[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 8:30 pm, 15th March 2021

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this incredible important and timely debate.

Those of us who continuously rejected the recent Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill did so partly because of the impact that it would have on the freedom to protest. That freedom is being challenged yet again today, through the authoritarian measures proposed in this Bill.

This weekend, people across the country watched in horror the visual evidence of the disgraceful police action towards peaceful attendees of a vigil to mourn the murder of Sarah Everard and to express a collective anger and despair that so many women still suffer violence at the hands of men as part of their everyday life. Despite the Government’s attempt to conjure up smoke and mirrors earlier today, a spot of damage control if you like, this incident exactly demonstrates that there are still serious questions about the powers that our police forces have, the way that these powers are executed, towards whom they are targeted, how they are scrutinised, and how those with such powers are held to account.

The Government regularly express their concern about human rights in other countries. If enacted, however, the Bill before the House today would

“expose already marginalised communities to profiling and disproportionate police powers through the expansion of stop and search, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities may face increased police enforcement through the criminalisation of trespass.”

Those are not my words, but the words of the director of the well-respected human rights organisation, Liberty.

Protests are often a space for the most marginalised to make their voices heard. In the past year, we have seen that in the Black Lives Matter protests and we have seen it over this past weekend. Just as police rode into protesters on horses last year, so, too, did they violently grab women on Saturday night.

Freedom of speech intrinsically linked to the freedom of protest should be enshrined in our legislation so that it is available to all. The Bill, however, would give the Government even more power to decide whether a protest should be allowed to go ahead. Given that our current Home Secretary refers to anti-racist Black Lives Matter protesters as “thugs”, it is no wonder that people up and down the country are alarmed. The crux of the matter goes beyond that. The right to protest must be protected or else we find ourselves on an extremely worrying path, with a totalitarian Government able to silence whoever they choose.

Despite the rhetoric, all evidence indicates that this Bill is unlikely even to cut crime and to make those whom it intends to protect safer. Successive Governments have brought in longer sentences and created even more prison places, and that has not reduced crime or slowed the rate of offending.

The impact of this Bill will be felt by marginalised communities more than any other. It will be felt by women, unable to protest at the everyday violence they face. It will be felt by ethnic minority communities, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, trade unions, anti-racist campaigners and climate emergency campaigners—