Writing for the Huffington Post, Home Affairs Spokesperson Brian Paddick has pulled apart the Psychoactive Substances Bill, highlighting the problems with the current legislation and the ways in which the Lib Dems are seeking to fix it.
Liberal Democrats in the Lords are trying to rescue something from the car crash that is the government’s Psychoactive Substances Bill by tabling a series of amendments.
The Bill seeks to make it illegal to produce or supply any substance that affects someone’s mental functioning or emotional state, unless the government specifically exempts it.
This takes the “my substances of choice, like alcohol and tobacco, are OK but yours aren’t” approach to a new level.
On Tuesday we tried and failed to press the pause button while an independent, evidence-based review (posh phrase for ‘what works in practice?’) of existing laws was carried out.
The UK Bill is based on a similar Act in force in the Republic of Ireland for the past four years that has been so disastrous, the Irish are thinking of repealing it.
At the moment ‘head shops’ sell so-called ‘legal highs’ with impunity. The government has been trying to play catch-up, banning harmful new substances as they are developed, and losing.
They have now lurched, with Labour Party support, to banning everything.
Speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate on home affairs in the House of Lords this week, Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat spokesman for home affairs, paid tribute to Charles Kennedy and went on to warn that upcoming legislation showed that “the Government have all the hallmarks of an authoritarian, anti-libertarian, inward-looking Administration ”
If you were to ask me for a country that has undergone real change in the last quarter of a century, I would be hard pushed to think of a greater example than South Africa.
I’ve been to South Africa a few times, the first in 1989. Since then, the country has come a very long way. It has become an economic powerhouse and a country with which the UK now has a relationship of mutual cooperation – sharing knowledge, expertise and skills, rather than providing aid.
50% of women in South Africa have experienced violence. And a shocking 39% of men admit to having carried out acts of violence against women.
Yet on this issue, too, things are starting to change.
The first thing that struck me was how passionate and committed local civil society organisations were in their work to end violence against women and girls. Many of these organisations are leaders in gender development policy not only in South Africa, but across the continent.
One of these organisations is GenderLinks, a coalition of civil society groups promoting gender equality across Southern Africa.
I was a privileged to meet a dedicated group of campaigners from Genderlinks, including a survivor who had been raped 3 times, on the last occasion contracting HIV.
Lib Dems Brian Paddick & John Hemming MP have both put their names to a letter in the Daily Telegraph calling for a time limit on pre-charge bail:
Pre-charge bail was introduced 30 years ago to limit the freedom of individuals while police conducted further investigations. No restriction was put on the amount of time police could hold someone on pre-charge bail.
This has led to a perversion of justice where, today, more than 70,000 people are languishing in a form of legal limbo in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More than 5,000 have been on police bail for at least six months. Innocent people have been left on bail for years before their cases are dropped or thrown out of court. Their careers are put on hold, and the mental anguish of not knowing what will happen is in itself a form of punishment without trial. There is no right of appeal.
These individuals are innocent until proved guilty, but justice delayed is justice denied. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has called for a time limit for pre-charge bail. We believe it should be a maximum of 28 days, reviewed by a judge and not by police. The Government must act swiftly to turn words into action.
Parliament is never short of Bills coming from the Home Office, but the Modern Slavery Bill is different. At the end of the second reading in the Lords last week, the Minister pointed to the warm reception given by every speaker who followed this with seven minutes on all the things that could be added to it. The view on the Lib Dem benches, like others, was to welcome the Bill both for what it is and for the opportunity it provides to do even more to address the abomination (and very big business – this is often highly profitable organised crime) of trafficking and forced labour.
And something else very significant has happened. Forced labour featured in a recent episode of “Scott and Bailey”. Will that do as much to raise public awareness of slavery as the body under the patio in Brookside did for domestic violence? (No-one else mentioned this in the debate though I did hear comments outside the chamber – apparently peers don’t like to admit to watching TV!)
The Bill brings the offences of holding someone in slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour together with human trafficking for exploitation, and increases the maximum penalties to life imprisonment. There is a new offence: committing any crime (for instance stealing a car) with the intention of trafficking. There are powers to require an offender to pay compensation to the victim.
According to the US State Department at a global level people trafficking ranks as the third largest source of income for organised crime, coming after only drugs and the arms trade.
So as someone who has campaigned over many years to highlight the significance of human trafficking, especially of children, it is obviously welcome that we finally have a Bill recognising the shocking reality of modern day slavery going through Parliament.
Today is the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill in the House of Lords, with the Bill having already passed most of its stages in the Commons.
However, my starting point is that as it currently stands the Bill is set only to be a good Bill, not a great Bill. It has far too many loopholes within it, and it fails to set a proper standard for the rest of the world.
Lib Dem Peer Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has co-signed a letter to the Telegraph warning that MPs must opt in to the European Arrest Warrant as there is ‘no credible alternative.
The letter reads:
Parliament will soon face a crucial vote on the Government’s proposal to opt into certain EU measures. A key concern is the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
Without the EAW, other EU members may be unable speedily to extradite suspects such as Hussain Osman or Jeremy Forrest to Britain – both in jail after use of the EAW. The Association of Chief Police Officers says we cannot afford to lose it.
Britain also risks becoming a safe haven for fugitives from justice – a handful of them British citizens, but the vast majority foreign nationals wanted for crimes elsewhere in Europe.
At home, recent statutory changes should help prevent extradition to long pre-trial detention overseas, and curb EAW use for trivial offences. Overseas, Britain can only lead reform of Europe’s criminal justice co-operation by being part of the system.
There is no credible alternative to the EAW. Other EU members will be reluctant to adopt new laws if we reject a system that works. Resort to international law on extradition would be slow and ineffective.
A vote to opt in will be a vote for security and for fair and effective criminal justice.
Today in the House of Lords, Baroness Joan Walmsley and the Lib Dems secured an agreement from the Government on the Serious Crime Bill, for a major consultation on introducing rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse.
At our recent Federal Conference in Glasgow, Liberal Democrats passed new Party policy in support of requiring those who work with children and vulnerable adults to be required by law to report to the authorities if they have any suspicion that abuse is taking place. However, despite debates on this and other amendments concerning child abuse being debates, Ukip members of the House of Lords failed again to participate in this work.
Ukip’s hypocrisy is breath-taking. They issue a photograph of a girl withthe headline‘There are 1400 reasons why you should not trust Labour again’ in Rotherham, but their record on tackling serious child abuse issue is disgraceful.
The only record of Lord Pearson of Rannoch (the former Leader of UKIP & their leader in the Lords) asking a question on child abuse is on 13 October this year, after the Police and Crime Commissioner by-election was called.(Link here.) He has been in the House of Lords since 1990. Even this question is focused entirely on the Ukip obsession with Muslims, ignoring the fact that child abuse happens in all areas of the country and is not exclusive to any culture, community, race or religion.
And, once again, when we discussed child abuse in the Lords today, no Ukip peers were present.