The scenes at Clapham common this weekend exposed a disgraceful abuse of power by the Metropolitan police. However, for too many of us, the scenes did not shock; they have become worryingly familiar. From the miners protesting at Orgreave and elsewhere in the 1980s to the climate change and Black Lives Matter protests last year, the violent crackdown by police on peaceful demonstrators exercising their right to protest has been routine, systematic and deliberate. Such actions raise the fundamental questions: who do the police protect and who do they serve? This weekend, it was abundantly clear that the answer to both questions was not women.
By making it an offence to cause serious annoyance or inconvenience, the Bill restricts our fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression and effectively removes our collective ability to fight back against state abuses of power. The proposals for a new serious violence reduction order will provide greater power to stop and search a person at any time, in any place and completely free of suspicion. There are major criticisms of current stop-and-search powers, which impact disproportionately on black people, particularly in my city of Liverpool. A recent Home Office report identified that black people are 2.7 times more likely to be victims of stop and search and three times more likely to have force used against them. The police do not need more of these powers, which will not protect us.
Some of the Bill’s most disturbing clauses attack the nomadic lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities by criminalising unauthorised encampments and establishing trespass as a criminal offence. The proposals are discriminatory and potentially unlawful. The Government’s own consultation on extending the powers showed that even the majority of the police respondents to the consultation think the crackdown is the wrong approach. GRT communities are among the most persecuted and marginalised. In Liverpool, we have a large permanent settlement of GRT families living in my constituency. They face systemic discrimination and routine violence. Instead of supporting these communities, who already face some of the starkest inequalities, the Government seem hellbent on introducing tougher powers to act against them.
The Government’s approach to public safety is fundamentally flawed: it is rooted in discrimination against communities and restrictions to our freedoms rather than a serious attempt to tackle the problems that we face. I appeal to Members from all parties in the House to ensure that this weekend’s horrific scenes mark a serious turning point. The draconian powers in the Bill must be torn up and a new approach to public safety must be pursued—one that puts safety, welfare, justice and accountability at its heart.