Kevin Hollinrake: Driving out dirty money is good for business, good for Britain, and good for the world

12 May

By Kevin Hollinrake is MP for Thirsk and Malton and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking.

Dirty money is the lifeblood of the most despicable sorts of crimes. It’s a stain on the UK economy and it hits every British person in the pocket.

The Government is alert to these issues. The Economic Crime Act, passed earlier this year, contained measures designed to go after the crooks and kleptocrats that have facilitated Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and who benefit from his wicked war in Ukraine.

In the Queen’s Speech this week ministers announced plans to go further, with a second Economic Crime Bill slated for this session of parliament.

I want that Bill to be as effective as possible in driving dirty money out of the UK. Which is why I’m pleased and proud to have worked on the Economic Crime Manifesto, which I launched today in my role as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking alongside Dame Margaret Hodge, chair of the APPG on Anti-Corruption and Fair Tax.

MPs from across the spectrum have come on board and endorsed our recommendations because going after dirty money and tackling economic crime urgently and properly benefits everyone, except for the crooks.

Dirty money undermines national security, allows organised criminals to prosper, and damages Britain’s reputation as a trusted jurisdiction. All of this has a very real impact on the everyday lives of British people at a time when a cost of living crisis is emerging.

Economic crime causes untold harm in our society as legitimate businesses struggle, property prices rocket, and fraudsters scam working people.

The size and global reach of the UK’s financial, legal and accountancy sectors are unparalleled. But this creates heightened risks from illicit finance.

Britain’s dirty money problem runs to hundreds of billions of pounds – money that would be much better off in the exchequer paying to tackle the problems we face building back from the pandemic, or in the wallets and purses of people stressed in the face of rising prices.

Our role as a global leader in all the services the City offers means the UK is also uniquely placed to lead the way in combating this scourge.

When Russia illegally invaded Ukraine earlier this year, Britain was at the forefront of the international response, swiftly sanctioning over a thousand individuals and companies. But sanctions tackle the symptoms of this vast economic crime problem, not the causes.

Ukraine can be a historic turning point. We can be the ones ensuring the world’s worst crooks and kleptocrats find themselves with nowhere to hide or spend their ill-gotten gains.

Our manifesto is built around four key pillars: transparency, enforcement, accountability, and regulation.

We know the Economic Crime Bill will contain measures reforming Companies House, but we want the Government to put transparency at the core of those changes by giving regulators more powers, and by establishing for Companies House a sustainable funding model.

Funding is key to the enforcement aspect of the manifesto. A dedicated Economic Crime Fighting Fund would reinvest the proceeds of regulatory and criminal fines and assets into the agencies and mechanisms dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting economic crime.

An innovative suggestion in the accountability section of the manifesto is the establishment of an Office for Whistleblowers, to provide protection and compensation for those that speak out against or uncover economic crimes and other wrongdoing.

Proper regulation is needed around, for example, cryptocurrencies. The Government wants the UK to be at the forefront of this exciting innovation. But without some oversight and agreed rules crypto threatens to become a playground for fraudsters and crooks.

Just as the invasion of Ukraine has seen the Ministry of Defence review its capability and funding to face the new security environment, so we must upgrade Britain’s defences against economic crime to ensure the sustained success of our financial and professional services.

This doesn’t mean regulation for the sake of it; this means better and smarter rules that are consistently enforced. The UK can prosper by combining an attractive business environment with the highest standards of probity and transparency.

Britain has a track record at the cutting edge of innovative legislative reform in this field, such as the introduction in 2016 register of actual “beneficial” owners of companies. Concerns were raised that this register would damage the attractiveness of the UK as a place to do business but they proved unfounded, with no decrease in the numbers of companies registered.

Instead, public ownership registers have become a new global standard, driven by British leadership on the international stage. Time and again, this has shown itself to be a world leader in tackling global problems.

The Government’s ambition on tackling economic crime must match the scale of the threat. The reforms set out in the Economic Crime Manifesto will reinforce Global Britain’s reputation for integrity and the rules-based international order.

They will ensure our world leading financial and professional services are positioned on the right side of history, so that collectively we deliver on our ambition to be the ally that Ukraine needs and a positive force in the world.

Driving out dirty money is good for business, good for Britain, and good for the world.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: This potential Labour leader suffers from a shortage of brio

11 May

“I will not give way,” Priti Patel declared. The Home Secretary is a specialist in not giving way. No one stands their ground in a manner more impervious to reasonable objection than she does.

She had just declared that “those on the benches opposite are eager to defend the murderers, paedophiles, rapists, thugs and people with no right to be here”.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, wished for some reason to respond. Patel took a large number of interventions from other members, but would not let Cooper say a word.

This looked unsporting, even though, as Patel said, “the Honourable Lady will have the chance to speak shortly”.

Cooper might conceivably be the next Leader of the Labour Party. We wanted to see whether she had become any more inspiring since she, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall were trounced by Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership campaign of 2015.

There were no Questions to the Prime Minister today: those do not happen while the Queen’s Speech is being debated, with crime and justice today’s topic.

When Patel sat down, Cooper at last got the chance to show what she could do. She said she had been taking part in Queen’s Speech debates for 25 years, and had never seen a minister so “afraid of taking questions from a shadow cabinet minister”.

What was Patel frightened of, Cooper wondered: “All my questions would have been factual. Maybe that was what she was frightened of.”

And Cooper did then produce some facts which were alarming. Within a year of an offence being reported, no charge has been brought in 93 per cent of robberies, over 98 per cent of rapes and over 99 per cent of fraud.

As one police officer had told Cooper, “It feels like once serious offences are effectively being decriminalised because there are no consequences.”

She reminded the House that soon after becoming Home Secretary, Patel told the criminals, “We are coming after you.”

Cooper continued: “You’d better start running faster because they’re all getting away.”

There can be no doubt that Cooper is on top of her brief. She remarked that she had warned in 2013 about the risk of falling charge rates.

But although she speaks with authority, one cannot say she established, in this speech, a claim to be any more inspiring than she was six years ago when Corbyn swept her aside.

Lisa Townsend: Ministers and police need to give car theft the attention it deserves

5 Apr

Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.

One of the consequences of being a PCC without a professional policing background is that you come into the role with certain assumptions, and one of mine was that vehicle theft would be investigated by our local police forces.

Last year 46,800 vehicles were stolen in England and Wales and the chance of getting your car back in working order are minimal. In 2020 the recovery rate for stolen vehicles was just 28 per cent, and vehicle theft is on the rise.

It is perhaps unsurprising that, like so many areas of our lives, Covid has had an impact. As with burglary and other forms of acquisitive crime, vehicle theft saw a decline as both car owners and thieves stayed at home.

Added to that was a significant reduction in organised criminal gangs (OCGs), many of whom are run by non-UK nationals, and who chose to return to their ‘home’ countries. So far, so positive.

But as normal life resumed, so did the OCG activity. Couple that with a shortage in vehicle part supplies and then add on the successes our forces are seeing in many dedicated hours of work tackling drug supply chains and county lines, and you have the perfect storm of a market experiencing a shortage of supply and those who are willing to break the law to full the gap.

‘Chop shops’, where vehicles stolen, often to order, can be dismantled and parts made ready to sell on within hours, operate across the country. High-value vehicles can disappear from driveways and their parts stripped and shipped abroad or sold online in the UK before the owner even realises the family car has gone.

Thieves know they are operating a highly lucrative trade that unlike, for example, drug supply, carries very little risk: making or importing the product is easy and supply is abundant. There are no rival gangs or turf wars associated with drug or illegal tobacco supply and none of the large policing agencies are after you because policing in the UK generally doesn’t take much of an interest.

And if you are one of the unlucky few to get caught, history shows little likelihood of investigation or charge. The worst-case scenario is a minor sentence on the rare chance the thief ends up in court.

Of course, resources are stretched. It is entirely right and reasonable for senior police leaders (and PCCs) to allocate according to threat, harm and risk.

But we find ourselves in a position where the theft of the family car is seen largely as a victimless crime. I believe this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Post-pandemic, we have seen significant traffic return to our roads. But the car is more than a means to an end. It symbolises freedom (we all remember that glorious sense of freedom after passing a driving test); it can be a lifeline, especially to those on rural areas or with mobility issues and may well be the second largest purchase you ever make. That alone is a reason to treat it as the crime it is.

What really troubles me though is the willingness to see it as a crime in isolation. Whether it’s the local bad boy-racer or an OCG, these vehicles are increasingly being used in the commission of further, often very serious, crimes.

Change the number plate within minutes of stealing a vehicle and a gang has an excellent chance of evading anyone minded to search for the missing car, leaving them to carrying out far more serious crimes and carry the weapons and drugs that are sadly all too prevalent.

The transport of victims of modern slavery, of forced prostitution and of minors trapped in county lines gangs is not at all unheard of, even in ‘leafy’ Surrey.

So what’s the answer? We need police leaders to take it seriously, and for that we need the Government to send a message that it’s not a ‘victimless crime’ and that car theft is not simply the loss of a chunk of metal.

We all remember the tragic death of PC Andrew Harper, killed while on duty after getting caught up in the tow rope of a stolen car. The three teenagers responsible were found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter after the jury failed to be convinced that they were aware PC Harper was being dragged to his death behind the car they were driving.

In the immediate aftermath, promises were made regarding the seriousness with which such crimes would be viewed, but in 2022 it is still the case that any officer chasing a stolen car is putting his or her own life at risk.

In my Police and Crime Plan for Surrey I have prioritised vehicle theft because residents tell me it’s what they want, but there is much work to be done to give our officers the resources they need. I call on the Government to give this crime the attention it deserves.

Stephen Greenhalgh: Hammersmith and Fulham has become a borough of missed opportunity

31 Mar

Lord Greenhalgh is the Minister of State for Building Safety, Fire and Communities. He is a former Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Politics is a rough trade. My own career is built on a solid foundation of failure. I spent over ten years in opposition after being elected in a council by-election in January 1996. However, in 2006, after 38 years in opposition apart from a period in minority administration, I led the team that crushed our Labour opponents at the ballot box. We secured a mandate for positive change with nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote, and took control of Hammersmith Town Hall with a huge majority and 33 councillors keen to deliver for our residents. Some of those councillors like Paul Bristow and Greg Smith served in my cabinet and now sit on the green benches and Alex Chalk, who chaired the planning committee with great distinction, sits on the front bench. My political soulmate and successor as council leader, Nick Botterill, is now a cabinet member on Wiltshire County Council. The high point of my political career to date was securing a further mandate in 2010 when we only lost two councillors after four years in control of the town hall where we set a course to cut council tax by three per cent each year whilst delivering better services: High profile round-the-clock beat policing was introduced in our three town centres and crime fell like a stone. Anti-social behaviour in our council estates was challenged for the first time. The physical environment of our borough improved with cleaner streets and greener parks.

In 2014, Hammersmith & Fulham did return to Labour, but it was flattering for me to see that the new Labour administration continued to freeze, or even make a tiny reduction one year, in council tax. However, this is not enough. Our mantra was lower taxes, less waste, and better services. The quality of council services has declined markedly under Labour. The council has a moral and statutory duty to provide social housing which is fit for use, but the Labour administration has failed dismally on this and the recent publication of the Housing Ombudsman’s report has shown that H&F has the highest rate of mismanagement in damp and mould cases in England and the highest rate of maladministration for complaint handling. Council tenants are getting a raw deal.

Many council leaseholders are getting ripped off. For example, in Sulivan Court, leaseholders are being billed nearly £18,000 per flat with conditions that they forfeit their lease if  they fail to pay. Crime is on the rise as the council abolished the highly respected Parks Police and bundled together the few remaining with Street Scene Enforcement officers, Market Inspectors, and Neighbourhood Wardens from the estates, to create an enforcement department armed merely with a stack of fixed penalty notice forms and no powers of arrest. Crime and violent crime in particular is now on the rise.  The council is now wholly reliant on central government for extra policing resources: The Met has received an extra 2,121 officers so far through our police uplift, as part of the 20,000 extra police officers we are recruiting nationally by 2023.

Hammersmith & Fulham is a beautiful residential borough defined by the Thames at its southern and western border. However, it would be helpful if Londoners could cross it once in a while. Instead, we now face six miles of uncrossable water. Hammersmith Bridge, owned by the council has been shut to motorised traffic including buses and ambulances for nearly three years. The Labour council leader is a talented storyteller and has concocted a work of fiction on the Council’s website that absolves his administration of all blame and instead has tried to blame the previous Conservative council despite a statement on September 2nd 2016 that “it remains the case that there are NO issues concerning the structural integrity of Hammersmith Bridge under its current weight restriction.”

The reality is that this Labour council is largely responsible for the Hammersmith Bridge omnishambles: The Council did not do their bit in properly maintaining the bridge and lost expert officer expertise since the collapse of Triborough and Biborough collaboration which was a grotesque act of municipal vandalism on their part.  It is also clear that the Council’s political leadership have not made the reopening of the bridge to cars and buses a political priority. The council does not care about the traffic gridlock in west London but see it as a way of stopping cars coming into their borough and making Hammersmith Bridge open only to pedestrians and cyclists.

The council has refused to supply engineering reports for which we as residents have paid and is refusing to share information with the opposition. The most recent is the Denton report along with the top secret structural engineering reports of 2014/15. Added to this, the Mayor of London has bankrupted TfL so that TfL cannot afford to pay for infrastructure works – and Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, dissolved the London Bridges fund in 2016 to spend the money on other Mayoral pet projects. The council still hasn’t agreed a costed plan to remediate the bridge fully. Instead the council has plucked a figure out of the air to carry out much needed stabilisation works so pedestrians and cyclists are able to use the bridge at the very least.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Baroness Vere, the Roads Minister and Chair of the government’s Hammersmith Bridge Task Force, have had to step in to sort this mess out. The Council wouldn’t even have had Hammersmith Bridge re-opened to pedestrians and bikes had the government not intervened and funded two thirds of the costs as well as pledging two thirds of the costs of its planned restoration and full re-opening by both funding a third directly and providing another third to TfL. It is the Conservative government that has insisted that the Council fully re-open the bridge. Meanwhile, our main and local roads have become clogged up as a result whilst residents face another slap in the face with parking charges now rivalling the West End with hikes to between £5 and £6 an hour – up from £2.20 or £2.80. The streets and the parks are beginning to look scruffy and fly-tipping has become endemic.

Our Conservative administration had a long term vision to create the ‘Borough of Opportunity’ by offering excellent state education and school choice, creating a housing ladder of opportunity with home ownership at its core, and finally, regenerating the most deprived parts of the borough. Sadly, the Labour administration has turned H&F into a Borough of Missed Opportunity. We have shabbier streets full of stationery traffic, neglected parks, and more crime. No new Free Schools or Academies have been opened. London’s developers have decided that the borough is a no go zone and the grand plans to regenerate Earl’s Court and Old Oak have foundered.

The opportunity to create a new vibrant district of West Kensington and Earl’s Court has been missed and instead the borough will at best only see piecemeal development, instead of the thousands of new homes and jobs which could have resulted from the creation of a new district for West London. The even bigger opportunity to deliver a new city for London in Park Royal and Old Oak has been downgraded sadly to an urban district at best with no plans for the huge boost in jobs that the oversite development of the station would have offered. This is particularly tragic given the delays in finalising Crossrail. The Labour leader of the council must take his share of the blame as a paid member of the development corporation for the lack of tangible progress.

We need a new generation of Conservative councillors with a moral mission to deliver better council services, lower council tax, and above all, to create more opportunity for residents to get on in life. Cllr Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler who served in my administration is building a team that will deliver precisely that if elected in May.

Rupert Matthews: Policing by consent will not be achieved by vacuous woke nonsense

14 Mar

Rupert Matthews is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland.

This is a difficult time for British Policing. And national police leadership are making it worse.

The media – always on the lookout for a headline – have promoted story after story about individual police officers who have misbehaved. They portray the rare individual as being the rule, the rogue as being the norm.

Pressure groups and individuals with a political agenda stoke the flames of anti-police propaganda and prejudice. Identity politics is used by ambitious individuals to fragment our society, setting one community against another, one religion against another – all in the cause of gaining power and influence. All too often the police are a convenient punchbag for them to use. There is example after example of the corrosive narrative prevailing, when it should be suffocated by the incredible work that the vast majority of officers and staff undertake on day-by-day, hour by hour basis. Yet the deafening silence of the police leadership is startling.

Undoubtedly there are problems in the British Police Service. Some individuals have proven to be corrupt. Others have behaved with dangerous sexually predatory behaviour. A few have behaved with shocking prejudice against those of different races, religions, and backgrounds. And there are some parts of the service where the culture in the workplace is repulsive. But they are rare and isolated examples.

One of the reasons I stood for election to be PCC was to rebuild and enhance the mutual trust and confidence between the Police and the law-abiding public. We have policing by consent in this country – a proud tradition that goes back to when Sir Robert Peel founded our modern police nearly two centuries ago.

I am glad to say that here in Leicestershire and Rutland our magnificent police force has managed to avoid many of the problems that can be seen elsewhere. But this force is still subject to the threat of being targeted by those who will do all that they can to undermine public confidence. And our residents will see bad news items on their TV screens, and on social media feeds from elsewhere, and will wonder about our local police. A travesty of justice if ever there was one.

At first, I was heartened by the national leadership of our police. They too spoke about issues to do with trust and confidence, and of the urgent need to improve matters. Of course, for the first few months in office I concentrated on local issues and on learning the ropes.

But in November I went to a two-day conference organised jointly by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs Council. I was delighted to see that there was a session lasting over an hour on the subject of:

“The nature of the challenge: A session illuminating the key questions underpinning the themes of performance & trust.”

I settled down to listen to the collected wisdom of the national figures. After 15 minutes of desultory conversation from some of the great and the good, the stage was cleared. Stepping up to the lectern came an academic lecturer who launched into a PowerPoint detailing her research into “Social media threats of hate crime and intolerance.” – taking up the entire time supposedly allocated to “performance and trust”.

When I complained to one of the conference organisers, she looked at me blankly. “But the presentation was very interesting,” she responded.

By contrast, every fashionably woke topic was given a full airing – be it “Crime after Brexit”, “Misogyny as Hate” or “Policing and the Pandemic”.

I puzzled over why, faced by this turmoil over trust by the law-abiding public, the national institutions have focussed on other issues. The sad truth is that they are paying lip service to the need to repair public trust. Their real focus is on continuing with the fashionable causes and campaigns that they have been pursuing for years. The same policies that have done so much to undermine the public’s trust in policing without addressing the real issues within policing.

It must be noted that many of our privileged classes are insecure in their own privilege. They seek to salve their consciences and show off to their fellows by offering ostentatious support to activists who loudly proclaim a victimhood cause.

That support stops short of actually changing the status quo. The privileged do not want to lessen their own power or wealth. Nor do they want to undermine the life chances of their own children. Instead, they identify a victimhood characteristic, then promote a person who displays that characteristic but who safely shares their own views, status and upbringing. They give a fake moral gloss to their own privilege.

So, the left wing, privileged elite feel good about themselves, but nothing really changes. Working class estates remain prey to crime, rural crimes are largely ignored, drugs blight our communities. And front line coppers are sent out on to the streets again and again.

As a historian, I tend to look to the lessons of the past to shape our future. I recall the wise words uttered by Sir Robert Peel when he set up the modern police force nearly two centuries ago. He told the police:

“To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law.

“To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police.”

I aim to give the police who cover Leicestershire and Rutland the training, equipment, and leadership that they need to strengthen the relationship between the law-abiding public and the police. I am and will be outspoken to protect the police from the acidic undertones which are only set to damage and undermine the incredible work the police do, day in and day out.

Only by doing that can we ensure effective and efficient policing by consent for our all communities.

If the national leadership of our police will not address the issues of trust and confidence between the police and the law-abiding public, then Police and Crime Commissioners must.

Here in Leicestershire and Rutland we have already begun!

Lisa Townsend: Restoring confidence in policing will involve some hard choices

8 Mar

Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.

Despite crime being down – largely due to two years of a pandemic that resulted in fewer of us on the roads and more time spent at home – confidence in policing hasn’t seen a corresponding rise.

Whether it is the unacceptable and inexcusable behaviour of a small number of officers, or recently released police statistics showing that only five per cent of burglaries are solved (down from nine per cent in 2015), I am repeatedly challenged by the public about why they should have confidence in our police.

We read almost weekly about how few rape and serious sexual violence cases come in front of the courts, and how few result in conviction. Only one in 77 reported rape cases result in charge, and there is no doubt that the wider criminal justice system, including the CPS, has much more to do in order for women not to feel as though sexual offences have been all but decriminalised. Should they be confident that they will get justice?

In Surrey, a county that is one of the safest in the country but where our burglary solve rates stand at just 3.7 per cent (significantly below the national average) I can’t blame our residents for asking difficult questions. Indeed, I am asking our senior leaders in the Force the same questions.

And without good answers, we are in danger of the public thinking that the police are no longer doing their job.

The primary role of policing has always been to prevent and detect crime, and to protect life. This has evolved in complexity and policing has increasingly become the agency of last resort as gaps have grown in other services.

Now, only 12 per cent of calls into the police relate directly to a crime. If you speak to any police officer and ask them how they spend their time, you will be left in no doubt that they are struggling to keep up with demand. But where is that demand coming from?

The pandemic has meant that we are seeing more cases of mental ill-health, and the police are often the first responder. When an ambulance service is too busy and local services can’t cope, it is the police who will turn up to deal with cases that we all know shouldn’t require a blue-light response.

‘Places of safety’ are often difficult to access and it goes without saying that if no crime has been committed, then someone suffering from poor metal health shouldn’t be held in police custody. Surrey Police alone respond to 42 mental health incidents and seven missing persons, per day. Half of those mental health cases involve an individual police have dealt with previously.

Our NHS has received unprecedented funding in recent years and must get a grip on this; it is simply not sustainable for our police forces to have to act as social workers or untrained medical staff.

What of other demands on police time? ‘Non-Crime Hate Incidents’ (NCHIs) made the news back in December when former police officer Harry Miller challenged the College of Policing guidance on hate crimes. The Court of Appeal ruled in Miller’s favour, unanimously declaring that the recording of NHCIs are an unlawful interference with freedom of expression and contrary to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

How did it come to this? Surely the clue is in the title – it’s a non-crime. Why, with so many burglaries and other serious crimes going unsolved, and the demand on police time from other urgent cases, are the police spending any time recording non-crimes, and not on ensuring the public are safe?

The College of Policing is yet to update its guidance on NHCIs but I know I’m not alone among the public in thinking that this isn’t what we want from our police.

I also make an appeal to any parliamentarians reading. It is entirely understandable that when the inbox is full of campaigns for good causes, and national groups are seeking your support for their undeniably worthy aim, you want to take action. But legislative action has consequences.

I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those who have sought to make misogyny a crime. It is a particularly nasty type of prejudice that is still far too prevalent in our society. But I don’t believe it should be a crime and that is, in part, because I don’t believe in making things criminal that are almost impossible to police. We know demand outstrips resource and that we must prioritise. To me, that means protecting life and property, not hurt feelings.

Restoring the public’s confidence in policing won’t happen overnight. It won’t be the result of one Government announcement or of a new Met Commissioner. It will involve some difficult conversations about what policing is for but, almost as crucially, about what it is not for.

Let’s start with scrapping non-crimes and getting policing back to solving crime and keeping us safe.

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.

Emily Carver: The Met’s failings go much further than Cressida Dick

16 Feb

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

I imagine most people living in London want their police force to prioritise tackling crime.

It’s interesting, then, that it took a report released early this month into the culture among officers at Charing Cross police station for the Mayor of London to oust Met Commissioner Cressida Dick.

The report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) “found evidence of a culture of ‘toxic masculinity’, sexual harassment and misogyny”. 

Text conversations between police officers containing sexually explicit, misogynistic, violent, and racist language were published by the watchdog as evidence of institutional failures.

But, while the revelations of distasteful and downright offensive “banter” among police officers is rightly a cause of major concern, particularly in light of the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of PC Wayne Couzens, it’s curious that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the mayor.

Sadiq Khan’s decision to focus on the Met’s “toxic culture” of sexism and racism may appear worthy, and claims of discrimination must be dealt with, but tarnishing an entire institution by the actions of individual rank-and-file police officers within the force is irresponsible and unfair.

Interesting, too, that these revelations come at a time when there’s never been more diversity and inclusion training available, never been more money spent on rainbow-coloured pride merchandise and never been more efforts by the police to encourage the reporting of hate offences.

The mayor may talk a good game about the Met’s failures on diversity, the need for “cultural change”, and the importance of rooting out all forms of prejudice, but this also adds to a perception that tackling crime no longer tops the list of police priorities. Particularly when he appears to have turned a blind eye over the years to serious operational failures under Dick’s watch.

Accusations of prejudice must be taken seriously but we must also be wary of a culture that leads to more emphasis being placed on diversity and inclusion than tackling crime, what the police are fundamentally there to do.

Following a dip during the pandemic, London recorded 30 teenage homicides last year – the worst annual death toll on record. At the same time, many Londoners feel it’s no longer worth even reporting more minor offences such as burglaries and muggings (besides to claim insurance), as the force simply won’t investigate. Indeed, last year only 3.8 per cent of house burglaries led to a charge or other sanction.

Despite these failures, you’re more likely to hear the mayor grandstanding on matters such as climate change, mask wearing, and foreign policy than you are to see him acknowledge any responsibility for crime on the streets of London – despite the fact he is the Police and Crime Commissioner for London.

Similar accusations have, of course, been levelled at Dick and the Met. When police officers were pictured taking the knee during Black Lives Matter protests or frolicking alongside Extinction Rebellion activists, trust in the impartiality of the police plummeted.

Many are simply sick of the police playing politics.

The ousting of Dick may, as chairman of the Met Police Federation Ken Marsh claimed this week, be politically motivated, a scapegoat to “deflect from [politicians] own failings”.

But this shouldn’t detract from Dick’s well-documented failures.

Indeed, however offensive the Whatsapp messages detailed in the report are, it’s clear the Met Police has many, many more serious problems to contend with – not least the number of accusations of corruption, cover-ups and heavy-handed, politically-charged policing under Dame Cressida’s watch.

The hunt for a new commissioner is likely to be a fraught one – and there is no guarantee the replacement will restore much-needed confidence in the police force or, crucially, make London’s streets any safer. 

Further, it’s unlikely that Priti Patel’s idea of what would make a competent commissioner will match that of Khan’s. While she has the final say, Khan is likely to throw his weight around – and attempt to veto any candidate he deems inadequately committed to his own agenda.

As important as trust in the police among different communities is, ultimately confidence depends on results. 

The new commissioner must be appointed on what one would traditionally think of as police leader attributes, namely their ability to tackle crime.

John Macdonald: The Porn Laws are naive, paternalistic, a blackmailer’s charter – and won’t work anyway

10 Feb

John Macdonald is the Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Smith Institute.

The Prime Minister is trying to reboot his political project. With major personnel replaced in Downing Street and a mini- cabinet reshuffle completed, you would hope that he was trying to return to the original promise of his electoral success in 2019; a Conservative Government that celebrated new opportunities and freer markets, rooted in a kind of common sense liberalism.

Unfortunately, the reboot seems to be more about doubling down on tax and spend, and embracing some of the worst authoritarian, petty nanny statism that pockmarked the earlier iterations of this Conservative tenure in government. A return to drab, condescending policies, in this case the so-called ‘porn laws’ that will force consumers to verify their age via credit card information to access explicit online content.

For those that don’t know the Conservative Government has been waging a war on porn since at least 2015, with the central idea being that people must use a credit card as age verification when trying to log into websites purveying explicit content.

Like many of the Conservatives’ most egregious flirtations with anti-liberal nannying (such as banning certain food advertising), age verification for access to pornographic websites has been beaten off many times, only to keep coming back without any real explanation as to how and why.

It’s not just on first principles that such a policy should be permanently abandoned. Let us accept for the sake of argument you accept the proposition that access to online porn is a societal ill, and that the state has a role in dissuading people from consuming it, or to protect the young from stumbling across it. You would have to have an outdated at best, and asinine at worst, understanding of the internet to genuinely believe that imposing online age verification would be in any way implementable.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a low cost, easily accessible and highly effective way of hiding your IP address, anonymising and protecting the user’s privacy in making it all but impossible to tell what sites they are visiting. Many popular VPN apps allow the user to connect to websites via another country, a popular feature given the way streaming rights work (i.e. US Netflix has a superior catalog to British Netflix). All one would need to do to access explicit content is hit a button on their device of choice, choose a country without such restrictions, and be good to go.

This isn’t something unbeknownst to a significant portion of the UK’s population, either. It is estimated that some 44 per cent of UK internet users have used a VPN at some point. It is somewhat entertaining to think that DCMS, a Government department whose intended purpose is to prepare the country for rapid technological advancement but instead wastes significant energy on censoriousness, could be thwarted by as little as £3 a month on an app available on all major mobile phone operating systems.

Perhaps, then, you might be inclined to think that if not practically possible, it is in principle proper to restrict access to explicit online content. Even if some degenerates skirt round the rules (bear in mind that some 26 million Brits watch online porn), people should still have to think twice about accessing it, and those under 18 should be guarded against easy or accidental access. You would still be blind to the fact that age verification mechanisms do more harm than good.

Big porn companies such as Mindgeek have argued that they will take measures to ensure no data would be collected to link credit card information and viewing habits, but whether or not this would be possible or probable is still a significant risk.

That is to say nothing of the massive target painted on their backs. With a huge repository of credit card information and the promise of ample blackmail material, you can be sure hackers will be coming after them hard and fast. Age verification mechanisms are also a scammer’s delight; the rush to access explicit content is bound to push concerns of website authenticity aside, and those who get caught out might be less inclined to report their woes to credit card companies.

The Porn Laws don’t just represent a failure of Government to understand that they cannot, and should not see itself as a protector against any all societal ills. Trying to justify them on the grounds that they protect the young betrays a naive and condescending paternalism, where greater education would serve them much better. Nearly a third of all internet content is porn, trying to stuff it away behind a verification barrier just won’t work. Instead, ensuring an honest conversation with teenagers about it, and about peer to peer pressure to send their own intimate content, would be of far more benefit.

Johnson’s Government appears to be reneging on the last of its post-May era promises. We’ve become used to the idea that he’d continue to be a tax and spend Conservative, or that after a brush with Covid and ill health, would look to stop us from having our cake and eating it by banning advertising of certain foods. But with the resurrection of the Porn Laws, any hope that Boris’ libertine spirit might seep into government has been dashed.

Lisa Townsend: Recent revelations about the Met are beyond excuse or apology. But elsewhere there’s good in the police.

8 Feb

Lisa Townsend is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.

It’s been another terrible week for the Met and its officers. Recent revelations regarding racism, sexism and so-called “banter” are disgusting, unrepresentative of the vast majority of UK police officers and beyond excuse or apology.

Of course, most of us don’t live in an area covered by the Metropolitan Police, but instead within one of the other 42 forces in England and Wales, or Police Scotland.

Away from the headlines, so often dominated by the goings-on in London, what is the reality of policing in Britain? Recently released crime statistics show that solve rates are woefully low and as Surrey’s PCC I have been clear with my own chief constable in both public and private that our residents demand and deserve better.

These day to day issues have always dominated policing and are most likely what you read about in your daily newspaper and on community groups. But what about the wider policing picture? Are there reasons to be cheerful? I believe there are and that they deserve to be shared.

1. Work to tackle county lines drug trafficking – the recruitment and use of vulnerable children and adults to traffic drugs away from cities and into smaller towns and rural areas – is going on around the country with some excellent results.

Rather than just playing the traditional game of Whack-A-Mole with those caught using small amounts of drugs, police are targeting the organised gangs who supply the cannabis or cocaine that end up on our local streets. Often, these gangs are involved in other serious and violent crimes which can result in long sentences and the disruption of the supply line and organisation.

2. Modern policing has embraced social media, and the results benefit us all. Those needing to report a crime or concern in Surrey can do so using the traditional methods of 999 or 101, but also have the option to contact the Force on our Facebook page, website or to direct message us on Twitter.

The messages are read in real time and by those who are skilled at answering the same concerns on the phone. In fact, for those who are not able to use the telephone to make a report – perhaps through hearing problems or because they are in a domestic abuse situation – contacting the police in this way can be much better.

When speaking to residents, I am often told how useful they find our local “beat” Facebook pages – run by officers – and how helpful the local updates are. In my view, the use of Twitter to help spread the word and locate vulnerable missing persons makes up for all the bad it can do.

3. The recruitment of a diverse police force is absolutely essential if we are to able to continue to police our communities by consent, a cornerstone of British policing and democracy.

This means that our force must reflect the communities we serve – and more than ever, this is the case. While there is still much work to be done, particularly in the recruitment and retention of black officers, real progress has been made. We are seeing women join the force in unprecedented numbers and when I look around at my own force I see a talented and diverse workforce.

4. Serious and organised crime is an area we don’t talk about much in day to day policing, but it is a serious concern in communities, both urban and rural. Successes such as Op Venetic, which so far has resulted in 746 arrests, the seizure of 77 firearms, two tonnes of drugs and £54 million in cash is an excellent example of UK policing and law enforcement working together with European partner agencies to take down a bespoke, encrypted global communication service based in France but used by 10,000 criminals in the UK alone.

Kidnappings and executions among rival gangs have been prevented and countless communities saved from the devastating consequences of organised crime.

5. Combating violence against women and girls – in all its forms – has been made a national priority and not before time. Individually, police forces are required to have a plan to tackle VAWG and officers are better equipped and better trained than ever before in dealing with everything from domestic abuse to stalking.

While sexism and misogyny are not something we will ever be able to police our way out of, I am proud that policing in both my own force, and around England and Wales, is leading the way.

For every bad headline there are hundreds of officers in forces like mine who are working around the clock to keep us safe. You probably know some of them – they might be your friend, family member or neighbour. They are much more than a headline, they are our heroes.