‘THIS GOVERNMENT was elected a year ago on a manifesto to support the police and uphold law and order,’ Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel said yesterday during the Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, a Bill which Labour pledged to vote against.
‘I have worked closely with the Police Federation to produce this Bill,’ Patel said, adding: ‘There have been more than 30,000 assaults on police officers in the year to 2020.
‘This Bill will double the offence for assaulting emergency officers from 12 months to two years.
‘This government backs the police and will never allow those with any extreme agenda, like those calling to defund or abolish the police, to weaken our resolve when it comes to protecting the police.
‘The right to protest is the cornerstone of our democracy and one which this government will always defend. But there is of course a balance to be struck between the rights of the protesters and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives.
‘The current legislation that police use to manage protest, the Public Order Act 1986, was enacted over 30-years-ago.
‘In recent years we have seen a significant change in protest tactics, with protesters exploiting gaps in the law, which causes disproportionate amounts of disruption. Last year we saw people sticking themselves to trains, during rush hour, blocking airport runways, blocking hundreds of hardworking people from going to work.
‘This Bill will give the police the powers to take a more proactive approach in tackling dangerous and disruptive protests.
‘The threshold at which the police can impose conditions on the use of noise at a protest is rightfully high, the majority of protesters will be able to continue to act and make noise as they do so now, without police intervention.
‘But we are changing it to allow police to put conditions on noisy protests, that cause disruption, significant disruption to those in the vicinity.
‘The statutory offence of Public Nuisance replaces the existing common law offence.
‘The threshold for committing an offence is high, with any harm needing to affect the public, or a cross section of the public, not just an individual.’
Targeting the demonstrations last year where protesters brought down the statues of slave masters, she said: ‘We must give the courts the tools to deal with the desecration of war memorials and other statues. We will toughen the law where there is criminal damage by removing the consideration of monetary values of damage.’
Attacking Travellers she said: ‘We will make it a criminal offence to live in a vehicle on land without permission and we will give police the power to seize vehicles if necessary.’
Labour’s Lloyd Russel-Moyle, MP for Brighton’s Kemptown, interjected: ‘What consideration has she given to the rights of generations of people who often have been around longer than some of our property laws, of Travellers and Gypsies in this country who might want to pull up on a road side for a night? This Bill will automatically criminalise them.’
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds confirmed that Labour will vote against the Bill.
He said: ‘Rushing through ill-judged, ill-thought out restrictions on the right to protest would be a profound mistake with long-lasting consequences and do great damage to our democracy.
‘The right to protest is a cornerstone of that democracy.
‘This Bill significantly expands the conditions which could be imposed on protests, including unbelievably and I quote “noise generated by those taking part, causing people serious unease” is a reason to warrant police-imposed conditions.
‘I don’t know about members opposite, but the protests that I have been on certainly generated a lot of noise. And there is also a penalty for when someone breaches a police imposed condition on a protest when they ought to have known a condition existed.
‘That would have the effect of criminalising people who unwittingly breach conditions.
‘The right to protest to those in power is extremely precious.
‘I declare an interest as a proud trade unionist, and refer to my relevant entry in the members register of support for the Unite union and the GMB.
‘Whether it is our trade unions, whether it is another group that wants to make its views known loudly on the streets, we curtail the ability at our peril. The right to protest is one of our proudest democratic traditions.
‘That this government seeks to attack it is to its great shame.
‘What our laws on protest do not do and should never do is seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest, and we on these benches will oppose a Bill that puts at risk the whole right to protest, hard won by previous generations that is part of the fabric of British Democracy.’