Election `97: Blair promises Bill to tackle youth crime

Talking tough: Parties compete to play the law and order card
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The Independent Online
A crime and disorder Bill to tackle anti-social behaviour, youth crime and drugs would be among the first measures brought in by a new Labour government, Tony Blair said yesterday.

Mr Blair used his party's morning press conference to attack Tory policies on law and order as strong on rhetoric but weak on results.

"The Conservatives were elected on a law and order platform but their record has borne no relation to their rhetoric," he said. "Only one crime in 50 ends in a conviction. Petty crime is tolerated, the unacceptable accepted."

Mr Blair warned that a Conservative fifth term would mean a further rise in violent crime, fewer convictions and more people living in fear.

Labour's Bill would herald the appointment of a "drug czar" to co-ordinate the fight against illegal drugs, the reform of the youth justice system to bring in fast-track punishment and a new crime of racial harassment.

It would also include new rules to prevent the intimidation of witnesses, new duties for local authorities to prevent alcohol abuse and a night- time curfew on children under 10. The Bill would also include measures to deal with anti-social behaviour and "nuisance neighbours".

Labour said violent crime had risen by 11 per cent since 1980. Then, there were two and a half million crimes and 450,000 convictions for criminal offences, but by 1995 there were five million crimes but just 300,000 convictions.

Labour's home affairs spokesman, Jack Straw, challenged Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to say which of Labour's anti-crime measures he would oppose if the party won the election.

Mr Howard did not answer the challenge directly, but he claimed Labour had admitted it would not be as tough on crime as the Conservatives.

Labour would not implement the Conservatives' plans for automatic life sentences for repeat rapists and armed robbers or amend the Crime (Sentences) Act to reinstate tough minimum sentences for career burglars and drug dealers.

Their proposals to tackle nuisance neighbours would give victims less protection than provisions in the Tories' Protection from Harassment Act, he said. Under that act, he said, anyone who behaved on more than one occasion in a way which caused someone to feel harassed would be liable to up to six months in prison.

The Conservatives would provide pounds 75m to pay for CCTV cameras and money for 5,500 extra police.

"The truth is that Labour talk tough but act soft," he said. "If you want a party which is prepared to be tough on criminals, vote Conservative on 1 May."

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