Sally Hamwee writes: Proud of Lib Dem ideas in the Serious Crime Bill

June 19, 2014 5:16 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

This week the Serious Crime Bill started in the Lords. It is primarily aimed at cracking down, in various ways, on organised criminal gangs. Organised crime remains a significant problem in the UK. There are perhaps as many as 5,500 organised groups operating in the UK, causing huge suffering through activities such as drug and people trafficking, and making an enormous financial impact: they cost the UK an estimated £24 billion a year.

Crime is down significantly since this Government was formed without resort to reactionary and unjust proposals by our Tory partners (though Labour support put through harsh - and to my mind probably ineffective - knife crime penalties last night). The Bill will make important changes, such as criminalising those who knowingly assist organised gangs, such as helping with logistics, and making it harder for those benefiting from the proceeds of crime from hiding their assets, something that Martin Thomas has forcefully argued needs to be tackled.

It includes significant Lib Dem policy and ideas brought forward by our MPs and Peers. Mark Williams' private member's bill to treat psychological harm to children with the same seriousness as physical harm is incorporated in it, and he and a number of NGOs must take the credit for a successful campaign.

The Bill also makes further progress on the issue of female genital mutilation - a key priority for our Ministers Lynne Featherstone and Norman Baker, and for Lindsay Northover in the Lords. People habitually resident in the UK who engage in female genital mutilation in another country will be subject to prosecution in the UK. This change is very welcome, but as Lynne says all the legislation in the world will not deal with the deep-rooted cultural issues surrounding what someone in the debate called "child mutilation". The Government are very well aware of that and have been very determined in their approach. Acts of Parliament - in every context - are only effective if practice on the ground is good.

As we go through the Bill here in the Lords we will of course aim for further improvements. Joan Walmsley has already prepared an amendment that would make it a duty for people who work in regulated activities with children or vulnerable adults and who suspect abuse to report it to the local authority. We shall look at how we make progress on these and other issues when discussing the Bill on behalf of Lib Dems with Ministers.

Spelling out that harm to children may be psychological is blindingly obvious in 2014, but the same issue of what is meant by harm arises in other legislation. It has been addressed recently in the context of domestic violence but outside statute. In that and other contexts, I confess that I am concerned that psychological and emotional damage may be regarded as excluded by implication, since it is to be explicitly included in this case. Probing this is the sort of thing the Lords does well!

The Lib Dems can be proud of what we have achieved so far in this Bill. That won't stop us working for further improvements, and ensuring that the measures in the Bill are workable, but I was glad to be able to start my speech on the second reading: "My Lords, I confess that I am at a loss. For once, I am not struggling to ask apparently innocent questions as a painful way of masking criticism [of a Home Office bill]".