Thank you to those who have contacted me recently about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. It is a wide ranging bill covering a wide variety of issues including protests, but also so much more.
I know that protecting our right to protest is an issue many in the constituency feel strongly about and I want to first and foremost reassure constituents that I agree that the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy.
As you will be aware, however, a national lockdown is in place. This means we must all stay at home and only leave for a small number of essential reasons as outlined in law. Everyone is required to follow these rules. It is for the police, in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether an action warrants possible criminal proceedings.
I understand the concerns raised with me regarding the restrictions; indeed, I would argue that such restrictions are difficult to accept in a democratic and free society. However, this is an extraordinary time and I do believe that the current action to stop the spread of the disease is necessary, however uncomfortable it is for us all. Thankfully, we are moving steadily through our roadmap to easing restrictions during the Spring and Summer. I absolutely understand the desire to fully reinstate our civil liberties, and I would like to make clear that as soon as it is safe to do so, this is something that I will wholeheartedly support, but in the meantime, we must follow the Prime Minister's safe and gradual roadmap out of restrictions.
That said, I know that many of my constituents feel strongly about the specific actions of the police at the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common. I did find the images from the vigil upsetting. I understand that both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister have spoken to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police about the events at Clapham Common. A comprehensive review has been announced and it is only right that the review is undertaken in order to ensure the right lessons are learnt. I do believe it is important we understand all the information regarding the circumstances of the event before we pass judgement. I will continue to monitor developments extremely closely as I know this issue is something that has impacted by constituents greatly.
More widely and beyond the current Coronavirus protest restrictions, over recent years I have been concerned by the extensive disruption that some protests have caused. In particular, stopping people getting on with their daily lives, hampering the free press, blocking access to work and transport.
For this reason, I welcome the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect. These powers will allow the police to safely manage protests where they threaten public order and stop people from getting on with their daily lives. We’re taking action to ensure the crucial balance between the fundamental right to peaceful protest and the rights of people to get on with their daily lives is maintained. To explain further, Clause 59 would change the common law offence of public nuisance and replace it with a new statutory offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”. Recent changes in the tactics employed by certain protesters, for example gluing themselves to buildings or vehicles, blocking bridges or otherwise obstructing access to buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and newspaper printing works have highlighted gaps that currently exist in our legislation. The Bill also contains vital new measures to protect women and girls, including tougher sentences for sex offenders.
Several constituents raised concerns about the scrutiny of this Bill and I want to clarify here that this is a long awaited Bill with many measures previous announced or discussed before the Bill itself was published. Most notably those within the Sentencing White Paper, published in September last year. I welcome the fact that the Second Reading debate for the Bill was spread across two days. The Bill will now move to Committee Stage, where each clause, part, and any amendments, proposals for change, to the Bill may be debated and I’m sure will be debated and scrutinised to a high level. I am aware of the concerns raised regarding the measures in the Bill on the right to protest. I am very confident that the Bill has ample time for the level of scrutiny needed, by those elected to do just that.
As I have said, the issues that have been raised in correspondence are very much in the process of being debated, reviewed and investigated. I will of course continue to follow developments closely.
Thank you again to those who have contacted me about this Bill and I hope the information above clarifies my position.