Yorkshire MPs 'deeply concerned' about crime bill restricting right to protest

Several Yorkshire MPs spoke out against a controversial bill which looks to curb peaceful protests, before it was voted through the House of Commons.

Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, speaks during the debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, speaks during the debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Opposition MPs led efforts to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill but their proposal was rejected on Monday evening and the bill passed its third reading by 365 votes to 265.

It looks to give police the power to impose conditions, such as time and noise limits, on protests that may result in “intimidation or harassment”, even if they only involve one person, and prosecute organisers who refuse to comply.

The proposed legislation also aims to bolster other police powers and bring in longer jail sentences, stating that judges should always look to lock up child murderers for life, jail anyone who attacks an emergency worker for up to two years and anyone who damages a memorial for up to 10 years.

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, said she was "deeply concerned" about the bill which “undermines the right to protest”.

Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, called on the Government to “accept amendments that provide greater safeguards for freedom to peacefully protest”.

Several Conservative MPs also raised concerns about the curbs on protests, with former minister David Davies claiming the proposed legislation “does pose a grave threat to the fundamental right to protest”.

“The Government want to have the power to arrest people who cause ‘serious annoyance or serious inconvenience’. These are incredibly vague terms,” he said.

“What if, in 20 years’ time, we have an extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing Government, and this sort of vague provision is in place?”

But Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough, spoke out in support of the proposed legislation, which sparked a number of 'Kill the Bill' protests earlier this year.

He said: “The Government must take action to prevent deliberate acts of vandalism or obstruction such as those associated with Extinction Rebellion and, I am sorry to say, Black Lives Matter.

“Yes, people have the right to demonstrate, but not in a way that prevents people from going about their lawful business.”

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said: “The bill does not stop the freedom to demonstrate. It balances that freedom against the rights and liberties of others.”

The Liberal Democrats tabled amendments in a bid to remove part three of the bill, which imposes conditions on processions and protests, but they were rejected.

Labour’s clause 31, aiming to give shop workers more protection from violence and abuse, was defeated by 350 votes to 233 – majority 117.

But Ms Atkins said the Government is “actively considering” such proposals and an amendment could be made when the bill reaches the House of Lords.

Ms Champion’s amendment, which called for the Government to review a loophole that allows registered sex offenders to change their name without the knowledge of the police, was adopted.

Ms Cooper also proposed a new clause which aims to help domestic abuse victims who are being "timed out", as their cases are prosecuted as common assault and must be taken to court within six months of an offence being committed.

Ms Atkins said she would “not rule out an amendment” and “return with a proposal at a later stage”.