Public Order

– in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 12 June 2023.

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Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:07, 12 June 2023

I beg to move,

That the draft Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023, which were laid before this House on 27 April, be approved.

The regulations propose amendments to sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. These sections provide the police with the powers to impose conditions on harmful protests that cause or risk causing serious disruption to the life of the community. These regulations have been brought forward to provide further clarity. I want to place on record my thanks to the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend Chris Philp, and to policing colleagues and officials for their hard work on this issue.

People have a right to get to work on time free from obstruction, a right to enjoy sporting events without interruption and a right to get to hospital. The roads belong to the British people, not to a selfish minority who treat them like their personal property. The impact of these disruptors is huge. Over the past six weeks alone, Just Stop Oil has carried out 156 slow marches around London. That has required more than 13,770 police officer shifts. That is more than 13,000 police shifts that could have been spent stopping robbery, violent crime or antisocial behaviour, and the cost to the taxpayer is an outrage, with £4.5 million spent in just six weeks, on top of the £14 million spent last year. In some cases the protests have aggravated the public so much that they have taken matters into their own hands. They have lost their patience. The police must be able to stop this happening and it is our job in government to give them the powers to do so.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I have noticed over the last few weeks, and others will have noticed this as well, that some of those who are protesting and stopping people getting to work, getting to hospital and going about their normal lives habitually and regularly protest. It seems to me that the law of the land is not hard enough the first time round to ensure they do not do it again. If they continually do it, we need a law to reflect that. Is the Secretary of State able to assure the House that the law will come down hard on protesters who wish to stop normal life?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the impact of repetitive, disruptive protesters. That they are behaving disruptively again and again is evidence that we now need to ensure the police have robust and sufficient powers to prevent this from happening.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I fully support what my right hon. and learned Friend is doing. She can relax, as I have not come with a pot of glue in my pocket to glue myself to the Bench next to her in protest at what is happening with RAF Scampton. Does she accept that if people with good arguments put them politely and relentlessly, this Government will listen and they will eventually win?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to the noble and honourable way in which he advocates for his constituents in relation to RAF Scampton. We live in a democracy in which freedom of speech must prevail. That means advocating and campaigning through lawful methods and lawful means, not breaking the law and causing misery and disruption to the law-abiding majority.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

Will the Home Secretary come clean and admit that this authoritarian clampdown on our society’s hard-won democratic freedoms is being intensified by this Government because their policies are becoming ever more unpopular? Their heavy-handed, antidemocratic response shames us all.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Chamber will not be surprised that I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The right to protest is an important and fundamental right that I will ferociously defend, but serious disruption, nuisance and criminality are unjustified, which is why the police need the right powers to police protesters.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend is seeking to do. Can she confirm that there could, indeed, be cases in which protesters stop one getting to hospital for an emergency operation or procedure, or stop a woman who is about to give birth from getting to hospital in a hurry, and that they are risking people’s lives?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Their tactics are dangerous. They are putting people’s lives at risk by stopping ambulances getting to emergencies and stopping people getting to hospital appointments. They are stopping people getting to work, school and funerals. The instances are infinite, and the disruption must stop.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I was a serial protester in Northern Ireland, so I understand the importance of people being able to express their peaceful opposition to whatever it happens to be. Regardless of the regulations that the right hon. and learned Lady puts in place, some police officers seem to have a sympathetic attitude towards some of these causes. Is she not concerned that some courts are prepared to allow people to walk out of court, having committed acts of criminal damage, without imposing any sanction? How does she believe these regulations will change that mindset?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Government’s job is to provide sufficient, lawful and proportionate powers for the police to exercise. They have operational independence, and they need to make decisions and judgments based on the particular circumstances. Our job is to give them the powers to enable them to take the fullest and most lawful approach.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Have the police specifically requested these new powers? The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Ade Adelekan, has said about recent slow-march protests

“once a protest is deemed to have caused serious disruption or may do so, we are taking swift action to stop it.”

Does the Home Secretary disagree with what he is saying, that the police already have the powers they need?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One of the first things I did when I became Home Secretary, along with the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire and the Prime Minister, was to meet policing leads, in the Metropolitan police and nationwide, to hear about the challenges they have been and are facing in policing protests. They have requested extra powers and extra clarity in the law.

I find it surprising and disappointing that Labour MPs are not supporting the measures before us today, given how important they are to the public and how damaging serious disruption can be to everyday life. I have been trying to think about why that would be. Has it got anything to do with the fact that the Labour party—the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy—has taken £1.5 million of donations from a businessman who bankrolls Just Stop Oil? Is it because Labour’s botched environmental policies now seem to be directed by the eco-zealots? Yvette Cooper should be embarrassed that Labour is more interested in supporting Just Stop Oil than standing up for the law-abiding majority. This Government and the police have always maintained that the powers are necessary to respond effectively to guerrilla protests.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clearly, it is important that the Home Secretary gives accurate information to Parliament, so will she clarify her answer to my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, the Home Affairs Committee Chair, as to whether the police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have requested the precise wording that she has put forward in these regulations? She said to the Chamber a week ago that the

“asylum initial…backlog is down by 17,000”.—[Official Report, 5 June 2023;
Vol. 733, c. 557.]

She knows that that is not true and that the asylum initial backlog, which includes legacy and flow, has gone up. Will she now correct the record, as she is before the House and she knows the importance of the ministerial code and correcting any errors at the first opportunity?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Sadly, we see unsurprising tactics from the Labour party. Again, Labour Members seek to distract from their woeful failure to stand up for the law-abiding majority, who want us to take these measures on protesters, and to cover up the fact that they have absolutely no policy to stop the boats. It is disappointing but unsurprising.

These regulations will ensure clarity and consistency in public order legislation in the following ways. First, they clarify that the police may take into account the cumulative impact of simultaneous and repeated protests in a specific area when considering whether there is a risk. Secondly, they permit the police to consider the absolute disruption caused by a protest—in other words, their evaluation may be irrespective of the disruption that is typical in that area. Thirdly, the regulations define the term “community” to include “any group” impacted by a protest, extending beyond those in the immediate area. That definition better reflects the cross-section of the public affected by disruptive protests in cities today. Finally, the regulations align the threshold of “serious disruption” with that in the Public Order Act 2023. This definition, proposed by Lord Hope, the former deputy president of the Supreme Court, is rooted in protest case law. It was debated at length by Parliament and deemed appropriate for use in the Public Order Act 2023. It should now be incorporated into the Public Order Act 1986 to ensure consistency across the statute book.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will not give way, as I have taken a lot of interventions.

The regulations will make it clear that serious disruption to the life of the community includes

“the prevention of, or a hindrance that is more than minor to, the carrying out of day-to-day activities (including…the making of a journey)”.

These regulations do not create new powers but instead clarify powers that already exist. In support of that, we held targeted engagement with operational leads. The NPCC, the Metropolitan Police Service and the chief constables of the affected forces all welcome further clarity in law. To summarise, these measures ensure that public order legislation is clear, consistent and current.

In conclusion, I will always defend the rights of Just Stop Oil or anyone else to express their views, even to protest—that is free speech, that is the foundation of our democracy. However, its methods are deplorable. That is what millions of people, the law-abiding majority, and this Government believe to be true. These measures are for them—for the people trying to get to work, the people trying to get to a family funeral, the people trying to get to hospital. This Conservative Government are on their side.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:19, 12 June 2023

This is, at least, the Government’s fifth set of proposals on public order in the space of two years. They make the same claims about the latest set of proposals that they did about all the previous ones, and they keep coming back again and again, making all the same promises about what this piece of legislation will achieve as they did about the last one and the one before that. This is groundhog day, and we have to wonder how chaotic and incompetent this Home Secretary is that she has to keep legislating for the same things again and again.

We can see why Conservative Ministers might be worried about an organised minority of people causing disruption—people who want to protest against decisions made by the Prime Minister, who ignore all normal rules and have no respect for everyone else, causing serious disruption to the nation and the Government, lighting skip fires from Uxbridge to Selby and causing chaos in our public services, our transport system, our economy and our financial markets. Yes, to quote the Home Secretary, those disruptors are selfish; yes, the public are sick of them and yes, we have had enough of them. That is why we want to get rid of them all, not just through by-elections but through a general election.

We can also see why the Conservatives are so sensitive about extinction and rebellion. As a party, they are now so addicted to rebellion that it is taking them to the point of extinction. They should stop inflicting this chaos on everyone else. They have brought forward two new Bills on public order in the last two years, two further sets of entirely new proposals that were brought forward in the House of Lords halfway through those Bills’ passage, and now this statutory instrument. If only they had found similar time in Parliament for legislation on violence against women and girls, we might not have such disgracefully low charge rates for rape and sexual assault or such appallingly high and persistent levels of domestic abuse.

Instead, we have the chaotic repetition of the same debates and the same promises about legislation. It is total chaos—a coalition of chaos, as the Home Secretary might say herself. Indeed, she did say it when we debated the Third Reading of the Public Order Bill, which she claimed would sort everything out—and that was just eight months ago. In that debate, she accused Labour of being a

“coalition of chaos, the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati”—[Official Report, 18 October 2022;
Vol. 720, c. 628.]

That is from the party that has crashed the economy and given us record inflation, the highest tax burden for 70 years, the worst train cancellations, NHS cancellations and public sector strikes in decades, and total chaos in the criminal justice system.

That party has given us three Prime Ministers, four Home Secretaries and four Chancellors in the space of 12 months, and since then three more Cabinet Ministers have been sacked, including the Deputy Prime Minister. There have been public hissy-fits today between the Prime Minister and his predecessor on the honours system, and now there are three upcoming by-elections. The Conservatives are definitely not a coalition of chaos, not least because any internal party coalition they ever had has clearly collapsed—oh, and on that bit about the wokerati, I have since discovered the Home Secretary is a vegetarian. She eats more tofu than I do!

The police need to take action against serious disruption and damaging protest tactics that cause harm and problems for others. Here in Britain, we have historic freedoms to speak out against things we disagree with, but we also have rights to be protected against serious disruption and dangerous protests by others. We have historic freedoms to object and to peacefully protest—that is part of our democracy—but blocking our roads so ambulances cannot get through is not legitimate protest. It is dangerous, irresponsible and against the law. Climbing up motorway gantries is not legitimate protest either. It is wholly unlawful and it puts lives at risk. That is why Labour supported increasing the penalties for blocking roads, and it is why we put forward measures to make it easier to get injunctions to prevent damaging protests, and measures to prevent intimidation and protest outside contraception and abortion clinics and vaccine clinics. It is why we have criticised groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion for damaging protests that even put lives at risk.

The police have a serious and important job to do in a democracy—ensuring that people can go about their business, and protecting our historic freedoms—but they already have the powers to do exactly that. The Home Secretary claims that this latest measure is about slow walking, but that is already a breach of the law. Since 1986, the police have had the power to impose conditions on public processions—that is what slow walking is—and since 1980 it has been against the law to obstruct a public highway.

Indeed, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp, said himself last month that

“the police are…using section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986… Following recent disruptions in the past 10 to 14 days, the roads have typically been cleared within 10 minutes”.—[Official Report, 9 May 2023;
Vol. 732, c. 210.]

The Met said just this week that

“putting in conditions from Section 12 of the Public Order Act has encouraged protesters to exit the highway within minutes;
from the 156 slow marches that have taken place, 125 Section 12…conditions have been imposed”,

including 86 arrests where people were not complying. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police said:

“We have the powers to act and we should do so very quickly.”

However, instead of working with the police so that they have the training, resources and support to appropriately enforce the law, the Home Secretary just keeps coming back to Parliament waving another bit of legislation to chase a few more headlines and distract people from the fact that the Government are hellbent on causing chaos and disruption for the British people. The Government bring this statutory instrument before the House claiming that it is to clarify the law, but instead it makes it even more confusing. They failed to bring it in through the normal parliamentary legislative processes so that it could be scrutinised and amended. Heaven knows, we have had enough primary legislation when the Government have had the opportunity to introduce it.

The regulations refer, for example, to “normal traffic congestion” now being a significant factor. What does that mean? Does it mean that if roadworks are causing a local traffic jam and some protesters happen to cross the road, they can be arrested for the traffic jam? The regulations redefine “serious disruption” to mean everything that “may” be “more than minor”—may. Does the Home Secretary really think that the police should be able to ban anything that may—only may—create more than minor noise, for example?

Once again, the regulations are not about the seriously disruptive Just Stop Oil protests, which are rightly already against the law. Instead, they give the police the power to prevent any and every campaign group from protesting outside a local library or swimming pool that is about to be closed because it “may” be a little “more than minor”. That makes it harder for law-abiding, peaceful campaigners who want to work with the police to organise a limited protest—something that we should all want people to do—all for the sake of the Home Secretary getting a few more headlines. She says that she wants to defend free speech and our pluralist free society very robustly indeed—but only if it is speech that she agrees with, and only if it is not too noisy. Once again, instead of focusing on the damaging disruption, which we all believe should be stopped and on which we want the Government to work with the police to sort things out, the Government are simply making it possible to go after peaceful protesters and passers-by, even though that is not the British tradition.

The Home Secretary is now so obsessed with serious disruption because she and her party are busy creating it. That party has become addicted to causing serious disruption in politics, our economy, financial markets, workplaces, our transport system, our NHS, our public life and our communities, and has no idea what stability and security looks like because it is too busy seriously disrupting itself. So yes, the country is sick of the serious disruption that the Conservative party is causing. Yes, we do want to put an end to the serious disruption and chaos that is letting everyone down, by kicking the Conservatives out of office. This is not about Just Stop Oil; it is about a Conservative party that has just stopped governing. That is why we need a general election now.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 5:29, 12 June 2023

The main point I want to emphasise today is that these issues are of course to do with balance. Opposition Members want to make it black and white, but we know that these things are not black and white. I am also interested in the fact that some of the same Members who have been so opposed to these regulations made complete counter-arguments when they proposed legislation, which I supported, to say that people should not be able to protest within a certain distance of an abortion clinic. These are common arguments and it is about the individual interpretation of them.

In a free society, we have responsibilities as well as rights. Our right to protest does not offer absolute relief from our responsibility to allow other citizens to go about their lives freely. Of course they have a right to do that. Much attention is paid to the rights of the protesters, but what about the rights of everyone else? We must view the impact in the context of the cost of resources to taxpayers, because they have a right to see their resources used sensibly. If we are going to say that something is acceptable—disruptive protest, disrupting sporting events, going on the road—let us imagine what would happen if we were not spending millions of pounds to minimise that behaviour. That behaviour would run rife. We would not be able to have a public event in this country without one or two people running into it and disrupting it. We would be unable to have any kind of major event without spending millions of pounds to stop people from protesting en masse, so it is quite right that we should look at making sure that we can do that more efficiently.

I would encourage the Home Secretary to consider going further. We are talking today about serious disruption and people perhaps not being able to go to hospital, but what about just being able to go to work, to catch up with a friend that they have not seen for a few months or to go out for dinner in a restaurant? Why do we say that one individual person can block a road and prevent all sorts of people going about their daily lives because they care deeply about an issue?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My hon. Friend is making a very strong point. Does he agree that part of the disconnect on this between the Labour party and the rest of the country is that with these protests, the disruption is the objective, not the message? That is what makes the British people feel so aggrieved. Here in Westminster, more than anywhere, we understand that disruption can be a by-product of protest, but that is a by-product, not the primary objective.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

Indeed, and the protesters brazenly admit it. It is not about protesting with a by-product of disruption; they brazenly admit that they want to do ever-escalating things to get into the news. They should go on a hunger protest and disrupt their own lives. Do not eat—that will get in the news. Why do they think they can go around disrupting everybody else’s lives just to make their point? Importantly, they can still protest. I was flabbergasted by the reporting of the apparent crackdown on protest at the coronation. I was on the parliamentary estate, and I saw loads of people holding up signs saying, “Not my King”. It was all over the news and I saw lots of people who were not arrested and who were not moved on. They were within feet of the procession and were perfectly able to go about their protesting.

I urge the Home Secretary to think about this. In my view, people should not be able to disrupt a road. They should not be able to stop traffic because they care particularly about an issue.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does the hon. Gentleman not find it even more amazing that the Labour party opposes this legislation when many of the protests impact on the poorest in society? I remember being in Canning Town tube station when two idiots jumped on top of the roof of the tube, and the guy beside me said, “If I don’t get to work today, I get my wages docked. I am not earning a great deal of money but I will lose money because of those two guys.” Thankfully, they pulled them off, which was a good idea, but this is the impact. Ordinary people who cannot afford the disruption are the victims of it.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We have all seen the footage online of people saying that they are just trying to get to work. Opposition Members say that that is not serious disruption, but they should tell that to the individual who is trying to go about their daily life. It is disruption, it is not acceptable and people have other ways to make their point. I would also say to Opposition Members and members of the other place that they cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that this is unnecessary and a waste of time and then block it in the Lords. If it does not make any difference and will not impact on anything, why are they blocking it? They should just let it pass.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Are there not double standards on the left? They believe that in their cause they can disrupt people’s daily lives, but when some old lady is praying outside an abortion clinic, that is absolutely outrageous and must be banned by law.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

Indeed. As I said earlier I supported the proposals for protection zones for abortion clinics, but that makes the exact point. When it suits them, they are perfectly happy to sign up to these arguments, but they take a different view when it does not suit them. As the Home Secretary mentioned, they are very happy to get into bed financially with the people supporting these protests, so I think we all know where their loyalties lie.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

If the laws are already there, what difference are these regulations going to make? How are they going to strengthen things?

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

The other point that I think the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, completely ignores is that we have a common law legal system in this country. It is perfectly normal for Parliament to pass legislation and attempt to apply that law via the police. That is another reason why I think the hysterical reaction to the police beginning a process of using new law and not getting it right every single time totally betrays the normal way in which law is developed in this country. We legislate, we use certain terminology and we try to be clear, but it is for the courts and the police to operationalise it and feed back if they think we need to go further. It is all very normal, and again, this is just histrionics from the other side, because it suits them to put their clips on social media standing up against us over these “draconian” protest laws that are not in the least bit draconian.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

My hon. Friend made a point about social media. One of the main intentions of this disruption is to get publicity for the protesters’ cause, so they make maximum effort to try to get maximum publicity, which is cheap.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

Indeed. I am going to finish by making a point to the protesters. If they want to change opinions, they should do what we all have to do most weekends, on both sides of the Chamber: put leaflets through doors, knock on doors, persuade people and run for election. If they do not believe in that, they do not believe in democracy, and whether it is for Extinction Rebellion or any other cause, that is not how we get things done in this country.

When people hark back to the suffragettes, let us remember that they did not have the vote. They were campaigning for the vote in order to be participants in the process. We have a universal franchise: everyone has a say. Everyone can run for election and can campaign, so why do these protesters not put their energies into that? I am sorry that the British public are not open to their arguments, but that is not my fault. I agree with the public, because those arguments are so extreme. The answer is not to stop the public going about their daily business, and I suggest to Opposition Members that they should be in keeping with what the British public want, not with what the people who are funding them millions of pounds want.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:36, 12 June 2023

I want to start where Dr Mullan left off: with the suffragettes. The suffragettes protested their cause for decades because this place did not listen to them, and many people feel that way about this Parliament and this Government—that they are not listened to. That is why people make the protests that they do. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman goes along to the Admission Order Office off Central Lobby and reads some of the experiences of those suffragettes, and what they had to do to get their cause heard. They got the vote after many decades because this place ignored them.

That is the crucial point, because what the Home Secretary is saying today is that people can protest, but only in the way that she wants them to. It is the latest response to the evolving nature of protest across these islands. It is as if the Home Secretary is playing some game of whack-a-mole, but whack-a-mole is not a mole eradication strategy: it just means that you keep going, squeezing down on the bubbles in the wallpaper forever. It will not actually change the attitudes of people who are so despondent at the way in which this Government are behaving that they feel that they have to go out and cause this disruption. They do it not for social media clicks, but because they think their cause is important and worthy of attention.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

For many of these people who are out protesting—Just Stop Oil, for example—it is not that they are appalled at the fact that we use fossil fuels, since they sometimes fly halfway around the world to join those protests. It is simply because of their sanctimonious attitude that their views are more important than others’, and that they are entitled to disrupt the lives of ordinary people.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I would take a lot more from him if he actually believed climate change was real in the first place, before he starts lecturing other people.

The UK Constitutional Law Association has described this statutory instrument as

“an audacious and unprecedented defiance of the will of Parliament.”

This Government are bringing in things through this SI that they could not get through in legislation. The UKCLA says that

“The Government set about drafting regulations that would reverse the defeat in the House, relying on Henry VIII powers to amend the Public Order Act 1986 conferred by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. These draft regulations were laid before the Public Order Bill had even completed its Parliamentary stages. In this way, the Government sought to obtain through the back door that which it could not obtain through the front.”

That goes to the heart of this shoddy process this afternoon.

While this regulation is an England and Wales regulation, it does have implications for my constituents and other people from Scotland who wish to come and protest. If the WASPI women campaigners in my constituency wanted to come down here to complain about the injustice of having their state pension robbed from them by consecutive Westminster Governments; if they wanted to protest outside Parliament, as they have done on many occasions; and if they wanted to invoke the spirit of Mary Barbour, to bang pots and pans and stand in the road outside of this building, they would not be protected just because they are Scottish. They would be at risk of causing serious disruption under these regulations and would be lifted by the police forthwith. They would be at risk of causing serious disruption under these regulations and would be lifted by the police forthwith. That goes to the heart of these proposals. Those actions are just and important, and they want to draw attention to that injustice.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, the right hon. Member has been extremely obnoxious to me many times in the past, so I will not take his intervention.

Groups, including Liberty, have pointed out that these are not insignificant changes. Liberty says that the Government’s attempt to redefine serious disruption from “significant and prolonged” to “more than minor” is

“effectively an attempt to divorce words from their ordinary meaning in ways that will have significant implications for our civil liberties.”

The statutory instrument refers to

“the prevention of, or a hindrance that is more than minor to, the carrying out of day-to-day activities (including in particular the making of a journey)”,

but what is “minor”? We do not know. Is a couple of minutes late “minor”? What is “more than minor”? Is that 10 minutes late rather than five minutes late? There is nothing in these regulations to say. They will give significant discretion to the police to figure out exactly what is “minor” and what is “more than minor”, because nobody can really tell us.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

There is an offence called “drunk and disorderly”. Disorderly can have any number of meanings. The common law legal system over time has sought to define it more narrowly and the police operationalise that. Why does the hon. Lady not think that that could be done in exactly the same way with this offence?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Because the regulations are extremely unclear and extremely discretionary. [Interruption.] It is not clear at all in the regulations what is “minor” and what is “more than minor”, and neither of those things seem to me to be serious disruption. “More than minor” is not the same as serious disruption.

The regulations also refer to a “community”, which

“in relation to a public procession in England and Wales, means any group of persons that may be affected by the procession, whether or not all or any of those persons live or work in the vicinity of the procession.”

What does “affected” mean? Does that mean people saw it on the TV and they were upset by it? How are they “affected”? Again, that is unclear in the regulations, which will give police officers a huge amount of discretion to carry out the enforcement of this pretty lousy legislation.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

Dr Mullan says that we have a common law system whereby common law offences are defined by precedent over many years—sometimes centuries. We are dealing here with a statutory instrument, and statutory instruments are different. That is why in the normal course of things, well-drafted legislation coming before this House has an interpretation section that defines such terms. Can the hon. Lady think of any good reason why we would not have a definitions section in this SI?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman’s point is correct, and it seems clear to me that not having a definitions section suits the Government perfectly. It will make it incredibly difficult for any police officer to do their job in these circumstances, which is why the police are perhaps a bit nervous about it.

Liberty points out that the police could consider, for example, that a static assembly outside of a train station by a trade union could result in a more than minor delay to access to public transportation. The police could subsequently impose a condition that the trade union cannot protest outside the train station, even though they are trying to protest against that particular employer. People therefore might be sent a way off somewhere else and have to say, “Instead of standing at Central station, we will go and protest at Glasgow Green.” That is just not logical and would make no sense in Glasgow, just as it makes no sense in this legislation here in Westminster. It is why the House should have nothing to do with this legislation.

I do not want to detain the House unduly, because I know that other Members want to speak, but this legislation is flawed and wrong. The Home Secretary mentioned people taking things into their own hands, but people are doing that because they are egged on by a lot of the rhetoric coming from those on the Government Benches and from the press. I have seen people being hauled out of the way and hit in some of the footage that has been shown, and that is disturbing. This Government suggest that people can protest only in a way that suits them, not in the way that people want to make their voice heard in this democracy.

The only slow walking we should be concerned about in this place is the slow walk on which the Government are taking this House towards a lack of democracy and fascism. Independence is now the only way that Scotland can be assured that our right to protest will be retained.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys 5:44, 12 June 2023

May I congratulate the shadow Home Secretary on spending more time scrolling through her phone while sitting on the Front Bench than she did standing at the Dispatch Box making her speech? I regard that as a discourtesy to the House and to Members of the House.

I merely wish to remark on a paragraph in The Economist last week. It reads:

“Police in the Netherlands arrested 1,500 climate-change protesters and deployed water cannon when they refused to leave a motorway they had blocked in The Hague. Forty are to be prosecuted.”

I read today in the newspapers that there has been concern that these changes will mean that the police will decide what protests will be able to take place and that they will be able to choose. There is always choice on the issue of a protest. Protesters can choose to protest in such a way that the sick can still get to hospital, and people can still get to work and earn a living. Equally—[Interruption.] I am glad that I now have the attention of the shadow Home Secretary; it is quite an achievement that she can lift her head up from her phone. Equally, the Metropolitan police also have a choice as to how they police these protests and the decisions they can take.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

No, I am not giving way, because the shadow Home Secretary has not paid attention to anything anyone else has said in this Chamber. On that note, I am resuming my seat.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice) 5:46, 12 June 2023

Can I first say something about the process this afternoon? Dr Mullan highlighted in his speech the many significant issues that this legislation brings to the House, and there are serious debates to be had about the balance between public protest and individual rights. I am not entirely sure that I buy his thesis that the need for protest ended when we achieved universal suffrage, but taking that as we may for the moment, these are significant and serious issues. That is why this House has evolved, over the centuries, a series of measures by which we are able to scrutinise legislation.

The Home Secretary spoke for only 12 minutes to persuade the House why this legislation was necessary. I cannot decide whether or not I am displeased. I generally like her speeches best when they are finished, so 12 minutes was not mercifully short. However, I think that for issues such as this, we deserve something more.

Some of the interventions we have heard from the Government side of the Chamber have also been quite telling. Sir Edward Leigh, who has just left his place, said that this was to do with the understanding of the left about protest, as if those who protested were always from the left. I remember that in the early years after I was first elected to this House there were significant protests, causing massive disruption, by those opposed to the Bill to abolish hunting with hounds. I do not think that many of them would welcome being labelled as left-wing, and the view taken by the Conservatives in Parliament at that time was very different from the one we hear from them in government.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I have a lot of time for the right hon. Gentleman, but I think his memory is playing him false. I also remember the Countryside Alliance protest marches, and I believe they were organised in full co-operation with the police. It was similar with most of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protests on the other side of the political spectrum. We are talking here about people who act unilaterally to obstruct others from going about their lawful business. The Countryside Alliance did not do that, so far as I recall.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The right hon. Gentleman is actually correct in his recollection but also incomplete, because not all those protests were organised by the Countryside Alliance. I can remember the night when this House debated the Second Reading, and it was impossible for Members of this House to get on to the parliamentary estate because of the violence going on in Parliament Square. So if we are to take a view on the right to protest, that view must apply equally across the board to everybody, of whatever political persuasion, instead of simply, as we seem to be doing today, focusing on one aspect.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Sir Julian Lewis forgets that, when he was a member of the Labour party, he used to blast out very loud music at CND marches down Whitehall—he most probably would have been arrested by now.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I doubt that the constable who would arrest the right hon. Gentleman has yet been commissioned, but John McDonnell makes a good and fair point.

My concern is about not just the process but the weakness in the way in which this legislation has been drafted and brought to the House. On the lack of any proper definition of what constitutes “minor”, for example, we should not be leaving these things to the courts. The courts are not there to fill in the gaps that Parliament leaves behind. There may well be a serious body of case law that will define “minor”, but we know now that it is the job of this House to insert that definition and we are not doing it.

I confess that I have been somewhat surprised to hear the enthusiasm of the Democratic Unionists in relation to this legislation. I can only presume that that is because the territorial extent of this legislation is England and Wales only. However, as Alison Thewliss said, it could of course affect anybody who comes from there. We define community not just as people who live or work in a place but also those who would be affected by the process, and I wonder how Sammy Wilson would feel if hundreds of people, or perhaps several thousand, deciding to walk slowly down a road playing flutes and banging a Lambeg drum were to be covered by such legislation.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

Of course; I will give way in a few seconds.

Frequency is at the heart of the offence being created here, and as many people resident in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland would tell us, in the month of July such incidences are frequently to be found. I give way with pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this House legislated a long time ago to ensure that people who engage in those activities are fully regulated by the law, and the Parades Commission has been set up for some time now, and causes great anxiety at home with some of its rulings. So there is that legislation and Members across this House, including members of his party and the Labour party who are protesting about this legislation now, were quite happy to legislate for the Parades Commission to regulate the Lambeg drummers, the fluters and those who celebrate the glorious 12th in Northern Ireland every year.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I think the glorious 12th comes in August actually, but I bow to the expertise of those on the Conservative Benches on such matters.

In fairness, however, the right hon. Gentleman has a reasonable point, and I understand that the legislation to which he refers pertains only to Northern Ireland and that is perhaps why it is not part of this legislation. Essentially, however, as the shadow Home Secretary said in her remarks, this is an area of law that is already well regulated. Very few areas of lacuna remain within the law and this legislation is not in any practical, meaningful way going to fill any difficulties. What would fill difficulties is a better resourced police force that is better able to engage with people and take on board their wish to protest.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that it is not just Northern Ireland that has regulation of protest? He will be aware that in Scotland it is a criminal offence not to notify the police within 28 days of an organised moving protest, and that people may face criminal sanctions if they do not do so. What is the difference between the legislation we are currently discussing and the law under which his constituents operate, where they may go to prison if they do not tell the police about a protest that is coming?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I could be wrong because I am hopelessly out of date on so much of this stuff, but I think from memory that the right hon. Gentleman refers to the provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which was brought into force under a previous Government—a Government for whom I had very little time, but in terms of the way in which they went about their business were a model of parliamentary propriety compared with the mince that has been brought to the Chamber this afternoon. This comes back to the point I made about the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich: there are serious issues here to be decided—serious issues about the balance between the rights of the individual to protest and the rights of the community to go about their business—but this is not the way to deal with them.

The shadow Home Secretary made the point that this is an area where there is already extensive legislation. Problems arise not from the lack of legislation but from the lack of the ability to implement properly and with consent the laws we currently have.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:55, 12 June 2023

This statutory instrument is oppressive, anti-democratic and downright wrong. It is anti-rights legislation by Executive diktat, and it is a profound insult to people and to Parliament, of which this Government should be ashamed. In short, it is authoritarian in both style and substance.

On the substance, the police do not need yet more power to restrict protest. We need only look at what happened at the recent coronation: Ministers had to be summoned to this House to explain why police gravely overstepped the mark. As other hon. Members have set out, these regulations hand new, unprecedented powers and discretion to the police. They seek to redefine “serious disruption” from “prolonged” and “significant” to “more than minor”. This will gift the police greater powers to impose conditions on public assemblies and processions, as well as powers to consider the legally vague concepts of “relevant” and “cumulative” disruption. Requiring the police to consider all “relevant” disruption is dangerously vague and places far too much discretion in the hands of the police as well as placing an unfair burden on frontline officers. It could mean peaceful protest activities are restricted because of other forms of disruption not linked to the protest, such as traffic congestion in the area.

The so-called “cumulative” disruption that the SI allows lets police add up disruption from other protests when considering whether to impose conditions on a particular protest. That runs the serious risk of the police facing pressure from the Government of the day to restrict particular protest movements based on their content.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

The hon. Member is making an important point about the right of protest. On the idea of giving long-term notice to the police, if, for example, an eviction is due to take place and fellow tenants arrive at the scene to support and defend the tenant due to be evicted, the urgency of that means they could not possibly gain permission in advance for their demonstration, yet that is a wholly legitimate right of protest that a neighbourhood would be performing to protect somebody.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I agree.

This SI comes in the wake of our official police watchdog warning that public trust in police is “hanging by a thread”. This is no time to risk increased politicisation of the policing of public order.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has made it clear that it has grave concerns about this measure, advising that

“the measures go beyond what is reasonably necessary to police protest activities.”

Its briefing warns of its concern about incompatibility with the European convention on human rights and of a “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of expression.

Moving on to the style—the way in which this is being done—the Government are trying to do something which has never been done before: they are trying an abuse of process that we must not permit, whatever we think of the content of the SI and the intentions behind it. The restrictions on protest rights that this SI seeks to impose were explicitly rejected by Parliament during the passage of the Public Order Bill—now the Public Order Act 2023—in February 2023. This is the very opposite of the integrity that the current Prime Minister promised when he took over. It is a blatant continuation of the casual disregard for Parliament’s democratic standards that he promised to discontinue.

My Green party colleague in the other place, Baroness Jenny Jones, has tabled a fatal motion to kill off this affront to our rights and our democracy, and it will be before that House tomorrow. Rightly, for primary legislation the unelected House of Lords is a revising Chamber. As Members will know, this is secondary legislation and it needs the approval of both Houses. Presumably, that is to avoid the type of situation we face now, where an SI could be used by the Executive to reverse a Lords revision to primary legislation that they do not like.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, because that gets to the heart of the matter as far as the other place is concerned. The Government, in bringing the regulations to the House in this way, are riding roughshod over the conventions of this House. We have a system that relies on checks, balances and conventions, so when our noble Friends in the other place come to consider this legislation, might they also be entitled to say that, with a check having been removed, they are entitled to adjust the balance and pay the same regard to the conventions of their House that the Government have done to the conventions of this House?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for that contribution. He makes a valid and legitimate point, which I had not considered.

The regulations represent a gross Executive overreach. I sincerely hope that the motion is defeated. If it passes because hon. Members choose to allow this twin attack on our right to protest and on parliamentary democracy, I encourage every Member of the other place, whatever they think of the content of the statutory instrument, to vote for Baroness Jones’s fatal motion tomorrow, because to ride roughshod over primary legislation in such a way is a truly dangerous path to tread.

Finally, I want to distance myself entirely from the comments made by Conservative Members about the right to protest. I remind them that when people take peaceful direct action, they are doing so because they have generally been driven to feel that they have no alternative. They feel that the Government are careering over a climate cliff edge and they are trying to get a hold of the wheel. As the UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded us:

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

I could not agree with him more.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 6:01, 12 June 2023

It is appallingly apt that this widely recognised repressive and authoritarian Government are using a widely recognised repressive and authoritarian power to implement a widely recognised repressive and authoritarian measure to give the police almost complete discretion over which protests they want to ban. It is not as though the police are not already equipped with excessive and unaccountable powers.

Indeed, such powers were on display in my constituency recently when up to 100 police officers evicted 29 homeless people, including some thought to be subject to no recourse to public funds, from 88 Hardinge Street—a building understood locally to be an unofficial homeless shelter. The operation included a large number of territorial support level 2 public order officers with riot shields to deal with residents who had gathered in shock to protest against the action. A dispersal order was issued that stretched almost a full kilometre around my constituency. A constituent said:

“as a local resident, if I could file a complaint against the actions of the police today, I would.”

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

I will not—the hon. Member has had his say.

It is chilling that these measures are being forced through when trust in the Metropolitan police is at an all-time low, not least following the killing of Chris Kaba, who was fatally shot by a Metropolitan police firearms officer in September last year; the treatment of Child Q; the kidnap and killing of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer; the evidence of institutional racism and misogyny, and so on. Even more unaccountable power is being handed to the police when so many are concerned about long-standing failures on the part of the police to be accountable for their actions.

The truth is that the Government’s actions today would never be right. This attack on democracy and civil liberties is akin to that of many repressive regimes that the UK has been right to criticise, but now it seems to be seeking to emulate or perhaps compete with them. Does the Home Secretary agree that Dr Martin Luther King, with his non-violent civil disobedience, is one of the most widely celebrated activists worldwide? Does she acknowledge that many recognise, and some even celebrate, the suffragettes and the role they played in advancing the democratic rights of women? She referred to harmful protests and repeated protests that will be outlawed through the powers to be given to the police. So harmful were the protests that the suffragettes engaged in that they won women the right to vote. She and I both enjoy the privileges of that today as parliamentarians in this House.

We cannot allow the Government to get away with this repressive change to the laws of protest. I will vote against the regulations, and I urge colleagues across the House to consider doing the same. This is so much more important than all of us individually and more important than political parties; it is about the future of democracy itself.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:04, 12 June 2023

I concur with everything said by my hon. Friend Apsana Begum, Caroline Lucas and others.

I want to bring this down to a parochial level for my constituents. When we sit here and see legislation going through, we can sometimes spot the legislation that we realise will never work, and we know that we will be back here shortly to try to put it right. I think that is the case now, so I want to take up the point made by Sir Edward Leigh —he is not in his place at the moment—and followed up by Dr Mullan.

I fully agree that, in a democracy, what should happen is that constituents and members of our communities should be able to raise issues and argue a case, put their views to their relevant elected representatives and vote as constituents in elections for Governments who will fulfil their wishes. That is what happened with my constituents in west London on the third runway issue, which we have been campaigning on since the late-1970s. David Cameron assured people that there would be no third runway, “no ifs, no buts”. Some of my constituents—I forgive them now—even voted for the Conservative party on that basis. However, what happens if the governing party, after its election, puts in a caveat saying, “Actually, that commitment was only for the life of this Parliament and no further”? All the insecurities come out about the continuation of blight on communities.

People felt, “Where do we go from here?” They had tried to use the democratic process—all that they could—and secured a political commitment, but that was reneged upon. People felt betrayed, so naturally they came out in the streets. They were joined by Conservative MPs, including Justine Greening. In fact, one Conservative MP got so excited that he said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers. Is this an anti-Boris Johnson piece of legislation as well?

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

The right hon. Member is postulating an argument that if a particular group of people are not successful in their protests because the Government do not follow through, that means that the system is not working. We have had people protesting against vaccines. They could say, “The fact that we protested vociferously against vaccines being rolled out and did not get our way means that it is perfectly legitimate for us to go on and disrupt everyone,” but that is not an argument for protest.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I think that the hon. Gentleman was not listening. What my constituents and the constituents of Uxbridge did was follow the process, exactly as he advised them.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

No. He was not listening, was he? What happened was that they campaigned and they were given a commitment by the leader of a political party, but that was reneged upon as soon as he got elected. Where do they go? They had used the democratic process and they were betrayed—they were so angry. They went on to the streets, and they were joined by Conservative MPs. What do they do? They block roads, they sit down in the street and they threaten to sit down in front of bulldozers. That was my invitation to Boris Johnson when he was first elected, and he said, “Yes, I’ll be with you in front of that bulldozer.” Why? Because John Randall, the Conservative MP before him—by the way, he was an excellent constituency MP—said exactly that. In fact, he had raised the issue himself.

People felt completely frustrated. What I am arguing, on behalf of my constituents, is that this measure puts the local police and local protesters in an almost impossible position.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

My right hon. Friend is making a very good point about the third runway. History will show that the demonstrations absolutely worked: the third runway has not yet been built. Personally, I hope it never is. There are those who say protest does not work, but the right to roam our countryside happened only because of the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the 1930s. People took brave action to win rights for all of us. Those are the rights we all enjoy. We should not just legislate them away, which is what this law is doing.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I welcome that intervention.

The regulations put the local police in my area, as well as local protesters and the local communities in both the Hayes and Harlington constituency and the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, in an impossible position. They seem to apply almost perfectly to our local situation. If I go through the various criteria, the first is “cumulative” impact. I am not sure how we judge cumulative. Is that over a limited period of time or a short period of time? We have been protesting there since 1978. Is that cumulative? Does the police officer have to take that into account at the local level, or should he or she set a limited timescale on that?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this again comes to the heart of the process in the legislation we are passing. The proposition from the Government Benches is that it is all right, because the courts will fix out these things. Long before it gets anywhere near a court, it will be a decision for police officers on the street, the borough commander or whomever it will be. Is that fair on police officers?

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The history of protest around Heathrow is actually an example of a model relationship between protesters and local police. It has worked very well up to now. We have had some issues. One protester who was with me in the negotiations between the police and the climate camp was, I now discover, a police officer—part of the spycops situation. But what I am saying is that it puts people in an impossible position. What is cumulative?

On absolute disruption, the explanatory memorandum states:

“For example, serious disruption may be caused if a procession or assembly causes a traffic jam in an area where traffic jams are common.”

At certain times of the day in my constituency, I cannot find many streets where there isn’t a traffic jam on the main roads, to be frank. It goes on to talk about the meaning of “community”. Define the term community. Is that just the Heathrow villages, or is it Hayes and Harlington? The protesters came in from Uxbridge as well. It goes on to list the types of facilities where protests will be banned, and it includes “a transport facility”—so, Heathrow airport. The regulations have almost been designed to prevent any form of protest against the third runway. In fact, they are almost perfectly designed to arrest the former right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip—perhaps that is what the Conservative party is up to.

I just think that this is one of those pieces of legislation, like the old Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, that is unworkable. It will be back here next year or the year after, but after having put police officers and protesters in a virtually impossible position. The Government need to think again. This is not the way to legislate anyway, without proper due consideration.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 6:13, 12 June 2023

I am a Protestant. I have sought to live up to that title throughout my political involvement. I have taken part in many protests, as Protestants should. That is why we got our name: protesting about various things. I have been involved in noisy protests, disruptive protests, protests about the closure of schools, about traffic running through streets and about the Housing Executive knocking down houses, and protests about major political decisions made in this place that were going to disadvantage Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes we did not need megaphones, because we had our previous party leader. I suspect that some of the protests we engaged in may well have fallen foul of this legislation.

The one thing I do know, however, is that when we engage in protest, we have to recognise that if we step beyond the bounds of what is allowed, we have to take the consequences. It is as simple as that. There have to be consequences, because protests cannot be unlimited. They have to be balanced against the impact they have on the lives of people who are not interested in the protest or maybe even oppose it, but who are nevertheless affected by it. That is why this legislation is necessary.

Over the last number of years, we have increasingly seen protest methods used by people who are entirely selfish. Sometimes they represent a very small minority—usually protesters are minorities anyway—but are determined to have their cause listened to. They do not even make any bones about it. They go out of their way to have a detrimental impact on other people in order to, as I have heard some of them say, make them listen, to make them wake up and to make them pay attention to their cause, even though, as I pointed out in an intervention, sometimes that cause is totally hypocritical. For example, they protest against taking oil and gas out of the ground, yet are quite happy to drive miles to their protest. Some even fly on private jets to join protests, yet seem to have no idea or awareness of the hypocrisy of their actions.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Well, let us take the Extinction Rebellion protests we had here. Stars were flying in from America to join them. They did not feel any qualms about it. They did not even see the hypocrisy of it. For some protesters, the important thing is that other people should be affected by their concerns—that they should be able to live a lifestyle and engage in actions that have no impact on them but that do have an impact on others. People go out of their way consciously to cause disruption to others and cause anger, frustration and sometimes a detrimental impact. They protest about the quality of air in London and the burning of fuels, and what do they do? They cause traffic jams where people are belching out smoke from the back of their cars and burning petrol. Yet it seems that we should tolerate that. Unfortunately, it has been tolerated. I saw the frustration it caused many commuters. We see it on our television screens time and time again. The Government are, I believe, obliged to do something about it.

There is a certain hypocrisy and inconsistency about some of the arguments we have heard tonight. It has already been referred to that there are those on the Labour Benches who are quite happy to say that someone who glues themselves to a road or causes physical destruction to paintings in an art gallery should be tolerated, but someone who stands outside an abortion clinic and prays should not be tolerated. That kind of inconsistency shows that this is not so much about the methods that the Home Secretary is introducing today, but about who they are targeted at. I think that is the important thing. I was challenged by Mr Carmichael about parades in Northern Ireland. This House supported the parades legislation for Northern Ireland, which is quite draconian. In fact, it can ban a parade that may take three minutes to pass a flashpoint, because sometimes people have come from 50 miles away to be offended by it. If they protest, the Parades Commission can make a ruling against the parade. So, we can see an inconsistency in attitudes across the House.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The good news, I suppose, for the right hon. Gentleman is that those seeking to stop his walks or marches would not have to travel 50 miles. They would just have to say that they were affected by it, because that is the definition of community.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

A number of Members have made the point that that leaves interpretation for the police. Has the community been affected? What has been the cumulative effect? Is the protest too noisy? But that is true in every situation where a policeman or policewomen on the ground has to make an operational decision. Do I take this drunk out of the pub, or do I allow him to stay there? Do I talk to him and let him walk away, or do I stick him in the police van? Of course those operational decisions will always be with the police. However, having seen some of the attitudes not just of police officers on the ground, but of some of those in command and in the courts, my worry is that regardless of what legislation we introduce here tonight, the interpretation of what is happening will come down to what the officers or the judges think of the protesters’ case. That is where the real difficulty lies.

As a protester, I do not want to see us living in what one Member has rather exaggeratedly described as a fascist regime. This is not fascism. This is about a Government having to make a decision as to what we do in a democracy to allow people to make their point even if we do not like the point that they are making, and to stop people being impacted by the protest even though the protester has made it quite clear that that is their main aim anyway. Although I am always more sympathetic to protesters than I am to the legislation against them, I think that this measure is necessary tonight and we shall be giving it our support.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:21, 12 June 2023

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions in what has been a fruitful and lively debate. I will not spend too much time responding to Labour’s position. The response of the shadow Secretary of State was almost totally devoid of anything serious on the issue of public order. She would rather spend her time in the Chamber glued to her phone, as my hon. Friend Paul Maynard remarked.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Can the Home Secretary confirm that slow walking is already against the law and that that is how the Metropolitan police and other police forces have already managed to stop a whole series of slow-walking incidences that have caused significant disruption for communities?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The fact that the right hon. Lady has to ask that question reflects her total misunderstanding of what we are debating here today. Of course the police have powers enshrined in legislation already, but we are trying to clarify the thresholds and boundaries of where the legal limit lies, so that they can take more robust action and respond more effectively. Perhaps if she had not looked at her phone so much she would know what we were talking about. She would also rather spend her time at the Dispatch Box playing pantomime politics than engaging with the serious issue of public safety and the right to protest.

People cannot get to work. They cannot get to school. Ambulances cannot get to patients. People cannot get to funerals. Hard-working people are paying well-earned cash to attend live sporting events, public galleries and public shows not for them to be ruined by a selfish minority.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for allowing me to intervene. I endorse entirely what Sammy Wilson said. The reason for these measures is that the nature of protests on our roads—the blocking of our roads—has changed over the past few years. No one wants to impose more restrictions on anyone in our country, but what is happening now is making it impossible for normal people to have decent lives.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the evolving tactics—the guerrilla tactics—that we are now seeing being deployed by these campaigners are unacceptable and the police need more clarity as to how to use their powers. The sad fact is that Labour Members would rather look after their Just Stop Oil friends and obstruct this Government from giving the police more powers. Frankly, they are on another planet if they think that they speak for the British people. They are on the wrong side of this debate and they are on the wrong side of the public.

I thank hon. Members who made powerful speeches. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Dr Mullan who spoke very powerfully, and with the benefit of his own experience from the frontline of policing as well, about the careful balance that is involved in tackling this issue. As he said, we need to balance rights with responsibilities. This is about protecting the public and enabling the law-abiding majority to go about their business. It is about stopping them from being impeded, obstructed, delayed, inconvenienced and frustrated. These measures are designed to support them.

I thank Sammy Wilson for his potent words, As he said, this is about crossing a boundary. This is about making it clear that when protesters use disruptive means and deliberately seek to cause misery and disturbance through physical disruption, a line has been crossed. These measures clarify the law, so that the police can take more robust action.

There has been some mention of the coronation this afternoon. I want to put on record my thanks to the police for delivering what was the largest operation that the Metropolitan Police Service has ever led, with more than 11,000 officers, staff and volunteers. They ensured that the coronation operations were delivered successfully, safely and securely in a challenging environment. I was proud of their work and proud of the fact that they enabled millions of people to enjoy such an historic event peacefully. At the same time, they struck the right balance. When they received intelligence that indicated that groups were seeking to disrupt the coronation, including by using rape alarms to disrupt the procession, they took the requisite action that they deemed fit within the bounds of operational independence. Hundreds of individuals participated in peaceful protests in and around the coronation footprint on 6 May, including a large group of Not My King supporters in Trafalgar Square. I thank the police for their incredible effort in policing the coronation and enabling millions of people to enjoy such an important event.

Alison Thewliss and Mr Carmichael have, with respect, missed the point when it comes to these measures. This is not about banning protest. This is not about prohibiting freedom of assembly. No one in this House is suggesting that at all. Those are human rights, and they are protected by law. I will fiercely defend the right of anyone to exercise those rights lawfully, but they are not absolute rights; they are qualified rights, as set out in the European convention on human rights. These measures are about the balance to be struck, and they turn on the need for clarity, so that law enforcement knows where the boundary is and how to exercise their powers.

Caroline Lucas spoke with characteristic alarmism, if I may say so. We have become accustomed to her doom-mongering over the years, and I will actually miss it when she leaves this House. Let me take this opportunity to thank her for her years of hard work for her constituents and for the causes about which she is so evidently passionate.

Members in this House now have a choice before them: do they support the disrupters, or are they on the side of the law-abiding majority. Are they here to help the grafters and the strivers, or to facilitate the obstructors and the fanatics? We know that Labour is here to support the militant few rather than the law-abiding majority. It is this Conservative Government who are on the side of all reasonable people across the country and on the side of common-sense policing. These measures will ensure that public order laws are clear, consistent and current, and I commend this statutory instrument to the House.

Question put.

Division number 251 That the draft Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023 be approved

Aye: 276 MPs

No: 216 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 277, Noes 217.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023, which were laid before this House on 27 April, be approved.