Why Sir Christopher Chope objected to making upskirting a criminal offence

Sir Christopher Chope was honoured in the New Year's List in 2018. Credit: PA

The upskirting bill was one of those unusual private members bills which had managed to get government support, giving the proposed new sexual offence a red carpet through the parliamentary process on its way to become law.

On Friday morning, Justice Minister Lucy Fraser was doing the rounds of the broadcast media studios giving her backing. The Solicitor General had helped draft the wording of the bill.

The Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse was about to take the first step towards becoming one of those rare MPs whose private members bills actually get royal assent.

Months of work, support from thousands of campaigners led by Gina Martin, a victim of upskirting, had led to this moment during the afternoon session in the Commons.

Then, just one word from Christopher Chope, the veteran Tory MP, halted the bill in its tracks. Shouting "object" as the title of the bill is read out is an arcane mechanism to stop private members bills.

It's a trick often used by party whips to prevent attempts to change laws. It means the bill will now be delayed and the next attempt to get it through its second reading will be on July 6.

Why did he do it?

Well, Sir Christopher - who was knighted for services to Parliament - is a member of a small faction of right wing libertarian MPs who object to private members bills, not just because they think the mechanism is not a proper way to introduce legislation but also because the issues often championed by the sponsors of the bills are seen by them as either socialist, nanny-state proposals or 'vanity laws'.

The upskirting bill wasn't the only PMB blocked, another was brought to the house today to try to change the law on the physical restraint used on mental health patients and another proposed new offences for anyone who attacked police dogs or horses.

Those bills were also talked out by Sir Christopher and his colleagues.

One former Deputy Speaker, Nigel Evans, has written to Parliament's procedure committee asking them to urgently review and reform "this outdated practice" as he puts it.

Other Tory MPs are furious because this wasn't just about the bill being delayed this, for many of them, is about how MPs are seen by the public.

The Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood tweeted saying: "Could I distance myself from the actions of my Dorset colleague who blocked progress of this important Bill.

"His views are out of sink (sic) with the Party, Dorset & the country. We should have the courage to publicly call him out & seek an apology."

MPs are often portrayed as out of touch, living in the Westminster bubble, and some clearly fear this move by Sir Christopher can only undermine attempts to make MPs appear more relevant and responsive to the public mood.

If I was Sir Christopher, I'd be avoiding the Commons tea rooms for some time.