Labour has revealed it will vote against the government’s flagship crime legislation, branding it a “mess” that could lead to tougher penalties for damaging a statue than attacking a woman.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the suspected murder of Sarah Everard had “instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women” and so it was “no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.
MPs will today debate the second reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will significantly beef up police powers to crackdown on protests.
In an unusual move, the opposition will seek to block the bill at its first parliamentary hurdle, rather than abstaining as had originally been anticipated.
Urging ministers to ditch the proposals spearheaded by Home Secretary Priti Patel, Mr Lammy is calling for a cross-party approach to introduce stronger safeguards for women against violence and harassment.
But the Conservatives have condemned the Labour plan to oppose the bill as “shocking”, accusing the opposition of trying to prevent the introduction of tougher laws to better protect the public, including women.
The controversy comes in the wake of the death of Ms Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, whose body was found in a Kent woodland after she went missing on Clapham Common, south London, while walking home from a friend’s flat earlier this month.
Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer, who has has been charged with her kidnap and murder, is due to appear at the Old Bailey this week.
A vigil in Mr Everard’s memory on Saturday was marred by clashes with police, leading to criticism of the force and calls for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign.
There has been criticism from across the political spectrum, including Conservative MPs.
Mr Lammy said: “The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women.
“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.
“Now is the time to unite the country and put in place long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment.
“And we must tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.”
He added: “Instead, the Conservatives have brought forward a bill that is seeking to divide the country. It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.
“Labour will be voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on this basis.
“We are calling on the government to drop its poorly thought out proposals and instead work with Labour to legislate to tackle violence against women which is forcing so many across the country to live in fear.
“As well as to deliver the important areas that are long promised, like tougher sentences for attacks on frontline workers and increased sentences for terrorists.”
The party has called on the government to make misogyny a hate crime and increase minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers.
It also wants whole-life tariffs to be introduced for anyone found guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger.
But responding, Tory MP and Conservative Party co-chairman Amanda Milling said: “It is shocking that Labour is trying to block tough new laws to keep people safe, including many vital measures to protect women from violent criminals.
“By voting against this bill Labour are voting against tougher sentences for child murderers and sex offenders, killer drivers and measures that protect the vulnerable.
“This Conservative government is working to keep people safe by reforming our justice system to keep our communities safe so that everyone can live their lives free from the fear of crime.”
Ms Patel, meanwhile, has demanded a full report on events in Clapham – and described the scenes as “upsetting”.