A senior minister has defended plans to increase sentences for violence against statues, amid rising fury at the government’s failure to tackle violence against women.
The Tory Police Bill, to be debated in the Commons today, will allow judges to hand down sentences of up to 10 years for damaging statues based on their “emotional, symbolic value”.
But the move was branded “divisive nonsense”, which would mean locking up “those who damage statues for longer than those who attack women.”
Policing minister Kit Malthouse defended the plan.
“I realise that this line is being pushed but …it’s not,” he said.
“At the moment the offence of criminal damage carries a sentence of ten years. However that sentence is limited to a much lower sentence if the value of the item, monetary value, is less than £5,000.
“All we are doing is lifting that cap so that the emotional, symbolic value of an item like a war memorial can be reflected in sentencing.”
The Police, Crome, Sentencing and Courts bill would increase the minimum term for some serious sexual offences to four years, but increases the maximum sentence for vandalising a war memorial to ten years.
Pressed on whether assaulting a statue should lead to a longer sentence than rape, Mr Malthouse said: “Well, that’s a matter for judges delivering sentences. Obviously the maximum sentence is much greater than that.”
The bill is 296 pages long, with 176 clauses and 20 schedules – and critics say the explanatory notes to accompany it mention statues, but not women.
Jess Phillips, Labour ’s shadow domestic violence minister, said last night: “The Conservative Government’s Bill does absolutely nothing currently to increase sentences for rapists, stalkers, or those who batter, control and abuse women. It does nothing about street harassment and assaults.
“Under the Conservatives rape convictions have fallen to an all time low, and domestic abuse conviction rates are dropping off a cliff.
“The bill is full of divisive nonsense like locking up those who damage statues for longer than those who attack women. Now is a moment to change the criminal justice system so it works for women, not to try and divide the country.”
Mr Malthouse insisted the government had taken steps to protect women.
He said: “The domestic abuse bill, which is an extensive bill that will significantly enhance our ability to confront domestic violence and abuse is just finishing its passage through the house and contains enormous provisions to help us with that fight.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently in its report stage in the House of Lords – one of the later steps towards it becoming law.
But it has taken three years to get this far – having been delayed in coming to a vote by two successive General Elections.
Mr Malthouse continued: “This bill, this new bill that’s being introduced, contains longer sentences for serious sexual offenders, and critically from my point of view as somebody who’s leading the fight on this, contains a new serious violence duty which will be placed on local authorities and health services and indeed everyone in the public sector in a locality to come together, analyse and understand the drivers of violence, including violence against women and girls in their area and then promote strategies to deal with it.”
Pressed again on why damage to statues could carry higher sentences than violence against women, Mr Malthouse said: “The penalties for attacking a woman – well, for attacking anybody – are much greater, and you would expect there to be a differential between the two.
“What we’ve said in the bill is that we do recognise that attacking or damaging particular symbolic monuments like war memorials is much more serious than the sentences currently portray, and that is because of the slight anomaly on the cost limit on criminal damage.”