I have had a number of emails calling on me to vote against the Police and Sentencing Bill which had its Second Reading in the Commons this week. 'Second Reading' is the first occasion on which a Bill is debated, and the idea is that MPs discuss and then vote on its overall principles and aims. From there - if it passes the vote - it goes into a Committee of MPs from all parties, where the individual measures are debated in detail, and changes made accordingly. It then comes back to the whole House for the ‘Report’ stage, i.e. approval or further amendment.
I explain this because many of the objections that constituents have made to the Bill are to specific measures within it, especially those to do with the policing of protests. I understand some of these concerns, and certainly I respect the views of those who think the Government is getting it wrong.
For what it’s worth, I don’t accept the wilder claims of our opponents, who think that the Government is deliberately trying to crack down on dissent. David Lammy, the shadow Justice Minister, even accused us of taking the first steps towards fascism. When David Lammy was in Government, he voted through a ban on any protest happening within a mile of Westminster that wasn’t approved by the police. The Conservatives repealed this ban when we got into office.
This Bill will simply enable the police to apply the same rules to static protests as they already can to moving ones - preventing serious disruption to the public or threats to the safety of police officers. However, I recognise that the drafting may be deficient. I would support amendments that improve the language to remove any ambiguity or concerns about the possible use of police powers. But I was not prepared to vote against the whole Bill at this early stage - to vote against the Bill ‘in principle’ - because I think some of the language could be improved, or even some proposed powers reduced. The time for those discussions is at Committee and Report stage.
I made this point in my speech in the Commons last night, which you can watch here. I also spoke more generally about the appalling rates of sexual violence and abuse that women and girls endure. My argument is that no amount of laws will fix this if our culture isn’t right. We need to bring up boys to respect girls - and that means giving them secure families, positive role models, and supportive communities.