[2nd Allotted Day]
Question (15 March) again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before we resume the debate, I want to remind the House of what was said yesterday 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 of the identity of those against whom charges have been brought that might affect any subsequent court case.
I have decided to select the reasoned amendment in the name of the Official Opposition and I will call David Lammy to move their reasoned amendment when he comes to speak later in the debate.
I remind all hon. Members, whether they are participating remotely or otherwise, that there is a three-minute limit on all contributions. For those participating remotely, there is a timer on the bottom righthand corner of the device that you are utilising. If, for whatever reason, you cannot see that, please ensure that you have another timing device because we have to be very strict. Not everyone will get in today, quite clearly, so please do not push the limit beyond three minutes. For those participating physically, the timer will be demonstrated in the usual manner.
How often have we heard the notion that somehow liberty is an integral part of the English character, and that we fortunate few in this country are somehow different from the rest of humanity? Not for us authoritarianism, autocracy or, God forbid, the dark slide into fascism. No, no, no—that is for other people and other countries, not us. Yet here we stand, yet again with yet another Bill from this Government stripping the people of this country of yet more liberty and more of their democratic rights.
English exceptionalism is a dangerous fallacy, none more so than when it comes to the constant vigilance required of any democracy. It is hubris of the first order—one I fear has infected those on the Government Benches. The potential for the slide into authoritarianism and worse is, as history has clearly demonstrated, part of the human condition. That is the painful and bloody lesson from the 20th century. Yet here we are, with this Bill before us. It is the tip of an authoritarian iceberg—one that is on a collision course with public defiance.
Democracy is being swept away in a calculated programme to leave the public muted and powerless. We have the demonisation of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community, a planned voter suppression Bill to strip the right to vote from black and other disadvantaged communities, and the limiting of judicial review to stop the public challenging the Government’s decisions in court and shifting yet more power to the Executive. We have the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which creates a two-tier, “them and us” system of human rights. Now, having passed that, the Government are coming for our rights with a review of UK human rights legislation.
Those on the Government Benches are fast moving from becoming a Government to becoming a regime. They want to stifle dissent, so that they are not accountable to the public. Our country—our economy, our politics and our media—is controlled by a small clique of individuals. Over the past 40 years, they have taken more power for themselves at the expense of our democracy. Now they are not even happy with us clinging on to the scraps we currently have.
I have directed this speech at Government Members, but to those on my own Front Bench who have finally been brought to the right position of opposition, I say this: it should not have taken the police assault on people gathered peacefully in memory of Sarah Everard to see the assault on democracy that this Bill is. It is writ large, so let this be a wake-up call. We have never seen anything like this Government before.
If the Bill goes through, anyone who values their democratic rights must get organised and fight back. I will stand with protesters, irrelevant of the laws passed by this place. I say to anyone in this place and outside who values democracy that we must create a democracy that is fit for purpose for the challenges we face—climate and ecological breakdown, the epidemic of inequality—
May I start by joining colleagues in expressing my condolences to the friends and family of Sarah Everard?
I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I am particularly pleased that it delivers on three promises that I made in two Departments: stronger police powers and a new criminal offence around unauthorised Traveller camps; putting the police covenant on the statute book and completing the public health approach to serious violence.
Given the short time I have, I will focus my remarks on child sexual abuse and exploitation. I want to leave Members in no doubt that we are facing an epidemic in child sexual abuse, the severity of which has left me crushed at times. Although the Government are doing outstanding work, it is clear that there are still inadequacies and blind spots enabling predators to operate undetected for decades. That is why for the best part of a year, I have been leading an inquiry into child sexual abuse and exploitation with the Centre for Social Justice. Although the findings will not be published until later this month, I am grateful that the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary have taken an interest in this work and have included some of the initial recommendations in the Bill.
I am particularly pleased that the Bill will close a loophole in the law that allows sports coaches and other people in positions of trust to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds who are in their care. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for the excellent work she did to bring that about.
I also welcome the fact that those serving an SOPC—sentence for offenders of particular concern—for a child sex offence will be made to serve two thirds of their sentence before they are eligible for parole.
These changes will make a difference, but we need to go further. It is difficult to believe that only 4% of child sexual abuse offences result in a charge or summons—to put that another way, when the police record a child sexual abuse offence, more than nine times out of 10, the perpetrator is not brought to justice—or that sentencing guidelines recommend the same punishment for stealing a bicycle worth £500 and viewing the rape of a child.
Lenient sentences make poor deterrents, and they say to victims that society does not take the damage that is done to them seriously enough. That is why I urge the Government to consider three further measures: first, including online offences in the SOPC scheme; secondly, moving to a presumption of cumulative sentencing; and thirdly, asking the Sentencing Council to undertake a full review. It is only when we take the scourge of child sexual abuse seriously that we will start to make sure that the punishment truly fits the crime.
I join others across the House in extending my sincere condolences to the family and friends and all affected by the horrific murder of Sarah Everard last week.
The House has heard many passionate speeches objecting to certain aspects of the Bill that impose disproportionate restrictions on our freedom of expression and right to protest. Those are fundamental human rights and a cornerstone of our democracy, and they must be protected. I totally support those objections to the restriction of our liberties. The right to peacefully protest on any issue must not be interfered with by the Government.
Part 2, chapter 1 of the Bill deals with duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. Specifically, it places a legal duty on local authorities, police, criminal justice agencies, health authorities, fire and rescue services and others to collaborate through sharing data and intelligence with one another to prevent and reduce serious violence and a duty to plan together to prevent and reduce such violence. In particular, they must identify the kinds of serious violence that occur, identify the causes of that violence and prepare and implement a strategy to prevent and reduce violence. Without any doubt, it is imperative that the impact of violence by men against women, the prevalence of that violence—particularly domestic violence and sexual violence—controlling and coercive behaviour by men and the impact on the community are included in that strategy to reduce violence against women and girls.
I want to highlight the outstanding work of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, funded by the Scottish Government. It has reduced homicides in Scotland from 137 over a number of years to 64 last year, using an innovative, proactive public health partnership approach to violence reduction, driven by the conviction that violence is preventable and not inevitable. A number of police services across England and Wales have sought advice from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and are at varying stages of setting up similar schemes.
It is therefore very welcome that the Bill will pave the way for the police service and other agencies to adopt schemes and strategies based on that model, which has proven to be highly successful. That approach must be included in the formal strategy mentioned by the Home Secretary yesterday for the reduction of all forms of violence by men against women and girls. This will, of course, come at a significant cost, but whatever that cost is, we simply cannot afford not to take this action, as by not doing so, we will continue to fail to protect women and girls now and in the future. We must act, and we must act now.
Thank you for your kind words, Mr Deputy Speaker. Time is exceptionally limited, so I shall keep my remarks short, but like others, I wish to extend my condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard.
I welcome this Bill, which draws on our manifesto commitment to make the country safer by equipping the police with the powers needed to protect themselves and the public, while strengthening sentencing laws to keep serious sexual and violent offenders in prison for longer. It is unfortunate that recent events have overshadowed the good intentions of the copious measures in this Bill, and I share the views of those in the House and outside it that we need to do more to protect women and girls. Why should we be afraid to walk somewhere or even exercise after dark? But, rather than trying to kill off the Bill, we should be working cross-party to strengthen it to that end.
I am a supporter of the police and I am afraid that I do not think we stand up for them often enough in this place. We read about the occasions when they misjudge or mishandle things, but we do not read about the 99% of the time where they silently get on with keeping us safe. Like all other key workers, our police officers have continued to work throughout the pandemic on the frontline, often being spat at and assaulted. I have many police officers living in my constituency and I am a proud aunt of a policeman. The measures in the Bill will better protect them and other emergency workers, not least by doubling the maximum sentence for assault on emergency workers, which is much overdue.
I am delighted that the Bill includes measures to extend the positions of trust provisions to include those who coach, teach, train or supervise in sport or religion. This has been a long process, but I am exceptionally grateful that this Home Secretary and Justice Secretary have listened to me, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and, most importantly, the brave victims who spoke out about the abuse that they suffered at the hands of their coach or religious leader. The need for change has finally been accepted.
There is so much that I could speak about in this 296-page Bill, but I just want to mention two things. First, my local council very much welcomes the Bill’s provisions that deal with illegal encampments, but Medway Council has requested that an amendment is added that gives local authorities the powers to seek recovery costs for the damage caused. As challenging as this may be in practice, concerting the power that enables them to do so is something that I am willing to table, and I hope that the Government will seek to support it. The second point, which was raised eloquently yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), is the need for a specific offence and stronger punishment for pet theft. There has been an extraordinary and worrying rise in the theft of dogs, and many of my constituents are fearful for their beloved pets, so using this Bill as an opportunity to strengthen protections is essential.
Given the time, let me conclude by saying that there is so much more that I could add, but this is a good Bill, albeit with plenty of scope for improvement and for new things to be added to it. First and foremost, I look forward to supporting it in the Lobby tonight.
I join others in expressing my condolences. This Bill continues the authoritarian drift of this Government. First, we had the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which basically gives immunity to people abroad serving our country who committed torture. Then we had immunity given to state agents breaking the law in our country, including the crime of rape. Now we have clause 59 of the Bill, which proposes a 10-year jail sentence for causing the risk of “serious annoyance”—those are the words in the Bill. Note that is not even for causing “annoyance”, but for causing the risk that there may be annoyance. There are many things with which we might risk causing annoyance every day, but it is only in dictatorships or repressive regimes that such actions are subject to drastic sentencing.
This Government claim to have their roots in libertarianism and, of course, they are champions of liberty, but it is liberty only for the powerful and the wealthy, the “get rich quick” merchants and the spivs, those whose freedoms allow them to cause all kinds of annoyance—firing decent, hard-working employees and then rehiring them on worse conditions and paying poverty wages. Now we have a new freedom—the freedom to bung multimillion-pound taxpayer contracts to mates in the private sector. They have set their sights on our tradition of dissent, because their legislation is designed to crack down on our rights to take action against injustice. Black Lives Matter activists, workers who take industrial action, environmentalists and the women’s movement are all in their sights.
My hon. Friend and I have organised and been on many peaceful protests together. The measures in this Bill are so regressive that, under them, surely some of those protests that we have been on would have ended up in scenes like those we saw on Clapham common, with us and others being arrested. This shows that peaceful protest is not safe under the remit of the Bill.
I have indeed worked many times with my hon. Friend on all kinds of activities. What the Government have in their sights are the ancient rights of assembly and freedom of association, which are now threatened by clause 59. The fundamental right to free speech means nothing if these other freedoms come under attack. We may end up with a situation in which we are free to shout at the telly in the privacy of our own homes but not free to organise ourselves collectively in public.
It is not as if our country has done away with all forms of injustice and inequality, is it? Yet instead of standing against injustice alongside, for example, the women on Clapham common the other night, the Government appear to be more interested in empowering the police force to arrest people who the state judges to have risked causing annoyance. It is interesting that many police officers have said that they do not wish that power to be bestowed upon them.
This House of Commons should be a beacon of liberty—a protector of our rights to speak, associate freely and assemble in public to express our reservations about how the country is going. Repressive legislation will never eliminate the thirst and hunger for justice that remains so powerful in our country today. It is the duty of the Commons to stand up this evening and reject this Bill.
The first duty of any Government is to protect members of the public from harm, and I welcome the swift progress that the Government have made on that. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Government have beaten the target of recruiting 6,000 extra officers by March 2021 and are ahead of schedule to recruit, as promised, 20,000 more police officers by 2023. With a new cohort of police officers protecting our communities, we should give them the protection that they need to do the job to the best of their ability.
At a time when we are battling an invisible enemy—the coronavirus—our exceptional frontline workers should not be at risk of violence from the very people they are trying to protect. I am glad that the Government have shown that they will not tolerate such attacks and are legislating to double the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months to two years in prison—the penalty that fits such an abhorrent and selfish crime.
At a time when we have been tragically reminded of the senseless violence perpetrated against women and girls, it is important that our communities are protected from the most serious offenders. A previous Labour Government introduced automatic early release at the halfway point; we are legislating to ensure that that stops and that those convicted of the most serious violent and sexual offences must serve at least two thirds of their sentence before parole is considered.
I welcome the fact that more robust sentences for the worst offenders will be combined with greater efforts to rehabilitate. For offenders stuck in the revolving door of crime there will be things such as electronic monitoring tags to ensure that long and restrictive curfews are adhered to. Sobriety tags, which were first piloted here in Lincolnshire, will ensure that individuals comply with alcohol abstinence orders. Such measures will ensure that once criminals have left custody, robust monitoring is still in place both to stop further harm and to break the cycle of reoffending.
I am pleased to see that those who use their car as a weapon will receive longer sentences, but as we increase sentences for careless driving I look to the Minister for reassurance that we will not criminalise those who have a momentary lapse in concentration—something most of us experience at some point.
Burglary is a particularly invasive crime that many of my constituents fear, and it leaves people feeling unsafe in their home. Will the Minister consider increasing sentences for those who commit this particularly invasive crime?
The Bill represents a significant strengthening of our judicial system, with the flexibility to tackle both serious crime and the causes of crime. I am proud to see this Government delivering on their manifesto commitment to empower our judicial system and make our country safer, and I will support the Bill today.
This monster of a Bill includes the word “women” zero times in 295 pages, yet statutes, war memorials and monuments are mentioned multiple times.
The Bill is likely to go into Committee, so it is then that I will seek to improve it by tabling an amendment to prohibit the long-standing and continual, daily harassment and intimidation of women at abortion facilities. Every year, 100,000 women across England and Wales who try to exercise their right to a termination are told that they are going to hell, filmed, followed and given propaganda that is inevitably medically wrong and unwanted. That is not healthy, noisy protest but the shaming of individual vulnerable women for decisions taken perhaps as a result of rape or similar. It is gendered harassment, which is not included in the Bill but overlaps with part 3—the explanatory notes talk about
“disruption to the life of the community”
“the purpose of the organiser is to intimidate others into doing or not doing something that they have a right to do”.
Many women will have recognised what the Home Secretary said yesterday about how we all too often quicken our pace or grab our keys or phone in uncomfortable street encounters. Factor in being booked for a time-sensitive medical operation and there is no easy escape. This intimidatory activity is calculated to make women cancel their appointment or, at the very best, rebook it for when those people are not there. There is unpredictability and inconsistency: only three local authorities have gone down the byelaw route of local public space protection orders. This cannot continue; it is unequal access to justice, if nothing else.
When I asked the Health Secretary in this Chamber for his opinion on anti-vaxxers, he told me that no one’s access to legal medicine should be barred or prevented. By lumping such a measure in with prosecuting sports coaches who groom teams, criminalising already-persecuted Traveller lifestyles and introducing excessive sentences for toppling statues, the Government are inevitably going to accuse those who oppose the Bill of being soft on sex offenders, which is really disappointing.
Harassment of women is objectively wrong; it is surely not party political. Indeed, the cross-party will of the House is behind such a measure. The last time my private Member’s Bill was put to a vote in June, the House voted for it by 213 to 47. I even had Government Members on the payroll coming up to me all day saying, “Good on you, I wish we could have voted for this too.” So it is high time we updated what is being done in common law and put into statute, followed Canada—
Given the recent focus on violence against women and the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has increased physical and sexual violence, the Bill represents an opportunity to fix oversights in the law regarding child safeguarding. It contains some welcome provisions that will protect women in the UK. However, child marriage remains an oversight, and a new clause criminalising the practice would protect vulnerable girls in this country and around the world.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, adults commit a criminal offence if they have sex with a child—defined as a person under the age of 18—with whom they are in a position of trust. Clause 45 of this Bill would extend the list of positions of trust to include sports coaches and religious figures, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). The explanatory notes state that the logic is that children are susceptible to abuse, exploitation and manipulation. If a child’s will can so easily be manipulated by those in a position of trust, with abusive consequences, why does the law allowed them to marry at the age of 16 or 17 with their parents’ consent?
In 2018, the Forced Marriage Unit recorded 1,500 cases of suspected forced marriage, 35% of which involved children under the age of 18, and since 2017, Karma Nirvana has responded to 375 calls involving child marriage. However, the true prevalence of child marriage is likely to be much greater as it often occurs in unofficial customary ceremonies. The crime of forced marriage, introduced in 2014, does not adequately protect children. The Forced Marriage Unit reports feeling unable to intervene in cases involving children because coercion is difficult to prove and vulnerable children have been groomed to appear willing. Children being groomed into child marriages often cannot understand what is happening to them and feel unable to challenge their parents. The current law effectively places the reporting obligation of a serious crime on young and vulnerable victims. For that reason, many contact charities such as Karma Nirvana only later in life when the damage has been done, so could Ministers please include a new clause in the Bill to enable us to stop child marriage in this country?
I should just like to remind those who are on the call list but who, for whatever reason, are unable to take part in the debate, please to get in touch with the Speaker’s Office as usual. That message will then get through to us. The sooner the better, please.
This Bill has provisions that I support, including whole-life orders for premeditated child murder and ending automatic early release of dangerous prisoners and sex offenders. However, the Bill also attacks, on a permanent basis, the fundamental human right of peaceful assembly. Banning gatherings, or a single person protest, on the grounds of noise or annoyance is deeply troubling. Noting the disgraceful events at Clapham Common on Saturday, I will vote against the Bill tonight.
The Bill also needs to do much more on tackling violence against all women and girls. The Government’s announcement on a council bidding process for lighting and CCTV funding does not cut the mustard. The Opposition’s reasoned amendment points out that the Bill fails to introduce a single new measure specifically designed to tackle the epidemic of violence against women. Indeed, anyone damaging a statue would receive a heavier sentence than many rapists.
I want to raise three issues that the Bill should cover. First, if Ministers are serious about protecting women, they must recognise that exchanging money, food and accommodation for sex is a form of violence. Scotland’s Government, the Crown Prosecution Service and the London Mayor recognise prostitution as violence against women. Why not this Government? Our current laws on prostitution are unfit for purpose. The UK today is a low-risk, high-profit destination for sex traffickers and pimps. Pimping websites operate openly and legally. Women are subjected to sexual exploitation by men, who face no criminal sanction. We must bust the business model of this modern slavery, cracking down on online pimping, deterring sex-buyers and supporting victims. I will be tabling cross-party amendments to introduce laws that support women and hold men accountable.
Secondly, pornography websites currently profit from exposing children to misogynistic violent pornography, fostering attitudes that underpin violence against women. We need the Government to take action on that.
Finally, we must join the dots. Individual incidents of violence against women are often not random, one-off or unconnected. Effective prevention of violence requires early intervention. We need a way to flag up where low-level sexual offences are often the gateway to potential serious escalation. Libby Squire was raped and murdered in Hull by a man who had, for 18 months prior to attacking Libby, wandered the streets committing sexual acts of indecent exposure, voyeurism and burglary of underwear and sex toys. Many offences were not reported, but even if they had been, the current law would not have dealt with the underlying problem.
In conclusion, violence against women is endemic, but also preventable. In remembering Libby Squire, Sarah Everard and many others, we need deeds from this Government, not words.
What a rare treat to be able to speak in the Chamber.
One of my colleagues said earlier that the primary role of Government is to keep people safe: to keep those who are the law-abiding majority safe, those who want to do the right thing and those who simply just want to get on with their lives. We made commitments in our 2019 manifesto on law and order. This substantial Bill fills many holes and codifies some loose ends of common law interpretations, but mainly it protects the public whom we are here to serve. There are a number of features in the Bill and I just want to highlight a few in the time available.
Whole-life orders, as the starting point for premeditated child murder, has to be right. The prevention of automatic early release of serious, violent and sexual offenders has to be right. The public, for too many years, have wondered of what madness we have had that that was not so.
The doubling of the maximum sentence to two years for assaulting emergency workers, again, has to be right. These people have worked hard for us over the past year. Too often, we hear stories of them being spat at and abused during the covid period. We have spoken about the protection of victims and witnesses over many years, but finally Kay’s law, as it has been called, will mean that victims will be able to play a part in the bail conditions that the police impose.
Strengthening powers to tackle protests that cause significant disruption to the public is the area that seems to have got a lot of people exercised over the past few days. What we saw at Clapham Common was an unedifying scene, but it was not a result of this Bill or where we are at the moment. It was a result of the draconian covid legislation that I have not supported throughout but, strangely, Labour has. This Bill does not attempt to stop protest—far from it, and I would not be supporting it if it were, because I quite enjoy a good protest.
Very importantly, the Bill criminalises trespass to tackle unauthorised encampments. I can imagine that hardly any, if any, hon. Members or right hon. Members in this House have not had communities that have had to bear the cost of such unauthorised damage, cost to the local taxpayer, and often a “couldn’t care less” attitude by those who conduct it. The Bill also backs up our significant commitment to deliver 20,000 new police officers, and some of the excellent work in disrupting county lines and action against drugs in general.
I will support the Bill this evening, and I am somewhat intrigued that Her Majesty’s Opposition are opposed to it at this stage, but there seem to be more flip-flops than on a summer holiday.
This is a broad and significant Bill. There are many areas that I would like to discuss, but I have only three minutes, so I will concentrate on the long overdue changes relating to illegal Traveller camping.
My constituency has a number of legitimate Traveller sites. The relationship between the settled communities and the so-called Travellers on official sites is generally harmonious. Surrey County Council and Surrey District and Borough Councils are in the process of setting up a transit site, with facilities, for Travellers. All this is very different from the frequent illegal Traveller invasions. Surrey has had hundreds of these incidents, and my constituency has more than its fair share. Over recent years, the numbers of these illegal land-squatting camps have increased. If access is inhibited by barriers, gates or any form of obstruction, they are broken down or removed, and generally damaged. The Travellers then squat on-site regardless of the ownership, be it common land, parkland, farmland, private land or even a school playground. I note that a number of Members are opposed to change and would prefer that this remained a civil matter. That approach has been an absolute, abysmal failure, with considerable financial loss to the local community or the landowners. The legislative change criminalising this type of illegal camping is exceptionally welcome and has been long awaited. It is for the protection of local people—my constituents.
I note that in certain circumstances a fine can be imposed. Considering the phenomenal mess of human detritus and general waste, often including hardcore, that is almost without exception left behind when the illegal occupiers are removed, it would be helpful if some form of recompense for the cost of returning the site to its pre-invasion state could be available. I realise that that would be technically possible using the Compensation Act 2006, but this would need civil action requiring identification and service of notice on individuals who will have already moved and be able to claim that the mess was no fault of theirs. Hence, I wonder if it would be possible to require the site that has been occupied illegally to be returned to its previous state or to apply an appropriate cost to those who are abusing the site.
There is much in this Bill that I like, but this particular change will be overwhelmingly welcomed by an enormous number of my constituents who have been abused by these people over many years.
I am grateful to be called in this debate. I wish to place on record my thanks to the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for meeting me to discuss this Bill. The scale of the Bill, the wide-ranging import of its provisions and indeed the two days set aside for the Second Reading debate all indicate the magnitude of what is contained within it.
First, I wish to indicate my support for the provisions that directly apply to Northern Ireland. The ability to access information from encrypted devices, the ability to take samples from human remains, changes to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and mutual recognition across our United Kingdom are all welcome provisions that will assist in the fight against serious crime. Ministers are aware that I have raised my concern that, although they are not part of this Bill, unexplained wealth orders, provided for in the Criminal Finances Act 2017, have not yet commenced in Northern Ireland, despite our Department of Justice seeking a commencement order.
With paramilitarism and organised crime still having a significant impact in Northern Ireland generally, and in my constituency of East Belfast particularly, we need immediate progress on this issue. I am prepared to table amendments to the Bill if necessary, though I am somewhat assuaged to hear that progress may come in the next week or two. I would therefore be extremely grateful if confirmation of that could be given from the Dispatch Box this evening.
Separately, the House is well aware of the strength of feeling following the abhorrent murder of Sarah Everard so I am pleased that the Bill will increase the time served in prison from half to two-thirds of the sentence as a minimum for the most serious sexual offences. It will bring in provisions on abuse of positions of trust and enact Kay’s law with greater protections linked to pre-charge bail.
Finally, and regretfully, I rail against in the strongest possible terms the overarching sweeping and draconian provisions on protests. I have heard what the Government’s intention is, but the loose and lazy way the legislation is drafted would make a dictator blush. Protests will be noisy. Protests will disrupt. No matter how offensive we may find the issue at their heart, the right to protest should be protected.
Unless we wish to proceed with societal constraints that permit only graceful, genteel and humble protest, I urge the Government to indicate that they accept the strength of feeling on this issue, that they will work with colleagues across the House to amend the provisions significantly, and that they will not proceed without publishing guidance underpinned by statute on the operative implications.
I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all colleagues a happy St Patrick’s Day for tomorrow.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a huge portmanteau Bill. It contains proposals that I would sum up as the good, the bad and the ugly. The good includes measures that give particular protection to emergency service workers from assault, the problem-solving courts pilot, and long overdue reform of the criminal records disclosure regime. The bad is the Government’s appalling assault on the right to protest and free assembly, which is causing concern and alarm across the House, including from the former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who expressed her misgivings about this in no uncertain terms yesterday.
The ugly is the complete absence from the Bill of any coherent attempt to protect the freedom of women and girls to live their lives free of harassment and violence. Clause 46 further criminalises assaults on statues by increasing the maximum penalty for such vandalism to a scarcely believable 10 years in jail. The Government’s obsession with using the law to stoke a culture war by giving more protection to inanimate statutes than to living people is an abuse.
Clauses 54 to 60 are a premeditated attack on the right to assemble and protest, which is the cornerstone of our democracy. While Ministers purport to be the defenders of our rights and freedoms, the Bill diminishes both. It extends already wide powers to police demonstrations much further, by creating new offences and new criteria that can be used to close down protest. The Bill seeks to place draconian limits on the method, location and even the noise demonstrators will in future be allowed to make if they are to remain lawful.
Apparently demonstrators are henceforth to be seen but not heard, like children in a particularly reactionary Victorian novel; yet the whole point of demonstrations is precisely to draw attention to injustice and give voice to issues that have been ignored. Democracy can be loud and messy sometimes—that is the point of it—so the Bill must be amended to preserve the freedom of assembly and the right to protest.
The real issue that the Bill should address is the mess that the Government have made of the justice and courts system. There is currently a backlog of 56,000 cases in the Crown courts, which means four years to wait for a trial. Justice delayed is surely justice denied. Since 2015, the percentage of recorded crime that reaches the court has halved. Rape convictions are down to just 2% of cases reported, and while domestic violence has soared in lockdown, convictions have fallen off a cliff. The Government would do better to run the existing court system efficiently and effectively before they come to the House with the new laws contained in the Bill.
I will be supporting this important piece of legislation, which delivers on our manifesto pledge. It covers many important elements, and during my contribution I will have time to address only some of them. First, may I associate myself with the comments about Sarah Everard? My thoughts are with her loved ones.
I am not a lawyer, but there are many learned hon. Members of this House, and it is worth noting that the Law Society supports the overall ambition of this substantial Bill to tackle crime, support the police and build safer communities. Going into detail, one of the bits I particularly want to highlight is clause 46. Following an excellent campaign by my hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), with the private Member’s Bill on the desecration of war memorials, it is good to see this measure included in the Bill. It is not just about war memorials; it includes roadside memorials and gravestones as well.
On part 3 on public order and the right to protest, it is worth reiterating that the police response does need to be proportionate. I would cast the House’s memory back to six months ago when we all saw images on social media of an ambulance trying to access St Thomas’s and not being able to do so. The other theme worth highlighting on this particular issue is that there have been effects on freedom of the press with print media not being able to print.
Part 4 on unauthorised encampments—clause 61 onwards—is a really important piece of legislation. I know of many colleagues who have campaigned on this particular provision for many years. It will make trespass a criminal offence, and it has a significant effect on law-abiding communities. I would echo the comments made by others in the House that civil actions have not been a suitable avenue of discouraging poor behaviour. Clause 62, which changes the period of no return from three months to 12 months, targets the bad apples, and I think it is a welcome addition.
Finally, part 7 on sentencing and release is a really important piece of legislation that gives the law-abiding citizens of our country the confidence that those found guilty of heinous crimes will have a proportionate sentence. Clause 108 on referring to the Parole Board in place of automatic release is another aspect that is well worth mentioning.
In summing up, this Bill will be warmly welcomed by law-abiding citizens. It offers increased protection to those who protect us, it increases the options available to the courts to ensure that sentences are in line with the offence and it ensures that disruptive behaviour is actively discouraged.
On the day the Parliament of Scotland seeks to place the United Nations convention on the rights of the child at the heart of our nation’s legal system, the British Parliament seeks to criminalise thousands of Gypsy and Traveller children for daring with their families, in the 21st century, to live their traditional and historic way of life. Imprinted on vellum, this archaic legislation will enshrine centuries of resentment, bigotry and racism, entrenching inequalities and proscribing specific ethnic groups, even against the advice of the police forces of England. It is a law that facilitates the narrative of exclusion, well exposed in recent weeks when Dochertys like me, merely for being from the Traveller community, are excluded from the life of the state.
As a Scottish constituency MP, I see this is a direct attack on the Scottish Traveller community, which this Parliament refuses to recognise as a distinct ethnic group—Scots who will be at the mercy of Dickensian attitudes, and exposed to imprisonment and financial ruin by the mother of Parliaments. As the co-chair of the all-party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, I see this as a misguided, reprehensible attack on the ancient and historic rights of the nomadic peoples of these islands. It is clear that England’s green and pleasant lands are not for the likes of us, and the Conservative and Unionist party does not give a damn who knows it.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate and to support this vital legislation. At the outset of my remarks, I too would like to set on record my deep sympathy for the family and friends of Sarah Everard—what happened last week was the most appalling story, and it will cast a lasting shadow for many of us as we reflect on these issues today and, indeed, in the years ahead.
This legislation matters because it is about the Conservative party delivering on our promise to the public to cut crime and ensure that we have tougher sentencing for some of the most violent criminals in our society, and I find myself genuinely astonished at the attitude of Opposition parties in opposing it.
I want to address the two main grounds being relied on by the official Opposition to justify its stance. First, there are the provisions to stop some of the most extreme tactics of protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion, which go too far. I well remember the tactics of Extinction Rebellion and the misery they brought to hundreds of thousands of people across the capital and elsewhere. Blocking roads so that ambulances cannot pass, because people are glued to the ground, is not a legitimate tactic for protest. The right to protest is fundamental, but it is not unqualified. We have to balance all rights and responsibilities in our society against the rights and liberties of our fellow citizens, and the tactics that have been deployed have clearly gone too far.
The second ground that Labour relies on is that the Bill is not ambitious enough in its protection of women and girls, and some of the remarks by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) sum up the damaging things that are being said about this legislation, which will undermine public confidence and are, in fact, simply wrong. She spoke about statutes being attacked, as though they were some kind of worthless thing to defend. I would defend our heritage on its own terms, but, of course, the relevant provision is also about protecting gravestones, for example, from being desecrated; it is not just about statues.
The hon. Lady also said that we had not taken action on protecting people from harassment. Well, the Government have taken action on stalking, and they introduced a 10-year sentence for it recently. That is something I am very proud of, and it should not be forgotten. It has added to a very strong record on the protection of women’s rights, on issues from forced marriage to strangulation to coercive control. We should be proud of all of that, because this Government care deeply. The Bill strengthens those provisions further, from ending early release for serious sex offenders, to stricter pre-charge bail conditions, to measures on the abuse of positions of trust and on arranging or facilitating child sex abuse. This is really important legislation, and that should not be forgotten.
That all goes to show how far the Labour party has drifted from the values of its traditional heartlands. In places such as Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, it is not just that local people feel ignored and taken for granted by the Opposition, but that they now feel actively betrayed by them. This legislation is a litmus test about values, and it deserves the full support of the House today.
In any legislation, any of us on any of these Benches can always find some good, and this legislation is no different. For example, there are the measures on providing protection from being abused by adults in positions of trust and the measures on dangerous driving, as well as the increase in sentences for those who assault our emergency workers. However, this legislation is a curate’s egg, and what little good there is in it is overwhelmed and infected by the bad. It breaches the covenant between us in Parliament and the public about the consent that is part of a free, fair and equal society.
All of us recognise that it is time for some reform of how public order is managed in this country. The scenes of chaos that we saw on Saturday are a clear embodiment of that. The trust between the police and women, particularly in London, has been broken—trust that many communities have not had in the police for some time—but this legislation will do little to heal those relationships.
I will be honest: I have a long list of things that cause me “severe annoyance”. Some, Members may agree with; many, they probably would not. However, I pity the commanding officer trying to enforce this legislation if it becomes law and trying to explain decisions around severe annoyance. The legislation is simply unworkable. I am also ashamed to be part of a Parliament that is seeking to demonise a minority community in the measures being brought forward around Gypsy and Traveller communities—measures, indeed, that the police themselves have said they do not wish to see.
The public have to be able to tell us when we are getting something wrong. Sometimes that message is noisy and messy, but it is important that we do not seek to silence it no matter how uncomfortable it might make us feel. This legislation seeks to do that.
The Bill also breaches that covenant between us and the public by what it does not contain. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) does not quite understand the concern that there is no mention of women, but plenty of mention of statues. At a time when we are all concerned about the lack of action over tackling violence against women, this legislation could have been the perfect vehicle for the Government to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations on making misogyny a hate crime, but those are measures are absent. It could also have been an opportunity for the Government to recognise when they are at fault in the courts. Let me give just two examples. For the past three years, the Government have been found at fault by the courts on how they treat bereaved parents in this country and on how they treat victims of domestic violence who have a sanctuary room—they charge them the bedroom tax—but no measures have been brought forward. What respect for the courts does that show from a Government who are now seeking to reform those areas?
Human rights mean little if they cannot be actioned and if they are not upheld, even when it goes against what appears to be the Government’s interests. I urge the Government to use this legislative time for something more constructive, to work across the House, to recognise the concerns over violence against women and to uphold all our rights. We shall all regret it if they do not.
There is so much to say in such a short time. First and foremost, I wish to thank the brilliant officers of Devon and Cornwall police for their unshakeable commitment, as well as our fantastic police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez, who has done a huge amount of work, particularly around combating domestic violence and modern slavery in our region.
I am afraid that I have to take issue with some Opposition voices that have described the new measures around policing protests as dangerous and draconian. Ensuring that a protest cannot prevent an ambulance from reaching a hospital in an emergency is the exact opposite of dangerous. Ensuring that police can impose conditions on protests that are noisy enough to cause intimidation, alarm and distress to innocent bystanders is the exact opposite of draconian. As the Home Secretary said yesterday, the right to peaceful protest is the cornerstone of our democracy, and all of us in this Chamber understand and cherish that fundamental right. It does not, however, extend to causing damage to property or injury to others.
I am pleased that the Bill introduces maximum life sentences for drivers who cause death by dangerous driving or by driving under the influence of drink and drugs. I want to thank my constituents in Truro and Falmouth who, throughout my time as their Member of Parliament, have consistently highlighted the need for proper punishment of hit-and-run drivers. Unfortunately, they will be familiar with the tragic death of Ryan Saltern, a postman from Probus, a husband and a dad of young children. The man responsible for Ryan’s death left the scene and was sentenced to just four months, which was suspended for a year. He was disqualified from driving for just 12 months. Needless to say, Ryan’s family have been left devastated. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) has been working closely with Ryan’s parents, and I join him in asking Ministers to consider a new criminal offence of leaving the scene of an accident that later resulted in death. We would welcome further meetings with Ministers about this matter.
Finally, I pay tribute to the Bill for the changes that will bring about better protection for women. I am proud to sit on the Benches of a Government who have already introduced, or who are progressing the introduction of, the following measures specifically aimed at the protection of women: outlawing upskirting; creating an offence of coercive control; strengthening the ban on a rough sex defence; outlawing non-fatal strangulation; creating the offence of stalking and then doubling the maximum sentence; criminalising the sending of revenge porn images or threats to do so; introducing measures to make it easier for victims to give evidence in court; the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015; the increased funding for rape support centres by 50%—the list goes on. In addition, Cornwall Council is receiving £1.1 million of funding, which was announced last month, to ensure that domestic abuse victims and their children are able to access life-saving support.
As always, I welcome the Prime Minister’s further announcements this week of the doubling of the investment for our safer streets. There is more to do, but the Bill is a great start, and I will happily back it this evening.
This 300-page incoherent mish-mash of a Bill contains some truly odious measures, and I have time to deal with only one of them: the dangerous and unjustifiable crackdown on the freedom to protest in clauses 54 to 60. Those clauses alone are enough for me to vote against Second Reading tonight, despite the Bill containing some good measures.
This populist Government have swiftly developed a penchant for authoritarianism, born of their approach to getting the vast amount of Brexit legislation necessary through Parliament. They have got into the habit of writing framework Bills with extensive Henry VIII powers, leaving vast scope for Ministers to change primary legislation by personal fiat, without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. This trend has been made worse by the necessity to legislate swiftly for public health reasons because of covid, again with no scrutiny ahead of laws being brought into force. The coronavirus crisis has led to a draconian removal of basic liberties that is necessary temporarily for health reasons, but not for a minute to be thought of as desirable. The Government now want to make this emergency way of doing things the norm, to enable police officers to have far too much power effectively to silence any protest.
We have a Government who attack judges who decide cases in ways they do not approve of; some Law Officers who will not defend the independence of the judiciary; a Government who legislate to enable themselves to break a treaty that they have only just signed; Ministers, including the Home Secretary, who break the ministerial code with impunity, while senior civil servants they disagree with are hounded out of their jobs; and a Government who now want to take the power to ban demonstrations or vigils if they are too noisy—they are literally silencing any protest they do not like.
This legislation allows for convictions for breach of conditions that the police have imposed, even where the person on trial has no knowledge of what that condition was; it increases the punishment for such a breach from 12 weeks to 51 weeks in prison. The Home Secretary seems to have hijacked what was a worthy enough sentencing Bill to insert her divisive and polarising measures on protests. The original timetable for the Bill gave the game away. It was due to be completed in time for the police and crime commissioner elections in May. This is being done to enable the Government to claim that their political opponents are not supporting the police enough—indeed, we have already heard speeches from some Government Back Benchers claiming just that.
There has been no real focus on how the law should be changed for the good of society. For example, we have just seen how much it fails to meet the needs of women, who just want to be safe. This Bill just does not tackle any of those issues. Clauses 54 to 60 are intended to destroy the fundamental rights of citizens in our democracy to protest, and just for some cheap headlines ahead of an election. The Bill is draconian and undesirable, and the Government should not get away with enacting it.
First, I want to join in the sympathies and prayers expressed by Members from across the House to the family and friends of Sarah Everard.
I rise, virtually, to support this welcome Bill, and in the limited time I have I wish to focus on the aspects that concern violence against women, girls and children. I have been disappointed by the approach that Opposition Members have taken to this Bill, which stands in marked contrast to the constructive tone taken to the Domestic Abuse Bill. It is clear that today’s Bill takes a stride forward in protecting women and girls. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) describes the “little good” the Bill is doing. I would not describe ending the automatic halfway release of those convicted of offences such as rape, extending the law on abusing positions of trust to better protect children, better protecting victims of domestic violence and introducing tougher sentences for sex offenders as “little good”. Indeed, when this is paired with the Domestic Abuse Bill and the upcoming violence against women strategy, we see that the Government are taking concrete steps to address the many challenges we still face to make women safe in their homes and on the streets.
I also take serious issue with the conflation of maximum and minimum sentences that we have heard in the course of this debate. The maximum sentence for rape is life. That message should ring out from this Chamber. The conflation of the minimum and maximum sentences is simply a demonstration of the Opposition playing party politics on an issue that goes far beyond any point scoring in this Chamber today.
However, it is always important to look at what more we can do. I have spoken before about my long-standing concerns about the use of standard determinate sentences, particularly for rape. I welcome the action that the Government are taking to end the use of standard determinate sentences for terrorist offenders, and the power to refer high-risk offenders to the Parole Board in place of automatic release. However, the reoffending rate for sexual offenders is 14%, and we know that 84% of rape convictions are dealt with by standard determinate sentences. That means that the Parole Board is not involved at all in the release of those criminals. I think we should look at that further, to add to the already significantly increased protections that we are giving women and children as a result of this Bill—and any accusation that we are doing otherwise is false.
This is a dangerous Bill in many ways, both in what it contains and in what it omits, including in its stark failure to really tackle violence against women. I want to concentrate, in my three minutes, on the draconian threat to the right to protest.
Under this Government’s plans, protests will still be allowed, just as long as the police say so, just as long as the protests are not too noisy, just as long as they do not cause too much of a nuisance, just as long as they do not seriously annoy anyone, and just as long as they are not too near Parliament. So protests can go ahead, just as long as they do not do what protests are meant to do. And those who do not abide by the new rules could get 10 years in prison—longer than the sentences most men convicted of rape ever get.
Let us be clear: this is a political attack—an attack on people’s ability to exercise of one of their key democratic rights, an attack on one of the ways people have to speak out against Government policies they oppose, an attack on free speech. The Government have already made it much more difficult for people to go on strike, and now they want the police to make it much harder for people to protest.
Even without this new law, we have seen the state, under this Government, clamping down on democratic rights: last week, a nurse fined £10,000 after protesting against pay cuts; women at the Clapham common vigil attacked. And it goes way back: students kettled for opposing higher tuition fees; fracking activists jailed.
This Bill, written in direct response to the growth of Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, is aimed at suppressing further political opposition and dissent. Instead of tackling the underlying grievances, the state is responding by attacking those challenging injustice. It is a form of state intimidation, designed to stop people organising and attending protests, but people will not be stopped.
Throughout our history, significant gains have been won through demonstrations: eight-hour days won by the trade unions; votes for women won by the suffragettes. Such movements were always denounced at the time as violent by politicians standing on the wrong side of history. If the Government proceed, this law will be broken repeatedly, and trust between the state and its citizens further shattered.
On a sunny spring morning early on a Saturday in 2017, weeks away from the general election, I was at home, where I am now, with my then nine-year-old daughter, my wife having just left to go out with my then 11-year-old and three-month-old daughters. I looked out of the window and saw a car parked outside, with a man holding a ladder walking towards the house. We were not expecting anyone, so I went out to ask if I could help.
Things then took a sinister turn. What unfolded was an orchestrated, organised mass takeover around and on our private home, with two men forcing their way up on to our roof while others appeared with camera phones and a loudhailer as they circled our house, taking photos and video footage through the windows and broadcasting unsavoury and baseless claims about me. My nine-year-old hid upstairs while I called the police for help.
The guise of this protest was to rail against cases of children being taken into care and adopted. As the then Minister for Children, I knew that strong views on this sensitive subject came with the territory, but never in my wildest dreams believed this would ever be literal. We were forced to vacate our family home under police escort and were unable to return for three days as our roof remained occupied, save for my wife recovering some personal belongings for her and our baby with the police in attendance.
As this trespass was, in law, a civil matter, my only recourse at that stage was to apply for an injunction, unless it could be shown that a criminal offence had subsequently been committed on site. We were all left feeling helpless, intimidated, frightened and let down by the current construct of trespass and public order law. The children were confused and worried, and I ended up having to relive the whole experience in court, after which, thankfully, convictions were secured. For many months afterwards, I would still jump when a vehicle I did not recognise parked outside our house. We can all subscribe to physical non-violent protests on public land, but the mental and emotional impact on those caught up in it, especially where trespass is involved, cannot be overlooked. That is one of a number of reasons why I am very supportive of the provisions in parts 3 and 4 of the Bill.
As a former children’s Minister, I am pleased to see measures to extend definitions in relation to those who abuse positions of trust by engaging in sexual activity with minors, as well as measures establishing secure schools, preventing knife crime, promoting and improving the use of youth rehabilitation orders and others. I know that many parishes in Eddisbury will welcome the Bill’s proposals to protect our war memorials from desecration.
As the Bill goes through Committee and Report stages, there is a chance to consider what more we can do to tackle the growing and devastating scourge of pet theft, which is an emotive issue among many of my constituents. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention my private Member’s Bill to raise the retirement age of magistrates to 75, which I am delighted is now official Government policy. Is this not the perfect Bill in which to make that law?
First, may I pay my respects to the loved ones of Sarah Everard? My thoughts and prayers are with them.
Causing death by dangerous driving deserves a life sentence. That is the justice that Violet-Grace Youens’s parents deserved. Their angelic four-year-old daughter Violet-Grace was so cruelly taken from them. The family continue to tirelessly campaign and help others through the Violet’s Gift charity. Last year I was proud to co-sign the private Member’s Bill promoted by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) on this very issue. Since then, the Government have indicated that they will not support that Bill. Instead, they have included the dangerous driving changes in this far-reaching Bill before us. Unfortunately, this means that I will not be able to support the changes this time, for this Bill infringes on our very freedom and democratic rights.
Like many, I agree that protests can sometimes cause some personal annoyance. Protests can make us late for work. Protests can cause a little harm to our finances. Protests can force us to listen to views we do not agree with. But should protests be a criminal act because they cause the risk of some “serious annoyance”? I do not think so, and I am sure that most Members agree. Perhaps worse still, the Bill empowers a judge to imprison someone convicted of causing the risk of serious annoyance for 10 years.
The freedom and right to protest is the cornerstone of everything we believe in. It is the bedrock of liberal democracy. Across the world to this day, we see people taking to the streets to protest for their rights. Throughout my life, I have seen how protests have brought about change—the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more recently in Belarus and Myanmar. We have also seen where putting down protests can lead us. The Tiananmen Square protests live on in our memory. Every adult alive that day remembers that brave man walking in front of those tanks. Giving up our freedoms simply so that the Home Secretary can appear to be tough on crime is not justifiable. Doing so would be a betrayal of everything this Chamber represents.
It is a privilege to speak in this important debate. I, too, would like to extend my deepest condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for sharing his powerful personal experience to bring to life how important the changes in the Bill are.
A couple of weeks ago, a young female in my constituency started working as a police officer. On just her second shift, she was assaulted when someone spat at her. Spitting and coughing on police officers has become more common since covid-19 came into our lives. North Wales police alone recorded 100 attacks on officers including coughing and spitting or biting between February and November last year. This is part of an unacceptable trend of increased assaults against police and other emergency service workers. Of respondents to the Police Federation demand, capacity and welfare survey last year, 55% said they had been the victim of an unarmed physical attack in the previous 12 months, and in some frontline roles the figure was as high as 83%.
Since 2020, at least 30 officers have been killed while performing their duties, despite massive improvements in protective and defensive equipment. The data shows that we are living in a more violent society, and the threats to our police officers are increasing, but those who attack or assault police officers are often let off with little more than a slap on the wrist. What an offence that is to our police. I speak regularly with the police on Anglesey; I have been out with them on patrol and I helped to man the Britannia bridge with them during the first lockdown. I know how seriously they take protecting people on the island, but they tell me of the difficult and often threatening situations they handle every single day. John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation, said:
“We need officers to have the very best protection, and there must be a strong deterrent—that deterrent should be time in prison, no ifs, no buts.”
The Bill doubles the maximum sentence for those who assault police and other emergency workers.
I end by saying that I will back the Bill tonight. I applaud this Government for using the Bill to follow through on their manifesto commitment to take serious action on sentencing of those who assault our police, as part of their raft of measures to improve provision for those who serve our communities daily.
The Government admit that there is a crisis in policing, the criminal justice system and courts, and the publication of such an interminably long Bill speaks to that. Members of the public may be left wondering, given that the Conservative party has been in office for well over 10 years now, who is responsible for the multiple crises. In that time, we have had innumerable pieces of legislation on these matters—on policing, criminal justice and courts—including statutory instruments. Logically, we can conclude that none of that legislation has dealt with the admitted problems, and may even have exacerbated them.
We should not expect the outcome of this Bill to be different, because it is designed not to address fundamental problems but to infringe on our civil liberties and prosecute culture wars, with more protection for a statue than for a woman and a longer sentence for damaging public property than for sexual assault. The Bill does not even attempt to address the crisis of plummeting conviction rates for some of the most serious crimes, including rape. Reported rapes are soaring; they almost reached 60,000 last year, but barely 2,000 resulted in prosecution. The Victims’ Commissioner has spoken of the effective decriminalisation of rape in this country.
Ministers are fooling no one when their default response is to talk about tougher sentences and more police. Tougher sentences are useless if the perpetrators can reasonably expect never to be convicted. More police on the streets are a waste of time if they are instructed to prioritise guarding statues. The Bill seeks to make that style of policing commonplace, with the major focus on powers to prevent non-violent protests, such as Saturday’s vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, whose family we continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers. It follows in rapid succession legislation that provides legal immunity for members of the armed forces and the police, even in cases of rape, torture and murder.
Historically, we have had policing by consent in this country. This Government seem to be intent on ending that, with more armed police and more random stop-and-search, despite the evidence of racist discrimination, ploughing on with the failed Prevent programme and the obvious demonisation and disproportionate impact on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and now the suppression of peaceful gatherings and protests. This is draconian legislation. It will not make us safer. It should be opposed by everybody who believes in democracy.
In the last three years, there have been 1,329 assaults against emergency services workers in Nottinghamshire, and I will share some of their stories.
On 1 February last year, police were called to assist paramedics at a reported insulin overdose. As they reassured the patient, Lance Morgan, that there was no sign of an overdose, he became abusive, kicking out at officers and paramedics, shouting racist abuse. Emergency workers Paul Pointon and Michael Phipps were injured, as Lance Morgan punched Michael in the groin and Paul in the abdomen. He was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of assaulting an emergency worker.
On 16 August, a female police officer was punched in the face and shoved in the chest after she stopped a driver who had been speeding, lost control and crashed into another car. The offender, Andrew Robbins, got 14 months in prison for assaulting an emergency services worker and a string of driving offences.
I have been speaking about violent assaults, but 64% of the 1,329 assaults were non-physical, such as spitting, coughing on, or threatening officers. The majority of those assaults were carried out by people who claimed to have coronavirus—covid assaults. In Nottinghamshire, Omar Osman spat in the mouth of the police officer arresting him, while claiming he was covid-positive. In custody that evening, he spat in the face of a detention officer, splashed water and urine at another, and hit the custody sergeant over the head while spitting in his face. As one officer said to me when I accompanied him on patrol, these things happen over and over, and people live with that constant, nagging fear: “Have I got covid? What if I pass it on to my family?”.
The Bill will double the maximum sentence for assaults on all emergency service workers. This issue has too often been overlooked in debates of the past 24 hours, because Labour Members do not want their constituents to know that they are voting against it. So that we all know where we stand, tonight Conservative Members will vote for tougher sentences for child murderers; Labour Members will be voting against. We are voting to keep rapists in jail longer; Labour is voting against. We are voting for tougher penalties for those who desecrate the memory of the fallen; Labour is voting against. We are voting to keep our streets safer and to tackle violent crime; Labour is voting against. Labour Members are soft on crime, and soft on the causes of crime. They are failing to protect their constituents, and failing to back our police.
Our hearts are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard, and our thoughts with those who gathered in peace and solidarity to mourn her death, in a vigil that was so badly and aggressively handled, and into which we need an immediate inquiry. In its aftermath, this Bill is our opportunity to help women to reclaim the streets for good, turn back the tide of rapes, and replace fear with confidence. Instead, however, the Bill curtails our rights to peaceful protest and assembly. It gives harsher punishments for attacks on slave-owner monuments than for sexual violence against women. It persecutes our Roma and Gypsy communities, and it attacks our right to roam the countryside while giving rapists freedom to roam our streets; rape is up by 35%, and 99% of recorded rapes never go to court.
We need investment at scale in Nightingale courts, equipped with the latest DNA forensic testing technology, so that rapists can be charged, prosecuted and convicted in weeks, instead of victims living in fear for years, as this Bill allows. The Government should empower our citizens and communities, but instead they attack the rights of all of us to peaceful assembly and protest—trade unionists, EU remainers, climate change activists, anti-war protesters, and vote-at-16 enthusiasts. They are curtailing the freedom of expression that feeds a healthy, responsive democracy. That will drive protest underground, generating heat in place of light.
This Trojan horse Bill may display popular measures on dangerous driving, protecting protectors and Lammy reforms, and I am sure that in Committee, Labour will support those few crumbs of goodness beside the poison chalice that this Bill represents. This thoroughly rotten Bill needs to be rejected and recast in the next Queen’s Speech. It fails to reclaim our streets from the grip of fear; and amid a pandemic, a recession, and the serial abuse of women on our streets, it constitutes an attack on our fundamental values, our democracy, our freedom, and the very laws that protect those things. We should reject the Bill.
The Bill delivers on our manifesto commitments to tackle crime. Let me start with protection for those on the frontline. The new police covenant will bring increased focus to the issues of physical protection, help and support for the families of officers. I know from my time in the Ministry of Defence the galvanising effect that the reporting duty in the Bill will have, just as the duty introduced for the armed forces covenant had.
There has been an unacceptable increase in assaults on emergency workers. In Norfolk alone, 659 police officers were assaulted last year. Doubling the sentence for such attacks will better reflect the risk that the police, firefighters, paramedics, prison workers and others face.
Protecting young people is an important part of the Bill. I support including faith leaders and sports coaches in the provisions relating to sexual activity and positions of trust. Extending the offence of arranging a child sex crime will close a gap in criminal law. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the role that Facebook played in providing information that was crucial to securing a 25-year sentence for a serial paedophile in my constituency. However, with the National Crime Agency and senior police officers warning that Facebook’s plans for encryption risk serious child abuse offenders going undetected, I urge Facebook to rethink.
If we are to increase confidence in the justice system, it is important that sentencing reflects the severity of crimes, and I welcome minimum terms for repeat offences, including burglary, drug and knife crimes, unless exceptional circumstances apply. Very serious violent and sexual offenders should rightly serve longer sentences.
There has been much focus on the clauses relating to public order, and rightly so; the right to protest is an essential part of our democracy. I share concerns about the policing in Clapham, and I welcome the independent review. However, the powers in the Bill are not about that; nor are they about the temporary covid restrictions. They are there to deal with deliberate tactics that have led to disproportionate disruption. Some call the blocking of ambulances, closing of bridges and people gluing themselves to trains legitimate protest. My view is that those actions undermine the careful balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of people to go about their daily lives. I recognise that there are concerns, and those provisions will be considered further in Committee.
Finally, there is strong concern about dog theft in North West Norfolk, as elsewhere. Pets are part of our families, and the emotional hurt that the loss of a pet can cause is immense. I hope that during the passage of the Bill, the Government will bring forward measures to increase penalties for that crime.
Tonight, I will back these measures in the Bill, and others to support rehabilitation and more effective community sentences to tackle serious violence. Anyone who votes against this Bill is voting against measures to make our streets safer.
What a shame that the Government have chosen to turn a piece of legislation that we could have all got behind into a divisive attempt at a culture war. In this House, we all support the police covenant. We all want better protections for our emergency workers. We all want the right sentences for people who cause death by dangerous driving, and we all want to protect vulnerable young people from abuse by people in a position of trust. I am pleased those measures are in the Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Halifax (Holly Lynch), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for their campaigning on those issues.
There is more the Government could have done that we would have supported, such as introduce better protection for shop workers, as well as emergency workers. I refer to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. Its survey of shop workers last year showed that 60% were threatened by a customer, and 9% were assaulted. We have been trying to tackle the intimidation of shop workers in Didsbury in my constituency, and it is time for real action to deter that kind of behaviour.
We could have seen real measures to tackle violence against women and girls. On sentences, we agree on whole life orders for the premeditated murder of a child, but why not whole life sentences for the abduction, assault and murder of a woman? Why not make street harassment a crime? We could even have seen measures to seriously tackle drug policy and sentencing. In my view, it is counterproductive to criminalise people for the possession of drugs for personal use. It runs the risk of ruining their future life chances, wastes the time of the police and courts, and does not reduce the harm that drugs cause to individuals or society. A serious debate on drug policy is long overdue.
Even without those measures that the Government could have introduced, we could have supported the Bill on the basis of the good things it proposes if it did not have measures that are disproportionate, divisive and dangerous—and that, most importantly, put our fundamental right to protest in jeopardy. The right to protest is one of the most important rights we have, because it helps us to stand up for all other rights. Even the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said yesterday that
“freedom of speech is an important right…however annoying…that might sometimes be.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 78.]
The Home Secretary would do well to listen to her predecessor.
This is a big Bill with very significant measures on complex issues, and it needs serious scrutiny. I hope the Government will extend time on it to the time that it needs, and will rethink the measures that we do not need, and that the police often do not want. I support the Labour party’s reasoned amendment, and will vote against a Bill that puts our fundamental right to protest at risk. I ask the Government to rethink and withdraw those measures as the Bill progresses. As the shadow Home Secretary said yesterday, we should press pause on the Bill and bring the whole House together. This is too important an issue for us not to.
There is so much wrong with the Bill that three minutes could not possibly cover it. It marks a descent into authoritarianism.
We are debating the Bill today because the Home Secretary despises Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, having described them as hooligans, thugs and criminals. The Bill is designed to make it more difficult for working people to hold the powerful to account by expanding police powers to a level that should not be seen in any modern democracy. In fact, if this proposed legislation was being debating in another country, I am sure Members of this House would be condemning that country as an authoritarian regime. Make no mistake, this is the biggest assault on our rights and freedom to protest in recent history. It moves to criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
I attended the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Nottingham East, and the protests and vigils at Scotland Yard and Parliament on Sunday and yesterday. We took to the streets because people are angry. We are hurting. We are sick of male violence, whether it is at the hands of the state, our partners, our family members or strangers. We march because some people do not survive male violence: Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Christina Abbotts, Naomi Hersi and many more. The public realm belongs to women too, and women should have the right to go wherever we choose without men harassing us, assaulting us and raping us. We have a right to walk home.
This Bill does nothing to protect women. In fact, the Bill protects statues of dead men—slave owners, even—more than living women. It hands unaccountable power to the police—the same police who were forcing women to the ground at Clapham common on Saturday night. I will be voting against the Bill.
I was elected to represent the people of Stockton South on a manifesto that pledged to get tough on crime, protect our emergency service workers and give real justice to the victims of some of the most heinous crimes. I am therefore delighted to support the Bill, which will do exactly that. It will ensure that we are on the side of the victims, not the criminals; it has tougher sentences for those who vandalise our memorials, those who prey on children, sex offenders, killer drivers and child murderers. The victims of those awful crimes are often left scarred by them for the rest of their life, and I am glad that the Bill will go some way to delivering real justice for them.
The Bill contains fundamental, wide-ranging improve-ments to our justice system, and it is impossible to cover its breadth in just three minutes, so I will focus on what it does for our emergency service workers across the country. The pandemic has been awful for us all, but many of our emergency service workers have borne the brunt of it. While we retreated to the safety of our homes, our emergency service workers rolled up their sleeves and got on with it, running towards danger when so many of us would run away. It is therefore unbelievable that during this most terrible year, assaults against our emergency service workers have increased substantially. Yes, our policemen and policewomen who do so much to protect us, and our doctors and nurses who help us when we need them most, have faced record numbers of assaults this year. In Cleveland, that has meant 662 assaults on emergency service workers; that is up more than 50% on the previous year.
Today the hon. Gentleman has the chance to be on the side of the emergency workers, those brave men and women who put themselves out on the frontline to keep our communities safe. We are putting more police on the streets and giving them the powers and equipment that they need to do the job, and I am very happy that there are more than 150 more police officers on the streets of Cleveland, thanks to this Government.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will increase the maximum sentence imposed on those who assault our emergency service workers. It is much overdue and there must be no further delay in protecting our protectors, doing justice for those who put themselves in harm’s way to uphold the law or who are there to help us when we need them most. I am hopeful that a tougher approach to sentencing will send a signal and go some way to ensuring that our emergency service workers get the respect that they so rightfully deserve. The Bill enshrines the police covenant into law, ensuring that our police officers—retired or serving—and their families get the additional support that they have rightly earned through their service to our communities.
We have put more police officers on the streets. We have provided more equipment and more funding, and now, whether it is by tackling unauthorised encampments or persistent violent offenders, we are giving the police the powers that they need to do the job. This legislation is long overdue and, tonight, I will be on the side of the victims and the emergency service workers across this country.
There is much in the Bill to be welcomed, but there is an attempt to mislead the public—to accuse Labour MPs of wanting to be soft on those guilty of assaulting or murdering children, emergency workers, police or anyone else convicted of such crimes. Tory MP after Tory MP has done exactly that while, all the time, ignoring the sinister measures in this Bill that hit at the foundations of our democracy—the right to assemble and to protest. No matter how loud the faux anger and indignation of Tory MPs, Labour is right to oppose this Bill and stand up for people’s democratic rights. Protest is awkward, inconvenient and noisy, but it does bring about change. The Bill will give the police powers to determine which protests are acceptable, which should be allowed and which should not. It opens the police up to political pressure and to erring on the side of caution for fear of retribution if trouble occurs.
We are witnessing a Tory-led coup without guns. There has been a consistent pattern to this Tory Government’s abuse of power. To avoid dissent in this House, including dissent from their own side, they closed Parliament. We have seen Tories appointed to public bodies allocating millions in covid contracts to Tory friends for personal protective equipment, goods and services. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was found to be acting unlawfully for failing to divulge details of contracts. The National Audit Office concluded that applicants with political contacts were 10 times more likely to be successful in bids for these contracts. We have seen £22 billion wasted on track and trace. Our Home Secretary has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds out from public funds in damages because of her bullying. We had a Budget that blatantly favoured Tory seats, even indulging the Chancellor’s seat.
This Bill is another example of the Tories’ determination to avoid democratic scrutiny. Now, they want to close down public dissent. This hits at the heart of democracy in this country. If we do not stand up and defend people’s right to show dissent, as MPs in this House, we are in dereliction of our duty. We must oppose this Bill.
I will do my best to contain my remarks to the actual content of the Bill. The Government were elected on a clear mandate to tackle serious crime, support our police and keep communities across the UK safe. The Bill is a clear commitment from the Government that they are following through on those promises, and I commend them for it.
Throughout the pandemic, our local police forces have continued to work through extremely difficult circumstances, often risking their safety to ensure the safety of others—of ourselves and our loved ones—just as they do in normal times, running towards danger as we run away. I personally thank the North Wales police force for its hard work in keeping all of us in Delyn and across north Wales safe.
There is a particular challenge for the police in Wales, as responsibility for health regulations is devolved while responsibility for policing is not. I am proud that, despite our local police force often being pulled in disparate directions by some of the interestingly questionable political decisions that are made in Wales, they have carried on with their duties by keeping communities safe and tackling crime.
Just as our police have protected us, it is now time that we help to protect them and their work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) said in her contribution yesterday, it is important that we protect the protectors and give them the support they need through appropriate powers and sentencing. We will protect our police forces and frontline workers, who sacrifice so much to keep us safe, by increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker and enshrining the police covenant into law.
We will protect our communities by ensuring that the most dangerous criminals will be properly punished through the introduction of life sentences for killer drivers, the ending of the automatic early release of serious offenders, and the extension of whole-life orders for the worst—those guilty of killing children.
The Bill will make a real difference and help to keep us safe. It will protect our police and strengthen our justice system, thereby preventing further families from going through the pain of not getting the justice they deserve. I do not pretend that the Bill is perfect, and I sympathise with some of the concerns expressed about the provisions on protest. Although I welcome the Bill for the good that it will bring to our society and our justice system, I am sure that those provisions will be carefully considered and scrutinised in Committee.
In closing, I remind all Members that on Second Reading we consider and vote on the general aims and principles of a Bill, so to throw the whole thing out at this stage would just be irresponsible. As the Bill works towards a safer and more just society, I will be deeply saddened if Opposition Members vote against its Second Reading, which they could do only to score a political point or, more worryingly, because they do not wish to see a society that protects its people and its police force.
I commend all those who have been involved in bringing the Bill before the House. It has much merit, not least in relation to the penalty for those who cause death by dangerous driving. I know of families who have suffered such loss, and it is so tragic. Their pain and grief is compounded by the lenient sentencing of those who have taken away a loved one too soon.
I welcome the increase in penalties for the assault of an emergency worker. We ought never need to be reminded of the contribution that emergency workers make in our society, but if we did, the past 12 months have done just that. Our nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, paramedics, firefighters, police and others have been very much on the frontline. The least we can do is to protect them when they are attacked by mindless individuals when they are doing their job. I concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) in yesterday’s debate: similar protective provisions for retail workers and others would be very welcome.
There are many other welcome provisions in the Bill, such as the change to the provisions on early release, which can cause so much hurt to victims. The provisions on attacks on war memorials are welcome and badly needed in Northern Ireland where, sadly, such memorials have become a focus of attack for some time.
I also have concerns that I hope the Government can address. It will come as no surprise to the House to hear that, as someone who represents the party of the late, great Ian Paisley, I believe that the right to protest must be protected. That right was hard won, and in a democracy it must be protected. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) rightly highlighted the potential pitfalls of clauses 54 to 56 and 59 and 60, which would make significant changes to police powers to respond to protest. This issue must be approached with careful consideration and caution. What is “serious disruption”? Who defines it? What is the definition of “serious annoyance”? We need these matters to be clarified.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Of course, it is somewhat disappointing to hear the Opposition change their position from one of abstaining to one of voting against the Bill, but then again we have come to be unsurprised by their machinations and changes of heart throughout this Parliament.
There is a great deal to welcome in the Bill, from the ending of unauthorised encampments, to the changes to sentencing for minors, dangerous driving—I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for her work on that—the desecration of monuments, and serious violence and assaults against frontline workers, which so many Members have mentioned. The Government are updating the law to a position that ensures that sentencing fits the crime, and confidence can be restored in our justice system.
Those are worthy steps that make a difference and restore the faith that people have in our Parliament, our police and the way in which we conduct ourselves in this Parliament; yet tonight’s vote has already been misconstrued to the public as anti-freedom, anti-protests and with little impact on women’s rights, despite the fact that Parliament is this week debating the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Lords, covering many of the issues that have been raised by the Opposition and that the Minister has already worked on so tirelessly.
The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) may well stand up and not even speak to the Bill, but there is no restriction on people being able to protest. There is no restriction on freedom of speech. Speech after speech has seen Opposition Members provide examples of positive elements to the Bill, and discuss what does work in it. To say that they will not vote for it is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to give the Bill no chance of success, no scrutiny, and, as my colleagues have said, no right to be improved in Committee.
I believe passionately in freedom of speech. It is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is sacrosanct. The right to protest and to speak is no more reduced by the Bill than by the existing laws on libel, sedition or public order. As was said yesterday, in the words of John Stuart Mill,
“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.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 99.]
The measures in the Bill are not some governmental power grab or conspiratorial coup, which is what we have heard from some, but an overdue recommendation of the Law Commission from 2015. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) pointed out yesterday, if this House worries about the content of the Bill, it can scrutinise it in Committee and improve it, and we will be able to return something that will do justice to its intent. I will vote for the Bill tonight.
Much of what has been said about the Bill goes to show just how divisive it is. Rather than seeking to make people feel safer, to work with communities, and to bring peace and cohesion to neighbourhoods, the Bill has been designed to divide us. We know that this mess of a Bill has some good things in it, such as strengthening the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on protecting the protectors, and I declare an interest as a former GMB officer, previously working with the brave ambulance worker Sarah Kelly to protect emergency workers such as her from assault.
The Bill also includes dangerously discriminatory measures for Traveller communities, and silencing our right to protest in support of causes that we hold dear. Labour was born out of the trade union movement—out of the working classes protesting for better pay and rights. We should never forget the power of protest, but with all the will in the world, and with all the opposition to it, the Bill will sadly pass. I did not come to Parliament to sit in opposition; I came to Parliament to put Labour values into action. A Labour Government would be making very different choices, but for now the Tories have free rein for their politics of division.
Just as disturbing as what is in the Bill is what is not included. Taking all politics out of it, fundamentally the Bill should be about making people safer. When 97% of women have been sexually harassed, and there are 233 rapes a day and 80,000 a year, with prosecution rates at an all-time low—about 1,000 this year—we have to ask who is made safer by the Bill. There is not one mention of women in it.
If the Government’s answer to making the country safer is delivering tougher sentences for attacking a statue than for raping a person, they have entirely the wrong priorities. If the Home Secretary really wants to make people safer, she should fund refuges, clear the court backlog, support victims throughout the entire process, and rid our streets and institutions of the misogyny that is a breeding ground for violence against women and girls.
I welcome the amendments from the Labour Front Bench on street harassment and seeking to bring much-needed measures to include the safety of women and girls in the Bill. Any woman will say that sexual harassment is not just something that she worries about in the dark; it is something that she risk-assesses in every part of her life, including at work. That is why I intend to table an amendment that criminalises sexual harassment in the workplace. What we have currently are workplaces across industries and sectors effectively policing themselves, and this is failing. It fails victims of sexual harassment every single day. If I were robbed on the street and the robber was caught, he would end up behind bars, but if I were robbed of my earnings, forced out of my job by a man who sexually harassed me, he would do that without fear of any time behind bars. That is not right. Other countries have made sexual harassment a criminal act and it is time for the UK to do the same. In the names of Sarah Everard, Shukri Abdi, Blessing Olusegun, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and all the thousands of women who have suffered at the hands of male violence: enough. We deserve better than this. We deserve to be safe.
I am delighted to speak in support of this Bill. I particularly welcome the balance it strikes on sentencing, with longer sentences for the most serious offenders but smarter justice, including more community punishments, for young offenders. Having worked for 10 years with prisoners and young offenders, I know that this is the right balance, and that the Bill will be welcomed by my constituents and across the country.
That is why I am so disappointed by the stance taken by the Labour party. It is understandable to object to aspects of the Bill, it is right for the Opposition to challenge the Government on civil liberties and police powers, and it is understandable to see whether this Bill can be amended to include more protections for women and girls, but for the Opposition to say that they will vote against the whole Bill at this early stage—to vote against the aims and principles of the Bill—is to try to make such amendments impossible. It is also blatantly opportunistic. They had no such in-principle objections last week; there was no sense that the clauses on protests or street safety, or the relative number of mentions of women and statues, were so bad that the whole Bill had to be rejected. Last week, the Opposition were just planning to abstain on Second Reading. That in itself was pretty craven and showed Labour’s weak commitment to law and order, but now they have been blown off the fence and blown into voting against the whole Bill. They faced a test this week: would the party, under its new leader, stand for law and order, or would it stand for gestures? It faced that test and failed it, and the public will notice.
Of course it is right that we use this occasion to discuss the abuse and misogyny that women suffer every day in this country. Some of this abuse is already illegal, but all of it must be deprecated in the strongest terms, because all of it has its root in male disrespect of women. This is not a modern phenomenon. I am afraid to say that it is as old as time and it is written on almost every page of human history. But something else is written in our history too: the attempts by society to contain male violence and male disrespect.
Our culture historically taught men that they had a duty to honour and protect women. It is a difficult thing to say, because it may appear that I want to turn back the clock to a time when men chivalrously protected the weaker sex, but of course, as I have said, that is not how it always was in the old days, and even if it had been, we do not accept the idea that women need protection by men; they just need men to behave themselves. So let me say emphatically that I do not want to turn back the clock; however, we do need to face the fact that our modern culture has not delivered all the progress it was supposed to. I wonder whether that is because our modern culture has a problem with telling people how to behave—it has a problem with society having a moral framework at all.
It is right that we are having this debate, and I hope we get to a better place because of it, because the key thing is that all the laws in the world will not stop violence against women and will not stop sexism if our culture is not right. We need boys to grow up secure in themselves, with good role models and an innate sense of respect for other people. That means stronger families and more supportive communities.
As we have heard through this debate, the right to demonstrate peacefully underpins democracy; people have an inalienable right to be heard. The explicit aim of this Bill seems to minimise that right. Clearly, the new definition of “nuisance” could apply to almost any protest around Parliament, where the whole purpose is to get the attention of politicians such as us. I, for one, have always felt that Steve Bray, the “Stop Brexit” man, served to remind us that we live in a thriving democracy. Protest gives the public a way to reach parliamentarians which should make us proud of the country we live in. Let us not hide away from the fact that this Bill is just a knee-jerk reaction to the Extinction Rebellion protests last year, and it appears to be a deliberate curb on free speech and the right to protest peacefully.
I enjoy a very good relationship with South Wales police, and I would like to pay tribute to the officers from the neighbourhood teams across Gower, the new chief constable and the Labour police and crime commissioner. One of my biggest concerns about the new proposal is that its measures pit the public against the police, creating a wedge at a time when we should be building up trust. We all know where the buck stops, from the disgusting images we saw on Clapham Common at the weekend: it is firmly with the Home Secretary and this Government. Until the Government disclose the minutes of the Home Secretary’s meetings with the Met on Friday, we can only judge from her own social media, and it does not take a genius to work out where the blame lies.
I am sure we have all had distressing casework around the difficult issue of rape. The derisory conviction rate of 3% stems in part from the burden that is put on the police to pull together enough evidence to take to the Crown Prosecution Service. Cut after cut means that they do not have the time or the resources to do that successfully, and this has created a system that is failing women and that fails to recognise the significance to society of all aspects of violence against women. We all know that institutional misogyny exists in many organisations, but misogyny is a societal problem, and society is now at a crossroads.
Last week on the Armed Forces Bill Committee, we heard evidence about prosecuting crimes, including rape, through the military courts. Yesterday I asked the Home Secretary about the attitude of some of the armed forces towards victims of male violence and, frankly, it really is worth taking the time to read the transcript of the evidence session, because in 2021, for men with fancy titles to have such ignorant views is really distressing. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for those who serve in the police force and the armed forces, but we must make sure that they are not part of the problem and instead part of the solution. As politicians, it is our responsibility to ensure that the full force of the law is always used to protect our citizens and keep them safe.
There is much to welcome in this far-reaching Bill, with tougher sentences for violent crime, for child murderers and for sex offenders, with greater efforts to remove knives and weapons from our streets, and with the inclusion of Kay’s law to provide greater protection for those who find the bravery to speak up against violence and sexual offences in their own homes. I could go on, but in the time I have, I will focus on an issue that greatly affects my constituency—namely, the right to protest outside this place, in the heart of my constituency.
The recent history of legislating on protests outside Parliament makes for interesting reading. Labour Members who question the Bill’s impact on the freedom to engage in democratic protest may wish to cast their minds back to sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, in which a Labour Government prohibited protest within a kilometre of Parliament without prior agreement with the Metropolitan police. Fortunately, the Conservative Government repealed those restrictive sections in 2011.
If this weekend has taught us anything, it is that there is a huge difference between a peaceful vigil where people come together to express shared grief and outrage, and protests that take place day after day for weeks on end and that can occasionally bring unpleasant disruption to those living and working locally. Central London has seen changes in the way that protests are organised and in their longevity. They are not always organised by specific groups. They are movements, often with different aims and objectives. Some come to protest peacefully, but others may have the aim of causing disruption and even destruction. I believe passionately in the right to protest; it is one of the values we hold so dear in this country. The clauses in the Bill do not restrict the right to lawful protest. What they do is bring static protests into line with the provisions that already exist.
I accept that some of the language in the Bill could benefit from tightening up, and I am sure that that will be done as the Bill progresses. Much has been highlighted about the democratic and human right to protest, and I agree, but let us not forget the human rights of my constituents who live with over 500 protests or marches a year. I see a huge spike in my mailbag when Westminster plays host to a major protest, with constituents highlighting that a few cause them distress and loss of amenity. They do not question the right to protest, but they do not accept becoming prisoners in their own home and the distress that they often feel as a result of a small minority of protesters. Criminality is what the Bill aims to prevent, and that is surely something that everyone in this place wants to achieve.
I will be voting against this Bill: it is a pernicious piece of legislation and it must be stopped in its tracks today.
Yesterday the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) mentioned “unintended consequences”. I respectfully disagree with the “unintended”. The Government have brought forward a Bill knowing that it will criminalise people who want to make their voices and opinions heard on the future of this nation. It is a huge Bill that this Government are determined to bust through the House of Commons at the same time as the unacceptable state tactics used at Clapham Common at the weekend and at the Black Lives Matter protests last year. Despite this, and despite a shameful history of callous injustices such as the events of Orgreave and Hillsborough, and the spy cops and blacklisting scandals, this Government have doubled down and brought in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 and now this Bill.
The Bill attacks civil liberties; threatens already limited rights to protest, march and demonstrate; risks worsening the racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system; expands stop-and-search powers; and further criminalises Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It extends powers to police protests so that those causing what it calls “serious annoyance” could be faced with the prospect of 10 years in prison. As a former trade union organiser for Unite, and someone who has marched and protested against injustices all my life, I am certain that had this legislation existed then, it would have risked criminalising every single person I marched alongside. It represents a real and serious danger to those speaking out about injustices going forward. Within this Bill are measures that excessively impact Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The director of Liberty has said:
“If enacted, these proposals would expose already marginalised communities to profiling and disproportionate police powers …and…communities may face increased police enforcement through the criminalisation of trespass.”
This Bill must be voted down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) said, this is draconian legislation. I make a plea to all the parliamentarians who sit in this House and talk about civil liberties to step up to the plate, reject the politics of division, and reject a Bill that shames this House and everything it is supposed to stand for.
Despite events in London over the weekend, I would like to thank our police forces throughout the country for all their hard work in carrying out their duties, in a somewhat tricky balancing act at times, throughout the pandemic. Mistakes have clearly been made by some, but this cannot detract from the good work done by most forces throughout the country.
Sussex police, led by Chief Constable Jo Shiner and police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne, have consistently exercised a calm and consent-based approach throughout the pandemic, engaging with the public, explaining Government advice to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in our communities, encouraging compliance, and using enforcement only as a last resort where people refuse to comply. We must not forget that the police are the public and the public are the police. We all have a duty in community safety and welfare.
Much has been said over the past few days about the right to protest: a new crackdown on protest, curbing civil liberties, and putting rights fundamental to our democracy at risk. This Bill does not do that. It is indeed our fundamental right to protest: to gather and to have a voice. No one is stopping that. But for some protestors, peaceful protest is just not enough. Last year in London, for example, we saw extreme disruptive tactics in the Extinction Rebellion march that reportedly cost the Metropolitan police £16 million. That is not police money; it is taxpayers’ money that would be better spent on, say, nature-based solutions to climate change. This fundamental right does not come with a right to act in a criminal way—to be violent or disruptive. There is no freedom without justice.
The actions of perpetrators in committing criminal damage and Public Order Acts offences and assaulting members of the public or police officers executing their duty are unlawful and unacceptable. There is no reason for peaceful demonstrations to turn disruptive or violent. Unfortunately, even good causes often attract a malign element hellbent on using such a cause as a platform to showcase their own agendas, undermining the aims and message of the protest or demonstration that they have attached themselves to on that particular day.
We have all witnessed the extreme disruption that some protests have caused, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to roads, bridges and businesses, including Parliament, and even hospitals. We cannot confuse current coronavirus regulations with a new Bill that introduces sensible measures to deal with disruptive behaviours while maintaining a right to peaceful protest. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. I welcome and support the Bill, because as a Conservative, I stand for justice and for law and order.
I would like to begin by echoing the comments of my hon. and right hon. Friends yesterday and today who have registered our concerns about the Bill, our disbelief that this Government are seeking to treat attacks on statues as more important than attacks on women, our opposition to disproportionate restrictions on the right to protest and the missed opportunity to protect women and girls from violence and the hatred that underpins it. Nottinghamshire police and our police and crime commissioner, Paddy Tipping, have shown the way by treating misogyny as a hate crime, and the Government need to follow.
I remind the House that the Crown court backlog is failing victims and witnesses. I welcome today’s announcement of a Nightingale court for Nottingham. It has taken too long, but I am glad that the Government have finally responded. There are some welcome measures in the Bill that reflect the hard work of many colleagues who have campaigned for change, but I would like to raise two specific issues.
First, clause 164 paves the way for deaf people to sit as jurors in England and Wales. Previously, language service professionals have not been allowed to enter the deliberation room, so anyone requiring in-person communication support has been barred from jury service. However, I ask the Minister to consider whether it is drafted too narrowly. The clause allows for a British Sign Language interpreter to support a deaf juror, but of the 900,000 UK residents with profound or severe hearing loss, only around 100,000 use BSL as their first language. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, I know that a large number of deaf people can only participate when they are supported by a speech-to-text reporter, so will the Minister clarify how this affects them? Will a speech-to-text reporter also be provided in the deliberation room? Will the Minister consider amending the clause to use a catch-all term, to give the Courts Service more flexibility to meet the needs of all deaf jurors?
Secondly, I would like to raise concerns about the effectiveness of measures in the Bill to tackle dangerous driving. The increase in the maximum penalty is welcome, but we must review the definition of dangerous and careless driving and formalise the role of driving bans as a sentencing option for those whose actions have clearly caused danger but who are not dangerous drivers who need to be imprisoned. I would also like to see stronger penalties for hit-and-run offences or where death or serious injury is caused by opening a car door unsafely. Cyclists deserve better protection. Finally, the Government need to close the loophole that allows convicted drivers to evade driving bans by claiming exceptional hardship. I hope the Minister will consider amendments on those matters.
The need to protect women and girls from violence and the importance of protecting our fundamental right to protest are both long-standing issues that have been brought into sharp focus by what has happened in recent days. We should be using the Bill before us to put in place long overdue protections for women against violence, including domestic homicides, rape and street harassment. We should be doing something about the fact that fewer people are prosecuted and convicted for rape now than at any time since records began, at a time when the number of reported rapes is increasing. We should be tackling the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face. Those at the vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham on Saturday, like my constituents who got in touch with me last year about what happened to Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in Wembley, want us to change as a society. Like so many others who have spoken out for such a long time, they want us as MPs, and as men in particular, to listen and to act. But rather than use the Bill as an opportunity to act in support of women demanding to be able to walk the streets without fear, it is instead being used to attack our fundamental rights as citizens by limiting the right to protest. Those assembled on Saturday were part of a vigil, yet they have drawn attention to the Government’s plans to restrict our right to protest with this Bill.
Protest is the foundation of our democracy. Like many Members of Parliament, I have protested outside of this place for far longer than I have been within it. The right to protest must be protected for us all, and I will use my position in here to do all that I can to defend it. The attempt to restrict our right to protest is not a sign of a Government who are confident with the country that they seek to represent. The right to protest is a long and deeply held part of British democracy. The Bill’s attempt to allow the police to restrict protest because of
“the noise generated by persons taking part”
would make a mockery of our rights.
It is shameful that, rather than attack the injustices that people are protesting about, this Government seek to attack the very right to protest itself. There are measures in the Bill that I and other Labour Members welcome, but the way it targets Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, fails to address violence against women and girls, and seeks to attack our right to protest mean that it is something that we must oppose. As MPs we can use our votes today to voice our opposition to this Bill. It would be inexcusable to use those votes to silence the voices of protest outside.
The Second Reading of a Bill is, for me, about the principle of the legislation. As a candidate at the last general election, I stood on the Government’s manifesto to make this country safer by taking more effective action against crime. Colleagues have the opportunity both in Committee and on Report to amend the Bill if they so wish. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I was slightly disappointed that the issue of “released under investigation” was not included in this particular Bill, but I am very glad that the Home Office has announced today that we will be looking again at the role of police and crime commissioners.
Local residents in my constituency have been shocked about a murder in Old Leigh and violent activities in Chalkwell Park. I raised the issue of knife crime in the Chamber earlier this month and was told by the Prime Minister that we have more than 6,000
“of our target extra 20,000 police already recruited.”—[Official Report, 3 March 2021; Vol. 690, c. 247.]
I hope that Essex police recruit enough police officers to stop any more violent crime.
This debate is taking place against a background of an horrendous murder. It appears that the management of the Metropolitan police needs to give a far better and fuller explanation of how it handled recent events. There should also be an external independent investigation, or a public inquiry, into the Metropolitan police’s handling of Operation Midland. My former colleague and parliamentary neighbour, Harvey Proctor, and my former colleague, the late Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, among others, have been denied justice for far too long. The Metropolitan police must not act as judge and jury on its own failings. There should be a full-scale debate in Parliament on Operation Midland and on who should be held to account.
My office looks over Parliament Square. I have long complained about the endless demonstrations that take place on this very busy roundabout. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is very difficult to work because of the noise—the drums, horns and loudspeakers. Policing these so-called events costs a huge amount of money and, with Parliament being the seat of democracy, our work should not be disrupted.
Finally, I am delighted that the campaign of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), which he started in 2018 to make deliberate acts of trespass a criminal rather than a civil offence, has been successful. After a large number of Travellers set up encampments on Snakes Lane in Eastwood, many of my constituents complained about an increase in vandalism, crime and antisocial behaviour. I fully support the Home Secretary in her decision to amend the existing powers to remove trespassers, and I wish this Bill well.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is a matter of deep regret that, after the deeply tragic events of the last week, the Government have decided to move forward with this Bill, which does far too little to protect women and goes too far in restricting the right to peaceful protest. I am immensely grateful to all my hon. Friends who have spoken so movingly in opposition to this Bill over the last two days.
As a lifelong trade unionist and a veteran of countless picket lines and demonstrations, I want to speak specifically to the implications of this Bill for our right to peacefully protest. This is a matter of huge significance to my constituents. In the last few days alone, I have been inundated with messages urging me to speak up against this Bill from teenage climate strikers, anti-racist campaigners and health workers opposed to the privatisation of the national health service.
We must not forget that without protest, agitation and industrial action, the freedoms we most cherish today would never have been won. People protest remains a vital democratic freedom and the very lifeblood of any healthy democracy. Now the Government plan to impose unprecedented new restrictions on the ability of citizens to make their voices heard, and I urge all Members to vote against them. The additional restrictions that this Bill looks likely to impose on the right to public assembly are far too broad. They will do little to improve public safety, but much to deter people from exercising their democratic right to the streets. The introduction of an exclusion zone around Parliament means that the voices of protestors simply will not reach those who need to hear them most—us.
We should also all be concerned by the potential impact of this Bill on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. These are some of the most marginalised and discriminated against people in our country, and they are all too often the victims of social exclusion, racial profiling and police brutality. Instead of using this Bill as an opportunity to honour their commitments to rooting out racial prejudice in all its forms, the Government have instead launched an attack on the very way of life of many Roma and Travellers by criminalising trespass. The Home Office says that this Bill is about making communities safer, but this Bill will in fact leave GRT communities far less safe, more at risk of criminal prosecution and even of having their homes and property confiscated. Will the Home Secretary now listen to the voices of police officers, who overwhelmingly oppose these hard-line measures, and favour adequate site provision as a means of dealing with unauthorised encampments? I will be voting against the Bill.
This Bill works to ensure that the criminal justice system continues to reflect the views of society, delivering on our manifesto commitments, and I welcome it.
I welcome the requirement for serious offenders sentenced to four years and more to serve two thirds of their sentences before release on licence, rather than just 50%. Automatically releasing serious criminals on licence well before their sentence is due to expire brings the criminal justice system into disrepute with ordinary people and, more importantly, with the reasonable expectations of the victims of crime. While I recognise that early release and sentence are an important management tool for the prison population, the message needs to be clear that their sentence is what they serve.
Labour is wrong to argue that police powers to search a person who has already been convicted of knife crime without additional suspicion is somehow an unjustifiable attack on their freedoms. My view is that if they do not want to be considered a risk of carrying a knife, then they should not be convicted of carrying one in the first place. These court orders will help ordinary, law-abiding people to be protected. This is where our focus should be, and it is.
Labour is also against powers to help the police to manage the new wave of protest direct action, where the aim is not so much to protest as to cause chaos and inconvenience to as many people as possible. We all have a right to protest and to make sure that our voices are heard, but it is a right to protest, not to prevent. Why should one section of the public have an unfettered right to impose massive disruption on the rest of society? What about their right to get on with life? Where competing rights clash, the law must maintain a balance. Modern protest movements, such as XR, game the system, and disruption, not peaceful protest, is their objective. The law needs to adjust to maintain the balance of competing rights, and I think this Bill helps to achieve that.
Is this new power open to abuse? Yes it is, like every power that the police have, but there is no difference between this power and every other power that we loan to the police. It is open to challenge and review through the press and the courts. As a democracy, we are well used to holding those in power to account. Every single member of the public has the power to become a citizen journalist immediately through their phone. As a result, the police are subject to review and oversight like never before.
This Bill has ordinary people at its heart, sticking up for their priorities. It delivers on manifesto promises. As such, it is democracy in action, and I will be supporting it.
During the pandemic, our civil liberties have been curtailed in a way that was previously unimaginable. Most of us have accepted that in order to protect life and public health, but along the way injustices have occurred.
Black Lives Matter protesters in London were kettled and photographed and asked to provide their names as a condition of their liberty, with no legal basis, yet police allowed football fans to party on the streets of Glasgow and even gave them a police escort to their destination of choice. Then, last weekend, police officers manhandled and detained women protesting the alleged abduction and murder of a woman, with which a police officer is charged. It is hard to imagine a more egregious misuse of police powers.
All this has occurred because the law on protest in a pandemic is not clear, but the provisions in this Bill to curtail the right to protest beyond the pandemic are even worse. The Bill affords significantly expanded powers to the police to stop protests that would cause “serious unease” and creates criminal penalties for people causing “serious annoyance”. But causing annoyance is part of our freedom of speech. If a protest can be prevented for being annoying, any protest can be prevented.
All movements for change involve an element of peaceful protest. Think of the suffragettes. I am sure many of us did when we saw the photographs from Clapham common on Saturday night. If women cannot speak up to protest their rights, what is our society coming to? Yes, the Extinction Rebellion protests may have been very annoying to those of us going about our business on London’s streets and public transport, but those protesters were protesting the biggest problem of our age—climate change—and I think that gives them the right to be a bit annoying.
We have now seen what can happen when the law governing our right to protest is unclear. The same problems will occur if the margin of discretion granted to the police and the Home Secretary is left as wide as it currently is in this Bill. Although these legal changes will have force only in England and Wales, they will impact people living in Scotland. There is a long tradition of Scots travelling to London to protest. We saw that most recently with the huge demonstrations against Brexit, and past examples include the fight against section 28 and the fight of the anti-war movement.
Parliamentarians, whether of left or right, should never be in the business of giving Governments and police forces powers to stifle dissent, particularly where there is a risk that those powers will be used against those whose beliefs make the Government and the establishment of the day uncomfortable. I would say the same if I were worried that the Scottish Government were in danger of curtailing freedom of expression—and indeed I have, which is part of the reason I am making this speech from the Back Benches.
This is a thorough, ambitious and necessary Bill. Ministers know that the public expect those in positions of authority to be subject to scrutiny and actively prevented from abusing their power. Those who seek power in order to do bad things must not be tolerated. That is true of those in sports and religious settings, as it is of those in education, medical, care and justice settings. I welcome the extension of position of trust measures to protect more young people.
Staffordshire police and our local emergency services have shown the dedication to duty that the public expect and have done us proud in Stoke-on-Trent during the pandemic. The Home Secretary knows how important it is to support emergency workers, including police officers, who dedicate their working lives to keeping us safe. She knows they must be protected by the force of law, within the rule of law.
I therefore welcome the provisions for longer maximum sentences for those who assault emergency workers. Too often we read comments from judges that they would have imposed more substantial punishment if they had been able to do so. It is right that we in this House enable justice to be done, and that includes against those who desecrate war memorials.
It is also right that we seek to prevent crime from being committed in the first place and that, where it has been committed, we rehabilitate those who commit it, as well as punishing them. Effective community safety partnerships are key to reducing serious violent crime, and I am glad the Bill provides for their remit to do so.
Too often we see the twisted morality of gangs and extremist allegiances leading to violence. It is right that those who commit such crimes should not be able to walk free from prison after just half their sentence and that Ministers should be able to refer to the Parole Board the expected automatic release of individuals who pose a serious threat, including those who pose a terrorist threat.
In Stoke-on-Trent, sadly, we know that the danger posed by a small number of individual extremists is very real indeed. We also know that almost everyone else is law-abiding, or redeemable if they are ex- offenders. Therefore, just as I welcome tougher sentences, meaningful cautions and stricter parole for those from whom we need protection, I also welcome the provisions for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders who have corrected their behaviour.
I judge this Bill on how it delivers for Stoke-on-Trent. It provides for tackling the threat of radicalisation and for tackling serious violence, public nuisance and the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. I am proud to vote for this wide-ranging Bill, which delivers on our manifesto commitment.
I want to start by remembering Sarah Everard and all women who have died at the hands of violent men. Like all women, I have known what it is like to be scared when you are wondering whether you will make it home—taking the long way round to avoid dark places, moving carriages on the train to avoid men, and hearing footsteps behind you and then being hugely relieved when they pass by. I have also known what it is like to be subjected to abuse and assaults and to not bother reporting them, because those things are so much part of the everyday experience of being a woman. I also know what it is like not to be taken seriously when you do report them.
This Bill does not take violence against women and girls seriously either. I simply cannot imagine any scenario where an attack on a statue could be more serious than a rape, no matter how important the man it commemorates —and let’s face it: it will be a man. Yet that is exactly what this Bill suggests, with a 10-year maximum sentence for harming statues and a five-year minimum sentence for rape. Rape and sexual violence prosecutions are at their lowest ever level in England and Wales, and domestic abuse prosecutions are down 19%, yet the Government are worried about statues.
In Bristol, of course, we know all about statues. When Colston fell, I called out the Home Secretary for her completely unwarranted attack on Avon and Somerset police over their policing of the protests. Now, the independent report that the Home Secretary herself commissioned has praised the decisions that the police made at the time and said that her criticisms of them were misguided. Last summer, we showed how protests could and should be policed. The city and our Mayor responded with dignity and maturity in the aftermath, setting up the We Are Bristol history commission and starting a city-wide conversation. We used that moment to bring the city together.
The Government are now doing the exact opposite. The Communities Secretary wrote an op-ed for The Telegraph, saying:
“We will save Britain's statues from the woke militants who want to censor our past”.
We know what that is about: stoking social and cultural anxieties to win votes, seeking out not what we have in common but what divides us, and fanning the flames. Now, whether it is Black Lives Matter, Reclaim the Streets, the school climate strikes or just someone who wants to pay tribute to a murdered woman by lighting a candle and holding a vigil, people are all collateral damage in the Government’s trumped-up war on woke. That is why I will be voting against the Bill tonight.
It is not just what is in the Bill; it is also what is missing. Labour’s proposals to increase minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, to make misogyny a hate crime and to create a new street harassment law are not in the Bill. Nor is our proposal that someone convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a stranger should be eligible for a whole-life order. The Bill could have sent out a strong signal that the Government do take women’s safety seriously. It could have been so much better. I urge the Government to stop playing politics and to start protecting women.
This legislation marks an undermining of human rights and civil liberties. It represents a slide toward authoritarianism. We have seen other legislative restrictions on human rights in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021. A fresh look at the Human Rights Act and the right to judicial review are looming. It must be seen in the wider context of manufacturing wedge issues and creating arbitrary divisions within society as part of the politics of distraction from genuine social, economic and environmental challenges. We should focus instead on reinforcing the norms and foundations of liberal society, including democracy, human rights and shared public space.
The Bill is so flawed that it should be rejected outright on Second Reading. Events of the past weekend relating to the vigil for Sarah Everard only reinforce that view. This is a major test for all MPs, and I am pleased that many colleagues across a range of parties understand that, but there is a major challenge tonight facing the so-called and self-styled Conservative libertarians. Liberal principles, human rights and civil liberties are not some form of pick and mix, to be selected only when they suit a particular political agenda. Any necessary element of the Bill, including those applying to Northern Ireland, can readily be presented again by the Government via a different piece of legislation.
Of many dangerous aspects of the Bill, the most dangerous is the attack on the right to protest—a cornerstone of democracy and a critical mechanism for holding power to account. It reminds me of the ill-advised and ill-fated proposed Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill in Northern Ireland. which went out to public consultation in 2010. Thankfully, better sense prevailed and it was dropped. Protests have become seminal moments in the UK’s history, with the protests against the Iraq war and against Brexit standing out in recent memory. Protests have been a source of empowerment for the politically marginalised and a powerful tool for securing rights for minorities. Recently, protests have been central to challenging institutional racism and misogyny. It is why protests work, and the Government know that.
Protests invariably involve a degree of nuisance and inconvenience—it goes with the territory. Nuisance and excessive noise are not the same as illegality; they are not the same as violence. These are not even powers the police themselves are seeking; rather, they will put the police in a much more challenging and invidious position.
It is staggering that less than a month after the Pontins blacklist brought to light just some of the discrimination faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, the Government’s response is to propose legislation to further erode the rights of those communities.
My constituents have waited a long time for the justice system to feel like it is putting victims before criminals, and this Bill will deliver that, with tougher sentences for assaulting emergency workers, stricter conditions on bail in high-harm cases, including domestic abuse, increased jail time for sex offenders and child abusers, and extra funding for violence reduction, including knife crime. This Government are making our communities safer.
In 2020, someone was more likely to be a victim of violent crime in the Cleveland force area than anywhere else in the country, yet we missed out on violence reduction funding because of the criteria being based on the number of hospital admissions. When Ministers revisit the fund, I urge them to review the criteria so that Cleveland can benefit from the additional funding and bring a special violence unit to Teesside—something championed by Theresa Cave and the Chris Cave Foundation.
Outside violent crime, when it comes to tackling petty crime and antisocial behaviour, the role of neighbourhood policing—better known as common-sense policing—must not be underestimated. For that reason, I congratulate the Government on their recruitment of 146 extra police officers for Cleveland, which will help to keep people safe in our town centres and elsewhere.
Antisocial behaviour is not limited to town centres, and residents in TS6 have been experiencing it for far too long. TS6 is a regular meeting place for illegal off-road bikers, who cause great nuisance to local residents and put themselves and other people in danger by riding their off-road bikes around the streets and on Eston Hills. I know from those who live in the area that this causes great concern, so I welcome the new resources in the Bill that will help to fix that dreadful situation for them.
The Bill also introduces new measures to crack down on repeat offenders. In Redcar and Cleveland, we have had a recurring problem of low-value thefts from cars and garages, due largely to the system’s inability to enforce proper sentences for repeat offenders. The Bill will help to change that, but new resources and measures can only go so far. What we need in Redcar and Cleveland is leadership and a police and crime commissioner my constituents can be proud of. We have had six chief constables in eight years, and a damning verdict from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in 2019, which described Cleveland police as the “worst force” in the country.
Our officers are not at fault. They are being failed by the force’s leadership and by Labour’s police and crime commissioner. I have full confidence in Chief Constable Richard Lewis to turn the fate of our force around, but we need an effective police and crime commissioner to hold the force’s leadership to account. I urge people across Teesside to vote for better policing, and to vote Conservative and for Steve Turner on 6 May.
Many of the rights we enjoy today were won not because of politicians with great ideas, but because people came together and demanded that their voices be heard. The Peterloo massacre caused politicians to pass the Great Reform Act 1832, the suffragist movement forced politicians to grant women the right to vote, and the striking Ford machinists and campaign for women’s equal rights inspired the Equal Pay Act 1970.
Our right to be heard is about to be eroded by one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation I have ever seen. Provisions in the Bill enable restrictions to be placed on freedom of assembly and association, which arguably contravenes article 11 of the Human Rights Act. Alarmingly, the Home Secretary will have the power to define what constitutes a “serious disruption” with regard to protests, allowing the Government to effectively determine what protests can and cannot take place. More insidious is the principle whereby protestors who
“intentionally or recklessly cause a public nuisance”,
by causing what is termed “a serious annoyance” can be subject to jail sentences of up to 10 years. A “serious annoyance” is purposely not defined, which should send chills down the spine of anyone who believes in democracy.
The Bill also fails to address the bias and discrimination that persists within our justice system. Indeed, the newly created serious violence reduction orders, which would allow the power to stop and search a person at any time, in any place, and even when completely free of suspicion, is at risk of being applied disproportionately to black and minority ethnic communities. The proposals to criminalise “unauthorised encampments” and establish trespass as a criminal offence, effectively criminalise the way of life for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The Bill does not include any specific measures to prevent male violence against women, and it does nothing to address decades of underfunding for the sector tackling violence against women and girls.
What of the right to speak out against such injustices when the Bill is enacted? The Bill fundamentally erodes those rights, and consigns them to the history books, only to be told to our children, like a fairy tale of freedoms gone by.
“When people are free to choose, they choose freedom.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of Margaret Thatcher. The reality of her tenure was very different, but frighteningly, her successors are now writing an even darker dystopian tale of their own, and it seems our freedoms play no part in that at all.
I welcome measures in the Bill that will help to ensure that our justice system better reflects what the silent, law-abiding majority rightly expect of it. There has never been public support for letting people out halfway through their sentences. Most of the public would always have wanted child murderers to spend the rest of their lives in prison, and the majority would feel that justice was done if people who murder, rape and sexually abuse others spent much longer in prison than they currently do. We are addressing those issues.
The Conservative party is making changes to ensure a justice system that does a better job of delivering justice. The tragic loss of Sarah Everard, and the women victims who have spoken out, remind us how important that is. Although the measures in the Bill are much welcomed, and the Government can be proud of bringing them forward, I hope that over time we do more. I still do not understand how someone can rape a child and not, as a default, expect to spend the rest of their life in prison. I do not understand how someone could murder someone, robbing decades from them and their families, and come out of jail fewer than 20 years later. Even the term “life sentence” is an insult to victims and their families. It is as if the threat of someone being recalled to prison if they commit another offence is in any way akin to being locked up.
There remains, I am afraid, an intellectual snobbery around law and order in too many parts of the judicial establishment, which has decided for a long time now that people who think that justice is served by criminals being locked up for longer are unsophisticated, do not understand crime or reoffending, and are acting on some kind of unworthy baser instincts. We have, importantly, made a start today and I am very glad to support these measures.
Of course, nothing I have said stops our justice system doing much more to rehabilitate offenders who commit less serious offences, diverting people away from a life of crime. Not only is that the right thing to do, but it will free up prison spaces so that we can go further in locking up hardened criminals who should be locked up. I know the Justice Secretary is passionate about delivering a range of measures within and accompanying the Bill to do just that, and I welcome those equally.
As for the Opposition, I humbly suggest that yesterday really was a new low for the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). We all recognise that any change in the laws around protest should be carefully scrutinised, as opposed to the confected outrage we have heard today, and of course the Committee stage will provide for that. For a former Director of Public Prosecutions to use a few bullet points on social media to contrast the maximum sentence for one offence with the starting point for another offence is beneath the standards of both the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s current and former office, and, I suspect, is something that will, on reflection, be regretted. Ten years has long been the maximum penalty for criminal damage. Forgive me, but I must have missed the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s previous campaign for sentencing starting points to be calibrated around that.
This is a serious Bill dealing with serious issues and it deserves proper scrutiny. We should expect more from the Leader of the Opposition.
The Secretary of State no doubt thought that she could rush this Bill through Parliament, grouping mundane and relatively positive changes with sweeping attacks on our civil liberties, and thought no one would notice. Last night, thousands protested against the Bill and against the use of excessive force by the police, and many more attended vigils over the weekend in memory of Sarah Everard, Wenjing Lin and all women affected by and lost to violence. I am greatly saddened and angry that the vigil in Clapham descended into violence due to heavy-handed policing. That contrasts with how demonstrations are managed in Wales, where policing has been, in the words of First Minister Mark Drakeford, sensitive and proportionate. I also share his concerns about the Bill.
Democracy is so much more than just ticking a box once every five years. It is a continuous process which involves protests, rallies, picket lines and outpourings of grief, as we all saw and experienced this weekend. It means being able to uphold our hard-fought fundamental democratic rights. The Bill introduces worrying new restrictions on the ability to protest, allowing the police to make highly subjective judgements on what may result in the “intimidation or harassment” of bystanders or cause them “annoyance” or
“serious unease, alarm or distress.”
It also allows the Secretary of State to curtail protests through secondary legislation if she judges them to be disruptive—an incredibly concerning development.
By limiting the type of protests that can take place outside Parliament, this Parliament risks becoming even more detached, even more of a bubble than it already is, divorced from the very real concerns of the people we are elected to represent. Since becoming an MP, I have joined protests outside Parliament alongside people from my constituency in Cynon Valley, to save jobs in Wales and demonstrate about climate change.
I would also like to speak out against this Bill for criminalising the way of life for many in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, who already experience some of the starkest inequalities of any ethnic group in the United Kingdom. Having worked with people in this community, I can bear witness to the inequalities and hardships they suffer daily. In addition, the legislation introduces new measures likely to further criminalise young black men, who are already disproportionately targeted by stop and search.
The Bill takes completely the wrong approach to policing and justice. We need proactive and preventative solutions that address the underlying causes and inequalities that exist in our society. Investment is needed in measures such as early intervention and rehabilitation, and community-based solutions, not reactive measures such as those contained in the Bill that punish and criminalise often the most vulnerable and our most marginalised in society.
The crisis in our police and justice system has been created by a decade of cuts and failed Tory ideology. The Bill fails to address that at the same time as it curtails our civil liberties. That is why I could never have voted for this Bill and I urge everyone to stand with me in opposing it. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. Anyone listening outside might imagine that Members were talking in different debates. On the one hand, we hear Opposition Members echoing Unite the union’s calling this Bill “dangerous, totalitarian legislation”, and on the other, we have colleagues such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) and my hon. Friends the Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) praising the Bill’s extra protections for children from sex offenders, and for emergency workers from attacks in our hospitals, ambulances and police stations. What is going on?
The confusion comes, I believe, from a conflation after the ghastly death of Sarah Everard between the policing of the peaceful vigil on Clapham common under emergency pandemic laws to maintain social distancing, and measures in the Bill to legislate on public order, which are in part 3 of this vast Bill. The point is that they are separate issues. Let us not forget the core aim of the Bill, which is laid out on page 1. It is not domestic abuse, which is covered in a separate Bill that is also live at the moment, but safety and protection, as the introduction makes clear.
It is over three years since I raised, after meeting constituents’ parents, the issue of the grooming of young people by a driving instructor and a sports coach. Any Member who has read the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s case studies would not oppose the core principle of the Bill, which is the changes in the position of trust clauses. They are a major step forward that every parent and teacher should not just welcome, but applaud. Will the Lord Chancellor, either when he is on his feet later or on Third Reading, confirm that driving instructors are covered by clause 45(2)?
When Opposition Members complain that there is not enough to help women and girls in this Bill, I urge them to realise that the vast majority of those better protected through clauses 44 and 45 and, indeed, through parts 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10—and much else—are in fact women and girls.
Nor should anyone be misled by part 4 and clause 61, which concern unauthorised encampments. They take action against Travellers camping on land without permission of the owner, if they fail to comply with a request to leave
“as soon as reasonably practicable”.
Those in my constituency who have seen such encampments over the last decade—time and again they smash through fences in parks, sports grounds and dog walking fields—have seen their access and rights infringed and their children intimidated, while some, although by no means all, Travellers lift two fingers to the injunction processes.
The Bill also doubles the sentence for assaults on emergency workers and includes Kay’s law. That is why I will be supporting the Bill, and I am frankly astonished that everyone in this House is not doing so, with the details to be discussed on Third Reading.
This Bill is a disgrace. It is dangerous, undemocratic and disproportionate.
It is dangerous, because it is trying to neuter protests and undermine our most precious rights, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest. The Government are seeking to impose far-reaching conditions that would have the effect of shielding those in power from criticism. They would make Greta Thunberg sitting alone with a placard a potential criminal, and likewise all the brave and passionate young people who know that the future of humanity and our planet depend on peaceful protest exposing just how inadequate Government action is given the scale of the climate and nature emergencies, yet the Home Secretary wants the power to decide whether these protests are necessary, too noisy or causing too much disruption, so that she can silence any criticism that does not meet her approval. By increasing the maximum penalty for exercising the right to protest, the Government are creating new restrictions on where they can take place, eliminating important aspects of human rights law that require the state to facilitate protests. She wants to deter any dissent yet further.
The Bill is undemocratic, too. The Government are rushing it through Parliament, with just a week between publication and Second Reading. It is a knee-jerk reaction to last year’s Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests, because some right-wing MPs did not like them.
In particular, the process is silencing the voices of marginalised communities who should be heard, as well as the MPs who seek to represent them. Just this weekend, we have seen who else is in the Government’s sights. Women attending peaceful vigils in memory of Sarah Everard were pinned to the ground simply for exercising their rights, which brings me on to disproportionality.
Having seen the response from police on Clapham common on Saturday night, it beggars belief that the Government are giving more powers and discretion to them via this legislation. As one of the few MPs to have been arrested during a peaceful protest—in my case, against fracking—and subsequently after a week’s court case acquitted of any wrongdoing, I can tell the Home Secretary that I have first-hand experience of the disproportionate action of the police. I was therefore proud to co-sponsor a cross-party amendment that sought to deny the Bill a Second Reading. The legislation will perpetuate the systemic risk that infects our criminal justice system, including by expanding stop and search, which sees black men targeted, and by creating a new trespass offence that criminalises the life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Women like Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman need more than extra street lighting. They, and countless other women, deserve a legislative framework that upholds and defends their fundamental rights. Every UK citizen will be affected by what is a dangerous attack on our universal rights. I urge every MP who believes in free speech and democracy to oppose this Bill.
I have a very different view from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), my near neighbour in Sussex, on this Bill. I wish to focus on its positives regarding not just perpetrators of violence, but victims. I am amazed that any Opposition party would vote against the Bill on Second Reading. They should rather engage with making it better if they feel that there is more road to travel.
First, I pay my respects to the family of Sarah Everard, a fellow graduate of Durham University, as is the Lord Chancellor. Our thoughts are with all her family following this abhorrent crime. This morning, I paid my respects at the shrine that has been created at the bandstand in Clapham common.
There are 24 Members of this House who can say that they objected to the Coronavirus Act 2020 extension in September, which gave the police the powers to act in the way that they did on Saturday evening. I have heard right hon. and hon. Members criticising the police for carrying out actions under legislation that they did not oppose. I do not think it reflects well on this House when we create powers for the police and then criticise them for using them. When we look to give the police more powers, and when they look at the Acts on demonstrations and say that they do not work, they must quiver at the thought that they will be hung out to dry by the very Members who did not oppose the legislation, and I ask all hon. Members to bear that in mind.
In the minute I have left, I will focus on a much smaller shrine, a few hundred metres from the one I mentioned, for another victim of knife crime. I welcome the serious violence reduction orders in the Bill that will be placed on known knife-crime offenders and give the police further powers to act. Some 275 lives were lost in the last year to knife-related homicide. We do not hear enough in the House about how we can help. Those victims lost their life merely for being on the streets.
As vice-chair of the all-party group on knife crime and violence reduction, I have worked cross-party on the introduction of a serious violence duty. We have talked about the health strategy going across agencies, and making sure that there is a duty to report and act. This type of carrot, which is being brought in as well as the stick that I just mentioned, will allow us to tackle knife crime and hopefully reduce the number of lives tragically lost.
Time does not allow me to say more. There is much more in the Bill that I really support but look to the Government do more on, including on the protection of shop workers. That is why the Opposition should vote for this Bill and make it better.
Harold Laski, professor at the London School of Economics and chair of the Labour party in the Attlee period, said that in this country, we will not see the arrival of fascism with some dictator strutting in his uniform, bedecked in medals. Instead, the risk to our freedom will come from the creeping, incremental erosion of our civil liberties, leading to harsh Conservative authoritarianism. This Bill is a step in that direction. It is a step in undermining the constitutional safeguards of our liberty, secured over generations of protest and struggle. It threatens the very basic human freedom of assembly and association.
The Bill is aimed not just at the traditional progressive campaigners and trade unions; its target is the young—the younger generation that rejects the racism, sexism and misogyny that permeate our society and understands that its future is being placed at risk by the existential threat of climate change. Through their participation in mobilisations such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, the young have discovered their power; so, too, have this Government recognised the power of the young. The Bill is about ensuring that the younger generation are prevented from exercising that power.
I caution the Government to learn from the past. For centuries, our history has shown that when the Governments have imposed legislation that strikes at the heart of our liberties, our people simply refuse to accept and comply with unjust laws. If a Government persist, division and conflict are always the result, so I warn the Government that they provoke our younger people at their peril.
If anything defines the disgraceful depths to which this Government have sunk, it is the attack in this Bill on the last group in our society against whom it appears that for some it is still acceptable to openly racially discriminate: the Traveller community. Under this Bill, they will suffer the threat of not only action by the police but even the loss of the homes in which they live. I urge colleagues to wake up to the threat of this Bill, and to vote against and defeat it at every stage of its passage. That is what I commit to doing.
I associate myself with the heartfelt and genuine comments from Members of all parties about the tragic circumstances around Sarah Everard’s death. My thoughts are with her family, her friends and her community. It is a terrible time. Opposition Members have sought to equate the policing of Saturday’s vigil with measures in the Bill that are intended to protect the public from disruptive protests, but those measures make up only a small part of the Bill. It is a knee-jerk reaction. It is populist. I think the Labour party will regret taking the decision to oppose the Bill and will find itself on the wrong side of history.
Let us have a look at what the Labour party proposes to vote against tonight. Labour Members will be voting against protecting women and children from sexual abuse; against tougher punishment for perpetrators of serious sexual and violent crimes; against tougher community sentences, which would ensure that offenders give back to society; and against measures giving police the tools that they need to deal with the harms caused by unauthorised encampments—something that is very important to the people of Milton Keynes.
Labour Members will be voting against the introduction of a serious violence duty on specified authorities that will require them to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence; against extending whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child; against ending the automatic early release of dangerous criminals; and against life sentences for killer drivers.
The Bill will ensure that those who commit the most heinous of crimes will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. It will ensure that the police will have the powers and support that they need to make our communities safer. As we vote on the Bill tonight, we need to look ourselves in the mirror. We need to be able to look our constituents in the eye. I know that I will be able to look my constituents in the eye; will Labour Members be able to do the same?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), although I am a bit disappointed that he doubled down so hard on the most discriminated against group in Europe, the Gypsy and Traveller group.
I wish to speak about a group who do not receive a mention in this Bill—women. The killings of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and the fallout from the policing of vigils or events to remember these terrible occasions, give us an opportunity in this debate to bring about a new conversation. Unfortunately, this Bill just seeks to take away people’s right to protest and to freedom of speech. The Bill is packed with measures to limit our democratic freedoms and to protect statues, rather than address the glaring failures of the system.
Let us look at some facts. Data from the Prison Officers Association shows that the highest number of women in prison are there for the non-payment of TV licences, and that 80% of women in detention are in prison for non-violent offences. A majority of women in prison commit crime as a result of abuse, whether that be childhood trauma, abusive relationships, financial abuse or drug use as a result of some sort of trauma. Women are much more likely, even when in prison, to have been a victim of violent crime, yet this Bill does so little to deal with that. Ministers could have used this legislation to address that, and to defend women and girls. Instead, they have packed this Bill, which lacks focus, with draconian measures to try to divide the country and create yet another culture war.
Ministers could have increased minimum sentences for the most serious crimes, such as rape and stalking, and shown that they really care about the dreadfully low rates of conviction for sexual violence. The Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird, QC, is right to say that “urgent and sustained action” is needed to
“redress the confidence in the police and criminal justice system—and really, frankly, half the population”.
Labour has done some homework for the Government, and proposes a victims’ Bill and a survivor’s support plan for victims of rape. I hope that the Minister will give due regard to that excellent work, which was prepared through good consultation with many, many women.
I have been clear with my constituents that I will vote against this Bill, not because there are not some good elements to it, but because I seek to defend the right of my constituents not to be silenced. Labour wants changes that will protect women and girls; changes that will target violent crime; and changes that will provide the treatment and addiction support that are so often overlooked in the criminal justice system.
I will not support the Bill tonight. I have been contacted by many constituents over the past few weeks who have serious concerns about both what it does and does not contain, and not least about the lack of measures to protect women from violence and abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) was just explaining, there are aspects of the Bill we would welcome or support, not least those drawing on initiatives by Labour Members, such as measures on protecting emergency workers from assault and on tackling sexual abuse, and others from the Lammy review, but this Bill is sadly deficient in so many other respects.
The Government could have worked with Members across this House to bring forward measures that adequately tackle serious crime, improve the policing and justice systems, tackle the violence against and abuse of women, and protect our democratic rights to liberties, but they did not. The provisions on protest are deeply concerning and disturbing—I would describe them as draconian. Having organised and taken part in many entirely peaceful protests, sometimes involving millions of people, I fear that this is yet another attempt by this Government to clamp down on legitimate dissent and democratic disagreement.
However, the Bill’s greatest deficiency, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, is that despite being 296 pages long, the word “woman” does not appear once. That is a staggering feat, given that more than 50% of victims of violent crime in the past three years have been women, that there was a 23% drop in rape convictions last year, and that domestic abuse prosecutions fell by 24% in 2019. We must take serious action, including by making misogyny a hate crime. The Bill does not increase minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, it does not make street harassment a crime and it does not fast-track rape or serious sexual assault cases. All women and girls deserve better.
On domestic violence, may I thank my South Wales PCC colleague, my predecessor in this place, Alun Michael, for his work, and colleagues in South Wales police, whose work on tackling domestic violence I have viewed? I am thinking in particular of the pilot project Drive, an initiative tackling perpetrators of domestic violence. An independent evaluation has shown that that is making a significant impact, and I am pleased to see that it now covers all seven local authority areas covered by South Wales police. Unfortunately, like all forces, South Wales police has had to struggle with substantial cuts and the austerity of years of UK Tory rule, including cuts to policing. It was thanks to the Welsh Government that funding was made available for additional police community support officers. I thank the community policing teams for the work that they do. I might also mention that policing in Wales is disadvantaged this year to the tune of £6 million because of the way the apprenticeship levy system works. Will the UK Government fully fund the cost of police graduate training in Wales, as they do in England?
I end by raising serious and legitimate concerns raised by my constituents, especially young people, about the experiences of black constituents and other people of colour in relation to the criminal justice system and policing in Wales and across the UK. I have had a number of frank and open conversations about that in recent weeks. Deeply concerning disparities continue. While 16% of the general population in England and Wales are from a black and minority ethnic background, the disparity in the numbers of people arrested, convicted of a crime and in prison from those communities is stark and has to be dealt with. We need to implement the recommendations of the 2017 report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy).
All Governments come to power seeking to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour, and it is clear that most succeed to some extent, but the challenges that face our society change, and the weaknesses in laws that have been brought in with good intent are exposed by experience, as we know. That is why I welcome the Bill. It addresses several issues of great concern to my constituents, and, by improving the way in which we conduct cases and sentence those convicted, will benefit our society as a whole. There is no doubt about that.
Among many things, the Bill addresses the unacceptable disruption caused to my constituents and many other people’s lives by protests that have caused enormous trouble but have remained within the bounds of the law as it stands. We have learned from protests in the last couple of years that the police clearly need powers to ensure that, while lawful process is facilitated, it is not at the expense of thousands of people who are simply seeking to go about their daily business.
Secondly, I welcome the steps to improve the handling of cases of sexual abuse. Having spent many years working in local government on those matters, including meeting with the Leader of the Opposition during his days as Director of Public Prosecutions, the measures seem to me to be a proportionate and sensible culmination of the experience that we have gained in cases brought in recent years that have demonstrated some of the weaknesses in the present legal system. Many victims and complainants across the country will have waited a long time for the Government to take action to ensure that their circumstances are taken seriously and offenders are prosecuted effectively.
Thirdly, I strongly welcome the measures to tackle illegal encampments. Like many of my constituents and other people across the country, I have witnessed the setting up of such an encampment within direct sight of home, so I know just how awful the consequences can be for that community and for that place—as well as having, in my time as a councillor, to set aside hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to clean up the consequences. Communities should not have to suffer that any longer, and these robust measures are well merited.
For those reasons and many others, I strongly support the Bill and I look forward to the benefits that it will bring to my constituents in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and to the whole country.
I rise to deal with the absolute brass neck that we have heard from the Government Benches during the course of the debate—interestingly standing up to laud what is in the Bill, which I can only describe as the “Government attempting to look busy on crime” Bill, because they do not want to talk about their miserable record over the last 11 years. It is a record that has left fewer police on our streets, fewer courts open for judgment, and fewer police staff to investigate crimes.
We have seen the impact: longer delays to investigations, longer waiting times for criminals to be brought to justice, and indeed criminals getting off scot-free because often victims lose total faith in the criminal justice system. That is the Government’s record. We are asked on Second Reading to support or oppose a Bill on the basis of principle, and I am opposing the Bill on the principle that it fails women, it fails children, and it fails to face up to the serious evolving nature of crime in our country.
Since the appalling murder of Sarah Everard we have seen, in our family, an outpouring not just of grief, but of a demand for change. That is why it so appalling that there is no mention of women in this Bill and no new sentences. Indeed, there is the ludicrous and offensive position that someone can be given a longer prison sentence for throwing a lump of iron into the river than for throwing in a woman. That is the miserable experience.
We also see the experience in case law. I would like the Lord Chancellor to stand up and explain in his summation how it was that a deputy children’s care manager in my borough could be involved in trafficking children to sell crack cocaine and heroin in Devon and Cornwall, and receive the paltry sentence of four years—four years—for trafficking children across the country. What does his Bill do to deal with that? What does he say to those children and victims of crime when, 11 years into his Government, with county lines becoming a feature of crime in a way that it never was before, his Government—[Interruption.]
They do not like it: Government Members do not like being confronted with their record. That is why, with this Bill, they are chasing headlines, instead of chasing serious criminals. They have the audacity to stand up and laud loads of provisions in this Bill that they have taken from Labour Members and their private Members’ Bills. I congratulate them on that, but it is still the case that they are not facing up to the serious nature of crime that affects women and children in my community. They have thrown in loads of measures to look busy, but they are running from their record.
I am voting against this Bill, because it is perfectly right for Members to say, “We demand better and we expect better of this Government”, and unlike Members elected at the 2019 general election, we do not just read scripts from central casting, we demand better. We demand better for our constituents, and so should they.
When the Home Secretary said that she wanted criminals to “feel terror” at the thought of committing offences, she reflected the heartfelt sentiments of those who live on the frontline of crime, starkly contrasting the small clique of bourgeois liberals who use wealth to segregate and insulate themselves from the reality of disorder and have sought to amplify time and again, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) did tonight, the rights of thugs and villains and the civil liberties of the violent mob.
This week, Members of Parliament have rightly resolved to redouble our efforts to prevent violence against women. It is strange then that just months ago 70 Labour parliamentarians sought to block the deportation of 50 violent criminals, including those convicted of murder and rape, and that they will vote against a Bill tonight that cracks down on crime. It does seem that the Labour party is more motivated by the political posturing associated with what the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), whom I greatly admire by the way, typically described as headline grabbing, than it is with protecting the safety of the innocent.
As figures show, our police forces are continually challenged by increasing demands. Hard-working officers are frequently derailed by the malign advocates of the rights of criminals and distracted by the politically correct delusions of the ideologically motivated elite. Imagine the demoralising disappointment they must feel when, after working tirelessly to solve a crime, an unelected judge insists on awarding a derisory sentence, inhibiting the incentive to prosecute, weakening deterrence and undermining public trust.
Typically, custodial sentences are drastically reduced, and even the most ruthless criminals are released early. Many killers are released after a dozen or so years, while naive utopians in gated communities plead for even greater leniency. How the liberal left misunderstands the criminal mind, for deviant individuals who have chosen crime as a career weigh up the balance between risk and reward, cost and benefit. It is a measure of their trade.
The misassumption that crime is an illness to be treated has become so pervasive that it is barely questioned in the broadcast media, yet to see those who choose to profit from the misfortune of others in the same way that we regard the sick and infirm is to demean the latter and elevate the former to a status they do not deserve. This assumption that wickedness is a misfortune of less significance than the suffering it causes means relegating such acts and the victims of them. In this way, justice is neither seen to be done, nor done at all.
This Bill goes some way to regaining public faith by strengthening law and order and regaining that mantle for the Secretary of State and our party. All Members of this House who care about the innocent should vote for it, for our task is to be fierce in defence of the gentle.
First, I would like to offer my condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends. My thoughts are with them and all those who have lost a mother, daughter, sister or friend to violence at the hands of men.
Like many of my constituents, I was shocked by the images that came out of Clapham common over the weekend. There is something very ugly about a group of women being manhandled, pushed to the ground and pinned for mourning yet another victim of male violence against women. The Home Secretary says that the legislation will make us safer, but after this weekend, I do not feel safer. The events on Saturday night show us the opposite of what the Home Secretary has concluded—far from the police not having enough powers, the sad truth is that the powers they do have are already open to abuse. That truth is not only demonstrated by the women who came to mourn and lay flowers over the weekend; it is written in the headlines about the women who survived the horrors of the spy cops scandal, the headlines about black, Asian and minority ethnic people being killed in police custody and the headlines about the Alfie Meadows and the Ian Tomlinsons who are struck down by police just for being in the presence of a demonstration.
This Bill is the latest in a series that, rather than safeguarding our right to protest, grant even more powers to crack down on dissent. Rather than addressing the real problems in our courts—just look at the gigantic backlog of cases waiting to go to trial, many of which will be domestic abuse, violent crime and rape cases—this Government want to hand out harsher punishments for damaging a statue than harassing a woman in the street.
So I do not feel safer, and there is one group of people who will feel significantly less safe and secure because of the Bill: the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. If the Government were serious about addressing the issue of unauthorised encampments, they would tackle the real problem: the shortage of places where it is permitted to stop and reside. All this legislation will do is strip people of their homes, push them into the criminal justice system and criminalise the way of life of an already persecuted community.
What we needed today was a Bill that dealt with the very real problems in our criminal justice system, respecting our rights to protest and to live our lives how we choose. That is what makes people safer, and we got the opposite of that.
The right to protest peacefully in this country is enshrined in article 11 of the European convention on human rights. Those provisions were put into domestic law and protect the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association with others. I suspect that every Member of this House, together with millions of our fellow citizens, has taken part in such protest events. Such expressions of community feeling are central to our way of life and part of each citizen’s interaction with the democratic process, and that should be protected at all costs.
However, it is an established legal principle that article 11 rights can never be unfettered, for if that were the case, rampant criminality could be justified, providing a defence to those who indulge in such behaviour under the guise of legitimate protest. These are qualified rights, and interference with them may only be justified in certain specific circumstances, including for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and the prevention of crime and disorder. In my view, this Bill—specifically, parts 3 and 4—does not impact on article 11 principles but provides reasonable powers to ensure that the police can improve the effectiveness of protest policing in certain limited circumstances, as long as those powers are applied proportionately and in line with human rights law.
Labour appears to be arguing that the police should not have powers to address the most extreme antisocial behaviour during protests, therefore ignoring the rights of our fellow citizens who may be caused intimidation, harassment, serious unease, alarm or distress in certain circumstances outlined in the Bill. There were clearly mistakes in the policing of the vigil at the weekend in memory of Sarah Everard, but that single example should not be used as overwhelming evidence to suggest that the police will not use the powers in the Bill proportionately, reasonably and in line with existing human rights legislation.
If the choice presented to hon. Members is between voting against the Bill due to the definition of the controlled area outside Parliament and voting in favour of it to ensure the longer imprisonment of rapists, I know which way my constituents would expect me to vote. By voting in favour of this legislation, I am voting in favour of tougher sentences for child murderers, ending early release for sex offenders, the imposition of strict conditions on bail, tougher sentences for assaults on emergency service workers, various measures to crack down on knife and violent crime, and the enshrining of the police covenant in law, together with many other important provisions. I am astounded that the Labour party cannot bring itself to support legislation that will protect all our constituents.
I stand proud to support this Bill today. There are many good measures in it; in fact, we have even heard from Opposition Members that there are many good measures in it. However, they still cannot bring themselves to support it.
Traveller encampments, especially the unauthorised ones, cause distress to residents such as those on Kingston Road in Radcliffe in my constituency, who often thought that the encampment had more rights than they did. They saw extreme antisocial behaviour such as their fences being used as a toilet or being stolen for fires, and they actually feared for themselves. I went and met them several times during the summer, because there was not just one encampment; there were two. It is about time we supported our residents and said that we are not against Travellers, we are just against unauthorised Traveller encampments.
On the sentencing measures in the Bill, I am pleased to see greater sentencing for attacks on shop workers and emergency workers and for the kind of desecration of our memorials that we saw during the Black Lives Matter movement last year. The Bill provides greater sentencing powers for the most serious and violent of crimes. It also introduces Kay’s law, which will provide better protection for the victims and witnesses of violent and sexual offences. That is a measure that we should all welcome. In hand with the Domestic Abuse Bill, it really does go the distance to protect our victims. I would love to quote several of the figures on violent and sexual assaults in my constituency and, indeed, in Greater Manchester. However, with the failure of Greater Manchester police’s data system and the political leadership by Andy Burnham in regard to this, we do not have any of those figures because they got lost, for some reason.
On introducing life sentences for killer drivers, I want to start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for bringing forward her ten-minute rule Bill on this issue. Her Bill started the process; this one goes much further in ensuring that those who are reckless, careless and selfish will face the full force of the law for depriving us of our loved ones.
The linking of this Bill to the poor decisions of the Met over the weekend shows the true worst of the Opposition. I think it is absolutely disgusting, and they should be truly ashamed. Changing their mind at the last minute because they think there are votes in it is not opposition; it is opportunism, and the public will see through them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) summarised the Bill perfectly: it contains the good, the bad and the ugly. There is some good in it, and I pay tribute to Labour colleagues who have campaigned to protect the protectors and for increased sentences for dangerous driving, which are in the Bill among some other stuff. However, I find some aspects of it deeply worrying for the future of our democracy, particularly clauses 54 to 60. I cannot comprehend how a Government who, on 16 February, declared that they were so concerned about free speech that they were introducing a duty for universities to
“stamp out unlawful ‘silencing’ on campuses”,
can then introduce a Bill that will damage the right to protest, because freedom to protest is part of our freedom of speech. The Government need to make up their mind: they either support free speech or they do not. Fully free speech does not mean just supporting the newspaper columnists and outspoken TV presenters that they agree with; it means supporting it for all.
I do not agree with every protest I see, and, yes, some are really annoying and some are really noisy, but I support the right for people to have that protest. I supported the coach industry with its noisy, inconvenient “Honk for Hope” protest. It is crucial that everyone understands that when someone loses the right to protest, everyone loses it; we cannot pick and choose. There have been people protesting outside Parliament for centuries. What makes this Government so precious that they are the Government who suddenly cannot cope with it? I will not support the silencing of people, for the Labour party stands for freedom for everybody, and that freedom includes, yes, even the Members on the Government Benches.
I will quickly turn to what else is missing. On 22 September 2020, I raised directly with the Lord Chancellor the increased abuse that shop workers were facing during the pandemic. He replied that it was
“incumbent on all of us to make sure that sentencing guidelines properly reflect the role that they play.”—[Official Report, 22 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 793.]
I hope everybody can therefore understand why I was disappointed to see no specific reference to retail staff in the Bill. On 10 March, retail trade union USDAW renewed a call for legislation to protect retail staff after it released new statistics showing that 79% of shop workers said that abuse was worse than last year. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), who tried to bring in a private Member’s Bill on assaults on retail workers, but unfortunately the Government objected to it. One shop worker living in Hull West and Hessle stated some of the issues that they had faced, including bad language, spitting, throwing items at staff and verbal abuse, which had caused anxiety and depression. Unlike some Conservative MPs, I care about people more than I care about statues. People come first, and no one should face abuse for just doing their job.
There is lots to welcome in this Bill, but I want to focus on the issue that it covers on which I have had more casework than any other—unauthorised Traveller encampments. Unfortunately, these are a common feature in my constituency. Since last July, I have been copied into a weekly report on where there are unauthorised camps. In 20 of the 34 weeks since I have been getting that report, there has been at least one other unauthorised camp in one of the two districts that my constituency goes across, and in 32 of the 34 weeks there has been at least one camp somewhere in Oxfordshire.
When my constituents, who I think respect the right of Travellers to live their lives in the way that they do, write to me about unauthorised camps, they typically describe the same things: abuse, mess, noise throughout the night, and vandalism. The clean-up costs of these things are considerable for local authorities. The vast majority of Travellers do not behave in this way, so it is wrong for the Opposition to say that the Bill is criminalising their lifestyle, but for the minority who do behave in that way, it is right that we change the law to be able to tackle that.
These unauthorised camps cause distress, disruption and damage, as the Bill acknowledges. It is common for the police to say that they do not have the power to act, so it is right that we should lower the threshold to enable them to do so. They are commonly set up on highways, which in my constituency typically means the slip road on the A34 at Drayton, so it is right that we should clear them from such roads. The Bill also acknowledges the cat-and-mouse game that often goes on whereby after a long time trying to get these camps removed, they then reappear in the same place within days or weeks, as they have been doing at Great Western park. I therefore support the Government’s measures involving possible prison sentences, fines or confiscation of vehicles.
We all recognise the right of Travellers to be able to set up camps inside sites that are designated—caravan camp data suggests that those sites have increased by 41% in the past decade—but we should also recognise the right of our constituents to live their lives peacefully in their own homes and neighbourhoods, and we should vote for this Bill tonight to help them to do so.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, notwithstanding the need for a police covenant and for tougher sentences for serious crimes, including child murder, terrorism and dangerous driving, and for assaults on emergency service workers, because the Bill rushes changes to protest law and fails to introduce a single new measure specifically designed to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and is therefore an abusers’ charter since domestic abuse rates have spiked and victims of rape are facing the lowest prosecution rates on record, and because the Bill fails to criminalise street harassment, fails to make misogyny a hate crime, fails to raise minimum sentences for rape or stalking, and fails to give whole life orders to those found guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger.”
It is an honour to close this debate on behalf of the Opposition and to move the reasoned amendment standing in my name and that of the Leader of the Opposition. It is a debate that has involved the lion’s share of Members across this House, and of course we meet at a time of a national cry to tackle violence against women and girls.
It was in June last year, on one warm evening, amid the deep concerns about the pandemic at that time, that my wife and I, on learning and reading the news, wept together as a friend of mine, Mina Smallman, and her husband Chris lost their two beautiful daughters, Bibaa and Nicole, to terrible violence on a horrendous night in west London. We wept again just a few weeks ago because, on the evening of 3 March 2021, Sarah Everard, after visiting a friend in south London and walking across Clapham common, was spotted on CCTV at 9.30 pm and then she disappeared. The whole country and both sides of this House are mourning Sarah’s disappearance, kidnap and murder.
No story is more telling of the fact that we need tough sentences on the most serious crimes to deter criminals and protect the public, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that this horrific incident of violence against a woman is a one-off. The press may not report it, but women of all backgrounds, from all parts of the country and of all ages are killed every week. In 2016, 125 women in the UK were killed by men. In 2017, the number was 147. It was 147 again in 2018. Over the past decade, 1,425 women have been murdered in the UK. That is roughly one woman every three days.
It is not only murder; all kinds of violence against women are endemic in our country. In one year alone, 3.1% of women—510,000—experienced a sexual assault. Domestic violence has skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 260,000 domestic abuse offences between March and June. The Government knew about the crisis of violence against women and girls before this week, but when they were drafting the 20 schedules, 176 clauses and 296 pages of this Bill, they chose not to mention women once.
Maybe this Government do not like to talk about women because they know they have failed them. A decade of cuts, court closures and failed ideology is letting women down. Half the courts in England and Wales closed between 2010 and 2019. There are 27,000 fewer sitting days than in 2016. Under this Government, just 1.4% of rapes end in conviction. That is a record low and should shame us all.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) rightly asked, why are the Government not fast-tracking rape victims through the CPS and the courts? The Crown court backlog is now a record high of more than 56,000 cases. The Government like to pretend that is only because of the pandemic, but they have no answer to why they let the backlog grow to 39,000 before covid even hit. The result is that victims of crime are being asked to wait up to four years to get to court. Many witnesses are dropping out of the justice system entirely because of delays. Violent criminals are being spared prison because of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) rightly pointed out, discussions on the justice system must always start with delays in the system and the inadequacy of legal aid. Instead of tackling violence against women, the Government have prioritised giving the police the power to prohibit the fundamental freedoms of protest that the British public hold dear. By giving the police this discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time. The Government’s Bill targets protesters causing too much noise and says that those who cause annoyance could be jailed for up to 10 years. I am thankful that the draconian limits on the power to protest were not in place during the great protests of the 20th century that led to real change.
I will not give way for the moment.
When the suffragettes marched for the right to vote, some of them were prepared to break the law to make their point just outside the House of Commons. Does the Secretary of State believe that those women who shouted noisily should have been arrested, too? Protesters marched from Jarrow in Tyneside all the way to London to demand the right to work in 1936. Does the Secretary of State think that the police should have had the power to stop them before they had even passed York? The anti-apartheid movement, of which I was part, marched continuously on Trafalgar Square for black and white people to be treated as equal. Does the Secretary of State seriously believe that they should have been arrested because they caused an annoyance?
Throughout Britain’s history, protest has been a fundamental method for the public to voice dissent. Pandemic aside, what is it about society that has changed exactly that means that the police need more powers to control protesters today than they did yesterday? What is it about the images of police tackling a mourning woman to the floor last weekend that makes the Secretary of State think that the police do not have enough as it stands? The truth, as has been briefed to his favourite newspapers, is that the Government are introducing these measures because they dislike Black Lives Matter, because they hate Extinction Rebellion and because both tell too many hard truths.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is just getting started, but the party that introduced whole life orders—the Labour party—will not, I am afraid, take any lessons from him.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was right in this debate when she said that there was a fine line between “popular and populist” and that our freedoms depend on it. The Conservative party’s principles are rooted in liberty and against the overreach of the state. I call on every member of the governing party who still believes in freedom to join the Opposition and vote against this Bill tonight.
According to the Government, not only those who cause annoyance but those who damage statues of slave owners should be locked up for a decade. Unlike the Government, the Opposition will never condone criminal behaviour, but this Government’s priorities are backwards; they are upside down. Unlike women, memorials are mentioned in the Bill eight times. The Government think that people who damage statutes should spend up to 10 years in prison because of their emotional value, but it is fine to give five-year sentences for rape. This is not hypothetical: Anthony Williams strangled his wife to death, but received only a five-year sentence; John Patrick raped a 13-year-old girl, but got only seven years in jail; Ferdinando Orlando and Lorenzo Costanzo were jailed for seven and a half years for raping a woman in a Soho nightclub; James Reeve raped a seven-year-old disabled girl, but got only nine years; and David Nicholson raped an 11 year-old, but was given a sentence of nine years and four months. What does this Bill do to address those injustices that many people feel?
The Government would rather blow a dog whistle against minorities than make women safe. Measures in the Bill will further compound the inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers who are already the most disproportionately represented group in the justice system. Those found guilty of trespass in the Bill could receive a higher sentence than someone convicted of stalking. Once again, this Government’s priorities are skewed. Even police forces do not support the Government’s criminalisation of trespass. The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said:
“Trespass is a civil offence and our view is that it should remain so.”
Why are the Government determined to lock up Gypsies and Travellers, even against the advice of their own police?
Many of the other measures in the Bill will compound the biases that the Secretary of State knows exist in the justice system. The Prime Minister likes to boast of following my review and recommendations, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) argued so convincingly, too often young people are still considered to be perpetrators, when in fact they are victims. Earlier this year we heard the roar “black lives matter”, and it is clear by the fact that no full equalities impact assessment accompanies the Bill that the Secretary of State simply does not agree.
The Bill contains some important proposals that Labour supports. Most of the best measures come from campaigns by Labour MPs, many of whom have spoken eloquently about those campaigns in this debate. Labour supports my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) on dangerous driving, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) on reform of the disclosure and barring service. Labour supports my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) regarding sexual abuse by people in positions of trust, and my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on protecting the protectors. As the shadow Home Secretary so powerfully said, why can those protections not be extended to shopworkers, social care workers, and other front-line heroes? The Opposition are behind those measures, alongside others to keep the public safe from terrorists, child murderers, and other dangerous offenders.
However, Labour cannot vote for a Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that ignores the intimidation, violence and abuse that women face. We cannot vote for this Bill when it fails to increase sentencing for rape and stalking. We cannot vote for this Bill when it fails to criminalise street harassment, or to make misogyny a hate crime. We cannot vote for this Bill when it fails, on the watch of the Secretary of State, to give whole life orders to those found guilty of abduction, serious assault, and murder of a stranger. We cannot vote for a Bill that fails to outline a strategy to tackle the culture of misogyny that underpins it.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned stalking twice. It is worth remembering that in the Government in which he served, stalking was not a criminal offence. It became a criminal offence in 2012, and we then doubled the maximum sentence for stalking a few years later. I hope he will recognise that that was achieved under this Government.
Given all that has been said by women over the past few days, with the street harassment and stalking that they face, there is a simple question for the hon. Gentleman, who has tremendous experience in this House: have we done enough? Given that this is an omnibus Bill of a size we have not seen in a long time, could we have done more, and could the Secretary of State have done more? The simple answer to that question is, most obviously, yes, we could.
This is a missed opportunity. The murder of Sarah Everard has led to a national outcry, and the Government must finally take action to tackle violence against women and girls. The Government have responded with yet another meeting. Instead of uniting the country around a mission finally to address that violence, they are bringing forward divisive legislation that pits people against one another and takes away our freedom.
Some time this week, another woman will be killed. After around three more days, another woman’s life will be taken. Both those murders are likely to be committed by a man. For far too long, we in this country have had a problem of men killing women. If we stand for nothing, we fall for everything. Today, Labour is standing up for women by voting against this Bill. I ask Members on both sides of the House to do the same.
As the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, it is an honour to close this debate and to follow other right hon. and hon. Members. This two-day debate has been an opportunity, first of all, for all of us to pay tribute to the memory of Sarah Everard, her loved ones and the wider community, who have expressed their shock, revulsion and anger at what has happened and at the wider issues, too.
When we talk about safety, each and every one of us has a responsibility. When women all too often feel unsafe, it is the wrong response to say to them, “Stay indoors. Don’t go out alone.” Instead of questioning the victim, we have to deal with the perpetrator. When I think about how far we have come, I sharply remind myself of how far we still have to go. I look around this House and think of colleagues from all parties—some of whom are no longer here—with whom I have had the honour to work on a cross-party basis on issues such as stalking, child abuse and coercive control. I am proud of that work, and I know that they are, too. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is coming to the end of its progress through both Houses, has in many ways been Parliament at its very best.
The events of last week have no doubt acted as a catalyst. Society is speaking. The response to the reopened call for evidence on the Home Office’s violence against women and girls strategy has now received more than 120,000 submissions in just three days. Society is speaking, and it is for all of us to be up to the level of events.
The Bill, on which I have worked for many months—from well before the sentencing White Paper that I published in September last year—is not just the fulfilment of a manifesto commitment, important though that is; it lies at the very heart of the mission of this Government. It is another milestone along the road to creating a higher degree of public protection for victims of crime—and that very much includes women and girls. I had hoped—in fact, I believed—that we were going to be able to work with Members across this House not on the principle of the Bill but perhaps on the detail. Imagine my disappointment to hear that the Labour party has decided to oppose the Bill on Second Reading.
Let us remind ourselves of what Second Reading is all about: it is not about the detail of the Bill—whether it can be amended, improved, honed, polished or added to, as we have seen with the Domestic Abuse Bill—but about the principle. With the greatest of respect to Opposition Members, what beggars belief is that they think that now is the time to turn unity into bitterness and partnership into strife—[Interruption.] I can tell the right hon. Member for Tottenham that I am afraid that is what I have been hearing across the House. It is as if, somehow, we have descended into two nations once again, speaking past each other and not engaging in the way that we did on the Domestic Abuse Bill. To say that I am perplexed and disappointed is an understatement.
But then I read today’s Order Paper, and sadly all seems to be revealed, because we have not one reasoned amendment—we will vote on the one moved by the right hon. Member for Tottenham—but two from the Labour party. The Front-Bench amendment, which has a few names attached to it, makes a brief reference to the law on protest but, on analysis, does not really offer any solid reasons that are differences in principle in respect of Second Reading. The other reasoned amendment, which has been signed by 42 Labour party Members, offers much more direct resistance. It is clear that in principle those signatories are very much opposed to the Bill. There, frankly, lies the heart of the dilemma for the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party: they are trapped between parts of their party that oppose, in principle, sensible, reasoned, proportionate measures that develop the law in a mature way, and the vast majority of the public, who want us to work together in the national interest. I am afraid that it looks as if party interests are being put before the national interest. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that, but I am afraid that that is what it looks like—not just to those on the Government side of the House, but to the country.
Let us look at what we did on the Domestic Abuse Bill. By working together, we moved mountains.
No, I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think I can do justice to the number of inaccuracies, generalisations and false assertions—inadvertent assertions, I will concede—that were made by him and, I am afraid, by other Opposition Members. They are concocting—
No, I will not give way.
Opposition Members are concocting synthetic arguments in objection that just do not stand the closest scrutiny. They are inadvertently—I will say “inadvertently”, because I will give them, of course, that courtesy—misstating some of the key provisions of this Bill.
Let us start with the juxtaposition pf sentencing for rape and criminal damage. The starting point for the lowest category of the offence of rape, as set out by the Independent Sentencing Council, is five years. With aggravating factors and different categories of offending, rape offenders will receive, and very often do receive, substantially longer sentences, leading up to those for campaigns of rape, where sentences of in excess of 20 years, or even life sentences, will be imposed, because the maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment.
No, I will not give way.
In this Bill, we are making sure that those who commit offences such as rape spend more of their time in prison. We are ending Labour’s automatic halfway release provisions for people who receive sentences of over four years for offences such as rape and section 18 grievous bodily harm, and we are making sure that they serve two thirds of their term of imprisonment.
Turning to criminal damage, the relevant Act is now 50 years old, and for those 50 years the statutory maximum has been 10 years where the value of the damage is over £5,000. The changes in relation to criminal damage of memorials simply remove the previous restriction on the mode of trial and allow the full range of those powers to be used up to that maximum. We are simply giving the courts greater discretion as to how they sentence such offenders, taking into account the emotional and community impact of those offences.
We had, I thought, cross-party support on these measures. Indeed, back in the summer, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) publicly backed our proposals. He said that he would work to support such efforts in Parliament. Now he is opposed. Why? Why the change? What is going on here? I will tell Members what is going on.
No, I will not give way. I will explain what is going on, and then I will let the right hon. Gentleman in.
I would suggest that what has happened here is the result of a conflation with the covid regulations and their interaction with the right to protest, which the Labour party did not oppose—it voted in favour of those on occasions or did not oppose them. They have conflated those arguments with measures in the Bill that long predate what happened on the weekend—those regrettable scenes that we all saw and were upset and appalled by. They are now conflating those issues with the issues relating to this Bill. There is no relation between the two, and I would love to hear an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Last year, the Government spoke about additional protection for war memorials. We all understand the value of war memorials. What we did not agree to, and I have never agreed to, is locking up people for 10 years for damaging all memorials, including those of slave traders. That just sums up everything that is wrong with the Government’s approach. They could have worked with us. They did not. They have created division.
It is a very nice try from the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the utmost respect, but it does not cut the ice. We know what has happened here. It is a party in panic that is weaving, twisting and wobbling because its internal management problems are far more important than the public interest. That is the truth. Here we are, at the end of a two-day debate, with the Labour party, which I concede has a proud record in supporting the police and maintaining law and order, now voting against measures to strengthen sentencing for rapists, burglars, drug dealers, sex abusers, killer drivers. All of that is being opposed by the Labour party. Let me tell Labour Members the price of that for their party.
No, I am not going to give way.
Much has been said about the excellent campaigns run by Labour Members. I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), with whom I have worked very well over the years on issues relating to child abuse. Imagine the impossible position that those doughty campaigners have been put in by their Front Benchers. They are now having to vote against the very measures that they campaigned for so assiduously. That is a terrible predicament for them to be put in. It is a disgrace, and the Labour Front Benchers should hang their heads in shame.
There have been in this debate many constructive and important contributions, and I want to in the minutes that I have left—
They don’t like it when the truth is explained to them. They think that they have the moral high ground on all these issues. Well, I can tell you that there is no monopoly on morality in this place.
Before I deal with the excellent contributions from Members across the House, may I deal with the canard about “annoyance”? Much has been made about the somehow strange use of a word that is seen as a massive infringement on the civil liberties of men and women across this country, yet a brief perusal of the Law Commission’s report of 2015 tells us that the law has developed for centuries with phrases like “annoyance”. It is a part of the common law on public nuisance. The members of the Law Commission—they were all very good members; there was Lord Justice Lloyd Jones as he then was, and Professor David Ormerod, who is well known as an excellent academic in these fields—recommended that the law needed to be codified. The law had been restated with reference to the use of the word “annoyance” by none other than the late and noble Lord Bingham when he was in the House of Lords. He set out the law very clearly. Clause 59 amounts to no more than a reiteration of the excellent work of the Law Commission. To say anything else is, frankly, once again a confection, a concoction and a twisting of the reality.
I want to deal with the question of abuse in a position of trust. I pay particular tribute—I think all hon. Members will agree with me—to the outstanding work of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). It has been a pleasure to see her back here. She spoke earlier. I think she has now gone home, but we all wish her well. She has, with great tenacity, campaigned to make sure that we make these provisions a reality.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). He asked a particular question about driving instructors. He will see in the Bill that there will be provision, by way of statutory instrument, to allow an amendment of the law to extend to further categories of occupation. It is important that there is a clear evidence base. We are dealing with young people who are transitioning to adulthood—they are 16 and 17 years of age—and it is quite clear that the evidence on sports coaches and religious leaders, sadly, did point to a need to change the law. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends and to my noble Friend Baroness Grey-Thompson for their excellent work.
On causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) deserves our thanks and praise for pressing her Bill. I know she has welcomed the provisions. In the context of memorials, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for pressing their case with extreme prejudice and alacrity and for succeeding on the provision.
The Home Office parts of the Bill were outlined very well by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary yesterday. In summary, I would say that important public health duties are being extended in relation to serious violence. I have long held the view that it is only by bringing together the local agencies that we truly get ahead of the trends in serious violence and in prevention, which is of course nine tenths of what we need to be doing.
The Chair of the Justice Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), made a weighty contribution to the debate, rightly pointing to the extra investment in alternatives to custody. At the heart of the approach I am taking as Lord Chancellor is enhancing and improving community sentencing. It has long been clear to me that we need to make sure that sentencers have a proper choice of robust community alternatives.
I asked whether the Lord Chancellor could explain to my community why someone who was in a position of trust—deputy manager of a care home—who peddled kids to deal drugs across the country got a prison sentence of only four years. What is he going to do about that?
The hon. Gentleman knows that matters dealt with in court are matters for the independent judiciary, but I will look at the case, because it is vital that we make sure that those who are involved in organised crime and abuse—that is what that case sounds like to me—are properly dealt with, and that the wider issues are addressed. I share his concern.
Not at the moment.
I am particularly pleased to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray), who represented the family of Ellie Gould, the murder victim of whose case I think everyone in this House is fully aware. It is important to take on board the points he made about domestic homicide. I have spoken elsewhere about the importance of getting the balance right when it comes to the categories of murder. I committed to a review—I did that last week—and I will bring before the House further information on the content of that important review.
In the minutes left, I am pleased to commend to the House a radical new approach to the way in which we deal with young people—children—who are incarcerated in the secure estate. The days of locking them up and forgetting about them absolutely have to end; we all agree on that. That is why the measures to clarify the legal framework surrounding new secure schools will allow a complete change in the way in which we deal with, support, rehabilitate and educate children in our care. Schools with security will have education, wellbeing and purposeful activity at their very heart. As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for his constructive suggestions and his work as a member of the Justice Committee.
Let me outline on the record the important provisions in the Bill relating to unauthorised encampments. Many right hon. and hon. Members have raised the issue. It is a real concern for many of our constituents.
The pages of the Bucks Free Press attest to the sheer scale of the costs to our green spaces and our communities of unauthorised encampments. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that on this issue and on protests, the Opposition are refusing to engage with legitimate limits on both freedoms?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. This is all about balancing the rights of Traveller communities to use authorised encampments and to enjoy the lifestyle that they have chosen, and the rights of householders not to have their local communities despoiled. That is what we are seeking to do. The Bill, in my strong submission, allows that balance to be maintained and enhanced.
The Bill is part of our wider approach to making the criminal justice system smarter, and to keeping our streets safe from the worst criminals, while giving offenders opportunities to turn their life around. We can rebalance the justice system. We can restore faith in it, which has sadly been in decline for too long. The Bill is a welcome step forward, and I commend it to the House.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Bill read a Second time.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 24 June 2021.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(James Morris.)
Question agreed to.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by a Minister of the Crown, government department or other public authority, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(James Morris.)
Question agreed to.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees for courses offered as an alternative to prosecution for road traffic offences.—(James Morris.)
Question agreed to.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Carry-Over)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),
That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.—(James Morris.)
Question agreed to.