Clause 28 - Extent, commencement and short title

Part of Public Order Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 16 June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 3:30, 16 June 2022

I agree with the hon. Member. The COP26 policing effort of last year involved mutual aid. That involved, for example, training in Scots law for officers coming from England and Wales, so that created an additional training requirement as well. We have to think about those things. As for my own police experience, my specialism was in sexual offences; I was a sexual offences-trained officer, but from a general perspective, I policed football matches, marches and local demonstrations, and interpreted the law accordingly.

Returning to the evidence given by Chief Constable Noble, the chief constable for Staffordshire, if his numbers are reflective of England and Wales as a whole and assuming that no more officers need to be trained—although I have illustrated why I do not think that is the case—over 3,000 officers across England and Wales will have to be removed from duties and trained in these new laws. That is equivalent to about 125 lost days of frontline policing in local communities, and once those people are fully trained, they will need to be diverted from their duties to police the offences set out in the Bill.

It is logical to think that if it takes 25 officers, currently, to police a protest—I am not putting a number on how many people might be there—through the additional offence of being equipped to lock on, and opening the door to extensive stop and search, many more officers may be required. As I said on Tuesday, if we start arresting protesters, we will run out of police officers before we run out of protesters. I also remember Chief Superintendent Dolby talking about the fact that part of their safety techniques in dealing with protesters involves five police officers to arrest a single protester, so the Minister can quickly see how the odds shift.

Nearly 47,000 incidents of knife crime were reported to the police in England and Wales in 2021. That is 128 every day. There were nearly 185,000 sexual offences —more than 500 each day. Given the choice between having police officers responding to those calls, filling in paperwork for SDPOs or stopping and searching protesters, I think I know what I and the public would choose. In a recent YouGov poll, more than half of respondents stated that they do not have any confidence in the police to deal with crime. Traffic offences were the only crime that more people than not thought the police were handling with enough rigour.

I also know what the police would choose. That is because our witnesses told us, and because it is set out in the HMICFRS report. Accepting that protests do need policing, all the evidence tells us that best practice requires strong, pre-existing community relations, which simply cannot be established by constantly lifting police officers in and out of the day job and abstracting them to other duties.

I would hope that these amendments would just require the Government to properly look at how the police are resourced. Government Members want this legislation to be successful, but it will not be if the police are under-resourced. Again, Sir Peter Fahy referenced the fact that, in relation to the response to protest, the police could be viewed as incompetent. I am sure that those on the Government Benches would not like that to be the outcome of this legislation.

The Minister heard the same evidence that I did, and he will have heard the same significant concerns about resourcing. Will we get to a position where, in all areas, police officers have been called to deal with protests, and where a demonstration is more strongly policed than crime? The police cannot be given more work and left to struggle. I would argue that all our communities deserve more. I am potentially looking to withdraw my amendment, but I would be happy to discuss, constructively, with the Minister, how we ensure that capability is there.