Please may I too send my deepest sympathies to Sarah Everard’s family and friends? Also, I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
There is much to commend in this Bill, which dots several i’s and crosses several t’s with regard to our manifesto. We hear a lot about rights; now it is time for responsibilities.
Following the unhappy circumstances surrounding the vigil for Sarah Everard, there is concern over the extension of police powers, and the new laws regarding public order must be scrupulously monitored and sparingly used. I mention this with the vigil in mind, where the police were caught between a rock and a hard place as they attempted to balance laws passed to control a pandemic and an outpouring of grief that those who attended the vigil wanted to share. It highlighted to me what happens when the police lose the consent of the people, which only reinforces how important it is for laws affecting public order to be proportionate, clear and reasonable. To that extent, I was reassured when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated in her speech that these new powers are aimed at preventing protesters from stopping people going to work or closing a city like London for days on end. This new style of protest appears to be the norm today, and no responsible Government can sit idly by.
Let me move on to other aspects of the Bill. I am 100% in support of doubling the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months to two years in prison. I sincerely hope that this deterrent also applies to inmates who assault prison officers. For too long, a lack of any real deterrent has seen this forgotten army subjected to acts of violence that are totally unacceptable—and it is not just physical violence. Female prison officers, in particular, are vulnerable to being “potted”—a degrading and revolting assault where human excrement is emptied on their heads.
As a former soldier, I find the damage to and desecration of war memorials a particularly heinous and cowardly crime. Whatever one’s view on a particular subject, it does not give the right to tear down statues. I agree that monetary value should not be a factor in sentencing because these memorials are, quite literally, priceless.
I welcome the toughening of the law on trespass. Rural crime is a significant problem, and this promise in our manifesto will help to combat a small and unruly element who think they can operate outside the law.
Finally, I like the idea of secure schools as an alternative to jail for troubled young people—at least, I assume that is the aim. Their success will depend to a large extent on who runs them and how they are operated. I recall the attempt to introduce bootcamps, which fell at the first fence. However, there is no doubt that a period of discipline within a well-organised structure would do no harm.
Tomorrow night I shall be voting for the Bill, which will be welcomed by the law-abiding silent majority.