`Prisoners must earn wages and pay rent'

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INMATES SHOULD be paid a minimum wage for work in prison so that they can pay "rent" for their cells, the Tories proposed yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of the Tories' "Common Sense on Crime" policy, Ann Widdecombe, the party's spokeswoman on home affairs, said the introduction of "full working days and realistic wages" was crucial for the rehabilitation of prisoners.

"We must ensure that prison does its job effectively. Prison workshops will operate on a self-financing basis, and prisoners will be paid a wage, from which deductions will be made to cover some of the costs of their upkeep, savings to help them adjust when they leave prison, money to help their families and money to help their victims," she said.

A senior Tory source added that under the plans prisoners would be paid the minimum wage, currently pounds 3.60 an hour.

William Hague disclosed that the Government's failure to reduce crime would form a big part of the Tories' attack on today's Queen's Speech.

"If the Queen's Speech is going to be anything like advertised, then their failure to deal with crime will be a major part of our attack.

"We say, `Enough is enough. No more hollow promises, fiddled figures and empty rhetoric.' Labour have done nothing to make the lives of thousands of people in this country any better. Under Labour the thin blue line is getting thinner," Mr Hague said.

Miss Widdecombe accused the Government of "peddling hot air and hollow rhetoric" and claimed it had done little to reduce antisocial behaviour.

"I for one am shocked by the continuing scourge of antisocial behaviour. Offences like assault, vandalism and car theft are continuing to wreck our society and leave people in fear of walking the streets of our towns and cities. I am considering ways in which `three strikes and out' can be extended to incorporate a minimum mandatory sentence for antisocial offences committed by young people," she said.

The "three strikes and out" policy, under which offenders are automatically sentenced to jail for their third offence, currently applies only to persistent sexual offenders and armed robbers.

Miss Widdecombe, joined by Mr Hague, also highlighted her party's commitment to introducing a "three strikes and out" policy for dealers of soft drugs, with a minimum sentence of seven years in prison, and a "two strikes and out" policy for suppliers of hard drugs.

Other proposals in the document include increasing 10-fold the number of places for young offenders in secure training centres, and the recognition of a new crime - violence against public servants - to help to protect nurses and teachers from assault.

Further Conservative plans involve all crime victims being allocated a named police officer, who would keep them up to date with their case, and "honesty in sentencing", with no automatic release from jail on licence for offenders.

Miss Widdecombe said: "We will also be looking at the way in which this country is policed, looking at ways in which the police can be allowed to get on with their number-one task of fighting crime and the problems which police and residents face in tackling crime in rural areas.

"These proposals are common sense. They will aid the fight against crime and make sure that we live in a more secure society."