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Newbury MP backs controversial policing bill

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Newbury MP Laura Farris has backed a controversial new crime bill that could give police more power to crackdown on non-violent protests.

If the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 becomes law, police will be able to impose start and finish times and noise limits on static protests that “may result in serious disruption”, even if they only involve one person.

Human rights groups oppose the powers for responding to peaceful protests, with Amnesty International describing them as “deeply worrying” and “totally unacceptable”.

The bill also looks to bolster other police powers and bring in longer jail sentences, allowing judges to lock up child murderers for life, people who attack emergency workers for two years, and anyone who damages a memorial for 10 years.

Mrs Farris praised the bill when she spoke in the House of Commons this week – but did not mention the new measures for protests.

She pointed out that it would allow police to stop some sex offenders from travelling abroad to abuse children and closely monitor people convicted of terror offences after they have been released from prison.

She added: “I particularly welcome the new powers given to the Parole Board under clause 108 to restrict the release of those who may have been radicalised in prison.

“This goes directly to the lone wolf attack in Forbury Gardens, on the doorstep of my constituency, where the assailant had been released just 17 days before and it might have changed the outcome.”

Mrs Farris also highlighted a measure that would make it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders to engage in sexual activity with 16- and 17-year-olds in their care, claiming it could prevent “extended patterns of grooming”.

She added: “A new conversation has crystallised about the safety and dignity of women and their ability to move around in public. Attention must be paid to their voices.

“I do not think the bill is the place to rush through new measures or to bolt on new provisions.

“But I think the Government has an opportunity to begin an important conversation through their Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, and I think there is a place for focused legislation on the issue at the end of the year.”

This week, the controversial bill passed its second reading in Parliament – the first chance MPs get to vote on a proposed law – by 358 votes to 263.

Labour MPs decided to vote against the bill after the Metropolitan Police’s response to the Sarah Everard vigil in London on Saturday sparked concerns about heavy-handed crackdowns on non-violent protests.

They also claim it will not protect women from violence and point out that the 307-page bill does not specifically mention women once.

Shadow Chancellor David Lammy has accused the Government of “rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.

Speaking in Parliament, he said: “We need tough sentences on the most serious crimes to deter criminals and protect the public.

“But we must not make the mistake of thinking this horrific incidence of violence against a woman [Sarah Everard] is a one off.”

He added: “Instead of tackling violence against women, the Government has prioritised giving the police the power to prohibit the fundamental freedoms of protest that the British public hold dear.

“By giving police the discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time.”

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