I believe these measures are ill-judged, ill-thought-out and nothing short of a curtailment of the right to protest; their passage into law would be a profound mistake.
We already have the Public Order Act 1986, along with other existing powers, to police protests. I think these strike a careful balance between the legitimate right to peacefully protests and the need to keep order.
As we know, protests tend to be noisy. Unbelievably, the Government’s Bill includes “serious unease” caused by “the noise generated by persons taking part” as a reason to warrant significantly expanded police-imposed conditions. The Bill also makes it an offence to breach police-imposed conditions where a person “ought to know” about them, potentially criminalising those unaware of the conditions in the first place.
I believe the Government’s proposals would have long-lasting consequences. The right to protest is extremely precious and one of our proudest democratic traditions. It is only right that our laws do not, and should never, seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest.
It is for these reasons, along with concerns around some of the Government’s other proposals, that I voted against the Bill at its Second Reading on 16th March. It is disappointing that the Government has undermined many of the good measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill by coupling them up with divisive and draconian measures, such as those relating to protests.
I can assure you that I will be pressing the Government to drop these poorly thought-out proposals as the Bill continues to be considered in Parliament.