Thank you for contacting me about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Right to protest
More widely and beyond the current Coronavirus protest restrictions, over recent years I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to Parliament.
I welcome the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives.
It is good news that the Government is taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained.
The Bill also contains vital new measures to protect women and girls, including tougher sentences for sex offenders.
It is right that the most serious offenders, including those who have committed violent and sexual offences should spend more time in prison to match the severity of their crimes. The Prime Minister has been clear that the Government he leads will strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system and I will support legislation designed to achieve this.
As you are probably aware, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was voted through Parliament on 16th March. This will extend the approach mentioned above by ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years for serious crimes, including rape, child murders, and attacks on emergency service workers.
This change will mean that they will instead have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.
It is incredibly disappointing that Labour voted against this Bill which increases conviction rates and sentencing for domestic and sexual abuse, as you call for.
I trust Calderdale Labour Councillors who co-signed correspondence rightly expressing concern about violence and harassment directed at women and girls will be challenging senior members of their party on their reasons for not supporting these measures.
I will continue to follow this vital work as it progresses.
Unauthorised Traveller Sites
The setting up of illegal traveller sites can be a nuisance for local communities and an inappropriate development of open space. I know that many local residents across the country are concerned about anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and noise related to unauthorised sites.
After two consultations on this issue, as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill new laws will be introduced to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. The Bill will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm, obstruction, or harassment or distress. In addition, the Bill amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land; and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three months to 12 months. Amendments to the 1994 Act will in addition allow police to direct trespassers away from land that forms part of a highway.
I can reassure you that the Government has taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.
I believe these new measures are a proportionate and necessary increase in powers for the police. The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites. The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people and we must ensure that there are legal sites available for travellers. As of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41 per cent from January 2010. The Government has also given £200,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination and improve integration, healthcare and education.
I am confident that Government action will help to reduce the number of illegal caravan sites across the country, while respecting people’s right to a nomadic way of life.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP