The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a missed opportunity to help women and girls
The first job of the Home Office is to keep people safe and secure. But with prosecutions plummeting, the police stripped of resources, violent crime up, children forced into county line drug dealing, and an epidemic of violence against women and girls, it’s clear the Conservatives have failed.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced by Priti Patel should have been an opportunity to improve shamefully low rape prosecutions and convictions, tackle child criminal exploitation and keep our communities safe. But instead of all that, the Conservatives are just seeking headlines and trying to stoke division by targeting peaceful protests. As the Bill reaches its final report stages in the House of Lords next week, Labour will keep the pressure up for a better approach.
Hard work and strong arguments by our Labour colleagues in the Lords have already led to several government defeats. After months of refusing to include violence against women and girls in the definition of serious violence, they have been forced to u-turn. Our campaigning with the Coop and Usdaw over many years have forced them agree to a new law to tackle violence against shop workers. Ministers finally accepted that the six-month time limit preventing domestic abuse prosecutions should be lifted. And just this week, we won an amendment to outlaw predatory landlords demanding sex for rent. Those Labour plans will help victims and increase prosecutions.
But in other areas we have been defeated. Shamefully the Conservatives rejected our common-sense amendment calling for police forces to have specialist rape and sexual assault investigation units. They are also pushing ahead with Part 4 of the Bill which represents an attack on the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities even though the police have made clear they do not need or want these powers.
Next week the Lords will debate the final set of amendments on the Bill. Incredibly the government is still arguing against Labour’s proposal to increase the minimum sentence for rape, and still refusing to introduce a duty of candour on police officers to cooperate with inquiries - something families have called for as part of the Hillsborough Law.
We want to see the government stop chasing headlines and get back to the core responsibility of the Home Office
Perhaps most concerning of all is the government’s new and last-minute amendments to the Bill that they are trying to force through on protest laws, with barely any time for Parliament to debate them. In Britain we have important democratic freedoms to gather, to speak or to protest. There is a careful balance between those rights of protest and the rights of others to go about their daily lives. Already the measures in Part 3 of the Bill undermine that balance by putting way too much power into the hands of the Home Secretary and by hindering rather than helping the police to do their job.
New government amendments would give the police incredibly wide-ranging powers to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest – for example shoppers passing a protest against a library closure. Meanwhile the serious disruption prevention orders apply the same kinds of restrictions on peaceful protestors who have been convicted of no crime as they have for violent criminals and terrorists. These deeply concerning provisions will increase disproportionality, bring peaceful protesters unnecessarily into the criminal justice system and undermine public trust in the police trying to do their job. That is why Labour will oppose them next week.
We need a common sense and balanced approach instead. The government should be focusing on improving training, guidance and resources to public order policing as the Inspectorate has recommended. Rather than introducing sweeping powers that could catch people singing songs in the street, they should focus on genuine problems such as intimidatory anti vax protests outside schools. That is why Labour put forward an amendment so local councils can fast track local buffer zones to tackle protests outside schools and vaccine clinics. People have a right to protest, they don’t have a right to harass school children going to school or NHS staff going into a vaccine clinic to do their job.
We want to see the government stop chasing headlines and get back to the core responsibility of the Home Office - to keep people safe and secure. At a time when more and more criminals are getting away with their crimes, the Conservatives are badly letting Britain down. Labour will keep campaigning for a better approach that gets serious about tackling crime.
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