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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 February 2008, 14:03 GMT
Jacqui Smith interview
On the Politics Show, Sunday 17 February 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary

Jacqui Smith
Longer sentences for those carrying knives to be enforced
Jacqui Smith, MP, Home Secretary

Interview with: Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary

JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Jacqui Smith, welcome to the Politics Show. Thanks for being with us. Is alcohol too cheap?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, I think the suggestion from your piece there was that there is not one simple way to deal with the problem of alcohol related violence which we accept is a serious issue. We've already begun to take quite a lot of action in a whole range of areas and we want to make sure that anything that we do is based for example on evidence, which is why we've already started to undertake a very serious look at what the evidence is about the relationship between price and alcohol.

We've already asked the industry to look at the sort of promotions that were mentioned there, you know, the sort of two for the price of one and last week I announced that I wanted to review the industry standards that were already in place, to make sure that they were working.

I've been very clear that those under eighteen shouldn't be consuming alcohol, they certainly shouldn't have it in public places, that's why at this moment there is a big campaign going on with 175 police areas, actually confiscating alcohol from young people, making sure that we don't expect to see that in public.

JON SOPEL: Let's just concentrate on the pricing aspect of it first because you've had Ken Jones from the association of chief police officers denouncing the fact that you can buy larger cheaper than water and he said it's got to stop. Do you agree with that.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, I'm clear that we need the sorts of standards which we've asked for from industry, which they have put in place and which we are now reviewing to make sure that they're working and we need to know the impact of price on alcohol. You know, I mean I think the point of your report was there is not one single, simple solution to this. But we do need to look at the impact of price and that's what we're doing as a government.

JON SOPEL: Yes, and you've said that this whole business of being able to find promotions for 50p shots until midnight or all you can drink for a tenner, can't be right but isn't this a sort of in a way a creation of a Labour government in the sense that you have taxed cigarettes very heavily, less so alcohol.

JACQUI SMITH: No, I mean let's be quite clear. As you heard there in the Bristol example, you know, you are less likely to be a victim of violent crime now that you were ten years ago. There are many parts of the country where very good work is going on. Along side licensed premises, with local councils, with the local police, to make sure that people, you know, if they're old enough are able to go out and enjoy a drink and do that safely.

There is a lot of good work going on, but yes, we think there's more to be done. That's why I focused on those who are under eighteen, it's why we focused on binge drinkers, it's why we focused on making sure that the standards that I think that the industry and the industry themselves think they should live up to, are actually being implemented and it's why we're reviewing them now.

JON SOPEL: Sure. So, just to be clear, you don't have a problem with alcohol being too cheap at the moment.

JACQUI SMITH: No, what I've said is that we, you know, of course I understand there is concern about the pricing of alcohol...

JON SOPEL: I'm just trying to get your view.

JACQUI SMITH:... that's why we have already. No, my view is that I think there should be action taken about irresponsible promotions, about the sort of pricing that is irresponsible and there already is action being taken, and we're reviewing whether or not that's working. And secondly, we need to look carefully at whether or not, and what that relationship is between price and alcohol and the way in which that interacts. I think it's right .. BOTH TOGETHER

JON SOPEL: What is irresponsible pricing.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, I think I've been pretty clear about that. You know, some of the promotions that we see where the industry is already taking action and we're already seeing success.

JON SOPEL: Okay and do you believe that maybe taxation is part of the answer to that. That booze should be taxed more heavily because there have been years when there has been a freeze on alcohol duties, whereas you have actively sought to discourage smoking but less so alcohol consumption.

JACQUI SMITH: This of course is one of the things that the Chancellor will be thinking about as he prepares his budget and is part of the analysis that we're doing. But you know, the idea that there has not been action to tackle some of the violence around alcohol is wrong.

We saw the success represented in your piece and of course the action plan that I'm publishing tomorrow, looks seriously not just at the impact of alcohol, important though that is, but at serious violence, all of its causes and what we can do in order to put that right.

You know, I am serious about tackling the serious violence that we see if it occurs on our streets or if it occurs behind closed doors, and that's what I'll be setting out tomorrow alongside the action that we have already taken and will take to make sure that where alcohol is a cause of harm, we tackle that.

JON SOPEL: Okay and let's talk about knife crime, cos that's one of the things that you want to tackle tomorrow. What are you proposing.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, firstly I'm proposing that I think where young people need to be taught early about the dangers of knives, we'll be extending the very good projects that there are going in to schools, teaching young people about the dangers of carrying knives. Secondly, I want nobody to be under any misapprehension that you're safer if you carry a knife. Some young people have said to me that they think that they might be.

We'll be running a very large campaign along side the work we're doing in schools to make that clear. Thirdly, I don't want people to think - I want people to feel safe from knives when they go out, that's why we'll be investing in additional knife arches and wands to be used by police and others where they think that's appropriate, so that people can feel confident in our public spaces that people aren't carrying knives.

Fourthly, I want people, if they're caught in possession of a knife, to face serious consequences, which is why we're looking at ensuring that if you're caught with a knife, one - the new maximum sentences that we're - put in place, will be more likely to be given and secondly, that you'll be likely to be prosecuted.

JON SOPEL: Let's just pick up on that final point about the consequences of being caught with a knife. You can introduce this, but the courts are responsible for sentencing, in 2006, only two people out of six thousand caught with a blade were given the maximum sentence.

JACQUI SMITH: Which is why I'm clear that I think firstly we need to make sure that if you're caught with a blade, as an adult, that actually, you don't face a caution, but you face prosecution.

Secondly, through the sentencing guide lines, we need to be clear about what the consequences of that is. But you know, sentencing is important. We've seen sentences for serious violence increase over the last few years, I think that's right because if you are caught, we need to make sure that you face the consequences.

But we also need to look at those people who are likely to become violent offenders at a much earlier stage. So one of the other things that we'll be talking about in the violent crime action plan is how we can actually get your local social services, your police, your health to identify earlier those people who may well then go on to be violent.

Not just with the use of knives but in domestic violence, in sexual assault in other forms of serious violence and get in early to prevent those people actually committing crimes in the first place.

Make sure that if they are that they receive appropriate sentences and then incidentally once the sentence ends, also through the violent offender orders that we're putting through parliament at the moment, make sure that there is suitable control over those that need it after their sentence is up.

JON SOPEL: Home Secretary, do you accept then that you may have been wrong when you voted against Tory proposals in 2005, calling for longer sentences for those caught in possession of a knife.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, we have already implemented longer sentences for those caught in possession of knives and what's more, sentences for serious violence have got longer in the time in which this government has been in power and I understand that you know, of course it's important to make sure that we catch people and they face serious sentences.

But we need to get in early, whether or not it's through education or prevention or making sure that we identify violent people early as well. You know, as I said about the alcohol problem, there is no one simple single solution for this or all of us would have put it in to place now. What we need is the wide ranging programme I'm laying out tomorrow, with the support of the police and others.

JON SOPEL: Okay fine. Let's move on to sexual offences because it seems that you're implementing some version of Sarah's law, ie giving a community a right to know if there is a sexual offender in their midst. Can you explain how this is going to work.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, what we're announcing today is the first four police forces who will be able to take part in a pilot programme to look at the disclosure of sexual offences for individuals who would declare an interest perhaps in somebody who would have very close contact with their children. So you know, the sorts of examples we've talked about previously is perhaps a single parent who has a new partner, perhaps somebody who has somebody who looks after their, their children and has very close contact with them.

That individual could then declare an interest and if there were any sex offences recorded against the individual in which they're declaring an interest, there would be a presumption that those should be disclosed to that person. It's not a community wide disclosure. It's not what some have feared might actually drive sex offenders underground, but it is a sensible way of making sure that there is more information out there to protect children in the most effective way.

JON SOPEL: But how do you stop this just becoming a trawling exercise where people willy nilly are asking about whoever they meet and saying, you know is this person a potential sex offender.

JACQUI SMITH: Because there will be, relatively tight conditions in place as to who can register an interest in receiving that information.

That will be something that will be considered by police and probation and precisely because we're putting in place the four pilots that I've identified today and we're working with children's charities, we're working with people like Sarah Payne to actually look at those pilots and make sure that this is actually working for the objective that we all want, which is to safeguard children and to actually make sure that the information is there in order to enable us to do it.

We're doing it in a sensible and measured way, but I think it is an important contribution to making sure that we can be confident that those 90% of sex offences against children, which are committed by people who are known to those children, can actually be reduced.

JON SOPEL: Okay, very briefly, how do you on the point of principle say, well why shouldn't an old lady know if there are would be muggers in this street or that someone is a burglar or someone has done car jackings.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, the point that I made first of all is that 90% of sexual offences against children are committed by people that they know. What we also know about sex offenders is that they are devious about making their way in to families and in to places where they can actually get access to children. So this is responding to that particular issue, it's disclosing that information where appropriate and it will help to safe guard children.

JON SOPEL: Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary, thank you very much indeed for being with us today. Thank you.

JACQUI SMITH: Thank you.


Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 10 February 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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