MPs to debate greater police powers amid Sarah Everard vigil backlash

Elliot Chappell
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MPs will debate giving the police greater powers today as the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill returns to parliament. The controversial legislation, which would grant powers to curb actions that “result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or have a “relevant impact on persons in the vicinity”, has significant implications for peaceful protest. Sources say the leadership was originally planning to abstain, but the party is now whipping MPs to vote against the bill. Labour has demanded that the government drop the legislation, which Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy explained on Sunday could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman. He has also pointed out that in the 20 schedules, 176 clauses and 296 pages of the bill, women are not mentioned once.

Labour is instead calling on ministers to increase minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers; create a new street harassment law; introduce a new whole-life tariff for stranger abductor murder; commission a review into increasing sentences for domestic murder and providing a statutory defence for domestic abuse survivors; and legislate to make misogyny a hate crime. Lammy has highlighted this morning that rape prosecutions have fallen to an all-time low under the Conservatives, and declared that his party would fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases, offer free legal representation for victims and appoint a minister for survivors of rape and sexual violence.

Labour’s position on the bill changed amid the backlash against the Metropolitan Police, from across the political spectrum, over its violent handling of the vigil in south London for Sarah Everard. The day after a police officer was charged with the kidnapping, the shocking image of an officer kneeling on a woman’s back emerged as crowds gathered with flowers and tributes to Everard. Stark comparisons have been drawn with the handling of Rangers football fans recently gathering to celebrate a win, where the police did not intervene. Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick has resisted calls to resign, dismissing “armchair” critics amid widespread outrage. Home Secretary Priti Patel and London mayor Sadiq Khan have rebuked Dick, with Khan explaining that he is “not satisfied” with her explanation for officers’ behaviour. Keir Starmer described the police’s actions as “deeply disturbing” but said Dick should not resign.

As Labour prepares to vote against the bill today and tomorrow, the party will now want to make sure that the Tories cannot claim that Labour is soft on crime. Conservative Party chair Amanda Milling predictably argued on Sunday that the opposition is “voting against tougher sentences for child murderers and sex offenders, killer drivers and measures that protect the vulnerable”. Labour has hit back, describing the comments as “disgusting and untrue”. “The Conservative government’s bill does absolutely nothing currently to increase sentences for rapists, stalkers, or those who batter, control and abuse women,” shadow minister Jess Phillips said. “It does nothing about street harassment and assaults.” Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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