THE BLOG
15/06/2018 20:54 BST | Updated 16/06/2018 07:30 BST

Despite Today's Indefensible Delay, This Government Is Determined Make Upskirting A Specific Sexual Offence

Christopher Chope's obstinate and prehistoric behaviour demeans the House of Commons and the Conservative Party

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Taking pictures up a woman’s skirt is a truly insidious and lewd act. We’ve seen this behaviour time and time again in clubs, bars, on the tube, and even by paparazzi. Men who perversely believe they have the right to grossly invade a woman’s privacy in a predatory act. The time is long overdue for legislation to be updated and for upskirting specifically to be criminalised.

Yet today one MP, and let’s be clear that it was just one MP who on this issue stands isolated from MPs both across the House and on the Conservative benches, decided to use an antiquated and arcane rule that allowed just one objection from a MP to halt this necessary law from passing.

Why this bill is needed?

Upskirting is technically already illegal if victims pursue perpetrators under voyeurism or public decency laws, but it is not specifically set out in law making it difficult for police to tackle. Friday’s bill would have made it a specific offence, resulting in it being far easier to prosecute, and carrying a two-year prison sentence and a place on the sex offenders list for the most heinous perpetrators. This would strengthen the ability of both the police and the CPS to secure justice for victims.

How did Christopher Chope MP justify his actions?

I can find no good faith in Chope’s objection. Reports suggest that his actions were due to his longstanding resistance to bills where he believes insufficient time has been given in the House for debate on an issue. Yet the Government has given its support for the bill, which is not undertaken without due consideration and analysis.

Worse, it is reported his second reason was that he does not know what upskirting is, and had not taken the time to avail himself of the information.

This obstinate and prehistoric behaviour demeans the House of Commons and the Conservative Party, unnecessarily delaying both from acting in the best interests of justice, and the British people.

In the face of this mindlessly bureaucratic behaviour, campaigner Gina Martin who has led the charge for the bill, had the decency and diplomacy to reach out to Chope to arrange a meeting, which it is reported he has accepted. Chope however had the opportunity to discuss the bill with Ministers, the Government and Ms Martin before pursuing this course of action.

So where next to end this vulgar intrusion?

This behaviour will not be tolerated. The Conservatives are a progressive party. From tackling female genital mutilation, revenge porn, and introducing a victim’s’ code, we will continue to ensure legal protections are in place to protect the vulnerable and to get them the justice they so utterly deserve. The Conservative Government has made clear that it is absolutely determined to make it illegal to photograph people under their clothes without consent. Conservatives MPs have been vocal in their immediate criticism of Chope for his objection, and I commend them for this.

Going forward, I hope the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons will end the practice of allowing one MP, with just one word, to block Private Members Bills. I also hope, and have full confidence, that a government minister - ideally Andrea Leadsom as Leader of the House of Commons, or Lucy Frazer as Justice Minister - will shortly announce that the Government will bring forward legislation to enable a second reading of the bill, moving forward from today’s totally redundant delay.

Alicia Kearns is a consultant working in counter extremism, and the Conservative candidate for Mitcham and Morden in the 2017 General Election