Labour to vote against Priti Patel's 'disproportionate' anti-protest bill

14 March 2021, 12:10 | Updated: 14 March 2021, 14:34

Priti Patel&squot;s policing bill is coming under intense scrutiny after the "disproportionate" policing of a Sarah Everard vigil on Saturday.
Priti Patel's policing bill is coming under intense scrutiny after the "disproportionate" policing of a Sarah Everard vigil on Saturday. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Labour will vote against the government's new policing bill, saying the "poorly thought-out measures" will "impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest".

The party had previously said they would abstain on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Tuesday, but now plan to oppose it following widespread criticism of the Metropolitan Police's handling of a Sarah Everard here

Several hundred gathered at Clapham Common on Saturday evening, despite official events being cancelled, to mourn the murder of the 33-year-old and highlight violence against women.

Officers soon moved in, angering the crowds which chanted "shame on you" as they arrested several women and attempted to move people away from the park's bandstand.

The move sparked fierce criticism from many, who accused the Met of "manhandling" and using "disproportionate" force.

Read more: 'The UK is not safe for women', Labour's Jess Phillips tells LBC

The government say the bill will "allow the police to take a more proactive approach in managing highly disruptive protests causing serious disruption to the public".

It is backed by the embattled Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who is facing calls for her resignation following the scenes at Clapham Common.

The commissioner said since the Extinction Rebellion protests in April 2020, she has been in contact with the government about the need for powers "to deal with protests where people are not primarily violent or seriously disorderly but, as in this instance, had an avowed intent to bring policing to its knees and the city to a halt and were prepared to use the methods we all know they did to do that."

Read more: Met Police chief urged to resign after 'deeply disturbing' handling of Sarah Everard vigil

However, in the wake of Ms Everard's death and the vigil on Saturday, David Lammy MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, said , Labour "are calling on the government to drop its poorly thought-out proposals".

The government should "instead work with Labour to legislate to tackle violence against women which is forcing so many across the country to live in fear," he added.

"The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women."

“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.

Read more: Home Secretary Priti Patel: I wouldn't take the knee

“Now is the time to unite the country and put in place on long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment. And we must tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.

“Instead, the Conservatives have brought forward a Bill that is seeking to divide the country. It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.

"Labour will be voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on this basis."

Read more: 'How dare you!': Furious row with caller questioning Clapham vigil

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar told Swarbrick on Sunday the proposed bill is "the most draconian piece of legislation in British legal history, that will effectively outlaw peaceful protest".

Highlighting the clause in the bill that targets protests that cause "serious annoyance" Mr Anwar added: "What do they think protest is about? How did women get the right to protest without the right to cause serious annoyance?

"The very fact that it could be noise levels, somebody being interrupted - well we have had protests for a number of years, many of the rights that this country prides itself on, as a result of direct protest.

"This is a fundamental attack on our human rights... This effectively gives the power - lock, stock and barrel - to the police, to the likes of the Metropolitan Police, to do what they did yesterday."

Amanda Milling, co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, said it was "shocking" that Labour is "trying to block tough new laws to keep people safe, including many vital measures to protect women from violent criminals"

"By voting against this Bill Labour are voting against tougher sentences for child murderers and sex offenders, killer drivers and measures that protect the vulnerable.

"This Conservative Government is working to keep people safe by reforming our justice system to keep our communities safe so that everyone can live their lives free from the fear of crime."