The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year. But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.
So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.
1. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
What it is
As well as police, crime, sentencing and the courts, this Bill covers aspects of prisons: the rehabilitation of offenders and secure 16 to 19 academies. Plus “the removal, storage and disposal of vehicles”.
There are twelve parts to this groaning beast of a Bill, and the best-known section of these is the third – which covers “public order and authorised encampments”, and would give the police greater powers in relation to restricting public meetings and protests. The “Kill the Bill” protests have been a response to it.
The Ministry of Justice – and the Bill has already worked it way through the Commons, gaining Third Reading recently. There have been claims that the protests have delayed the Bill’s progress.
The sponsoring department isn’t the Home Office, and thus the combative Priti Patel, but the Ministry of Justice, and the more emollient Robert Buckland. However, Victoria Atkins and Chris Philp, Home Office Ministers both, took the Bill through Commons committee.
Carried over or a new Bill?
Sooner rather than later in the Commons with Lords amendments.
There is an individual case for each of the twelve parts of the Bill, but Ministers clearly intend it to send the broad message that the Government is tough on crime. Right at the start of its briefing on the measures, the Home Office (not the Ministry of Justice) declares that the Bill will “back our police” and “introduce tougher sentencing”.
If you itch to crack down on unauthorised encampments and non-violent but disruptive protests, or want to see longer prison sentences and more searches of people convicted of knife offences, this is the Bill for you. Its third main purpose is “to improve the efficiency of the court and tribunal system by modernising existing court processes”.
One of the main charges against the Bill is that it deliberately wraps up the contentious with the uncontentious – or, to view it from another angle, elements that most MPs support with others that some don’t. This case was put on this site earlier this year by Steve Baker and Dominic Grieve, and found echoes even in a largely supportive article by Richard Gibbs.
So if, for example, you view the public order provisions in Part Three of the Bill as draconian, but back the plans to reduce custodial remand for children set out in parts eight and nine, you have a dilemma at Second Reading and, still more, at Third Reading – by which time opportunities to amend it in the House concerned have been exhausted.
Part of the purpose of rolling these different elements into a single Bill has undoubtedly been to put the Opposition on the spot. Labour was thus faced with the forced choice familiar to oppositions, and plumped to oppose Bill both at Second and Third Reading in the Commons.
“Given chance after chance, Labour voted last night against tougher sentences for not just violent offenders, but also burglars, drug dealers, sex offenders, dangerous drivers and vandals,” Robert Buckland tweeted in the aftermath of the Third Reading vote. There will be plenty more where that came from.
Controversy rating: 9/10
If the Opposition didn’t like it in the Commons, it will like it even less in the more rarefied atmosphere of the Lords. And protesters will hate it no less intensely than before. The average voter may have clocked the protests but won’t be aware of the Bill. If it leads to better policing, less crime, speedier courts and better sentencing, he will be pleasantly surprised.