The right to take non-violent individual and collective action is fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being rushed through, and it is ill thought out, with glaring failures, including authoritarian provisions such as those in part 3 that threaten our right to protest. Restricting the freedom of assembly and association contravenes article 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and significant concerns have been raised by trade unions, human rights groups, lawyers, activists and even the ex-chief constable of Greater Manchester.
The imposition of additional conditions on protests, such as being too noisy, simply look like an anti-democratic direct attack on particular social movements at odds with the Government’s agenda. This Bill represents an attack on the public’s freedom of speech, impacting on our fight for race and gender equality, against the climate emergency and for improved workers’ rights. Our country has a proud history of collective action, and I want to express my solidarity with those who attended Clapham common on Saturday to remember Sarah Everard and who were treated disgracefully. What we saw contradicts any notion that there needs to be an extension to the powers to oversee protests. Indeed, the former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has previously stated that
“legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”
Instead of ever more draconian powers, effective policing requires community consent, and to achieve that, there needs to be greater transparency and accountability for the way that protests are policed. I am pleased that David Michael, the Labour Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner candidate, who grew up in Luton, recognises that and is committed to using his experience in the police, together with his understanding of our community, to ensure trust between Bedfordshire police and the community it serves.
Placing more restrictions on people’s ability to gather and protest will not make the public safer. In fact, it is the opposite. It will trample on our ability to stand up for our human rights and against injustice. The Home Secretary focused her remarks on wanting to support women to feel safe while walking down the street, but heaven forbid we do so a bit too noisily, a bit too annoyingly or a bit too near our elected representatives in order to stand up for our human rights.
Individual and collective action is something to be celebrated and encouraged in a functioning democracy. I owe it to the women role models who stood up for what they believed in and shaped my political awareness as a teenager—be it those at the Greenham common women’s peace camp, the Women Against Pit Closures or those marching against apartheid in South Africa—as much as I owe it to those women now or who will come after me, to not let our right to protest, be it noisy or annoying, be slowly eroded.