09:36, June 17 226 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-17 09:36:22
Tory MP who blocked upskirting bill says he was scapegoated

The Conservative MP Christopher Chope has said he was scapegoated for blocking a bill to make upskirting a specific criminal offence, saying he supports the bill and only objected to it for procedural reasons.

Chope, who has regularly obstructed private members’ bills in the past, has faced vehement criticism, including from other Tory MPs, for delaying the voyeurism (offences) bill on upskirting – the surreptitious taking of sexually intrusive images.

In an interview with his local newspaper the MP for Christchurch said he was “a bit sore about being scapegoated over this”.

He told the Bournemouth 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.”

Theresa May promised on Sunday that the government would take on the upskirting bill, which 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. The new law would create a new criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison.

Chope delayed the bill by shouting “object” during its second reading in the Commons, meaning it could not be put through to the next stage without debate and a vote, which will not happen for some weeks.

Chope said he backed the intent of the bill, and objected to it because he does not support the principle of legislation being passed without debate at second reading. He said he hoped the government would now adopt it.

“The government has been hijacking time that is rightfully that of backbenchers,” he said. “This is about who controls the House of Commons on Fridays and that’s where I am coming from. I actually support the bills that were before the house. Four of the 26 bills that fell at the same time were my own.

“But this is something I have fought for in most of my time as an MP and it goes to the very heart of the power balance between the government and parliament. The government is abusing parliamentary time for its own ends and in a democracy this is not acceptable. The government cannot just bring in what it wants on the nod. We don’t quite live in the Putin era yet.”

Chope said he had spoken to Martin after his action and “she said she perfectly understood my reasons”, meaning he was shocked at the negative reaction, including from other Tories.

The Conservative MP Simon Clarke 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.”

The defence minister, Tobias Ellwood, who represents Bournemouth East, called Chope “an embarrassment” and “a dinosaur”.

Chope said he had spoken to the chief whip, Julian Smith, over such attacks: “None of them phoned me up to ask me to explain my actions. Why would they want to humiliate one of their own colleagues? Hopefully when this does get into the statute book, they will accept I was right but maybe that’s asking for the moon.”

Earlier on Sunday, May declined to personally condemn Chope, but promised the bill will be put through parliament in government time.

Asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show why Chope had recently been knighted, the prime minister said: “Christopher Chope has been a longstanding member of parliament.”

She added: “What we’re going to do on this upskirting issue is put in government time and make sure that legislation is there on the statute book. This is an invasive, offensive act and we need to take action against it.”

Chope has previously blocked bills to prevent landlords from evicting tenants who complain about housing, and on a posthumous pardon for the second world war codebreaker Alan Turing, among others.

On Friday he also used the Commons session to delay another government-backed bill that would make it an offence to attack police dogs or horses or prison officer dogs.

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