As I have made very clear, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are vital rights that I wholeheartedly support, and I can reassure 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, it is important to note that the independent Law Commission has been calling for a reform of the law on public order for many years now.
I would like to make clear that under no circumstances do I believe that protests should become violent. The rights to a peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order.
Of course, the responsibility for the maintenance of public order lies with the police, who have a range of powers to manage protests. How they deploy their powers and the tactics they use are rightly an operational matter for the police, but I am pleased that we live in a country where policing is by consent.
The issue at hand relates to the balance between the rights of a protestor and the rights of individuals to go about their daily business. There have been examples where protests have caused unjustifiable disruption and distress to other citizens. For example, some of the scenes we see from climate protesters are concerning. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill) will ensure that essential services can continue unabated by disruptive protests.
As the Home Secretary has made clear, peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. However, this is not an unqualified right and cannot be at the expense of public safety. Demonstrations on roads are disrupting thousands of people's journeys and putting the lives of road users and police officers in danger.
I am aware of the increasing use of superglue by protesters, which can frustrate and delay the police response. I welcome the work of the police to remove the glue and make arrests. I continue to follow this issue closely and support the efforts of the police to clear our roads and make appropriate arrests.
It is welcome that the Government continues to take action to protect the hard-working majority from dangerous disruption on our roads and elsewhere. I am encouraged that Ministers will table amendments to introduce new measures to the PCSC Bill, including increasing the maximum penalties for disrupting a motorway, criminalising interference with key infrastructure and new powers for the police and courts to deal with a small minority of prolific offenders.
I understand that the Government does not have any plans to introduce water cannon into UK policing. I can reassure you that the Home Office works closely with the National Police Chiefs Council on police capability and the measures that can be used in response to public disorder.
Furthermore, the measures in the PCSC Bill are not about stopping or clamping down on right to protest but ensuring the police can better manage highly disruptive protests and maintain the balance I have outlined.
It is the case that when using these powers, or existing public order powers, the police must act within the law. Importantly, the police must be able to demonstrate that their use of powers are necessary and proportionate. It is also clear that the police must act compatibly with human rights, in particular Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association).
I am aware that much has been said regarding the proposed public nuisance offence. As you may be aware, Clause 59 gives effect to recommendations made by the Law Commission in their July 2015 Report on 'Simplification of the Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency'. The report stated that the common law offence of public nuisance should be replaced by a statutory offence covering any conduct which endangers the life, health, property or comfort of a section of the public or obstructs them in the exercise of their rights. You can find the Law Commission report on this issue at the following link - https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/uploads/2015/06/lc358_public_nuisance.pdf.
Importantly, the new statutory offence of public nuisance will cover the same conduct as the existing common law offence of public nuisance.
I fully understand the strong feelings on this issue, and many were right to ensure I was made aware of these. I hope this response has outlined clearly why I am in favour of the changes in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to the management of protests.
Finally, this is a long-awaited Bill with many measures previously 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 has now moved to Committee Stage, where each clause, part, and any amendments, proposals for change, to the Bill is being debated. 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 will receive a high level of scrutiny by those elected to do just that.