Liberal Democrats

Simon Hughes' speech to Autumn Conference

Prison doesn’t work when we lock people up for just a few weeks.

They are not inside long enough for us to change their behaviour.

But many are inside long enough to lose their job, their home, their relationship – all the very things which reduce the chance of them reoffending.

We need to challenge many offenders in their communities.

Not a slap on the wrist, but effectively to address their offending.

Getting them to pay back for the crimes they have committed.

And where appropriate, make them face their victims and apologise.

Prison doesn’t work when we lock people up for having drugs for personal use, when what many need is help to tackle their addiction.

Prison doesn’t work for many of those with a mental illness who actually need treatment, help and support. And for whom being locked up is likely to hinder, not help their recovery.

And we know that there are still far too many women being sent to prison, even when they are no danger to society.

Breaking up families.

Destroying more lives.

If you listen to the rhetoric of Tory and Labour politicians, you’d think it was a record to be proud of that, by head of population, Britain has the highest prison population in Europe, behind only Azerbaijan and Vladimir Putin's Russia.

I tell you: this is nothing to be proud of.

Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan are wrong when they say the biggest problem is that we aren’t spending enough on our prisons.

Even though they don’t promise to spend more.

No, the problem is that we lock up too many people in the first place.

Which does nothing to reduce crime.

And costs us hundreds of millions of poundswhich we simply do not have.

And Labour would make things even worse: locking up more people, for longer.

It’s why I say this:

Don’t ever, ever believe that it would have been a bed of roses to have gone into government with Labour.

So, conference:

If the tired old parties want to remain wedded to their evidence-free, headline-chasing, budget-draining, failed approach….
…. then it falls to Liberal Democrats to provide the new thinking on what works to cut crime.

To win the argument for how best to cut crime in our communities.

I want to thank every single member who took the time to contribute to our new crime and justice policy paper and I look forward to the debate tomorrow.

I particularly thank Geoff Payne and the members of the Working Group for all your work.

These Liberal Democrat plans set out the next steps in reforming our justice system:

Stopping the endless revolving door of short sentences.

Ending the imprisonment of people caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Making the use of drugs a health issue, not a criminal one.

Strengthening the independence of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs.

Establishing a Woman’s Justice Board to pilot alternatives to prison.

Devolving the youth justice custody budget.

Liberal Democrats will continue to put forward a better, fairer vision of how we reduce crime in our country.

And if we want not just to win the argument, but then also to deliver this radical agenda….

We must remember:

It is only possible by being in government.

Only possible by remaining in government.

Conference, the decision we took in 2010 was tough.

But it was the right thing to do.

It has made it possible for us to deliver liberal policies each and every day.

Freedom - increased.

The power of the state - rolled back.

Justice - defended.

We know our task:

Making sure we protect victims and the vulnerable.

Making sure that we focus on what works to cut crime.

Making sure that we protect civil liberties and freedom.

Here and around the world.

And the reason we must stay…

The reason Liberal Democrats must always aspire to be in government….

… is because we are the only ones who will always defend and promote civil liberties, human rights and justice.

Liberal Democrats.

The guarantors….

Not only of a stronger economy.

Not only of a fairer society.

But the guarantors:

Of a free and a just society too. 

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