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.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 3:30, 16 June 2022

I have great respect for the experience of the hon. Member for North East Fife, and I salute her service as a police officer. It is a noble calling and she has my admiration for her career, but I am genuinely perplexed by the amendments. They are unnecessary, not least because much of what we have discussed so far and the amendments that we are putting through are about giving the police more prosecutorial powers and allowing them to get ahead of certain protest tactics and to prevent them, therefore reducing the resources required.

For example, we have discussed stop and search. We have had episodes where police officers have seen the lorries going past with the scaffolding poles sticking out of them, but are unable to stop the vehicles and search them for the equipment and have to wait until the individuals erect them. Then the height team has to be called and the unlocking team has to be called. The ability to intervene earlier would mean that we need fewer specialist teams; that we are able to deal with things much more quickly and on a preventative basis, and therefore there is likely to be less call upon resources.

Notwithstanding what the hon. Lady says, we have significant police resources at our disposal now. The last published police officer numbers figure was 142,000. The peak in 2010 was 144,000. We still have 6,000 or 7,000 to go in our recruitment, so we will be well above the previous peak when we get there. There are lots of resources there.

Obviously, police officers need to be trained properly and there need to be adequate resources to deal with public order issues, but we are acting in this debate as if the police are not already heavily engaged in public order, and as if there is not already an enormous absorption of resources. With the Just Stop Oil protests, for example, officers were drafted from Scotland to come down and assist Essex police and Warwickshire police with the policing of the protests.

We are acting as if it is the legislation that we are going to pass—I hope—that will put a demand on the police, rather than the protesters themselves, who are dragging the police officers away from their important work dealing with knife crime and burglary and robbery in our neighbourhoods. The hon. Member for Croydon Central makes much of overall crime being up; she never mentions that kinetic crime—crime in our neighbourhoods—is actually well down. As she says, fraud is up, and that adds to crime and is something that we need to address but, overall, the crimes that impact on us physically are significantly down and that is a tribute to the work that the police have been doing over the last couple of years.

The other thing I find perplexing is the unwillingness to address the urgency of the situation. I understand that on a hot afternoon, on a Thursday with a one-line Whip, it is easy to be relaxed about this, but we should be in no doubt that in recent months we have seen some extremely dangerous protest tactics: people lighting cigarettes on top of petrol tankers; strapping themselves to fuel gantries, through which millions of gallons of fuel are flowing; or digging tunnels that have been caused to collapse on contractors, bringing people’s lives into danger.

There is an urgency to what we need to put in place. I understand the desire of the hon. Member for North East Fife to have a training audit before we do anything, but I do not think the situation gives us the time to do that at our leisure. We have to act as swiftly as possibly. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with what we understand the impact is likely to be, but I ask her to withdraw the amendments on the basis that we must act urgently.

We cannot wait, given the danger that is being presented to the protesters and certainly to the police, and the disruption that the public are seeing. At this time of a cost of living crisis, with people struggling and with rail strikes and whatever we may see over the summer to come, we really cannot have these protest tactics taking place. That is why I would be keen for her to withdraw her amendments.