Following the disgraceful scenes in in Clapham last Saturday and the concerns that I expressed in this column about the abrogation of our civil liberties, a large number of correspondents have asked me to vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to-night on the basis that its provisions will further constrain our ability to protest and demonstrate lawfully.
The Bill does indeed grant further powers and rather too much discretion to the Police.
Nevertheless, the Bill covers a great deal of ground, most of which I approve of -especially its provisions to toughen the sentences for violent and sexual offences.
I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Even part three of the Bill, which deals with demonstrations, addresses concerns that I have had for a long time about the need to pre-empt demonstrations which intend to unlawfully disrupt the commercial and social lives of law-abiding citizens. I think particularly of those demonstrations that blocked-off access to airports, attacked enterprises, and brought London to a standstill, all of which place a massive burden on the police, denuding counties of their own policemen and their proper expectations of law enforcement and protection.
Nevertheless, I do agree with my correspondents that the Bill gives too much latitude to police forces and there is a need for the provisions to be much too tightly defined. It also gives the Government the ability to change the balance subsequently through regulations.
I’ve learnt the lesson of the danger that arises from regulatory powers in the last year as the most intimate aspects of lives – whom we may meet, where we may meet them, even what we must wear on our faces- have been ordered by regulations under the Public Health Act 1984. So I am loathe to grant sensitive regulatory powers in this Bill.
None of this however, is sufficient in my opinion to vote against the Bill in principle at Second Reading.
The proper way to proceed is to address these important issues by forceful argument and amending the Bill during its progress in the legislative standing committee and at its report stage.