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The worst assault on our right to protest in recent history, Commons hears

Cross-party MPs fight the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

THE Tories’ new policing Bill is the biggest assault on our right to protest in recent history, the Commons heard today, as shameless Tory MPs ignored calls to drop the legislation. 

Cross-party MPs continued to fight the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which also threatens to criminalise Traveller and Gypsy communities and lacks measures to protect women.

Criticism of plans to hand police additional powers has intensified after the Met’s storming of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old woman who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by one of the force’s serving officers.

During the Commons debate, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said the Bill is “designed to infringe on our civil liberties.”

“This Bill doesn’t even attempt to address the crisis of plummeting conviction rates for some of the most serious crimes including rape,” she said.

Labour MPs were told to vote against it, but Ms Ribeiro-Addy’s reasoned amendment to throw out the legislation was rejected by the Speaker ahead of the debate. 

Signed by over 40 cross-party MPs including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, who in the Commons branded the Bill “dangerous, undemocratic and disproportionate,” and Labour’s Nadia Whittome and Diane Abbott, it sought to halt the new law on the basis that it fails to “address the racial bias and discrimination that persists in policing.” 

“The Bill therefore risks exacerbating the racial and gendered disparities in the criminal justice system by increasing police powers and sentencing whilst reducing accountability,” it read.

The legislation, dubbed the Police Crackdown Bill, will boost police powers against so-called static protests, including by giving the ability to impose start and finish times and “maximum noise limits.” 

It also seeks to prevent protests outside Parliament, expand powers to shut down demonstrations and introduce new offences for protesters, even if they have simply caused “serious annoyance.” 

Labour MP Jon Trickett said the Bill “continues the authoritarian drift” of the government, citing a recent string of controversial new laws including the Overseas Operations Bill and so-called Spycops Bill.

“We might risk causing annoyance every day, but it’s only in dictatorships or repressive regimes that such actions are subject to drastic sentencing,” he warned.

Ms Whittome said the expansion of powers in the Bill was at a level “that should not be seen in any modern democracy.” 

“This marks a descent into authoritarianism and we’re debating this today because the Home Secretary despises Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, having described them as hooligans, thugs and criminals.

“Make no mistake, this is the biggest assault on our right and freedom to protest in recent history.”

Labour’s Clive Efford branded it “a Tory-led coup without guns” and even DUP MP Gavin Robinson added that the “loose and lazy way” the Bill is drafted would “make a dictator blush.” 

Home Secretary Priti Patel defended the Bill, saying that Labour was voting against “crucial measures” to support victims of violent crime such as the scrapping of automatic halfway release for those convicted of serious sex offences. 

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