Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who contacted me ahead of the third reading of the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Commons this week. The Conservative Party have pushed through this wide-ranging Bill during the pandemic and whilst it has some valuable clauses ultimately it falls short on key issues.
I believe that the freedom to protest is central to any democracy. Up and down the UK people come together to share their views and show support for the issues they care about. Whether they protest with the Black Lives Matter movement or as part of the trade union movement that right must be protected. My colleagues across the Labour Party strongly agree which is why at Committee Stage we tabled amendments which would have left out the sections of the Bill which target the right to protest and which we will continue to support. The Government has not yet made clear what concrete evidence and data justifies such extensive powers which constitute a concerted attack on the right to process.
This Bill fails to address the epidemic of violence against women and girls instead choosing to impose longer sentences for defacing a statue of a slave owner than on women’s safety. The Victim’s Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, found that just 14% of survivors of rape believed they would receive justice by reporting the crime to the police. This is shocking but unsurprising when only one in 60 rapes, a record low, are leading to a charge with cases taking years to proceed within the courts. And yet at every stage of this Bill the Conservative’s have voted against Labour’s proposals to end violence against women and girls from increasing minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, making it easier for victims of rape and sexual violence to give evidence, making misogyny a hate crime to tougher sentences for domestic abusers and murderers. In the wake of the tragic death of Sarah Everard and the outpouring of testimonies from women and girls across the UK about their own experiences of gender-based violence we should be united across the House in tackling these issues. In this spirit of working collaboratively Labour has put together a Survivor’s Support Plan for rape survivors and Victim’s Charter which we want to see the Government take up.
My Labour colleague Rupa Huq MP and Bernard Jenkins MP have collaborated and brought forward amendment NC42 to introduce buffer zones around clinics that offer terminations. I believe that women should be able to access healthcare free from harassment. The decision to proceed with a termination is often very emotional and only been reached after a lot of careful thought. During such vulnerable moments I believe we should take all measures to ensure that women are met with the compassion and support they deserve.
The impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has been a key concern for many constituents. Since the Bill’s introduction in March Labour have raised our grave worries over Part 4 of the Bill. These clauses would create new a criminal offence for ‘residing on land without consent or with a vehicle’ as well as increase existing police powers associated with unauthorised encampments. As the Shadow Home Secretary has made stated this is clearly targeted at the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and threatens the nomadic way of life that they have practiced for centuries. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are already marginalised with persistent inequalities in health, education and huge overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Just 21.7% of police bodies supported criminalisation or trespass in the Government’s own consultation with 93.7% calling for site provision as the solution for unauthorised encampments. Despite this the Government has pushed forward with measures that criminalise nomadic ways of life and risk increasing rates of incarceration and homelessness amongst Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
Many retail workers and their supporters have been in touch regarding Clauses 31 and 32 which support retail workers against violence, threats and abuse. I believe that nobody should have to deal with such behaviour at work, not least key workers on the frontline, yet unfortunately such incidents have spiralled during the pandemic. Labour has tabled two amendments which would create a specific offence of assaulting a shop worker with a sentence of up to 12 months, and a new offence for assaults committed as a direct result of workers enforcing statutory age restrictions.
I know that many people in Lewisham Deptford take a strong interest in stop and search powers and racial disparities in our criminal justice system. The Bill proposes the introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders giving police the powers to stop and search people given an SVRO without without needing to form reasonable suspicion. I find this deeply concerning – we know Black people are 8.9 times more likely to be subject to stop and search than their white peers and SVROs roll back on the existing Code of Practice for statutory powers of stop and search. As former Chair of the Youth Violence Commission I desperately want measures that address the problem of violence on our streets but there is little evidence SVROs are the answer. I am glad that Labour have tabled a series of amendments to ensure proper consideration of disproportionality before SVROs can come into force amongst other safeguards. The Lammy Review detailed the racial inequalities in our criminal justice system and four years on I am disappointed that the Government, despite repeated demands from Labour, have still not implemented its recommendations in full. We know that the overrepresentation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in our youth prison population has worsened since the Lammy Review’s publication. Yet without amendment the introduction of SVROs risks only contributing to those inequalities, which the ‘impact assessment’ of the Bill recognises, but puts nothing in place to address this.
This Bill had the potential to be a meaningful intervention that addressed the crisis in our criminal justice system, caused by a decade of austerity, resolving the record backlog of 60,000 cases and worked to ensure that we all have faith in our criminal justice system. Rather than meeting that potential Ministers have undermined the parts of this Bill that we support by including draconian clauses which threaten democratic rights, fail women and girls, unfairly impact Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities and neglect the challenges facing our criminal justice system instead choosing to lock up protestors who cause ‘annoyance’. Despite improvements, many of which were campaigned for by fellow Labour MPs, it is for those reasons myself and my Labour colleagues cannot vote for this Bill.