Exclusion zones

MQT on 2018-06-21
Session date: 
June 21, 2018
Question By: 
Fiona Twycross
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


We welcome the result of the recent Irish referendum on abortion. What steps have you taken to clarify the powers of the Metropolitan Police to arrest and prosecute anti-choice campaigners, who intimidate and harass women outside family planning clinics in London?


Answer for Exclusion zones

Answer for Exclusion zones

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I welcome the result of the referendum in Ireland.  This is a progressive step towards achieving long overdue equality for Irish women.  My position on the matter of protests outside abortion clinics is clear.  We must protect women who suffer harassment and abuse when exercising their legal rights.  This is the kind of protection I have sought for women through my Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.  On the whole, women can be confident they are able to access health services free from intimidation.  However, there are areas where this is not the case as constant protests and graphic images are used to cause deep upset and trauma for many women using reproductive health services, as well as people living near the clinics. 


I have raised this issue with the Commissioner of the MPS.  There are limits on the extent and role the police can play in tackling this issue.  As a result, in response to the Home Office’s Domestic Abuse Bill consultation, we have called on the Government to consider changes to the law to more directly protect women’s right to access pregnancy-related medical services free from intimidation and duress. 


Ealing is one area that has experienced significant issues.  As a result their Cabinet recently took the decision to implement a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).  This is intended to help ensure women can approach abortion services without having to come into contact with protestors.  If this is infringed upon it will constitute civil disorder and the local authority or police will be able to deal with it appropriately.  I should note this PSPO has not come into effect yet as it has been challenged in the High Court; we expect the ruling soon.  Nevertheless, I am clear in my backing of the action by Ealing.  While I respect the right of peaceful protest, behaviour that deliberately targets women with harassment and intimidation cannot be tolerated.  I therefore commend the council for taking decisive action and note Lambeth Council is also looking at similar steps.  Where appropriate, I encourage other councils to consider what actions they can take to prevent harassment.


Fiona Twycross AM:  Thank you.  I welcome your support for women’s rights in this area and for the action being taken by Ealing and potentially Lambeth.  Clearly at the point at which the exclusion zones are implemented local authorities may require some support from the MPS if a breach takes place.  Will you therefore be ensuring MOPAC issues guidance to Borough Commanders on this point?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, and I have raised this with the police.  The problem at the moment is the police do not have powers to stop lawful protest outside clinics, which is why the PSPO that Ealing passed was a useful device.  That has been challenged in the courts.  Once we see what happens with the court case, and we see what happens with Lambeth, they are good examples where there are additional things can be done for breach of the PSPO.  That is one of the reasons why we had the consultation - that I will have to share with you - in relation to more things the Government could be doing for additional powers that will give the police more tools to use in those circumstances where people are harassing women utilising their right to visit these clinics. 


Fiona Twycross AM:  Greater clarity would be very useful in terms of making sure people were no longer able to suggest they were having peaceful protest when it is genuine harassment.  Some of the stories are quite disturbing about the abuse women and workers have had to face going in and out of the clinics. 


What kind of noises have you had back from Government about the changes you have asked for?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We have not heard back yet from the Home Office.  I suspect a number of people, including the Home Office, are watching the judicial review in relation to the Ealing case.  I suspect, by the way, some local authorities are waiting to see what happens with that case as well.  There may be other councils - I mentioned Lambeth, because it is in the public domain - that are considering what action they can take to protect women, in particular, who are using the clinics.  The advantage of that is it gives the police and local authorities an additional power.  The concern at the moment is there are no additional powers because while we see it as intimidation and harassment there is the other argument that this is lawful protest.  That is why additional powers via PSPO is really helpful.  The Home Office, I suspect, is watching what happens with the judicial review and then will consider what response to take.  However, we have responded to them and will carry on engaging with them.


Fiona Twycross AM:  Thank you.