Last year in July, as so many of you asked for, I voted against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill during its early progress through Parliament.
The Bill is still with us, going between the Commons and Lords with amendments passed by Labour Lords and others then removed by Tory MPs in the Commons. We are now at the closing stages of this Parliament so the government wants to get this agreed. But this Bill is still an atrocious mess.
The right to protest is a fundamental element of a functioning democracy. I’m sorry to say that this government appears not to care about the damage this Bill will do to this right.
This PCSC Bill remains a missed opportunity to address the problems of rape, sexual abuse and harassment. Instead of trying to fix the Justice system’s response to crimes against women, the government is more concerned about restricting our right to protest, on flimsy grounds. They also drew the terms of the Bill so wide that bystanders and passers-by who have nothing to do with a protest are also potential targets for arrest.
Many of you also had raised similar concerns about the Bill. You can read my detailed blog on the Commons stage of the Bill here.
Yesterday, the Bill returned to the House of Commons with amendments proposed by the Lords.
The Lords sent back amendments in order to prevent people being criminalised for peaceful protests that the police decide are “too noisy,” to prevent the Home Secretary having sweeping powers to define what kinds of protests are acceptable, and to make misogyny a hate crime. You can read the complete Hansard transcript of last night’s debate here.
Labour supported these amendments, which our colleagues helped push through in the Lords.
However, the Government didn’t support them.
The Government’s focus on protest is in the wrong place – they are targeting peaceful protests and bystanders rather than cracking down on dangerous anti-vaxxers harassing children as they go into school.
Labour opposed the Government’s proposal to impose conditions on a completely peaceful protest for being ‘too noisy’. Not for being violent, or causing damage – for being ‘noisy’. The threshold for this is so low, the power could be used if noise causes someone ‘alarm’ or ‘serious unease’.
In the last month, we have seen protests across the UK and the world, in solidarity with Ukraine. Under the provisions in this Bill, those same protestors could now be criminalised.
This Bill also fails to go far enough in tackling violence against women and girls. Women across the country have made clear that we have a right to live free from fear and to feel safe on our streets and in our homes. Not enough is being done to tackle harassment, stalking and intimidation of women in our communities.
Lords amendment 72B made it an offence to harass or intimidate a person, based on hostility to their sex or gender, the provision referred to as making misogyny a hate crime. Labour MPs have long campaigned for this and the government committed to doing this when their Domestic Abuse Act went through last year. I supported this amendment, along with my other Labour colleagues, but the government tabled a narrower amendment in lieu of it, which doesn’t go far enough.
The Tory government is more concerned about scoring political points that tackling misogyny inspired crime.
I am currently working with Avon & Somerset Police on a project to tackle violence against women and girls, leading a working group on the theme of Sport and Culture. Some fascinating ideas are emerging from these discussions. This draws on my previous twenty-six years in work to end violence against women and girls and to promote equality for women. To know more about my work in tackling violence against women and girls, read my blog.
Unfortunately yesterday, the government had the numbers to push this undemocratic, flawed and misguided piece of legislation through. This is not the end though. While you and I wait for a Labour government, I will staunchly defend the democratic right to protest and support the causes and people who have been let down by this Bill.