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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 15:21 GMT

UK Politics

Parties clash on crime

One in two nurses has been seriously assaulted, Tories say

The Tories are attempting to wrest back the initiative on crime and punishment ahead of controversial measures expected in the Queen's Speech.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe is promising a new offence of violence against nurses, teachers and other public sector workers.

[ image: Ann Widdecombe: Building on conference speech ideas]
Ann Widdecombe: Building on conference speech ideas
She also wants to see young people who commit anti-social offences facing mandatory minimum sentences.

Miss Widdecombe said on Monday, days before the Queen's Speech is expected to outline a new criminal justice bill, that she is examining ways to extend the "three strikes and out" system to cut down on offences such as assault, vandalism and car theft.

She is also challenging plans to prepare convicted prisoners for life outside jail by increasing the time spent working and learning inside.

The move builds on themes set out in the shadow home secretary's conference speech, when she surprised some observers by stressing the role of rehabilitation in prison.

"If you really want to make prison purposeful then you've got to have prison workshops with a full working day that replicates the conditions of the outside world," she said. "I haven't heard the government commit to that."

She agreed the post-release programmes promised by the government could help some offenders back to work.

"But it is simply no good taking someone through an idle prison routine, letting them come out of prison even less able to fit into the labour market than before and then saying, 'ah, but we're going to have a resettlement programme'," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

[ image: Paul Boateng:
Paul Boateng: "New approach"
But Home Office minister Paul Boateng - who will set out plans for resettlement in a speech on Monday to the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) - denied the charge.

"What we're proposing is additional monies totalling 226m for initiatives around prison regimes to correct offending behaviours.

"And, in addition to that, a new approach using prison and probation orders working together, built on what works, to reintegrate people back into the community."

Mr Boateng said he refused to take lessons on law and order from members of the previous Conservative administration, saying crime had doubled under it.

Miss Widdecombe was offering up further details of the Tories' proposed new offence of violence against public sector workers during a visit to a London housing estate on Monday.

She said: "The next Conservative government will introduce a specific offence of violence or attempted violence against a crown servant going about their duty.

"We will ensure that the prosecuting authorities are under special instruction to make sure nothing prevents people accused of this offence being brought to trial."

One in two nurses has been the victim of a serious assault, according to figures provided by the Tories.

The government has announced measures to deal with violence against nurses, such as improving security at hospitals, and has set up a taskforce to prepare an action plan to reduce attacks against social workers.

Miss Widdecombe also expressed her concern at the anti-social behaviour, saying: "Offences like assault, vandalism and car theft are continuing to wreck our society and leave people in fear of walking the streets of our towns and cities.

"I am considering ways in which three strikes and out can be extended to incorporate a minimum mandatory sentence for anti-social offences committed by young people."

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