Election `97: Taking a liberal route to the heart of crime

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Indy Politics
It was to be expected that of the three main political parties, only the Liberal Democrats would set out their policies on crime in a traditionally "liberal" context, and they alone have specifically chosen to group pledges on law and order alongside those on issues such as housing, in the context of wider social values. "Many people feel too frightened to leave their home," the manifesto says, but adds: "Many do not have a decent home."

Thus there are four linked priorities: 3,000 more police officers on the beat; the building of more affordable and secure housing; the ending by 2000 of the sleeping-rough scandal; and the revival of Britain's sense of community.

The Lib Dems are the only main party to spell out that it would "encourage the use of community sentences, as an alternative to prison, where the result is likely to be less reoffending, and use prison sentences where they are essential to public protection or to make punishment effective".

The manifesto adds that the Lib Dems would concentrate resources on crime prevention and on increasing conviction rates, rather than on building prisons, and renews the party's call for a Royal Commission to develop policies for tackling the drugs problem "at its roots". It pledges to increase the elected membership of police authorities and to create an accountable police authority for London. In the "secure communities" section the party says it would ensure that the police took "further steps to reduce the level of racial and homophobic violence", and put more police into rural areas.

A new Human Rights Commission and Bill of Rights would ensure equality before the law for lesbians and gay men, and the party would outlaw incitement to hatred and discrimination in housing and employment, on grounds of sexual orientation. Legislation would secure the civil rights of disabled people and the Commission for Racial Equality's code would be given statutory force. Immigration law too would be reformed - to enable "genuine" family reunions in Britain.