Violent Crime Reduction Bill – first committee stage

I left at the crack of dawn on Thursday to get to Commons at least an hour before having to go into committee for the first session on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. I drive in today – thank goodness – as the radio gradually makes North London aware that the Northern Line is completely closed today.

Preparatory work done, I go to the committee and introduce myself to the Minister (Hazel Blears), who I shadow for the Lib Dems, and the chair – Eric Forth MP. And then we are off. Having had the sense to look how others have started off the sessions, at least I know that I have to stand – or rather indicate that I want to speak after the current speaker by half-shifting out of a sitting position so that the Chair will call me next.

The Minister moves the Programming Motion – which in fact we have agreed anyway the night before – but this is an opportunity to talk about absolutely nothing important for as long as the Chair will tolerate. At least that was my reading of it. The Minister was brief and to the point. The lead Tory was rather more fulsome – and to my surprise made an unprovoked attack on the Liberal Democrats referring to something a colleague had said some time back in another debate on another bill. Aha – I thought – so much for scrutiny of the Bill without the usual political nonsense. But it was just a tiny swipe – not worth worrying about really in the scale of attacks unleashed on us – the increasing scale of which I put down to our increasing success. Then I rise to do my bit – and welcome the Chair, look forward to a rigorous debate, express some concerns about the timing though welcome the Minister’s indication that she will be flexible about it.

Into the debate – and I am moving the first two amendments. In the section of the Bill on Drink Banning Orders (DBO) – which would mean an individual can be banned from a locality for between two months and two years – is to make sure that DBOs are not served on people such as those with mental health issues that mean they are not able to understand the orders and so would be liable to break them because they’re not able to understand them.

I suggest that the court should receive a report on the individual in question’s state of health – so that they can assess whether this falls into extremely vulnerable category. The Conservatives were supportive – though wanted more discretion for the court. My concern was that more discretion would result in the power not being used when it should. The Minister’s argument against us both was basically that it was too much paperwork and bureaucracy. What I hope – and what the Minister promised – is that this element will now be included in the guidance to the legislation when passed. And this is quite common in committee – you put down an amendment to prod the Government, the Government responds (hopefully sensibly!) and then you “ask leave to withdraw the amendment”. This means you don’t have a vote on the amendment itself, but you can submit it again at a latter stage – which is useful if, say, the Government says it will go away and think about an issue so that you know you can return to it latter.

We trudged on for a while longer working through the amendments – and then the time beat us and we had to adjourn until the next session next Tuesday. I know it may not be riveting stuff – but this is how legislation is made. There had been quite a few attacks on the Lib Dems from the Labour back benchers and the Minister during the arguments – mostly trying to suggest that only Labour have drunks lying in their streets and want them cleaned up. Of course – we have lots of problems here in Hornsey & Wood Green that we want cleared up – so that is completely ludicrous. I would have thought the purpose of all this arguing line by line was exactly that – to make sure the legislation is totally effective in targeting those who should be removed from an area – and leaving along and supporting those who might inadvertently be swept up by poorly written laws.

And that’s kind of how it works.

As I went out of Committee Room 12 to make my way to the Commons chamber I looked at my phone to find masses of missed calls. So I sit down outside the room to work through them. Many from TV stations asking me to come and discuss the issues around getting more women into politics. Not surprisingly, this is because of yesterday’s kafuffle. Finish round of calls and go to numerous other meetings including briefing for Any Questions the following night.