[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 7:14 pm, 15th March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Robert Neill, a fellow Select Committee Chair.

The tragic death of Sarah Everard is obviously on all our minds. It has led women across the country to talk about our shared experiences of threats on the streets of our own towns and cities and also to express the anger that, more than 40 years after the first reclaim the night marches in Leeds, we are having the same debates all over again. In some areas, it feels like things have gone backwards. Five years ago, just 8.5% of reported rapes reached prosecution. In the last five years, that has fallen to just 1.4%. The Government have been reviewing this for two years, but in the meantime prosecution rates have got worse.

That reflects the broader near-collapse in the effectiveness of some parts of the criminal justice system. In the five years before covid hit, recorded crime rose by 40%, but the number of crimes being prosecuted fell by 30%. In just five years, hundreds of thousands fewer charges were brought, and hundreds of thousands more criminals are therefore getting away with their crimes. In West Yorkshire, recorded violent crime has shot up. The Government have passed lots of laws, but the number of people convicted of breaking them has fallen. There have been lots of changes to sentences, but fewer criminals are getting sentenced in the first place, so justice is not being done and victims are being let down. Over the last five years, the shocking truth is that it has got easier to be a criminal and harder to be a victim. We cannot let that stand.

There is an important debate to be had about the measures in the Bill, but I see nothing in them that will turn around those shocking figures, and that is what we should work across the House to do. We need the police covenant and stronger measures to support police officers and emergency workers who face attack. We need stronger sentences for the most serious of crimes, including whole-life sentences for premeditated child murder, which is one of the vilest crimes of all. I support those measures. The same should apply for premeditated kidnap, rape and murder, but that is not currently in the Bill. There should also be stronger penalties for rape and stalking, but those are not currently in the Bill. It would, I think, be wrong if we ended up with higher sentences for peaceful protest and public nuisance than for stalking. That would be to get the balance wrong.

I put forward measures last year based on Home Affairs Committee work to extend the register and monitoring provisions for dealing with sex offenders to cover repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking, to stop them moving from one victim to the next and destroying people’s lives because no one is keeping track or joining the dots. I hope the Government will accept Baroness Royall’s amendment in the other place. If they do not, I will table the same measures to this Bill, and I hope that support can be built for them.

There are further measures, which I hope first to discuss with Ministers, that I hope could increase the prosecution rate for assault and domestic abuse, where there have been such problems. The Government are right to place a duty on councils and the police to co-operate in tackling serious violence, but we should be explicit about including the youth service in that; that is not currently part of the Bill.

The Home Secretary will know, even from today’s debate, that there is cross-party alarm about some of the measures in the Bill that go against the British tradition of free speech and peaceful protest. In the coalfields, there is strong support for the work of the police, but people have long memories of things such as the policing of the miners’ strike, so there is also strong support for proper safeguards to protect peaceful protest.

In the Bill, several powers—the broad wording on noise disruption, even though we know few protests are silent, because people want their voices to be heard; the broad powers given to the Home Secretary on serious disruption; and the statutory public nuisance offences with sentences of up to 10 years for doing things that simply might risk causing serious annoyance—are too broad. Every one of us will have seen protests that we thought were seriously annoying, but we do not believe that they should have been stopped. We know, too, that when people protested outside the Iranian embassy for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the embassy could well have argued that the protests were disruptive to their activities or caused serious annoyance, but none of us would have wanted those protests to be stopped. I urge the Home Secretary to withdraw those measures, to re-consult on them and to try to build consensus not just on them, but on the other, wider, measures in the Bill, so that we can all support taking the action needed to cut crime.