2013: Chris Grayling
I’d like to ask you to cast your minds back. Back to those pleasant, sunny days in August … Some of you were most likely on holiday … Some of you might remember a story which appeared in the Daily Mail.
It was about several young men apparently also having a lazy, easy time of it. Not on the beach though, or somewhere hot abroad by the sea. This lot was apparently living it up in Rochester Prison. And had posted a couple of snaps of themselves. Grinning, in their underpants, just to prove it.
And what happened to them?
Within twelve hours, they were in segregation. Locked up for longer in their cells, not hanging out with their mates. Without a TV. Privileges stripped. Weeks added to their sentences after a swift disciplinary process.
Ladies and gentlemen. That’s how we do business now. When someone breaks the rules, there are consequences.
I stood on this stage last year and I promised you that this Government would give you a better criminal justice system.
A system that hard working, law abiding people can have confidence in.
An end to soft justice.
No more resigned acceptance that people who do the wrong thing just get away with it.
A stop to victims feeling like they’ve just been let down all over again by a justice system that doesn’t properly punish the people who deserve it.
That is what we are delivering.
I stood in front of you last year and I promised you we would sort out once and for all the legal position of householders who defend themselves against an intruder in their home.
Ladies and gentlemen. That is no longer a promise. It is the law. A law that makes sure once and for all that those householders know we are on their side.
I stood in front of you last year and promised “two strikes and you’re out”. I told you that if someone committed two serious violent or sexual offences, they would get an automatic life sentence.
Those aren’t just proposals now. They’re the law.
And I told you we’d toughen up community sentences. I told you we’d had enough of people thinking they were the soft option.
From December that will be the law as well.
But since I spoke to you last year we’ve done much much more.
We’re transforming the regime in our prisons – as those young men so quickly found out.
I’ve banned Sky TV across the whole prison estate.
I’ve banned 18 Certificate DVDs.
We’ve restructured the prison day around work and training – and are getting more and more work into prisons.
I want no more lying around watching Jeremy Kyle or endless hours spent in the gym. How can that be right when the rest of the country gets up to go out to work every day?
And if you’re convicted of an offence, we now expect offenders to walk into a prison in a uniform – not saunter inside in their own clothes.
We expect prisoners to earn their privileges.
It’s no longer about perks for sitting in the corner, not causing any trouble. It’s not just about keeping their noses clean.
We expect prisoners to behave well, and engage properly in their own rehabilitation. That’s the only way they’ll earn rewards from now on - not have them granted automatically.
And as of today, we’re changing the rules so that if a prisoner deliberately smashes up his cell, he’ll pay the bill himself. It’s not the taxpayer’s job to pay for an offender’s vandalism.
We’re also putting an end to something else I think is an abuse in our prisons.
Right now prisoners can get legal aid to complain about the prison we put them in, and use it to try and get an easier ride elsewhere.
Your money to pay for their complaints.
I think that’s wrong too, and we’re putting a stop to it.
While we’re talking about legal aid, I want to tell you about another change we’re making.
I think if you come to Britain you should put something in before you get something back.
So I’m putting an end to the situation where people can walk into Britain and get immediate access to most of our civil legal aid system. I don’t think it’s right that someone can just pitch up here, without any connection to the UK and use the legal aid system at our expense.
So our new residency test will mean they have to wait at least a year before they can ask for our help.
All of this is about rebuilding your confidence in our justice system. It’s what I have been working so hard to deliver for you. It’s what all of my team have been working so hard to deliver - Jeremy Wright, Damian Green, Helen Grant, and Tom McNally.
And my Parliamentary team – our two whips, Tariq Ahmad in the Lords, and David Evennett in the Commons, and our excellent PPSs Lee Scott and David Rutley.
And I also want to thank some of the parliamentary colleagues who have worked hard to help us in the last few months.
Henry Bellingham, Priti Patel. Nick de Bois. Robert Buckland. Simon Reevell. Bob Neill. David Burrowes. And many others.
But we know there’s still so much more to do.
And today I want to tell you about what’s next on my list.
How many of you have read those stories about rapists and muggers getting off with a caution, and thought ‘that’s just not right’?
We are right to trust front line police officers to do their job. But Labour created a cautions culture which brought soft justice to the high street. It’s time that changed.
I don’t think it’s right that if you’re out in the town centre on a Saturday night with a knife in your pocket and out for trouble that you should simply get a slap on the wrist.
I don’t think it’s right that you can commit a rape and wreck someone’s life and just walk away with a warning.
I don’t want it to be the case that if you rob someone in street, leaving them scared to go out at night, nothing happens to punish you.
It’s time we said to all the people who commit these sorts of serious offences: if you break the law, you will face the full force of the law.
So I can tell you today that we are scrapping that slap on the wrist, the simple caution, for all of the most serious offences.
And in particular I can tell you that we are scrapping the simple caution for one of the things that has frustrated us most – the carrying of a knife.
If you commit a serious offence, you should face a much tougher sanction, and that is what will now happen.
There’s something else we have needed to do for a long time.
How many of you are frustrated by the idea that when a judge tells an offender they’ve got ten years, in fact it means they are guaranteed to only spend five years in prison? No matter how they behave or what they do on the inside, whether they have tried to turn their lives around or not … it means five years, and then automatically they’re out.
Do you know, the last Labour Government actually went so far as to enshrine in law the automatic release for all prisoners given fixed sentences?
As I've said before, I don’t like the concept of automatic early release. I don’t like the idea that from the off, a serious offender knows he’s only going to serve half his sentence.
Looking at that issue is my next task.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in fact, as Theresa said, this Government’s record on crime is pretty good. Thanks to her efforts, and those of the police, and those of my team and all the people who work for my Department and across our justice system, crime is coming down.
Labour said we couldn’t do it. They said we’d got it all wrong. They said crime would rise under a Conservative Government.
It hasn’t. It’s gone the other way.
But, ladies and gentlemen, there is a part of our criminal justice system that we are just starting to fix.
Fewer people are committing crime for the first time. That’s good news.
But the problem lies with the same hardcore of offenders going round and round the system.
The same hardcore committing a crime … going to court … a community sentence here, a few months inside there … back on the streets …slip back into familiar ways … commit a crime, and the whole sorry merry-go-round starts all over again.
I can tell you there are people in our prison system who’ve been committing crimes for 30, 40, 50 years. At the extreme, we have people in our criminal justice system who have 300, 400 convictions and cautions on their record. There are people who have received well over 100 custodial sentences.
Even if we leave those shocking statistics to one side, it is still the case that more than a third of offenders sentenced for indictable offences in the last year had 15 or more previous cautions or convictions. That is double what it was thirteen years ago.
People don’t just end up prison because they’ve come from a tough background.
Yes, many, many of our offenders have had terrible childhoods, fragmented education, issues with drugs and alcohol, suffered abuse, or long periods of worklessness.
But all of them are also there because of the choices they have made.
I’m not making excuses for any of them.
But we still need to make every effort whilst they are in prison, and when they leave, to turn them away from crime. If we don’t work with them to turn their lives around, we all suffer as the long list of victims just continues to grow.
People often ask me the question; do I believe that prison works.
The answer is yes, prison does work. It takes the most difficult and prolific offenders off our streets and protects our hard working, law abiding citizens. It sends a strong message about what our society is willing to accept, and what it is not willing to accept.
But we have to be realistic too about the fact prison doesn’t work well enough at present. It is there to punish. But it must be there to be the start of rehabilitation for offenders too.
We need to help them with drug and alcohol issues. We need to help get them training and skills so they stand a chance of getting employment on the outside.
Offenders themselves tell me this over and over. More often than not, they want a job, and a chance to sort their lives out.
All too often they just don’t know how, and the old ways become the easiest ways.
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That is what we’re trying to change.
Earlier this year, I went to Pentonville to look at some of the training they provide. I met a small group of men who were taking the exam for their fork lift truck licence.
I’m not sure I’d have liked to take my driving test in front of a Cabinet Minister. Fortunately they all passed.
But talking to them afterwards, it was striking to see how people who clearly failed in their lives, people who have never had proper jobs before, suddenly starting to believe there could be an alternative to crime, prison and reoffending.
What happens when offenders leave prison is just as important too.
Right now, if you go to jail and serve less than 12 months, you leave with £46 in your pocket, and nothing else. I find that staggering. These are the very people most at risk of reoffending, and yet there is no support for them at all beyond the prison gates.
In all those years under Labour, they stood by and watched as all those people were just recycled endlessly round the system.
They did nothing.
I am proud to say this Government is doing something.
We are pushing through the most radical changes to the way we rehabilitate offenders for a generation.
We’re changing the law so that all prisoners will be supervised when they leave prison, and not just those who serve more than a year. There will be no more offenders walking down the street outside their jail, with nowhere to go, and no one to help them.
We’re reorganising our prison system so that most prisoners will spend the last few months of their sentence in a prison near their local area – so we can prepare the ground properly for their release.
And we’re bringing in the best of the private and the voluntary sectors to reinforce what the public sector does. I want to see a new kind of service emerge, where prisoners are met at the gate by a mentor who has already planned for their release while they were still inside …
Met by someone who has worked out where they will live, what extra support, like rehab or training, they will need … Met by someone will serve as a wise friend and supporter to them for a year after they leave.
That’s what our reforms are about. Nothing more. Nothing less.
About making sure we do all that we can to stop reoffending.
And to make sure there are fewer victims of crime.
Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to spend a moment talking about the international challenges we face.
There are two big issues on my desk right now. The first comes from Brussels.
There is a very clear intent in Brussels to build a single justice system for Europe. With European laws, European punishments, European judges. With European decisions over issues that which have always been the preserve of our courts.
Even a European Justice Minister with the power to dictate the way justice works right across Europe.
I have just one thing to say to that proposition.
It doesn’t have to happen. And it won’t happen on my watch
But it’s another reason why we need to renegotiate our membership of the European Union, so that it is on our terms, not those dictated to us. We need to renegotiate our membership, and hold a referendum to give you the chance at the ballot box to say ‘in’ or ‘out’.
I have another big international frustration too.
The European Court of Human Rights.
European Human Rights laws were written by Conservatives in the 1950s as a response to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. They had seen the Holocaust and the gulags. And they said ‘never again’.
For those Conservatives, never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined it would end up where it has; twisted by political correctness … with the all too familiar yob’s catchphrase ‘I know my rights’ … rulings that make our judges doubt they can say to the most heinous of murderers ‘you’re going to prison for the rest of your life’.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am determined that must change. For me no change is not an option.
One small problem. We are the only major party committed to radical reform of human rights laws.
Labour are opposed.
The Liberal Democrats are opposed.
I don’t know why. It’s blindingly obvious the public want change. I simply don’t believe that the majority of the people in this country think that human rights laws are fine as they are.
I would change things now – but we do not have the votes in Parliament.
So I want to make a commitment to you today.
We will go into the next election with a clear plan for change.
In the New Year the Conservatives will publish a document setting out what we will do, when we will do it, and how we will do it.
And then later in the year we will publish a draft Bill which will set out in legal detail exactly how our changes will take effect.
We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act.
We will make sure that with legal rights go legal responsibilities.
Our Supreme Court should be in Britain and not in Strasbourg.
And a future Conservative Government will do whatever it takes to make sure it is.
Ladies and gentlemen.
You wanted a tougher justice system. We are delivering a tougher justice system.
But we also understand the nature and extent of the social challenges that drive offending, and we are tackling them too.
Today’s Conservatism is still tough, but it is also compassionate. And it seeks to do the right thing for all parts of our society.
But I’d like to finish with another thought, one that’s not just about our justice system.
We are all frustrated by being in Coalition.
We all wish we were governing alone.
We want to change our human rights laws, but right now we can’t.
We want to change our relationship with Europe, but right now we can’t.
These to me are unfinished business.
But we are making changes – in education, welfare, justice, home affairs, that are real changes of the kind that we as Conservatives have always wanted to see.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in a year and a half, we have an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
I don’t want to be in a coalition again. I want our party to be in Government, in a majority, continuing the work of the past three years, and doing much much more. Think what we could do for Britain if we were able to govern alone.
The alternative? Imagine Ed Miliband on the steps of Number Ten. Imagine Ed Balls inside the Treasury. Or Sadiq Khan as Lord Chancellor.
Think about going back to more borrowing, soft justice, immigration out of control, schools more worried about targets than education, about going back to a welfare nation.
Back in power, in five years, they would undo it all.
We cannot allow that to happen.
So over the 18 months we need to strain every sinew...
We have to fight every battle.....
We have to get David Cameron back to Downing Street with a majority.
This country needs nothing less.