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MPs: Fight grog-fuelled crimewave with PDAs

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Analysis The Home Affairs parliamentary committee has today published its report into UK law enforcement, Policing in the 21st Century. In it, the MPs of the committee make a wide-ranging examination of future British policing. We've chosen to focus mainly on booze and technology.

Before getting onto the rise of the networked copper, however, the MPs attempt to wrestle with a knotty problem - the fact that while the number of crimes committed appears to be falling in many categories, there are now many more categories. More activities are now considered to be crimes, following a blizzard of new criminal laws written over the last decade.

3,605 new criminal offences have been created since 1997 ... The Deputy Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police, Douglas Paxton, agreed that more and more calls for service are now recorded as formal crimes. He told us that, since 1998, 29 new Home Office crime classifications have been introduced resulting in the recording of 750,000 new offences in 2005/06 alone.

The MPs thought this was a bad thing (though it is of course MPs in Parliament who vote laws into being). They said:

The Government should exercise caution in future when classifying undesirable behaviour as criminal offences.

That does seem sensible, what with the jails being full to bursting and so forth.

However, the politicians nonetheless thought there should be a massive government crackdown on drinking, especially by young people. More specifically, they felt that there should be stiffer penalties for people selling booze at any but the highest prices.

We recommend the Government establish as soon as possible a legal basis for banning the use of loss-leading by supermarkets and setting a minimum price for the sale of alcohol ... The standards need to be reissued on a compulsory basis with a more effective inspection regime and penalties for breaches.

It seems that things are simply out of hand:

The easy availability of cheap alcohol fuels alcohol-related crime and disorder and under-age drinking. In 2007, alcohol was 69 per cent more affordable in the United Kingdom than it was in 1980.

We've been hearing this "alcohol is more affordable now than it has ever been" thing for a while now. It certainly doesn't ring true based on our own experience of buying booze - which is fairly extensive. So where's the number from?

Actually from the NHS, as it turns out, and the figures behind the assertion can be seen here in pdf. It's interesting stuff.

In fact, as anyone who regularly buys alcohol could tell you, booze is hugely more expensive than it was in 1980. It's price has almost quadrupled, increasing by 367 per cent.

But surely that's true of all prices? Perhaps everything else - food, fuel, other stuff - has increased by an even huger margin, leaving booze comparatively cheap. Maybe that's why the neo-prohibitionist tendency argue that liquor is too affordable?

Well no, actually. Retail prices in general have gone up, but not the way booze has - overall, prices are up by 309 per cent. Alcohol has increased in price substantially more than most things have.

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