Election '97: CRIME: Tough talk over law and order crime law and order

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The Independent Online
"Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" was coined by Tony Blair when he was shadow Home Secretary, long before becoming party leader was a realistic option.

The manifesto confirms that the approach would continue to underpin the law and order policy of a Labour government - although the subject of attacking the causes of crime disappointingly merits just seven words: "by our measures to relieve social deprivation." There is a related message in the section on strengthening family life, however. "Families are the core of our society," it says. "They should teach right from wrong."

Much more forcibly spelt out is Labour's claim to be the "party of law and order in Britain today" and its accusation that the Conservatives have presided over the worst law and order record of any government since the Second World War.

There are five main initiatives to do with managing crime itself: fast- track punishment for persistent young offenders; the reform of the Crown Prosecution Service to cut bureaucracy, inefficiency and the downgrading of offences; more police on the beat; a crackdown on petty crime and neighbourhood disorder; and a fresh parliamentary vote to ban all handguns.

Wisely, and in contrast to some of the enthusiastic claims by the last government, the party suggests that it could halve the time it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentencing. And Labour has commendably grasped the opportunity to pledge to create a specific new offence of racially motivated violence. It also repeats earlier pledges to "implement an effective sentencing system for all the main offences to ensure greater consistency and stricter punishment for serious repeat offenders."

Alongside the pledges of "zero tolerance" of young criminals and neglectful parents, elsewhere the manifesto offers something in the field of positive rights with a pledge to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Immigration procedures for those wanting to join a husband and wife in this country would be reformed to remove the unfair results that can follow from the "primary purpose" rule, while applicants for asylum would be ensured "swift and fair decisions".

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