Road to nowhere

Angela SmithAngela Smith on our plans to make some good come out of the 'Anti-social Behaviour' bill

Today we start our debates on the Coalition’s ‘Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing’ proposals. A Home Office bill always seems a bit like the old fashioned Sunday afternoon drive. You head off in one direction but you never know where you could end up, there being so many twists and turns and the inevitable dead end. And in that regard this bill does not disappoint.

Introduced into the Commons with just 142 clauses and 7 schedules of 148 pages, the bill has already grown to 161 clauses with 9 schedules covering 200 pages. It is now therefore very wide-ranging, covering issues from anti-social behaviour to firearms to dangerous dogs, from policing standards to border controls, from miscarriages of justice to extradition. The list goes on.

In such a large bill there are obviously areas we welcome, such as action on forced marriage and protection from sexual harm and violence. Of course, there are details to discuss to ensure that the measures are truly effective, but we certainly support the principle behind the government’s intentions.

There are however, also parts of the bill that give us real concerns because of not going far enough or on the contrary, weakening existing legislation. For example, we will be challenging Ministers on the effectiveness and appropriateness of proposed changes to measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.  And there are omissions where we will back new clauses to really tackle the problems that affect public safety.

Labour welcomes measures to tackle to problems of dangerous dogs and to deal with shocking cases of gun crime. But the government’s proposals are inadequate in both these areas and the bill must be improved. It is also strange that such a wide ranging piece of legislation has no measures to tackle so called ‘legal highs’ when existing measures to tackle such drugs are clearly not working.

Ministers have to accept that they can’t just legislate to try and cut crime and anti-social behaviour, while taking other policy decisions that make it harder for the police and other agencies to tackle these problems. Indeed, there is great inconsistency in bringing in new legislation which they say will tackle crime yet taking other actions that do the opposite.

The Coalition likes to boast that crime is falling, and we of course welcome any fall in the figures. But with 15,000 fewer police officers we are concerned that 30,000 fewer crimes are being solved. And with similar cuts in Police Community Support Officers and a massive 60% fall in community safety funding, is it any wonder that the Office of National Statistics reports that among the public 8 out of 10 people say anti-social behaviour is increasing with only 1 in 10 saying it’s going down. What on earth did Ministers expect? 

Cuts of this measure have consequences. Such as when the government reduce local authority budgets to such an extent that my home county of Essex is planning to switch off the street lights every night. Such as when local communities value CCTV as a crime prevention measure, but the government ties up the cameras with so much red tape that will cost between £14 million and £30 million to comply with.

Everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes and communities, and this Bill is sadly a missed opportunity to help do just that. So over the coming weeks, Labour Peers will be doing our best to try to amend the legislation to really make a difference. 

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

Published 29th October 2013

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