[1st Allocated Day]
Before I call the Home Secretary, I want to remind the House of what was said earlier regarding the Sarah Everard case. Charges have now been brought in that case. The sub judice resolution does not apply formally when the House is legislating. However, I would urge all Members to exercise caution and not say anything about the detail of the case or the identity of those against whom charges have been brought that might affect any subsequent court case.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Just one week after celebrating the achievement of women around the world on International Women’s Day, I would like to open this debate by once again expressing my sadness at the horrific developments in the Sarah Everard case. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Sarah, her family and friends at this unbearable time. This is also a stark moment to reflect on what more we can do to protect women and girls against crime, and the events of the last few days have rightly ignited anger at the danger posed to women by predatory men—an anger I feel as strongly as anyone.
This Government were elected just over a year ago on a clear manifesto commitment to support the police and to keep our country safe. It is vital that we continue to deliver on that promise to the British people, and our commitment to law and order is having a real impact across the country. There are already over 6,600 more police officers in our communities, thanks to the unprecedented campaign to recruit an additional 20,000 more police officers. Our crackdown on county line drug gangs is delivering results, particularly in London, the west midlands and Merseyside. The police have made more than 3,400 arrests, shut down more than 550 deal lines and safeguarded more than 770 vulnerable people. Last year, we saw the UK’s biggest ever law enforcement operation strike a blow against organised crime, with over 1,000 arrests, £54 million of criminal cash seized, and 77 firearms and over two tonnes of drugs seized. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will go further still in our mission to back the police, to make our communities safe and to restore confidence in the criminal justice system.
We ask our brave police officers to do the most difficult of jobs—they run towards danger to keep us all safe—and that is why I have worked closely with the Police Federation in developing this Bill. I would like to pay tribute to the chair of the Police Federation, John Apter, for his constructive way of working since I became Home Secretary, admirably fighting for his members every single day. He has voiced his members’ concerns to me directly, and I have acted upon them.
This Bill will enshrine in law a requirement to report annually to Parliament on the police covenant, which sets out our commitment to enhance support and protection for those working within or retired from policing roles, whether paid or as volunteers, and their families. The covenant will initially focus on physical protection and support for families, officers and staff, and their health and wellbeing, with a duty to report in place to ensure parliamentary scrutiny.
Despite all that they do, emergency workers are still subject to violence and abuse. The statistics paint an alarming picture. There were more than 30,000 assaults on police officers in the year to March 2020, and over the past year we have all seen the reports of people deliberately coughing at our emergency workers, claiming to have coronavirus and threatening to infect them. There have been too many disgusting examples of police officers and ambulance drivers being spat at and violently attacked as they go out to work day after day to make sure that the rest of us are safe and cared for.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Having personally spent much time with our frontline officers, the very people who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, I think that is a really stark point, and a reminder of which party is backing the police and which party simply is not.
I will in just a second.
Having personally spent time with those on the frontline, I have also seen the impact of these incidents on officers and on their families. We cannot tolerate such acts, which is why the punishment must fit the crime, and the Bill will double the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months’ to two years’ imprisonment.
I urge the Home Secretary not to play party politics with this particular bit. I introduced, as a private Member’s Bill, the legislation that she is acting on, and at the time I argued very strongly in favour of two years being the maximum sentence. I was dissuaded by the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who is now the Foreign Secretary; by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Home Secretary; and by a lot of Conservative MPs, who did not want to support the legislation at all.
I need to be persuaded that the Government have used the legislation that is on the statute book at present. For instance, the Home Secretary refers, quite rightly, to people spitting at police officers. It is disgusting and it is a form of assault, but unfortunately the sentencing guidelines still have not been updated since the introduction of my legislation to make sure that spitting is an aggravating factor and will be treated as an offence.
There are many important points that I would be happy to debate about the police covenant and giving our police officers—the frontline men and women who keep us safe day in, day out—the protection that they and their family members deserve. The hon. Gentleman is right about the sentencing structure and guidance, but we have had support from the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the assaults that I have referred to, particularly over the last few months in relation to coronavirus, when we have seen spitting and assaults on officers.
This Bill is a criminal justice Bill as much as a policing Bill. It is an end-to-end Bill to ensure that the sentence fits the assault and the crime. The Bill will double the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months’ to two years’ imprisonment, recognising that our officers and emergency workers should rightly be protected. Having spent much time with those on the frontline and seen the impact and the sheer volume of these incidents, I think it is right that we have that provision in this Bill.
The Government fully recognise the professionalism and skills of our highly trained police officers, and that includes the specialism of police drivers. Too often, they are driving in high-pressure situations pursuing suspects on the road while responding urgently to incidents. Through this Bill, we will introduce a new test to assess a police officer’s standard of driving. Should an officer be involved in a road traffic incident, this new test will allow the courts to judge their standard of driving against that of a competent and careful police constable with the same level of training, rather than that of a member of the public, which is how it stands at present.
The Government back the police and will never allow those with an extreme political agenda, such as those calling for the defunding or abolition of the police, to weaken our resolve when it comes to protecting the police. We back the police and will do everything we possibly can to make our community safer.
I have heard the call of the British public for safer communities, and that means cracking down on violent crime, which has a corrosive impact on towns and cities across the country. That includes gangs peddling drugs, as a result of which law-abiding citizens live in fear and, tragically, teenage children are stabbed to death. This senseless violence has absolutely no place in our society.
I support entirely the need to make sure that sentences fit the crime, but is not the reality that courts have huge backlogs and are reluctant to jail people who should be in jail, because they know that our prisons are overcrowded? Does not this Government’s failure on courts and prisons massively undermine what the right hon. Lady says about sentencing?
Absolutely not. The Government are determined in their resolve—through this legislation, and delivering on our manifesto commitments—to bring in sentences that fit the crime. This is an end-to-end criminal justice Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members listen to this afternoon’s debate, they will hear about the measures that are being introduced, and about the Government’s longer-term response. That includes the wider work that the Government are undertaking with the courts and the CPS; the changes that we need to make not just to sentencing, but to our laws; and the support that we are giving to our police.
We do not want to waste police time. Over the years I have formed an unlikely alliance with people such as Peter Tatchell, particularly with the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to ensure that we enshrine in law your ability, Madam Deputy Speaker, my ability, or anybody’s ability to insult people and cause offence. Thinking particularly of clause 59, will my right hon. Friend assure me that nothing in the Bill will have a chilling effect on the right to debate and, if necessary, cause offence?
When it comes to freedom of expression, my right hon. Friend knows my views and those of this Government. Prior to taking interventions I spoke about the corrosive impact of violent crime across our towns and cities. Tragically, too many young children—teenagers—have been stabbed to death in towns and cities of the UK. Such senseless violence has no place in our society. I have met too many mothers whose children have been murdered on the streets of our city, and I have seen the raw pain and distress of parents grieving for their child, and the utter devastation they are forced to endure.
We are proud that this Government have put more police officers on the beat, but tough law enforcement can be only part of the solution. We must do much more to understand and address the factors that drive serious violence, so that we can prevent it from happening in the first place. Through the Bill, we will introduce a serious violence duty, which will work to bring public bodies, including the police and local authorities, to work together as one, to share data and information across our communities, and work together to save lives. I thank many of my predecessors for their work on that, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid).
I make no apology for finding new ways to protect our communities and save the lives of our young people. Whenever lives are tragically lost as the result of serious violence, we must do everything we can to learn from what has happened. Homicides involving offensive weapons such as knives make up a large and growing proportion of all homicides, yet no legal requirement is currently placed on local agencies to understand what has happened after each incident. We are therefore introducing the requirement for a formal review to be considered, where a victim was aged 18 or over and the events surrounding their death involved the use of an offensive weapon. The new reviews will ensure that we learn lessons from such cases, and produce recommendations to improve our response to serious violence.
Every time someone carries a blade or a weapon, they risk ruining their own lives and those of others. Every stabbing leaves a trail of misery and devastation in its wake. Our new serious violence reduction orders will help the police to protect our communities better, by giving officers the power to stop and search those already convicted of crimes involving knives and offensive weapons. The orders will help to tackle prolific and higher-risk offenders, and help to protect individuals from exploitation by criminal gangs. That is exactly what I mean when I say that we are making our communities safer.
There will be concerns about disproportionality, but our aim is for these orders to enable the police to take a more targeted approach, specifically in relation to known knife carriers. Unfortunately, data from 2018-19 indicate that the homicide risk for young black people is 24 times higher than that for young white people. That is appalling. As long as young black men are dying and their families are disproportionately suffering, we cannot stand back, and I cannot apologise for backing the police when it comes to stop and search. The Government will work with the police to gather data on the impact of the orders to deliver real and lasting results.
Victims and witnesses must have the full protection of the law while the police conduct their investigations. We will reform the pre-charge bail regime to encourage the police to impose pre-charge bail, with appropriate conditions where it is necessary and proportionate to do so, including where there is a real risk to victims, witnesses and the public. We hope that that will provide reassurance and additional protection for alleged victims, for example in high-harm cases such as domestic abuse.
Since the Home Secretary’s Government first promised a victims Bill, there have been 1 million sexual offences and 350,000 rapes. This Bill is 300 pages long and barely mentions women or children. The explanatory notes do not mention women or girls once. Will she get to her feet and apologise finally for missing this fantastic opportunity to put victims at the heart of our criminal justice system?
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman or the Opposition when it comes to supporting victims. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on victims, I and this Government have absolutely put victims at the heart of all our work, as have my predecessors in all their work.
The hon. Gentleman can yell from the Back Benches, but it is important to remember that when it comes to protecting victims, there are many victims of different offences and different crimes. I think he and all Members of this House should recognise that this Bill will absolutely provide additional protections for victims in high-harm cases such as domestic abuse and many other cases.
These reforms will be named Kay’s law in memory of Kay Richardson, who was tragically killed following the release of her husband under investigation, rather than on pre-charge bail, despite evidence of previous domestic abuse. It is impossible to imagine the impact of such an horrific crime on the victim’s loved ones, and we all have a responsibility to do all we can to prevent more victims and more families from suffering as they have. That is the point and the purpose of this Bill—it is an end-to-end Bill.
Before Opposition Members start to prejudge any aspect of this Bill and this Government’s work on victims, there will be plenty of time to debate this Bill. There will also be plenty of time to debate the role of victims and how the Government are absolutely supporting victims.
An essential responsibility and a duty on us all is protecting our children. I am truly appalled and shocked by each crime and every case of hurt and harm against young people from sexual abuse and exploitation. It is impossible to comprehend the motivation of those who perpetrate offences against children, and we have been reviewing the law in this area carefully to ensure that any changes we make are the right ones. Through this Bill, I intend to extend the scope of the current legislation that criminalises sexual activity with a child under the age of 18 by people who hold defined positions of trust to include faith leaders, sports coaches and others who similarly coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct a sport or religion on a regular basis.
This issue has some brilliant and long-standing champions. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who even throughout her recent cancer treatment worked with me to ensure that we address this significant issue. I also thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who continues to stand by the many victims who were abused as youngsters and who were failed and ignored by those who should have supported them. I also thank Baroness Grey-Thompson for her tireless work on this issue.
Through this Bill, we will also introduce an important measure to help bring closure to families whose loved ones have gone missing. The House will know the horrific case of Keith Bennett and the struggles his family have gone through to find his body since his murder. In 2017, the police believed they had a further lead when it came to light that Ian Brady had committed papers to secure storage before his death, but a gap in the law meant that the police were unable to get a search warrant to seize those papers.
I know this is an important issue—indeed, it has been raised by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and others. I am therefore introducing new powers enabling officers to seize evidence that they believe may help to locate human remains outside of criminal proceedings, such as in missing persons cases, suicides and homicide cases where a suspect is known but cannot be convicted, such as where the suspect themselves has died. As I said to Keith’s brother, Alan, when I met him recently, I am absolutely determined to give the police all the powers they need to access any evidence that could help them to bring some closure in cases such as Keith’s. While I cannot guarantee that a loved one will be found, I can make sure that families are provided with every avenue that our legal system will allow in the pursuit of justice. This is why we emphasise the need to make our communities safer, and that is exactly what the Bill does.
The right to protest peacefully is a cornerstone of our democracy and one that this Government will always defend, but there is, of course, a balance to be struck between the rights of the protester and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives. The current legislation the police use to manage protests, the Public Order Act 1986, was enacted over 30 years ago. In recent years, we have seen a significant change of protest tactics, with protesters exploiting gaps in the law which have led to disproportionate amounts of disruption. Last year, we saw XR blocking the passage of an ambulance and emergency calls, gluing themselves to a train during rush hour, blocking airport runways, preventing hundreds of hard-working people from going to work. Finally, I would like to gently remind the House that on one day last year many people across the country were prevented from reading their morning newspapers due to the tactics of some groups—a clear attempt to limit a free and fair press, a cornerstone of our democracy and society.
The Bill will give the police the powers to take a more proactive approach in tackling dangerous and disruptive protests. The threshold at which the police can impose conditions on the use of noise at a protest is rightfully high. The majority of protesters will be able to continue to act and make noise as they do now without police intervention, but we are changing it to allow the police to put conditions on noisy protests that cause significant disruption to those in the vicinity. As with all our proposals, the police response will still need to be proportionate. The statutory offence of public nuisance replaces the existing common law offence. Our proposals follow the recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2015. The threshold for committing an offence is high, with any harm needing to affect the public or a cross-section of the public and not just an individual.
We must give the courts the tools to deal effectively with the desecration of war memorials and other statues. Through the Bill, we will toughen the law where there is criminal damage to a memorial by removing the consideration of monetary value of damage. Those changes will allow the court to consider the emotional and sentimental impact, not just financial, so that the sentence can reflect the severity of harm caused. For what it is worth, that does not just mean statues. It will cover a range of memorials with low monetary but high sentimental value, for example gravestones, war memorials, roadside tributes to people killed in car crashes and the memorials to people who have been murdered, such as the Stephen Lawrence memorial. I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) for their important work on this issue.
I am also clear that no one should have to put up with disturbances and disruptions on their doorstep. Unauthorised encampments can create significant challenges for local authorities, and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. As we pledged in our manifesto, we will make it a criminal offence to live in a vehicle on land without permission and we will give the police the power to seize vehicles if necessary. I can assure the House that the new offence has been framed in such a way to ensure that the rights of ramblers and others to enjoy the countryside are not impacted.
What consideration has the right hon. Lady given to the rights of generations of Travellers and Gypsies, who have often been around longer than some of our property laws, who might want to pull up on a roadside for a night? What consideration of their rights has been given in the Bill, which will automatically criminalise them?
The Home Secretary may remember coming to visit Wolstanton Marsh in my constituency during the election campaign. Residents around Wolstanton have long suffered as a result of the unauthorised encampments on the marsh. Will she join me in welcoming what the Bill will do for them? This is a manifesto pledge delivered.
I recall a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is right. Many colleagues, and many members of the public through the public consultation, made the point that unauthorised encampments cause misery and harm to those in the local communities affected by them. There have been many discussions with colleagues across the House on this point, and with local authorities, which more often than not bear the brunt of the costs and consequences, alongside the police.
In September, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor published a White Paper setting out our vision for a smarter approach to sentencing, and now we are introducing legislation to establish this in law. We need a system that is robust enough to keep the worst offenders behind bars for as long as possible, but agile enough to give offenders a fair start on their road to rehabilitation. Sexual and violent offenders must serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes, helping to protect the public and give victims confidence that justice has been served. These offences are committed predominantly against women. Through this Bill, rapists and other serious sexual predators sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of four years or more will henceforth serve at least two thirds of their sentence in custody. Rapists sentenced to life imprisonment will similarly serve longer in custody before they are considered for release on licence. The Bill also strengthens the framework for the management of sex offenders. In particular, we are legislating so that courts can attach positive requirements to a sexual harm prevention order or a sexual risk order so that, for example, a perpetrator can be required to attend a behavioural change programme.
The measures in this Bill build on those in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will return to this House after Easter. Among the changes we have brought forward in the Lords is a new offence of non-fatal strangulation and the criminalising of threats to disclose intimate images. I know that these additions to the Bill will be welcomed by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). We have had discussions already this afternoon about violence against women and girls and what more we can do; these measures are fundamental to restoring confidence in the criminal justice system.
We also recognise that the reoffending rate for children is high, and that is why we are taking forward measures to provide courts with stronger alternatives to custody. In the Bill, we are providing custodial sentencing options for the most serious crimes, alongside alternatives that will allow youth offenders to be effectively managed and rehabilitated in the community. That will ensure that judges and magistrates are able to make the most appropriate decisions in the best interests of the child and of the public. In recognition of the fact that children now in custody are much more likely to have complex needs, we will introduce measures to enable the trialling of secure schools. They will be schools with security rather than prisons with education, and they will have education, wellbeing and purposeful activity at their heart.
The courts play a fundamental role in our criminal justice system. During the pandemic, we have seen the benefits of enabling participation in proceedings remotely or by live video or audio link. We want to put these temporary provisions on a permanent footing, giving judges better options to support the effective and efficient running of their courts and underpinning the principle of open justice. Our aim is to modernise our courts and tribunals so that there are more opportunities to attend and observe hearings remotely, shorter waiting times and less unnecessary travel. I can assure the House that these advantages will never be taken from the right to a full hearing in court. This will always be available where needed, and where the court considers it to be in the interests of justice. Trials will continue to take place in court. We also want to further improve accessibility to our justice system for people with disabilities.
At the moment, if somebody suffers a sexual assault or rape, they will wait two years before they have their moment in court. Will the Home Secretary agree to amend the Bill so that people who are victims of rape or sexual assault will be fast-tracked straight into the court system and will no longer have to wait two years?
It is absolutely right that we look at every single measure and approach to ensure that victims of rape receive justice. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the rape review is taking place and will soon be published.
We want to improve accessibility to our justice system for people with disabilities. Reasonable adjustments can be made for most people with disabilities to enable them to complete jury service. However, the law has to date prevented deaf people who require the services of a sign language interpreter from having an interpreter in a jury deliberation room with them. We are changing that to ensure that all deaf individuals are able to serve as jurors unless the circumstances of a particular case mean that it would not be in the interests of justice for them to do so.
As I said at the beginning, this Government were elected on a clear manifesto commitment to keep our country safe. That is what the British people rightly expect, and that is what this Bill will deliver, by supporting the police, by preventing and cutting crime and by restoring confidence in the criminal justice system, because giving people the security they need to live their lives as they choose is an essential part of our freedom. As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, we will build back safer and increase the safety and security of our citizens. This Bill will enable us to do exactly that, and I commend it to the House.
The House meets today in the shadow of the tragic loss of Sarah Everard, and I know the whole House will be united in sending our thoughts to her loved ones at this time of unimaginable pain. In an incredibly moving tribute, her family said:
“She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.”
Sarah was just walking home at night—a freedom that sounds so simple, it should be unquestionable. But in recent days, we have heard extraordinarily powerful testimony yet again from women across the country about the dangers they face all too regularly—women speaking of suffering vile harassment on the streets, being told to walk with keys between their fingers to protect themselves and being told they should stay at home. It is not women and girls who should be changing their behaviour because of danger. We must change as a society, and as men in particular, we must do better by listening and, most importantly, acting.
I want to turn immediately to the distressing scenes we saw at Clapham. I share the anger there is about the policing of this. Deep and profound lessons need to be learned, and there must be change. People should have been able to mark this moment peacefully and safely. We need to find a way for people to show solidarity safely and in a covid-secure way. As I mentioned in response to the statement earlier today, the Mayor of London has shown leadership on this, asking Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to conduct an independent investigation alongside the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Saturday’s event was not a protest; it was a vigil. But there is no doubt that it brings into sharp focus the proposed measures in this Bill about curtailing the right to protest—the right to give public expression to deep feeling and the right to campaign for change. The scenes from Saturday should be a red warning signal to the House that rushing through ill-judged and ill-thought-out restrictions on the right to protest would be a profound mistake that would have long-lasting consequences and do great damage to our democracy. The right to protest is a cornerstone of that democracy.
On our statute book, we already have the Public Order Act 1986, together with other existing powers to police protests. It is of course right that protests should be peaceful and legitimate—nobody would suggest otherwise—but the Bill significantly expands the conditions that can be imposed on protests. Unbelievably, it includes
“the noise generated by persons taking part”
causing people “serious unease” as a reason to warrant police-imposed conditions. I do not know about Government Members, but the protests that I have been to have certainly generated a lot of noise.
There is also a penalty in the Bill for someone who breaches a police-imposed condition on a protest when they “ought to have known” that the condition existed. That would have the effect of criminalising people who unwittingly breach conditions.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that no one should be able to block an ambulance from crossing a road or bridge, and that no one should be able to block a printing press from printing newspapers? If he does agree, why will he not vote for the Bill?
Because the existing laws deal with those issues. The Conservative party is not making the case for the additional powers.
The right to protest to those in power—including the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who waves his Order Paper at me—is extremely precious. I declare an interest as a proud trade unionist and refer to my relevant entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on support from the Unite union and the GMB. Whether it is our trade unions or another group that wants to make its views known loudly in our streets, we curtail their ability to do so at our peril. The right to protest is one of our proudest democratic traditions, and that this Government seek to attack it is to their great shame. Our existing laws on protest strike a careful balance between legitimate rights and the need to keep order. Our laws on protest do not, and never should, seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest. We on the Opposition Benches will oppose a Bill that puts at risk the whole right to protest, hard-won by previous generations, that is part of the fabric of British democracy. In seeking to preserve the right to protest, we on these Benches stand in a long tradition of British democracy. It is this Government who seek to undermine those traditions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the inclusion of parts 3 and 4 of the Bill undermines victims, the police force and the whole point of what the Government are trying to do to reform our criminal justice system and make it work for the people? The Government should withdraw parts 3 and 4 and get on with deliberating on some of the detail that could be half good.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that for him to vote against the entire Bill, much of which is extremely good and much of which the Labour party has campaigned for for many years, because he believes that there may be some curtailment of free speech—I do not believe that is the case—in one small part of the Bill, would be to throw the baby out with the bath water? Surely that is the wrong thing to do.
I will come to other concerning aspects of the Bill in a moment, but it says a great deal that when I am talking about the great British tradition of the right to protest, it is a Conservative Member of Parliament who stands up to challenge it. That is quite remarkable.
Let me turn to what is needed to address the appalling issue of violence against women and girls. To our shame as a country, we see unacceptable levels of female homicides at the hands of men every year. Labour is committed to working on a cross-party basis to bring forward additional protections; to deliver on the inadequate sentencing for domestic homicides; and to address unacceptable and intimidating street harassment. Labour is committed on stalking, on improving rights for victims of crime, on better domestic abuse services and on recognising misogyny as a hate crime.
There are wider issues, too. On 29 January, I wrote to the Government, together with the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy); the shadow Housing Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire); the shadow Minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips); and the shadow Minister for victims and youth justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). We raised the awful practice of sex for rent—people coerced into providing sex in lieu of payment—and put forward proposals. We wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; not one of them has even bothered to reply. That shows that this is a Government who too often like to talk tough but who fail to take the action needed. In its current form, the Bill does not meet the ambition of the time and will be a terrible missed opportunity.
As a signatory to that letter, campaigning on this means a great deal to me. Actually, I contacted the two previous Home Secretaries and Amber Rudd, when she was Home Secretary, set a workstream up to tackle this issue. It has been cancelled. We have been trying very long and very hard to give protection to those 30,000 women every year who are propositioned for sex in return for rent. Is it not time that this cross-party offer is taken up?
As my right hon. Friend knows, I, and I think we as a party, support clause 2, because we believe that emergency workers should not be subject to the terrible assaults that there have been over the years. But this does pose a problem, because a lot of women who work in shops are subjected to exactly the same problems and are often terrified to go into work. We had a terrible incident in the Co-op in Penygraig less than a year ago. Is there not a job of work that we need to do to make sure that all workers, but in particular women workers working in shops, are also protected?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I will come on to that issue in a moment, when I have some proposals to put forward.
Ministers risk sending out an awful message on the level of importance that they attach to violent crime. The Government want a maximum penalty of 10 years for damage to statues. No Government should ever send out a signal that the safety of a statue carries greater importance in our laws than the safety of women, but, as currently drafted, this Bill would allow someone to receive a sentence of up to 10 years for attacking the statue of a slave trader when rape sentences start at five years. That does not reflect the priorities of the people.
The shadow Home Secretary should well know and should honestly tell the House that the maximum sentence for rape is life.
I asked the Home Secretary earlier in the statement to tell me how many people convicted of rape were actually sentenced to life imprisonment, and she could not answer the question. The answer is hardly any. Ninety-nine per cent. of reported rapes do not even get close to a court, and then we hear the Minister trying to come to the Dispatch Box to boast about the rape statistics—absolutely appalling.
My right hon. Friend and the whole Labour party and Opposition agree that protecting private and public property is incredibly important, but it is about balance. If an angry mob throws a statue into water and then turns around and throws a woman or a child into water, can he tell us which one, if the Bill passes and goes into statute, gets the longer sentence?
In one moment, because I need to deal with the issue of the rape statistics that has been raised. We are seeing fewer people being prosecuted and convicted for rape than at any time since records began, and that is at a time when the number of reported rapes is increasing. What message do the Government think that that sends to victims about coming forward? As I said to the Minister—he is a Justice Minister; he really should be concentrating on trying to deal with this problem—99% of reported rapes do not even get near a court. That is absolutely shameful. I say to the Home Secretary: think again about the Government’s priorities on this, make changes, such as end-to-end support for victims pre-trial and post-trial, and fast-track these trials through our system, instead of the two years that there have to be at the moment.
If the desecration of our war memorials does not move the right hon. Gentleman, can I check this one with him? Two of my constituents lost their daughter when somebody impaired by the incorrect use of prescription drugs careered across the carriageway and hit her car head-on at high speed, killing her outright. In part 5 of the Bill, on road traffic, we introduce clause 64, on increased penalties for causing death by dangerous driving. Does the shadow Home Secretary support that and will he vote for it?
I do absolutely support that and I will come to it in a moment but, to deal with the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, he seemed to imply that I did not understand the value of war memorials. I absolutely do. The difference is that this Bill has now been extended to every form of memorial, including statues of slave traders. It really sums up the problem with the Government’s approach. If they genuinely wanted to introduce proportionate measures to protect war memorials, they could have done so and not introduced the measures that they actually have.
I come to the sentencing elements of the Bill. It is of course right to extend whole-life orders to cover the premeditated murder of a child. The tragic murder of Ellie Gould on 3 May 2019 highlights the failure of the justice system to impose strict enough sentences on those who murder in a domestic setting and the issue of the age of the killer. But this measure is insufficient. The current approach to sentencing seems to forget the context in which many female victims are killed—in the home, with a weapon taken from that location. The minimum tariff in such cases is 15 years, but it is 25 if the weapon is brought to the scene of the crime. That is a systemic problem; violence against women and girls seems to be seen as less serious than other forms of violence. This has to be addressed.
The Opposition also say that tougher sentencing on its own is not enough. We know that wider change across our society is needed, and we know that the Government who have decimated our public services over the past 11 years have totally lost sight of addressing the causes of crime as well, with the sadly predictable consequences of rising violent crime in every single police force area of England and Wales. The Bill is shamefully short of measures to address the unacceptable violence women and girls face. In that, it fails woefully to meet the urgent need for change.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned my constituent, Ellie Gould, and her appalling murder two years ago. He is right to say that we campaigned for the issue of premeditation, as proved by taking a weapon to the scene, to be removed. I hope therefore that he will vote for the Bill this evening. There is one counter-argument to that, however. Abused women at home may well defend themselves with a knife, bottle or other weapon at home, and if that were to happen and it became premeditated, that defence would be lost.
With great respect, the hon. Gentleman identifies a complexity, but I think he agrees with me that that difference in the law—the 15 and 25-year tariffs—is not justifiable as it stands and needs to be equalised.
The need for overdue action brings me to elements of the Bill that have taken too long to introduce, but which we welcome. My hon. Friends, often working across the parties, have campaigned passionately on important issues and they have secured change. It is welcome that the Government have finally brought before Parliament the long-awaited legislation to increase the maximum sentence for assault on emergency service workers to up to two years in prison. I want to pay special tribute to the tireless work of my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch) in securing this change. They have been campaigning since 2018. Indeed, on 27 April 2018, when the matter of two-year sentences was considered, the then Minister said that
“it would begin to create the kind of situation that exists in Russia, which I hope will never exist in the UK”.
He went on to say that such sentences would create
“a category of a superior form of human being with an entitlement to a quite separate form of protection.”—[Official Report, 27 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 1193.]
Those comments were, frankly, deplorable and the Government’s conversion to the two-year penalty is to be welcomed.
The pandemic has been a powerful reminder, not that one should be needed, of the extraordinary bravery and commitment that our frontline emergency workers have shown throughout. They have put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe day in, day out, even at the very height of the first wave, when tests and PPE were so shamefully hard to come by. Despite that work, emergency service workers have been subjected to a rising number of attacks in this past year, with a 31% increase in attacks compared with in 2019.
Recently in Wolverhampton, two ambulance staff were stabbed. I am watching you go through this Bill saying that you welcome and agree with so many things, so why on earth have you asked your party to vote against it? It just makes no sense.
Yes, I was not aware of your position on the Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have not finished my speech yet, so the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) will just have to wait for me to complete my argument.
As welcome as this measure is, the Labour party is clear that it does not go far enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said, we need to consider the workers on the frontline of the pandemic who should also be given that level of protection. First, it does not cover the whole of the NHS family, so we are calling for protections to be extended to social care workers as well. Throughout the pandemic, the range of frontline service workers who put themselves at risk to serve our community has been clear.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) has actually hit on something that might be helpful to the House. There are many aspects of the Bill that we all agree on. If only the really divisive aspects that the Home Secretary has put in were removed, could not the whole House get behind supporting our police, rather than going through the mess that we have in front of us today?
Absolutely. The Government could press pause on the Bill and bring the whole House together.
Research has shown that, during the pandemic alone, one in six of our shop workers have been abused on every shift, with 62% of UK shop workers experiencing verbal abuse and almost being threatened by a customer. There have been awful examples of attacks on other frontline workers, who have been spat at, punched, verbally abused and intimidated. Labour is calling for wider measures to protect the pandemic heroes, extending protections to shop workers as well as other frontline workers. There is widespread support for this, with the additional protection for shop workers supported by organisations such as the Federation of Independent Retailers and chief executive officers from a number of major retailers, including Aldi, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer, McColl’s, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and WHSmith.
I would also like to mention the work of the USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—which has been passionate in campaigning for its members to receive these vital protections and has generated well over 100,000 signatories on petition. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to frontline workers for putting themselves at risk to keep our country running. We should repay some of that debt with decent legal protection as well as decent pay.
The right hon. Gentleman is making, in many parts of his speech, a very strong case for supporting the Bill, but he started by saying that he was not going to support the Bill because of one particular element. The Opposition were going to abstain at the end of last week; then they shifted their position. May I gently suggest to him that a decent way of doing this would be, if necessary, to abstain today, debate the amendments and decide on Third Reading whether the Government have moved at all? Would that not be more logical?
I will always bow to the right hon. Gentleman’s guidance on parliamentary procedure, but we took a final decision to vote against this Bill. Let me say to Government Members that I will make it clear when I agree with the Government on something, but as I move on to other aspects of my speech, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will see that there are other parts of the Bill that also cause deep concern; he need only wait for that.
I want to take my right hon. Friend back to the emergency workers legislation. One of the difficulties about the way in which it works is that magistrates courts can only sentence up to six months and the Government have still failed to change the law to allow them to issue longer sentences in certain circumstances. The danger is that increasing the sentence will make absolutely no difference whatever, unless the Government do what they could already have done in the last two years.
Let me make some progress; I have taken a number of interventions.
I come to the police covenant and frontline police officers across the country. Like the Home Secretary, I meet the chair of the Police Federation and work with him on a regular basis. Only in recent days, I met my local officers in Gwent—virtually, of course—with hon. Friends and listened to the work that they are doing. It is clear that throughout this pandemic frontline officers are putting themselves at risk to keep us safe, but across the board, frontline workers in the police, fire service, education and so many other areas are facing a pay freeze. Their efforts in this pandemic are being rewarded with a real-terms pay cut.
The police covenant is welcome but overdue—it is in this Bill, some three years after it was promised. It is right that the Home Secretary makes an annual report to Parliament, addressing key issues on physical protection, health and wellbeing, and support for families, but we will study this provision closely, in consultation with representatives from across policing. We will be arguing for protections including support for mental health, which is too often overlooked.
I turn to the toughening of sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) deserves great credit for securing these changes, together with other right hon. and hon. Members who signed the Bill introduced by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), last year. They included my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), together with MPs from a number of parties. We support those proposals; too many people have taken lives and left families heartbroken, with insufficient punishment—that has to end.
On the extension of laws that prevent adults in positions of trust from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under 18, sports coaches and faith leaders should be included in those safeguards. I give great credit here to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), with others, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I am sure everyone from across the House would send her our very best wishes.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the whole House will be pleased to hear that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford was in the Tea Room this afternoon and she tells me that her treatment is fully successful and she will be on her way to a full recovery shortly.
That is a wonderful intervention to take; I am sure we will all be delighted to hear that.
The Government could do more on the issue I was discussing. For example, tutors and driving instructors are not included, and I hope that the Home Secretary will look at that again.
Another area where some measures are welcome is in parts of the review from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham being implemented, but that review was published in September 2017, nearly four years ago; there are provisions for the pilot of problem solving courts, for recognising the remand of children as a last resort and for reform of the criminal records disclosure regime. On the issue of reform of the Disclosure and Barring Service, I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) for his work in securing that change.
All those things are welcome and overdue, but we have heard such powerful testimony of the lived experiences and family legacies of the prejudice that black people have faced. Black people have bravely stepped forward to share their testimony of structural racism and the impact it still has. The Government cannot ignore the disproportionality that exists from start to finish in our criminal justice system and continue to take steps that make it worse. The Bill contains so-called serious violence reduction orders, which raise serious questions about disproportionality and community trust. As a minimum, the whole of the review by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, all 35 recommendations, should be progressed without further delay.
Similarly, the Government must look again at the sections of this Bill on unauthorised encampments. The proposals create a new offence of residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle. The loose way it is drafted seems to capture the intention to do this as well as actually doing this, with penalties of imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to £2,500, or both. This is clearly targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and the criminalisation would potentially breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.
When Friends, Families and Travellers researched the consultation responses the Government received, they found that 84% of the police responses did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments. Little wonder that senior police officers are telling us that the changes in the Bill would add considerable extra cost to already stretched policing, while making situations worse. I ask Ministers to think of the signal they are sending. We have already had the discussion about how responding to letters to the Home Office quickly is not the Home Secretary’s strong point, but she will surely have seen the letter to her in January—possibly not, given her earlier answer—from nine different organisations, ranging from the Ramblers to Cycling UK. That letter sets out that these unclear proposals not only risk discriminating against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but risk criminalising wild camping and even rough sleepers in makeshift shelters or tents.
The right hon. Gentleman is very generous to take so many interventions. Is it not the case that, notwithstanding the consultation, the Government have listened and have added the requirement to enter with a vehicle? There is no form of rambling I am aware of where one brings a vehicle on to land with the intention of residing there.
I think the hon. Member needs to reread the Bill on the scope of the provisions, frankly, because it is extraordinarily loosely drafted.
Rights of access to the countryside were hard won through the protests of previous generations. I do realise that there is some ill feeling between this Prime Minister and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, but I did not realise that it ran so deep that he would be happy to see people locked up for naughtily running through a field of wheat. [Interruption.] If only she had all those years ago as well.
The Bill before the House could be a landmark Bill, and we must seize this opportunity for change. Yes, absolutely, there are measures in this Bill that we welcome—mostly because Labour Members have actually campaigned for them—but addressing violence against women and girls cannot be at the bottom of this Government’s list of priorities. If Ministers disagree with my interpretation, they must show it by their actions, and drop the elements of the Bill that suggest that attacking a statue could be a worse crime than rape, drop the elements of the Bill on protests, and revisit the elements that drive up disproportionality and the controls on encampments, which are discriminatory and unworkable. Instead, let this Bill be an opportunity for people to come together and seize the moment to drive through vital changes to address violence against women and girls. Whatever this Government say as the Bill progresses, we on these Benches understand and we hear the call for change. Labour will work to bring about that change, and I would ask all Members to work with us in that endeavour.
I join the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary in sending my condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends.
There are elements of this Bill, which is a very large and significant Bill, that I really welcome: the action on unauthorised encampments, on serious violence, on people in positions of trust and on changes to sentencing. I particularly, of course, welcome the change to sentencing for death by dangerous driving, which reflects the change I proposed in my ten-minute rule Bill. It was supported, as the shadow Home Secretary said, across the whole of the House, because many Members of this House have constituency cases that have been affected by this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) indicated in his intervention. My desire to bring this forward was first brought about by the case—the very sad case—of my constituent Bryony Hollands, who was killed by somebody under the influence of drugs and drink, but there have been other constituency cases, such as those of Eddy Lee and Max Simmons. On their behalf, on behalf of their families and on behalf of all those affected by this, I say simply to the Government, thank you.
I would like to focus on a number of areas where I worry that there could be unintended consequences of the measures being brought forward by the Government in this Bill. I absolutely see the reason for bringing forward the serious violence reduction orders, but I welcome the fact that they are being piloted, because I think there could be unintended consequences in two areas. The first is in stop-and-search. Stop-and-search is an important tool, but it must be used lawfully and it must not be used disproportionately against certain communities. My concern is that we do not go backwards on improvements that have been made on stop-and-search, and that we actually ensure that we do not see this being used disproportionately and a disproportionate increase taking place.
The other area is girls in gangs, and I am concerned—I have had a discussion with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), about this—that we could see serious violence reduction orders against male members of gangs leading to their pressurising their girlfriends to be carrying knives, with the impact that would have on those girls. The way in which girlfriends of gang members are used to get at rival gangs is a worry and needs to be given more attention, and I do not want to see the position of girls being further exacerbated, unintentionally, as a result of these orders.
My second concern is about pre-charge bail. I can absolutely see that, as a result of the changes that were brought in previously, we have seen too many cases where people have not been put on bail, particularly where the crime was a serious violent crime against a woman. However, I ask the Home Secretary to look carefully at the nine-month period that is being set before the police have to go to the magistrates court for an extension of bail. Certainly, I would urge her to resist any suggestion that that should be extended, because we cannot go back to a situation where people are effectively left with their lives on hold, possibly for years, as a result of the operation of bail.
Finally, I want to raise one area that has already been raised: I do have some concerns about some of the aspects of the public order provisions in the Bill. I absolutely accept that the police have certain challenges, for example when people glue themselves to vehicles or to the gates of Parliament, but freedom of speech is an important right in our democracy, however annoying or uncomfortable that might sometimes be. I know that there will be people who will have seen scenes of protests and asked, “Why aren’t the Government doing something?” The answer, in many cases, may simply be that we live in a democratic, free society.
I do worry about the potential unintended consequences of some of the measures in the Bill, which have been drawn quite widely. Protests have to be under the rule of law, but the law has to be proportionate. The first area that I will mention is giving police the powers to deal with static protests in the way that they have been able to deal with marches. Those have always been differentiated in the past. The second is around noise and nuisance; some of the definitions do look quite wide, and I would urge the Government to look at those definitions.
The final area I want to mention is the power for the Home Secretary to make regulations about the meaning of
“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation…or…to the life of the community.”
It is tempting when Home Secretary to think that giving powers to the Home Secretary is very reasonable, because we all think we are reasonable, but future Home Secretaries may not be so reasonable. I wonder whether the Government will be willing to publish a draft of those regulations during the Bill’s passage so that we can see what they are going to be and ensure that they are not also encroaching on the operational decisions of the police.
There are very important elements of this Bill, but I would urge the Government to consider carefully the need to walk a fine line between being popular and populist. Our freedoms depend on it.
I can confirm that the Scottish National party will be voting against this Bill tomorrow. That is not to say that there are not sections of the proposed legislation that we support or are satisfied with, but the Bill as introduced will not achieve what the Government say they want to achieve, will seriously curtail the rights to protest, will criminalise the way of life of Gypsy/Travellers, is likely to have a disproportionate negative impact on ethnic minority communities and women, and will allow the ridiculous and unjust possibility of a tougher jail sentence for someone who topples over a statue than for someone who does the same thing to a living human being.
There is one overarching thing on which I think we can all agree, and it is certainly the view of the Scottish National party: tackling serious crime has to be a priority. But rather than creating policy to elicit macho headlines about tougher sentences and who comes down hardest on crime, the bottom line for us is: what works? What reduces crime? When it comes to reducing reoffending, Scotland’s rates are the lowest they have been since comparable records began, because of our focus on community justice.
The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), knows that this tougher sentencing policy does not work. He once said:
“The evidence is mixed, although harsher sentencing tends to be associated with limited or no general deterrent effect.”
So why make that a central plank of the Bill? That is a question the UK Government have to answer. Why do it if it does not work?
Someone we should always listen to is the chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, Karyn McCluskey. She said:
“Community justice allows people who commit a crime to pay back to the community they harmed whilst addressing any underlying causes of crime such as addiction, homelessness and mental health issues.”
It is not hard justice, it is not soft justice; it is smart justice that genuinely reduces reoffending. I will say it again: Scotland now has the lowest reconviction rates since comparable records began 21 years ago.
I turn to the right to protest, which is a right. I know the Government have a bit of a disdain for international law, but article 11 of the European convention on human rights is the right to freedom of assembly and association. The Bill directly contradicts the rights of citizens to protest where, when and how they choose. If it goes through, there will be very few rights to protest in England and Wales at all, and that is unacceptable in a democracy—especially one that likes to claim to be the bastion of democracy and has a history of telling the rest of the world how to behave.
Let us not forget the rights of the people of Scotland to protest in England. While decisions about our lives are made in London, we, the people of Scotland, reserve the right to peacefully protest at the seat of power. Let me note some of the things that the people of Scotland have protested about in England: the Iraq war, over which Scotland had no choice; the obscenity of nuclear weapons conveniently stationed in Scotland, over which Scotland has no choice; and the wonderful women and their allies in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. Allow me to quote Rosie Dickson from WASPI in Scotland, who called this
“truly a step too far for those 1950s-born women who have not only been unfairly denied their pensions by a Westminster Government but now also face having their human right to protest against it, without fear of arrest, removed.”
Of course, we in the Scottish National party intend for London not to be the seat of power for much longer. We intend to win our independence so that all the decisions governing the lives of the people of Scotland are made in Scotland, where the right to protest is respected. When the Government of an independent Scotland get it wrong, as all Governments do from time to time, the people will be perfectly entitled to tell them that. However, even if independence were happening next week, I would leave this Parliament still fighting for the right of every citizen to protest.
These draconian powers are wide reaching, We have heard a comprehensive analysis of most of them from the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), so I will focus on just a few. First, we as Members of Parliament are accountable to our constituents, but now our constituents are to be told that they can protest and let us know of their disapproval, only we would prefer silent protests so we are introducing noise as a basis on which the police can intervene and impose any type of condition to stop them. Even if they do make noise, it will not matter. We will not hear them because we are putting in an exclusion zone around Parliament so far-reaching that what they have to say—their legitimate protest—will not fall on deaf ears; they will simply be so far away that it will not be audible. They will effectively be silenced. I want those people to know that I do not want them silenced, even if they are opposed to what I stand for. I want to be a Member of a Parliament that embraces democracy; the Bill is doing the opposite, and it is embarrassing.
Speaking of embarrassing, that word does not cover how the events of Saturday night felt for most of us watching them. I want to say something about what happened at Clapham common in the context of the police using the powers they already have and for us to think about how much worse it will get if the sweeping powers in the Bill are handed over to senior police officers.
First, I want to add my voice to those of the many thousands who are heartbroken for the family and friends of Sarah Everard. The torment that her family must be going through is something that nobody in this House would wish on anyone. I know we all share the despair. I attended an online vigil on Saturday night, but I understood why those women who met in person did so—particularly those who live near to where Sarah was taken. I got it. I know they were breaking regulations, and I would never encourage that, but they were in pain and they wanted to come together to help others also in pain. I do not know any woman who has not got a story to tell. Male violence against women takes such a heavy toll on all of us, and sometimes we need to be with other people.
Given the context of Clapham common on Saturday night, surely sensitivity should have been the watchword. I cannot imagine how frightened some of the women must have been, particularly given the circumstances. They have just had an alarming reminder that the police uniform does not give a cast-iron guarantee of safety and some of them find themselves on the ground, handcuffed, with knees on their back, flowers for Sarah trampled on, legs held down and unable to move at the hands of the police. Sarah Everard was just walking home; those women were just expressing their grief. If the current powers to curb protest can lead to what happened on Saturday night, imagine how much worse it will get if this legislation goes through.
I am deeply concerned about the attacks in the Bill on the way of life of some of our citizens. I am speaking, of course, about the Gypsy/Traveller community, who are among the most persecuted on these islands and among the most misunderstood. This Tory Government want to criminalise their way of life at the same time as the Scottish Government have produced an action plan entitled “Improving the Lives of Scotland’s Gypsy/Travellers”. What a contrast! Why are this Government so intent on cracking down hardest on the most vulnerable in our society?
While we are on the issue of racism in society, let me come to clause 46 on memorials. Is it not interesting that this legislation that comes down hard on anyone damaging a memorial comes about shortly after a group of people in Bristol toppled a statue of someone who made his money from slavery? Would I have toppled the statue? No. But do I think slave owners should have lasting memorials to them? Definitely not. This Bill would increase the maximum jail sentence for someone convicted of this to 10 years: 10 years for damaging an inanimate and, to some, very offensive object, when it is rare to get anything like as much as that for damaging a living, breathing person or animal. It is interesting, isn’t it, that the toppled statue that I believe prompted some of this legislation was toppled as part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration, when black people and their allies finally said, “Enough is enough”? As soon as they organise to have their voices heard, legislation pops up to silence them. I find that very interesting. I have spoken this weekend to people in the Black Lives Matter movement who believe that this endangers their very existence. They are in no doubt that they will be targeted.
I have had a lot of emails about this in the past two days, and there will be many people watching who—believe it or not—do not normally tune into Parliament, so it is worth mentioning that this is Second Reading and the next stage is Committee, where the Bill will be scrutinised line by line, word for word, by Members from each party, where evidence will be considered, and where amendments may be proposed. One of the things we will want to pay particular attention to is clause 36 on data extraction from mobile devices. I know the Scottish Government have been speaking to the UK Government about safeguarding and some progress has been made. This is certainly something we will want to interrogate. We have to be exceptionally careful about the use of people’s personal data.
Let me turn briefly to stop and search. Although this will not impact directly on Scotland, I want to add my voice to those on the Opposition Benches who are saying “Enough is enough.” It is not just politicians who are saying that the impact on black communities is disproportionate and it is not just black communities who are saying it. Newly retired chief executive of the College of Policing, Mike Cunningham, has voiced his concern that existing stop-and-search powers are disproportionate to what he calls an “eye-watering” degree. We should be listening to him and to groups like Liberty, Amnesty and Fair Trials who have called for a review of existing powers rather than an extension.
If it is to be fair, the law must be foreseeable. We must be able to foresee, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences that any given action may entail. This Bill is peppered with ambiguous wording left to be defined by statutory instruments. For example, there are regular references throughout to “serious disruption” as a reason to criminalise somebody, but there is nothing in the Bill to define “serious disruption”, leaving it effectively to the Home Secretary to decide. I want to know what the Home Secretary’s definition is. I want the right to debate it. The Home Secretary and I interpret things very differently. She thought the Black Lives Matter movement was “dreadful” while I think it is magnificent, so her idea of “serious disruption” will likely be very different from mine. Yet we are signing over to her the right to come up with a definition that will not be debated and we are simply expected to accept that. It is not good enough. The Scottish National party will be voting against this Bill tomorrow and scrutinising it very carefully when it comes to Committee.
This is a significant and large Bill, and it warrants serious scrutiny. It therefore deserves better attention, I submit, than some of the hyperbole that has regrettably been thrown at it in the course of the earlier speeches of this debate. It is reasonable to examine a Bill carefully as it goes through Committee. I have scarcely ever known a Bill that is not improved by careful examination from the time when it is brought in. To vote against the Bill tomorrow does not seem to me to be a mark of a responsible Opposition, and it is regrettable that Labour and the Scottish National party have gone down that route, particularly when they can see that there is much to agree with. Many organisations in the criminal justice sphere including NACRO, the Centre for Justice organisation, the Magistrates Association and others have welcomed measures in the Bill.
We need a sense of proportion about these matters. For example, the reforms to public order legislation certainly need careful consideration, but changes to the law around public nuisance were recommended by the Law Commission as long ago as 2015. This measure puts that law on a statutory basis, as the Law Commission recommended, but uses, perfectly understandably, terms and phrases from the old common law arrangements, which are well understood and well defined by case law in the courts. The idea, therefore, that the Law Commission is somehow part of some authoritarian plot seems to me to be risible, and better arguments can be made than that.
Being near the M25, my constituency has unfortunately had repeated unauthorised incursions into both publicly owned and privately owned playing fields, sports grounds and others. Proportionality and fairness also mean that there should be swifter and better recompense than the current situation permits for those communities that see much-valued community assets put out of use by unauthorised encampments.
On the sentencing elements of the Bill, sentencing is always a difficult matter, both in individual cases and in terms of policy. It requires a careful balance. Overall, the Justice Secretary and his team who worked on this part of the Bill have got it right. It is right that we strengthen provision to protect the public from the most serious criminals, but it is also right that we give greater attention to the need to rehabilitate. Basically, many of those who end up in the criminal justice system and, indeed, in prison have chaotic lifestyles, sometimes mental health issues, educational issues, social problems and, frequently, weakness and stupidity. Getting those people out of a never-ending cycle of reoffending, as the White Paper says, on which this part of the Bill is based, is not just in their interests, but, overwhelmingly, in the interests of the public, too. I welcome the provisions to give a more agile and sophisticated suite of alternatives to custody. It is important that alternatives to custody are credible to the public, because sentencing has to be credible, but also that they do not waste time in comparatively short prison sentences where little rehabilitative work can be done, and which are hugely expensive. They have their place in just limited instances. Those changes, therefore, are very welcome.
Changes to the provisions regarding spent convictions are very important for rehabilitation. The Justice Committee has called for that in previous reports. Recognising a distinct approach to sentencing of younger offenders is, again, something that our Committee has repeatedly called for, and I welcome that, too. Equally, raising the threshold for remanding children into custody is very welcome and I would have thought overwhelmingly supported.
There is much to support in this Bill, including the provision for charities to set up secure schools, a much better improvement on our current provision. I very much hope that this Bill will get its Second Reading and that we can then examine the provisions in detail. The final thing that we have to be honest about is that justice does not come cheap. If we are to make these important and radical changes to sentencing policy, we must invest in them. If we are to have alternatives to custody, we must invest properly in those alternatives. They will bring both a social and an economic benefit in the long run, but we have to be honest and spell that out at the beginning.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), a fellow Select Committee Chair.
The tragic death of Sarah Everard is obviously on all our minds. It has led women across the country to talk about our shared experiences of threats on the streets of our own towns and cities and also to express the anger that, more than 40 years after the first reclaim the night marches in Leeds, we are having the same debates all over again. In some areas, it feels like things have gone backwards. Five years ago, just 8.5% of reported rapes reached prosecution. In the last five years, that has fallen to just 1.4%. The Government have been reviewing this for two years, but in the meantime prosecution rates have got worse.
That reflects the broader near-collapse in the effectiveness of some parts of the criminal justice system. In the five years before covid hit, recorded crime rose by 40%, but the number of crimes being prosecuted fell by 30%. In just five years, hundreds of thousands fewer charges were brought, and hundreds of thousands more criminals are therefore getting away with their crimes. In West Yorkshire, recorded violent crime has shot up. The Government have passed lots of laws, but the number of people convicted of breaking them has fallen. There have been lots of changes to sentences, but fewer criminals are getting sentenced in the first place, so justice is not being done and victims are being let down. Over the last five years, the shocking truth is that it has got easier to be a criminal and harder to be a victim. We cannot let that stand.
There is an important debate to be had about the measures in the Bill, but I see nothing in them that will turn around those shocking figures, and that is what we should work across the House to do. We need the police covenant and stronger measures to support police officers and emergency workers who face attack. We need stronger sentences for the most serious of crimes, including whole-life sentences for premeditated child murder, which is one of the vilest crimes of all. I support those measures. The same should apply for premeditated kidnap, rape and murder, but that is not currently in the Bill. There should also be stronger penalties for rape and stalking, but those are not currently in the Bill. It would, I think, be wrong if we ended up with higher sentences for peaceful protest and public nuisance than for stalking. That would be to get the balance wrong.
I put forward measures last year based on Home Affairs Committee work to extend the register and monitoring provisions for dealing with sex offenders to cover repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking, to stop them moving from one victim to the next and destroying people’s lives because no one is keeping track or joining the dots. I hope the Government will accept Baroness Royall’s amendment in the other place. If they do not, I will table the same measures to this Bill, and I hope that support can be built for them.
There are further measures, which I hope first to discuss with Ministers, that I hope could increase the prosecution rate for assault and domestic abuse, where there have been such problems. The Government are right to place a duty on councils and the police to co-operate in tackling serious violence, but we should be explicit about including the youth service in that; that is not currently part of the Bill.
The Home Secretary will know, even from today’s debate, that there is cross-party alarm about some of the measures in the Bill that go against the British tradition of free speech and peaceful protest. In the coalfields, there is strong support for the work of the police, but people have long memories of things such as the policing of the miners’ strike, so there is also strong support for proper safeguards to protect peaceful protest.
In the Bill, several powers—the broad wording on noise disruption, even though we know few protests are silent, because people want their voices to be heard; the broad powers given to the Home Secretary on serious disruption; and the statutory public nuisance offences with sentences of up to 10 years for doing things that simply might risk causing serious annoyance—are too broad. Every one of us will have seen protests that we thought were seriously annoying, but we do not believe that they should have been stopped. We know, too, that when people protested outside the Iranian embassy for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the embassy could well have argued that the protests were disruptive to their activities or caused serious annoyance, but none of us would have wanted those protests to be stopped. I urge the Home Secretary to withdraw those measures, to re-consult on them and to try to build consensus not just on them, but on the other, wider, measures in the Bill, so that we can all support taking the action needed to cut crime.
It is a privilege to be called so early in this extremely important debate. As always, it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, although I am a little puzzled, because most of the amendments to the Bill to make it better that she talked about would not be possible if, thanks to the power of her rhetoric, she persuaded the House to vote against Second Reading, since there would be no Committee stage in which to do that. I suspect that, even though she will go through the No Lobby, she actually hopes that the Bill will go into Committee.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor on this outstandingly good Bill designed to make us all safer in so many different ways, but I want to focus on one small aspect of the Bill: the sentencing of minors in clauses 101 to 105. The Home Secretary knows well the case of my constituent Ellie Gould, and she kindly saw the Gould parents on one occasion. Ellie Gould was brutally murdered in her own home by 17-year-old Thomas Griffiths in May 2019. It was the most horrible murder of the worst kind, with a knife found at the scene of the crime.
Griffiths’ 12 and a half-year sentence was shorter than it should have been for three reasons: first, because he pled guilty, and I am glad that he did; secondly, because he was a junior at the time of the offence, albeit he was 18 at the time he was convicted; and thirdly, because, rather than taking a knife with him to the murder, he picked one up in the kitchen. He none the less stabbed Ellie multiple times using that knife and then sought to pretend that Ellie had done it to herself. It was very much a premeditated crime—there is no question about it—but because he did not bring a knife to the scene, he only got 12 and a half years, rather than the significantly longer sentence he would have got otherwise.
I pay tribute to Ellie’s parents, Matt and Carole Gould, and a group of her school friends, who have been tireless in fighting to change the law in respect of a brutal crime of this kind. I thank the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary for having listened carefully to them. Under clause 101, a 17-year-old who turns 18 during the course of the trial, as happened in this case, will now face a similar penalty to the one they would face if they had been 18 at the time of the crime. Until now, a 17-year-old was treated much the same as a 10-year-old, and of course, they are very different people. A sliding scale will now be introduced, so that a 17-year-old will be pretty much treated as an adult. That would have increased Thomas Griffiths’ sentence to 14 years. We also welcome the ending of the automatic review halfway through the sentence, which, apart from anything else, causes huge stress and trauma to the victim’s family.
However, the Bill does not address the third anomaly, which is that had Griffiths brought the knife to the scene rather than pick it up in the kitchen, his sentence would have more than doubled—he would have got up to 27 years, rather than 12 and a half. Surely a frenzied attack of this kind, whether it is done with the knife that someone brings with them or a knife that they find in the kitchen, deserves the fullest possible sentence in the law.
There is an argument that women who are victims of domestic abuse may carry out a murder in self-defence using a knife at home. Surely the criminal law could find a way of saying that murder in self-defence under those conditions is quite different from a brutal murder such as that of Ellie Gould. The Lord Chancellor has said that he will consider this matter further, probably outside the context of the Bill. None the less, I hope that such a differentiation will be made possible in the near future, because this is a very important matter, and it touches on the tragic case of Sarah Everard.
Nothing can bring Ellie Gould back. Nothing can assuage the grief of her parents. Incidentally, nothing can assuage the grief of Thomas Griffiths’ parents, who are also my constituents; they have lost their son in a very real way too. But strengthening the sentencing regime, as the Bill does, will at least mean some lasting legacy. It is, indeed, Ellie’s law.
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) said. The terrible outcome of the police ban on the Clapham common vigil in the wake of the tragic killing of Sarah Everard shows how wrong the Government are to try in this Bill to curb the right to demonstrate, so I hope they will think again about that. The anger of the vigil was about women demanding to be able to walk the streets without fear, and we must listen to those demands and act on them now in the Bill. This demand is not new. Along with women up and down the country, I joined the “Reclaim the Night” protests in the 1970s, but then women’s demands were not listened to by the men in the corridors of power. Now there are women in government, in the Home Office and in the Cabinet. There are women in all parties in Parliament. We are in the corridors of power, so we must use our power to deliver for women.
We all argued it would make a difference if we were here as women in Parliament. Now we had better prove it. We can in this Bill make it a crime to do what men do to women on the street every day and which makes their lives a misery. Kerb crawling is terrifying for a woman or a girl on her own, especially after dark. A man has no right to do it, so let us make it an offence punishable by taking away his driving licence. Following a woman on the street, filming her, trying to get her number and not taking no for an answer are harassment. Why should women and girls have to put up with it? Let us make that a criminal offence. I have tabled two new clauses, which have the backing of Members from all parties, and not just women, but men, too. I hope that the Government will accept them.
Too often when a woman is the victim of a sexual offence, all her previous sexual history is dragged up in court and it ends up as though she is in the dock, not the man. That is not supposed to happen, but it does, so we need to stop it. I have new clauses with cross-party backing to do that, too, which I hope the Government will back. Women do not want us to sympathise; they want action, and that is what we should do.
There is much in the Bill that I agree with, and much of that was set out by the Home Secretary in her opening remarks. I particularly agree with increasing the sentences for assaults on emergency workers to two years, which is an amendment I tabled back when the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 was first debated in 2018. It is always good when the Government come round to my way of thinking, so I hope as a result they will look favourably on my amendments when I table them, and we can save some time.
In the time I have, I will go through some of the things I would like to see in the Bill. As was mentioned earlier, I would like to see a specific offence for assaulting shop workers and other frontline workers. I used to work in retail, but it has been absolutely terrible to see the fact that during the pandemic, when shop workers have been going the extra mile to help us all, the number of assaults on them has doubled. We really need to do something about that, and I hope the Government will look favourably upon that proposal.
I am pleased to see some of the provisions for ending automatic early release for prisoners. I certainly support that, but I would like the Bill to go further. I would like to see the end of all automatic early release for prisoners, particularly those still considered to be a danger to the public. I would particularly like to see an end to all automatic release for those people in prison who assault our prison officers. Again, prison officers face a terrible burden in prison, with far too many assaults. If we were to say to prisoners that anybody convicted of assaulting a prison officer would lose their right to automatic release, that may well help those hard-pressed prison officers.
I would like to see the retirement age for magistrates and judges increased to 75. The Justice Secretary has said that he intends to do that, so this Bill seems a very good vehicle for that. I would like to see a sentencing escalator, whereby if people are convicted of the same offence more than once, they have to get a harsher punishment the second time than they had the first time, and a harsher punishment yet again if they commit the same offence a third time. The Government clearly accept the principle of that, because they have done exactly that with the covid fines. I hope they will allow a sentencing escalator for other criminal offences as well.
I would like to see magistrates’ sentencing power increased to 12 months, rather than six months. That needs to be done. I would like to see the word “insulting” removed from section 4 and section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 so that someone cannot be guilty of something if they simply insult people. There are many amendments I would like to see to this Bill that time does not allow me to mention this evening. I could do with a whole day on Report all to myself.
Ask almost anyone involved in the criminal justice system for their priorities, and they will not say, “More new offences, types and lengths of sentences, and further layers of complexity masquerading as action”; they will point to the backlog in the courts, the lack of resources for everything from legal aid to prisons, and the systemic failure at every turn from investigation and charge, to trial and disposal. Some measures in the Bill are helpful, but parts are oppressive and downright dangerous. I refer particularly to parts 3 and 4, which amount to a sustained attack on civil liberties, free expression and movement by an intolerant Government who are increasingly careless of the rule of law.
Given the time restraints, I will set up the case against part 4 of the Bill. Gypsies, Travellers and Roma are the most discriminated against and marginalised ethnic minority in UK society—indeed, the action of Pontins management reminded us of that only days ago. The Bill targets those communities, and it criminalises what has hitherto been the civil offence of trespass on land. It makes the direct threat of imprisonment and heavy fines for matters that were previously resolved through negotiation or in the civil courts. The Bill threatens, not just for the act of trespass but for an intention to trespass, to seize and forfeit any vehicle involved in that trespass, which in the case of nomadic people means losing their home and all their possessions.
Only 3% of Gypsy and Traveller caravans are on unauthorised sites. The police response to the proposals was unequivocal:
“trespass is a civil offence and our view is that it should remain so…no new criminal trespass offence is required.”
No family willingly stops somewhere they are not welcome, and which has no running water, waste disposal or electricity. They do so for the lack of either permanent or transit sites. Only 29 councils in England provide transit sites—a mere 354 places.
Evictions will run for 12 months, and it is not difficult to imagine a concerted campaign to exclude Travellers from whole areas of the country, contrary to the recent judgment in the London Borough of Bromley v. Persons Unknown. The judge in that case concluded that
“the Gypsy and Traveller community have an enshrined freedom not to stay in one place but to move from one place to another.”
Preventing that potentially breaches both equality and human rights law, as the shadow Home Secretary said earlier. The Home Secretary may not care about any of this, but many people do. She would be well advised to drop these racist and draconian proposals from the Bill before it progresses any further.
Unlike the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), those of us who represent rural or semi-rural constituencies know only too well the problems caused by unauthorised encampments, and the deeply damaging effects they have on our local communities. The proposed offence refers to those who brazenly travel and set up unauthorised encampments, with total disregard for others. My constituents have often been subject to the disruption and difficulties caused by those in caravans who, without permission, set up on a village green, a playing field or agricultural land. Although I accept that that may not sound particularly troublesome in theory, unfortunately it is the behaviour and activities of those in the caravans that causes disruption, damage, and disquiet in our lovely rural villages and towns.
The Government’s proposals on tackling unauthorised encampments is a big step in the right direction, but of course more should be done. It does not discriminate against the vast majority of law-abiding Gypsy and Traveller communities, and neither should it, but it highlights the big issue of those who set up unauthorised encampments, and allows authorities to deal with that in a more effective manner.
I support the proposal in clause 46 to create the offence of desecration of memorials, and I would like the Government to consider creating a new offence of attacking the parliamentary offices of Members of the House. An attack on an MP’s office is an attack on the House and on the heart of our democracy. I should declare that I am the victim of such a crime. My office was violently attacked less than two months ago in what appears to have been a premeditated attack designed to intimidate my staff and me. Unfortunately, Leicestershire police, led by Chief Constable Simon Cole, have not been able to identify the assailant. This is the second time in less than 21 months that my office has been attacked. If we are to place value on memorials and statues, as we should, by creating this new offence, how much more important is the symbol of this sovereign body in each constituency—namely, the MP’s office bearing the portcullis? These are not inanimate historical objects; they are the living, breathing and supposedly safe workplaces of Members of this House across our country. I ask the Government to confirm that they take seriously these attacks against MPs, their staff and their parliamentary offices—even more seriously than attacks against statues. Accordingly, I invite the Government to consider my reasonable suggestion for a specific offence of attacking an MP, their office or their staff in their constituency.
In September 2018, my constituent, Jackie Wileman, was tragically killed by four known criminals who joy-rode a stolen heavy goods vehicle around Barnsley for days before hitting and killing Jackie on her daily walk and crashing into a house in the village of Brierley. The four men had 100 convictions between them, and one had already been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. At the trial, one man pleaded guilty and the other three were also convicted, but with plea deductions and time on licence, they all served between five and just over six years. The lenient sentences handed down to them following Jackie’s death led to her brother, Johnny Wood, bravely and tirelessly campaigning to scrap the maximum sentence for those who cause death by dangerous driving, so that no family would have to go through what they have gone through. Having fought alongside Johnny for this change in the law, and having raised the issue in the Chamber many times and having met the Justice Minister, I am in no doubt that Johnny’s powerful testimony has directly contributed to the sentencing Bill we have before us today.
The Bill, while strong on dangerous driving, also had the opportunity to support victims of other crimes. I met virtually with my constituent Claire Hinchcliffe a few weeks ago. She suffered 13 months of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, who continued to stalk her after the end of their relationship. He was given a 12-month restraining order. The Bill could have strengthened sentences for crimes such as this, but it does not. It does not mention violence against women once. It fails to address this issue, yet it proposes to give the police extra powers and the right to limit peaceful protest.
The history of Barnsley demonstrates the issues with policing protests and public order. For those who lived through the 1984 miners’ strike and experienced abuse at the hands of the police, these new powers will rightly cause alarm. The state already has sweeping powers to police protests; it does not need any more. This is not about protecting the public; it is about getting cheap, easy headlines for a weak Home Secretary. I am pleased to welcome the provisions in the Bill that will finally deliver justice for Jackie, but I am disappointed that I cannot support the Bill in its entirety due to the fact that it threatens our right to peaceful protest and has no provision to protect victims such as Claire and the thousands of other women who are seeking justice.
In the short time available, I will limit myself slightly. The Opposition’s position is somewhat illogical at the moment. Is the Bill perfect? No, it is by no means perfect. I hope that it will be corrected as it goes through. Will that happen? Certainly. I accept that there are issues around freedom of speech and the right to assemble, and I think that these will be dealt with during the course of the debate. Overall, this is a good Bill, but Labour Members are going to vote against the protection of the police, the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crime, and important measures on sentencing and release, on public order, on encampments—which bother a lot of my constituents—on youth justice, on secure children’s homes and academies, and on the management and rehabilitation of offenders. They will vote against all of that, yet they agree with much of it. That does not make any sense to me.
Tonight I want to draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to something very important that is not in the Bill, and I want to make some progress on this. It is to do with the rising theft of pets, including dogs, much of which now includes violence. This is a really big issue; it is not prosaic by any means.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
There have been reports of a huge, 250% increase in dog-theft crimes in a number of counties, particularly Suffolk. The Metropolitan police, who cover my area, report the highest number of dog thefts in the country. The number of stolen dogs registered on the DogLost website has increased by more than 170% since lockdown, and 2020 was the worst ever year for the theft of dogs.
We are not talking about some inanimate object; this is an animal, a pet who is part of the family like the other pets. Dogs also do hugely important jobs. Who secures this place by ensuring that we do not have bombs? Dogs. Who checks at customs that people are not importing drugs and other things? Dogs. Dogs are being trained to detect covid now, and they should have been brought into airports years ago.
The reality here is that it is very violent. The big point is that gangs are involved now. The prices of these animals have risen—we are talking about £5,000 or £10,000 for a dog—and the gangs are very violent. I have constituents who have been knocked to the ground and beaten and had their hands stamped on. There have been threats made against them, their home and their families. These are serious offences, yet right now it is almost impossible to get more than a slap on the wrist for this stuff—a fine of £250 or perhaps £500.
Dogs are not even listed in the Home Office classification—they are in among theft from the person, bicycle theft, shoplifting and other theft. Pet theft currently sits hidden from view under HOC49, alongside things that do not have a home, such as a wheelbarrow. This is wrong, it diminishes the crime and it means that many people who are devastated by pet theft, and often brutalised, have no recourse. As I said, even the sentencing side of it is very poor. We need to bring in much tougher sentences and it is important that we have a categorisation that includes dogs and other pets. We also need police to take pet theft seriously. One individual told me that when their dog was stolen, a police officer said, “Did you have anything else of value taken?” as though dogs were not of any value.
Microchips have to be put in by law, yet no vet has to scan to see whether or not a dog is stolen. That should change so we should bring that in. Other ideas include a ban on cash sales, as happened with scrap metal, to cut off such sales, and consideration of the reintroduction of licences for pet ownership.
Pet theft is a serious offence and I would like the Government, during deliberations on the Bill, to introduce changes to help people. Violence and the theft of animals are wrong. We should do something about it, and do it now.
The Bill is a missed opportunity. I support some measures, such as those on the police covenant, on doubling the sentence for assaulting emergency workers and on toughening sentences for death by dangerous driving, but I have concerns about several others, including the proposed changes to the right to peaceful protest and the measures on unauthorised encampments, which are targeted at Gypsy, Roma and other travelling communities.
The absences in the Bill reveal the Government’s worrying priorities. The lack of the prioritising in the Bill of measures to protect women from violence and support them is a matter of deep regret. That the penalty for defacing a statute has been increased to 10 years—double the minimum tariff for someone convicted of rape—is offensive, and I hope the Government will think again on that. With that in mind, I send my sincere condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends—I can only imagine what they will be going through at the moment.
I wish to focus the remainder of my remarks on the absence of any measures in the Bill to repeal the Bail Act 1976, and on its impact on vulnerable women. Under the Act, the courts can remand an adult to prison for their own protection, without that person being convicted or sentenced, and even when a charge cannot result in a prison sentence. Someone’s liberty can be removed without expert evidence or any formal investigation into their circumstances, and even without their having legal representation. It is reprehensible to deprive a vulnerable adult or child of their liberty because of shortcomings in social security support or mental health or other local services. The potential for abuse in the use of such arcane and outdated legislation is clear to see. It is a scandal and surely in breach of human rights legislation.
Following our recent inquiry on this issue, the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), has recommended that the Bail Act be repealed. At a recent APPG meeting, I was struck by the evidence from a prison governor, who said that prison was the worst possible environment for a vulnerable person and would exacerbate their vulnerability. The shocking thing is that the scale of the scandal is not even known; the Government do not even collect data on the number of people detained under this legislation. After meeting the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and the Howard League a few weeks ago, I had hoped that this would be included in the Bill. Perhaps the Home Secretary could indicate whether the Government will be correcting this omission in Committee.
Finally, I want to express my concerns regarding the Government’s failure once again to undertake any equality impact assessment on the Bill. Given the Lammy review and the evidenced racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system, the Government’s rhetoric about Black Lives Matter rings hollow.
I strongly support the points about pet theft made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). As Second Church Estates Commissioner, I also strongly welcome the addition of faith leaders alongside sports coaches, both of which have been added to the list of professions in the Bill—that also includes teachers, social workers and doctors—for whom it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17-year-old in their care. This is in line with the recommendations of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, and it is absolutely right.
I want to spend the rest of my remarks giving voice to the everyday experiences of one of my female constituents in her early 20s. The cumulative impact of these incidents amounts to very serious and wholly unacceptable antisocial behaviour of the very worst kind, which can lead to a severe lack of self-confidence and wellbeing.
Over the last year or so, my constituent has told me that she has endured: being touched inappropriately and called a prostitute by a strange man on her own doorstep; being continually cat-called while walking down the street; being groped without consent in a nightclub; being cat-called in a seriously offensive manner from the street while fully dressed in her own property; being harassed by a group of men in a pub; having her bottom commented on by an older man while filling her car up with petrol; having her figure loudly commented on by three boys while on the underground, with no one else in the carriage asking them to stop; being followed by a much older man in an unwanted manner over coffee after a church service; and having a man lie to her about his singleness, when he was married and asking her to meet under false pretences. If a young woman in today’s society is not free from sexual harassment in her own home, in public, in a pub, in a nightclub, at a petrol station, on public transport or after a church service, where indeed is she safe?
The tragedy is that these experiences are all too common for many younger women, and it is vital that male Members of Parliament call them out. Although there is so much that we properly expect of the law, the police and the courts, they cannot change a whole culture on their own. That is where our common community life, our families, and indeed every single one of us, has a role. It is up to all of us to set a culture to uphold the values of decency, respect and honouring women that should be commonplace. In particular, it is up to all of us—especially men—to challenge the unacceptable behaviour of other men. The behaviour that I described earlier is not manly anyway; it is cowardly, bullying, pathetic and wrong.
I start by offering my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Sarah Everard. May her soul rest in peace.
Parts of Clapham Common fall within my constituency, and having lived in Brixton all my life, I have walked the same streets that Sarah did. My first job was at the Sainsbury’s supermarket on Clapham High Street and my sixth-form college, St Francis Xavier Catholic Sixth Form College, is located at the southern tip of Clapham Common at Clapham South. I have felt afraid, and I do not want my daughter growing up and making the same adjustments that I did—that all women do. In the past few days, I have been contacted by hundreds of women and men—young and old, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers—who live in Clapham and across my constituency of Vauxhall. Now they no longer feel safe.
Our streets and our public spaces should not be places of fear for women. We need to listen to women’s voices and we must believe what they are telling us. That includes making sure we listen to all women, including the voices of black women and trans women. Far too often, we do not hear the names of black women and minority ethnic women in the news or on social media, but sadly, many of them have been failed by the police and the criminal justice system. So I say the names of Blessing Olusegun, Joy Morgan, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and many others who have died on our streets. Only then can we start to heal the mistrust and put in place long overdue protections to protect all women. We must and we will reclaim the streets.
The Bill is wide-ranging and it contains a number of important measures that I welcome. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends for their tireless campaigning on dangerous driving, protecting our emergency service workers, reforming the Disclosure and Barring Service scheme, and widening the law to prevent adults from abusing their positions of trust and engaging in sexual relationships with young people under 18. These measures will make us feel safer.
However, the Bill is also a missed opportunity for much-needed reforms. It does not do nearly enough to address the urgent issue of racial disproportionality in our criminal justice system. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am disappointed that the Government have missed an opportunity to focus on prevention by ensuring that the organisations that need the long-term funding to tackle serious violence and build trust with communities that feel they are sometimes viewed as the perpetrators when they are actually victims, are not included. That includes the many girls and young women caught up in violence associated with gang violence.
I want to focus the rest of my remarks on some of the other measures proposed in the Bill. Those who seek to control the expression of the right to protest—
There is much that I welcome in the Bill, in particular that the Government have adopted recommendations made by the independent inquiry on child sexual abuse. I have a direct interest in this because I worked on it before entering Parliament. I think I am right in saying that this is the first time that the inquiry’s recommendations have been brought into law. It is a powerful thing for the survivors to see the nightmares of their past informing the laws of the future, first, by extending the definition of “position of trust”. When we looked at sports coaches and religious leaders, what they shared was status not just in their sphere but in their community. The children they chose tended to be vulnerable in the first place. They built on the bonds of trust with families to establish extended periods with those children, often overnight, and they were willing to engage in extended patterns of grooming to do so. There are other categories of worker to whom that applies and I hope the Government will keep an open mind on that.
It is also a core finding of the inquiry that we are failing to properly protect children against the worst kinds of abuse because offenders can travel abroad and find impoverished and vulnerable children to seriously sexually exploit. So I welcome the extension of the sexual harm prevention orders to limit their ability to travel and to give the Secretary of State the right to list countries. We know and the National Crime Agency knows what countries that takes place in. However, to be effective we must also take action against social media companies, which all too often are allowing very violent sexual exploitation to be streamed across their platforms. The abuse happens abroad, it is consumed in the United Kingdom and, if we do not take the opportunity to address that in the online harms Bill, I do not know if we ever will.
Similarly, on managing terrorist risk offenders, I particularly welcome the new powers given to the Parole Board under clause 108 to restrict the release of those who may have been radicalised in prison. This goes directly to the lone wolf attack in Forbury Gardens, on the doorstep of my constituency, where the assailant had been released just 17 days before and it might have changed the outcome.
I want to close by saying something about violence against women. I cannot accept that this Government are not doing all they can to protect women in this Bill, but particularly in the context of the Domestic Abuse Bill. It is so rare to have two new sexual offences identified in one piece of legislation, together with the new offence of coercive control.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
In the last week, a new conversation has crystallised about the safety and dignity of women and their ability to move around in public, and attention must be paid to their voices. I do not think the Bill is the place to rush through new measures or to bolt on new provisions, but I think the Government have an opportunity to begin an important conversation through their VAWG strategy, and I think there is a place for focused legislation on the issue at the end of the year.
Saturday night saw a peaceful vigil highlighting violence against women ending in scenes of women being forcibly restricted by men. It should have been a moment for women collectively to grieve the tragic loss of a life and publicly express their solidarity, but instead of a moment for reflection on the daily injustices faced by women, this weekend was a powerful reminder of the importance of our civil liberties and the right to protest.
Elements of the Bill are good. The Liberal Democrats support trauma-informed services and strengthening rehabilitation with the aim of reducing reoffending. We also support the police covenant, a measure that helps our police to be a better workforce. The Bill could be made even better by explicitly making misogyny a hate crime. We need to recognise the root causes of violence against women. In the same way that we recognise racial or religious discrimination and homophobia, we can recognise that hatred of women causes harm.
All that important debate is undermined by the part of the Bill on the policing of protests, which is an assault on our civil liberties and our democracy. The Government say they want to clamp down on the most destructive protests, but let us be clear that they aim quite literally to silence protest. The measure is a thinly veiled reaction to the climate protests that have taken place over the past couple of years around Parliament and in cities and towns across the country. The climate emergency has evoked strong feelings, particularly among young people, and it would be quite wrong to curtail their voices.
The whole purpose of demonstrations is to have one’s voice heard, to make an argument, to get the attention of those who make the law and to encourage change. Peaceful protest is at the heart of a liberal democracy. We have taken democracy for granted for a long time. Each generation has to fight for its freedoms. Each generation faces different challenges, but the diverse voices from all sections of our society should never be stifled or suppressed.
Liberalism exists to protect our freedoms, our democracy and our right to protest. If the Government were really serious about protecting women from violence, they would never attempt to silence their protests. That part of the Bill must go.
I want to concentrate on the provisions of part 4 of the Bill, which deal with the long-standing problem of unauthorised encampments. Part 4 effectively upgrades acts of deliberate trespass from a civil to a criminal offence. The campaign of those of us who have argued for that change for a number of years now was based on a similar change in the law in the Republic of Ireland several years ago; hence it has often been referred to succinctly as the Irish option. The move has become necessary because of persistent illegal incursions by some individuals, including some members of the travelling community, that have become an increasing problem in many parts of the country, including my home county of Essex, in recent years.
For the record, many Travellers are perfectly law-abiding and have good relations with the settled community. Unfortunately, however, some others are not, and there have been repeated examples of antisocial behaviour and even criminal damage resulting from illegal encampments in recent years in places as varied as village greens, sports grounds and industrial estates. As a civil offence, it has often necessitated local authorities having to go to court, at public expense, to have such incursions moved on, as well as sometimes being involved in the further expense of clean-up operations once illegal sites have been vacated.
Under this Bill, which I am proud to say fulfils a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment, police officers will be given powers to challenge illegal encampments of one vehicle or more. If people wilfully refuse to move on, they can be arrested with a maximum sentence of three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500, or both. Crucially, offenders can also have their property, including their vehicle or vehicles, impounded by the police.
I can assure the House that this important change in the law has proved very popular with my constituents, and I have received many messages of support since it was confirmed last week. In addition, it has also proved popular with the Essex farming community. The county adviser of the National Farmers Union, Dr Jake Richards, sent me this brief message:
“Dear Mr Francois, I am writing to thank you on behalf of the NFU and the farmers in your constituency for your support and for the Commitment from fellow Essex MP, Rt Hon Priti Patel, on Monday when she announced that changes to the law were being brought forward as part of a new major criminal justice bill to be introduced to Parliament imminently. The changes proposed will be most welcome by our Members.”
Our industrious Essex police, fire and crime commissioner, Mr Roger Hirst, also warmly welcomed adding these powers to the statute book.
In summary, I hope and believe that these tough new powers will act as a genuine deterrent to illegal encampments in future and should thus lead to improved relations between the travelling and settled communities. I congratulate Ministers, and the Home Secretary in particular, on having the courage to introduce them and, in so doing, fulfilling part of the manifesto on which we were elected in the first place.
I am particularly pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), because I intend to address virtually the same subject. Poole is a beautiful place. We attract people, and, unfortunately, we attract people with unauthorised encampments. Last summer, in Poole Park, the cricket pitch was camped on. There was Whitecliff, Sandbanks car park—there are many areas in Poole that face unauthorised encampments, which take away well-used local resources from children and grandchildren, and my constituents.
Part 4 of the Bill was in the 2019 manifesto. I am particularly pleased that the Government have grasped this issue and brought forward this legislation. My constituents could never understand how they had to have licences, obey the law and pay their council tax, but if they stepped on any area that was illegal, they would get arrested by the police, when there are people—
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. What used to happen until recently was that people would turn up, and others would phone the local council, which would say that it could not do much about it. They would then phone the local police, who would say that they could not do much about it—indeed, there have been occasions when the local police have watched people go and set up unauthorised encampments—and then they would phone the Member of Parliament and let him know what they think about him, saying that the Government must do something. It is true that the local authority and the police have had more powers than they have been willing to use, but this is in the “too difficult to deal with” box, so people have just kept their heads down and hoped that, after a week or two, people would move on.
However, this does increase real costs to local authorities, which, apart from cleaning up sites, sometimes have to put special measures in to try to protect sites. Year after year, this costs council tax payers quite a lot of money, so I am very pleased that the Government have put these powers in the Bill. I hope that they survive their passage through the House. They will make a material difference to the quality of life of many of my constituents.
There are issues to do with Travellers that we need to address apart from unauthorised encampments. One of those is the poor educational qualifications that many of their children have—the Government need to pay attention to that to see what more we can do—and another is the health standards of many of these people, who do not access hospitals as easily as the rest of us.
Overall, what the Government are doing is very sensible. This is the sort of Bill that a confident right-of-centre Government should bring in to deal with law and order— not only with Travellers but with many other areas. Personally, I am becoming a great fan of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, who instead of talking a good game are actually producing things in legislation that will make a great difference to people’s lives.
I welcome parts of this Bill, but there are glaring omissions, especially around violence against women and children. In Rotherham, and across the country, all too often victims and survivors of crime, especially sexual violence, lack confidence in the system, and this Bill was the opportunity to change that. There are far too many instances where sentencing is too lenient, or indeed where predatory or violent behaviours are not even criminalised.
I am relieved that the Government are finally reintroducing pre-charge bail conditions. Removing them in 2017 led to survivors living in fear of reprisals from their abusers. I also very much welcome the fact that the Government are finally bringing forward the “positions of trust” provisions that make it illegal for faith leaders and sports coaches to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care. However, the Government need to extend this law to cover the likes of driving instructors, youth workers, police officers and private tutors.
I am pleased about the progress on extending the offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence to include the rape and abuse of a child, and on stronger sentences for commensurate harm. However, the Bill must be strengthened to address online sexual exploitation. Aggravating factors must be included, as has been done in Australia, when it comes to sentencing. The Bill should be amended to state that approaching a person with regard to child sexual offences also specifically includes doing so online or via other telecommunications.
The provisions on the establishment of a list of countries considered to be at high risk of child sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals need to include countries that are at risk from UK citizens who commit abhorrent crimes online. Too often, I hear of UK nationals remotely directing abuse of, often, Filipino children from their own homes. Currently, there is a loophole in the law whereby a registered sex offender can change their name through deed poll and then go under the radar of the authorities. Alarmingly, I recently uncovered the fact that over 16,000 sex offenders breached their notification requirements in the past five years, which means that they disappeared from the system set up to monitor them.
Finally, I am astounded that while the Bill makes several changes to procedures in courts and tribunals, the Government have not used it as an opportunity to further improve support for victims and witnesses of sexual abuse.
Tragic events of the past week have shown just how important this Bill is. For too long, abuse, and particularly violence against women and girls, has gone on unchecked and survivors have been left to deal with a system that is not only not working but often making their situation worse. Crimes against women often specifically occur because they are women. These crimes are not gender neutral, so the law should not be either. We must consider a definition in terms of making misogyny a hate crime.
The appalling events of recent days have caused great anger and anxiety. My inbox has many emails calling for curfews on men and many others calling for greater understanding that not all men are perpetrators. At such a difficult time, we must find the right balance between personal freedom and state intervention, but also recognise how vital it is that we teach our boys and our girls the profound importance of mutual respect.
In speaking in this Second Reading debate, I want to focus on a measure in the Bill that I think everyone can get behind—giving the police new powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. For my constituents, that cannot come soon enough. In late 2019, a plot of floodplain near Northampton was sold privately, and then, in the middle of 2020, it was auctioned off to potential developers. The sales were under false pretences because planning consent would never be granted on a floodplain. Then in August 2020, as local residents had feared, a large number of vehicles entered the site and set up an unauthorised encampment. From August to October, the local community was witness to huge piles of commercial waste entering the site and being dumped on the floodplain and in the River Nene, and multiple vehicles with no tax or MOT, some with false plates, entering and leaving the site. There were regular bonfires with acrid black smoke, and visible payment being taken for third parties entering the site to dispose of builders’ waste.
Local residents suffered verbal and racial abuse and antisocial behaviour, including rocks being thrown at passing cars, air rifles being shot, quad bikes being ridden at all hours and dogs running loose around the streets. Residents endured months of real fear and did everything they could to provide evidence to their parish and borough council and the local police. Finally, in October last year, the combined efforts of Northants police and the borough council got the Travellers off the land.
A political philosophy that has always chimed with me is that of John Stuart Mill. In setting out to describe the parameters of individual freedom, he said that we should all be free to do exactly as we like, provided that we are not impeding someone else’s freedom to do exactly as they like. That is a difficult balance to achieve in real life, but where the rights of communities versus the rights of Travellers are concerned, there can be no doubt that facilitating a Traveller’s way of life must not necessitate the misery and fear that was caused for my constituents. Many will be heartily delighted with this new measure, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for listening to the huge majority across the country who want to see greater protections from unauthorised encampments.
This is a Trojan horse Bill, and the Home Secretary is Sinon at the gates of Troy saying, “I’m the only one left! Please let me in with this fantastic Bill that’s going to do all the things that you Opposition Back Benchers have been asking me to do.” Well, we see that hidden in the Bill, there are some nasty and pernicious laws. Many of the good things in the Bill could be achieved by either amending or bringing forward separate Bills, such as the Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill, promoted by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May).
Instead, the Government have put forward a Bill that is so big, so expansive and so diverse that it covers two Departments, so that they can squeeze the good things in as well as those that deny the rights of people. If we allowed this to stand, every Government would do it, would they not? They would put pernicious rules into what, in public speaking, we call a “something sandwich”, where you put the bad in the middle and sandwich it with the good. That is what the Bill is. I will come on to what the particularly bad things are, but there are also great missed opportunities. I sat on the upskirting Bill Committee. We pushed amendments, and the Government accepted that they would explore bringing forward misogyny as a hate crime. Where is that in this Bill? That could have been included, and it is so disappointing that it is not. There are clearly missed opportunities.
Part 3 of the Bill is particularly problematic, and notably the use of the phrase “serious unease”. To tell the truth, I find myself feeling serious unease when certain Government Members speak and I disagree with them, but in a democracy, I can feel unease, disagree and even think that they are saying things that are offensive, but they are not criminalised. During the Brexit debates, in the main, the protests outside this place by UKIP and Brexit party supporters and by the remainers were eccentric and annoying to many of us at the time, but to me, it summarised the beauty of British democracy when those peaceful protesters, sometimes of opposing forces, were ringing bells and shouting into horns. Now there is the idea that the police could say, “You’ve gone a decibel over—you’re a criminal.” Many of the people on protests will not even know that the police have laid orders down, because it will not be widely known, so we will be criminalising people without them even knowing it.
I have not even got on to some of the really pernicious measures in the Bill, such as those on Traveller communities. If we had decent move-on sites and decent support from local authorities and made sure that we worked with the community, we could resolve the problems. Surrey has no move-on sites whatsoever—no wonder there are problems in that county. Those are the things we need to deal with rather than criminalising. The idea that someone in a layby over one night could be considered a criminal—
I welcome the Bill, which seeks to inject fairness into the criminal justice system and rights many wrongs currently in existence. The protection that clause 46 gives to war memorials and wreaths laid on them is admirable, and I am glad that the provision is being introduced. To desecrate a memorial is a particularly low thing to do and the law should reflect that.
May I also welcome the changes to sentencing powers to allow for life imprisonment for death by dangerous driving? In too many cases, the courts have been unable to deal with these matters effectively and consequently they have given inadequate sentences for even the worst incidents. That will stop, and we will all be safer as a consequence. I have to say, it would have helped if the Crown Prosecution Service had been more minded to lay manslaughter charges in many such instances. It seems to be only on the road that an offence can happen in which someone carries out a deliberate action that creates an obvious risk that is against the law, and yet the CPS is reluctant to lay manslaughter charges. That will change because of these proposals, which I welcome with open arms.
The serious violence reduction orders to be brought in by the Bill are truly groundbreaking. Knife crime is an evil that destroys lives and terrifies communities, but the Bill gives the police powers to make a difference. However, we do not want knives simply to be replaced as the weapon of choice by acid, so I ask the Minister to consider including the possession of noxious liquids in the provisions. That would build on the massive improvements that both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have achieved in reducing the number of such attacks.
Finally, we need to counter the serious misinformation that has been spread about proposals in the Bill to place conditions on demonstrations. The proposed extra powers are not a ban on protests—far from it. There must always be a right to protest, but there must always be rights for those going about their business, too. The Bill seeks to balance those competing rights. It will allow protests, vigils, demonstrations and marches, but not the blocking of bridges or stopping traffic and bringing cities to a standstill. Protests, yes; causing serious disruption to others, no. The Labour party’s voting against the Bill is totally wrong. The message needs to go out loud and clear that Labour Members are voting against provisions to extend sentences for death by dangerous driving, child killers, and serious violence and knife crime. They should vote for the Bill.
The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult for women across the country. Sarah Everard’s death is utterly tragic. My thoughts are with her family and friends, as well as with all those who have lost a loved one to male violence.
It is clear to me that Saturday evening in Clapham was supposed to be a peaceful vigil, not a protest. I have spent the last few weeks speaking to women overwhelmed by their feelings of grief and anger. I have spoken to those who feel a little less safe on our streets, those who worry about the world in which their daughters will grow up, and those for whom recent events have brought back their own experiences of trauma, harassment and violence. Campaigns such as the #MeToo movement have ensured that conversations on abuse and violence are finally reaching the mainstream discourse, yet women are not under any illusions. We have spoken out against male violence in all its forms for decades, and I am frustrated and appalled that only now are we being listened to. What is in the Bill for us? How does it protect us? How does it address the scandalous prosecution rates for rape and sexual assault? How does it make women safer on the streets? The simple answer is: it does nothing. Increasing sentences for serious crimes is important, but there is little point if criminals never get to court to be sentenced, as is the case in 99% of rapes. Instead of prioritising victims, the Bill curbs our rights. It makes it harder for us to protest when the Government get things wrong and put the protection of statues above the protection of women.
While I welcome the measures in clause 45 that will extend the existing positions of trust offences, some alarming gaps remain. I am hugely concerned that those provisions will not be applicable in all the circumstances in which they have the power to make a difference. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on wrestling, I am hugely disturbed that the provisions set out in clause 45 will not protect those in the wrestling industry. Colleagues may not be aware that wrestling was devastated by the #SpeakingOut movement, which documented horrific tales throughout the industry, including threats of rape and sexual abuse. Some of the victims facing abhorrent abuse have been children as young as 13.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that we do not want perpetrators of sexual offences to fall through a loophole in this legislation, yet because professional wrestling is not classed as a sport and as such does not have a governing body, it is at risk of doing just that. I urge the Minister to commit to meeting me and my colleagues in the APPG on wrestling to talk about the potential avenues to include appropriate protections for young wrestlers in this Bill.
Actions speak louder than words. To quote a heroine of mine, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on what would have been her 88th birthday:
“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
The Government need to recognise that we need to take that step, and that we are at a crossroads with a real opportunity to change the lived reality for women and girls in this country. I plead with the Minister to work with the Labour party to ensure that women and girls are safer on our streets and in their homes, to work with us to ensure that the right to protest is not reduced and that voices across the country are not silenced—to work with us to finally do the right thing.
Now then, no one should feel unsafe in our country, and this Bill will be of great comfort to law-abiding British people who want to see greater powers for our police and tougher sentences for child murderers, sex offenders, killer drivers and anyone else who thinks they are above the law. If you cannot live by the rules of our society, then you should live in a place that has a different set of rules, and that place is prison. The good news is that we are recruiting 10,000 extra prison officers and 20,000 new police officers, and we are building more prisons.
Post covid, people want to return to safe streets and safer neighbourhoods. This Bill does that. This Bill ensures that the victims of crime are put first. I find it strange that Labour is talking about tougher sentences for crimes against women, yet in December it tried to stop us deporting foreign rapists. One Labour MP said we should not deport those criminals in December as it was too close to Christmas. I disagree; I thought it was a great Christmas present.
Labour says that this Bill will remove the right to protest. Rubbish. This Bill will protect peaceful protests from being hijacked by trouble-causing agitators. Labour’s idea of peaceful protests are the ones we saw in Whitehall last year, where police were attacked, our flag was burned and memorials were damaged, while its own MPs looked on and said nothing. That was disgraceful.
We have a Home Secretary who is brave enough to tackle the issue of illegal camps. Those camps have made the lives of Ashfield residents a misery. When they are set up, crime rises, locals feel intimidated and the council is left with a massive clean-up bill. This Bill puts a stop to that nonsense. Police in Ashfield are doing a great job, but I know they are frustrated by short sentences and weak bail conditions. This Bill will give our police extra powers and the extra confidence they need.
I am confused that the shadow Home Secretary said tonight that he agrees with lots of things in the Bill, yet he will vote against it, proving once again that Labour is on the side of the criminals. Before lockdown, residents would often see me sat in the front of a police car going out on patrol and supporting our police, which is in sharp contrast to some Labour politicians, who have been seen in the back of police cars on the way to the station. It comes as no surprise to me that Labour will not support this Bill, after reading this week that there are 14 leading Labour politicians who have been arrested, imprisoned or under investigation in the past six months. There is no wonder we need more prisons.
We will try to get back to some sense of reality after the nonsense we have just heard.
This is a really important and wide-ranging Bill, and there are many aspects that I and my colleagues welcome. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their success in securing the “protect the protectors” aspects of this Bill; my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) for securing reform of the Disclosure and Barring Service; and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) for her work that has led to the dangerous driving reforms. All those things and more deserve support. It is a testament to the Home Secretary’s insatiable desire for conflict that a Bill that contains so many measures campaigned for and fought for by Labour MPs should still be impossible to support.
What a missed opportunity this Bill is. There is nothing that will make a significant difference on the issue of violence against women and nothing on victim support, despite what we have just heard from the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) about the Tories being a party that supports victims. Indeed, it considers protecting statues a greater priority than protecting rape victims. The events of this weekend have brought into sharp relief where a civilised society must allow protest and support our police to keep our streets safe from criminals, not instruct them to arrest peaceful and grieving women.
We can easily see why this division is a political strategy of Conservative Members. Listening to speeches like that of the hon. Gentleman, it is very clear that they want to introduce elements that we will all agree with, and then introduce one or two elements that we cannot possibly agree with in order to say that we are preventing the good parts of this Bill. It is absolute cheap politics, and it is the politics of division. This is a Government who have frozen police pay, cut police numbers, and let criminals off the hook due to backlogs in the courts and overcrowding in our prisons. There can be no doubt but that they are no friends of the police.
Before I finish, I want to take a moment on someone who is a friend of the police—the police and crime commissioner for Derbyshire, Hardyal Dhindsa. I was extremely proud that my county, Derbyshire, where less than 5% of residents are BAME, was the first area to elect a BAME police and crime commissioner. Five years on, we are even prouder. Hardyal promised he would set up a programme in every village and town in the county. Not only has he done that, but he has met residents right across our county, while fiercely fighting the corner of our dedicated police both in Government and in the media. He has never forgotten who he is there to represent, and if the police get it wrong, as they did when Derbyshire police published pictures of dog walkers in the Peak or fined people walking five miles from home, he has been quick to be the voice of the people, not hidden away from a difficult situation. I hope he gets people’s support on 6 May.
This is a substantial and impressive Bill. Many of the policies in it predate the 2019 general election and some featured in the September 2020 White Paper, so they are certainly not measures that are being rushed through. It is difficult, in the space of three minutes, to do justice to the 296 pages, 176 clauses and 20 schedules, so let me just name check a few of the parts I particularly support.
I support putting the police covenant into law at last and the increase in penalties for assaults on emergency workers. It is incredible that we are having to contemplate that. I support the allowance for police officers faced with dangerous high-speed car chases in pursuit of dangerous criminals who are done themselves for dangerous driving; they are just doing their job. I am pleased we are toughening provisions on criminal damage to memorials, especially military memorials. I support tougher penalties for causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving and tougher sentencing of child murderers. I support scrapping the early release of terrorist offenders, innovation in probation with the use of curfews and community sentencing, and clamping down on sex tourism.
There are lots of sensible, practical and much-awaited measures in this Bill that the vast majority of our law-abiding constituents will certainly welcome, but of course Labour is voting against all of these tonight. It has not even bothered to table a reasoned amendment to let the Bill proceed and then scrutinise it in Committee. Apparently, it is just a blanket vote against the whole of the Bill and all the measures in it. Labour Members may try to claim that they have objections to the new public demonstration conditions proposed for preventing serious disruption to the life of the community or recklessly causing public nuisance, and they may claim that in some way it suppresses free speech, but if they really do have such concerns, they should support the Bill and argue for improvements in Committee. However, people gluing themselves to tubes to disrupt the whole London underground system, clambering on to planes to shut down airports, preventing an ambulance reaching an emergency department through protesters, preventing the distribution of a free press, or assaulting police officers to get to, violate and vandalise war memorials does nothing to further free speech, free association or any democratic process. Ordinary law-abiding people should not have to put up with it, and there are many thresholds and conditions in this Bill.
I specifically welcome measures to extend the definitions in relation to those who abuse positions of trust by engaging in sexual activity with minors. The Bill specifically references sports coaches and faith leaders. However, private tutors, including music teachers, are exempt from many of the safeguarding checks that we rightly expect of mainstream employed teachers. Can we consider including them, as I tried to do many years ago as Children’s Minister?
I warmly welcome the measures to criminalise trespass when it results in unauthorised encampments, causing damage in order to access private and community property, trashes the cricket pitch or village green when it happens, and prevents local people using the amenities that they pay for. To add insult to injury, these unauthorised encampments eventually leave the site scarred with fly-tipping, everything from building waste to human waste, and then they come back and repeat it all over again in a few years’ time. It is not acceptable. This Bill will clamp down on it at last, and I support it.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this incredible important and timely debate.
Those of us who continuously rejected the recent Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill did so partly because of the impact that it would have on the freedom to protest. That freedom is being challenged yet again today, through the authoritarian measures proposed in this Bill.
This weekend, people across the country watched in horror the visual evidence of the disgraceful police action towards peaceful attendees of a vigil to mourn the murder of Sarah Everard and to express a collective anger and despair that so many women still suffer violence at the hands of men as part of their everyday life. Despite the Government’s attempt to conjure up smoke and mirrors earlier today, a spot of damage control if you like, this incident exactly demonstrates that there are still serious questions about the powers that our police forces have, the way that these powers are executed, towards whom they are targeted, how they are scrutinised, and how those with such powers are held to account.
The Government regularly express their concern about human rights in other countries. If enacted, however, the Bill before the House today would
“expose already marginalised communities to profiling and disproportionate police powers through the expansion of stop and search, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities may face increased police enforcement through the criminalisation of trespass.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the director of the well-respected human rights organisation, Liberty.
Protests are often a space for the most marginalised to make their voices heard. In the past year, we have seen that in the Black Lives Matter protests and we have seen it over this past weekend. Just as police rode into protesters on horses last year, so, too, did they violently grab women on Saturday night.
Freedom of speech intrinsically linked to the freedom of protest should be enshrined in our legislation so that it is available to all. The Bill, however, would give the Government even more power to decide whether a protest should be allowed to go ahead. Given that our current Home Secretary refers to anti-racist Black Lives Matter protesters as “thugs”, it is no wonder that people up and down the country are alarmed. The crux of the matter goes beyond that. The right to protest must be protected or else we find ourselves on an extremely worrying path, with a totalitarian Government able to silence whoever they choose.
Despite the rhetoric, all evidence indicates that this Bill is unlikely even to cut crime and to make those whom it intends to protect safer. Successive Governments have brought in longer sentences and created even more prison places, and that has not reduced crime or slowed the rate of offending.
The impact of this Bill will be felt by marginalised communities more than any other. It will be felt by women, unable to protest at the everyday violence they face. It will be felt by ethnic minority communities, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, trade unions, anti-racist campaigners and climate emergency campaigners—
I welcome the Bill and the extensive improvements that it will make to the justice and policing systems. I will mention just a few of the many new provisions that have been the subject of much correspondence to me as the Member of Parliament for Derbyshire Dales.
I am pleased that the Government have been prepared to deliver on their manifesto commitments as opposed to changing them as they go along, as those on the Opposition Benches often do. This is what the majority of my constituents voted for. I was pleased to hear from a fellow MP for Derbyshire, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins). I am disappointed that he will not be supporting the Bill, because I fear that he may well be out of tune with his constituents.
Over decades, the people of Derbyshire Dales have been plagued by illegal encampments. The disruption and damage caused by these illegal encampments have hugely distressed my constituents who have often taken months to resolve these issues only for them literally to appear again up the road. There have been substantial issues in Ashbourne, Matlock and Bakewell, which have caused huge upset, mess, and expense to Derbyshire Dales District Council and its good residents.
The Bill criminalises trespass and strengthens police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. Under the new legislation, the police will have the power to seize vehicles, at last and to arrest or fine trespassers who intend to reside on public and private land without permission, while ensuring that they are not able to return for at least 12 months. The new criminal offence is much to be welcomed—up to three months in prison or £2,500. That is what my constituents, and people across most of the country, have been demanding.
I support the provisions to double the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to two years. It is ironic that Labour Members wish to increase sentences for offences such as rape, but are intent on voting against those provisions. It makes no sense whatsoever. I fully support the extension of the law on positions of trust. As a mother of four young men who were once young teenagers, I am reassured that the Government are at last prepared to do something regarding sports coaches and religious leaders, and ensure that our children are safe. It is a landmark step forward and I am grateful for it.
On war memorials, I felt sick to the pit of my stomach to see Churchill’s statue jeered at and sprayed with cans of paint, and I take my hat off to my hon. Friends, some of whom are in the Chamber, who cleared it up. I am surprised that Labour Members will oppose some of these common-sense measures, and it is a testament to just how out of touch they are, and how difficult it will be for them to win the trust of voters. Conservative Members will fulfil our promises, and ensure that the manifesto pledges are kept.
I confess that I feel saddened and ashamed nearly every year when we come to International Women’s Day, because we have to listen, again, to a litany of the number of women who have been killed by their partner, nearly always in cases of domestic abuse, and sometimes with their child. That has been my experience as an MP in the Rhondda, as nearly all the murders that have happened in my patch over 20 years have been of that exact same situation. What makes me ashamed is that the situation does not seem to improve year on year.
Perhaps three or four times in my life have I worried for my safety on my way home, and last week I felt ashamed to know so many female friends and constituents who say that that is their experience every time they go home. The Rhondda is remarkably safe. We have a very low level of crime. It is a safe place, yet a poll—not a scientific poll but one done by a local firm—showed that 84% of women in the Rhondda felt that they had been sexually harassed or been in danger on their way home. We must do a lot more, and we men must walk in women’s shoes—if you don’t mind the pun—a few more times. If that is uncomfortable, all the better. We need to learn the discomfort that many women go through.
I am delighted that the Bill changes the legislation on emergency workers, which I introduced as a private Member’s Bill. We had to fight tooth and nail against the Conservative Government of the day to get it in place, but
“more joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”—
and all the rest, and I am delighted that the sinner repenteth and is now sitting on the Front Bench. Of course it is right to have tough laws against an assault on emergency workers, because an assault on an emergency worker is an attack on us all. However, we cannot just change the law; we have to ensure that the police implement that law, that the Crown Prosecution Service pursues it, and that magistrates feel it is important. I am afraid the Government have done nothing on that front since 2018.
Section 25 is about religion and sport and people in a position of trust, and of course we must deal with that. From my experience, I think we must also consider those who coach people in the arts. My worry is about personal freedom, because this is a woolly jumper that snags easily, and once snagged can readily unravel. We must be very careful about the noise provision. I have been on miners’ marches where we sang so loudly that the walls rocked. I have often been on Pride marches, when I wondered who on earth gave a gay man a whistle in the first place. Noise is part of a protest and part of our freedom.
I was discussing the Bill with a constituent over the weekend, when, bizarrely, she asked me whether I would be disloyal to my party. Loyalty is clearly an underrated concept, but this is much less about party loyalty and much more about doing the right thing. Those who claim that this Bill is anti-conservative, anti-libertarian, anti-democracy or even that it seeks to ban peaceful protest are wrong; it is actually about the silent majority, promises made in our manifesto, law and order, and the need to take this country to where it needs to be. I will be voting it through.
To me, this is one of the most pro-law and order Bills passed in recent decades. It gives police authorities much more confidence in the job that they have been trusted to do. It enshrines the police covenant into law, increases the maximum penalty from 12 months to two years in prison for assaults or battery against emergency workers, ensures that criminal courts have sufficient sentencing powers and, as we have heard, strengthens police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. It also strengthens the management of sex offenders, and of terrorist risk offenders on licence.
I want to focus briefly on one particular aspect of the Bill—namely, the desecration of war memorials. Alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who is my very good friend, I was one of the signatories to the Desecration of War Memorials Bill, which will now been subsumed into law. I thank the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), and many others for all their support.
Every single war memorial, irrespective of nation, faith or location, serves as a visual reminder of the horrors of war and the appalling conditions that people face when fighting for their country. These names are not just an inscription on stone, but actual human beings who lived, loved and were loved. These heroes had friends and families, and were in the prime of their life when they were taken, so each memorial bears testimony to lives cut short, the anguish suffered by families, the potential that was never fulfilled, the children that were never born and the guilt suffered by those who did come home. That is why we must ensure that all war memorials are sufficiently protected in law, and that those who seek to damage them through wilful ignorance or stupidity are brought to justice. This Bill is excellent, and I will not hesitate to vote it through the House.
The Government published this blockbuster omnibus Bill last week and rushed it through to the Commons, hoping to swell a law and order narrative ahead of the local elections to distract from the Government’s widespread failings. Along with many sensible and necessary changes to the law that Labour MPs have called for—on child protection, dangerous driving, protecting frontline workers and supporting deaf people to act as jurors—the Bill acts as a Trojan horse to push through divisive culture war issues, including specific offences on damaging statues and cracking down on the public’s right to protest.
Ministers somehow did not foresee that law and order means more than the elements that they have chosen for this Bill. It means keeping women safe. It means supporting women who have suffered violence or sexual violence to come forward, prosecuting the offenders and achieving convictions. It means ensuring that the police and others in authority are held accountable to the public needs, and, yes, it means that the rights to protest, and to express grief and anger, are protected. Is it not a remarkably sad irony that this Bill claims to protect memorials, but could be used to criminalise vigils?
Of course, Ministers should have been able to foresee that violence against women could return to the top of the public’s priorities. Sarah Everard’s tragic death has resonated so viscerally with women not because it was unique, but because, sadly, it was all too typical; she could have been any of us. Last week in the International Women’s Day debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) read out the list of 118 women and girls, aside from Sarah, who were killed by men in the past year—one every three days. The real question is how women’s safety ever dropped from the top of the agenda, and yet this Bill never once mentions women.
According to recent figures, 97% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment, yet the Bill does nothing to address that scourge. Even fly-tipping could get a longer sentence than stalking. As others have pointed out—irrefutably, at a time when less than 3% of rapes even reported to the police lead to charges, let alone convictions—rape has effectively been decriminalised. Last year, rape prosecutions fell to the lowest level on record. Even when a conviction is achieved, sentences can be as short as five years—half of what the Government think is appropriate for despoiling a statue. Addressing this horrifying situation in line with the demands made today by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) should surely be the centrepiece of legislation that is called the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but the measures she has called for are not even a consideration. I cannot support a Bill that puts protecting monuments ahead of protecting women. Women need concrete action from this Government, not action on concrete.
This Bill delivers on the manifesto commitments on which the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke elected me. I am particularly pleased that the Government have adopted proposals from the private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and I worked on together, to ensure that in every town, village or city across our United Kingdom, thugs who desecrate war memorials will feel the full force of the law. Judges will now be able to consider more than just the monetary value of damage to these sacred memorials to our glorious dead when they pass a sentence—which may be a maximum of 10 years, but that will not be the case in every instance, as some Opposition Members are trying to make out.
I want personally to thank the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor for our meetings and close work on this aspect of the legislation. I am troubled to see some Labour Members deriding and demeaning this important work. That conflicts directly with the advice given to the Labour party from a leaked sensitive internal strategy document, which said that Labour Members should make “use” of the Union flag and veterans. The fact that the Labour party want to make use of such things, rather than being proud enough to believe and willing to fight for them, is embarrassing.
I have been fortunate to see the incredible work undertaken by Staffordshire police locally, whether that is by meeting PC Karl Mander and his police dog Audi, who was stabbed in service, leading to the first conviction under Finn’s law, or walking the beat with PCSO Matthew Hough-Clewes last week in a local anti-social behaviour hotspot. This legislation is important in giving our police and our courts the powers and guidance they need to keep us safe, so I am left baffled by Labour’s position.
Desperately scrambling for a reason to vote against, Labour Members claim the new law will silence lawful protests. This is simply not the case. In fact, the Bill simply clarifies the existing common law offence of public nuisance. As a constituent who emailed me today said,
“if you are not breaking the law you have nothing to worry about.”
However, if someone wants to block roads and stop ambulances getting sick people into hospital, or glue themselves to a train so people miss a day’s work, the police will now be able to take action, preventing eye-watering costs like the £37 million that Extinction Rebellion’s 2019 protests cost the UK taxpayer.
To sum up, when I vote for this Bill, I will be voting for tougher sentences for child murderers and sex offenders, life sentences for killer drivers, ending the automatic early release of the most dangerous criminals, greater protections for our emergency service workers and delivering Kay’s law, which will help to protect women from their abusers. Those are the sorts of things that people in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke expect to get done, and I will proudly do so.
I have looked at what this rushed and punitive Bill will do for Wales, and I have found it wanting. It will infringe our right to protest, worsen inequality and lead to a yet more unjust society. This Government are not interested in seriously tackling the underlying causes of crime. They would rather overlook the cycle of offending while clamping down on dissent. The Labour party’s U-turn from abject abstention to principled opposition within the space of one hour yesterday showed that its leaders also have scant regard for the consequences of the Bill.
The Government display yet again a wilful ignorance of devolution, and the Bill’s “designed by England, for England” approach will further aggravate the damage caused by the jagged edge of justice policy in Wales. It shows that Wales needs control over justice now more than ever, so that we can develop a holistic approach that interconnects with our health, education and social policies.
The Bill’s erosion of the right to protest is antithetical to Wales’s values. We have a proud history of protesting against injustice, from non-conformism to Chartism, the miners’ strike, Welsh language rights protests and the present-day independence movement marches. The right to make peaceful protest against iniquity is something that lies deep within our culture. The Bill will also entrench Wales’s status as a nation of incarceration. Wales has a higher imprisonment rate even than England, and one that disproportionately affects black people, who are imprisoned at six times the rate of white people in Wales. The Bill will criminalise more young people and increase the number of vulnerable women entering prison, yet still tolerate the circumstances in which women such as Wenjing Lin and Sarah Everard were killed, all the while doing nothing to address the structural problems of the justice system in Wales, faced with disproportionate cuts to court numbers and support services.
The current system is failing. We could do so much better in Wales if we had proper control over policing and criminal justice. We could deliver a more humane justice system—one that enables equality, dignity and social justice, and that would allow us to tackle the root causes of crime, promote community support, tackle gender-based violence, root out structural racism, give victims a fair voice and protect our communities by prioritising the complex task of rehabilitation over the tabloid policing Acts of punishment—and a fair and just Wales for all. This is the nation we can be not if, but when we give ourselves the chance.
During this pandemic, the Government have handed enormous powers to the police to enforce lockdown restrictions, leading to a situation where the police are now policing the coronavirus regulations as a public order problem, rather than a public health matter. It has led to dangerous lines being crossed. We must not forget that while this type of state violence was made visible at the weekend, it is the case that these tactics have been used to protect powerful interests throughout our history. It was seen during the miners’ strike, and it was seen last year as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests.
In a democratic society, policing requires consent and understanding of the public mood. We are seeing a huge overreach and a situation where women have been criminalised while attending a peaceful vigil. Recent events have left women feeling even less empowered in our society. For the police to say to women, “The way you can protect yourself is to stay at home”, is just not good enough.
It comes as no surprise that within this Bill there is no mention of women, whereas the word “memorial” appears eight times. The Bill seeks to ensure that attacking a statue carries a longer sentence than attacking a woman. What kind of message does that send about this Government’s attitude to tackling the endemic issue of violence against women and girls?
The Bill disproportionately impacts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities by criminalising trespass and increasing police powers of eviction. It will increase the inequalities experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and ensure that discrimination against those communities is still alive and well as an acceptable form of racism in this country. The Bill also extends the definition of “unauthorised encampment”, which in effect criminalises the increasing numbers of rough sleepers.
I believe the right to protest is sacred in any democracy, so I will be voting against this Bill, because it is an assault on our civil liberties, threatens what remains of our rights to protest, expands stop and search powers and further criminalises Traveller communities. The Government must think again and listen to the vast public anger regarding this Bill. I reject the politics of division laid out by the Government in this Bill, and I ask Members across the House to do the same.
Three minutes is limited, so I will focus on one core aspect of the Bill. I got my first taste of the criminal justice system when I was 13. My dad went to the pub and never came home after receiving a single blow to the head that killed him instantly. From never really having dealings with the criminal justice system, my family was thrust into a whirlwind of police meetings, lawyers’ appointments and court dates, all while trying to deal with the suffocating grief of losing my dad, and that has given me a deep desire to ensure that the criminal justice system works for the victims of crime.
I recently launched an all-party parliamentary group to investigate the rare but damaging phenomenon of one-punch assaults, with an emphasis on sentencing. I wish now that I had been able to get started earlier to feed in some meaningful and evidence-backed proposals to this Bill, but I am grateful to the Justice Secretary none the less for agreeing to meet next week to discuss the APPG’s work. I hope that together we can make some progress in delivering a fairer sense of justice for the left-behind families of one-punch assault victims.
The events that followed losing my dad were the darkest times I have ever known, but in those dark times were points of light in the incredible police officers who helped to support our family. I particularly pay tribute once again to Karen Cocker and Sue Best, our family liaison officers, without whom we would not have been able to navigate the court process with our sanity intact.
After scenes such as those we saw reported at the weekend, it becomes somewhat trendy to turn against our police and denigrate those who devote their lives to keeping us safe. The unfairness of all police being tarred with the same brush based on the actions of a tiny minority is surely something with which we can empathise in this place, given the unfairness of all politicians being held to account for the actions of the worst of us.
Since I was 13, I have had the utmost respect for our police. They run into the face of danger while we run away, stand face to face with armed criminals to keep us safe and are at the frontline of major national crises. The national policing wellbeing survey revealed that a shocking 67% of police officers report post-traumatic stress symptoms and that the average officer shows moderately high symptoms of anxiety. That is why I wholeheartedly supported the Conservative party manifesto commitment to deliver the police covenant—the people of Bishop Auckland elected me on that commitment, which we will deliver through this Bill.
It is our duty to protect the mental health and wellbeing of the police, just as it is their duty to protect us. The Bill will make it a legal requirement for the Home Secretary to report to Parliament each year on what steps they are taking on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of police personnel and their families. Through the Bill, we are also ensuring that our incredible police officers have the powers they need to keep us safe and to secure prosecutions. We are seeking to protect the public and to protect our protectors, both police officers and emergency service workers. I finish with a question. What message does it send that the Labour party is voting against this?
Tonight, I pay my respects to the life of Sarah Everard. As she grew up in York, her loss is deeply felt by me and my community.
Extraordinary liberties have been relinquished to ensure that we kept safe during this last year, but when our liberties are stolen—and, I say this as a woman, at the very time we need them most—the measures in the Bill can only be described as repressive. We have a justice system that is institutionally discriminatory against women; that does not secure high-quality representation for them, that fails to prosecute the most heinous of crimes, that delays cases for years without survivors being able to access vital and necessary trauma services, and that completely fails to keep women safe. The Home Secretary was remiss in her opening speech, since the Bill fails women, fails society and fails to advance our justice. Now is the time when we need to take to the streets and reclaim them, yet the Bill threatens to criminalise us for using our power to force Government and their institutions to change. With economic, social and environmental failure, it is our duty to enable people to exercise their rights, but part 3 of the Bill restrains them.
Let me move on to part 4. I shudder at how the Government are drawing on the darkest periods of history by criminalising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. This demonstrates that the hostile environment continues to fester in the Home Office, and it must be called out.
Before I close, I want to focus on clause 45. I have made a number of representations to Justice and Home Office Ministers, so they will know what I am about to say. It is not just in sport and religious settings where young people have been groomed and abused. My constituent received private tuition—music coaching—and was groomed for two years before being raped. Her case was one of the 99% of rape cases reported, but not prosecuted. Her perpetrator, now known for sexual impropriety, had no DBS check. If he had, she would have been safe. She was failed, and the Bill fails her and many more. All private tuition settings need full safeguarding checks and measures to be introduced. Secondly, host families of international students accommodate young people of different cultures and language. They need the protections covered by clause 45 too. I trust that the Minister will support such amendments.
The Bill is woefully insufficient when it comes to protection yet overtly hostile in disallowing people their rights and their voice. I came to this Parliament to fight for equality, protect the rights of my constituents and advance justice. It is unconscionable not to stand in the way of the repressive ideology advanced in the Bill. I call on the Government to think again and I will vote against the Bill.
The right to take non-violent individual and collective action is fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being rushed through, and it is ill thought out, with glaring failures, including authoritarian provisions such as those in part 3 that threaten our right to protest. Restricting the freedom of assembly and association contravenes article 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and significant concerns have been raised by trade unions, human rights groups, lawyers, activists and even the ex-chief constable of Greater Manchester.
The imposition of additional conditions on protests, such as being too noisy, simply look like an anti-democratic direct attack on particular social movements at odds with the Government’s agenda. This Bill represents an attack on the public’s freedom of speech, impacting on our fight for race and gender equality, against the climate emergency and for improved workers’ rights. Our country has a proud history of collective action, and I want to express my solidarity with those who attended Clapham common on Saturday to remember Sarah Everard and who were treated disgracefully. What we saw contradicts any notion that there needs to be an extension to the powers to oversee protests. Indeed, the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), has previously stated that
“legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”
Instead of ever more draconian powers, effective policing requires community consent, and to achieve that, there needs to be greater transparency and accountability for the way that protests are policed. I am pleased that David Michael, the Labour Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner candidate, who grew up in Luton, recognises that and is committed to using his experience in the police, together with his understanding of our community, to ensure trust between Bedfordshire police and the community it serves.
Placing more restrictions on people’s ability to gather and protest will not make the public safer. In fact, it is the opposite. It will trample on our ability to stand up for our human rights and against injustice. The Home Secretary focused her remarks on wanting to support women to feel safe while walking down the street, but heaven forbid we do so a bit too noisily, a bit too annoyingly or a bit too near our elected representatives in order to stand up for our human rights.
Individual and collective action is something to be celebrated and encouraged in a functioning democracy. I owe it to the women role models who stood up for what they believed in and shaped my political awareness as a teenager—be it those at the Greenham common women’s peace camp, the Women Against Pit Closures or those marching against apartheid in South Africa—as much as I owe it to those women now or who will come after me, to not let our right to protest, be it noisy or annoying, be slowly eroded.
I am glad to be speaking about this eagerly awaited Bill because of its importance for the residents of Wolverhampton. I have campaigned and will continue to do so for a safer and cleaner Wolverhampton. I want the residents to be able to walk clean streets day or night and feel safe.
I fully support the Bill and know that it will be welcomed by many of my constituents. I believe in tougher sentencing for child murderers and sex offenders. I approve of the crackdown on knife crime and violent crime, especially to protect emergency workers. Last year, I conducted a community survey. One of the top areas of concern for my residents—even in a pandemic—was crime. Residents are always getting in touch with me about different issues that the Bill addresses. They do not want to see thefts, fly-tipping and unauthorised encampments, and that last point has probably caused me more work than anything as an MP.
Wolverhampton has beautiful parks such as Bantock and West Park, and over the years, these have been home to unauthorised encampments. I want to make it clear that the majority of the Traveller community are law-abiding citizens who cause no trouble in the local community. We in Wolverhampton did see that, but we have also experienced major problems. To deal with that, Wolverhampton Council took out an injunction, giving it extra powers to move unauthorised encampments. Part of the injunction was to build a transit site. I have no problem with that, and I understand that there needs to be a place for the Traveller community to visit. The site chosen was Gorsebrook Road in Dunstall, which is still one of the most deprived areas in Wolverhampton. It was not welcomed by the residents or by the Traveller community. The cost to build the transit site, in an area that I have championed as a nature trail for local schools and residents, is £1 million. The Bill will negate the need for an injunction at the transit site in its current form. I know that work is under way, but I will continue to ask City of Wolverhampton Council, as I do again now, to pause the work, wait for the legislation to be passed, save money, develop the nature trail and build a legacy for generations to come.
The scenes at Clapham common this weekend exposed a disgraceful abuse of power by the Metropolitan police. However, for too many of us, the scenes did not shock; they have become worryingly familiar. From the miners protesting at Orgreave and elsewhere in the 1980s to the climate change and Black Lives Matter protests last year, the violent crackdown by police on peaceful demonstrators exercising their right to protest has been routine, systematic and deliberate. Such actions raise the fundamental questions: who do the police protect and who do they serve? This weekend, it was abundantly clear that the answer to both questions was not women.
By making it an offence to cause serious annoyance or inconvenience, the Bill restricts our fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression and effectively removes our collective ability to fight back against state abuses of power. The proposals for a new serious violence reduction order will provide greater power to stop and search a person at any time, in any place and completely free of suspicion. There are major criticisms of current stop-and-search powers, which impact disproportionately on black people, particularly in my city of Liverpool. A recent Home Office report identified that black people are 2.7 times more likely to be victims of stop and search and three times more likely to have force used against them. The police do not need more of these powers, which will not protect us.
Some of the Bill’s most disturbing clauses attack the nomadic lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities by criminalising unauthorised encampments and establishing trespass as a criminal offence. The proposals are discriminatory and potentially unlawful. The Government’s own consultation on extending the powers showed that even the majority of the police respondents to the consultation think the crackdown is the wrong approach. GRT communities are among the most persecuted and marginalised. In Liverpool, we have a large permanent settlement of GRT families living in my constituency. They face systemic discrimination and routine violence. Instead of supporting these communities, who already face some of the starkest inequalities, the Government seem hellbent on introducing tougher powers to act against them.
The Government’s approach to public safety is fundamentally flawed: it is rooted in discrimination against communities and restrictions to our freedoms rather than a serious attempt to tackle the problems that we face. I appeal to Members from all parties in the House to ensure that this weekend’s horrific scenes mark a serious turning point. The draconian powers in the Bill must be torn up and a new approach to public safety must be pursued—one that puts safety, welfare, justice and accountability at its heart.
The first duty of any Government must be to protect the public and keep local communities safe. I know that that belief is shared by many in my constituency, so I welcome this important Bill, which introduces a comprehensive package of measures to achieve just that. Every day, police officers and those in the emergency services put themselves in dangerous situations to keep us safe. Although legislation is in place for the most serious of crimes in this policy area, the sentencing for assaults is too weak. We have a responsibility to ensure that the police and emergency services can carry out their day-to-day duties as safely as possible. The Bill will help to achieve that.
There are many facets to the Bill, but I wish to focus on two particular aspects: bringing people to justice and reducing reoffending. I have been pursuing these issues on behalf of Loughborough since I became an MP and I did so some years ago when I was fortunate enough to chair a panel on reducing reoffending on behalf of Charnwood Borough Council. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Let me turn first to the removal of the presumption of release pending investigation and the presumption in favour of pre-charge bail conditions, otherwise known as Kay’s law. The change will provide a duty to protect victims and will enable the setting of conditions while further investigations are undertaken. This is vital both to the safety of the victim and to encourage the reporting of crimes with the knowledge that bail conditions can be imposed to help to safeguard the victim.
I received a number of emails from my constituents who are very concerned about sentencing and I have to agree with them that more needs to be done to ensure that those convicted of the most serious crimes receive appropriate sentences and spend more of their sentences actually in prison. That will not only restore public confidence in the justice system, but crucially ensure that victims, who sadly often bear physical and mental scars of their experience, receive the justice they deserve.
Sentencing, however, is only one side of the coin. I welcome that the Bill also places a strong emphasis on action to reduce reoffending. If we are to break the cycle of reoffending, we must ensure that offenders have every opportunity to break the vicious circle of repeat crime, giving them the chance to get their lives back on track and so reducing the social and economic cost to our communities. The £3 million Newham pilot for youth offenders, set to start in July, is one good example of work to reduce reoffending. The curfew orders set out in the Bill, and the ability to vary those orders, are another excellent example, ensuring people have a role in, and can contribute positively to, society. Work is one of the best ways to draw them away from a life of crime.
I strongly believe that, taken together, the measures in the Bill will have a significant impact on reducing crime and protecting not only the public, but our fantastic emergency workers. I will therefore be supporting the Bill.
Like so many others, I was shocked and appalled by the events on Clapham common on Saturday night. It is an outrage that a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard was shut down because the Met determined not to engage with organisers to ensure that the vigil could pass off safely. It is very difficult to see how the Met could have got it more wrong, and I say that, as many in this House will know, as a former police officer. The leadership have let down rank and file officers and, despite what those on the Government Benches might say, it is right that Cressida Dick should consider her position.
However, there has also been a failure of Government. For the past year, the Government have sustained legislation which prevents people from exercising their fundamental right to protest. That is why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will vote against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 when it comes back before the House, just as we did in September. Our rights matter and the right to protest matters, too. This is a Bill which, just when we should be considering how we dismantle restrictions on the right to protest in the name of public health, instead doubles down on them. The Home Secretary had strong words about the scenes on Saturday, but the reality is that this hastily pulled together legislation will make such scenes more common. The challenge to some of those on the Government Benches who have claimed to be acting in the name of liberty over the last few months is this: will you oppose the Bill, or does liberty only matter to you when it is your liberty and not the liberty of those you disagree with?
Moving on, I want to use my brief time to speak to part 1 of the Bill and its measures concerning the police service. Enshrining the duty of the Home Secretary to produce a police covenant report in law is a very important step for police officers around the country. It is about recognising the realities of policing and the impact it can have on those who undertake those duties. As someone who comes from a policing family, I have seen that first-hand. My father, husband and I were all assaulted in the course of our duties. This year’s Armed Forces Bill legislates for a duty for public bodies to have due regard to the principles of that covenant. That is not something that this Bill is introducing for the police covenant and I would be grateful for further clarification on whether the Government might look to do similar in relation to the covenant in future.
There are other positive steps in the Bill, such as legislating to allow special constables to join the Police Federation. The work of special constables is vital, both as volunteers and in giving back to local communities. In carrying out frontline duties, they face the same dangers and experiences that appointed police officers face. I also support the introduction of road traffic fixed penalty notices in Scotland, as it is good to have UK-wide alignment.
Finally, I turn to the Government’s proposal to double the maximum sentence for assaulting emergency workers. Is an increased penalty for that actually going to reduce assaults on the police? Is somebody in the heat of the moment going to think, “I’m going to get two years for this, as opposed to 12 months?” I doubt that it will. Instead, I worry that there is a risk of getting into a competition, whereby assaulting someone in a particular role means a higher penalty. The fundamental aspect is policing by consent. If we create the right community culture, it should not matter what the penalty is, because the incidence of such crimes should reduce regardless. Our policies on crimes should not be dictated by what plays well to the gallery—they should be evidence-based.
I would like to start by paying tribute to Sarah Everard, and my thoughts are with her loved ones and her family. For too long we have seen women live in fear, and this Bill is one way in which we can start to make our streets and our society safer. It does feel, after last week, that there has been a renewed conversation about the safety of woman, and I hope that Sarah’s death has not been in vain.
This Bill, along with the Domestic Abuse Bill, ought to go a long way in making the world a safer place for women, but we must not be complacent and we must be resolute in this journey. On the latter Bill, I particularly welcome the amendment about threatening revenge porn, and I hope social media companies and other platforms will play their part in ensuring that revenge porn and non-consensual content are banned.
I must commend the Government for bringing forward this legislation and delivering on a manifesto commitment. As I talk to local residents across my constituency, there is one thing in common that they expect. It is that our justice system should be made fair—fair to the victims of crime, fair to the local community and offering fair justice to offenders. In particular, I applaud the removal of the automatic halfway release. This Bill ensures that those who commit the most heinous of crimes will spend more time in prison, so that their victims do not feel short-changed. That is the right thing to do.
I welcome the focus on rehabilitation in this Bill, as in my view society should always be conscious of why we choose to imprison people in the way we do. I am a big believer in global Britain and our place in the world. It was Winston Churchill, the then Home Secretary, who said that a society’s attitude towards its prisoners, its “criminals”, is the measure of
“the stored-up strength of a nation”.—[Official Report, 20 July 1910; Vol. 19, c. 1356.]
But this is also an act of common and economic sense. There is little point in ensuring that sentences are fully served at the taxpayer’s expense if, on release, a person is likely to reoffend. A jail sentence should not be a gateway to reoffending or graduating to a more serious crime. This conveyor belt to crime costs almost £18 billion to the taxpayer, which is why I am also pleased to see a greater emphasis on rehabilitation through greater support for the probation service and targeted measures such as curfews, community sentencing and better technology to ensure sustained rehabilitation.
Of course, prisons must serve their purpose for society in full—the delivery of justice must be fair, and it must be equitable—but we as legislators should not forget our duty in supporting offenders in turning their lives around. Once the victims of crime receive justice, to show compassion through rehabilitation speaks to our strength as a society—the very same strength that Winston Churchill once spoke of.
I pay tribute to Staffordshire police for their hard work and professionalism throughout covid. Local emergency services have given their all, often at high personal risk, particularly paramedics in responding to medical needs. I am truly grateful for their work, and their dedication brings us ever closer to a safe lifting of lockdown. Our policing is by consent, and I know that officers in Staffordshire hold this in great importance. In Stoke-on-Trent, officers have taken a measured approach based on the four Es—engage, explain, encourage and enforce. The comparatively low covid fines in Staffordshire demonstrate that enforcement is a last resort.
The images we saw over the weekend at Clapham common were disturbing for us all, and this should be thoroughly investigated, but I do not think it right to impede the progress of this important Bill. Our freedom-loving democratic values enshrine rights to peaceful protest, and this Bill does not curtail that. Many constituents have contacted me over the last year after seeing the wanton vandalism and obstruction of ambulances. This totally reckless behaviour of a minority demonstrates the need to update measures, such as putting static protests on the same footing as moving demonstrations. Emergency service workers frequently put themselves in harm’s way in protecting and saving lives of others, and we must give them the protections they need, such as doubling maximum sentences for assaults. How could anyone not support these measures, given that they frequently put themselves at great risk to keep us safe?
I fully support the new police covenant, which ensures that serving and retired officers and their families are properly supported. I know my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent are extremely concerned about more serious criminals. Although crime is generally down, it is worrying that crimes committed in Stoke-on-Trent are becoming more serious. Especially concerning are the repeat offenders, and I welcome serious violence reduction orders to target persistent offenders. The Government’s safer streets initiative in Fenton is particularly important locally, improving household security so that people feel safe in their own homes.
No one should ever feel unsafe, not least women and children. It is totally unacceptable that any woman should be too scared of going out at night or should expect to be regularly harassed. I very much welcome the Home Secretary reopening the survey on tackling violence against women and girls. It is most worrying that Opposition Members do not support measures targeting the most serious offenders, including those committing serious violence and sexual offences. This Bill ends automatic early releases, keeping dangerous criminals off our streets. It also encourages stricter conditions on bail in high-harm cases and extends protections against sexual conduct by those in positions of authority. Figures of authority must not abuse positions of trust through such despicable behaviour. A lack of trusted positive role models often drives young people into gangs, drugs and violence because they believe that they will be somehow more secure. That cycle must be broken down in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country.
Can I first say, on using women as a reason to vote against the Bill, that I spoke about my own personal experiences last week? I remind those on the Opposition Benches that women and men are equal in law, so it all applies to women.
I want to raise the concerns of my constituents about the fundamental right to peaceful protest. It is important to make one thing clear: the Bill includes nothing that will threaten the genuine rights of people to engage in protests. What it does is address all those people who glue themselves to trains and buses, and block access to hospitals when somebody could need life-saving treatment. Those protests are not simply inconvenient; they make life intolerable for people living or working around them. This is about balancing the genuine and fundamental right that we shall have to protest. In short, the checks and balances remain firmly in place. I hope that the Minister in summing up will confirm that that is correct.
Like women and men up and down this country, my colleagues on the Government Benches believe in law and order and giving our police the tools that they have asked for—the right tools for the job. The Bill delivers on that pledge. I will briefly touch on some of its key points.
The Bill extends whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child and ends the automatic early release of dangerous criminals. It introduces life sentences for killer drivers—those who cause fatal accidents while speeding and racing. It doubles the maximum sentence for assaulting emergency workers. It protects communities from illegal Traveller sites being set up. It introduces tougher community sentences, and it brings in Kay’s law to better protect victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences. It also ensures that those who desecrate our war memorials face the full force of law after what we witnessed with the Churchill monument and others last year.
I want to tackle those issues and bring in measures that protect my constituents and make our streets safer. That is why I will support the Bill’s Second Reading, to allow it to move to Committee where it will be fully scrutinised. It appals me that the Labour party will vote against a Bill that will bring tougher sentences and protect people such as my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden. That once again highlights why so many turned their backs on Labour as it continues to turn its back on the wants and needs of constituents such as mine. I will support the Bill, as I wholeheartedly believe that we should punish criminals.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe).
In the winter of 2019, through the wonderful weather we had—the snow and the rain—as I knocked on doors across Bolsover and in South Normanton and Clowne, there were three common refrains. The first was: get Brexit done. The second was the remarkable leadership of the Labour party under the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). The third was crime and the sense of unfairness. There was a sense that those who do not live by the rules seemed to get away with it; they were not properly punished. The Bill is a tremendous step in the right direction, delivering on the manifesto commitments that we stood on and making sure that those who commit some of the worst crimes are properly punished.
I welcome the fact that we are enshrining the police covenant in law. It must be an absolutely monstrous time to be a police officer, trying to uphold the law in such difficult circumstances throughout the covid period. I have spoken regularly to police officers and the leadership in Derbyshire, and they have done a remarkable job. I am delighted that we have their backs and are enshrining the police covenant in law.
We are doubling the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers. Those who serve our communities with such distinction and such honour should not be the victims of assault full stop, but those who commit such crimes should be punished. That is absolutely the right thing to do.
We are introducing criminal penalties for unauthorised Traveller encampments—that will be welcomed across Derbyshire—and whole-life orders for premeditated murders of children. That is exactly what residents in Bolsover want to see.
We have not had a lot of cross-party love today, so I must confess, I am the co-chairman of the all-party group on wrestling along with my friend the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones). In her remarks, she mentioned that she welcomes the scope of offences in the Sexual Offences Act in relation to the abuse of positions of trust. We are particularly concerned about this in the wrestling industry, and she and I have spent many hours discussing it. In her remarks, she asked for a meeting with the Minister on some of the specifics around that, and I echo that call.
This is a brilliant step in the right direction. It is the kind of legislation that the people in Bolsover voted for, and I look forward to supporting the Bill.
I join the Home Secretary and colleagues in sending my condolences to the friends and family of Sarah Everard. This Bill delivers on our manifesto commitment—the one that I stood on in Carshalton and Wallington, and so did many others—to toughen up sentences for the most dangerous criminals and reform the criminal justice system.
Of the many welcome measures contained in the Bill, I particularly welcome measures such as extending whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child and ending the early automatic release of dangerous criminals, which will keep the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes off our streets. I know, from the countless times that I have been told that the criminal justice system is too lenient, that my constituents will also welcome the tougher sentences for the most dangerous criminals, the introduction of life sentences for killer drivers, the doubling of the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker and the introduction of Kay’s law to better protect victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences. It is because of the campaigning efforts of those victims and their families that I will support the Bill.
Like me, many colleagues will have met and heard stories of grieving families from their own constituencies, angry at what they have seen as a lenient sentence. I remember reading one story just last year of a young man who tragically lost his life in Carshalton after being hit by a driver who was later arrested on suspicion of being drunk behind the wheel. This Bill will ensure that in cases such as this, the punishment fits the crime. Additionally, I know that residents across the London borough of Sutton will particularly welcome criminalising trespass and strengthening powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. Only recently, Carshalton and Wallington residents were incredibly frustrated when an encampment jumped from local park to local park, causing harm, disruption and distress as it went, yet progress on removing this encampment was incredibly slow because of the limitations around the existing law. These measures will make it much easier to deal with that.
This Bill does deliver on our manifesto commitment, so I am dismayed that Opposition Members are finding ways to try to oppose these important measures. The wording in the Bill is complemented by case law, and clearly defined principles are being put on to the statute book at the request of the independent Law Commission. The Bill is there to stop scenes like those we saw last year of protestors blocking ambulances, and not to ban peaceful protests, so it is no good Labour or Lib Dem Members saying that they agree with parts of the Bill if they are not going to support it. We should be unapologetic in standing up for victims of crime and their families, combined with the efforts that the Government are already making to put more police on our streets and work on prevention. For that reason, I will support the Bill tomorrow.
The first duty of any Government is to keep people safe. Although recent events have been shocking, we are fortunate to live in a country where citizens are overwhelmingly law-abiding, but as times change, crimes change, and it is important that we continue to update and amend legislation to make sure that our constituents not only are safe, but feel safe.
Any new criminal legislation should do four important things: it should discourage crime, improve detection and prosecution, make punishments effective and reduce the chances of reoffending. I welcome this Bill, as I believe that it will strengthen the law in all those areas. The Bill will certainly act to discourage crime, with the introduction of whole-life orders for child killers and new powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public. Potential offenders can be in no doubt that this Government are committed to making sure that serious crimes will be met with serious sentences. By increasing the efficiency of the courts, the Bill will also reduce delays and improve prosecution rates. I know from the experiences of my constituents this year—both those accused of crime and those who have been victims—how devastating delays to justice can be.
I welcome the Bill’s provisions to punish certain crimes, particularly serious driving offences and assaults on our brave police and emergency workers, more robustly. I also believe that the Bill will be effective in reducing the chances of reoffending, with more community orders ensuring that offenders do not lose jobs and family relationships as a result of their punishments, making it more likely that they can rebuild their lives without resorting to further criminal behaviour. However, for some offenders who have served their time, returning to their community and their previous relationships can be a factor that actually increases their chance of reoffending. For those people, escaping that context and getting a fresh start can offer them the best chance of building a crime-free life.
Northern College in my constituency, one of only four residential adult education colleges, specialises in giving vulnerable adults, including those who have served prison sentences, a second chance at education. Set in the stunning and inspiring grounds of Wentworth castle, it offers students high-quality teaching alongside counselling and support. In such a positive and focused environment, the outcomes are incredible, with students achieving GCSEs, A-levels and even higher education qualifications, and going on to gain good jobs and live fulfilling lives.
For many ex-offenders, full rehabilitation requires a second chance at education, which so many of us take for granted, so I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to meet me to discuss the role that Northern College could play. This is an excellent Bill that meets many of our manifesto commitments, and it has my full support.
This is an extremely wide-ranging Bill. I have raised in the House a number of times the reform of rehabilitation. This Bill will give the courts powers to give alternatives to custody for youth offenders, by piloting changes to youth rehabilitation orders. For adult offenders, a “problem-solving court approach” will be piloted for certain community and suspended sentences. This aims to ensure that there is more tailored, intensive and structured support to rehabilitate offenders in the community. Employment opportunities for reformed offenders will also be improved by the Bill.
The Bill outlines several measures that will allow the courts to return to normal as soon as possible and cut into the backlog. Virtual juries were trialled with huge success on four occasions last year by the international fair trials organisation Justice, most notably in Wimbledon. “Wimbledon juries”, as they should perhaps become known, were subject to research and authentication by the University of Oxford, and the trials proved that they were, in many ways, as effective in executing their responsibilities as juries in courtrooms. They can be inexpensive and can return juries to their historic origins, based in communities.
The Bill also makes changes to police powers over protests. I have been looking carefully at those parts of the Bill, and I know that they will be examined in greater detail in Committee. However, it is clear, especially with the background of current covid legislation, that those who enforce this legislation need to be clear as to its framework.
The language of clause 59(2) is central. The language of “distress” and “loss of amenity” is familiar to the courts, but “serious annoyance” and “serious inconvenience” are unfamiliar to the courts. I know that “annoyance” has been used in public order Acts in Ireland, I think in Austria and perhaps elsewhere, but I would welcome a very clear definition here. We need to help our police decide what these words mean, and we need to let those that they will cover know what they mean. Similarly, “noise” from a protest that could
“result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”
needs to be more clearly defined so that it does not catch the sort of chanting that one would normally expect at a protest.
Finally, I welcome that the Home Secretary has instructed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to investigate the policing at the Clapham vigil. I welcome confirmation from her that there are aspects to be investigated and that she intends the extended consultation to ensure that the justice system provides confidence for the victims. Therefore, one should look at this Bill in the whole and it should be supported.
I welcome this Bill, which fulfils manifesto promises on which I was elected and demonstrates this Government’s firm commitment to law and order. I declare relevant interests: prior to my election, I spent 12 years as a magistrate, and was a board member of the Youth Justice Board, a member of the Sentencing Council and a non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.
There are undoubtedly offenders who pose a clear and present danger, and they must remain in prison for as long as it takes for them to cease being a threat to the public. I therefore welcome moves to lengthen custodial sentences for certain very serious offences and to extend the time that must be served before automatic release applies. This also represents an important step towards increased public confidence in sentencing, which is not always as transparent as it might be.
I want to see fewer victims of crime. Key to achieving that is cutting reoffending, which accounts for some 80% of offences at the moment. Prison is not always the best place to achieve the greatest prospect of rehabilitation, so I am glad to see pilots of problem solving courts, and I hope they will be especially targeted at young adults. I am pleased that community orders will be made more robust, not least by extending the maximum curfew hours to 20 a day. I believe that home detention is a tool we should increasingly look to, as technology continues to develop at a pace that can provide many of the reassurances on security and monitoring behaviour that would not have been possible even 10 years ago.
There are welcome changes to the youth justice system here; reducing the use of remand in custody for children is the right thing to do. I am pleased to see changes to the intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, and I support the proposals to make detention and training orders more flexible. The Bill eliminates many anomalies in previous legislation, and I would welcome the Government giving further consideration to one anomaly that I highlighted in my recent ten-minute rule Bill: that children who commit an offence as a child but turn 18 before getting to court are treated as adults at both trial and sentence. The risk of this happening has been exacerbated by delays caused by covid, and those delays vary greatly between different parts of the country, resulting in a postcode lottery that is fundamentally unjust and yet can have lifelong consequences. Although there has not been time to incorporate my proposal into the Bill at this stage, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor for meeting me to discuss how, with appropriate safeguards, some of its aims might be achieved. I hope that the Government might still be persuaded that this Bill provides such an opportunity. I am confident that that could be achieved without conflicting with other very important proposals in this Bill.
Three minutes is a short time in which to discuss a Bill of 300 pages. Of course, I do not claim to have addressed element of it in my remarks, nor do I claim that the Bill is perfect in every way, but I firmly believe it represents a step change to tackle crime more effectively and so make the British public safer.
May I, first, associate myself with the sympathy expressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to Sarah Everard’s family at the outset of this debate? When this Bill comes to a vote tomorrow I will be supporting it. I will be supporting a Bill that will ensure stronger sentences for child murderers, rapists, violent offenders, dangerous drivers, child abusers, burglars, drug dealers, knife carriers and those who desecrate our memorials. The Labour party will be voting against those stronger sentences. Labour, having previously said that the legislation does not go far enough, will now vote against all of that, in an astonishing U-turn. It will also be voting against increased sentences for those who assault our emergency service workers.
This is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that will, quite reasonably, update public order legislation that is now 35 years old. In the short time in which I have to speak this evening, I am unable to cover the breadth of this Bill, but I will pick out a couple of points. I am pleased to see that the police covenant is to be enshrined in law, strengthening support for serving and retired officers. I know that unauthorised encampments can cause a great deal of stress and inconvenience, as I saw in my constituency, in Colwick, a little while ago, as well as disruption and damage. The power to seize vehicles and arrest or fine trespassers who attempt to reside on private and public land without permission will, no doubt, be reassuring.
It is also important to state that the Bill will not stop the right to protest. The right to demonstrate is a hard-fought one, and it will continue. A number of constituents have written to me regarding clause 59, but it is important to note that this is a component of the existing common law offence of causing a public nuisance, which is being put on to a statutory footing following recommendations by the Law Commission in its 2016 report on the simplification of criminal law. All in all, this is a Bill that makes good on several commitments made in the manifesto on which I stood for election in 2019. I am pleased to support it and I look forward to its passage in the House.
Freedom of assembly and of expression are fundamental rights that are hard-fought and hard-won but easily lost or damaged if we legislate in haste. I want to focus on clauses 54 to 56 and 59 to 60, which would make significant changes to police powers to respond to protest. They would, for example, significantly lower the legal test for the police to issue conditions on protest. The term “serious unease” is a significant departure, reducing the test for the threshold of harm so as to potentially capture peaceful protest that a claimant considers objectionable.
Clause 54 would give the Secretary of State powers to further define the meaning of
“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”,
which could significantly curtail the activities of peaceful pro-life vigils outside abortion centres. Organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and MSI complain of harassment or intimidation, but this is rarely, if ever, supported by evidence. The test of “serious disruption” could remove the objectivity normally required for criminal prosecution and place the emphasis instead on the perception of an organisation. This has potentially far-reaching implications for the fundamental rights of those with non-mainstream views to assemble and express their views, and it is incumbent on this House to defend those rights, however much we approve or disapprove of such views.
Clause 59, by abolishing the common law offence of public nuisance and replacing it with a new statutory offence of
“intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”,
needs to be carefully scrutinised to ensure that there are clear definitions of terms such as “serious annoyance”, “serious inconvenience” and rights common to the public. The word “impact” in relation to static protests is ill defined and too open to interpretation, and on-the-spot assessments could increase unjustifiable interference with fundamental rights.
Concerningly, removing intentionality from the offence of failing to comply with a condition issued by the police on a protest means that the police will be able to enforce the law based on their subjective interpretation of what the alleged offender should have known. Allowing the police to issue conditions on one-person protests, rather than the current two, potentially brings into scope street preachers, but it should be recalled that prosecutions against street preachers have invariably failed due to falling foul of freedom of speech rights. Without amendment, the Bill could increase police apprehension of otherwise lawful speech and could have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech more widely. I hope that the Committee and the other place will have sufficient time to carefully scrutinise this significant Bill.
I will have no hesitation in supporting the Bill when it comes to a vote tomorrow, because it delivers on so many of the manifesto promises I made to residents across Burnley and Padiham. It starts by toughening up the sentences for drink and drug drivers who kill while under the influence, for criminals who assault our emergency service workers and for those in positions of trust who groom children for exploitation. It does all this while also tackling unauthorised Traveller camps that show no regard for local residents and planning systems, and so much more. What’s not to like in this Bill?
There is so much in the Bill, but I will keep my remarks to just a small number of areas. The first is the desecration of war memorials. I have been incredibly disappointed to hear Labour MPs indicate that this provision does not matter, because it does. We have some fantastic memorials in Burnley, not least the cenotaph in Towneley Park and the memorials to so many others in our villages such as Hopton and Worsthorne. The images that we saw last year of our national cenotaph being targeted caused hurt, upset and anger. That is why this matters. I am really pleased that the Government have recognised the strength of feeling on this and introduced tougher sentences as a result.
The Bill also delivers on our promise to bring in a smarter, more credible sentencing system. It is one that deals with the most serious violent offenders by ending the automatic release at the halfway point, that tackles repeat offenders that blight our communities, and that makes youth rehabilitation orders more effective at reducing youth offending.
I spent some time before coming to this place mentoring young offenders when they were in prison, and I have no doubt that this will make a difference. I have, however, received emails from concerned constituents about the protest provisions in the Bill. Let us be clear: nothing in the Bill alters a person’s fundamental right to protest and make their voice heard. However, the right to protest does not give anyone the right to block an ambulance going to a hospital; it does not give anyone the right to stop someone going to work to earn a living; and it does not bring with it the right for a person to stop a newspaper being printed just because they disagree with the contents. Just as important as the right to protest is the right to a free press, the right to life, and the right to employment. The Bill just gives equal weight to all those competing rights. The Bill puts the right of the law-abiding majority first. It protects victims, it backs our police and emergency service workers and, with that in mind, it should command cross-party support tomorrow evening.
Many constituents have shared their frustrations with me over the issue of illegal encampments. Although many Travellers are law-abiding citizens, illegal sites can cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. They also play havoc with local sports clubs and businesses and the Bill will put a stop to that. I am pleased that these measures are proportionate and that we have taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted.
Some people are claiming that the Bill will somehow stop people’s right to protest, and that is simply not true. What makes it worse is that some are trying to link it with temporary covid restrictions, which is a completely separate issue. Whatever the rights and wrongs of recent events, it is abhorrent and totally wrong for groups to try to use a tragic incident as a smokescreen to oppose legislation that they do not like. This legislation means tougher sentences for child murderers, sex offenders, killer drivers and those attacking emergency service workers. By campaigning against this Bill, they are also campaigning against these measures.
The Bill is also designed to stop the behaviour of extremist groups such as Extinction Rebellion or BLM causing serious disruption by stopping trains running or by gluing themselves to buses. Serious disruption is a well-established and defined concept. The changes bring static protests in line with equivalent provisions that apply to marches or processions under section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. For example, a protest does not cause serious disruption just because it may distract employees in a nearby office, and nor would a peaceful vigil in a park cause serious disruption.
Examples of things that could cause serious disruption might include blocking a bridge or a road to stop pedestrians or traffic getting through. We saw that happen when Extinction Rebellion decided to block Westminster Bridge. While these people were dancing and having fun, ambulances needed to be diverted and cancer patients had to walk to hospital instead. Another example of serious disruption might also include preventing a train from leaving a station. What sort of organisation claims that it wants to stop climate change and then prevents people from using public transport? People from those organisations do not understand the value of a proper day’s work.
People physically preventing a printing press from operating because they disagree with the editorial position of that publication is another example of serious disruption. These people talk of freedoms yet attack freedom of speech and the freedom of our press, including titles such as The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the London Standard. This is not just an attack on them, but on all our media.
Our freedoms are precious and we must do everything we can to ensure that freedom is enjoyed by all and not hijacked by these groups. This Bill, using sensible, fair and proportionate measures, will set us on a course to do just that.
Please may I too send my deepest sympathies to Sarah Everard’s family and friends? Also, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
There is much to commend in this Bill, which dots several i’s and crosses several t’s with regard to our manifesto. We hear a lot about rights; now it is time for responsibilities.
Following the unhappy circumstances surrounding the vigil for Sarah Everard, there is concern over the extension of police powers, and the new laws regarding public order must be scrupulously monitored and sparingly used. I mention this with the vigil in mind, where the police were caught between a rock and a hard place as they attempted to balance laws passed to control a pandemic and an outpouring of grief that those who attended the vigil wanted to share. It highlighted to me what happens when the police lose the consent of the people, which only reinforces how important it is for laws affecting public order to be proportionate, clear and reasonable. To that extent, I was reassured when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated in her speech that these new powers are aimed at preventing protesters from stopping people going to work or closing a city like London for days on end. This new style of protest appears to be the norm today, and no responsible Government can sit idly by.
Let me move on to other aspects of the Bill. I am 100% in support of doubling the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months to two years in prison. I sincerely hope that this deterrent also applies to inmates who assault prison officers. For too long, a lack of any real deterrent has seen this forgotten army subjected to acts of violence that are totally unacceptable—and it is not just physical violence. Female prison officers, in particular, are vulnerable to being “potted”—a degrading and revolting assault where human excrement is emptied on their heads.
As a former soldier, I find the damage to and desecration of war memorials a particularly heinous and cowardly crime. Whatever one’s view on a particular subject, it does not give the right to tear down statues. I agree that monetary value should not be a factor in sentencing because these memorials are, quite literally, priceless.
I welcome the toughening of the law on trespass. Rural crime is a significant problem, and this promise in our manifesto will help to combat a small and unruly element who think they can operate outside the law.
Finally, I like the idea of secure schools as an alternative to jail for troubled young people—at least, I assume that is the aim. Their success will depend to a large extent on who runs them and how they are operated. I recall the attempt to introduce bootcamps, which fell at the first fence. However, there is no doubt that a period of discipline within a well-organised structure would do no harm.
Tomorrow night I shall be voting for the Bill, which will be welcomed by the law-abiding silent majority.
It is a pleasure to be back here physically to speak.
A Government’s first duty is always to protect their people, and this flagship Bill will ensure that our justice system will always serve the law-abiding majority. It is timely after recent events as it emphasises that this Government put women’s safety front and centre. The Bill lengthens jail time for serious sexual offenders and prevents their early release. It keeps those most horrific individuals who rape or sexually assault children in jail for longer too.
We should consider this Bill in the context of the second major piece of legislation that will protect women—the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which introduces new provisions to ban the rough sex defence and extends the law against revenge pornography, as well as creating the specific new offence of non-fatal strangulation. This is flagship policy making. I am proud of a Government who since 2010 have put women’s safety at the heart of their policy making.
The way to test any Bill passed by Government is on whether it changes things for the better for people. This Bill will do just that. It delivers important manifesto commitments, including ensuring that serious violent and sexual offenders spend more of their sentence in prison, increasing to life the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, increasing sentences for desecrating a war memorial, doubling the sentence for assaulting an emergency worker, and enabling prisoners who become dangerous to spend all their sentence in prison. It also makes sure that more repeat knife offenders and burglars serve the specified minimum jail term. Every stabbing creates a trail of misery, and often devastated families when it ends a life, as in the case of my constituent Ryan Passey.
I welcome the strengthening of police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. That will be particularly welcome for my residents in Withymoor Village in Amblecote. I fully recognise that everyone has the right to a nomadic life, but this must be balanced against the rights of local communities. For me, the balance has never been quite right, and we needed greater police powers. The Bill delivers just that, for which I thank the Government enormously. It will change things for the better for my constituents. Police will now have the powers to seize vehicles and arrest or fine trespassers who intend to reside on private and public land without permission. Yet Opposition Members attack plans for criminal penalties for those who refuse to leave unauthorised encampments as discriminatory and unworkable. Once again, they show themselves to be on the side of those who break the law rather than the law-abiding.
With this new Bill, we will have more tools at our disposal than ever before to protect our residents. I support it for all that it delivers. It will make my community in Stourbridge safer. After listening to this debate, my concern is that those who vote against the vital measures in the Bill will be putting a day’s headline or strapline ahead of the safety of my constituents, particularly that of women.
Since 2009, the armed forces’ next of kin have been given the Elizabeth Cross if a family member has been killed in action as a result of terrorism. The award is obviously named after Her Majesty the Queen. I believe that such an award should now also be made to the police, fire officers and members of the ambulance service. I suppose that it would be appropriate to link them all together as blue-light services.
The national police memorial on the Mall lists almost 5,000 police officers who have been killed while on duty since records began. Most recently, during the troubles in Northern Ireland, 319 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were killed; and since 2001, 16 Police Service of Northern Ireland officers have been murdered. Since 2010, 11 Metropolitan police officers have also been killed here in London. It is difficult to get consolidated lists of firefighters who have been killed doing their duty, but at least 69 died between 1986 and 2017. Ambulance personnel who have died in the line of duty have normally been hit by vehicles when attending casualties, and figures are difficult to get—yet it happens.
Maybe, with the approval of the Queen, we might be able to call this award the “Charles Cross”. After all, His Royal Highness Prince Charles is patron of the National Police Memorial Day. Frankly, I believe it would be a thoroughly appropriate name for such an award. I suppose the scheme might be expanded to include the air ambulance and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which are really part of the blue-light fraternity of emergency services. I suggest that the award should go no further than that. I believe such an award to be utterly proper and decent, and it may indeed give close family members of those who have lost their lives protecting the rest of us some solace and perhaps not a little pride when they wear such a decoration.
I prepared a one-minute speech, but I will try to stretch it to two minutes. The constituents of North East Bedfordshire will welcome this Bill. They will particularly welcome the fact that it begins with the police covenant, which codifies our responsibility to recognise the obligations and sacrifices of our police officers. They will very much welcome the end of automatic early release, but I must say to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies): he should see this as the start, not the end, of ending automatic release, so that the public understand that sentences mean what they say.
My constituents will particularly welcome the actions on illegal encampments, which are a blight for so many in the countryside and urban areas. On the issue of policing demonstrations, let us listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) said and take more responsibility for ourselves in setting the laws, rather than the obligations of the police for policing them. I welcome the sensitivity in the Bill in terms of the interactions of young people with our justice system. If we can get that right, it will preclude many faults later on.
It is welcome that we have clause 164, which at last recognises that deaf people can have access to British Sign Language interpreters. For hundreds of years, we have recognised that every citizen in this country is entitled to a jury of their peers, and now those juries can include our deaf citizens as well as everybody else. Finally, I believe, in all generosity, that Labour Members have made a terrible mistake in opposing the Bill, and neither my constituents nor theirs will ever understand the reasons why.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned—(Michael Tomlinson.).
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2021
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Act 2021
Contingencies Fund Act 2021.