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Monday, 18 June 2018

Former deputy speaker calls for change to 'arcane' commons rules amid upskirting row

Written by Andrew Woodcock

A former deputy speaker of the House of Commons has called for a change to "arcane" procedures which allow MPs to block legislation with a single word.

Nigel Evans (pictured) has written to the Commons Procedure Committee to demand a review of Parliament's rules, after the progress of a Bill to ban the practice of "upskirting" was halted by Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope on Friday.

Sir Christopher stopped the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill from completing its second reading in the Commons by calling out "Object!".

Amid a hail of criticism, the Christchurch MP insisted that he supported the Bill's purpose of outlawing the practice of taking photographs up someone's clothing without consent, but was acting on a long-held principle that has seen him routinely oppose backbench Private Members' Bills.

But Mr Evans said it was time to change Commons rules to stop MPs wielding this power.

"When I was deputy speaker I saw this arcane procedure where people would shout 'Object!' as the title of the Bill was called out time and time again," he told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

"And I was so angry by the fact that not just the upskirting Bill but a number of other Bills on Friday, which are decent Bills that deserved some form of airtime, were blocked in this way that I've written to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee and I've asked him as a matter of urgency to review and reform that arcane procedure."

Sir Christopher complained on Sunday that he was being "scapegoated" over the issue.

The 71-year-old told the Bournemouth Daily Echo: "The suggestion that I am some kind of pervert is a complete travesty of the truth.

"It's defamatory of my character and it's very depressing some of my colleagues have been perpetuating that in the past 48 hours."

He urged the Government to find the "fastest, fairest and surest passage" for a Bill banning the practice.

Sir Christopher was met with a barrage of criticism and heckled with cries of "Shame!" when he shouted his objection during the second reading of the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill.

Gina Martin, an upskirting victim whose petition to criminalise the act won her a legion of celebrity supporters and political backing, said the move had left her extremely upset.

Culture Minister Margot James said Sir Christopher had brought the Tories into disrepute, while Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her "disappointment" at his move.

Without a specific law, victims in England and Wales must seek prosecution of upskirting through other legal avenues, such as outraging public decency or harassment. Legislation in Scotland provides for a maximum two-year jail sentence.

Mrs May said on Sunday that the Government would now provide time for legislation to ban the "invasive, offensive act" to pass through Parliament.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.