This is a substantial and impressive Bill. Many of the policies in it predate the 2019 general election and some featured in the September 2020 White Paper, so they are certainly not measures that are being rushed through. It is difficult, in the space of three minutes, to do justice to the 296 pages, 176 clauses and 20 schedules, so let me just name check a few of the parts I particularly support.
I support putting the police covenant into law at last and the increase in penalties for assaults on emergency workers. It is incredible that we are having to contemplate that. I support the allowance for police officers faced with dangerous high-speed car chases in pursuit of dangerous criminals who are done themselves for dangerous driving; they are just doing their job. I am pleased we are toughening provisions on criminal damage to memorials, especially military memorials. I support tougher penalties for causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving and tougher sentencing of child murderers. I support scrapping the early release of terrorist offenders, innovation in probation with the use of curfews and community sentencing, and clamping down on sex tourism.
There are lots of sensible, practical and much-awaited measures in this Bill that the vast majority of our law-abiding constituents will certainly welcome, but of course Labour is voting against all of these tonight. It has not even bothered to table a reasoned amendment to let the Bill proceed and then scrutinise it in Committee. Apparently, it is just a blanket vote against the whole of the Bill and all the measures in it. Labour Members may try to claim that they have objections to the new public demonstration conditions proposed for preventing serious disruption to the life of the community or recklessly causing public nuisance, and they may claim that in some way it suppresses free speech, but if they really do have such concerns, they should support the Bill and argue for improvements in Committee. However, people gluing themselves to tubes to disrupt the whole London underground system, clambering on to planes to shut down airports, preventing an ambulance reaching an emergency department through protesters, preventing the distribution of a free press, or assaulting police officers to get to, violate and vandalise war memorials does nothing to further free speech, free association or any democratic process. Ordinary law-abiding people should not have to put up with it, and there are many thresholds and conditions in this Bill.
I specifically welcome measures to extend the definitions in relation to those who abuse positions of trust by engaging in sexual activity with minors. The Bill specifically references sports coaches and faith leaders. However, private tutors, including music teachers, are exempt from many of the safeguarding checks that we rightly expect of mainstream employed teachers. Can we consider including them, as I tried to do many years ago as Children’s Minister?
I warmly welcome the measures to criminalise trespass when it results in unauthorised encampments, causing damage in order to access private and community property, trashes the cricket pitch or village green when it happens, and prevents local people using the amenities that they pay for. To add insult to injury, these unauthorised encampments eventually leave the site scarred with fly-tipping, everything from building waste to human waste, and then they come back and repeat it all over again in a few years’ time. It is not acceptable. This Bill will clamp down on it at last, and I support it.