Election '97: Focus on control and punishment

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Indy Politics
The law and order programme of a future Conservative government would build on the existing theme of more punishment, more prisons, more surveillance and "zero tolerance" of petty crime.

Voluntary identity cards, closed circuit television, electronic tagging and minimum jail sentences are the key planks that would allow people to "sleep safely in their homes and walk safely on the streets", the manifesto says.

Penal experts were sceptical, deriding the pledges as election soundbites that were unlikely to reduce crime.

While the manifesto covers much already well-trodden ground, there are four proposed initiatives that can be classed as new, or as developments on existing thinking.

A Tory government would go ahead with a proposal to give judges the power to stop defendants from personally cross-examining alleged rape victims or other victims deemed vulnerable. It would also bring forward measures to modernise the systems for dealing with City fraud.

The section on tackling juvenile crime promises to make the probation service, rather than social services, responsible for enforcing community punishment for under-16s.

The manifesto includes a pledge to extend electronically monitored curfew orders nationwide for offenders aged 16 and over - despite Home Office research showing that a quarter of the young criminals fitted with electronic tags in pilot schemes breached their orders.

Over the next Parliament pounds 75m would be provided to continue extending CCTV to town centres and housing estates, and for the introduction of voluntary identity cards.

A future Tory government would restore those parts of the minimum sentencing legislation toned down by the opposition parties and would legislate on Green Paper plans to force young offenders to make reparation to their victims, and impose control orders, backed by sanctions, on parents who refuse to supervise their offspring.

There would be a further 8,500 prison places by the year 2000, and the legal aid scheme for civil and criminal cases would become cash-limited.

Paul Cavadino, chairman of the Penal Affairs Consortium, said: "The public would be better protected if instead of increasing the use of prison and tagging, the same resources were used to strengthen probation programmes and to produce more rehabilitative prison regimes."