I will have no hesitation in supporting the Bill when it comes to a vote tomorrow, because it delivers on so many of the manifesto promises I made to residents across Burnley and Padiham. It starts by toughening up the sentences for drink and drug drivers who kill while under the influence, for criminals who assault our emergency service workers and for those in positions of trust who groom children for exploitation. It does all this while also tackling unauthorised Traveller camps that show no regard for local residents and planning systems, and so much more. What’s not to like in this Bill?
There is so much in the Bill, but I will keep my remarks to just a small number of areas. The first is the desecration of war memorials. I have been incredibly disappointed to hear Labour MPs indicate that this provision does not matter, because it does. We have some fantastic memorials in Burnley, not least the cenotaph in Towneley Park and the memorials to so many others in our villages such as Hopton and Worsthorne. The images that we saw last year of our national cenotaph being targeted caused hurt, upset and anger. That is why this matters. I am really pleased that the Government have recognised the strength of feeling on this and introduced tougher sentences as a result.
The Bill also delivers on our promise to bring in a smarter, more credible sentencing system. It is one that deals with the most serious violent offenders by ending the automatic release at the halfway point, that tackles repeat offenders that blight our communities, and that makes youth rehabilitation orders more effective at reducing youth offending.
I spent some time before coming to this place mentoring young offenders when they were in prison, and I have no doubt that this will make a difference. I have, however, received emails from concerned constituents about the protest provisions in the Bill. Let us be clear: nothing in the Bill alters a person’s fundamental right to protest and make their voice heard. However, the right to protest does not give anyone the right to block an ambulance going to a hospital; it does not give anyone the right to stop someone going to work to earn a living; and it does not bring with it the right for a person to stop a newspaper being printed just because they disagree with the contents. Just as important as the right to protest is the right to a free press, the right to life, and the right to employment. The Bill just gives equal weight to all those competing rights. The Bill puts the right of the law-abiding majority first. It protects victims, it backs our police and emergency service workers and, with that in mind, it should command cross-party support tomorrow evening.