Copyright: Karen Beil/Flickr
Copyright: Karen Beil/Flickr

We must protect the right to peaceful protest and we must tackle sexual violence – the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill does neither.

Many people in Bristol West have written to me with serious concerns about the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its second reading last week.

I too oppose this Bill in its current form, for several reasons. These include Tory proposals for draconian restrictions on protest. This would damage our democracy and would put protest organisers and the police in an impossible position.

As we know, protests tend to be noisy. Unbelievably, the Government’s Bill includes “serious unease” caused by “the noise generated by persons taking part” as a reason to warrant significantly expanded police-imposed conditions. The Bill also makes it an offence to breach police-imposed conditions where a person “ought to know” about them, potentially criminalising those unaware of the conditions in the first place.

Following pressure from campaigners and from the Labour party in Parliament, last week the government quietly postponed the next stages of this Bill (my colleague Peter Kyle MP has a good blog on this).

Sadly, the violence and riots in Bristol over the last week (read my statement here) are being used by the government to justify the Bill.

This is a false argument. We already have the Public Order Act 1986, along with other existing powers, to police protests. I think these strike a careful balance between the legitimate right to peacefully protests and the need to keep order. Those who assaulted police officers or set fire to police vehicles last Sunday have broken the law. And it’s the government, not the police, who are trying to change this through the Bill.

It’s important to remember that there are some good elements to this Bill as well. These include harsher penalties for deaths caused by drunk driving and measures to protect emergency workers from assault, reviews of homicides and more. It is disappointing that the Government has undermined many of the good measures in this legislation by coupling them up with divisive and draconian measures, such as those relating to protests.

But as I say, I cannot support it in its current form because of the gaps on addressing violence against women, particularly sexual assault and street harassment, but also the proposals on protest.

I will be pressing the Government to drop these poorly thought-out proposals as the Bill continues to be considered in Parliament.

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