The problems of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill; and the Select Committee on the Armed Forces bill - weekly update 20/3/21
This week the UK Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill returned to Parliament and I was able to speak in the debate. With the country still reeling from the shocking and tragic death of Sarah Everard, domestic abuse having been highlighted by the pandemic, and the inequalities of the UK exposed by Covid, this Bill is a flawed response to the inadequacies of our justice system. The country wants to see action taken against those committing serious offences: violence against women, domestic abuse, rape and street harassment. Instead, we see a UK Government pursuing tougher penalties for the destruction of monuments to slave traders than rapists and murderers. Wanton destruction is a criminal offence, but why is it a greater priority for this Government than the safety of half the population?
The UK Government are also threatening our fundamental rights of protest, with measures to disproportionately control the right to protest and offences created for obstructing vehicle access to Parliament. Thousands of people protesting Government measures will inevitably cause disruption to traffic around Parliament but protesting Government policies is a fundamental right in a democracy. Protest gives the public a way to reach Parliamentarians, and our ability to do this should make us proud of the country we live in. 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. This UK Tory Government are eroding our democratic values and prioritising monuments to dead white men over the safety and security of real, living people.
Last week in the Armed Forces Committee we heard about prosecuting crimes, including rape, through the military courts. One statement stood out for me. It was, “Our service people are thoroughly good people, but they drink too much, something goes wrong, and they end up in court.” This oxymoron is so often heard in cases of sexual assault and rape where “good men” commit acts of assault which are “out of character”. I was able to ask the Home Secretary on Monday about the discussions being had in her Department and across Government about that attitude towards victims of male violence, and whether it reflects a general attitude to women. My concerned about this were further reinforced by the scenes on Clapham Common during the vigil held for Sarah Everard. The Home Secretary claimed that this was not a reflection of the general attitude held toward women in our country, but refuses to ensure that all police forces actively record crimes motivated by misogyny, giving us better data to track and prevent violence against women.
The Armed Forces Bill Committee continued hearing evidence and I put the concerning statement about good men getting drunk and into trouble to Tony Wright, the Founder and CEO of Forward Assist, a charity that works to support former servicemen and women adjust to life outside the military. He is particularly supportive of those veterans that suffer from PTSD and other difficulties relating to adjusting to civilian life. As a qualified and registered social worker, Tony is keen to promote a more holistic support network that brings in mental health and social workers to help the military work with civilians to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century and that veterans have all the support that they need, but that the attitudes within the military reflect those on Civvy Street. Attitudes towards mental health, sexual assault, and rape - inside and outside the military - must be brought into the 21st Century. We must also remember that these are not things that affect solely women and the challenges around encouraging women to seek support, such as feelings of shame and fears of not being believed, are present for men as well.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, my staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!