MARIE Rimmer has said she could not support a Policing Bill – which includes the proposed changes to sentencing for dangerous driving – after learning it also proposes to treat protesting as a criminal act.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle after receiving a second reading by 359 votes to 263, a majority of 96, despite opposition to several measures contained within it.

Labour tabled an amendment intended to block the Bill from being considered further, although this was defeated by 359 votes to 225, a majority of 134.

The motion from Labour was based on support for some sections – such as tougher sentences for serious crimes including child murder – alongside warnings it “rushes” changes to protest law and “fails” to take action to protect women.

As part of efforts to overhaul the justice system, the Government has proposed a raft of changes in the Bill.

These include plans to give police in England and Wales more powers to impose conditions on non-violent protests judged to be too noisy and thereby causing “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to the public.

Time and noise limits could be imposed as a result of the measures in the Bill and those convicted could face a fine or jail.

MPs debated the Bill as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square to protest against it, in the latest public display of anger in the wake of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common on Saturday.

Protesters chanted “kill the bill” as some carried banners, including one which said “the right to protest is a human right”.

Ms Rimmer, the St Helens South and Whiston MP, is among those concerned about the impact the law could have on protests and says she could not support the Bill.

She stressed however, she remains a vehement supporter of strengthening dangerous driving laws and continues to support the family of Violet-Grace Youens, a four-year-old girl whose life was tragically cut short in March 2017 after she was hit by a speeding car on Prescot Road.

Violet's parents Glenn and Becky Youens led a campaign calling for life sentences for dangerous drivers who kill, with a minimum term of 15 years.

This campaign led to an online petition signed by more than 160,000 people and a Parliamentary debate, where the family was supported by Ms Rimmer in the Houses of Parliament.

The Brexit process, General Election and coronavirus pandemic have been blamed for delays in the law change, and a Bill was even put forward last year by former prime minister Theresa May.

However, the Government instead aims aim to strengthen the laws in the combined Policing Bill, which includes winder issues.

Addressing the House of Commons via video link yesterday, Tuesday, March 16, Ms Rimmer said: "Causing death by dangerous driving deserve life sentences.

"That is the justice Violet-Grace Youens’ parents deserved.

"Their angelic four-year-old daughter Violet-Grace was so cruelly taken from them.

"The family continue to tirelessly campaign and help others through Violet’s Gift charity.

"Last year I was proud to co-sign the Private Members’ Bill tabled by the right honourable member for Maidenhead on this very issue.

"Since then, the Government has indicated it will not support that bill.

"Instead the Government has included the dangerous driving changes into this far-reaching bill before us today.

"Unfortunately, that means I will not be able to support the changes this time.

"For this Bill infringes on our very freedom and democratic rights.

"Like many, I agree that sometimes protests can cause some personal annoyance.

"Protests can make us late for work. Protests can cause a little harm to the economy. Protests can force us to listen to views we do not agree with.

"But does that mean it should be a criminal act? Because it causes some ‘serious annoyance’?

"I do not think so and I am sure most members of this House agree.

"Perhaps worse still, this Bill empowers a judge with the ability to imprison someone for 10 years who is convicted of causing ‘serious annoyance’.

"The freedom and right to protest is the cornerstone of everything we believe in.

"It is the bedrock of liberal democracy.

"Across the world to this day we see people taking to the streets to protest for their rights.

"Throughout my life I have seen how protest has brought about change.

"The Fall of the Berlin Wall, The Collapse of the Soviet Union and more recently in Belarus and Myanmar.

"We have also seen where putting down protests can lead us.

"The Tiananmen Square protests live on in our memory.

"Every adult alive that day remembers that brave man walking in front of those tanks.

"Giving up our freedoms simply so the Home Secretary can appear to be tough on crime is not justifiable.

"Doing so would be a betrayal of everything this Chamber represents."

In the Commons debate on Tuesday, Labour MP Clive Efford (Eltham) claimed: “We’re witnessing a Tory-led coup without guns.”

Labour former justice minister Maria Eagle added: “This populist Government has swiftly developed a penchant for authoritarianism.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “The truth … is (the Government) is introducing these measures because it dislikes Black Lives Matter, because it hates Extinction Rebellion, because both tell too many hard truths.”

For the Government, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland accused Labour of putting “party interests before the national interest” by attempting to block the Bill.

The legislation also proposes expanding the area around Parliament where some protest activities are banned.

Conservative MP Sir David Amess (Southend West) said: “My office looks onto Parliament Square and I have long complained about the endless demonstrations which take place on this very busy roundabout.

“It is absolutely ridiculous. It is very difficult to work because of the noise, with drums, horns and loud speakers.

“Policing these so-called events costs a huge amount of money and Parliament being the seat of democracy, our work should not be disrupted.”

The wide-ranging Bill includes plans to bring in tougher sentences for child killers and those who cause death on the roads, longer jail terms for serious violent and sexual offenders, and expand child sex abuse laws to ban religious leaders and sports coaches from having sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.

The Bill could also see the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial increased from three months to 10 years.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage.