Labour promises a new drive against violent crime within month of election

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A fresh drive against violent crime, giving police and courts tougher powers to deal with guns and knives, would be launched by Labour within a month of re-election, Tony Blair pledged yesterday.

A fresh drive against violent crime, giving police and courts tougher powers to deal with guns and knives, would be launched by Labour within a month of re-election, Tony Blair pledged yesterday.

Publishing the party's law and order mini-manifesto, he set out plans for stronger laws on the sale of weapons, more drug-testing of prolific offenders and renewed action on binge-drinking.

The Prime Minister insisted crime had fallen and police numbers had risen since 1997 and he added: "If we are elected, there will be a further step-change."

But the Tories derided the plans as a rehash of old ideas, protesting that gun crime had doubled and knife-related murders had risen by one-third over the last five years.

Law and order is certain to be an election battle-ground, with the Tories convinced the Government is vulnerable on the issue.

Under the promised Labour Bill, the minimum age for buying a knife will be raised from 16 to 18 and headteachers will receive the power to search pupils for knives. Offenders who commit serious crime using knives could also face a mandatory minimum sentence. Under-18s would be banned from buying replica guns and tough controls introduced on the manufacture of imitation weapons to stop them being converted to live firearms.

A new offence of using children to hide or carry guns will be introduced. Labour also promised further increases in community support officers (CSOs) to provide "neigh-bourhood policing" for every community. It pledged to have recruited 24,000 CSOs by 2008, creating 36 million extra hours of visible patrolling.

Binge-drinking would be tackled with a "three strikes" policy under which persistent trouble-makers would be banned from city centres.

David Davis, shadow Home Secretary, said: "We've heard it all before. As a consequence of this Government's policies, violent anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol-related crime have gone up."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Gun crime has doubled under Labour and misuse of imitation firearms is a growing menace. Action on replica weapons and knives is long overdue, but age is not the only issue. Steps must be taken to regulate sales over the internet, where the age of the buyer is difficult to determine."

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