Labour has announced that it will vote against the “poorly thought-out” police, crime, sentencing and courts bill that could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.
David Lammy confirmed on Sunday morning that Labour would oppose the bill in parliament. The party has called on the government to drop the proposals and instead legislate to tackle violence against women.
The Shadow Justice Secretary said: “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.”
LabourList sources say the Labour leadership was originally prepared to abstain on the government legislation, although MPs including Richard Burgon and Jon Trickett had already said they would vote against.
The whipping arrangement plans appear to have changed after the Metropolitan Police faced criticism from across the political spectrum over its handling of a vigil in south London for Sarah Everard, who went missing on March 3rd.
It was confirmed this weekend that remains found in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent were Everard’s. A serving police officer is in custody and was charged on Saturday with her kidnap and murder.
Lammy added: “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.
“We are calling on the government to drop its poorly thought-out proposals and instead work with Labour to legislate to tackle violence against women, which is forcing so many across the country to live in fear.”
Labour is demanding “tougher sentences for attacks on frontline workers and increased sentences for terrorists”, as well as longer minimum sentences for stalking and rape, and that misogyny be made a hate crime.
The opposition would like to see a whole life tariff introduced for anyone found guilty of a stranger abductor murder, a new street harassment law and an independent review to look into increasing sentences for domestic murder.
Shadow safeguarding minister Jess Phillips told The Andrew Marr Show: “You should get more for rape than you do for defacing a statue… You can currently get more for fly-tipping than you can get for stalking.”
The opposition party backs proposals in the bill on dangerous driving, increased sentences for terrorists and other dangerous offenders, a police covenant, reform to criminal records and criminalising sexual abuse by people in positions of trust.
But the government legislation also gives the police powers to take a “more proactive approach” in cracking down on protests that are considered to be “highly disruptive”, such as those by Extinction Rebellion.
Civil rights organisations have criticised the proposals on the basis that they threaten freedoms. Liberty director Gracie Bradley said parts of the bill will “facilitate discrimination and undermine protest”.
The bill states, in a section on “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”, that someone could face a fine and up to ten years in jail for causing “serious annoyance” or “serious inconvenience” to another person.
The Sarah Everard vigil organised by Reclaim These Streets was cancelled after the Met said it could not go ahead due to Covid. Many, including the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, nonetheless attended.
Hundreds gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday evening. Police officers were shown in videos and photos circulated online to have started forcefully removing women from the area once it was dark.
Reclaim These Streets had originally told attendees to wear masks and to be socially distanced, and said they made suggestions to the police including staggered start times and splitting the event into time slots.
The organisers of the vigil released a statement on Saturday morning saying there were “positive discussions” with local officers but “those from Scotland Yard would not engage with our suggestions”.
🔴LIVE: Women protesters are violently snatched by Police
PROTEST FOR WOMEN SAFETY – Clapham Common | London
Watch now: https://t.co/qe8Hc0q6xi#LIVE #Livestream #London #SarahEverard #Freedom #ReclaimTheStreets #Women #WomenSafety #arrest #violentarrest #violentpolice #Violence pic.twitter.com/RwBop2MsHf
— Subject Access (@SubjectAccesss) March 13, 2021