New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: I am a little concerned about the point raised by the right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), because many, if not most, of these protesters feel that their cause is the most important thing in the world – in fact, some of them think that they are saving the world. If, therefore, they can give excuses of that sort by way of a reasonable explanation of what they are doing, is not the legislation leaving a loophole? In particular, I have in mind some previous cases where anti-nuclear protesters broke into military bases and damaged military equipment, and certain courts felt that they should be acquitted because their motives were to try to prevent nuclear war, even if, in fact, it has the opposite effect.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Priti Patel): Outcomes will be for the court to decide, but it is worth noting the numbers of arrests at recent protests: more than 4,000 with Extinction Rebellion, more than 1,000 with Insulate Britain and more than 800 with Just Stop Oil. I have already touched on the cost of policing, but there is also an associated level of criminality and criminal damage, which is why those cases have gone further.

The fourth measure that we are introducing is a new preventive court order. The serious disruption prevention order will target protesters who are determined to inflict disruption repeatedly on the public and cause serious criminal damage, which is one of the most recent disruptive features that we have been seeing. I have to say that there have also been threats to public safety, particularly at oil protests. I have recently visited some of the sites and been in touch with companies whose sites have been targeted. The threats to life and threats to local areas from the tactics being used are very serious.

For a serious disruption prevention order, an individual will have to have been convicted of two or more protest-related offences or instances of behaviour at protests that caused, or could have caused, serious disruption. Courts will have the discretion to impose any requirements and prohibitions that they deem necessary to prevent individuals from inflicting further serious disruption at protests.

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Janet Daby: [...] Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government need to recognise that noise has a way of releasing tension so that people can get their point across and be heard and recognised?

Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary): My hon. Friend is certainly right to suggest that it is an unwise Government who try to silence those who disagree with them; it is also an undemocratic Government who seek to do so.

Dr Lewis: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper: I will in due course. [...] I will give way first to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) [...]

Dr Lewis: I cannot see what these general points about the record of individual Ministers have to do with the substance of the Bill. What does have to do with the substance of the Bill is the difference between the right to protest peacefully within the rules and the right to insist on repeatedly bellowing a message – on and on and on –irrespective of the fact that other people have heard it and now want to exercise their right to go about their normal life. If I had insisted on intervening on the right hon. Lady when she was not allowing me to do so, that would be the parallel with the sort of abuse these measures are designed to stamp out. I obey the rules, and so should protesters.

Yvette Cooper: I do not think this is about bellowing; I think this is about serious offences and the committing of crimes.


Dr Lewis: I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me a second bite of the cherry. I fear I have to confess that I am possibly the only Member here today who was actually arrested once – for taking part in a counter-demonstration 40 years ago, when we played the national anthem in public against a group of protesters against the Falklands taskforce, which was embarking to the south Atlantic.

The point that I am trying to get over to the right hon. Lady with the use of the words “bellowing” or indeed “incessant bellowing” is this: when the huge pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear demonstrations took place, everybody stopped and allowed each other to have their protest; and then the protest was over, and that was that. The idea that the same people could go on protesting day after day after day without being interfered with by the police, either for obstruction or causing a public nuisance, is ridiculous. What will she do to defend the right of other people to go about their normal lives once the protest has been made but the protesters will not stop?

Yvette Cooper: There are two different issues: there are issues in respect of the kinds of protests that might cause serious disruption to the vital public infrastructure that we all depend on, but there may also be protests that, to be honest, might be a bit annoying but do not actually disrupt anybody at all. In a democracy, we should recognise that even though the right hon. Gentleman and I may think that the world should move on, if people have strong views, they should be able to express them.

There should be a shared understanding across the House –

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Stewart Hosie: Clause 2, “Offence of being equipped for locking on”, says:

“A person commits an offence if they have an object with them…with the intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with the commission”

of the offence of locking on. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if somebody has a heavy bicycle chain and padlock to secure their motorbike, which can be used in the commission of locking on, they should be made a criminal?

Danny Kruger: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The fact is that going equipped to commit an offence is a criminal offence in itself. We are creating a new offence here and it is necessary to provide that preventive measure as well. The Bill allows the police to take action in a dynamic and fast-flowing situation to search and to prevent the commission of a crime, so I support the measure.

Dr Lewis: As someone who, for decades, has gone around with a heavy chain and padlock to secure my motorcycle, I have never found myself in a situation where I was carrying that device but did not have my motorcycle with me, so hon. Members should think about that. However, what my hon. Friend is explaining so lucidly has been thought of before. To return to the anti-nuclear protests, there was even a term for it – NVDA, which is non-violent direct action. It is not violent, but it is not really peaceful, because it is deliberately breaking the law. I think that is the distinction that he is correctly trying to draw between that and peaceful legitimate protest.

Danny Kruger: I thank my right hon. Friend very much for his intervention. He is absolutely right. [...]