Late last night following some protests that took place in London Nottingham and elsewhere during the day, Priti Patel raised her comments very clearly in the Sun Newspaper. In doing so was adding to her personal resistance for people who want to protest on themes she disagrees with. This is very disturbing and it needs to be challenged. As it happened in the middle of March a lady called Samantha Hurst set out this petition on that very subject and a large group of people followed her call to Do not restrict our rights to peaceful protest. Within two days 100,000 people had signed the petition and within two weeks 235,000 people had signed it. The current number is 249,000 and shortly it will pass the 250,000 figure. As I happened I was not aware of the petition until today when I spotted the text for a debate that took place last Monday almost a week earlier than Priti Patel’s interview. As it happened she did not bother to get involved in the debate but her junior Minister Kit Malthouse did and interestingly this debate was set out by Matt Vickers who is the MP for Stockton South. It is always interesting when people who are opposed to ideas are prepared to introduce them, or at least be the people who introduce a subject they are clearly opposed to. Matt’s comments began with these words
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petition 579012, relating to right to protest.
I thank the petition creator Samantha Hurst, and all those who signed the petition, for creating this opportunity to debate what I am sure we all consider an important issue. As of 19 April, the petition had received more than 248,000 signatures from across the UK. It has attracted a lot of attention; rightly, there is a lot of concern about anything that could be perceived as interfering with the right to protest.
The petition begins by stating:
“The right to peaceful assembly and protest are fundamental principles of any democracy”.
All Members will wholeheartedly agree with and believe in that. Our history and way of life have been shaped by protests and the right of people across the country to express their opinions. That freedom must be protected at all costs.
So so far in terms of the text above I agree with Matt and with Samantha 100% and indeed the 248,000 signatories. That is why today I have signed the petition and several more people have done so which is why I think we may get to 250,000 in the next few hours. As it happens there are 189 people in Matt’s constituency which is 0.189% of his people. That is not insignificant but it is much less than in certain other constituencies. Here in Sussex where there are 16 constituencies there are two that are at the low end. These are Crawley and Bognor and Littlehampton with approximately 0.25% of people. There are four other locations which are much higher but the majority which are the other 10 locations have between 0.33% – 0.5% of their constituency. Lewes has 740 people which is 0.8% and Hove and Brighton, Kemptown have over 1,000 signatures and about 1.25% of the people. Brighton, Pavilion has nearly 2,500 signatures and that represents 2.2% of the people. The only location with more signatures is Bristol West which currently has 2.6% and 3,627 people.
Rather than carry on presenting the words from Matt who clearly disagrees with the principle, despite his first few words here are the whole words from Samantha’s petition – clearly if we can get the numbers dramatically increased we can ask people like Caroline Lucas and the MP for Bristol West, Thangam Debbonaire to try to revisit the issue again. As it happened one of Thangam’s neigbours did speak very positively about the petition and so too did Caroline in this debate that was started by Matt.
The right to peaceful assembly and protest are fundamental principles of any democracy and the proposed part of this bill that gives the police new powers to tackle disruptive peaceful protests should be removed from The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.More details.
Why is a non-violent protest regarded as disruptive? Protests are a fundamental right to our society and have been through history. It is how policies have been challenged and changed in the past. Without them, you are effectively saying nobody has the right to peacefully challenge anything. If people feel the need to protest then the government should listen and not be shutting down this legitimate way of people voicing their concerns and opinions. This is a dismantling of our civil liberties.
As it happens the Government (Home Office) did respond on 6th April with the following information. Sadly it ignores the reality of the Bill.
The public order measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill do not erode the public’s right to protest; the Government will not be removing these measures from the Bill.
The right to protest is a cornerstone of British democracy and the Government is absolutely committed to maintaining freedoms of expression and assembly. This Bill will enable the police to manage disruptive protests more effectively. The majority of protests in England and Wales will be unaffected by the proposed measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. They will not stop people from carrying out their civic right to protest and be heard.
Existing public order legislation was passed in 1986 and is no longer suitable for managing all the types of protests we experience today. We aim to ensure that legislation remains fit for purpose.
In recent years, we have seen a growing trend in protest groups using highly disruptive tactics that have a detrimental impact on the fundamental rights of others. The misery caused to millions of people by protesters gluing themselves to train carriages, blocking traffic, including emergency vehicles, and preventing newspapers from being distributed is totally unacceptable.
In a recent inspection, the independent policing inspectorate, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that the rights of protesters are sometimes prioritised over the rights of local residents, businesses, and those with opposing views, and recommended a ‘modest reset’ of the balance. This is what this Bill is designed to achieve.
The proposed measures will allow police to better manage highly disruptive protests, protecting the legitimate rights of those affected by the protests whilst remaining compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights set out that everyone has the right to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and association with others. However, these freedoms are not absolute, and restrictions may be placed for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The police will continue to be required to pay due regard to Human Rights obligations when making use of any powers to manage protests and they must be able to show that their use of powers is necessary and proportionate.
So let us see if the numbers will increase over the next few weeks?