Politicians slug it out over the causes of juvenile crime

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The Independent Online
INDIVIDUALS, not society, are responsible for crime, the Prime Minister insisted yesterday, declaring that conscience was the best deterrent. Everyone should have instilled in them from an early age that crime was wrong, John Major said.

But Labour accused ministers of focusing on bad - often single - parents as the sole cause of crime in order to divert attention from the Government's failure to tackle poverty, poor housing and unemployment.

Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, said Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, were guilty of 'Thatcherism without thought' with their 'illogical' denial that there was any influence on individuals from the kind of society in which they grew up.

The remarks came as Mr Major told a crime prevention meeting in west London: 'We need to encourage a greater sense of responsibility and a sense of self-discipline if we are to get down to tackling the roots of crime.'

Mr Blair said the reason for tackling causes as well as crime itself was to give personal responsibility a better chance of being achieved. 'That is why it is sensible to create a society in which young people grow up with good education and job prospects.'

Speaking in Leeds, David Blunkett, shadow Secretary of State for Health, accused Mr Major and right-wing colleagues of a 'cynical act of deceit' when invoking traditional values: 'With this government it is always someone else's fault. It's never their fault. Single mothers. The unemployed. The European Community. Even the 1960s.'

Despite the finding in a Cabinet paper leaked this week that there 'does not appear' to be any direct link between single-parent families and criminality, Mr Howard has argued that there is a connection with the presence or absence of a committed father. Generations of Tory ministers have denied the possibility of other links.

Speaking in Leicester, Mr Blair said the current Tory argument seemed to accept that bad upbringing could influence adversely the development of young people.

'So there are 'causes' of crime. But then, having agreed to this as an underlying cause of delinquency, they furiously deny that there are any other such causes. Yet both family and children live in a broader community.

'To draw a circle round the home and treat it as if it had no connection with the society in which it is situated is absurd. But the reason government ministers do so is very simple. Parenting can be blamed on the parents. Education, poverty, housing, job prospects reflect upon government.'

Mr Blunkett said unemployment, poverty, ill health and lawlessness were the outward symbols of Tory values in the past 14 years.