Smith claims the high ground over law and order

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Indy Politics
JOHN SMITH and his Labour frontbench team yesterday stepped up their challenge to the Conservatives as the party of law and order, underscoring the fact that crime has doubled since the Tories took office and calling for more help for the police.

Raising the issue at Question Time, Mr Smith asked what action the Prime Minister proposed to take to protect people from the crime wave sweeping the nation. 'Is it not a deplorable indictment of Conservative government that during the Conservative years, crime has more than doubled?'

John Major replied that the Government had passed the Public Order Act, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, two Criminal Justice Acts, the Prison Security Act and an Act to ban joyriding - all of which had been opposed by Labour.

But Mr Smith countered: 'Has the Prime Minister noticed that whatever it is he claims to do or have done, the crime rate consistently rises year after year? Does he think it is remotely tolerable that there are, according to the Government's crime survey, something like 25,000 break-ins every week in this country? When is he going to do something about protecting our citizens from that?' Mr Major noted there was no pledge from the Labour leader to support the Government's legislation or to support it in future in dealing with crime. 'Crime has increased ever since the Second World War under all governments and our record in combating crime is comparable with that in other countries in western Europe. It is a trend that has occurred for year after year. It is not a matter that is just dealt with legislatively. I doubt whether any other government would have provided the resources for the police, and certainly no other government would have sided with the victim against the villain, in the way that this government has.' The Home Office told the Independent that total crime in England and Wales fell in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1983 and 1988.

Earlier, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, rejected a claim by his Labour shadow, Tony Blair, that crime was 'out of control'. Mr Clarke acknowledged that it was 'extremely serious' and said that was why the Government was working on proposals for secure accommodation for juvenile offenders and to deal with offending on bail and people who organised rave parties.

Backbenchers on both sides wanted harsher penalties for car crime. Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley and a recent victim of car crime, said offenders should be left in no doubt that 'society has had enough'.

Teresa Gorman, Conservative MP for Billericay, said women were getting sick and tired of judges handing out soft sentences to rapists. She added: 'Perhaps we should do something a bit more drastic to these people - including cutting off their goolies.'

Letters, page 18