Amendment 292Q

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 24th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 7:30 pm, 24th November 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to move Amendment 292Q in my name. Before I speak to it, I will refer to the other amendments in the group, particularly Amendment 292S in the name of my noble friend Lord Bassam. It deals with an incredibly important issue: he seeks to change the relevant offences for footballing banning orders. I think that we all remember the horror when we witnessed the racism that English football players, in particular, experienced at the end of the Euros. We all condemned it and thought it disgraceful. I say this to my noble friend: I hope that the football world and the public more generally hear about the amendment that he has tabled, because sometimes they think that we do not get the world in which they live. We abhor the racism that our professional footballers, in this instance, face, as well as the racism often experienced in many other spheres of life. It is totally and utterly unacceptable to everybody in this House and beyond. My noble friend’s amendment is very good. I know that it is late in the evening, but it is an important amendment and I wish him well with it.

I wish my noble friend Lord Faulkner well with his Amendment 229U. Including it in this group is an interesting selection—having scrap metal included here makes for an interesting group of amendments. Can the Minister perhaps explain how that happened? I think that we would all be interested in the answer.

To move on, the purpose of Amendment 292Q in my name is to express

“the need for fast-tracked exclusion zones around schools, in response to anti-vaccination protesters targeting schools, pupils and teachers.”

As the Minister will know, this builds on the public space protection orders already legislated for in Section 61 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, so the principle of the need for public space protection orders has already been agreed by the Government. However, as I pointed out with reference to certain figures, this amendment seeks particularly to say, regarding the way in which those orders operate under the law at the moment, that they need to be fast-tracked. I know that the Minister will have read the various parts of the new clause that we are proposing, but it is the fast-tracking that is essential. Whatever the rights and wrong of the existing legislation, it simply cannot be applied with the speed necessary to allow school leadership, the police and local authorities to deal with some of the many problems that they have had.

In moving this amendment, I thank my friend Peter Kyle MP for his work. As the Minister will probably be aware, in Westminster Hall in the last day or two he has highlighted the particular problems that schools in his constituency in Brighton have faced and the need for something to be done about it. In particular, he talked about anti-vax protesters outside schools spreading dangerous information to children—something that we all agree is utterly unacceptable.

I looked for figures, and the ones I managed to find are from the Association of School and College Leaders. I think noble Lords will forgive me for a minute if I read out some of the statistics, because they are pretty shocking; I was shocked by them. According to the ASCL survey, nearly eight in 10 schools had been targeted by anti-vax protestors. I add that most of that was by email, but the fact remains that they have been targeted. Protests outside schools have been reported in Glasgow, Cardiff, London, Telford, Leicester, Manchester and Dorset, so this problem has been experienced right across the country. I ask noble Lords to imagine for a moment the teachers and members of staff at these schools, the parents and grandparents of children attending them, and the children themselves. Some of these children are very young—admittedly, many of them are in secondary school—and are having to deal with some of the misinformation and protests going on in the immediate vicinity of their schools.

The Association of School and College Leaders found that 420 schools had experienced protests. Of 526 responses from schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15 year-olds, 13% had reported seeing demonstrators outside their school, in the immediate vicinity. I think there is a point to be made about it being in the immediate vicinity. Eighteen schools said that demonstrators had gained access to the school, which is obviously particularly worrying, and 20 had received communications threatening harm.

What my amendment seeks to do is to say that this is unacceptable. There is legislation available, but it has taken too long for that legislation to be enacted. Even where the police, school leaders and local authorities want to take action to deal with this problem, it is taking far too long, and the children, parents and pupils at those schools are experiencing that difficulty.

I finish by saying that many media outlets have started to pursue this campaign, particularly the Mail, but it is sickening that anti-vax protestors in protests outside schools are spreading dangerous misinformation to children. The uptake of the vaccine among children is far too low, and the Government would wish to accelerate the rollout. Everything must be done to get those who are eligible to be vaccinated as soon as possible—and who knows where that will go in the coming weeks and months as the Government roll out their vaccination and booster programmes, wherever that takes us.

We are facing a public health emergency, and the last thing we need is for our children to be targeted by the irresponsible activities of a few people. I think the Government need to act to fast-track the existing legislation. I beg to move.