18 OCTOBER 2022
Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are vital rights that I wholeheartedly support, and I can assure you that the Government is clear that the right of an individual to express their opinion and protest is a cornerstone of our democratic society.
However, there has to be a balance between the rights of a protestor and those of individuals to go about their daily business.
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.
We have seen the country’s fuel supply disrupted by protesters tunnelling under oil terminals and cutting the brakes on tankers, and police officers having to spend 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. Their recent activities, such as the blocking of the Dartford Crossing and the abhorrent defacing of a priceless exhibit at the National Gallery are an example of why such actions are necessary.
The public are rightly becoming fed up with the behaviour of a small group of individuals. Their aim is not to raise awareness of the causes they claim to represent, but to maximise disruption to other members of the public.
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 (PSCS) 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 will make it illegal to obstruct major transport works such as HS2. The Bill will also create a new criminal offence of interfering with key national infrastructure, it will extend stop and search powers for police to search for and seize articles related to protest-related activity and will introduce Serious Disruption Prevention Orders where a breach of the order would constitute a criminal offence.
I am confident these new changes to public order law will put a stop to the relentless reoffending and significant disruption caused by a selfish minority of protesters which impinge on the rights of the British public to go about their daily lives in peace.
It is disappointing that Opposition Peers elected to take the side of the out of touch few over the hard-working majority, as otherwise the measures contained in the new legislation would already be law.
I look forward to ensuring the Bill receives the thorough scrutiny it commands as it progresses through Parliament.