Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Big day – as ‘my’ Bill (the Violent Crime Reduction Bill) is getting its second reading today. I won’t have to lead on the floor of the Commons as our Shadow Home Secretary, Mark Oaten, will do that. But I will have to speak and get a grip on the debate so that when I lead for the Lib Dems as the bill goes through its committee stage I will know what I am doing and where the debate is.

(If you’re wondering what second readings and committee stages are, there’s an explanation of how laws pass through Parliament at www.libdems.org.uk/parliament/legislation.html).

But first I have lunch with the Evening Standard lobby correspondent. He seems really OK. Have worked with lots of journalists from the ES and they have all been great – so far.

Then (barring quick press conference on the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill) off to the chamber for the debate on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. Basically this bill tries to address the twin rising problems of alcohol and weapons. In a typically Labour way – some of it is right, but some of it is gesture ‘tough on crime’ politics.

For example – there is a proposal to stiffen the laws around the manufacture, sale and carrying of imitation firearms. I totally agree with the general intent of this. However – the bit on carrying states that the sentence will be raised from 6 months to 12 months. So I make an intervention whilst Charles Clarke (Home Secretary) is introducing the proposals to ask why a 6 month stiffening? What work has been done to estimate the reduction in carrying that that particular length of sentence will deliver?

Basically – it’s all speculative says Charles. Hmm – not an impressive way to make laws! (You can read the exchange in Hansard).

OK – so what would I have done to establish this before guestimating an addition to the sentence? I would have first established how many people had been done for carrying and what sentences they had (in fact I have a Parliamentary Question down on this). I would have gone back to them to survey whether they had any idea of what sentence was on the books, how much of deterrent it was, etc.

Anyway – the main area of disaster in these proposals is the plan for Alcohol Disorder Zones. If there is a lot of drunken, abusive and criminal behaviour in a particular location, the Local Authority and the Police will have the power to create an area where all those inside deemed to have alcohol as their main trade (a minefield in itself) will have eight weeks in which to produce an action plan and improve. But if they don’t – a levy will be imposed to pay for extra policing.

Fine in principle – polluter pays. Love it. But – good landlords will be treated same as bad (and probably move to a better area). The area will get a name as a ‘no go’ area – and people (consumers) will stop going there. Property values will plummet. And so on.

So – sounds a good idea at first – but not thought through. But as I say – the thrust of the Bill to get a grip on the British malaise of drinking yourself to oblivion on a Friday night is right. But as ever with Labour – there is no other side to the equation: examining why people drink themselves stupid, why it is a status symbol to carry a knife or a gun – and so on.

When the great reforming legislation on drink driving and wearing a seatbelt came into being – the Government put immense resource behind the message it was sending out about irresponsible behaviour. The resource was both in enforcement of the legislation yet also the huge educational and advertising campaigns that accompanied the change in the law. Labour is still shallow in its intent and will. Right message – lack of real depth to deliver change!

And I said so in my speech!