[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:42 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 7:42 pm, 15th March 2021

The Bill is a missed opportunity. I support some measures, such as those on the police covenant, on doubling the sentence for assaulting emergency workers and on toughening sentences for death by dangerous driving, but I have concerns about several others, including the proposed changes to the right to peaceful protest and the measures on unauthorised encampments, which are targeted at Gypsy, Roma and other travelling communities.

The absences in the Bill reveal the Government’s worrying priorities. The lack of the prioritising in the Bill of measures to protect women from violence and support them is a matter of deep regret. That the penalty for defacing a statute has been increased to 10 years—double the minimum tariff for someone convicted of rape—is offensive, and I hope the Government will think again on that. With that in mind, I send my sincere condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and friends—I can only imagine what they will be going through at the moment.

I wish to focus the remainder of my remarks on the absence of any measures in the Bill to repeal the Bail Act 1976, and on its impact on vulnerable women. Under the Act, the courts can remand an adult to prison for their own protection, without that person being convicted or sentenced, and even when a charge cannot result in a prison sentence. Someone’s liberty can be removed without expert evidence or any formal investigation into their circumstances, and even without their having legal representation. It is reprehensible to deprive a vulnerable adult or child of their liberty because of shortcomings in social security support or mental health or other local services. The potential for abuse in the use of such arcane and outdated legislation is clear to see. It is a scandal and surely in breach of human rights legislation.

Following our recent inquiry on this issue, the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system, which I co-chair with Jackie Doyle-Price, has recommended that the Bail Act be repealed. At a recent APPG meeting, I was struck by the evidence from a prison governor, who said that prison was the worst possible environment for a vulnerable person and would exacerbate their vulnerability. The shocking thing is that the scale of the scandal is not even known; the Government do not even collect data on the number of people detained under this legislation. After meeting the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lucy Frazer, and the Howard League a few weeks ago, I had hoped that this would be included in the Bill. Perhaps the Home Secretary could indicate whether the Government will be correcting this omission in Committee.

Finally, I want to express my concerns regarding the Government’s failure once again to undertake any equality impact assessment on the Bill. Given the Lammy review and the evidenced racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system, the Government’s rhetoric about Black Lives Matter rings hollow.