Kit Malthouse: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill deserves every MP’s support

28 Feb

Kit Malthouse MP is Minister of State for Crime and Policing.

Just over two years ago, Boris Johnson and I began a mission to reenergise our confrontation with crime and contribute to levelling up the country. This was a cause important to both of us from our time together at City Hall, the Prime Minister as Mayor and me as his Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing.

We have both come a long way since those days, but once again we find ourselves in the fight to secure our streets.

Public safety is always at the forefront of the minds of people from all backgrounds, up and down the country. They want to know their families are safe, that their children will not be drawn into a life of crime, their homes won’t be burgled and that villains are being sorted.

We have seen progress. The risk of having one’s house broken into or becoming a victim of violent crime has fallen and police numbers are up, so far by more than 11,000, with many more to come. But the fight against crime is never ending, and there are still too many people who don’t feel safe in their homes or streets. We have a lot more work to do.

This feeling of insecurity, particularly in the public realm, must be addressed, not least since it is felt particularly sharply by women and girls, who are too often subjected to abuse and harassment by men.

The outpouring of grief and anger following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard demanded a redoubling of our work to combat violence against women and girls. Through our Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, our Safer Streets Fund, and our hotspot Grip programme, we are delivering on our commitment to make the streets safer.

Today, we take another forward step with our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill returning to the Commons. This legislation is filled with proposals to better protect victims, including toughening up sentences for the perpetrators of horrific crimes such as rape and creating a new serious violence duty on public bodies, which will specifically include domestic abuse and sexual violence.

One of the amendments the House will consider today is looking at the movement in recent months calling for us to make misogyny a hate crime, which has been given a place in the Bill with an amendment from Baroness Newlove, supported by Labour.

I completely understand the concern and good intention behind these calls. All right thinking people should abhor any kind of harassment or violence, especially based on sex and gender.

But expert opinion tells us that the amendment before the House, and indeed the proposal to make misogyny a hate crime generally, could actually make the cause of women’s safety worse, and make prosecutions more difficult.

The independent Law Commission, who consulted on this issue over three years, has been clear that it could be damaging to the prosecution of sexual offences and hinder efforts to tackle hate crime more broadly. This is because prosecutors would need to prove a ‘hate crime’ occurred as part of another offence, such as rape, making it harder to prosecute sexual offences and domestic abuse, adding a layer of unnecessary complexity.

Rape Crisis England and Wales have echoed this position saying that “rape prosecutions are already at an all-time low, and we believe adding sex/gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it even harder to secure convictions” and that they “don’t believe hate crime is the way to address this, at least until more work is done to prevent the potential issues”.

Women’s Aid have also said that “including Violence Against Women and Girls crimes within the hate crime framework could undermine the understanding of Violence Against Women and Girls as inherently misogynistic”.

Given these expert views, I cannot see how anyone could in all conscience proceed with the Newlove amendment. But we must recognise that the horrific killings of Everard, Sabina Nessa and others, started a much-needed national conversation about the dangers women face. That is why the Government has committed to consider creating a specific new offence of public sexual harassment.

We owe it to women and girls to ensure the law protects them and not, inadvertently, their abusers, and I urge my colleagues to support the Government’s approach.

Another issue which has, in my view, been misinterpreted and inflamed by our opponents, causing natural concern in parts of the public, is in relation to the new powers for policing of protests. We’ve seen some wild and truly ridiculous claims about this legislation, even that the Bill bans “people singing in the street”, which is just nonsense.

Our current public order legislation out of date and has been highlighted by police chiefs as one of the most challenging aspects of modern-day policing.

In particular, we have all seen the rise in incidents recently where protesters use excessive noise as a weapon. This can cause significant psychological damage and intrude disproportionately on the rights of others. So, on the admittedly rare occasions where such noise intimidates people, prevents an organisation from functioning, or results in serious distress, these powers would allow the police to impose conditions on the protest.

This is rightly a very high threshold, and the vast majority of protests won’t reach it. But I believe people targeted by protestors would expect protection from the police in those more extreme situations. We are clear that this measure will only be used in the most exceptional of circumstances, where police chiefs consider the volume unjustifiable and damaging. The Police will remain legally bound to assess this balance between competing rights, much as they are now.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that in a domestic situation, local authorities already have noise enforcement powers, recognising the significant harm that noise can cause, so it should not be too great a step to give the police similar powers in exceptional protest situations.

Energetic, democratic self-expression is a wonderful thing, but no one has unlimited rights to cause harm or disruption to others. And we have a duty to balance the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their lives.

This is a wide-ranging Bill, but the common thread running throughout is giving the police, courts and prosecutors the necessary tools to protect the public from a broad range of harms and deliver justice for victims. It is crucial this legislation is approved so that we can all do exactly that.

Andrew Griffith: It is ultimately outputs that matter. My priorities as the Prime Minister’s new Director of Policy.

7 Feb

Andrew Griffith is the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, and is MP for Arundel.

With the benefit of the strong mandate that the Prime Minister obtained at the last general election, and building on the Government’s leadership during the Covid pandemic, the Number Ten Policy Unit has a vital mission to deliver policies that reflect the priorities of people across the UK.

You would not know it from the media headlines, but families want to hear about our plans to grow employment, tackle the NHS backlog, control our borders, make their streets safer, bring down the cost of living and return rapidly to the point when we can cut taxes to let everyone keep more of their own money – all policies that are rooted in strong Conservative values.

As the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, these are my top priorities together with delivering the tangible opportunities from Brexit that will allow our economy to be more competitive and the reform of government to deliver better public services. Whilst the Policy Unit’s remit is to advise the Prime Minister across the widest breadth of government policy, we will be unafraid to ruthlessly focus on the key issues. It is ultimately outputs that matter.

I bring to the role my personal experience of growing up in the early 1980s, when an unconventional Conservative Prime Minister built an unusually broad coalition of support, secured successive large election majorities, confounded pessimists and radically improved the way that the world and its own citizens perceived Britain. From a comprehensive school in south-east London, I was the first in my family to go to university, where campaigning to keep the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned me into a lifelong Conservative.

I stood for election in both the 2001 and 2005 general elections, reducing an initial 12,000 Labour majority. Corby, after the closure of its steelworks, was very much a target ‘red wall’ constituency of its time. It taught me the vital importance of policies being clear, relevant and simple to communicate on the doorstep.

More recently, having entered Parliament from business, I know first-hand that prosperity is created not by government but by the ‘fly wheel’ of enterprise and entrepreneurship creating jobs and providing the tax revenue to finance high quality public services. A competitively regulated, low tax and high skills economy trading globally has always been the right combination for economic success.

As we formulate and deliver policy it is vital that we harness the energy, experience, and insight from Members of Parliament, Parliamentary candidates and supporters, including the readers of ConservativeHome. Our Party represents voters across the whole of the UK and every generation, gender and religion. We have the opportunity to be a ‘hive mind’ of centre-right policy development.

It is important that we do so. In the battle of ideas, we remain an insurgent force: outgunned by the hegemony of left-wing orthodoxy that often lurks without challenge within swathes of the cultural and education establishment and in the state supported media.

One way we will do this is through Sir Graham Brady and the 1922 Executive’s ambition to re-establish backbench policy committees. The Prime Minister and I warmly support this, and we are committed to make them work. Covid has suppressed proper policy discussion for too long – indeed, for the majority of the time that I and my 2019 colleagues have sat in Parliament.

A large majority is a poor substitute for proper engagement between Ministers, Number Ten and backbench colleagues who in many cases possess decades of relevant experience. The 1922 backbench policy committees – one covering each major government department – will form just one part of changes in how a sleeker Number Ten operation engages with Members of Parliament.

Ministers, too, will notice a difference. In today’s complex, competitive and dynamic environment it’s a fallacy to control everything too tightly from the centre. Decisions are usually taken best close to where their impact is felt, and high-performing departments should expect a light touch approach, freeing up bandwidth for deeper interventions elsewhere.

Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, constructive engagement makes for good policies that last the test of time and that colleagues can unite around. The things that make the largest differences to the most people tend, by definition, to be challenging. It is not simple to reverse 40 years of EU ‘muscle memory’ overnight as we move to more competitive regulations. We will have to make brave and bold choices as we reform an asylum system that pre-dates the existence of mobile phones and the global internet. Getting Brexit done was not easy. But this is a Government that consistently takes tough decisions. In bringing forward plans to reform social care we have shown the courage to grasp a nettle that our predecessors had long shirked.

This Government has much in its favour. Clear leadership, an ambitious programme and political fuel in the tank in the form of our largest majority since Margaret Thatcher. But the yardstick of long-term political success is real action making a difference to the real experience of electors across the UK.

The British people understand that results take time, particularly as we emerge from an unprecedented global pandemic. So long as they see that we are focussing on them and their needs rather than fighting amongst ourselves, I believe that they will continue to place their trust in us. As I start my role as Policy Director today, it is time for we Conservatives to unite, to support the Prime Minister and to get on with the job.

Having my phone stolen was bad. But the bureaucracy that followed was almost worse.

5 Aug

On Saturday night I had an experience that has become all-too common among Londoners – and, indeed, other city dwellers. My phone got stolen.

I had been walking home, looking at my phone (stupidly), when a boy on his bicycle snatched it out of my hands. My brain took a second to process what had happened. And then my first instinct was to scream and shout for help.

Although the crime did not exactly warrant screaming – it is not the most serious – I was in effect trying to draw attention to him and encourage someone to come out, stop him and/ or call the police. “F**k you” I yelled down the street, interspersed with screams. I also sprinted after him for about 100 metres. I really, really didn’t want my phone to go.

Maybe the most disappointing thing about this experience was that no one did anything when I screamed. I wonder what if it had been a more serious crime? Victims get blamed when they don’t call for help. But nothing happened when I did.

My neighbourhood is a very woke area. It has signs boasting that it’s anti-fascist – and there are other symbols of social justice. Yet when it came to the crunch, no one was there. Perhaps a more sympathetic explanation is that people are desensitised to petty theft, so frequent has it become.

Afterwards some women stuck their heads out of their windows. “Are you okay?” One said. I clearly wasn’t and was crying. “I’m coming down”, said another. But she didn’t, and I just went home.

Luckily I have an amazing support network. I was able to get help quickly from my parents when I got home and was touched by everyone who checked I was okay. Despite this being such a “normal” crime, people were incredibly empathetic on Twitter and Facebook – and took it very seriously that I was upset.

Too many people replied that this crime had happened to them. They used the words “shaken up”, “gutting” and other terms I, through the hard way, now fully understood. I hate how accepted theft has become. It makes me feel that we’re too soppy about it, generally (“well if only we hadn’t made cuts to the youth club”), and it’s something I have resultantly become more interested in as a political matter.

Part Two

The second part of this piece is about the admin that followed – which was almost worse than the event. On Sunday the following morning I went to my phone store, thinking I could get mine replaced right there and then, in what turned out to be a very optimistic estimate.

When I went in and told the staff what had happened, they came across as nonchalant – as though they needed their morning coffee first – and got me to phone their insurance line. One of the most “catch 22” things about having your phone stolen is that you have to phone for help. As I live alone and cannot borrow a phone, I was reliant on using the shop’s.

Next problem. The phone line at the store was close to inaudible. When I pointed this out to the staff, they told me there was nothing they could do. “But you’re a phone shop,” I replied. For me to just about hear the line, the security guard had to close the store door, turn down the music and let me stand in a corridor next to the staff room.

I went to the phone shop three times in total. After my second trip, I emailed a claim, via my Gmail account, to the insurers. I got a receipt and learnt that it would take two days to process. Then I got a new problem: I got locked out of Gmail, as I have always used two-factor verification – and had no mobile to log in.

So off I went again to the shop – to phone the insurers and tell them to use another email (which I wasn’t logged out of). This time the phone line was even more inaudible, but I could make out the woman who answered telling me that they had not received my insurance claim (a day after I had sent it) – and could I send it again?

I am afraid, feeling very fed up with things, I cried. For the first time, the staff in the phone shop seemed to care. A staff member offered me a tissue and lent me her own phone for the insurers to call back on, which was slightly more audible.

During my time getting this sorted out, I had to listen to another stressed-out woman in the shop (as well as a preacher yelling outside!). I won’t go into too many details of the woman’s complaint, but she had been charged £400, and was – as you might imagine – upset, to the point of threatening she “wasn’t very nice” when she was in this state. Being in the shop for three days honestly made it look more like a counselling service – with customers constantly venting to despondent staff.

Even though I found the staff unhelpful – the man serving coffee outside was more sympathetic to my situation – I don’t blame them for being so checked out, as they were often middlemen/women between angry/sad customers and bureaucracy. So often these companies boast of their social justice credentials – their commitment to climate change and helping people and so forth – but the human aspect of their service has become non-existent.

We hear that banks end up “too big to fail”, but perhaps organisations have also become “too bureaucratic to help”, with staff that lack soft skills – because there is no incentive – and have little impact on the outcome for the customer. Central bureaucracy calls the shots, with the customer ever short of power to get what they need, and ever bewildered by their contracts. With the growth of big tech, I wonder how much further this imbalance will go.

Again, this made me think about matters bigger than my phone (a replacement of which I am still waiting for…).

James Frayne: Six ways of boosting local pride and identity

8 Dec

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

In an excellent recent blog, my colleague Andy Westwood of Manchester University called on the Government to pursue a local identity strategy.

In it, he wrote: “Buying or subsidising a hotel, pier or football club might not sit easily with notions of the role of government, nor a faith in competition rules. It goes against the grain of markets, state aid and traditional Conservative views of the state. There are lots of arguments about why we shouldn’t attempt such an approach. But if we really want to care about ‘place’ and identity then we should put these objections aside.”

He is right. Local identity should be a defining part of the Government’s “levelling up” agenda. While new investment in infrastructure and education and skills are ultimately what’s needed to improve post-industrial areas, local people will have to wait many years to reap the benefits of such policy decisions.

But the Government can do a lot in a short space of time to improve towns and cities by thinking about things through the prism of local identity. A key question should be: how do we make these towns nicer places to live? A simple question – but one which would drive different policy answers to simply asking how we deliver more jobs.

Here is what focus groups tell you people in post-industrial areas want to see. They say their towns and cities were thriving until the late 1990s, but have been in increasingly rapid decline ever since. Shops have closed on once-busy high streets, bustling markets are a distant memory, local businesses have moved out, once-great festivals have been downgraded or ceased altogether, community pubs have shut, low-level anti-social behaviour (like open drug use) has risen massively, attractive local focal points such as war memorials have been vandalised.

While the sense of malaise in these towns and cities is unmistakable, equally unmistakable is the sense of local pride people have for the places they live in. People are angry about the state of their towns because they love them. This is what the Government should be looking to tap into.

This can sound a bit vague and woolly, but it doesn’t have to be so. For a start, it’s important to acknowledge that England really is unusual in the intensity of very local identity. In a tiny country, small towns, often separated by just a few miles, think of themselves as being entirely different from their near-neighbours – and indeed they often sound completely different.

Think of the huge differences between, say, Mansfield and Rotherham. 25 miles apart and on paper quite similar, but people who consider themselves to be totally different; and remarkably, who sound totally different despite being separated by a car journey of half an hour.

Nor does renewing local identity all have to be a 30-year project. Some parts of such a project, to be clear, does: if you are going to make devolution work, revive major civic institutions and change the role of universities in their place – as well as build major infrastructure – you won’t see the results overnight. But there’s also a lot that can be done in four years, with tangible results. Here are some illustrative examples of things that a combination of national and local Government might do:

  • Keep the streets clean and safe. As well as generally increasing the visible police presence, pay for security guards to walk through the high street during the hours that the shops are open, and deploy others to walk through local parks.
  • Bring back the events. Everywhere I go, people have a local event – a carnival, a fireworks display, a special annual market – that used to bring people together and that disappeared in the last few years. The Government should help bring them back.
  • For that matter, there should be incentives to restore a local market day. Many towns still have the basic infrastructure – and certainly the space – to bring back the sorts of large markets that existed on Saturday mornings and which brought huge commerce to small towns. This basic infrastructure should be repaired or rebuilt.
  • Some transport takes decades to deliver, but regular, inexpensive buses don’t.
  • Invest in those institutions that are delivering leisure services to the local community. Long Eaton United is an example of a thriving local institution of the kind I’m thinking of. Its training facilities – partly grant-funded – are used to ensure that huge numbers of teams – for men, women, boys and girls – are all able to play. There are huge numbers of similar clubs across the country who could play a similarly important role locally.
  • Support libraries and local museums. Cultural infrastructure needs funding and supporting.

As we deliver the levelling up funds and the towns funds, plus the safer streets money, and all of the plethora of pots the government has (very sensibly) been putting into these kinds of efforts, government needs to make sure it doesn’t just go on long-term infrastructure like broadband, or local economic zones.

Important though these are, the Government needs to ensure they’re making a tangible and visible difference to towns. Without that, no one will give it permission to do longer term work – and, to be honest, this is what people care about most.

Philip Davies: Our frontline staff are vital to our economic recovery, and we must do more to support them.

6 Dec

Philip Davies is MP for Shipley & Co-Chairman of the APPG on Customer Service

Ten months on from the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, we continue to face daily challenges as we navigate its far reaching impacts on our economy and society.

Since the start of the crisis, we’ve seen inspiring examples of the nation come together, with moving tributes to the NHS and those who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe. Yet, amongst these shows of support, a concerning trend has emerged across the country – with instances of hostility toward frontline staff on the rise.

Research from the Institute of Customer Service indicates that over half of customer-facing staff have experienced abuse from customers since the pandemic began. The worrying figures span every sector – from retail to public transport networks and even financial services. As we deal with the impact of new restrictions and the onset of the busy festive season, it’s more important than ever that we step up and protect our frontline workers.

The new localised tier system will, in itself, present new challenges, as increasingly frustrated customers kick back against restrictions. As customers looking to enjoy traditional Christmas festivities are told they can only enjoy their drinks with a “substantial meal”, and those looking for last-minute Christmas presents are presented with long queues as stores try to ensure social distancing guidelines are met, I fear that the dwindling patience of the public could put our customer-facing staff at even greater risk of abuse.

I am working with the Institute of Customer Service on a campaign, “Service with Respect”, which encourages businesses and the government to do more to protect these workers.

Alongside my colleague, the Labour MP Chris Evans, and over 100 big-name brands, including O2, Boots and Nationwide, we are calling for the introduction of a specific offence for anyone who abuses customer facing staff.

We’re also encouraging organisations across the county to invest in additional training for their employees, to ensure they are adequately prepared for the ever changing requirements of their roles as we continue to navigate these challenging times.

Through a series of All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings, we have heard concerning and wide-ranging reports from across the nation – with instances ranging from verbal abuse, being shouted and sworn at, to more extreme cases of physical violence.

With 80 per cent of the UK’s employees working in the service sector, the scale of the issue is extremely concerning: and research shows it is not limited simply to face to face interactions. Those working in contact centres have reported occurrences of hostility through phone and online chat services. Combined with increased workloads as the number of vulnerable customers rises, the potential psychological impacts of such behaviour should not be ignored.

In Parliament, I recently asked the Home Secretary what steps her Department is taking to ensure that customer service staff are protected from abuse during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In response, she outlined that any such abuse is unacceptable, and that the Government is working closely with the National Retail Crime Steering Group to deliver a programme of work aiming to provide better support to victims, improve reporting, increase data sharing and raise awareness of this crime.

Whilst this initial response is welcomed, and it’s encouraging to see the issue being taken seriously, I fear this narrow view on the retail sector alone does not go far enough. Our research has clearly shown that instances of hostility span multiple sectors, and the plight of those outside of retail risks being overlooked.

Any form of abuse, in all aspects of life, is completely unacceptable, but we should remind ourselves that these workers have been operating on the frontline since the beginning of the pandemic. They have kept our nation running in the most difficult of times – keeping our building lights on, shelves stocked and basic power and water supplies running. We all have a duty to ensure they have the training and respect they deserve to safely carry out their crucial roles.

With different tiered restrictions remaining in place across the country, the role of customer facing staff continues to expand, with many taking on additional responsibilities for ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to and hygiene requirements met. In the face of a progressively frustrated and restless customer base as we approach the busy Christmas season, there is reason that these concerning instances of abuse could continue to rise.

The pandemic continues to bring daily challenges across all aspects of our lives. Yet as we try to rebuild, customer-facing staff will be vital to our recovery, and we must show them they are a valued part of our nation. And this starts by enabling them to do their work safely, effectively and free from the fear of abuse.