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Conservatives Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Tories get tough on drugs
Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe dominated the stage
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has unveiled the Conservatives' new "zero tolerance" approach to drugs.

Miss Widdecombe told the party conference in Bournemouth that she would introduce a fixed penalty of 100 for a first offence of possessing drugs - no matter how small the quantity.

Zero tolerance of the biggest scourge in our society - that's what's going to happen on my watch

Ann Widdecombe
Second offences would be dealt with by the courts and possession of larger quantities would be counted as drug dealing and dealt with more severely.

Miss Widdecombe also proposed a mandatory driving ban on people convicted of driving with drugs in their system.

However, her main proposal met immediate and widespread opposition - not only from drugs charities and human rights groups, but also from the police and senior members of her own party.

Former Tory leader of the Lords, Viscount Cranborne, told the BBC he opposed such a move on practical grounds - it would make the law "into an ass" - making it a challenge to break, and playing into the hands of criminals.

Further reaction

Crackdown on paperwork

Miss Widdecombe said drugs were the greatest cause of crime in the UK, yet Labour was soft on the issue and on crime in general, letting thousands of criminals out of jail early to re-offend.

Officers regularly tell me they can spend an entire shift processing a single criminal through custody

Ann Widdecombe
Miss Widdecombe proposed reforming prison work to make it more productive, a theme she also applied to the time of police officers.

She said she had been told by many officers that they could spend an entire shift processing a single arrest, often filling the same information into different forms.

She therefore proposed that police officers should simply make a short statement before returning to their real job of catching criminals.

'Cops in shops' and 'teen cops'

Miss Widdecombe also attacked Labour for the fall in police numbers, promising that she would not only reverse that trend but make officers more visible in their communities.

The biggest loser in [Labour's] system is the genuine refugee who finds himself clogged up in a queue with more than 100,000 cases

Ann Widdecombe
She said this was particularly important in rural areas. To combat this, Miss Widdecombe proposed adapting a US initiative, 'cops in shops' under which police officers spent time in local shops writing up reports.

This made officers visible to ordinary people and acted as a deterrent to criminals, she said.

Other proposals to increase police numbers included the greater use of part-time officers and 'specials', bringing back retired staff and resurrecting the police cadets.

Miss Widdecombe said the cadets would provide a recruiting and training ground for 16- and 17-year-olds waiting to join the force.

They would not have powers of arrest, but would back up adult officers in areas including street crime, drug abuse and hooliganism.

'Shambolic' asylum system

The shadow home secretary also turned her attention to the issue of asylum seekers.

Miss Widdecombe said Tory plans to house all new applicants in secure reception centres had been criticised by Labour as racist.

But she responded by accusing the government of failing genuine asylum seekers and promised to make the centres one-stop points of expertise in support for the refugees and their families.

She said the current system was shambolic and let down both the refugees and the councils left trying to pick up the pieces.

Echoing Tony Blair's words about his personal credo on racism at Labour's conference last week, Miss Widdecombe said "If you're asking me to put up with [that], then vote for the other bloke, because I won't do it."

The BBC's John Pienaar in Bournemouth
"They love Ann Widdecombe, they adore tough talk on law and order"

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Conservatives
25 Sep 00 | Labour
18 Jul 00 | Politics
03 Oct 00 | Conservatives
14 Aug 00 | UK
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