight that is being led with such energy,

such grit and such distinction by our Leader and the next Prime

Minister, William Hague.

- I would add one further ambition. Now that the single currency vote is behind us for goodness sake let us agree that, important as Europe is, there are many other issues in British politics we should be pursuing.

'We are not, never have been, and never will be a one issue party. We

will fight the issues which the public themselves regard as crucial -

and of these none is more important than our policy on law and order.

'These are policies that with your help we will be developing further in the next months but let me tell you some of the principles our policy should be based on:

Principles

'I hear a great deal about the rights of those convicted of crime - but I am concerned first about the rights of the hundreds of thousands of people in this country who have been the innocent victims of crime.

'I hear a great deal about the rights of prisoners - but I am concerned first about the rights of people in this country to be protected from their criminal actions.

'I hear a great deal of special pleading about the causes of crime - but I am concerned first to assert that crime should not be excused,

criminals are not an inevitable product of their environment and that

each of us has the power of individual choice between right and wrong.

'And I will tell you what I do not believe:

'I do not believe that the answer to all our problems is the early

release of more and more convicted offenders into the community.

'That may reduce the prison population but that is not the test. The

test is first and foremost the safety of the public:

- the safety of elderly people living alone

- the safety of those living on big housing estates

- the safety of children living vulnerable lives

Police

'And so I am in no doubt about where our first priority lies. It is to

have in this country the strongest possible police service.

'The police are currently under some public attack - although I cannot

be the only one to have found the abuse heaped on the Commissioner of

the Metropolitan Police last week deeply objectionable.

'But what concerns me more is the attitude to the police of this

government. In a recent speech Mr Straw threatened to use Home Office

'hit squads to tackle failing police'.

'Well I say this, before Mr Straw starts talking about 'failing police' as if they were some incompetent and corrupt Labour council let us remember that we have a police service in this country which has an unrivalled reputation throughout the free world.

'That is not to be taken for granted. The police must root out any

internal abuse and demonstrate their commitment to all the community in this country.

'But let us the public recognise that we have a police service here we

should be thankful for:

- thankful for policemen like PC Jeffrey Love from Warwickshire who

rescued a man being held hostage although he himself was captured,

doused in petrol and made to sit next to a burning fire.

- thankful for policewoman like Nina Mackay of the Metropolitan Police

tragically stabbed to death while seeking to make an arrest.

'These are the men and women who are typical of the modern police - and we should never forget it.

'And let me tell you another area where we would have been unable to

cope without the efforts of the police - and that is the way that they

have fought and tackled terrorism for year after year.

'And in that respect let me express my admiration for one particular

force at this time - a force which has upheld the law in the most

difficult possible circumstances - the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

'I remember as a journalist being in Ulster at the end of the 1960s when the violence began. In the thirty years since then, that force has lost over 300 men and women, and countless others have been injured. Ladies and gentlemen, we owe the RUC a debt which can never be repaid.

'Against this kind of background you would think that any government

worthy of that name would put the police as its first priority. But -

whatever their words, whatever the spin - the police are not the

priority of Mr Blair and Mr Straw. The public want to see more police

but let me make a prediction. The next years are not going to see more

police on the beat. They will see far fewer.

'That is the inevitable result of the Government's plans over the next

three years. What the government is doing is to deliberately preside

over a reduction in the strength of the police. We are embarking on a

period of police cuts.

'At a time when crimes of violence are increasing, when more and more

elderly people are concerned about their safety, this government's tough on crime policy means fewer patrols and fewer police on the streets.

'That is not tough on crime - that is spineless on crime.

'That is not zero tolerance - that is zero commitment.

'That is not backbone on crime - that is back-down on crime

'And I tell you this. Had at the last election Labour even hinted that

this was their plan, many of their votes would have been melted away.

'And let me say this directly to the Home Secretary, because I know that either he or his minions are watching our proceedings today. Don't do as you usually do and blame what is happening on the 'last eighteen years of the Conservative Government'.

- under the last Conservative government police strength went up by

15,000

- under the last Conservative government resources for the police went

up by 70 per cent in real terms

- and in the last period of Conservative government crime came down for four years in succession: the biggest fall since the war.

'That was the record of the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John

Major - Mr Straw, the problem is not the last 18 years under us; the

problem is the last 18 months under you.

Prisons

'I also pay tribute to the work done by the prison service and the

probation service. Prisons like Parkhurst show what can be achieved by a strict but constructive regime even when set in 19th century buildings.

'Over the last months a debate has developed about whether prison really works.

'Well to my mind taking robbers, burglars, drug pushers off the streets and containing them in secure accommodation is a vital aspect of the prison system working - because it protects the public from their continuing criminality.

'That was a truth recognised by our Home Office Ministers. That was one reason why crime was reduced - and Michael Howard deserves all credit for fighting that policy through.

'And let me underline the importance of another service which fights

crime and that is the immigration service.

'I make this clear. The Conservative Party has always believed in

equality of opportunity. We do not judge people by the colour of their

skin. We condemn unreservedly discrimination and racism wherever it is

found. This is a party for all the British people and always will be.

'We also have a further basic belief. In achieving good community

relations there must be a policy of strong control of immigration.

'And basic to that is that control over immigration policy must remain

with the Government at Westminster and not handed over to Brussels.

'At present one area gives particular concern - and that of course is

the abuse of political asylum.

'You know, only one in ten of the people making application for

political asylum is judged genuine.

'Yet the government estimates that over the next three years the

taxpayer will spend at least£1 billion in supporting such applicants -

the vast majority of whom I repeat are bogus.

'Frankly Ibelieve it is ludicrous to see the police cut back while we

are planning to spend this amount of money on illegal immigration.

'What a pity it was that Labour when in Opposition did not acknowledge

the problem and support our measures to tackle it.

'But what I also say is that Labour in Government should not - as it is

now doing - give virtual amnesties to thousands of applicants not

because they are genuine but because they have stayed in the country for

a number of years waiting for appeal - although the vast majority of

appeals are rejected.

'That is not the signal we should be giving to the unscrupulous

organisers of this illegal immigration trade.

'We should say that there will be no more amnesties - and that only

genuine applicants will be allowed to remain. That is the message that

needs to go out from this country.

'But ladies and gentlemen let me tell you what I regard as the greatest challenge in the whole vast area covered by the Home Office. That is the protection of children and young people who are the most vulnerable to criminal exploitation.

'We recognise the fact that Labour so often ignores - that it isn't the State that brings up children. It is parents who bring up children.

'The vast majority of parents fulfil their responsibilities devotedly - and that is all the more reason why we should listen to what they say about the protection of their children.

Young people

'As I go around the country there is no question about the concerns that they have. They are concerned about the possible dangers to their

children. And I tell you this - they do not want to see sex offenders

released to go free until there is some sensible belief that they will

not offend again.

'I believe they are right - and let me tell you why.

'In 1975 I raised in the House of Commons the case of a man who for

years had preyed on young people. He served his sentence and he was

released.

'This year he was in court once again - sentenced to 5 years

imprisonment for offences against young people. He had a lifetime of

abuse behind him but the parents who entrusted their children to him had no knowledge of this.

'He had been released into the community. To my mind we must aim for a

system whereby such sex offenders are contained and treated in prison

and the community is not put at risk.

'We will therefore be consulting on how our sentencing system can be

strengthened to meet that aim - including the use of more indeterminate sentences.

'And of course we must not forget the children who do not have parents

to care for them. The children who are fostered. The children who are

brought up in care. We owe a particular responsibility to them.

'We must act here with great care to protect those young people who

could be abused by those set in authority. For me it was one of the

reasons why I voted against the proposal in July to reduce the age of

consent for homosexual sex.

'It did not seem to me that the issue of protection had been even

grasped by those who proposed the change. And if you are looking for a

defence of the House of Lords I for one was grateful to Janet Young and her colleagues for making us in the Commons think again.

Drugs

'There are other areas too where young people need protection - most

notably from drugs

'If ever there was a case for zero tolerance it is here. We need to

develop a community which is intolerant of the drugs culture - that

denies that drugs are acceptable.

'And that has a number of consequences:

- it means that renewed efforts must be made to prevent drugs getting

into prison. For if we cannot stop drugs misuse in prison then we stand little chance on the outside.

- it means that the Prime Minister needs to be cautious about his guest list. Frankly Mr Blair, you don't invite to Number 10 people who support drug use.

- and of course it means political parties like the Liberal Democrats

dropping their damaging campaign to legalise drugs. That simply

undermines the efforts of teachers and youth workers.

Conclusion

'So let no one say there are not fundamental differences between the

political parties. But what I say to you is that the vast majority of

the public are with us in the battles I have set out:

- they back us on the police

- they support us on prisons

- they want better protection for children and young people

- they want an end to illegal immigration

- they reject the drug culture.

'And you know our potential public support goes much further than this:

'For the public see now a Labour Government which has

- broken its promises on tax

- broken its promises on pensions

- broken its promises on the health service

- broken its promises on business

- and broken its promises on crime

'And the lesson is this;

'There has never been a greater need for a united and strong

Conservative party than there is today.

'There has never been a greater need for a united and strong

Conservative party to take the fight to our political enemies.

'And there has never been a leader more determined to build a strong and united Conservative party than William Hague.

'Let us give him the support he deserves: come together: and fight for

policies which best serve this country.'

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