There have long been calls for greater power for police and stiffer sentences in relation to some crimes and activities. At one end of the spectrum, the death of PC Andrew Harper shocked the nation and led to calls for stiffer sentencing. I supported this by requesting the Law Officers to seek a review of the sentences given those who carried out the murder. In a completely different area, last year in this constituency we saw a number of illegal traveller encampments set up, including in Goring, causing damage to community facilities and high bills for communities to remove the camps, clean up and repair the damage. This also led to calls for greater powers for police to protect communities. We have also seen calls better to protect women which resulted in a totally mad proposal from the Greens to impose a curfew on all men after 6.30pm. These are just three recent examples that have led to a flurry of calls for action, but the calls are nothing new. For as long as I have been involved in politics, first in local government and now in Parliament there have been similar calls from the public to not only help to reduce crime but also to address the fear of crime.
Police presence is one thing and the Government has invested heavily in policing including a target to recruit a further 20,000 police officers. The installation of CCTV can also bring comfort to people. However, this can also lead to concerns over privacy. It is also interesting to see how events and media reporting can influence public perception. I have read much around this Bill and listened to debate in the Chamber. I have also sought the views of the Thames Valley Police Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner in relation to his experience of policing on the ground.
In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill the Government is seeking to respond to many of these longstanding concerns and indeed to fulfil election manifesto commitments to protect and empower the police, not least by enshrining the Police Covenant in law. It was also a manifesto commitment to empower the courts to tackle crime, ensuring a fair justice system by, for example, introducing tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and toughening community sentences.
On the question of protests, many of those who wrote to me seem to have taken the view that they can protest as much as they like and on whatever subject they wish and to hell with the rest of us and with the democratic process. This behaviour is close to fascism and cannot be justified. I fully support the right to protest peacefully. However, as I write, we are witnessing thuggish and brutal behaviour in Bristol that is a severe threat to the police. in recent years we have also seen the extensive disruption that some protests have caused preventing others from going about their business and such things as disrupting ambulances taking patients to hospital. Protests that deface green space or damage and desecrate memorials and statues have also been prevalent. It has long been considered that the law is not sufficiently robust in this area and the Bill seeks to address this.
There have been a number of consultations in preparation for the Bill and there has also been a White Paper. These are:
- Police Covenant for England and Wales.
- The Law, Guidance and Training Governing Police Pursuits.
- A new legal duty to support a multi-agency approach to preventing and tackling serious violence.
- Serious Violence Reduction Orders: A new court order to target known knife carriers.
- Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments.
- Police powers: pre-charge bail.
- A Smarter Approach to Sentencing.
The Bill is a long and complex one which is seeking to cover many aspects. It brings forward measures that both our police and the public have been calling for. There has been a robust debate on the proposals and there will be much scrutiny as it passes through the usual parliamentary process. Of course powers need to be used well and police must remain accountable. I will support this Bill as it moves through Parliament.
For further information the Government has published a factsheet giving details of the different measures contained in the Bill.