Jack Straw – 2008 Speech to Labour Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, at Labour Party conference on 21st September 2008.

Conference, at the 1997 election, we promised that a Labour government would convict more criminals, fast-track the punishment of persistent young offenders; crackdown on neighbourhood disorder.

We’ve not just met these promises but done much more besides.

We never promised in 1997 to be the first government since the war to cut crime, and to do so by a third, to increase police numbers by 14,000, to reduce household burglary by 50% and car crime by almost 60%.

But we’ve done them all – and more.

And this record of delivery has been no accident, no lucky fluke.

We’ve delivered because our values are the ones most likely to create safer communities.

Fair rules, firm punishments. Rights, but also responsibilities. Deterrent, and reform.

Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime.

Our approach works.

Crime denies the most fundamental of  rights. The right to feel safe; the very right to life.

When there are high levels of crime it’s those with the least who suffer the most.

And never forget that when someone is the victim of a crime, they are 100% victim – and no blizzard of statistics from people like me will take that away.

Yesterday we saw the determination of those affected by knife crime as they marched through London. We stand firm with all those who know too well the devastating impact these crimes have and as Jacqui will be spelling out  later, all of us pledge that we will relentlessly keep up our efforts to tackle it.

Labour will always put victims and their families first.

That’s why we are transforming criminal justice from a bureaucratic system to the public’s service.

It’s about a change of culture, of attitude, about lifting the veil which sometimes keeps justice from view: explaining more, hiding less.

So I’ve abolished the fees which newspapers had to pay for court lists.

And I’m going to open up the justice system through the power of the internet, with online court records so anyone can see for themselves what happened when someone appears in the dock.

In the very sensitive area of the family courts, I think we can shed more light whilst preserving the imperative of the welfare of the child.

And when people receive community punishments, the public must literally be able to see them working – so we are introducing high visibility jackets for all those on such sentences.

Prisons are obviously part of this service. Since 1997, we have increased prison places by 23,000 – a third, twice the rate of the Tories, and there’ll be another 13,000 places by 2014.

Conference, I am passionate about getting the correct balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim.

That’s why I said last year that we would change the law so that those who are brave enough to have-a-go against burglars or street robbers do not find themselves unfairly in the dock.

Some were sceptical that it would happen, but we’ve done it.

In 1997 we began a quiet revolution to transform services for victims and witnesses. In the autumn we’ll continue that with a new bill before parliament.

Legal aid is one of Labour’s many great post war social reforms and it’s grown dramatically.

Legal aid spending per head in England and Wales is the highest in the world. It’s as much as we spend on prisons.

There are now three times as many lawyers in private practice but paid for by the taxpayer as there were three decades ago; the budget has grown faster than the health and education services.

The challenge now is how better to spend these huge sums in the interests of the public and justice; something I want to do with the legal profession and local government.

Conference, I am concerned about another element of legal services – “No win, no fee” arrangements.

It’s claimed they have provided greater access to justice, but the behaviour of some lawyers in ramping up their fees in these cases is nothing short of scandalous.

So I am going to address this and consider whether to cap more tightly the level of success fees that lawyers can charge.

Conference, this autumn, building on the Human Rights Act, we will be publishing proposals for a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

This is a further step in our programme of constitutional reform which includes giving Parliament control over war powers and treaties. And it is also achieving something that few thought possible – broad agreement across the political divide on turning the House of Lords into an elected second chamber: at long last.

These changes are not as important as a family’s shopping bill or a community ravaged by crime.

But they are needed. Globalisation can greatly diminish an individual’s sense of their own power to affect their and their family’s own future.

So ensuring that citizens are better able to exercise their rights is critical to the creation of more fairness and equality.

Fairness: it is at the heart of the Labour approach.

I can understand why the Tories try to appropriate our language, to sugar- coat their wafer-thin agenda with the fallacy that they care about social justice.

But we must not let them get away with it.

What happened – or didn’t happen – between 1979 and 1997 exposes the hollowness of the protestations of today’s Tories to be the party of fairness.

When these same people had the chance to act, to show their commitment to those things they profess today to care about, they allowed crime to double.

They could have acted on racial hatred, they could have set up an inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

They didn’t. We did.

They could have introduced new laws to deal with anti-social behaviour.

They didn’t. We did.

Now, contrary to all the evidence, the Tories accuse us of creating a “broken Britain”. It shows how little they’ve changed.

Running the country down when they were in power.

And still trying to run it down now just to gain power.

That’s the last thing we need at a time of global uncertainty.

Conference, since ’97 Labour’s approach, Gordon’s approach, helped the country stride forward when conditions across the world were more placid.

But what about now, when we face more turmoil internationally than for decades, more worry domestically than for many years?

Does Britain need these values, our values now?

Solidarity and support. Opportunity for all. Protection for those who are weakest.

Conference, Britain needs these values, our values, more than ever before.

And we will deliver.