‘(1) The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 2 (“protected animal”) insert—
“(2A) Definition of pet A protected animal is a “pet” for the purposes of this Act if it provides companionship or assistance to any human being.”
(3) After section 8 (fighting etc.) insert—
“8A Pet theft
A person commits an offence if they dishonestly appropriate a pet belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving that other person of it.”
(4) In section 32 (imprisonment or fine) before subsection (1) insert—
“(A1) A person guilty of an offence under section 8A (pet theft) shall be
(a) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine, or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, or to a fine, or to both.
(A2) When the court is considering for the purposes of sentencing the seriousness of an offence under section 8A it must consider the following as aggravating factors (that is to say, a factor that increases the seriousness of the offence)—
(a) the theft caused fear, alarm or distress to the pet, the owner or the pet or another person associated with the pet;
(b) the theft was for the purposes of commercial gain.”
(5) In section 34(10) (disqualification) after “8,” insert “8A,”.’—(Mr Lammy.)
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
Order. Before I call the Home Secretary, it is obvious that there is very little time left for this part of the proceedings, so there will be a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of three minutes. However, I urge even greater brevity.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill delivers on our promise to the British people to keep them safe. It backs our police with improved powers and more support for officers and their families in recognition of the unique and enormous sacrifices that they make. It introduces tougher sentences for the worst offenders and modernises the criminal justice system with an overhaul of the courts and tribunal processes.
The long-overdue police covenant represents our promise to the police and their families that we will do everything we can to honour and support them. That includes much more support for their health and wellbeing. As the House knows, the Bill requires the Home Secretary to report annually to Parliament on the covenant, and this will now cover the whole policing family.
We rely on the police for our public safety and protection. We have relied on them more than usual during the covid pandemic to enforce new laws and, of course, to keep us safe. The overwhelming majority of the country has responded with profound gratitude, but a thuggish minority has responded with abuse and violence. In the year from December 2019 to 2020, there was a big increase in assaults on police officers. Assaults on constables without injury increased by 21%—just over 25,000. Assaults on constables with injury went up by 2%, but that is still over 11,000 cases. It is despicable and it cannot and should not be tolerated, so the Bill doubles the maximum penalty for assaulting emergency workers, including those heroic NHS workers, to two years. Serious violence reduction orders will also give the police targeted stop-and-search powers for convicted knife and weapon carriers.
The police will be able to take a more proactive approach to managing protests. That is not about stifling freedom of expression. The right to protest peacefully is a cornerstone of our democracy, but there is a balance to be struck between the rights of the protester and the rights of others to go about their daily lives. The current legislation that the police use to manage protests, the Public Order Act 1986, was enacted over 30 years ago. Tactics such as blocking emergency vehicles, gluing oneself to a train, blocking airport runways and preventing the distribution of newspapers are unacceptable and illegitimate. They will be treated as such. By attempting to strike out those clauses, Labour has proved that it is on the side of the disruptive minority and not the hard-working majority.
Victims and witnesses need to know that they are safe, and of course the Bill reforms the pre-charge bail regime, which will bring much-needed reassurance, including in high-harm cases such as domestic abuse. People convicted of serious crimes will receive tougher sentences and spend longer in prison. Automatic halfway release from prison will end for another cohort of serious sexual and violent offenders. A whole life tariff order will be the starting point for the premediated murder of a child. The Government’s comprehensive rape review is soon to be followed by a comprehensive strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, and domestic abuse. These problems are complex and widespread, so we need to do much more to combat them. The Bill strengthens the management of sex offenders by, for example, enabling the courts to impose electronic monitoring requirements and behavioural change courses. There are new powers to manage terrorism risk offenders.
The Bill provides more agile and appropriate management of children in the justice system—something that we should never overlook—so that judges and magistrates can make decisions in the best interest of the child and the public. Secure schools will be trialled with a focus on excellent education, wellbeing and purposeful activity.
Because of covid, temporary provisions were made to allow people to participate in and follow court proceedings by video and audio technology. Those have worked well and will be made permanent. We will also make the courts more accessible for people with disabilities.
Our first responsibility as a Government is to keep the public safe. The vital provisions in the Bill will strengthen public safety and update the law. They will mean that the police can manage new and emerging threats and that the criminal justice system works for the British people, keeping our citizens and our communities safe.
As we prepare to vote, I urge Labour Members to ask themselves whose side they are on. The public whom they serve will notice. The measures are emphatically on the side of the police and the law-abiding majority of the British people, and I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Bill team, the Clerks and House staff and the Library staff for facilitating debate in the House. It is a great shame that a Bill that could have commanded wide support ended up being so divisive. Indeed, Labour Members, working with other parties, campaigned for elements of the Bill: on increasing sentences for causing death by dangerous driving; on reform of the disclosure and barring service; and on sexual offences perpetrated by those in positions of trust. Some elements of the review by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy have been included, though far too few. We also welcome the introduction of a police covenant, and great credit must go to the shadow Policing Minister, my hon. Friend Sarah Jones, for securing the concession to include non-Home Office police forces. That important change will make a difference. We will hold the Government to account on the implementation of the covenant, to make sure it really does make a significant difference to frontline officers.
On behalf of the Opposition, I have tabled amendments in relation to the Hillsborough disaster, in the light of the collapse of the trial of three men on
Sadly, this Bill has been made a divisive Bill, because of provisions put into it that are unconscionable and because of provisions not put into it that would have addressed the priorities of the British people, by dealing with the reasons why so many women and girls feel unsafe on our streets. This Bill showed a warped sense of priorities; it does more to protect statues than it does to protect women. It is a Bill that destroys the fine British tradition of protecting the right to protest. It allows the noise generated by persons taking part as a reason to curtail protest and criminalises people—mark this—who break a condition they “ought” to have known existed. Our laws of protest have always been a balance, and the way this proposed law disturbs it is wrong. I declare an interest: as a trade unionist, I refer to my relevant entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on support from the Unite union and the GMB. Whether it is our trade unions or another group that wants to make its views known loudly in the streets, we limit their ability to do so at our peril.
I will not, because we are very short of time. Media reports even suggest that the National Police Chiefs Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and the Metropolitan police have all stated that they did not request these noise clauses to be added to the Bill. Today, there is a piece in The Times where senior former police officers have written warning that this Bill is “dangerous” and has
“harmful implications for the ability of police officers to enforce the law and for the health of our democracy.”
Isn’t the truth that the mask has slipped? Ministers are not acting on legitimate concerns about keeping people safe; they are trying to clamp down on people’s legitimate and democratic right to protest. I wonder what it is about the appalling record of this Government that makes them so concerned about people organising protest against them. That the Government attack our democratic traditions in this way, limiting the rights of those whose beliefs are inconvenient to them, is dangerous and to their shame. The unauthorised encampments section of the Bill, clearly targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, will potentially breach the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act 2010. When Friends, Families and Travellers researched the consultation responses the Government received, it found that 84% of police responses did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments. It is unconscionable and unworkable.
This Bill is also a missed opportunity. There should be wider measures to protect the pandemic heroes, extending the protections to shop workers as well as other frontline workers. I wrote this weekend, with the general secretary of Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers that during the pandemic we united as a country to clap for our frontline workers, such as shop workers. Now is the time to deliver on this. Instead the Government MPs voted against that today. [Interruption.] Well, it is true because the amendment was down today and MPs have voted it down. The Bill also continues to ignore the disproportionality that exists from start to finish in the criminal justice system. Black people have bravely stepped forward to share their testimony of structural racism and the impact it still has. This Government seem to want to deny that structural racism even exists. Meanwhile, while communities up and down the country suffer the consequences of antisocial behaviour, this Government prefer to waste more than £200 million on a pointless yacht. Labour would invest that money in tackling crime.
When it comes to addressing the appalling issue of violence against women and girls, this is an empty Bill. Labour even published a Green Paper with suggestions for the Government to act: a rape survivors support plan, victims having the right to support, cases of rape and serious sexual violence fast-tracked, and a Minister with specific responsibility for driving change. That 1.6% of reported rapes lead to a charge is a national scandal. The Lord Chancellor offered an apology, but not the resources we need, and the Prime Minister shamefully dismissed concerns as “jabber”.
This Bill was an opportunity to show that addressing violence against women and girls was a priority for this Government, but they have failed. Women and girls who feel unsafe on our streets should have been a priority in this Bill. It should have delivered on inadequate sentences for rape, stalking, and domestic homicide. It should have addressed unacceptable and intimidating street harassment. It should have delivered properly resourced domestic abuse services.
Whether it is our frontline workers, those who have suffered as a consequence of disproportionality, or victims of antisocial behaviour, we on these Benches will continue to campaign for them and put victims first.
This is an important Bill, and this debate is a reminder that an effective criminal justice system is all about balance—balance between the individual and the state, between the victim and the accused, and between the need to protect society with condign punishment where necessary and the duty to rehabilitate those who can genuinely turn their lives around. Despite some mischaracterisation, the Bill does achieve that.
Perhaps the Bill is also a reminder that an effective criminal justice system requires a holistic and calm approach that lasts beyond the lifetime of any one Parliament. We need to fund the system right the way through, ensuring that the police have enough funding and powers to do their job, that the courts have enough resource, powers and flexibility to achieve justice in a way that is credible and consistent, as our judges invariably endeavour to do, and that the Prison and Probation Service has the resources not only to keep dangerous people safe, but to support those who wish to make a better life for themselves having paid their debt to society. All three are important.
Not all reform necessarily requires primary legislation. Much of the objectives that have been talked about in this debate can be achieved through other means, such as policy initiatives and better use of laws we already have—I can think of several that have been touched on in this debate—and better use of the sentencing powers that already exist, which with support our judiciary is prepared to do. That is why the work of the Sentencing Council is so important. It is worth reminding right hon. and hon. Members that, on the House’s behalf, the Justice Committee is a statutory consultee in the work of the Sentencing Council, something which we take incredibly seriously. There is a power for elected representatives here to have an input into the process, and we ought to make full and proper use of it. The Committee is determined to do so.
I have a final word about the importance of the Law Commission, which has been mentioned much today. The Lord Chancellor has been firm in his support for it, and it is critical that the Law Commission continues to be properly and fully resourced. Its budgets are not large, and there has been no attempt to reduce them under the current Administration. There was once an ill-advised attempt to do so, but I am sure that there will not be another. We must ensure that the Law Commission continues to have the resources so that we have an objective, independent, authoritative voice to guide us in reforming desperately important elements of our law, criminal and civil, which will have a bearing on society beyond the lifetime of this Parliament and many more besides. The Law Commission’s long-term approach is vital, too, and I commend it to the House.
I was disappointed that 44 of the 66 speakers did not get in on Second Reading, and particularly disappointed that nobody from the SNP other than myself was able to speak. I kept my remarks to around five minutes to allow them and others to get in, but unfortunately that did not happen. However, I will be much briefer this time, partly because there is only so much time you can spend banging your head off a brick wall and also because, over the past few months, myself and colleagues have spoken at length on this topic and will continue to do so.
Let me reiterate the main issues for the SNP. The Bill will not achieve what the Government say they want to achieve. It will seriously curtail the right to protest, and it will disgracefully criminalise the way of life of Gypsy Travellers. I remind hon. Members that on Wednesday at 1 o’clock Gypsy Travellers will be spending two hours across the road from this place. They have invited us all to join them to hear more about their way of life, and how the Bill will impact on those lives.
The Bill is likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on ethnic minority communities and women. It will allow the ridiculous and unjust possibility of a tougher jail sentence for someone who topples over a statue than for someone who does the same thing to a living human being or animal. I assure the people of Scotland that this Bill would never happen in an independent Scotland. If there is a single person on these islands who is still wondering why we campaign for independence, I encourage them to read this Bill.
This Bill is so pernicious in parts that it chillingly removes some of our most precious freedoms. Indeed, on press freedom, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 already allows for the identification of journalistic source information via a judicial process when that is required by the police. The Bill appears not only to relax, but to ride a coach and horses through the legal process, with no clear protection or processes for journalistic whistleblowers, and by extending the people who can access the information not only to police officers and constables, but to employees of the Court of Common Council of the City of London, and immigration officers.
The Bill is littered with instances of racial and other forms of discrimination, from the biased operation of serious violence reduction orders, to attacks on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities through the criminalisation of their way of life. Then there are the Bill’s provisions on our right to protest. The Home Secretary will have unfettered powers to define what constitutes “serious disruption”, and protesters who simply cause a “serious annoyance”, which is not defined, can be subject to jail sentences of up to 10 years. Worryingly, Amnesty International has said:
“The Bill also gives Ministers further enhanced powers to issue further legally binding regulations around these highly subjective and vague thresholds, which raises the prospect that the current or any future government may misuse these powers to stifle criticism and views that it might find uncomfortable.”
I will finish with a warning. History is littered with examples of democracies sliding blindly into authoritarianism. It usually happens by stealth: undermining the judiciary one day, threatening the existence of public broadcasters the next, rigging electoral rules to make it much more difficult for Opposition parties to win elections and, of course, silencing dissent by restricting the right to protest. It all sounds chillingly familiar, does it not? If the Government believe in democracy, and I truly hope they do, let them prove it tonight. Drop the Bill, otherwise I will have no option but to determine that tonight, whether intentionally or accidentally, the Government begin their stealthy descent into authoritarianism.
It is fair to say that in this Parliament the Government have a strong majority, but they need to use it wisely and responsibly. I commend the Minister and the Lord Chancellor, both of whom have demonstrated this afternoon and evening a willingness to listen on some issues. They have given commitments that there will be resolutions in the other place. Earlier I expressed my disappointment that the Committee process did not get the Bill into the shape I believe it needed to be.
There are still profound concerns, not just for those who are likely to offer opposition, but for those, including myself, who have recognised and expounded on issues with what some of the Bill’s provisions say and with how they have been articulated. Even though the Minister indicated that perhaps there are some misconceptions or misperceptions about what it entails, sadly the House has not had the opportunity to consider the Bill in full. Time has been limited this afternoon and we are the worse for it, but I suspect that the other place will have much longer on the Bill and we may see significant opportunities for change.
I encourage Ministers to consider positively new clauses 44 to 50, which sought to mirror the provisions on human trafficking and sexual exploitation that already apply in Northern Ireland. I do hope that they will give them earnest consideration. We secured their passage in Northern Ireland some four years ago; they are important legislative changes.
On the basis of the four or five aspects of the Bill that apply in Northern Ireland—those on obtaining information from electronic devices, on assisting with samples and recovery of remains, on sexual offences and on some mutual recognition provisions across the United Kingdom —we will support Third Reading, while recognising that we have reservations to which no doubt we will return on another occasion.
I support all the comments that my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds made, particularly those about the right to legitimate protest, but I draw the House’s attention particularly to my amendments about air weapon safety, which I did not have the opportunity to speak to on Report.
As the Minister understands, I have been pursuing the issue for a number of years, following the tragic damage done to my young constituent by an air weapon. It caused life-changing injuries, and I have worked with many other hon. Members whose constituents have died because of those weapons. I will pursue the issue of the prohibition of air weapons on private land for those under the age of 18.
I would particularly like the Government to consider publishing the evidence that they have collected with regard to the air weapons review, following my Adjournment debate a few years ago. We need to understand how the Government have used the evidence to come to their conclusions, particularly with regard to the law as it operates in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and to the licensing of these dangerous weapons.
I hope that I will be able to pursue the issue with the Government in the coming months and years. I think there are hundreds of families across the country who would support us in looking at it more seriously again.
Having served on the Bill Committee for this landmark legislation, I wholeheartedly support how the Bill embeds the police covenant into law, a commitment that I made to my constituents of Blyth Valley back in 2019. The covenant is pivotal to ensuring that our police are supported and that they rightly receive the recognition and enhanced protection that they deserve in keeping us all safe. It is a hugely positive step that echoes the Government’s commitment to protect police officers and their families.
My promise to my constituency to do all I can to reduce crime and create safe communities is paramount. Blyth Valley has seen high levels of antisocial behaviour over recent years. On occasion, tragically, it has led to the loss of life. Only recently, a constituent and father of two was violently attacked on his way home. I would like to thank the Northumbria police in my constituency for all the work they have done in the wake of this shocking incident. Much to the horror of my constituents, the offenders were all teenagers aged between 16 and 18. Due to their actions, so many lives have been ruined. It is vital that we give our police every tool they need to protect both themselves and our communities. As well as strengthening police stop-and-search powers and targeting those people who are convicted of knife crime and weapon offences, we will reinforce the custody of young offenders.
Another part of the Bill that I particularly welcome is the increase in the maximum penalty for anyone who assaults or commits an offence against an emergency worker from 12 months to two years. I worked for the NHS for almost 25 years, but I am sure that everyone in this House will agree that any form of attack or assault against an emergency worker is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Our emergency services have gone above and beyond over the past year during the pandemic to protect and save lives. They deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. Their bravery, selflessness, professionalism and unflinching diligence does not go unnoticed. I welcome the fact that the Bill will seek to ensure that everyone who commits an offence against such workers will be penalised.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
I will now suspend the House for two minutes to make arrangements for the next item of business.