Amendment 292Q

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 7:45 pm, 24th November 2021

I am making too many mistakes and I am sorry. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, suggested, online abuse will be thoroughly debated in the online safety Bill, when I will lay out my concerns and listen to further discussion on this.

For now, I want to focus on Amendment 292Q, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, which I am rather concerned about. Civil libertarians have warned us recently about public space protection orders increasingly being used to carve out more and more public space away from the public, effectively privatising it and excluding citizens from the public square. Therefore, I am concerned about an amendment that tries to fast-track these very orders. I was struck by the explanatory statement from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that the amendment is aimed at anti-vaccination protestors who target schools, pupils and teachers.

I, too, worry about hardcore anti-vax sentiment in society. However, in the interests of accuracy and not to allow misinformation to flourish, some protests at schools have comprised fully vaccinated parents who were specifically worried about the use of the Covid vaccine on children, a sentiment echoed by some in the JCVI at least. It would be wrong to characterise these protests as anti-vaxxers per se. Also, while the amendment was discussed in relation to anti-vaxxers, it could be used against any protest. Would other protests be targeted by the amendment?

I am rather worried about education authorities having to make politically contentious decisions about who is allowed at the school gates. I am thinking of the instances in the build-up to COP 26 when there was a lot of leafleting of schoolchildren by environmental activists advocating eco school strikes. Personally, I have qualms about encouraging political truancy but, none the less, I support their right to leaflet, and I know that many young people appreciated talking to those campaigners.

What about the scenes last year at Batley grammar school with some Muslim parents and religious activists? Not only were those protests supported by a range of politicians, the protesters’ demands were conceded to, which has led to a de facto blasphemy law being allowed to interfere in the school curriculum and a teacher being driven into hiding. I do not support those protesters’ aims at all, and have spoken out against them a lot since, but I am minded to defend their right to demonstrate—although I appreciate that it is tricky.

I suppose my question to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is: who decides which political demonstration outside a school is acceptable? Would he ban all parents’ demonstrations, or just the ones he disapproves of? These are morally and politically delicate dilemmas, and I argue that legislative changes should not be rushed through.