Headlines: December 7th, 2000

Anti social behaviour, mainly by young males, is a prime target of the Queen’s speech. To meet the growing concern of people in both urban and rural areas that the police are not dealing adequately with the growing trend of anti social behaviour there is a legislative programme to strengthen their powers.The police will be given powers to tackle crime, including drunken, loutish and other anti-social behaviour. There will be fixed penalties for offences of disorderly behaviour in public places, powers to close licensed premises, bans on drinking in public places, and raising the age of child curfew scheme from nine to fifteen. The latter measure has become necessary because few curfew orders have been made with the current age limit and it is children older than 9 years who cause most of the problems.

There will also be legislation on car crime with the aim of reducing opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles, and extending the time limit for prosecution for vehicle theft. Tighter regulation of the private security industry and the salvage industry is also planned to reduce opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles. A draft Bill to provide new powers to seize the assets of criminals will be published.

There is also a Bill to help reduce Social Security fraud. This will enable more information to be obtained to prevent fraud and will provide power to withdraw or reduce benefits where a person has twice been convicted of benefit fraud. This is the ‘two strikes and you’re out’ principle imported from across the Atlantic.

Legislation is also planned to support commitments in the NHS Plan and raise educational standards with the creation of more specialist schools, urban school reform and improved teaching in the early years of secondary education.

The focus on crime is a clear indication that this is the area where the Government is thinking about the need for transformational change. Radical change is happening in education, the health service has a plan for radical change and the spotlight is now turning on crime and disorder. In August 2000 The National Audit Office launched two studies which will provide a framework for a total re-think about crime and how the Government should respond to it. The reports, due to be published by the end of the year, are expected to provide adequate justification for re-thinking the objectives and roles of the police and prison services. There is also speculation that a new Home Secretary would be necessary to push though sweeping reforms, particularly in view of the power exerted by professional bodies. See Publicnet 31 August 2000.

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