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Serious Organised Crime & Police Bill

Letter from Westminster - 7 February 2005

This week saw the Serious Organised Crime & Police Bill pass through its remaining stages in the House of Commons.

One of the principal objectives of this wide-ranging piece of legislation is to reduce the harm caused by organised crime by establishing a Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Bringing together some 4,500 specialist staff, and arming them with appropriate powers to prevent, disrupt and investigate crime, we hope SOCA will make the UK the most hostile environment for organised criminals to operate.

The Bill also includes measures that will improve our response to the more 'petty', but no less important, crime and disorder that blights too many communities. So, on top of increasing the number of Community Support Officers, from around 4,000 today to 24,000 in 2008, we are also expanding their powers to help them to make a real difference on the ground. As a result of provisions in the Bill it is estimated that the equivalent of 12,000 police officers will be freed-up for frontline duties.

However, the most well-publicised, but probably least understood, section of the Bill relates to extending protection to groups who are abused because of their religion. Contrary to much of the speculation, creating an offence of incitement to religious hatred would not restrict freedom of speech - it would not, for example, stop people criticising religions or telling jokes about religion. Rather, it will help us combat the kind of extremist hate propaganda that results in individuals being persecuted and communities turned against each other. In short, it is about protecting people who might be the object of someone else's hatred because of their religion; not about protecting religion itself.

I believe we should all have the right to live in a safe and secure environment. This Bill makes another step towards building that safer society.

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