Many constituents have shared their frustrations with me over the issue of illegal encampments. Although many Travellers are law-abiding citizens, illegal sites can cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. They also play havoc with local sports clubs and businesses and the Bill will put a stop to that. I am pleased that these measures are proportionate and that we have taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted.
Some people are claiming that the Bill will somehow stop people’s right to protest, and that is simply not true. What makes it worse is that some are trying to link it with temporary covid restrictions, which is a completely separate issue. Whatever the rights and wrongs of recent events, it is abhorrent and totally wrong for groups to try to use a tragic incident as a smokescreen to oppose legislation that they do not like. This legislation means tougher sentences for child murderers, sex offenders, killer drivers and those attacking emergency service workers. By campaigning against this Bill, they are also campaigning against these measures.
The Bill is also designed to stop the behaviour of extremist groups such as Extinction Rebellion or BLM causing serious disruption by stopping trains running or by gluing themselves to buses. Serious disruption is a well-established and defined concept. The changes bring static protests in line with equivalent provisions that apply to marches or processions under section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. For example, a protest does not cause serious disruption just because it may distract employees in a nearby office, and 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 a road to stop pedestrians or traffic getting through. We saw that happen when Extinction Rebellion decided to block Westminster Bridge. While these people were dancing and having fun, ambulances needed to be diverted and cancer patients had to walk to hospital instead. Another example of serious disruption might also include preventing a train from leaving a station. What sort of organisation claims that it wants to stop climate change and then prevents people from using public transport? People from those organisations do not understand the value of a proper day’s work.
People physically preventing a printing press from operating because they disagree with the editorial position of that publication is another example of serious disruption. These people talk of freedoms yet attack freedom of speech and the freedom of our press, including titles such as The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the London Standard. This is not just an attack on them, but on all our media.
Our freedoms are precious and we must do everything we can to ensure that freedom is enjoyed by all and not hijacked by these groups. This Bill, using sensible, fair and proportionate measures, will set us on a course to do just that.