Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the then Shadow Home Secretary, on 15 February 2001.
Police officers tell me that they cannot do their job effectively. They joined the police to fight crime and catch criminals – and that is what the public want them to do. Instead, they spend hour upon hour filling in forms – and judging from letters to Police Review and surveys of individual forces, the police believe that most of the bureaucracy is unnecessary. The result is rock bottom morale, which the Chairman of the Police Federation says is the worst he has ever seen.
The public want the police to police. So do we. The police must police.
Forces up and down the country complain of being overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of the Best Value system introduced by this Government. To give you an idea of the order of magnitude, the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire has estimated that it costs £400,000, and in Norfolk £200,000. Today, I can announce that we will review Best Value with the aim of radically reforming, or, if necessary, abolishing the current exercise. No wonder a Chief Constable claims that forces are ‘sinking under a sea of targets and measures’. There are dozens of performance indicators from Best Value alone, before any others are taken into account. Surely we can create a more focused system.
We agree with the police and the public that the police officers should be able to do their job. That’s why today we are putting forward proposals to let the police get on with policing.
It is because of bureaucracy that child curfew orders and anti-social behaviour orders have been so unworkable and have failed.
I have lost count of the number of times police have told me that they can spend up to five hours or more processing a single shoplifter through custody. That is a patent nonsense, and where that happens, the custody function must be reformed or removed.
We will have a completely different approach to that of the present Government. We will put more police on the beat and make sure that the public have the reassurance of more visible policing. For example, our ‘Cops in Shops’ proposals mean that officers will be able to spend time doing their paperwork in the community – for example at special posts in local businesses – providing an increased police presence.
We will also, in co-operation with the police, hold a root and branch review of police functions with a view to taking away non-essential work. The obvious example is escorting wide loads up motorways. But it isn’t just a question of what they need not do – it is also a question of making more efficient what they must do. For example, why should police officers waste hours and hours at courts without actually giving evidence?
The police can only police if we set them free to do it, and if we really listen when they tell us that they have insufficient powers. Last year, we put forward proposals to strengthen the law against sex offenders which were first suggested by serving police officers. Some of these became law. Some did not. Conservatives will be tabling amendments to this year’s Criminal Justice Bill to give police powers that they have told us they need – on paedophiles who prey on children in internet chatrooms, and ensuring that the laws against opium dens also apply to crack houses.
Cutting back on bureaucracy. Reversing Labour’s cuts in police numbers and getting more officers back out on the streets. Letting the police get on with policing and giving them the powers they need to do it. That’s common sense.