I would like to start by offering my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, as well as all those who have lost loved ones to violence. My thoughts are also with the family of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, who have been re-traumatised due to recent events.
The Metropolitan Police’s actions, which we saw on Saturday at the vigil, were entirely unacceptable. It is therefore deeply concerning that the Home Secretary is now pushing for more draconian powers, on top of the substantial powers the Police already have. Many current and former police officers have since questioned why more powers are necessary.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Advisor, said clearly in the SAGE papers that when it comes to Covid-19 there is a much lower risk of transmission outdoors compared to indoors, and that it is difficult to see how outdoor events could now cause a spike. It is therefore clear to me that public health could not have been the driving factor for such an aggressive crackdown by the Police on Saturday.
If it was the driving factor, then it would have made more sense for the Police to encourage social distancing and hand out face coverings and sanitisers.
However, even if we do accept that some restrictions are needed to safeguard public health, as a Parliament and as defenders of free speech we need to be very careful about restricting the right of people to express their views. The general public never voted to have their democracy removed, their right to protest restricted or their voice silenced.
I have grave concerns with the sweeping powers contained in this Bill and the direct impact it will have on my constituents. The events on Saturday showed us what happens when authorities do not allow people to organise properly, and what happens when the Police are confused about their powers, something that we have seen repeatedly during this pandemic. Some might conclude that ministers are using this pandemic as a cover for more draconian police powers.
It is vital for us as MPs to defend free speech, and I simply cannot vote for a Bill that threatens to erode our democratic rights and stifles freedom of expression. This Bill contains a few good things, those things can be incorporated into other bills at a later date. I agree with Labour’s position that we need urgent action to address the violence against women and girls – and this Bill is simply not good enough.
That is why I have supported a wrecking amendment that if successful will in effect have this Bill thrown out. I believe this is the right thing to do as the Government’s Bill must be prevented from passing into law.
For all these reasons and more, I will be voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill today.