I will be voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill. This is a rushed, divisive, unfit bill and a huge misstep by the Conservative Government.
This Bill doesn’t help anyone – there is nothing for victims of crime. Victims of crime are waiting longer than ever to get to court – the Crown Court backlog is at an all-time high of over 56,000 cases. It can take up to 4 years to get to court. There is nothing in the Bill to combat this. A decade of Tory cuts has led to this. Our criminal justice system needs a re-think - people are losing faith.
The events of this weekend highlighted another flaw in this Bill. The Government are trying to impose draconian measures that impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest. The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. The message behind protests may not always be agreed on, but to limit the capacity to protest in the first place is simply wrong.
The measures that this Bill puts forward could also impact the work of Trade Unions when picketing. If a Senior Police Officer deems a picket line to be a protest, then the clauses enacted in this Bill can be put into effect. It seems the Tories are sticking to what they know and undermining workers once more.
I’m also hugely concerned about the introduction of a new offence aimed at tackling ‘unauthorised encampments’ – directly targeting traveller communities. Trespassing is currently a civil offence, and just 21.7% of policing bodies would support a move to criminalising it. The inclusion of this in the bill could further alienate a group who are already marginalised in society.
In my time as an MP I have had a good working relationship with the Police in my constituency and I value the work they do. My objections to this bill are a reflection of the Government's ill-thought ideas.
The Government had a real chance to enact some long-overdue reforms with this bill. Instead, they focussed their attention on other matters – we now have a bill that seems to have more protections for inanimate figures than it does for victims of rape, where stalkers are let off more lightly than fly-tippers.
This is not about party politics – a quick glance on social media over the weekend will show that the Government have completely misjudged the mood of the country – the few good measures in this bill have been hugely overshadowed by foolish and dangerous ones.
Violence against women
The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women. This is a once in a generation chance to tackle this widespread crisis. This is the time to unite the country and put in place on long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment – as well as tackling the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face. Instead, we have a bill that misses the mark completely.
Labour are calling on the government to work cross-party to legislate to tackle violence against women which is forcing so many across the country to live in fear. The measures Labour proposes include increasing the minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, creating a new street harassment law, introducing a Whole Life Tariff for anyone found guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger, announcing a Review to toughen up sentences for domestic murderers and making misogyny a hate crime. Many of us have been calling for measures like these for years – the stories women have been sharing on social media this past week aren’t new.
If we are going to eradicate violence against women, there needs to be a change in attitude towards women. It shouldn’t take the most violent of crimes against a woman to enact change, when we know that women face other forms of violence and harassment.
Are there good points in the Bill?
There are some good and important reforms in the bill, some of which have been the result of campaigns by Labour MPs. Chris Bryant MP and Holly Lynch MP spearheaded a campaign to make assaults on Emergency Service workers an offence, which has been included in the bill.
The Bill also enacts some of the recommendations of the Lammy Review, to address racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Whilst these modest reforms are welcome, I believe the Lammy Review should be implemented in full.
Sarah Champion MP highlighted the issue of the loophole in the law that allows for adults working in a position of trust to have sex with 16 and 17 year olds. The law did not bar sports coaches and faith leaders from engaging in this. I welcome that the Government is finally closing this loophole, but this issue has been raised in Parliament on a number of occasions since Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s 2017 report on duty of care in sport.
I also agree with the government's plan to extend Whole Life Orders to cover the premeditated murder of a child. This is an appropriate increase in sentencing to recognise the seriousness of the crime.