Climate Protests in Cambridge: Police Response

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:55 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Conservative, Orpington 3:55 pm, 3rd March 2020

I entirely agree; that sentiment should be shared completely. I come back to my opening remark about the right to peaceful protest: that needs to be respected on all sides, including by the protesters themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire elucidated very eloquently, they have to respect the rights of other people. When they seek to trample on those rights, they increase the danger of escalation.

There is a problem for the police that is partly down to the state of the law. They are able to prohibit public processions such as marches—we have seen the cancellation by the police of proposed far-right marches because they felt that public safety could not be guaranteed—but that aspect of the Public Order Act 1986 does not extend to people who stay put somewhere, which is to say to the right to assembly. Such people do not have to give six days’ notice and do not have to declare where they are going to be. That is a weakness. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner—the most senior police officer in the country—has asked for the 1986 Act to be amended to take that into account, and that suggestion has been supported by Nick Ferrari on his LBC show, with his Enough Is Enough campaign. There is some merit in that position and I call on the Government to pay attention to it.

Another thing is required: over many years now, the police have tried to do a very difficult job without feeling that they have the political top cover to do it. There are myriad things—I could go off into all sorts of different examples of the failings of the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the risks that police officers have to run on a daily basis, but that would take us well off topic, so I shall not. In conjunction with the Government’s looking at the 1986 Act, there needs to be a quid pro quo: the police need to be provided with political top cover, but in exchange we need the police to stand up and do their job, which is to enforce the law without fear or favour.