There has been a lot of comment in the Media and from constituents regarding votes in the House of Commons last night, that I wanted to address directly.
Firstly, I would like to point that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill isn’t just about protests. The particular section on protests that is causing concern compromises a very small part of the Bill. It is primarily about the criminal justice system, including increasing penalties for some of the worst crimes imaginable.
There has also been a narrative pushed that the Bill is being rushed through. This is completely untrue. The House of Commons yesterday finished the second day of debate at Second Reading. The Bill will now go through the Committee stage, where a committee of MPs will provide line by line scrutiny of the Bill. This Committee will meet for 20 sessions, which hardly indicates a frantic rush. After this, the Bill will come back to the House of Commons, where there will likely be at least another day of debate. As with all legislation, the House of Lords will then provide their own scrutiny of the Bill.
I also wanted to address the narrative that this Bill will remove the right to protest. This, again, is simply untrue. Freedom of speech is a key principle in our society, and one I fully support. But, for example, demonstrators do not have the right to bring London to a halt. They do not have a right to prevent other citizens going about their lawful activities or demonstrate in a way that prevents others from working. To be clear, it is not an attack on free speech, or on safe and legal protest.
This view of nuisance being addressed isn’t based on the views of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, as has been suggested by some, but that of the Law Commission. Their views, which were first published in 2015, can be seen here: https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/uploads/2015/06/lc358_public_nuisance.pdf.
As I have said earlier, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is one that covers an enormous amount of policy areas within the criminal justice sphere, and it is not purely a Bill that is against protests as the Labour Party, and others, might have you think.
To vote against this Bill, I would be voting against:
- Putting the police covenant into law, to better support our police officers and their families
- Doubling maximum sentences for common assault and battery against emergency workers, to protect those who work to keep us safe
- Measures to stop the minority of protests who seek to use mob rule to stop the public from going about their lawful activities
- Introducing Whole Life Orders for the premeditated murder of a child – so that courts can make sure people convicted of the vilest of crimes spend the rest of their lives behind bars
- New Serious Violence Reduction Orders so that people with a history of carrying illegal knives can be stopped and searched to check if they are carrying a knife again
- Introducing life sentences for killer drivers who cause fatal accidents while racing or while drunk
- Better protection for victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences, with strict bail conditions
- Extending “position of trust laws” to protect teenagers from abuse by sports coaches and religious leaders
- More honesty in sentencing so that serious criminals spend more of their sentences in prison instead of out on licence, and those who pose a threat to the public are kept behind bars.
- Tougher community sentences, with longer curfews, to ensure offenders give back to the society they have harmed
- Changing the law so that desecration of war memorials and vandalism of graves and tributes is treated as seriously as criminal damage with a higher monetary value
- Protecting our green spaces and play areas from unauthorised encampments, with criminal penalties including seizure of vehicles for those who refuse to obey a request to leave or who come back after being evicted
These issues that are covered by the Bill are vital. The Police Covenant, measures to keep our heroic emergency workers safe, protection for victims and witnesses of violent crime and sexual offences, and ensuring those who are found guilty of premediated murder of a child are not things that I could, with good conscience, vote against.
As such, I voted to support it at Second Reading, and I look forward to the further scrutiny it will receive as makes its way through Parliament.