Monday, January 22, 2007


Dear Dad...

I arrived home from work to find an email from my Dad challenging the post I'd put about our five steps to a safer Britain crime policies. He wondered whether I'd respond on the blog and, never one to shirk a challenge, here is his answer. Below are his points (numbered), with my responses in italics.

Point 1
(a) You claim that the Government has earmarked "millions" to ID Cards. How many "millions", how many Police Officers will it pay for, and how much will be left over? Anyway, I believe that however much the government has "earmarked", it will be paid for by individuals, when they apply for the cards.

You are right Dad. I was mistaken when I said Labour were ear-marking millions to the ID card scheme. I should have said "billions!" A report by the London School of Economics puts the cost at anywhere from £10bn to £19bn. And yes, a lot of it will be paid for by the individual when they apply for the cards. But this raises two points:

First, I for one won't be happy at having to pay upto £200 for an ID card, and neither will lots of other people (especially people who are strapped for cash). I'd like to spend my £200 on a holiday, rather than the ID card necessary to get through passport control.

And second, "applying" for the cards is all well and good, but they are to become compulsory (and if not actually compulsory, then necessary to access vital services and therefore compulsory in all practical senses).

So there is no choice in the matter. Even after you and me have both paid our £200 (and then paid it again five years later when our biometrics change. ANd then again every five years thereafter. And £200 each for all of our children every five years), the ICT required to support the system is hugely expensive, paid for through taxation and, if the past is anything to go by, likely not to work.

How many policemen? Well, £10bn equals a hell of a lot of policemen. In fact, using mental arithmetic and a dodgy knowledge of how much policemaen earn, I reckon that just £1bn equals the salaries for about 3,000 policemen for a year.

(b) Do the Lib Dems have a problem with the concept of ID Cards? If so, why?
Yes, we do. ID cards are expensive and illiberal, and the government's various reasons for wanting to implement them (to fight terrorism / to stop benefit fraud / to keep out illegal immigrants / take your pick) make little sense. Foreign terrorists aren't likely to care, and if they have the money to finance international terrorism, then they won't be stopped by having to buy a fake ID card. Home-grown terrorists will have ID cards anyway. Benefit fraudsters are fraudsters, and therefore what's to stop them fraudulently obtaining an ID card? And illegal immigrants won't have any other forms of legitimate ID anyway, so why create another form of ID for them not to have?

Aside from the Lib Dem reasons, I have my own reasons. The government have a wealth of information about me, collated through m many dealings with them in every day life (from buying a TV licence to taxing my car). They also have my NI details, and thus know I am entitled to benefits and services. I have a passport and a photo driving licence. I haven't commited a crime, and there is no reason for the government to have my fingerprints, irises, or other biometric data. There is simply no benefit to me whatsoever in having another form of ID.

Point 2
Is it fair to say that crime can be cut simply by closing a few pubs or clubs? What about the late-night kebab houses and their ilk, which seem to attract their fair share of problem-causers? And how would the mechanics of making it easier to close such places work, that differs from current legislation? And by the way... why not do something amazing - like closing down the car parks adjoining pubs, and allowing Police Officers to breathalyse drivers BEFORE they drive off?

Yes, I think crime can be cut by closing pubs and clubs where there are problems. But it's about more than that. It's about giving local communities real power to use their local knowledge to grant licenses sensibly. There are lots of non-licensed premises where trouble occurs too, like kebab-houses. But a lot of the trouble is alcohol-fuelled, and stems from nearby licensed premises. Also, with extra community policemen, we can go out into the communities and tackle the problems.
We would change the law so that local planning and licensing committees are much more free to decide on what licenses are granted where in local communities. These committees are made up of locally elected Councillors who are hamstrung by central government legislation. Why not free them to do the job that local people want them to do? This is of course part of the wider Lib Dem challenge to the government to grant local people more power through de-centralisation, more powers for local government, and the ending of centralised target-driven reforms.

Your point about pub car parks is a good one. I don't think that they should all be shut down, because lots of people (including me) drive to pubs and don't drink. But I do think that the penalties for drink-driving should be greatly increased, and that police should have the power, in certain cirumstances, to breathalyse people leaving pubs and heading towards cars.

Point 3 & Point 4 & Point 5
The logic of "life meaning life" makes sense. But, for non-lifers, how does society meet the costs of keeping prisoners behind bars for the full length of their sentences? To meet such costs from prisoner income derived from work, prisoners would have to be paid a proper income. Where would the money come from, to pay them? And how much would be left over, to pay for the training and training that would be compulsory? How would the secure psychiatric system work, given the appalling lack of investment in that area now? And beyond that, what would be left over for the victim compensation.
The idea of clear sentences, and of prisoners serving the whole of their allocated sentence, will cost no more money. Today, a prisoner receiving a ten year jail term may be released in 7 years. This isn't fair on the victim of that crime. Under our proposals, the judge in that case would decide on a suitable minimum term, and the criminal would serve at least that length of time. He wouldn't be released a day early. This provides transparency and clarity, and no victim is ever let down. It doesn't necessarily mean longer sentences. The judge may decide that the minimum term should be 7 years. But at least everyone will know where they stand from day one.
I think compulsory training is a great idea, and will end the scandal that sees only one in eight prisoners working every day when in prison, and only 10% of prisoners entering the workplace when released. Half of all male prisoners, and two thirds of female prisoners, have no qualifications. It is a scandal that they are detained by the state for prolonged periods, and emerge without any qualifications or experience. The facilities are there already, they just need to be taken up by the entire prison population.
You are right to say that mental health care for people guilty of crimes is woefully under-funded. That's why the proposals announced today allocate an extra £1.5bn to this area, to be paid for using money now allocated for the building of new prisons. We argue that there is no point in building more under-performing prisons. Why not invest in making prisons work instead? People inside need triaining, work opportunities, and psychiatric care if needed. If they are left to rot, then they are released with little hope but to re-offend.
Victims compensation would be paid for through the establishment of a Victims Compensation Fund, paid for by prisoners earnings. We would lso make the system significantly quicker and more flexible, reducing costs in the process of allocating funds, and generating money through savings to be re-invested.

If any other members of my close family have policy related questions, please fire away...


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