Why I back bill to give police and courts more power

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has said he is concerned about the drop in number of children attending school P

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: Archant

I was very pleased to support the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill this week. The bill ends the halfway release for those found guilty of serious sexual offences (they will now have to spend at least two thirds of the sentence behind bars) and introduces much tougher bail conditions for those under investigation for serious sexual offences. 

I see this as building upon, and very much being linked to, much of what is being pursued through the Domestic Abuse Bill that is currently being scrutinised by the House of Lords and will do a significant amount to provide increased protection for women.

In addition to this, the bill also amends the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 to double the maximum penalty for common assault or battery committed against an emergency worker (from one year in prison to two years). Three aspects of the bill that I very much welcomed.

However, I also welcomed two other aspects to this bill. Firstly, I’m very pleased that it’s getting far tougher on those who desecrate our war memorials and statues. I believe that for the majority of Britons our war memorials and key statues (such as the Churchill statue on Parliament Square) are of great importance.

I had a number of constituents who contacted me over the summer who were very angry at the individuals who defaced the Churchill statue and I’m sure they will welcome the fact that the courts now have greater scope to punish these people.

The Labour Party have attacked the fact that the Government has increased the maximum prison sentence that these people can receive to up to 10 years. Incredibly misleading graphics have been promoted by the party stating that you are likely to be punished more for defacing a statue than raping someone. 

Like much of what the Labour Party says these days, this was totally untrue. The maximum sentence for being found guilty of raping someone is life in prison. The reality is that the vast majority of those who are found guilty of carrying out criminal damage on a war memorial or statue will never be sentenced to 10 years in prison but increasing the maximum sentence to 10 will provide far greater scope to ensure that those who are found guilty of this are properly punished.

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Wanting to stand up for our country’s heritage and to protect the memory of some of our great historical figures such as Winston Churchill, and indeed our war dead, by taking the protection of statues and memorials dedicated to them seriously, is not something you will see me apologising for.

I personally find the way in which both the local and national Labour Party have sought to ridicule this as very telling. In some senses it’s hardly surprising that the Labour Party are so out of step with public opinion on this issue because for quite some time now they have ceased to be a patriotic Party.

It doesn’t matter how many times Sir Keir wraps himself in the Union flag, this won’t change. The sad reality is that the Labour Party of old which did take great pride in our country has gone and these days you’re more likely to see its leader literally on their knees apologising for our country’s history than proudly standing up defending it.

There has been a lot of debate this week about how this Bill impacts on the right to protest. This Bill does nothing that threatens the right to hold or participate in a peaceful protest.

What it does do is give the police greater powers to prevent radical elements from grinding many of our cities to our halt, time and time again, and causing significant disruption to the lives of the law-abiding majority who are not professional activists jumping upon whatever left wing band wagon happens to be coming along that month.

Is it right that protesters should be able to block ambulances crossing roads and bridges? Is it right that Extinction Rebellion protesters are able to block the printing press from printing newspapers? In my view no, and I think it’s right that the police have the powers they need to prevent this. Presumably the Labour Party would be happy for these individuals to completely run amok?

There are understandably strong views about the way in which the vigil on Clapham Common following the tragic death of Sarah Everard was policed. Like the prime minister I was concerned by many of the images I saw.

However, this was a different issue and must not be conflated with the policing of protests in normal times. It was Coronavirus laws linked to the ongoing national lockdown that led the police to taking action they took last weekend. Not the 1986 Public Order Act that mild adjustments were made to this week.

With regard to the column written last week by Cllr Ellesmere about working together and me “sniping from the sidelines”. I found it a bit ironic bearing in mind that Cllr Ellesmere and his Labour councillors have done little else but snipe since I’ve been elected.

Of course, I am prepared to put aside political differences and work together for the good of the town. I think we demonstrated this when we wrote shared letters together about the future of orthopaedic services at Ipswich Hospital.

However, I must warn Cllr Ellesmere that I will not hold back in expressing my views regarding the local Labour Party in the run up to the local elections in May.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Labour Party has become like a lead weight around the ankles of the town whose leading councillors have become increasingly out of touch with majority sentiment on a number of issues and I will make this clear.

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