As Parliament moves towards the summer recess break and shutdown the immediate weeks preceding are always quite frantic as Government tries to clear outstanding and delayed legislation and avoid issues dragging into the autumn session.
Last week was no different, with a number of important items for discussion and ‘three line whips’ requiring all MPs to be available to vote
Amongst the most controversial of bills being discussed recently was the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which returned to the House of Commons.
I know that many constituents had strong views about this Bill as I received numerous emails expressing concern at the potential impact on people’s freedoms – particularly the freedom to demonstrate and express opinions without fear of being arrested.
I should say at this stage that I support many important measures in this Bill, including those relating to the Police Covenant, ensuring proper action against those who assault emergency workers, reform of the DBS scheme, tackling abuse by people in positions of trust and dangerous driving.
However, the Government’s decision to include the restrictions on protests and demonstrations is in my opinion completely wrong. These are measures that fail to address the crisis in our police and justice system. Whilst I am not condoning some of the actions of protesters – where violence occurs – I was disappointed that the Bill appears to do more to protect statues than it does to protect women – with the maximum sentence for rape lower than that for pulling down a statue. How can anyone defend such a stance?
I believe the Bill is a missed opportunity. I think there should be wider measures to protect pandemic heroes, extending protections to shop workers as well as other frontline workers. I therefore voted for an amendment to the Bill to introduce a specific criminal offence of assaulting a retail worker. Incredibly, the amendment was also voted down by Government MPs.
I have always believed in the importance of every person having the right to express their opinions in a peaceful way. It gravely worries me that if this Bill is made law (it is now progressing through the House of Lords) it will give the Home Secretary far too much power to define what is and isn’t ‘serious disruption’ – a decision that should not be in the hands of a politician who may wish to suppress the views of their opponents. I will follow the Bill’s progress with interest.
In ending, and on a lighter note, as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, I would like to wish all my constituents a happy summer, and hope that we can get back to enjoying the company of family and friends, and a well earned break for our children after the most disrupted school year they will ever have faced.