Thank you for contacting me about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the right to protest. We have a long-standing tradition that people can gather together and demonstrate, and the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy.
Over recent years I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press and blocking access to Parliament. I welcome the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives.
Some people are claiming that somehow this will stop people’s right to protest. This is simply not true. It is also inappropriate to link the Bill with the temporary Covid restrictions which is a completely separate issue. It is abhorrent and totally wrong for groups to try to use recent tragic events and the death of a young woman as a smokescreen to oppose legislation they simply don’t like.
The Bill designed to stop the behaviour of extremist groups such as Extinction Rebellion from causing serious disruption by stopping trains from running or gluing themselves to buses for example.
“Serious disruption” is a well-established and defined concept. The changes bring “static” protests in line with equivalent provisions that apply to marches and processions under s12 Public Order Act.
For example, a protest does not cause serious disruption just because it may distract employees in a nearby office, nor would a peaceful vigil in a park cause serious disruption. Examples of things that could cause serious disruption might include:
blocking a bridge or road to stop pedestrians and/or traffic from getting through; preventing a train from leaving a station; physically preventing a printing press from operating because you disagree with the editorial position of that publication.
I welcome the fact that the Government is taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained.
This legislation also contains vital new measures to protect women and girls and also means tougher sentences for child murderers, sex offenders, killer drivers and those attacking emergency service workers. Those who campaigning against the Bill they are also campaigning against these measures. Further details about the Bill can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Robfordelyn/posts/489384915799392
This is a long awaited Bill with many measures previous announced or discussed before the Bill itself was published. Most notably those within the Sentencing White Paper, published in September last year. I welcome the fact that the Second Reading debate for the Bill was spread across two days. The Bill will now move to Committee Stage, where each clause, part, and any amendments, proposals for change, to the Bill may be debated.
It would be wholly wrong to vote against a Bill of this magnitude at Second Reading stage, which is the stage which deals entirely with the general aims and principles of the Bill. Voting against it at that stage would mean that it wouldn’t receive the scrutiny and detailed deliberation that happens in the Committee Stage, where all of the elements that are a cause of consternation will be discussed and debated in detail.
I am aware of the concerns raised regarding the measures in the Bill on the right to protest. I am very confident that the Bill will receive a high level of scrutiny by those elected to do just that. You can also see my contribution to the debate here: https://www.facebook.com/Robfordelyn/videos/1217509498689156