[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Home Secretary 6:21 pm, 15th March 2021

That is a wonderful intervention to take; I am sure we will all be delighted to hear that.

The Government could do more on the issue I was discussing. For example, tutors and driving instructors are not included, and I hope that the Home Secretary will look at that again.

Another area where some measures are welcome is in parts of the review from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham being implemented, but that review was published in September 2017, nearly four years ago; there are provisions for the pilot of problem solving courts, for recognising the remand of children as a last resort and for reform of the criminal records disclosure regime. On the issue of reform of the Disclosure and Barring Service, I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend John Spellar for his work in securing that change.

All those things are welcome and overdue, but we have heard such powerful testimony of the lived experiences and family legacies of the prejudice that black people have faced. Black people have bravely stepped forward to share their testimony of structural racism and the impact it still has. The Government cannot ignore the disproportionality that exists from start to finish in our criminal justice system and continue to take steps that make it worse. The Bill contains so-called serious violence reduction orders, which raise serious questions about disproportionality and community trust. As a minimum, the whole of the review by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, all 35 recommendations, should be progressed without further delay.

Similarly, the Government must look again at the sections of this Bill on unauthorised encampments. The proposals create a new offence of residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle. The loose way it is drafted seems to capture the intention to do this as well as actually doing this, with penalties of imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to £2,500, or both. This is clearly targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and the criminalisation would potentially breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.

When Friends, Families and Travellers researched the consultation responses the Government received, they found that 84% of the police responses did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments. Little wonder that senior police officers are telling us that the changes in the Bill would add considerable extra cost to already stretched policing, while making situations worse. I ask Ministers to think of the signal they are sending. We have already had the discussion about how responding to letters to the Home Office quickly is not the Home Secretary’s strong point, but she will surely have seen the letter to her in January—possibly not, given her earlier answer—from nine different organisations, ranging from the Ramblers to Cycling UK. That letter sets out that these unclear proposals not only risk discriminating against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but risk criminalising wild camping and even rough sleepers in makeshift shelters or tents.