Below is my recent response to constituents who contacted me about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:
Thank you for contacting me about measures in the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to protest.
I believe these measures are ill-judged, ill-thought-out and nothing short of a curtailment of the right to protest; their passage into law would be a profound mistake.
As criminal justice and policing are devolved, please note that much of this Bill will not apply in Scotland.
During the recent consideration of the Bill in the House of Commons on 5 July, I voted for an amendment that would have removed the measures relating to protests. Unfortunately, the Government successfully blocked the amendment by 354 to 273 votes.
We already have the Public Order Act 1986, along with other existing powers, to police protests. I think these strike a careful balance between the legitimate right to peaceful protest and the need to keep order.
As we know, protests tend to be noisy. Unbelievably, the Government’s Bill includes “serious unease” caused by “the noise generated by persons taking part” as a reason to warrant significantly expanded police-imposed conditions. The Bill also makes it an offence to breach police-imposed conditions where a person “ought to know” about them, potentially criminalising those unaware of the conditions in the first place.
I believe the Government’s proposals would have long-lasting consequences. The right to protest is extremely precious and one of our proudest democratic traditions. It is only right that our laws do not, and should never, seek to shield those in power from public criticism and public protest.
As this bill is aimed directly at democratic practices, it is clear this government is intent on attacking and suppressing fundamental democratic rights.
It is for these reasons, along with concerns around some of the Government’s other proposals, that I have now voted against the Bill twice. It is disappointing that the Government has undermined many of the good measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill by coupling them up with divisive and draconian measures.
Labour will be supporting any opposition amendments that come from the Lords and will seek to strengthen our democratic rights at every opportunity. I of course will not be supporting any amendments, especially those from the Government, that seek to weaken those all-important rights and practices.
I can assure you that I will be pressing the Government to drop these poorly-thought-out proposals as the Bill continues to be considered in Parliament.