Sir Christopher Chope apparently thinks he knows more about women’s bodies than, yes, women.
For years, campaigners have said that current laws around “upskirting” do not provide women with sufficient protection or privacy. And this week, it seemed as if the government would follow in Scotland’s footsteps and make the act of taking sexually intrusive photos without consent a criminal sexual offence in England and Wales.
However, it took just one lone male voice to stop the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill in its tracks.
The government had already given its backing to the bill, which was proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse and supported by ministers across all parties. As such, everyone expected it to get the nod through the House of Commons when it was read out on 15 June.
Everyone, it seems, except Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope.
That’s right: Christchurch MP Chope, for reasons unknown, took it upon himself to object to the bill being given a second reading in the Commons.
Commons rules state that after 2.30pm, a single objection can stop a bill progressing. As a result, Chope has now undone months of hard work by campaigners.
Gina Martin, who launched the campaign to make upskirting a specific criminal offence in 2017, said she was “extremely upset and disappointed”.
“We knew this was a risk, but I now stand with powerful, passionate women and men behind me and am confident that [justice minister] Lucy Frazer is committed to – and will – close this gap in law,” she told The Independent.
Labour MP Jess Phillips and Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, have also condemned Chope.
Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said he was “disgusted” by the blocking move.
Hobhouse also furiously branded Chope a “petty” man.
“[It was a] petty thing to do,” she told Sky News.
“I think it’s very frustrating and annoying that one MP can block a consensus that had been built over several months,” she continued. “It’s really annoying we couldn’t make progress.”
It is worth noting that, earlier this year, the Press Association made a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to police forces in England and Wales. The request found that police had pursued 78 offences related to upskirting since 2015, most involving alleged offences against young women and girls.
Of these 75 alleged offences, only 11 people were charged. Many cases had to be dropped due to a lack of evidence – including one involving an alleged offence on a 10-year-old girl in the West Country. In addition, only 15 out of 44 police forces held records on offences related to upskirting at all.
So why, with all of this evidence at his disposal, did Chope think it was OK to insist that victims in England and Wales be forced to seek prosecution through other legal avenues, such as outraging public decency or harassment?
Well, because he has form for making terrible decisions. Over the years, he has called for the minimum wage to be abolished, filibustered a bill to make revenge evictions an offence, blocked the bill to protect poor countries from “vulture funds”, hosted a meeting of climate-science sceptics, and voted against the legislation for same-sex marriage.
Chope also voted against the Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill, which would require all companies with more than 250 employees to declare the gap in pay between the average male and female salaries. He blocked a proposal to allow free hospital parking for carers. And he raised an eleventh-hour objection to the Hillsborough debate taking place because he believed a debate about MP pensions was more important.
Hobhouse has called for the bill to be debated again on 6 July. However, it will, again, take just one dissenting voice to stop its progress.
We can only hope that, over the next few weeks, someone is able to persuade Chope of the importance of upskirting being criminalised.
That or, y’know, this noxious little man is stripped of his parliamentary powers.