Sir Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend is speaking first in the debate, so I would like to give him an opportunity to anticipate an argument, with which I have considerable sympathy, that we are going to hear urged against him. I refer to the fact that we have seen in other countries, particularly the United States, loud and noisy protests outside abortion clinics and they are what has undoubtedly led to this movement for zones. Will he confirm that if his amendment goes through, it will not, in any way, affect the ability of the law to prevent women from being genuinely harassed when they go to abortion clinics?
[Andrew Lewer: That is an extremely important part of this amendment – it makes sure that those protections are very much still in place, as indeed they already are under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Censorship is a notoriously slippery slope. It might not be our thoughts that are being criminalised today, but we should be careful not to open the door to that happening tomorrow to other opinions that people might hold about something else. ...]
Sir Julian Lewis: Surely the point that we have to be careful about is the use of words – which the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), whom I regard as a personal friend, did use – such as “impede”. Thinking and praying is not impeding. Actually shouting, livestreaming and doing offensive things to people who are going to have a procedure is impeding. If I understand correctly the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), he is talking only about things that do not impede. I think that is right, and that is the only basis on which I could vote for his amendment.
Sir Julian Lewis: Will the Minister confirm something for the sake of clarity? In the past, major peaceful demonstrations such as anti-nuclear demonstrations have blocked roads, but it was done with the permission of the police. That would continue, would it not?
[The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp): Yes, it would. My right hon. Friend pre-empts my next point, which I think an Opposition Member raised earlier. Where a protest has been authorised and licensed in advance by the police, of course these provisions will not be engaged. Protests such as the Iraq war protests aimed at the former Labour Government would, of course, be licensed. Protests against this Government would no doubt be licensed as well and could properly be held. ...]