Dog day afternoon

Angela SmithAngela Smith looks ahead to our latest attempt to improve weak Home Office legislation

If it is possible to identify any one day’s debate that really highlights the inadequacies of the Coalition’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, then today’s the day.

An early debate will focus on the government’s incredible proposals to completely undermine the ACPO led body, 'Secured by Design', which has seen security become a high priority in designing and building homes. Whilst the Home Office talks about crime reduction, Eric Pickles at the Communities department has been quietly consulting on completely undermining one of the great success stories in making homes more secure from burglars.

I say ‘quietly’, as the consultation was slipped out in August and when raised by Toby Harris at October’s Second Reading of the Bill even the Minister seemed unaware. By now, the two departments will hopefully had a chance to talk to one another and I for one would expect a more positive answer today on the success and value of 'Secured by Design'.

We’ll then move on to what’s not in the Bill. New Clauses from our side seek to tackle the inadequacies of a ‘Crime’ Bill that says nothing about dealing with drugs, tobacco proxy sales or protecting front-line shop workers from assault, and far too little on firearms and dangerous dogs.

Our moderate proposals on tobacco proxy sales would merely bring legislation into line with that of alcohol.  It’s an offence to purchase alcohol to pass onto a minor, but not illegal to do the same with tobacco – despite estimates that nearly half of underage smokers get their cigarettes this way. So why have Health ministers refused to act? Perhaps today the government will announce that they’ve identified ‘new evidence’ and move forward on this. (In other words, recognise that this is another issue on which it could lose a vote in the Lords and so rethink the policy position now.)

On dangerous dogs, we of course support proposals to increase penalties, but surely more has to be done to prevent attacks rather than just increase the punishment. Anita Gale on our benches will be leading the fight for a new Dog Control Notice and we have further amendments that seek to give the legislation some ‘teeth’.

Meanwhile, on firearms, surely we can do more to protect victims? Yes, government amendments would close loopholes regarding ownership of ornamental and ‘curiosity’ guns. But ministers rather bizarrely don’t address the point that there should be a presumption against those with a history of domestic violence, mental illness or drug abuse having a firearm. There’s enough evidence that lives could have been saved if this policy was in place, so there’s no excuse not to act on this now.

So today is about trying to improve a generally weak piece of legislation. Will ministers listen and back our proposals – or will we need to press votes at Report Stage in the New Year to turn it into a Bill that really will make a difference to people’s lives?

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords

Published 2nd December 2013 

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