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Immigration and Crime - Labour is failing

29th October 2004

We have all seen at first hand, how Labour cannot make up their minds and continue to 'flip-flop' on policy

The 1997 election was a difficult one for the Tories. At that time, the tide had turned in Labour's favour. After 18 years of Conservative Government, the "time for a change" factor kicked in and Labour won with a huge majority, a great inherited economy and the good will of the majority of the population. But what will they be remembered for? Probably not that much other than playing second fiddle to the US in a couple of wars, messing up devolution and Lords reform. With all these factors, they had a great chance to instigate serious public sector reform but, frankly, they have blown their opportunity.

They have blown it on hospitals: with thousands of doctors and nurses leaving the NHS to work overseas or in the private sector, the barrage of red-tape within the NHS is out of control, and there are now 5,000 MRSA deaths originating from our hospitals - more than died on our roads last year.

They have blown it on schools: it embarrasses me to say that illiteracy is among the highest rate in western countries; that the main reason for teachers leaving the profession is lack of discipline and that students subject to the Stalinist new "OFFTOFF", are now being admitted to university on the basis of their economic background rather than their merit. Labour have succeeded, amongst their other disasters, in destroying one of the world's strongest funded pensions systems and turning the highest savings ratios into the lowest, as taxes have risen 66 times and national debt has steadily increased to cope with public sector spending. In effect this country was kept out of recession by Mr Brown instituting a huge increase in consumer spending, leading to a trillion pounds of individual debt and a soaring rate of personal insolvency. In addition to this, there has also been the undermining and weakening of our armed forces as a result of simultaneous overstretching and budget cuts.

Labour never had an overall strategy back in 1997, just some one-off plans, which originally included keeping to Tory spending plans. But of course they were good at getting the message across. We all remember those sound bites: "Cool Britannia"; "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"; and "stakeholder society". It is clear though, that no one believes them any more: New Labour have become a joke.

We have also seen at first hand, how Labour cannot make up their minds and continue to "flip - flop" on policy. In terms of the public sector, first they looked towards reform- but this plan failed. Then we saw a huge increase in public sector spending - but yet again this method failed and actually led to a decrease in public sector productivity. Now Labour are gravitating back to the idea of reform, but in actual fact, it is clear that Labour are getting nowhere. Only at this year's Labour conference, Tony Blair ordered us to "think big" on public sector reform. But, as in the past, his hands are tied by his own backbenchers and the unions.

Don't forget, by the time the university fees and foundation hospital votes scraped through the Commons on tiny majorities, they had both been thoroughly gutted in committee. Next time the Prime Minister could well lose the vote.

Michael Howard has been saying the opposite: think devolving powers and budgets; think on a local basis with local communities making decisions on local priorities and allocations, not Whitehall. If there are cuts, then these should be made in Whitehall and this is exactly the purpose of Mr James' review at the present.

Having said all that, with an unpopular Labour Party, a mistrusted Prime Minister, together with a Conservative Party that is formulating good policy and which is being effectively led, why are Labour still not behind in the polls? My view is that there needs to be a simpler message for the voters who do not yet know what we stand for. However at Party Conference we were given that message and it is 10 words plus one: school discipline; more police; cleaner hospitals; lower taxes; controlled immigration; and accountability.

I would like to concentrate today on Home Affairs. This is one of my roles on the Tory Front Bench and presents many vital national challenges.. Not least of which is Labour's plan to hammer home yet another nail into the coffin of the nation state and Britain's parliamentary sovereignty.

How many of you have heard of the Tampere agenda? Although not at the forefront of news, this agenda incorporates plans, emanating from Europe, to introduce over the next 5 years, such things as a common European asylum and immigration policy, a European police force, as well as a European Public Prosecutor. The European common policy on asylum and immigration will be forced through as a result of this Government choosing to end the UK's right of veto in relation to European legislation on asylum, immigration and border controls. This will be achieved through the introduction of Qualified Majority Voting for legislation in this area. The Government maintains that we still retain our right to "opt out" of any asylum or immigration legislation that is not in our interests, but realistically, no veto means no possibility of stopping the plans in the first place.

For example, if Europe says that the UK, along with other Member Sates, should accept a certain number of asylum seekers, then certainly we could technically exercise our right to opt out of such plans. But let us not be naïve about, firstly, the pressure the UK would come under to accept such plans in the face of the majority of other Member States having accepted them, and secondly, the fact that the European laws on freedom of movement of persons would still allow those asylum seekers to come here once they had received passports in other member states. So we will be weakened.

But Labour and the Liberal Democrats love this prospect - it takes the responsibility and pressure off them, as they can hold their hands up and say "it wasn't us, it was Europe". The loss of our asylum veto is included as part of the EU Constitution. Do not forget that Tony Blair was meant to have promised a referendum on the Constitution. Yet here we have Labour signing us up to one part of the Constitution, without the opportunity for the British public to have their say in the referendum - such is the deceitful nature of this Government.

These proposals are simply not acceptable because, as things stand in the UK, current asylum and immigration policies are a disaster. Certainly, this country has a moral duty to help its fair share of those who are oppressed and persecuted for their faith or beliefs and who seek asylum. Furthermore, our job markets will require that we allow a certain level of immigration. However, this needs to be limited according to this country's requirements in terms of immigration rather than the "free-for-all" we are now experiencing.

The level of asylum is now 60% higher than in 1997 whilst only 1 in 5 applicant asylum seekers turned down by the Courts are currently deported from the UK. The legal aid costs of representing asylum applicants have spiralled from £35 million to over £200 million a year. This has resulted in considerable pressure on the (capped) civil legal aid budget and an inevitable decrease in the money available to fund civil cases. Correspondingly, there has been a drop from 47% of the population in 2001 being entitled to access to the civil legal aid system, to now only 5% of the population.

In terms of immigration, figures have at least doubled. Although the Home Secretary has said that he has no knowledge of the actual figures and that there is no need for a limit. But then again perhaps he says this because Labour have got the asylum figures down recently by amnesties and by allowing asylum seekers to enter the UK as immigrants.

It is without doubt necessary to act on this now. Look at what has been happening in Burnley and Oldham where support for the BNP is particularly strong and social unrest is high. The proof of the failure of the cult of multiculturalism surrounds us, as different ethnic communities live in isolation and fear of each other in our inner cities. This is the way towards cultural disintegration. We need to ensure that all communities work together and understand each other, at the very least accepting the need to integrate themselves into British society. Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of this is the need for immigrants to learn and use English on a day to day basis and accept symbols of British culture to aid integration.

As a party, the Tories will do a number of things to combat these issues. The first would be the reintroduction of embarkation controls. This would form a part of the wider aim of fundamentally reforming the asylum and immigration system, aiming to cut the current 5 year asylum process through the introduction of overseas processing for asylum seekers, as now happens in Australia. It is clear to us that a yearly limit on the number of asylum seekers and immigrants is needed and this should be set each year by Parliament, to fully reflect the changing ability of UK society to cope with such numbers and to be able to assess those areas of our society/economy that would benefit from immigration. A further facet of this reform would also be the introduction of a new system of work permits. In effect the Conservatives will bring a level of transparency and honesty to a process that is now rotten, costly and inefficient.

Aside from the substance of the policies in this area, there is obviously also a need to deal with the growing culture of political correctness. This is part of the problem with Labour and the Lib Dems. Indeed the doctrine of political correctness, spurred on by Labour, has generated its own culture and industry. Specifically, Labour are currently stifling the Police by enforcing extremes of political correctness. Now they are even proposing to extend the use of forms from "stop and search" to any kind of "stop". Of course such forms include a section on ethnicity and each takes 7 minutes to complete. We shall cut red tape in this area, thereby freeing police to do their job and keep the streets clear, rather than swamping them with unnecessary paperwork in police stations.

Currently, police targets are set by Whitehall so, for instance, in Cambridgeshire, because the police were not achieving the national arrest targets, the Police decided to pull out all village bobbies from the villages into the cities - in a moment damaging the Police's standing in rural areas - for what purpose? To keep Mr Blunkett happy? We shall abolish national targets and allow targets and spending decisions to be made on a local basis As part of this, we will extend local democracy and accountability by providing for elected police authorities to make these decisions.

It is not possible to talk about crime without raising the issue of drugs. There are currently 1 million hard drug addicts in this country and cocaine users have increased 3 times over in recent years. As you are no doubt aware, cannabis has been reclassified from a Class "B" drug to Class "C", which is effectively Government turning a blind eye to cannabis use in the UK. Speaking frankly: I see illegal drugs as being the most worrying social issue facing this country - Labour has failed to even start to deal with this curse.

When you look at the statistics on property crimes, it is alarming to find that 60-70% of them are drugs related. Of those offenders who are sent to prison ; if they were not addicts before prison, they are very likely to leave prison as addicts. While locked up they continue to build up huge drug debts, which means that on their release they are far more likely to reoffend in order to pay off these debts. And so the vicious circle continues.

Similarly, let's look at gun crime which is soaring and directly related to drug trading. It is clear that this country is heading towards a situation like that of the US where, in our cities, guns are seen as fashion accessories and a common part of every day life.

Take Afghanistan, where the UN gave the UK the job of fighting heroin production and where the UK has spectacularly failed. But then again how could the Labour Government have ever been expected to deal with this task, when it cannot even get drugs, and drug related crime under control in the UK?

This cycle that is destroying our families, our communities and our youth's future must be broken. We shall introduce a choice for offenders. Prison or rehabilitation? To do this would involve paying for an additional 20,000 rehab spaces. Not a cheap option, but peanuts compared to the potential NHS savings and lower property crime costs. We shall also tackle drug culture from the very beginning of the cycle - including by introducing random drug testing in schools in order to spot and deal with problems at a very early stage.

It is not only serious crimes which are troubling this country. There has recently been a huge increase in yob culture, fighting and violence in the street, vandalism and nuisance crimes; a lot of these fuelled by drinking. I am all for young people enjoying a good night out but there is no denying that there has been a huge fall in personal responsibility over the last few years, as well as parental responsibility.

We believe that a zero tolerance attitude is what is needed to combat these crimes and to clear up our streets. To enforce this that we need more police on the streets and less red tape preventing them from doing their jobs. That is something we will set our sights on from our very first day in Government and why Conservatives are committing to recruit 40,000 extra police - that is 5,000 extra per year. Labour's new Anti-Social Behaviour Order has its uses but, with one third of them being breached, there is no substitute for police on the ground.

As well as dealing with the system of catching criminals, a review of punishments is key. The range is expansive, from the use of cautioning, through to community penalties. Yet it must not be forgotten that there is a finite group in our society who commit most of the crimes and can be classed as persistent offenders. By ensuring that these people are locked-up the crime figures can be disproportionately reduced. This is what we wish to do.

But the Government cannot lock up persistent offenders, or indeed even people who breach there ASBOs as our prisons are already full. In desperation, Labour have actually resorted to early release schemes and electronic tagging instead. With 90,000 people having been subject to the scheme on tagging, it has been used too widely throughout the country as an alternative means of dealing with offenders who should be kept behind bars. And there is no evidence that early release is even working. In fact, 2,000 tagged criminals have so far committed some 3,500 crimes. Conservatives will end the early release scheme within the first week of Government and start new prison building within the first month.

So there is very much to do in the fight against crime. Let me conclude by noting that under Labour, only 3% of crimes result in a conviction. Under the next Conservative Government we will regain control of our streets and ensure a return to values of decency, discipline and respect for the laws of this country. We do not have to accept the status quo and we shall not be doing so.

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