Labour will oppose a new law handing police and the home secretary greater powers to crack down on protests, it has announced amid anger at how officers broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard.
David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said the 33-year-old’s killing 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”.
The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will give the home secretary, Priti Patel, powers to create laws to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations, on which police can then rely to impose conditions on protests.
On Thursday, civil liberties campaigners told the Guardian it amounted to a “staggering assault” on the right to protest.
In a bid to highlight inaction by ministers on the issue, Lammy on Sunday said the legislation was a “mess” that “could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman” and warned it would “divide the country”.
He added: “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.”
His announcement came after several Labour MPs on the left of the party said they would vote against the bill when it was debated in the Commons.
They are unlikely to be joined by enough Conservative rebels to manage to defeat the government, however.
One Tory MP said colleagues had concerns about parts of the bill but it was drawn up in the wake of demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion. It was necessary to tackle the group’s “dreadfully disruptive” tactics of non-violent protest, the MP claimed.
Nazir Afzal, a former regional chief prosecutor, voiced hopes that “the dozens of Tory MPs that have spoken so eloquently about the terrible way that last night’s vigil was handled will no doubt be opposing that section of the bill tomorrow [Monday]”.
Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative party, said Labour’s decision was blocking moves to “protect women from violent criminals”.
The Home Office said the bill was needed because public order law passed in 1986 was “no longer fit for managing the types of protests we experience today”.
The bill references Extinction Rebellion’s protests, saying it cost Scotland Yard £16m to police the group’s “April Uprising” demonstrations.
“These measures will balance the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered,” the Home Office added.