Howard puts crime fight at heart of pledges

An incoming Tory government would make a "war on crime" the centrepiece of its plans to make Britain a country envied around the world, Conservative leader Michael Howard pledged today.

In his address to the Tory conference, Mr Howard also laid out plans for new action against drug abuse, toughened discipline in schools, and radical measures to control immigration.

Mr Howard, who earlier today was buoyed up by news that the UK Independence Party has lost its biggest financial backer the multi-millionaire Paul Sykes, also signalled a determination to take powers back from Brussels.

He promised that on its first day in power a Conservative government would set the date for the referendum on the European Constitution - the Tories want the British people to reject the document.

Although he refrained from promising to cut particular taxes, Mr Howard reassured his audience that: "When I can, I will cut taxes."

On crime, Mr Howard pledged: "The first problem I'll get a grip on is crime. The gloves will come off."

He promised to copy across to Britain the 'zero tolerance' approach to crime pioneered in New York.

"What (Rudi) Giuliani did in New York, what Ray Mallon did in Middlesbrough, we'll do for the whole of Britain. A war on crime."

Mr Howard said: "We need a government that will stand up for the silent, law-abiding majority who play by the rules and pay their dues. A government that will put their rights first."

And Mr Howard, who as Home Secretary famously declared that "prison works" , promised: "Career criminals and dangerous offenders should be in prison - not roaming our streets. So we will build more prisons."

On immigration, Mr Howard said that in its first week, a Tory government would signal its intention to withdraw from the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Mr Howard told his audience: "Three weeks ago, on a Saturday night, I went out on the streets of Brixton with people from local churches. I saw the problems their community is up against.

"In two hours we didn't meet a single policeman. Not one.

"This was inner city London, just before midnight, on a Saturday night. No wonder people feel the police have become distant and remote.

"The problem is that the police are handcuffed by paperwork. They now have to spend almost as much time at the station as they do out on the streets.

"And now this Government is making it worse. The police will now have to fill in a form every time they stop someone. Not stop and search. Just stop someone.

"It takes seven minutes to complete that form. Just think about it. If a police officer stops half a dozen unruly youngsters, he'll have to spend the best part of an hour filling in forms.

"I don't want police filling in forms. I want them on the streets doing their job.

"People are fed up that when the police do catch criminals the punishment never seems to fit the crime. Under a new Labour law, shoplifters will only get a fixed penalty fine and no criminal record. Theft is now no worse than parking on a yellow line.

"I promise you I'm not making this up.

"And five years ago, Labour introduced an early release scheme. Since then 3,600 crimes - including rape - have been committed by criminals let out of prison early. Every one of those crimes could have been prevented.

"All this has to change.

"Day One: That form police officers will have to fill in every time they stop someone, that form will go into the appropriate filing tray - the bin.

"Week One: Labour's early release scheme - that will go.

"Month One: We'll start to recruit 5,000 more police officers a year."

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