Weekly Round-Up: 9 July 2021

This week, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill had its third reading in the House of Commons. There are so many things wrong with this Bill – missed opportunities, ill-considered priorities, and draconian measures inconsistent with our democratic principles. Despite many Tory MPs having strong misgivings about the Bill and speaking during debates about the risks to our democracy and the things the Bill did not cover, they voted to pass the Bill and it did so with a 100 vote majority. I find this truly appalling that even though many MPs know this Bill is fundamentally flawed, they voted for it anyway. It’s a betrayal of our democracy and a betrayal of constituents.

In terms of missed opportunities, there is no provision in the Bill for the inclusion of air weapons. Ever since the tragic accident involving an 18-month-old child in my constituency and an air rifle, I have been campaigning to ensure that no other family has to watch their child significantly and irreparably injured by such weapons. This Bill was another opportunity for the Government to put adequate protections in place regarding air weapons and yet, once again, they chose not to.

I also supported Ben Bradshaw’s amendment to make it a legal requirement to report a hit and run incident. Every year in this country, 1,700 people are killed and 26,000 seriously injured on our roads. It is the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 5 and 29 and there has been a feeling among the families of road crime victims that the penalties for road traffic offences often do not fit the crimes and that road crime is not treated like real crime. The failure to stop and report an accident, a hit and run, carries a maximum sentence of just 6 months. That is regardless of whether the ‘hit’ is an object or a person. Ben Bradshaw introduced this amendment after the death of one of his constituents, Ryan Saltern, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver, who received an astonishingly light 4-month sentence and 12-month driving ban. This is an appalling situation for us to be in and yet the Government have failed to address this legal abnormality.

There were also opportunities to put in place greater protections for women seeking abortion services. I supported Rupa Huq’s amendment on abortion service harassment. I appreciate that abortion remains a contested issue and that people have strong feelings either way, however, the law in the UK is that women have a choice and that abortion is allowed within limits. This is an agonising decision for so many women and often includes many more factors than simply an unwanted pregnancy. For them to have to walk past groups of people who may be shouting at them, who may be calling them names, who may be displaying pictures of foetuses or babies is intolerable. It is cruel and it should be criminal. I also supported Diana Johnson’s amendment to bring the legal status of abortion in line with reality. In the 1960s, when abortion was first allowed, they didn’t change the law and decriminalise abortion. Instead, they brought in exempt circumstances where the law would not prosecute. This effectively made it legal within term limits, but it has created issues whereby if we wanted to allow women to continue to take abortion medication at home (as has been allowed during the pandemic), this would technically be a crime. All Diana is doing is trying to align the law with reality so women don’t have to fear prosecution.

I also supported the amendment that would offer greater protections to shopworkers who face appalling levels of abuse in our shops. While it is true that there are offences such as assault that already exist, it is clear that there need to be greater protections for shopworkers given the levels of abuse. No one should expect to face abuse when they go into work and it is clear that this issue is not being taken seriously enough by this Government. Our shopworkers have been phenomenal during the pandemic – they have continued to go into work despite any fears they may have of Covid and continued to ensure that we can get the essentials we needed to keep us going throughout lockdown. They deserve better.

Sadly, with all that the Bill is missing, some of what’s actually included is deeply troubling.  I stand firmly against the new police powers to ban protests. The Bill provides the police with the powers to curb any protest that would “result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or have a “relevant impact on persons in the vicinity”. This is a Bill I can imagine in Brazil, Russia, Belarus – this is not an acceptable Bill to be implemented in a democracy. Protest is noisy and it is inconvenient. Would women have got the right to vote had they not marched and made a noise? Would the Race Relations Act exist if people hadn’t stood up against racism? Would everyone have the right to marry if Pride didn’t march every year? Democracy demands that citizens have the right to participate in politics and an important part of that is protesting what they disagree with and demonstrating for what they want to see. We as politicians have to listen and we have to protect those fundamental rights. Protests are closely linked with strikes – workers have the right to strike over working conditions: are these rights under threat from this Government too? This is an incredibly sinister move on the part of the Government and it threatens our safety and security rather than improving it, which should be the aim of a Bill relating to the police and crime.

I also have deep concerns over the Government’s plans for gypsies and travellers. The National Chief Police Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners have also raised concerns with Government plans to create a criminal offence to tackle “unauthorised encampments”. Currently, where there are problems over access to issues of anti-social behaviour, there are civil powers that the police can use to move gypsies and travellers on. They have said that by using their discretion in cases where there is no anti-social behaviour or issues caused to locals, police can work with the groups and create incentives for those living in the encampments to behave in a responsible manner. This seems like a far more reasonable approach to continue with, to create links with different communities and keep relations friendly, rather than instantly making them criminals before they have committed what anyone would think of being a “crime”.

I have heard from a number of constituents concerned with this Bill and I would urge you to get in touch to share your thoughts.  And if there are any other issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk or by calling 0117 953 3575.