Repeat violent or sexual offenders will receive mandatory life sentences under a party conference-pleasing set of measures announced by the new justice secretary, Chris Grayling, on Tuesday.

Grayling (pictured) also said the Conservatives would go into the next election with ‘a clear plan for change on human rights’.

Speaking a month after taking up his new post, Grayling proposed allowing householders to use force that ‘in the cold light of day might seem over the top’ against intruders. He said existing legislation, enacted earlier this year, left citizens unclear. Under the new regime, people would be immune from prosecution so long as they had not used ‘grossly disproportionate’ force.

Nick Fluck, vice-president of the Law Society, said the proposals ‘are likely to be contentious as they imply a new, rather different, standard in the way in which a householder can defend themselves and their property. What will be vital is proper clarity in the legislation about what this will mean in practice’.

Grayling’s speech also promised reform of community sentences to deliver what he called ‘proper punishment’ and the use of state-of-the-art technology to enforce curfews and exclusion zones.

In a speech lasting just under 20 minutes, which made no mention of either legal aid or solicitors, Grayling was warmly received by delegates, particularly when he unveiled his policy on burglars and promised that action was under way to deport more of the 10,000 foreign nationals currently in jails in England and Wales.

Grayling also said the government had been prevented by its coalition partner from tackling ‘our out-of-control human rights culture’. However the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, told a fringe meeting it was government policy to remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights – and said there would be the same arguments over judicial interference if human rights legislation was drawn up in the UK rather than Brussels.