I was very pleased to contribute to the 2nd reading debate of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill earlier this week. I know this Bill has received a lot of attention in the media but this legislation has the potential to do a lot of good and reform our justice system.
The Bill covers a lot of different issues that the government’s manifesto promised we would address. It seems like a long time ago because of Covid-19, but the disruption to people’s lives caused by Extinction Rebellion among others, does require a different response from what had been possible within existing laws. Other issues, such as illegal encampments, continue to cause concerns to residents locally and considerable expense to council tax payers. It is also important that we improve the ability of the courts to deal with sexual offences against children, among other matters in the bill. The Bill addresses sentencing as well by increasing sentencing for some of the most appalling offences.
I know some people are concerned about reports that this Bill is being rushed through. I can assure you this is in no way the case. The Bill has been in the pipeline for a while, many of the commitments were first while Theresa May was Prime Minister and formed part of the manifesto in 2019. The Bill passed 1st Reading on 9 March and has now seen two days of debate during 2nd Reading. We have also passed a ‘carry-over’ motion and so it will progress in the normal way in the next Parliamentary session. I will be supporting the bill but clearly I, and the government, will be listening carefully to the issues raised in the debate and the wider public view as each aspect is considered.
I also know some people have concerns over some of the wording being used in the Bill, particularly around the public order legislation. I want to reassure you that much of this has been drafted as the Law Commission recommended and uses perfectly understandable terms and phrases from the old common law arrangements. Within the Judiciary these are well understood and have been defined by case law in the courts. Now the wording in the Bill will be heavily scrutinised at Committee Stage, when the Bill will be reviewed line by line over the period of several weeks, but I wanted to reassure you that these terms have not just been included without thought and follow legal precedent.
My full contribution can be found below:
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.