[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 6:52 pm, 15th March 2021

I join the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary in sending my condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends.

There are elements of this Bill, which is a very large and significant Bill, that I really welcome: the action on unauthorised encampments, on serious violence, on people in positions of trust and on changes to sentencing. I particularly, of course, welcome the change to sentencing for death by dangerous driving, which reflects the change I proposed in my ten-minute rule Bill. It was supported, as the shadow Home Secretary said, across the whole of the House, because many Members of this House have constituency cases that have been affected by this, as my hon. Friend Steve Brine indicated in his intervention. My desire to bring this forward was first brought about by the case—the very sad case—of my constituent Bryony Hollands, who was killed by somebody under the influence of drugs and drink, but there have been other constituency cases, such as those of Eddy Lee and Max Simmons. On their behalf, on behalf of their families and on behalf of all those affected by this, I say simply to the Government, thank you.

I would like to focus on a number of areas where I worry that there could be unintended consequences of the measures being brought forward by the Government in this Bill. I absolutely see the reason for bringing forward the serious violence reduction orders, but I welcome the fact that they are being piloted, because I think there could be unintended consequences in two areas. The first is in stop-and-search. Stop-and-search is an important tool, but it must be used lawfully and it must not be used disproportionately against certain communities. My concern is that we do not go backwards on improvements that have been made on stop-and-search, and that we actually ensure that we do not see this being used disproportionately and a disproportionate increase taking place.

The other area is girls in gangs, and I am concerned—I have had a discussion with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, about this—that we could see serious violence reduction orders against male members of gangs leading to their pressurising their girlfriends to be carrying knives, with the impact that would have on those girls. The way in which girlfriends of gang members are used to get at rival gangs is a worry and needs to be given more attention, and I do not want to see the position of girls being further exacerbated, unintentionally, as a result of these orders.

My second concern is about pre-charge bail. I can absolutely see that, as a result of the changes that were brought in previously, we have seen too many cases where people have not been put on bail, particularly where the crime was a serious violent crime against a woman. However, I ask the Home Secretary to look carefully at the nine-month period that is being set before the police have to go to the magistrates court for an extension of bail. Certainly, I would urge her to resist any suggestion that that should be extended, because we cannot go back to a situation where people are effectively left with their lives on hold, possibly for years, as a result of the operation of bail.

Finally, I want to raise one area that has already been raised: I do have some concerns about some of the aspects of the public order provisions in the Bill. I absolutely accept that the police have certain challenges, for example when people glue themselves to vehicles or to the gates of Parliament, but freedom of speech is an important right in our democracy, however annoying or uncomfortable that might sometimes be. I know that there will be people who will have seen scenes of protests and asked, “Why aren’t the Government doing something?” The answer, in many cases, may simply be that we live in a democratic, free society.

I do worry about the potential unintended consequences of some of the measures in the Bill, which have been drawn quite widely. Protests have to be under the rule of law, but the law has to be proportionate. The first area that I will mention is giving police the powers to deal with static protests in the way that they have been able to deal with marches. Those have always been differentiated in the past. The second is around noise and nuisance; some of the definitions do look quite wide, and I would urge the Government to look at those definitions.

The final area I want to mention is the power for the Home Secretary to make regulations about the meaning of

“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation…or…to the life of the community.”

It is tempting when Home Secretary to think that giving powers to the Home Secretary is very reasonable, because we all think we are reasonable, but future Home Secretaries may not be so reasonable. I wonder whether the Government will be willing to publish a draft of those regulations during the Bill’s passage so that we can see what they are going to be and ensure that they are not also encroaching on the operational decisions of the police.

There are very important elements of this Bill, but I would urge the Government to consider carefully the need to walk a fine line between being popular and populist. Our freedoms depend on it.