Clarke to act on bail offenders and raise fines

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KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, is planning to tighten the law on bail offenders this summer and to answer growing criticism about inadequate fines for those on low incomes.

Mr Clarke yesterday outlined his plans to the Cabinet. The package, due to be announced to Parliament next week, will provide an immediate response to the clamour for tougher action on crime and punishment.

Legislation to allow young offenders to be put into secure accommodation run by private or voluntary operators will take a year to reach the statute book.

Mr Clarke is now seeking Treasury approval for the expenditure, having reassured some senior colleagues that they are not going to be a second generation of approved schools.

But to accelerate the progress, the Home Office is planning to use a backbench Bill which was given an unopposed Second Reading on Friday to make it a criminal offence to offend while on bail.

Mr Clarke has also told backbench MPs that he can use parliamentary orders to answer criticism of the system of income- related fines introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1992. Angela Knight, the Tory MP for Erewash, who welcomed the promise of action, quoted two cases in her area which underlined the anomalies this caused.

In one example, an unemployed youth was found guilty of drinking and driving after crashing a car without insurance. He was fined pounds 22 by the court because his income was minimal.

Another youth who was stopped while driving without insurance was fined pounds 600 because he was earning pounds 200 a week.

The system will be retained, but Mr Clarke is expected to tell MPs next week that he will not need primary legislation to change the rules to allow magistrates to impose higher fines on those with low incomes.

He will use the Bail (Amendment) Bill introduced by Michael Stephen, the Tory MP for Shore ham, to tighen the bail laws.

It would give a right of appeal to the police against the granting of bail by magistrates for persistent offenders and would reverse the onus of proof for the granting of bail for persistent offenders. Instead of the police having to prove why bail should be denied, the applicant would have to show why bail should be granted.

The Home Office is wary of that clause, but Mr Stephen is arguing his Commons' motion has widespread support from Tony Benn, on Labour's left wing, to Teresa Gorman, on the right wing of the Tory Party.

The Home Office wants to amend the Bill to make it a criminal offence to offend while on bail.

Mr Stephen, a barrister, is willing to accept the amendment, providing the penalty runs consecutively, not concurrently, and is served in addition to any further sentence.

It is highly unusual for a backbench Bill introduced under the 10-minute rule to reach the statute book.

But the Government could help it through the committee stage. That may depend on it continuing to receive Labour's support.

John Major yesterday challenged Labour to support the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act next week as a test of its bipartisan support for the Government's action on crime.

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