Early Spring is now upon us and the days are thankfully starting to get lighter again. Given the ongoing lockdown, the Winter has seemed particularly long, but I am confident that the Government's Roadmap will ease our path to recovery and that the vaccination programme will continue at its remarkable pace. I am about to have my first jab in Bracknell and I know that I can speak for everyone by expressing my thanks and admiration to all NHS and care staff for the wider effort. This has been a world leading and unprecedented success.
In Westminster, I cannot recall a busier tempo during my short time as a MP. Having been asked to chair the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee, this has fixed me for the past few weeks, but I have enjoyed bringing this bill to statute. Working collaboratively with Labour and the SNP has proven to be worthwhile and I have learned much about Parliamentary procedure. Beyond this, the Government is pressing ahead with its manifesto promises. The UK faces many challenges right now, not least Covid-19, but I am confident that we will bounce back quickly. Our vaccination programme also means that we should be able to lift restrictions soon and adopt a less risk averse posture but as always, we follow the science.
In recent weeks, the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has attracted a lot of attention. In response to a clear mandate from the electorate, the Government has promised to get tougher on law and order and few would disagree that this is the right thing to do. The appalling murder of Sarah Everard has however brought into focus that yet more needs to be done to protect women and girls. It is of course wrong that anyone should live in fear and I have been working with Thames Valley Police to ensure that there is always a maximum police presence on the ground. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which is soon to be passed into law, will also show that the Government has zero tolerance to those who perpetuate violence. Please do report crimes, even if you may not want to.
Lastly, and contrary to what some people have been led to believe, there is no question that the right to protest is enshrined in UK law and that peaceful activities will always be permitted. This is been a fundamental premise of the freedoms that we enjoy and long may it continue. I would however urge readers not to conflate the recent peace vigil on Clapham Common with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The decision by the Metropolitan Police to disperse people from the bandstand was made in line with Coronavirus legislation and has nothing to do with any new powers. People were asked repeatedly to move on after several hours, it is known from reports already received by the Police that the atmosphere had become more hostile, that the vigil had been hijacked by divisive elements and that a total of 24 Police – including women – had been assaulted.
To be clear, the new bill does give new powers to the Home Secretary, the Police and local stakeholders to limit or restrict protests where there is a legitimate threat to others, property and life or where the actions of a vociferous minority affect wider freedoms and democracy. We have seen many examples of this, notably in London, and most law-abiding people I speak to are fed up with it. The images of statues being ripped down, war memorials being vandalised, ambulances being prevented from getting to hospital, people unable to get to work, wanton destruction and appalling abuse of our Police require no explanation. So this is actually about the silent majority, not the lawless minority.