March Bedford Independent Column – Why I’m voting against the Police and Crime bill

The tragic death of Sarah Everard and the Met Police’s handling of a vigil for her has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women and girls and sparked a renewed focus on the crime legislation introduced to parliament this week.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge document.

There is a lot to support in the Bill. Many of my Labour colleagues had a hand in developing new laws around the Police Covenant, Assaults on Emergency Workers, The Lammy Review, Whole Life Orders extended to cover the premeditated murder of a child, toughening sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving and widening laws which prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under 18.

But I will be voting with my Labour colleagues against the Bill as there are whole sections of the document that have been hastily drafted and poorly thought-out which will introduce some of the most draconian measures this country has ever seen to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest, particularly targeting the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the country.

The right to protest is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. The new measures are chilling and totally unnecessary as there are already laws within the Public Order Act 1986 to deal with protests that cause disorder, damage, disruption, or intimidation.

The Government wants to widen the conditions that the police can intervene on static protests, to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches.

This measure will enable the police to impose conditions such as start and finish times and maximum noise levels on static protests – even if it’s a single person protest.

The Government argues they aren’t suppressing protest but under these new laws, you will only be allowed to protest without fear of arrest if you make no noise, make no impact and not annoy anyone, especially the government at Westminster – a long standing British tradition.

There is also a penalty in the Bill for someone who breaches a police-imposed condition on a protest when they “ought to have known” that the condition existed which would have the effect of criminalising people who unwittingly breach conditions.

This is the true cancel culture – on a statutory footing.

There is no better example of how out of touch and pandering to the ‘culture wars’ this Government is, than introducing new laws to protect the statues of dead men, whilst not including a single law to protect women.

So, I completely understand the outcry of people asking how on earth we got to a point where you can be sentenced for 10 years in prison for damaging a statue but the current minimum sentence for rape is five years.

Just last week, I heard my colleague Jess Phillips reading out the 118 names of women who have been murdered in the UK this year, where a man has been charged or convicted, but there has been no specific action from the Government on violence against women and girls despite the fact rape and sexual violence prosecutions are at their lowest ever level in England and Wales.

Rather than using legislation to try and divide the country, the government should seek to unify people to support long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment.

And we must tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.

One statue of a slave trader was brought down, and new laws have been introduced. To protect statues. Whatever anyone thinks of that event, surely, we can all agree that protecting life and deterring violent crime against women is more important.