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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 12:53 GMT
Plans to tackle 'yob culture'
The government has decided that fighting crime will be its top priority in the next parliament.

It is planning legislation which will give the police new powers to tackle the "yob culture" by closing problem pubs, introducing teen curfews, banning alcohol in public places, and fining offenders on the spot.

In addition, the government plans new measures to tackle car crime, make it easier to seize criminals' assets, regulate the private security industry, and crack down on people who commit benefit fraud.

And controversially, it is re-introducing legislation to eliminate the right of jury trial in certain criminal cases - a bill that was twice rejected by the House of Lords this year.

All told, there are six bills relating to law and order - more than one third of the government's entire legislative programme.

Tackling anti-social behaviour

The publicity given to the spread of lawlessness and anti-social behaviour has strengthened the government's belief that it must tackle both crime and the fear of crime to reassure the public.

It believes the police must be able to tackle crime and disorder on the streets, especially that involving alcohol and young people.

It wants to give new powers to the police to introduce curfews for children under the age of 16, to ban drinking in public, and to close pubs where there is a risk of disorder.

And there are plans to introduce fixed penalties for offences of disorderly behaviour in public places - although the idea, once put forward by the prime minister, that such individuals would be marched to cashpoints to pay those fines has now been dropped.

In addition, the government is targeting car crime and drug dealers by introducing new powers to regulate car license plates, and to seize the unexplained assets of criminals.

The plans were broadly welcomed by the police and the local councils, but criticised by the Conservatives who said there were not enough police to implement the proposals.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said that it was "ludicrous to go on loading police with more initiatives when they have fewer officers."

And for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Dholakia said that more provision for young people was more important than curfews.

But Mike Ashby of the Local Government Association said that the curfew proposals added a "valuable tool" to the range of measures needed to cope with such a sensitive area.

Tackling social security fraud

The government also wants to get tough with people who defraud the benefit system.

Under a "two strikes and you are out" system, people who have been convicted twice of committing a benefit offence within a three-year period can have their benefits stopped or reduced.

In addition, employers who collude in benefit fraud will now be able to be fined.

And there will be new powers to share information between banks, credit card agencies, and other government agencies in order to detect benefit fraud.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have argued that there is still too much social security fraud - and the Tories have even said that as much as 1bn could be saved which they would use for tax cuts.

Now there will be a chance to test these assertions in practice.

Private security crackdown

The government wants to crack down on the growing private security industry, which at the moment is unregulated.

It is proposing the creation of a new regulatory body, the Security Industry Authority, which would license firms and individuals including wheelclampers, bouncers, and private investigators.

It believes that there are currently too many criminal elements working in the security industry, and wants to ensure that checks are made on individuals before they are employed in such jobs.

Trial by jury

The government is also determined to press ahead with its plans to reduce the right to trial by jury for offences which could be tried in either a magistrates court or the Crown Courts.

It says that many criminals elect for a jury trial in the Crown Courts, only to plead guilty later, but causing inconvenience to witnesses and extra expense to the courts.

It says allowing magistrates to decide whether to allow a jury trial would save 128m each year.

However, many Labour Lords, including Baroness Kennedy, have opposed this measure - which was introduced last year - as eroding fundamental rights.

The BBC's Jane Peel
examines the likely effects of the proposed crackdown in Derby





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