Anger over a Conservative MP’s decision to block a bill to make “upskirting” a criminal offence has manifested itself in an unusual way in Parliament.
The entrance to Sir Christopher Chope’s Commons office has been decorated with women’s pants in an apparent protest by Commons staff against his actions.
The MP told LBC Radio he backed a new law but it must be “properly debated”.
Downing Street has said the government will bring forward its own legislation, to be debated before the end of July.
Had Friday’s law – proposed by Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse – passed, someone secretly taking a photo up a woman’s skirt could have faced up to two years in prison.
Defending his objections, Sir Christopher said he had been “sticking up for the right” of Parliament to examine proposed new laws and he was glad ministers were committed to bringing forward their own legislation.
The Christchurch MP has insisted he is not “a dinosaur”. But senior Tories have made their displeasure known, with Prime Minister Theresa May saying she was “disappointed” one of her own MPs had prevented the bill from progressing.
Sir Christopher told LBC that he had been “not familiar” with what upskirting was before Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse had tabled a private member’s bill to make it a specific criminal offence.
But he had now spoken to Gina Martin, a victim of upskirting who has campaigned for action and she “understood fully the reasons” why he had objected.
Sir Christopher has been criticised in the past for effectively stopping private member’s bills that would have posthumously pardoned World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing for his 1952 conviction for homosexual activity and scrapped hospital parking charges for carers.
He said he had acted as a “matter of principle” as the measures concerned had been set for approval at second reading – a crucial stage of the parliamentary process – without any debate.
“Any new law needs to be debated,” he said. “We don’t have legislation by decree – that is what they have in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey.
“What is our defence against legislation by decree? It is our Parliament and the right of backbenchers to insist government should explain itself and be held to account.
“I think it is the moral duty of MPs to stand up for freedom and democracy and not to say just because there seems to be a lot of support for something, it does not need to be questioned.”
Mrs Hobhouse’s bill was expected to sail through the Commons on Friday, but parliamentary rules mean it required only one MP to shout: “Object,” to block its progress.
She has urged Sir Christopher to apologise.
Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said arguments about parliamentary procedure could not be used to “explain away this reputation-damaging episode”.
Writing in Conservative Home, she said she and most others in the party had been “appalled” by his behaviour.
“It proves to everyone beyond the Westminster bubble that the work so many of us are engaged in, and have supported – to bring the Conservative Party into the modern era – remains uncompleted,” she wrote.
What is the current law?
- There is no law specifically naming and banning upskirting in England and Wales – victims and police are currently able to pursue only offences of outraging public decency or as a crime of voyeurism
- Upskirting has been an offence in Scotland since 2010, when it was listed under the broadened definition of voyeurism
What are the limitations of the current situation in England and Wales?
- Voyeurism applies only to filming actions taking place in private
- Outraging public decency usually requires someone to have witnessed the action, but upskirting is often unobserved
- Unlike with other sexual offences, people don’t have an automatic right to anonymity
What does the new law propose?
- As well as carrying a maximum two-year sentence, it would also allow, in the most serious cases, those convicted to be placed on the sex offenders register