Labour voted against the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill this evening, but the controversial legislation passed its third reading by a majority of 100, with 365 MPs backing it and 265 opposing.
Closing the debate for Labour, Nick Thomas-Symonds told parliament that the bill had been made divisive “because of provisions put into the bill that are unconscionable and because of provisions not put into it”.
The Shadow Home Secretary criticised the proposed law, which touches on huge swathes of the justice system, as one that “does more to protect statues than it does to protect women”, telling MPs that the bill showed a “warped sense of priorities”.
“It’s a bill that destroys the fine British tradition of protecting the right to protest. A bill that allows the noise generated by persons taking part as a reason to curtail protest,” he said. “Our laws on protest have always been a balance and the way this proposed law disturbs it is wrong.”
The legislation contains provisions that would grant the police powers to curb any protest that would “result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” or have a “relevant impact on persons in the vicinity”.
“Women and girls who feel unsafe on our streets should have been the priority in this bill. It should have delivered on inadequate sentencing for rape, stalking, for domestic homicides. It should have addressed unacceptable and intimidating street harassment. It should have delivered properly resourced domestic abuse services,” Thomas-Symonds said.
“Whether it’s our frontline workers, whether it’s those who have suffered as a consequence of disproportionality, whether it’s victims of antisocial behaviour, we on these benches will continue to campaign for them and put victims first.”
Thomas-Symonds also argued that the unauthorised encampments section of the bill is “clearly targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities” and would potentially breach the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.
The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill creates an offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle” and gives police seizure and forfeiture powers.
Priti Patel claimed that the provisions in the legislation would “strengthen public safety and update the law”, adding: “They will mean the police can manage new and emerging threats and that the criminal justice system works for the British people, keeping our citizens and our communities safe.”
Labour’s Sarah Jones told MPs, while addressing the Commons earlier in the afternoon, that the government has “undermined the parts of this bill that we [Labour] support by including a series of disproportionate and draconian provisions”.
Jones argued that the measures “threaten the fundamental balance between the police and the people” and create a “very low threshold for policing both impose conditions and essentially rules out entirely, potentially, peaceful protests”.
Minister Victoria Atkins said in response that debate on protest had been informed by “misunderstanding”. She claimed that the bill “does not stop the freedom to demonstrate” but instead balances it “against the rights and freedoms of others”.
Also addressing parliament this evening, David Lammy told MPs that “this bill presented the government with an opportunity to enact measures which would end violence against women and girls but I’m afraid the government blew it”.
He argued the bill had instead been filled with “divisive nonsense, like locking up protestors who cause annoyance” and urged ministers to support Labour’s proposals to “show the public it cares about violence against women and girls”.
Lammy highlighted the discrepancy between the government rejecting calls to include minimum statutory sentences in relation to sexual crimes, such as rape, with sections in the legislation that did so for drug-related and other offences.
MPs from all parties complained about the lack of time allocated for the report and third reading stages of the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, all of which were taken today, meaning that many of the amendments tabled were not put to a vote.
Tory Philip Davies said: “We have literally hundreds of new clauses and amendments tabled to this bill. It’s a 300-page bill, which had two days for second reading. The fact it has only one day on the report stage is to me an absolute abuse.”
Amendment one at report stage, which was backed by MPs from across opposition parties and would have removed part three of the bill on public order, was rejected by the Commons by a majority of 81 as the Conservatives voted against.
Chair of the human rights committee Harriet Harman called on MPs to back two new clauses creating offences of harassment in a public place (NC1) and kerb crawling that amounts to harassment (NC2). They were not put to a vote today.
The minister told parliament that the government is “open minded” on creating a new bespoke offence for sexual harassment but told parliament this evening that the government is focusing on cultural change and the need to educate.
“An offence can do so much but we need to go further than that, and that is our intention,” Atkins told MPs. “As part of the cross-party work and work across agencies, the College of Policing intends to develop advice for police forces to assist them to use existing offences in the most effective way to address reports of sexual harassment and the Crown Prosecution Service will be updating their guidance.”
MPs voted down new clause 97 tabled by Labour, which would have provided for the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses to be recorded rather than undertaken in court, by a margin of 129 as 227 voted in favour and 256 against.
Labour’s new clause 31 would have made it an offence to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker with a 12-month prison sentence, fine or both as punishment. The proposal failed by a majority of 117 as Conservative MPs rejected it.
The minister argued that there are “existing laws with significant penalties that cover assaults and abuse of all public-facing workers” but added that the government is “actively considering” an amendment on the issue in the Lords.
Labour MP Sarah Champion’s amendment, which would have required ministers to conduct and publish a review into how registered sex offenders change their names or other aspects of their identity, was not put to a vote today.
The minister said the UK has “some of the toughest rules in the world” on the management of sex offenders, but added that the government is conducting a time-limited review into the process of changing names and the scale of the problem.
The opposition party voted against the controversial legislation at its second reading in March this year, but the bill passed that stage of the legislative process by a majority of 95, with 359 MPs voting in favour and 263 against.
Having concluded all stages in the House of Commons, the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will now proceed to the House of Lords to be scrutinised by peers. The date for the first reading in the upper chamber is yet to be confirmed.