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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 17:53 GMT
Tories attack jail release scheme
David McLetchie
David McLetchie condemned the early release of prisoners
The first minister has been accused of "aiding and abetting" violent criminals by releasing them early from prison.

The charge came from Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie at his party's annual conference in Dumfries.

Mr McLetchie cited a series of horrific crimes committed after early release from a prison sentence.

He said that Jack McConnell was more concerned with emptying prisons than protecting the public and vowed Tories would end the early release system.

Public confidence

The crimes highlighted by Mr McLetchie included a Samurai sword attack on a mother and daughter, the "disgusting" attempted rape of a toddler and a knife attack on a nurse in hospital.

Mr McLetchie said: "We will end automatic early release as a matter of urgency to protect the public and restore public confidence in our justice system.

"The sentence handed out in court is the sentence that should be served."

The Scottish party leader said that Michael Howard, the UK Tory leader, would end automatic early release in England.

Mr McLetchie said: "Our challenge to Jack McConnell is, will he give people in Scotland the same protection? If he won't, we will in 2007."

Shadow Scottish Secretary Peter Duncan and Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie
We should not be bullied or brainwashed out of our beliefs on tax
Peter Duncan

He also accused the first minister of "wallowing in a slough of complacency over the health service".

The NHS in Scotland is worse today than under the Tories, as a direct result of Labour's "ideological vandalism", Mr McLetchie said.

Tory policies would end treatment delays, and the closure of local maternity units, such as the one in Caithness, would not be tolerated, he said.

A Tory government at Westminster would implement the new policies in England and Mr McLetchie told the conference: "This will make the failure of Jack McConnell and his executive even more stark."

Mr McLetchie told the one-day conference that the south of Scotland was proving the cradle of the Tory comeback, giving them an MP, five MSPs and two MEPs.

The sole Tory MP in Scotland, Peter Duncan, also addressed the conference.

He urged Scottish Tories to proclaim their tax-cutting message "with boldness and confidence" in the campaign for the expected general election.

Mr Duncan, the MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, said: "We should not be bullied or brainwashed out of our beliefs on tax" and went on to argue that low taxes were inherently good.

'Time to be bold'

He told delegates that the party was "on the way back" and was determined to reverse eight years of Labour's broken promises.

Mr Duncan claimed Labour "had simply forgotten" places like his constituency and said he was determined to offer them something better.

"We will not shirk from the challenge of defeating the left-wing consensus which is crippling Scotland," he said.

"It's time to be bold, to be brave, to stand up and say 'we're right, they're wrong and we've got eight years of evidence to prove it'.

"The choice is clear - four more years of broken promises, declining services and higher taxes under Labour, or value for money and lower taxes under the Conservatives.

"I believe that the people of this country will choose a better way."

Addressing the conference, Tory leader Michael Howard said the party's plans were rooted in common sense values.

"Here in Scotland our team in the Scottish Parliament has bee making the case for value for money," he said.

"They're the real opposition in Holyrood - holding the Scottish Executive to account for its complete failure to deliver value for money for world-class public services."

Mr Howard accused the prime minister of being angry over the issue of electoral accountability and said Tony Blair would be "very angry come polling day" as the Tories would hold him to account for his mistakes.




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