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Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome this wide-ranging Bill. I must admit that even when I realised how wide-ranging it is, I did not think that the debate on it would encompass issues so far afield as 16th-century Calvinists and 21st-century Jedi warriors, but so be it.
It is perhaps unfortunate that much of the debate has concentrated on the one major contentious issue, although that is the nature of debate. Before I make my contribution on that issue, I shall draw out other aspects of the Bill that will be enormously welcome. My first thought on reading the Bill was that it contains a huge range of measures. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who led for the Opposition, commented that there are strategic elements and a whole lot that has just been thrown in. However, all the provisions have a commonality of aim.
The Bill is designed to put the law, those who support it and law-abiding citizens one step ahead of the criminals so that their values prevail over those of the criminal. The Home Secretary, when introducing the Bill, commented on the effectiveness of many criminals as capitalists. When I consider the ingenuity of major
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criminals, and indeed of some of the most antisocial young people causing havoc on local streets, I cannot but feel that we and they would all be immeasurably better off if they only turned their effort to socially productive purposes. In many ways, the legislation is designed to make their preferences and preferred lifestyles more difficult to achieve and perhaps to give them and society a greater incentive to abide by the law.
The Bill will change the balance of advantage of behaviour in favour of the law-abiding citizen. It might not seem obvious why one piece of legislation should deal with a strategic organisation and the collection of strategic information, which are designed to curb the activities of the super-gangs, drug smugglers and people smugglers, while also giving local community support officers and local legislative bodies the right to combat localised crime in the form of antisocial behaviour, but there is a common theme that is designed to reinforce the Bill's ultimate objective.
This Bill is about giving confidence in the law. Every time a crime goes unsolved and every time a person indulges in antisocial behaviour but is not apprehended, it reflects badly on the law, law agencies and public agencies, and reinforces the intent of those who want to disregard them.
I want to single out one or two elements in the Bill that are worthy of particular mention. First, on financial reporting orders, I and other members of the Northern Ireland Committee did quite a lot of work examining the effectiveness of the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland, and made a number of recommendations on the Assets Recovery Agency in the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Certainly, assets recovery is an essential weapon in the fight against organised crime, and financial reporting orders are a logical extension of the principles that underpinned the proceeds of crime legislation.
I have a query, however, which I hope that the Minister will clarify. While financial reporting orders relate to convicted criminals, who, having finished their sentence, might readopt their lifestyle and criminal activity and seek to regain the assets that they lost previously, it is not mentioned whether they will apply to someone who has been subject to the Assets Recovery Agency procedures, which require a lower standard of proof and may not involve a prison sentence. If we are to curb crime, particularly highly organised and lucrative crime, we must make it clear that crime does not pay at all, and not just if someone has been to prison. It must be clear that once a process has been implemented to recover ill-gotten gains, that process will continue throughout the person's life if they do not curb their lifestyle. That is an important element in law enforcement.
Secondly, there is the issue of impounding uninsured cars, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has unfortunately left the Chamber, made some valuable points. It is symbolic to those 19 out of 20 motorists who do pay their car insurance and accept all the responsibilities of motoring that action is taken against those who drive uninsured. Many people on local estates know who is driving around uninsured, and seeing them get away with it day in, day out, with all the danger that that involves for other motorists and the expense that it generates for law-abiding motorists in terms of higher premiums,
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is infuriating. It is important that this legislation deals with that issue. Seeing people who engage in such antisocial behaviour losing out as a result, even if the full panoply of the law is not implemented in terms of court appearances and sentencing, will give local communities a degree of reassurance.
Another element that will be extremely popular is the additional power to search for illegal fireworks. Perhaps that was an omission from the previous fireworks legislation, and like my hon Friend the Member for Rhondda, my experience was that the antisocial use of fireworks was not as bad this year as in previous years. Anecdotally, however, I have still had complaints about people using fireworks which had noise levels that would appear to be illegal. We would welcome any move that gave increased powers locally to stop and search people, including retailers who are selling such fireworks.
The issue of incitement to religious hatred has exercised many Members today. We had a mini-debate about it earlier, in the form of interventions on the Home Secretary. I must confess that I am old enough to remember our debates on race relations legislation in the 1970s. Although I was not here then, I read a great deal about it, and many of the arguments and statements that I have heard over the past couple of days reawakened vague memories of the arguments and statements that were produced then.
Although some of the issues may be slightly different, looking back on that race relations legislation and its implementation I feel that a number of things must be said. First, it should be said that despite all that was said in the 1970s, the implementation of the legislation has been proportionate and there have been few prosecutions. Secondly, I think it can be said that most would agree that although there has been little recourse to prosecution, the existence of the legislation and the climate of opinion created by it have made a valuable contribution to race relations and to more moderate debate on the issue. Notwithstanding the foreboding expressed by some in the 1970s, I think that the legislation can be described as a success. I certainly do not know of many people who would advocate its withdrawal.
It is obvious from the debate that I have heard so far that there are party differences on this issue, and differences within parties. I have heard some robust statements, and some interesting points have been made. I feel that if we can make race relations legislation work, there is no reason why we cannot make religious relations legislation work.
Mr. Bailey: My hon. Friend tempts me down a philosophical path that I will not follow. I want to talk about the application of religious relations legislation that concerns me, as a practical politician dealing with community problems in my area.
Some groups and political parties with specifically racist agendas are undoubtedly using the present lack of legislation on religion as a way of fulfilling those agendas. Attacks on Muslims that are designed for specifically racist purposes have nothing to do with a
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religious debate. I do not believe it is beyond the wit of man, woman or lawyer to create a legislative framework to prevent that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) made a valid reference to the attitudes of disaffected young Muslims, and that concerns me just as much; but I am chiefly concerned about the people who teach them and feed them those attitudes. It should not be beyond our wit to devise legislation to prevent that as well. We can talk about anti-terrorist legislation and the like, but there is still an area that it does not cover.
There will be a substantial debate on this issue in Committee and during the Bill's subsequent stages, and if I am satisfied that the provision meets the relevant requirements, I will be happy to back it. Nobody in this House would condone people who deliberately try to provoke interracial or inter-religious hatred, or one community's hatred of another. The acid test will be whether the provision fulfils its objective, which is why I am not inclined to be tempted into philosophical or theosophical debates on it.
I shall listen to the forthcoming debate with great interest. I am anxious that this important legislation work, and I shall reserve my judgment until the debate develops. The Bill deals with a range of issues that the public expect the Government to deal with. It will help us in our fight against organised crime and antisocial behaviour, and it will shift the balance of power towards communities and away from criminals. In particular, I hope that the religious relations provisions will lead to a climate of greater tolerance and understanding, and that in 25 years, Members of this House will wonder what the fuss was about, all those years ago when we introduced this legislation, just as Members today look back and wonder what the fuss was in the 1970s, when we introduced race relations legislation.
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