I have in the past been a member of Amnesty, and I care deeply about human rights and Articles 10 (freedom of speech) and 11 (freedom of assembly).
Plainly a sensible balance has to be struck. Recent protest activity from a minority of individuals utilising guerrilla tactics has caused misery to the hard-working public, disrupted businesses, interfered with emergency services, cost millions in taxpayers’ money, and put lives at risk.
Indeed, fuel supply has been disrupted by protesters tunnelling under oil terminals and cutting the brakes on tankers, and police officers have spent hours trying to unglue people’s body parts from some of the UK’s busiest and most dangerous motorways. This includes groups like Just Stop Oil, which alone has cost the police over £5.9 million in a matter of months.
The Government is therefore legislating to ensure the police have the tools they need to better manage and tackle dangerous and highly disruptive tactics, as well as prevent major transport projects and infrastructure from being targeted by protestors. This follows the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act, having received Royal Assent at the end of the last parliamentary session, which introduced a number of measures to enable the police to better manage protests.
The new Public Order Bill seeks to introduce new criminal offences of locking-on and going equipped to lock-on, and interfering with key national infrastructure. It also extends stop and search powers for police to search for and seize articles related to protest-related activity. These changes will help address the significant disruption caused by a reckless minority of protesters which impinge on the rights of the British public to go about their daily lives in peace.
There is nothing in this Bill which undermines the right of “peaceful assembly and protest” which I want to see upheld. The key word is “peaceful”. This Bill preserves and protects the right to peaceful protest, but simply allows action to be taken against anarchic behaviour such as blocking ambulances taking patients to hospital or hanging from bridges.
I have protested in the past, and I may do in the future. This Bill will allow me to do so knowing that anarchic elements who pursue extreme, selfish and dangerous tactics will not be able ruin things for everyone else.