The speech made by Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, in the House of Commons on 16 March 2021.
This monster of a Bill includes the word “women” zero times in 295 pages, yet statutes, war memorials and monuments are mentioned multiple times.
The Bill is likely to go into Committee, so it is then that I will seek to improve it by tabling an amendment to prohibit the long-standing and continual, daily harassment and intimidation of women at abortion facilities. Every year, 100,000 women across England and Wales who try to exercise their right to a termination are told that they are going to hell, filmed, followed and given propaganda that is inevitably medically wrong and unwanted. That is not healthy, noisy protest but the shaming of individual vulnerable women for decisions taken perhaps as a result of rape or similar. It is gendered harassment, which is not included in the Bill but overlaps with part 3—the explanatory notes talk about
“disruption to the life of the community”
“the purpose of the organiser is to intimidate others into doing or not doing something that they have a right to do”.
Many women will have recognised what the Home Secretary said yesterday about how we all too often quicken our pace or grab our keys or phone in uncomfortable street encounters. Factor in being booked for a time-sensitive medical operation and there is no easy escape. This intimidatory activity is calculated to make women cancel their appointment or, at the very best, rebook it for when those people are not there. There is unpredictability and inconsistency: only three local authorities have gone down the byelaw route of local public space protection orders. This cannot continue; it is unequal access to justice, if nothing else.
When I asked the Health Secretary in this Chamber for his opinion on anti-vaxxers, he told me that no one’s access to legal medicine should be barred or prevented. By lumping such a measure in with prosecuting sports coaches who groom teams, criminalising already-persecuted Traveller lifestyles and introducing excessive sentences for toppling statues, the Government are inevitably going to accuse those who oppose the Bill of being soft on sex offenders, which is really disappointing.
Harassment of women is objectively wrong; it is surely not party political. Indeed, the cross-party will of the House is behind such a measure. The last time my private Member’s Bill was put to a vote in June, the House voted for it by 213 to 47. I even had Government Members on the payroll coming up to me all day saying, “Good on you, I wish we could have voted for this too.” So it is high time we updated what is being done in common law and put into statute, followed Canada—
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
Order. I am terribly sorry; we have to move on.