IT'S often said that backbench MPs – those who do not have a ministerial job – have little influence when it comes to government policy.
I’m pleased to say that this year’s Queen’s Speech, in which the government outlines its plans for the coming year, has proved that’s not the case. Two of the proposals for new laws have stemmed from campaigns which I have been pushing hard from the backbenches.
The first involves the confiscation of criminal assets, when a court orders a criminal or a gang to hand over the proceeds of their wrongdoing. Extraordinarily, only a very small proportion of the money is ever successfully recovered. It is not only a huge resource that taxpayers are missing out on, but it makes a mockery of the justice system itself. Why pass court orders at all if they will have no meaning in reality?
So I was pleased that the Serious Crime Bill proposes to increase the maximum sentences for criminals who fail to hand over large amounts of money in this way. That is a start, but we also need to be far more efficient in the way we organise the collection of this money after a court has made an order.
All too often different agencies fight over whose responsibility it is depending on which ‘pot’ the money is going into. This needs to change so that the taxpayer doesn’t lose out and the criminal doesn’t get away with it.
The second proposal which I’ve worked on and which has been adopted by the Government is a new law to protect children against so-called emotional neglect. The proposed change would see parents who deny their children affection face prosecution for the first time. It follows a campaign for a “Cinderella Law” by the charity Action for Children, which I have been supporting for some time.
Ignoring a child’s presence, failing to stimulate them, isolating and rejecting them can all be harmful. But the current legislation does not regard it as a criminal offence. The new proposals will change that.
There have been concerns that it will criminalise ‘tough love’ or ‘firm but fair’ parenting, which is what most parents employ from time to time – me included. But if mum puts a child on the ‘naughty step’ and ignores them for a short time as a punishment, that will not count.
This proposal is about making sure that we catch those parents and carers who are quite clearly inflicting significant harm on their children. As many as 1.5 million children are believed to suffer from emotional neglect in the UK. That startling figure on its own is enough to prove that the time for change is long overdue.