MPs have voted for draconian protest laws, while blocking an attempt to introduce a minimum sentence for rape.
MPs have voted for draconian protest laws in spite of mounting warnings over human rights and questions over whether police want or need the powers.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cleared the House of Commons by 365 votes to 265 on Monday evening.
The bill allows police to impose restrictions on protests based on noise and ban demonstrations by a single person. It would also create a criminal offence of “public nuisance”, lower the bar for prosecuting people who violate conditions and increase maximum prison sentences to a year.
In an amendment to the bill, Labour proposed a statutory minimum sentence for rape of seven years – but the move was blocked by Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, called the protest laws “dangerous and draconian”.
“They undermine the proud British tradition of standing up for what we believe in and respecting others’ rights to do the same,” he added.
“This new law would allow the police to clamp down on protests for being too noisy, and create 10-year prison sentences just for causing someone ‘serious annoyance’.”
Labour’s Sarah Jones told the Commons the bill’s restrictions on protests went too far, threatening “the fundamental balance between the police and the people”.
“The point of protest is to capture attention,” said Ms Jones. “Protests are noisy, sometimes they are annoying, but they are as fundamental to our democracy as our parliament.”
Ironically, this gross obstruction to our rights was announced on the same day as ‘Freedom Day’ from Coronavirus restrictions was confirmed. The government clearly thinks we’re easily distracted.
The passing of the bill comes during a year when we have seen how the police will use disproportionate force against protesters when given the chance, and giving them further powers sets a dangerous precedent for British society.
Next time the government announces they are bombing the Middle East, or selling off parts of our NHS, how are we to show our dissent? Write letters and hope someone reads them? If we are to progress as a society, we need systems in place to ensure all voices are heard, not just those of rich Tory donors.