David Davis – 2004 Speech to ACPO

Below is the text of the speech made by David Davis, the then Shadow Home Secretary, to the ACPO Conference held in Birmingham on 12th May 2004.

It gives me great pleasure to address your conference today. May I thank Carol Gustafson for her warm introduction, and ACPO for inviting me to be here today.

I have enjoyed meeting a number of you over the last few months and look forward to our regular dialogue continuing.

Labour’s approach fails to tackle crime and disorder

Conservatives have for many decades been identified instinctively as the party of law and order in Britain.

We are the party that automatically backs the police and the law-abiding majority.

Tony Blair tried to claim that mantle for the Labour Party with his pledge to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

But after seven years of Labour Government the facts speak for themselves.

Yesterday, David Blunkett admitted that the public ‘remain unconvinced’ that crime is actually falling.

According to the British Crime Survey, most people believe crime is rising.

According to the Recorded Crime Survey, crime is rising.

We all know that neither the British Crime Survey nor the Recorded Crime Survey are 100% reliable. But whilst confidence in the police remains high people feel less safe than ever before.

As a mathematician, a scientist and a manager, numbers have always been my business but you’ll be pleased to know I don’t intend to spend all day debating statistics.

Whatever statistics say about the level of crime, people simply don’t feel safe or secure.

Much of this is caused by an epidemic of anti-social behaviour. Most of you deal with this on a daily basis.

– The mindless vandalism or graffiti caused by teenagers with nothing better do.

– The burnt-out cars abandoned on estates.

– The bins set on fire in city centres.

– The bricks thrown through shop windows.

– The drunkenness and thuggery now commonplace in town centres up and down Britain every weekend of the year.

The number of people reporting these issues as a problem is higher than ever before.

What all these have in common is a breakdown in respect.

Respect for authority, for self-discipline, for self-control and self-restraint.

These problems aren’t confined to people from certain economic, social or cultural backgrounds.

The breakdown in law and order runs wider and deeper than that. Collectively, they are some of the biggest problems facing Britain today.

I believe we should fight back against this breakdown in order. I believe that through concerted effort, the decline can be reversed.

Restoring respect for the authority and the law is not a pipe-dream. It’s not nostalgia.

Unless we believe that the forces of disorder and criminality can be fought back and beaten, what hope is there for civilised society?

Some of you may have seen in the papers earlier this week a story about one of my front bench team, the Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve. His story was not one of heroism, it is not one of bravery or courage. In a way it is a telling sign that it is a story at all because it is simply a story about active citizenship.

For those of who haven’t read about it, let me tell you the story. Dominic was leaving an official dinner and saw a young man vandalising a bus shelter. He went over to tell the youth to stop. He refused. So Dominic made a citizen’s arrest and asked him to wait for the police.

Instead, and unsurprisingly, the man ran off and Dominic gave chase giving the police a running commentary on his mobile phone of their route.

The man was caught, arrested and has served his sentence. Lets hope next time he wants to bash down a bus stop he thinks twice.

But it doesn’t always work out like this.

There’s the story of a train driver who made a citizen’s arrest on a teenager playing chicken on the tracks. The driver made an emergency stop, caught the boy, put him in the train cab and handed him over to the police at the next station. The next thing the train driver knows is that he is being charged with assault because the boy complained that the train driver had been too rough with him.

The court took five minutes to throw the case out.

There’s the story of an actor who made a citizen’s arrest on a youth trespassing in his allotment. The man frog-marched the youth, who was armed with a hammer, down to the police station. He was subsequently hauled through the courts on an assault charge but the jury threw the case out.

And finally there’s the story of a teacher who rescued a colleague from being beaten up by a pupil. He was accused of assault, suspended, then dismissed but subsequently cleared by a tribunal.

Engaging the public in the fight against crime is crucial.

I’m not talking about vigilante-ism or actions on the scale of Tony Martin.

And I don’t expect the public to deal with violent drug dealers.

I am talking about the need to rebalance justice on our streets.

About a culture where people don’t walk on by when a bus shelter is being vandalised;

– where people don’t turn a blind eye towards those who endanger the safety of others;

– or where people don’t step in to help a colleague, friend or stranger from being beaten up.

The police can’t be everywhere all the time.

It shouldn’t be left solely to the police to maintain the standards of behaviour that underpin civilised society – and whose collapse creates the conditions for more serious crime to grow.

There is a role for parents, for families, for schools, and for society at large, to teach and enforce respect for the law.

But we have to ensure that people who actively demand proper behaviour on the streets or in the classroom don’t end up facing the full force of the law themselves.

The public demand that the Crown Prosecution Service behave with a little more common sense and proportion than these cases demonstrate.

It shouldn’t be necessary for me as Home Secretary to legislate to protect those who seek to maintain the peace, but I will if that is the only way to resolve the problem.

Public spaces are not the property of the criminals – they are the property of the community. And while the community must play their part, I will now outline what I believe to be the right approach to give you the maximum freedom to play your part in the fight against crime.

The Conservative Approach

I trust the police.

I believe that the custodians of law and order are NOT politicians.

I believe that the guarantors of peace and tranquillity are NOT civil servants.

We don’t sleep safely at night because of the [police] standards board, or the countless Home Office agencies, or ministerial taskforces.

Criminals aren’t intimidated by the 63 ‘units’, 10 ‘teams’, 6 ‘directorates’, 5 ‘groups’ or 25 other miscellaneous bodies that make up the full panoply of Home Office bureaucracy.

The frontline defences against criminal and anti-social behaviour are the police. The police, backed up by the community.

Jack Straw cut police numbers.

David Blunkett has raised them.

I welcome that.

But there is a long way to go before there are enough police to reclaim the streets for the honest citizen.

I believe we have to give power back to the police. Genuine power. And that demands radical solutions.

40,000 Extra Police

My first commitment to the police is our commitment to resources.

In 2002, my predecessor Oliver Letwin promised to increase police numbers by 40,000, funded out of savings through reform of the asylum system. I repeat that promise to you today.

It’s an honourable promise; it’s an achievable promise; and it is a promise which has caused a row between the Home Secretary who wants to match our pledge and a Chancellor who won’t let him.

Extra police are indispensable to the fight against crime.

In order to achieve real neighbourhood policing, in order to confront and reverse the decline in order, in order to restore respect for authority and the law we need the police to become true custodians of their neighbourhoods.

This will never happen unless there are police on the streets in sufficient numbers.

Local Policing

My second commitment is to get central Government off the back of local policing.

It’s not enough simply to talk about increasing police numbers as if that is the answer. Police officers need real freedom.

A Conservative Government will remove central Government interference in local policing, and put local policing on a sustainable financial footing.

Under our plans, the powers of the Home Secretary to intervene in the day to day running of local policing, other than in a real emergency, or upon the advice of HMI, would come to an end.

We need a different type of Government.

A smaller and a tougher one.

A quieter and a stronger one.

And a more honest government: a better government.

And the way we handle policing will be an example of that.

The police can’t be expected to catch criminals if they are caught in a web of bureaucratic control.

I want a country where criminals are looking over their shoulders, not where police officers worry about civil servants breathing down their neck.

As Home Secretary, I would remove my right to tell Chief Constables what to do.

I would tear up the National Policing Plan.

And I would scrap the litany of pointless, interfering, time-wasting, unfair, and damaging targets that distort your priorities and prevent you from getting on with your job.

But there’s more.

I believe there is a financial aspect to genuine freedom.

A future Conservative Government will not hold local police to ransom by keeping control of the purse strings.

Money from central Government will come in a block grant. The days of ring-fenced funding will come to an end. Police need to be flexible to respond to changing circumstances.

Priorities should be decided at a local level, and funding allocated at a local level.

We will not force police forces to choose between the latest gimmick handed down from Whitehall or increasing the number of bobbies on the beat.

The funding settlement will be transparent and the funding formula will be simpler. The Home Secretary will still decide the overall level of grant, but he will have to be entirely open about the level of grant each police force is receiving. Under our system, there’ll be no fiddled funding for the pet projects of politicians in Westminster.

And finally I can announce today that we will move local funding to a more sustainable basis by ending the current system of annual grants, and moving to a system of three-year budgets.

This will enable police authorities to make strategic planning more effective. And it will end the farcical routine of short-term initiatives that only last a year or two before the funding dries up.

Local accountability

My vision for policing is genuine local accountability.

Police accountability is crucial to the effectiveness of local policing.

Either police are accountable upwards – to Whitehall. Or they are accountable downwards – to the people they serve. David Blunkett wants the police to look upwards to Whitehall. I want the police to look towards the people they serve and protect.

This is the most radical part of our proposals.

To ensure the police and the public share the same priorities, to create a genuine partnership between the police and the public, we intend to establish directly elected police boards for each and every police force in England and Wales.

Powers currently exercised by the Home Office over local policing will be transferred to these police boards.

At the moment, we envisage people being elected to serve four-year terms, with fifty per cent being elected every two years.

We also foresee a role for magistrates on the board.

By giving people greater control over the policing of their neighbourhoods, we can begin to restore the spirit of active citizenship to modern Britain. It will also encourage a stronger interest in, and support for, local police forces.


One of the first duties of any Government is to uphold the rule of law. The final arbitrator of success in this is not the Office for National Statistics. It is not the British Crime Survey. It is certainly not the Home Office. It is the British public and they believe the Government is failing.

Unfairly, the police bear the brunt of the public’s frustration at the rise in crime, the failure to catch criminals, and the failure of the courts to hand down appropriate sentences.

It is unfair, because the police are fighting crime with their hands tied behind their back. Not only are centrally imposed bureaucracy and paperwork a continued problem for the police – despite David Blunkett’s much vaunted bureaucracy busters. The real problem is that police are accountable to civil servants rather than people on the ground.

The programme I have set before you today – 40,000 extra police, freedom from Whitehall, longer-term financial stability, and real local accountability – will set in place the most radical change in policing for a generation.

These changes are crucial and controversial – as the most radical changes often are.

The alternative is more of the same – the same, endless struggle against crime and anti-social behaviour, and the same endless suffocating bureaucracy.

The choice is clear – professional and operational freedom to tackle crime – or micro-management from the man in Whitehall.

One will tackle crime. One will not. It is a choice whose importance for the future of the ordinary citizen of our country cannot be over-estimated. It is a choice which the people in this Hall will play the crucial, the pivotal, role.