You'd have thought that after twelve years and countless Acts of Parliament on police, crime, and terrorism, the government would have its security policy about right by now. But no, the Policing and Crime Bill, which is coming up for its Third Reading and will go to the Lords soon, is a rag-bag of measures – some administrative trivia, but others fundamental to our freedoms.
There is, for example, a bit stuck in which would allow the police to insist on CCTV being installed within licensed premises – that is, all bars, pubs, clubs, corner grocery stores that sell alcohol, and even the poshest, quietest, country house hotels. Quite apart from the fact that I don't want some camera lip-reading me, or looking over my shoulder as I tap out my PIN number in a restaurant, my concern is that, once again, it will be the innocent who get criminalized by this technology. The police will regularly demand the CCTV records, and if they find one occasion where the shopkeeper has failed to ask some 20-year-old for ID (perhaps because he's known them for years), well, that's an offence and another nice conviction to put towards Gordon Brown's targets.
Then there's the bizarre new offence of paying for sex with prostitutes 'controlled for gain'. It's billed, of course, as preventing human trafficking. But it actually says that if 'any' of a prostitute's activities are controlled by another, the clients are nicked. So that's an end to places where some experienced woman actually schedules and looks out for the girls. From now on, they're on their own in that big bad world. I guess it would include girls who use agencies (like taxi drivers do) to bring business to them. After all, that peripheral part of their activities is 'controlled for gain' by the agency managers.
Again, agencies actually protect the girls they manage – barring violent clients, checking on the girls to ensure that clients have left on time without doing them injury. Depending on how these vague clauses are interpreted – and you can be sure that the police and the Home Secretary will interpret them as widely as they dare – it all means that there will be more prostitutes out there, on their own, without the protection of experienced other people. Like the human trafficking legislation that preceded it, this law isn't going to catch any nasty guys – it's simply going to be used to harass girls who are trying to make a living from an entirely voluntary activity. This government really are turning into a bunch of fascists.
Dr Eamonn Butler's new book, The Rotten State of Britain, is now available to buy.