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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 20:52 GMT

Hague 'war' on crime

Conservative leader William Hague has told party activists that Britain must win the fight against crime - a fight Britain is losing under Labour.

Speaking at a rally in Stoneleigh, near Coventry on Wednesday evening, Mr Hague said 35,000 criminals had been let out of jail under the Government's special early release scheme.

" The next Conservative government will go to war on crime "
Ann Widdecombe

To applause, he promised a Tory government would scrap the scheme.

The speech followed the theme of the party's controversial political broadcast, shown on Tuesday, which Labour called "negative, dire and desperate".

Mr Hague said: "When we fight crime, we fight to protect the vulnerable.

"We fight to stand up for the values shared by decent, hard-working people of all ages and across all walks of life against those with no values and no conscience."

Earlier, he committed the Tories to increasing police numbers in an effort to "win the war".

And he accused Labour of being soft on crime and putting the rights of criminals ahead of those of victims.

No apology

At the party's Wednesday morning news conference, Mr Hague said many people would have been shocked by the broadcast but he refused to apologise for it.

It suggested that the special early release scheme, introduced under Labour, had led to many crimes including two rapes.

Mr Hague said: "People of all ages and all walks of life want to feel safe in their own homes and when they walk down the street.

"Our streets feel less safe because thousands of convicted prisoners are released early.

"Give Labour a second chance and at the current rate 80,000 more prisoners will be let out early," he said.

"We will end Labour's special early release scheme. There will be no get out of jail early card when Ann Widdecombe is home secretary."

Mr Hague said the Tories would force inmates to work while in prison and cut police bureaucracy.

"We will reverse Labour's cuts in police numbers and make sure the police we do have spend more time patrolling our streets and catching criminals rather than being tied to their desk.

"Once they are caught and convicted, we will make prisoners work a full day in jo0bs that pay so that inmates can learn about responsibility and compensate their victims."

War on crime

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe suggested the early release scheme meant some prisoners were leaving prison having served just a quarter of their sentence.

She also called for a "common sense" approach to the law, to ensure that neither children fighting in schoolyards nor individuals protecting their homes against attack would face the courts.

"We need to get common sense back into the law. It is the victims rights that should prevail not the criminals."

Ms Widdecombe added: "The next Conservative government will go to war on crime.

"We will take measures to crack down on criminals and to ensure they are better equipped to turn away from a life of crime."

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