Tories want to turn prisons into enterprises


The Tories joined battle with Labour for the law-and-order vote yesterday, pledging "zero tolerance" on drugs, an end to early prisoner releases and a new enterprise culture to put prisoners to work.

Meanwhile the party's agriculture spokesman, Mr Tim Yeo, suggested a future Conservative government would go slow on the enforcement of EU directives.

Delivering what has become her annual barn-storming conference performance, the Shadow Home Secretary, Ms Ann Widdecombe, promised a new minimum £100 fixed penalty for first offenders charged with possession. With one third of all acquisitive crime now drug-related, Ms Widdecombe drew lessons from New York, and said that under a Tory government: "From possession of the most minimal amount of soft drugs right up the chain to the large importer, there will be no hiding place. There will be zero tolerance."

Pledging no more turning of blind eyes, she said this meant: "Over and above the smallest amount, the charge will be substantial possession, and the penalties applicable will be of a range comparable to those for dealing."

Promising to end early prisoner release schemes, Mr Widdecombe said she wanted to move "towards a full working day in all prisons, based on self-financing workshops that take on real work which real employers want in the real world." Conference warmly applauded as she condemned the present "idle" prisons as "breeding grounds for the disease of crime" and declared: "Prisoners' wages will go towards the cost of their upkeep, the support of their families, savings to give them a start when they leave prison, and reparations to the victims of crime."

Pledging to increase "tenfold" the number of secure training centres for young criminals, Ms Widdecombe said: "We will take the young menaces off the streets, away from the environment that has failed them, and give them a real chance to change."

Mr Yeo claimed Labour was "strangling farmers and small businesses with red tape" and "regulations" applied more toughly in Britain than elsewhere. "When William Hague is prime minister, and I am minister of agriculture, we won't enforce European rules any faster than France, than Spain, not even than Italy," he declared.