William Hague – 2000 Speech to the Police Federation


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Opposition, William Hague, to the Police Federation Conference on 18th May 2000.

Mr Chairman, policemen and policewomen, thank you for inviting me to address you. One message comes out loud and clear from your Conference this week. You desperately want to be able to get on and do your job. You want to be free of red tape and political interference. You want to be free to fight crime and catch criminals.

That is not the case now. As you, Mr Chairman, put it yesterday, the police service are ‘facing a crisis of no confidence, a crisis of no cash and a crisis of no colleagues’. You said that there is ‘a sense of disorder and anarchy’ in some urban areas and that many rural communities are ‘unable to rely on the police’.

You know, and I know, that this crisis is not your fault. Each day you go out on to the streets and do your job to the very best of your professional ability. And what a job it is. When I was preparing this speech, I looked at the list of officers who had won Police Bravery Awards. In many cases, what is striking is how a routine incident like stopping a car or responding to a 999 call turned suddenly and without warning into an occasion where the officer has to put his or her life on the line.

It is not just the acts of outstanding bravery that deserve our thanks. Day in, day out, you are the people who are first on the scene at a road accident, who deal with missing children and distraught mothers, who have to tell families that their loved ones are dead or seriously injured.

That is why you command an 80 per cent public approval rating. With an approval rating like that you could be elected to run the Home Office. Come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea.

Politicians of all parties have not always taken the right decisions about the police, and I am the first to acknowledge that your problems did not begin on 1st May 1997. But they have got quite a lot worse since then.

Police numbers are falling, down by over 2,300 in three years. Police stations are being closed at the rate of 90 a year, leaving too many communities exposed and vulnerable. And the police service has become fair game to every pressure group competing to produce the latest sensational charge of corruption, abuse or discrimination.

It is time we politicians remembered that your job is to fight crime and that our job is to help you.

So let me start by utterly rejecting the defeatist nonsense that says crime is just a function of economic and social trends. For that is the constant excuse of a complacent establishment. They talk of crime as an abstract, dismiss victims as mere statistics on a page of a sociology thesis, and are always looking for someone other than criminals to blame for crime.

This liberal thinking on crime, which has pervaded our criminal justice system for forty years, has comprehensively failed Britain. Over that period the murder rate has doubled, violent crime has risen from 24,000 cases a year to 664,000, and burglaries have gone up from 75,000 to nearly one million. The only period when crime fell consistently was at the end of the last Government when Michael Howard was Home Secretary.

I’m not claiming that everything was perfect in some long-forgotten age. We now know that sexual crimes against women and children used to be scandalously under-reported. We also know that rising crime figures are also a measure of increased detection and better policing methods.

But we shall only turn the tide of rising disorder and lawlessness if we stop treating crime as an abstract problem and criminals as the victims of society. As every police officer who has ever had to confront an armed robber, or help a weeping victim of a mugging, knows – crime isn’t an abstract problem. Crime is something people choose to do to other people.

And criminals are not victims. It is the innocent people who they steal from and they beat up who are the real victims. Of course, there are incentives and influences, and the fight against crime is also a war on drugs, poverty and ignorance, on family breakdown and social dislocation. But criminals are not moral zombies sliding down a trend line on a graph. They make their choices and we should make them pay for those choices.

Those English and Turkish Thugs who caused the shameful display of violence in Copenhagen last night were not poor victims of society, they travelled to Denmark and booked hotel rooms with the specific purpose of committing crime. It is too soon for snap judgments but we need to see if the law is adequate and if it isn`t we should look to see how it might be changed.

I want criminals to be fearful of getting caught, and fearful of punishment, so they will choose not to commit crimes. I want to make convicted criminals unwilling to commit more crimes, or at least keep them under lock and key so they can’t. I want the victims of crime to feel that they have had justice. I want the law-abiding millions in our country to feel free from fear in their homes and on the streets. I want a police force that gets the backing and resources from politicians it deserves. I also want a police force that is trusted across our society.

You know that long before the Macpherson Report ever existed, the police and the Federation have been reaching out to Britain’s ethnic minority communities, building bridges of trust and working with local community leaders.

I, like you, want to see many more black or asian police officers, just as I want to see more black and asian Members of Parliament – particularly Conservative Members of Parliament! I hope and expect that within my lifetime we will see a British black or British asian Chief Constable or Chairman of the Police Federation or, indeed, Home Secretary.

And because I know that so many of you share that hope and expectation too, I well understand your resentment at the charge of ‘institutional racism’. No one, and I suspect least of all you, would deny that there are many things we need to improve in our police service, and many things we need to improve in society at large – but the slogan of ‘institutional racism’ has been lifted out of context from the Macpherson Report and used by some to brand tens of thousands of decent, unprejudiced police officers as racists.

That is a travesty of the truth. It is also wrong to allow a genuine concern about the treatment of ethnic minorities to lead to yet more unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation.

You are already hamstrung from doing your job properly by form filling, and target setting, and endless paperwork. If all the officials in Whitehall had sat down and thought of the best way to tie our police in knots, then they couldn’t have come up with a better system than the one inadvertently created in recent years.

We need to set the police free to do your job. We need to give you the political support by defeating the liberal nonsense that says the war against crime can’t be won. We need more police officers and less political correctness. In other words, we need more PCs and less PC.

We know the war against crime can be won because of what’s happened in parts of America. Anyone who says permanently rising crime is inevitable should visit New York. It used to be the Murder Capital of the United States; now it’s among the safest large cities in the world. I admire what Mayor Guiliani, with the help of his police chief, has achieved in New York. I believe we have a lot to learn from them. In Britain we’ve heard endless talk of zero tolerance, but no one has really begun to try it – not yet.

In this country, we have to set out with the confidence and ambition to win the war against crime; and we need to give you the tools and the manpower to go out and win it.

We have to begin by increasing the number of police officers.

You must be heartily sick of politicians coming here and calling for more bobbies on the beat, or more action against drugs, without promising you the extra police officers these things require.

We don’t make that mistake. We promise now that when we return to office we shall, as a minimum, restore the police cuts of the last three years.

Of course, both numbers and quality depend critically on recruitment and retention. I understand your deep-felt concerns. What I can promise is that whatever was done before by the previous Government, we will come to the difficult issues of pay, allowances and conditions with a fresh and open mind.

However, I must be candid with you. I simply cannot write you a blank cheque now in opposition. And if I did, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But nor will I mislead you with promises which, when you look at the small print, turn out to deliver far less than you thought.

We also need to get policemen and policewomen out from behind their desks and onto the streets fighting crime. I’ve seen some reports which suggest many police forces spend three-quarters of their time on administration and bureaucracy, and only a quarter on catching criminals.

That is a crazy waste of talent and resources. We are going to have a bonfire of police red tape and regulation, setting you free to do the job you were trained to do.

We are also going to make street patrols a priority. For the uniformed PC is still the building block of an effective police force. Street patrols may not be suitable for all areas, but they can dramatically reduce public fear of crime and trust in the local police by providing a very visible police presence in the community.

Good policing is no good without an effective criminal justice system. For what is the point of devoting a huge amount of time and effort to catching a criminal one day, only for them to be released by the court with a flimsy penalty the next day?

I regret to say that public confidence in our courts system is on the verge of collapse, and no wonder. Look at the examples we’ve had just in the last few days.

There was the sixteen year old boy finally put behind bars after terrorising his local community for more than four years. In that time he attacked women, old people, he assaulted police officers, stole cars, damaged property, committed burglary and blackmail yet was repeatedly given both bail and a conditional discharge.

Then there was the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the taxpayer should shell out £11,500 to compensate a convicted drug trafficker who argued that a police listening device had infringed his right to privacy.

And, of course, there was Tony Martin. The details of the particular case are best left to the courts, but politicians and the police have a duty to understand why it generated such an explosive public reaction.

The fact is that the law-abiding majority are fed up with a system that allowed the three burglars who broke into Mr Martin’s home to collect 114 convictions between them without any of them serving more than a few months in prison and a couple of dozen hours community service.

We believe its time to overhaul the law in this area so that we are on the side of the person defending their home and their family against the criminal, and not the other way around.

Nothing dismays victims more or brings the entire criminal justice system into greater disrepute than the fact that criminals almost never serve the actual sentence handed down in court. It affects your job too. As the Chief Constable of the West Midlands said recently, ‘until we see the full tariff of penalties being used by the courts on professional criminals, my officers will have to run faster than ever to stand still’.

So the next Conservative Government will introduce honesty in sentencing. We will abolish automatic early release on licence. We will make criminals serve the full term ordered by the judge in open court. Discounts from a sentence will only be earned by good behaviour in prison.

I’m all for sensible efforts to rehabilitate offenders, but sometimes we deal with criminals who have spat in the face of the law, who have rejected every chance to go straight. A career in crime shouldn’t be an option for these parasites on society. A lifetime in prison should.

When we were last in office, my Party introduced mandatory minimum sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders and for persistent burglars. We now propose tough minimum sentences for those who peddle hard drugs to children and for people convicted more than once of sexual offences against children.

We will also stop the early release of serious criminals from prison. Last November the Home Secretary made an explicit pledge. He said that they had ‘no plans or intention whatsoever to provide for … the early release of serious or sexual offenders. Let me make that clear, with a full stop – none whatever’.

Yet he is releasing 2,600 convicted drug dealers, 2,300 thugs convicted of wounding, 1,700 burglars, 19 sex offenders, 22 people convicted of cruelty to children and 5 serving sentences for attempted murder.

Of even greater concern is the fact that over 600 criminals released early have broken their curfew and 200 have committed crimes, including 31 assaults, 67 burglaries and 2 rapes.

Either Jack Straw is the only person in Britain who regards none of these convictions as of a serious or sexual nature, or his promise not to release them early full stop was, like his promise of 5,000 extra police, worth nothing.

Now the Home Secretary is planning to keep criminals in prison during the day and release them at night. Great thinking. This means they can’t work, but they can burgle homes and mug people at night. I say instead of prison from 9 to 5, criminals should be locked up from 12 to 12, day and night.

Some of the fiercest public criticism of the criminal justice system arises from the manifest failure to enforce probation orders and other non-custodial punishments effectively. When a criminal learns that he can defy the courts and that nothing much will happen to him, he is more likely to commit crime again.

So if we are to start winning the war against crime then we have to enforce the sentence of the court. Here’s what we are going to do:

First, if someone on probation breaches their probation order just once then the court will be informed and it will have to take action.

Second, the same principle applies to the Conditional Discharge. What’s the point of a Conditional Discharge if the conditions aren’t enforced? We will make sure that a breach of Conditional Discharge leads automatically to sentencing for the original offence.

Third, we will take persistent young offenders off the streets. That means more Secure Training Centres. And we will make young criminals sent to these Centres subject to a new Flexible Detention Order that links their release date to specific achievements tailored to each inmate. It might be a recognised qualification or even the basics like learning to read and write. Inmates would serve at least six months and the exact time of release would depend on the progress they had made.

This proposal will punish, deter and rehabilitate younger offenders and protect the public from their crimes.

And there is one further change to sentencing which I want to propose today. Back in 1988, we introduced for the first time in English legal history the right to appeal against an over-lenient sentence. At the time, many denounced this as a dangerous innovation. That is liberal establishment speak for straight-forward common sense.

But the right of appeal applies only to a limited list of the most serious offences. Many crimes which spark real anger and fear amongst the public- GBH, ABH, burglary, racially aggravated offences – carry no such right to appeal. So we will extend the right to appeal against an over-lenient sentence to all so-called ‘either-way’ offences tried at the Crown Court.

And we should apply the same, common sense approach to the out-moded rule that no-one may be tried twice for the same offence.

By allowing a retrial in cases of jury or witness nobbling, we have already accepted that the double jeopardy rule is not sacrosanct. We should now go further.

We believe that where new and compelling evidence of guilt comes to light – evidence which could not reasonably have been uncovered during the original investigation – the prosecution should be able to ask the Court of Appeal to order a second trial. It is just as much a miscarriage of justice when a guilty man escapes justice as when an innocent man goes to jail.

Honest Sentences. Enforcing probation orders and conditional discharges. Ending early release for serious crimes. Extending Secure Training Centres and the right of appeal against lenient sentences. Reforming the double jeopardy rule. Putting victims first.

These are Conservative policies which will go a long way to restoring public confidence in our criminal justice system. They go hand in hand with our commitment to a larger, better supported, more motivated police force that is free to do its job.

For we can’t win that war without your help. I commit the Conservative Party here today to ensuring that you have all the political backing you need to be the strongest, most professional and best respected police force in the world. And I want you to know that you will be backed up with a criminal justice system that scares the hell out of criminals, and deserves the trust of the people it protects.

We can cut crime. We can make people feel safer in their homes and on the streets. Provided you are allowed to do your job and we give you the unequivocal, unapologetic, unstinting support you so richly deserve.