I have looked at what this rushed and punitive Bill will do for Wales, and I have found it wanting. It will infringe our right to protest, worsen inequality and lead to a yet more unjust society. This Government are not interested in seriously tackling the underlying causes of crime. They would rather overlook the cycle of offending while clamping down on dissent. The Labour party’s U-turn from abject abstention to principled opposition within the space of one hour yesterday showed that its leaders also have scant regard for the consequences of the Bill.
The Government display yet again a wilful ignorance of devolution, and the Bill’s “designed by England, for England” approach will further aggravate the damage caused by the jagged edge of justice policy in Wales. It shows that Wales needs control over justice now more than ever, so that we can develop a holistic approach that interconnects with our health, education and social policies.
The Bill’s erosion of the right to protest is antithetical to Wales’s values. We have a proud history of protesting against injustice, from non-conformism to Chartism, the miners’ strike, Welsh language rights protests and the present-day independence movement marches. The right to make peaceful protest against iniquity is something that lies deep within our culture. The Bill will also entrench Wales’s status as a nation of incarceration. Wales has a higher imprisonment rate even than England, and one that disproportionately affects black people, who are imprisoned at six times the rate of white people in Wales. The Bill will criminalise more young people and increase the number of vulnerable women entering prison, yet still tolerate the circumstances in which women such as Wenjing Lin and Sarah Everard were killed, all the while doing nothing to address the structural problems of the justice system in Wales, faced with disproportionate cuts to court numbers and support services.
The current system is failing. We could do so much better in Wales if we had proper control over policing and criminal justice. We could deliver a more humane justice system—one that enables equality, dignity and social justice, and that would allow us to tackle the root causes of crime, promote community support, tackle gender-based violence, root out structural racism, give victims a fair voice and protect our communities by prioritising the complex task of rehabilitation over the tabloid policing Acts of punishment—and a fair and just Wales for all. This is the nation we can be not if, but when we give ourselves the chance.