More than 3,600 new offences under Labour

Nigel Morris,Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 04 September 2008 00:00 BST

The Government has created more than 3,600 new criminal offences since it won power 11 years ago – almost one for every day it has been in office.

Critics blamed the frenzy of law-making on "posturing" by an administration keen to win easy headlines and addicted to pushing complicated legislation through Parliament.

In the past two years alone, it has become a criminal offence to disturb a pack of eggs without permission and to sell either a game bird killed on a Sunday or a piece of Japanese knotweed.

A total of 3,605 offences have reached the statute book since May 1997, an average of about 320 a year. They comprise 1,238 brought in as primary legislation, which means they were debated in Parliament, and 2,367 by secondary legislation, such as orders in council and statutory instruments.

The tally will be announced today by Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, as he sets out a fresh initiative to cut crime. Mr Huhne said: "In what conceivable way can the introduction of a new criminal offence every day help tackle crime when most crimes that people care about have been illegal for years.

"This legislative diarrhoea is not about making us safer, because it does not help enforce the laws that we have one jot. It is about the Government's posturing on punishments."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been the most hyperactive branch of Whitehall, creating 852 new offences.

It is followed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and its predecessor the Department for Trade and Industry, which between them have created 678 offences.

The Home Office, which has presided over a succession of criminal justice Bills, is responsible for 455 offences.

Under Tony Blair, the Government got off to a relatively slow start, creating 160 new offences in 1998, his first full year in power. Five years later an astonishing 493 offences reached the statute book. The rate slowed to 288 last year and 148 so far in 2008.

Although many of the new offences are routine and uncontroversial, the public can still fall foul of a bizarre array of new crimes.

Creating a nuclear explosion was outlawed in 1998 and it is now illegal to sell grey squirrels and impersonate a traffic warden or barrister. A ship's captain could end up in court if he or she carries grain without a copy of the International Grain Code on board.

The Government argues that many of the laws it inherited were archaic and needed updating. It says modern legislation is essential for tackling crime and antisocial behaviour effectively.

Offences created in the past five years

To wilfully pretend to be a barrister

A provision of the Legal Services Act 2007 aimed at modernising the legal profession and increasing competition between barristers.

Disturb a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officer

Part of a detailed set of regulations last year controlling the production and marketing of eggs and of farmyard poultry chicks.

Obstruct workers carrying out repairs to the Dockland Light Railway

The offence is created under legislation designed to boost capacity on the DLR in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics in London.

Offer for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day

An updating in 2007 of a law that dates from 1831.

Attach an ear tag to an animal when it has previously been used to identify another animal

A regulation introduced last year to tighten up identification of cattle.

Land a catch at a harbour that includes unsorted fish without permission

Regulations two years ago controlling fish taken from seas around Britain.

Fail to use an approved "pelagic" system for weighing herring, mackerel and horse mackerel

This is the preferred weighing technique.

Sell types of flora and fauna not native to the UK, such as the grey squirrel, ruddy duck or Japanese knotweed

Banned under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

Allow an unlicensed concert in a church hall or community centre

The 2003 Licensing Act introduced a maximum penalty of six months' prison for breaking the law.

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