During this pandemic, the Government have handed enormous powers to the police to enforce lockdown restrictions, leading to a situation where the police are now policing the coronavirus regulations as a public order problem, rather than a public health matter. It has led to dangerous lines being crossed. We must not forget that while this type of state violence was made visible at the weekend, it is the case that these tactics have been used to protect powerful interests throughout our history. It was seen during the miners’ strike, and it was seen last year as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests.
In a democratic society, policing requires consent and understanding of the public mood. We are seeing a huge overreach and a situation where women have been criminalised while attending a peaceful vigil. Recent events have left women feeling even less empowered in our society. For the police to say to women, “The way you can protect yourself is to stay at home”, is just not good enough.
It comes as no surprise that within this Bill there is no mention of women, whereas the word “memorial” appears eight times. The Bill seeks to ensure that attacking a statue carries a longer sentence than attacking a woman. What kind of message does that send about this Government’s attitude to tackling the endemic issue of violence against women and girls?
The Bill disproportionately impacts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities by criminalising trespass and increasing police powers of eviction. It will increase the inequalities experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and ensure that discrimination against those communities is still alive and well as an acceptable form of racism in this country. The Bill also extends the definition of “unauthorised encampment”, which in effect criminalises the increasing numbers of rough sleepers.
I believe the right to protest is sacred in any democracy, so I will be voting against this Bill, because it is an assault on our civil liberties, threatens what remains of our rights to protest, expands stop and search powers and further criminalises Traveller communities. The Government must think again and listen to the vast public anger regarding this Bill. I reject the politics of division laid out by the Government in this Bill, and I ask Members across the House to do the same.