A bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison has been blocked in the House of Commons after a single Conservative MP objected to it.
The voyeurism (offences) bill on upskirting – the taking of surreptitious, sexually intrusive images – was put forward by the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse after a campaign by Gina Martin. Police have declined to prosecute a man Martin accused of taking underskirt pictures of her on his phone at a music festival in London last summer.
As a private member’s bill it would normally have little chance of becoming law. But early on Friday the justice minister Lucy Frazer said the government would back it.
However, when the deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle read out the name of the bill later that day, the Tory MP Christopher Chope shouted: “Object”. Without sufficient time in the session for a proper vote it was sent back for another try on 6 July.
The MP for Christchurch also used the Commons session to delay another government-backed bill, which would make it an offence to attack police dogs or horses, or prison officer dogs.
Both were among a series of private member’s bills being given their second reading in the Commons on Friday. If no MP disagrees they are passed without a vote and can be given a date for their third reading. Last year Chope proposed 47 private member’s’ bills of his own.
Who is Christopher Chope?
Christopher Chope first entered parliament 35 years ago. In the intervening time he has become known primarily for three things: his socially illiberal views, making lavish expenses claims, and for trying to torpedo private members’ bills.
The MP for Christchurch in Dorset since 1997 – from 1983 to 1992 he represented Southampton Itchen but then spent five years out of parliament – has repeatedly voted against equal marriage and gay rights.
In 2009 a much-reported leak of MPs’ expenses showed Chope, who employs his wife as his secretary, claimed almost £900 to have a Chesterfield sofa taken from his London home and repaired in his Dorsetconstituency. He also claimed £13,000 to refurbish the London property.
Chope’s speciality in the Commons has been filibustering or otherwise blocking bills. In 2013 he delayed a bill to posthumously pardon the second world war code breaker Alan Turing. The following year he “talked out” a bill intended to stop the eviction of tenants who complained about their housing. In 2011 he tried to block a debate on the Hillsborough disaster.
Theresa May expressed her “disappointment” that the upskirting bill had been delayed and pledged the government would get it through parliament. The prime minister said: “Upskirting is an invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed … I want to see these measures pass through parliament – with government support – soon.”
Other MPs were more vocal in condemning Chope, including some of his fellow Tories.
Hobhouse said she was furious at Chope’s objection, which prompted calls of “shame”, including from the Tory frontbenches.
“I don’t think he actually has any substantive problems with the bill,” she told the Guardian. “He hardly knows what upskirting is, I think. It’s just he doesn’t like private member’s bills and certainly doesn’t like them when they come from other parties.
“It was meant to be a good news story. We were all lining up to say, this is a modern crime and the government is keeping up with crime created by modern technology, which particularly affects young women and children. It is very, very annoying and frustrating that objections to procedure take precedence for him over the right thing to do.”
Upskirting happened to me and now I’m fighting to change the law – video
Hobhouse said she had learned Chope planned to protest shortly beforehand: “I tried to talk to him as he was sitting in the chamber, but his body language was very negative and he didn’t want to talk to me.”
Her anger was shared by Tory MPs, including Simon Clarke, who tweeted: “Chris Chope has embarrassed himself with his actions in parliament today, and does not speak for me or Conservatives on the disgusting issue of upskirting.”
Fellow Conservative Paul Masterton said: “Do not underestimate just how furious many Tory MPs are about this. This kind of thing does far more damage to the public’s view of our party than endless debates about customs arrangements.”
Martin told Sky News” “It’s shameful, it’s annoying. It’s not the end of the road but I’m very angry,.” After the bill was blocked, she said she remained positive.
“We knew this was a risk, but I now stand with powerful, passionate women and men behind me, and I am confident that Lucy Frazer is committed to, and will, close this gap in the law,” Martin said.
She said both she and her lawyer, Ryan Whelan, had spoken to Chope and he had agreed to meet them to discuss the bill. “I’m positive and hopeful that he will become a supporter.”
Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said he was disgusted by Chope’s move and called on the government to formally adopt the bill. Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities minister, said May had to “show leadership, and show there’s no place in the Tory party for Christopher Chope”.
The fate is even less clear for the animal welfare (service animals) bill. Backed by Michael Gove, the environment secretary, it amends the 2006 Animal Welfare Act to make it a specific offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal “under the control of a relevant officer”, such as a police or prison officer. The bill also removes the provision for someone to claim they were acting in self defence if they harmed a service animal.
It was introduced by Sir Oliver Heald, the Tory MP for North East Hertfordshire, after a police dog called Finn was stabbed by a robbery suspect in 2016.
Heald tweeted his disappointment at Chope’s decision and added he had met his fellow MP to try to get his support.