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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 19:34 GMT
Tories hit out over rapes
A Conservative broadcast claiming rapists have been freed early from prison under Labour to offend again has ignited the UK general election campaign.
The dispute over the film - shown on Tuesday evening - came on the day the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto under the slogans of "freedom, justice and honesty".
Labour condemned the Tory broadcast as "dire and desperate" negative campaigning.
The bleak, black and white film mirrors a controversial broadcast which provoked a storm during the 1988 US presidential race and is being seen as an attempt by the Tories to inject the issue of law and order into the debate.
The Tory broadcast suggests Labour is to blame for two rapes and dozens of other crimes.
It portrays criminals getting out of jail early and committing crimes.
And it promises the abolition of Labour's early release scheme.
Under the scheme, those jailed for up to four years can be let out two months before the usual halfway point of a sentence, electronically tagged and subjected to a night-time curfew.
"In itself, it is a damning indictment of the way the Conservatives clearly intend to run this campaign," he told BBC News.
"This is negative advertising of the worst possible sort as well as being a gross distortion."
It was condemned too by Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.
"This is scaremongering. The general public deserve full information."
Not a blame game
Mr Hague defended the film but said it did not imply the Tories blamed the government for individual rapes and assaults.
"We are not playing the blame game. Under Conservative policy these people would not have been released," he said.
"The crimes they have committed are up to them if they are released.
"We are blaming the government for releasing them from prison."
Mr Hague said that around 1,000 crimes had been committed by the 35,000 offenders freed under the early release scheme.
Under the proposed Tory "Honesty in Sentencing" policy, the sentence handed down in court would be the same as the sentence served.
But Mr Hague acknowledged this would mean judges may hand out less tough punishment for some criminals.
An extra 6,000 police officers to crackdown on crime were among the pledges Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy unveiled in the party's manifesto.
He has also pledged 7,500 more nurses and midwives, an extra 2,500 training places for doctors and 5,000 secondary teachers.
The Lib Dems say their proposal to increase the basic rate of income tax by one penny and introduce a 50% tax on earnings over £100,000 are honest.
"We know these are the big priorities for the overwhelming majority of people in our country today," said Mr Kennedy.
"That's why we are not afraid to be honest and ask those who can afford it to pay a small price for a big benefit."
Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude hit back, saying: "The Lib Dems have presented a fantasy menu of election pledges which are simply unachievable."
Labour also attacked the plans. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith said the Lib Dems were making "wild promises".
He added: "It's the usual raft of spending commitments, they couldn't pay for that would ruin the economy."
Tory tax cuts
Elsewhere on the election front, Labour is trying to maintain pressure on the Conservatives, ahead of the publication of its manifesto on Wednesday.
Mr Brown called on the Tories to explain where they would find the money for £20bn tax cuts.
Speaking at Labour's daily news conference, he said: "Nobody will believe you can cut £20bn from public spending without cutting key services."
Mr Portillo - who had earlier unveiled the latest poster attack on tax - confirmed that the Tories were planning cuts in excess of the £8bn already announced but dismissed suggestions the cuts could total £20bn over four years.
"We will go on cutting taxes throughout parliament. We would go on and tackle inheritance tax, the higher rate of income tax," he said.
He denied the cuts would hit public services and said they would be achieved through savings on public spending.
Both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Conservative leader William Hague hit the campaign trail on Tuesday.
Mr Blair used a speech in the north of England to tell business leaders that Labour was the party of economy and business.
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