On Monday 28th February the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill came back to the Commons with Lords amendments.
I hoped to highlight a number of issues my constituents had drawn to my attention but unfortunately, I was not called to speak in the debate. You can read below the speech I would have given.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It has been a long evening for Honourable Members but this Bill is an important one and with the help of Labour peers in the other place it has been improved considerably.
I am going to focus my remarks on 3 amendments starting with Lords amendment 71. This amendment would establish a duty on members of the police workforce to act in the public interest, and with transparency, candour and frankness.
It comes after the police handling of the Hillsborough disaster and the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel which said that the Metropolitan Police did not approach the Panel’s scrutiny with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way. There are many issues I could raise on this topic, but I will only touch on a few.
This amendment is needed because currently suspects can remain released under investigation, without charge, sometimes for over a year.
There is no legal requirement of investigating officers to update the suspect of any progress made and no time limit for them to reach a decision. This leaves the accused with often serious allegations hanging over their heads, without knowing any detail about the investigation against them.
Since the changes to bail time limits and the rise of suspects released under investigation, a local legal aid provider in my constituency has been forced to employ a dedicated member of staff; who solely chases police officers for regular updates on their investigation, which is often met with hostility by the police.
This cannot be right during a time when legal aid providers are under greater financial pressures.
I also want to say that the failure to provide full and proper disclosure at an early stage, results in late guilty pleas and discontinuance of criminal proceedings against those wrongly accused. It does not provide a fair and balanced process to suspects and defendants.
This results in relevant evidence being drip fed to the defence and thus prolonging court proceedings and in turn causes a strain on the public purse as well as miscarriages of justice.
Moving on to amendments covering protests. I have had numerous constituents contact me to highlight their concern on giving police the ability to place restrictions on protests because of noise levels.
Protests, I am afraid to say are noisy. In this Chamber we are also noisy when we are protesting on or disagreeing with what is debated. Moreover, when Boris Johnson enters the chamber, the Government benches cheer like football fans in a stadium! So the Government must recognise that noise plays a useful part in the release of tensions and gets messages across.
British history has countless examples of peaceful protest, from the Chartists, the Jarrow March in 1936, to the predominately peaceful 2020 George Floyd protests. These protests have shown a light on injustice in our society.
I want to finish by briefly discussing the repeal of the Vagrancy Act. Under this act it is a criminal offence to beg or be homeless in England and Wales.
No one grows up wanting to sleep rough. Everyone wants a home. So the Government must put strategies and support in place to treat these human beings with decency and respect.
It is unacceptable to see that we are criminalising some of the most vulnerable in society for simply not having a roof over their head. This is especially unjust at a time when the Conservative policies have led rough sleeping to increase by 38% since 2010.
It is right that the repeal is happening, but it is vital that the Government publishes a clear time limit detailing replacement legislation.