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.
Indeed, fuel supply has been disrupted by protesters tunnelling under oil terminals and cutting the brakes on tankers, and police officers have spent 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.
The Government is therefore legislating to equip the police 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; make it illegal to obstruct major transport works such as HS2; create a new criminal offence for interfering with key national infrastructure; extend stop and search powers for police to search for and seize articles related to protest-related activity; and 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.
These measures were originally proposed during the PCSC Act’s passage through the House of Lords and were rejected by opposition Peers. It is disappointing that these Lords elected to side with the out-of-touch few over the hard-working majority, as otherwise the measures contained in the new legislation would already be law.
I understand that the Public Order Bill only relates to events and protests that are causing serious disruption to the community. As such, I am aware that once the Bill receives Royal Assent events such as organised runs, religious processions and others will still be permitted. The Government has recently tabled an amendment to the Public Order Bill in the House of Lords which has provided greater clarity on the definition of 'serious disruption' and I can assure you that measures contained in the Bill will only be used to deal with specific incidences and protests that prevent people from being able to go about their daily lives.
I am aware of an amendment tabled to the Public Order Bill during its Report Stage in Parliament which would have added farms and food production to the list of key national infrastructure. As stated by the Government, given that there are some 216,000 farm holdings and 13,560 food and drink manufacturers based in the UK, it would have significantly increased the scope of the Bill.
Ministers in the Home Office have though confirmed that they will speak with colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about whether the Government needs to look further at this aspect of the Bill.
Finally, I look forward to ensuring the Bill receives the thorough scrutiny it commands as it progresses through Parliament. Please be assured I will be following developments closely.