Thank you for contacting me about the Government’s Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill.
I am opposed to this Bill and I voted against it at every opportunity in the House of Commons. I very much share your concerns with this Bill, and I can assure you that I have been speaking out both locally and nationally about it and will be pressing the Government to think again as the Bill continues to pass through Parliament.
There are some measures in the Bill, which I support including those relating to the Police Covenant, assaults on emergency workers, reform of the DBS scheme, sexual abuse by people in positions of trust and dangerous driving.
However, I believe the measures in the Bill relating to protests and public order are ill-judged, ill-thought-out and nothing short of a curtailment of the right to protest; their passage into law would be a profound mistake. During consideration of the Bill in the House of Commons on 5 July 2021, I voted for an amendment that would have removed the measures relating to protests. Unfortunately, the Government successfully blocked the amendment by 354 to 273 votes.
We already have the Public Order Act 1986, along with other existing powers, to police protests. I think these strike a careful balance between the legitimate right to peacefully protests and the need to keep order.
As we know, protests tend to be noisy, that’s the whole point. Unbelievably, the Government’s Bill includes “serious unease” caused by “the noise generated by persons taking part” as a reason to warrant significantly expanded police-imposed conditions. The Bill also makes it an offence to breach police-imposed conditions where a person “ought to know” about them, potentially criminalising those unaware of the conditions in the first place.
I believe the Government’s proposals would have long-lasting consequences. The right to protest is extremely precious and one of our proudest democratic traditions. It is only right that our laws do not, and should never, seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest.
I am also opposed to measures in the Bill that would create a new criminal offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”. Under the proposals, families living on unauthorised encampments could be imprisoned for up to three months, be fined up to £2,500, or both.
It is clear that these measures are targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I believe this discrimination could potentially breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. The police have also clearly said they do not require these new measures. The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners have said that “no new criminal trespass offence is required” and that the co-ordinated use of existing powers allows for a proportionate response.
This is why I also voted for an amendment on 5 July 2021 that would have removed this proposed new offence. Unfortunately, the Government also blocked this amendment by 358 to 265 votes.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is now being considered by the House of Lords. I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to drop these poorly thought-out proposals and vote against it at every opportunity.