Jonathan Djanogly for a statutory right to protest to be set out in the Bill, thereby removing any presumption of illegality, with guidance to help both police and organisers understand their respective powers and obligations, and he calls for a separate body to set any conditions on a public protest so that police are not in the position of both setting the conditions and enforcing their own conditions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall address part 3, on public order, having joined the inquiry by the all-party group on democracy and the constitution, which reported on this part of the Bill last week in the context of the march events at Clapham common and Bristol. We found not just a lack of justification for many of these proposed new powers but—of equal concern—a lack of understanding of the current law among the relevant police.
Everyone, including the local police, knew what was going to happen in every event, and yet the local activist organisers were not only ignored, but threatened with prosecution. What should have been a quiet, well-organised vigil for a slain innocent woman became an increasingly disorganised public order situation, with police using extreme, repressive techniques. As a result, public safety at that event was diminished—first, as a result of the police’s omission to engage in advance; secondly, because of their lack of preparedness, engagement and intelligence; and, finally, because of their overreaction on the day. That is why the Bill ought to set out the basic human rights position, along the lines of that which is in new clause 29.
Does my hon. Friend agree that much of what we sadly saw at the vigil at Clapham common was a consequence of sloppily drafted covid regulations, which were given so little scrutiny by this House, let alone being understood by the police, whom we compel to enforce them?
I thank my hon. Friend, because had I had five minutes in which to speak and that was exactly the case I was going to make. What he says was proven in our inquiry. Sadly, the time allowed today permits me to give only one example of concern on these new public order powers. Clause 55 provides powers to deal with non-violent serious disruption. First, that should be stated in the Bill, not in secondary legislation. Furthermore, I am concerned that it will provide excessive powers to prevent non-violent disruption to business, in circumstances where the business concerned may not be the focus of the protest. Again, this shifts the ground towards making a presumption of illegality. In practice, working out to what extent a business can be disrupted will only make the job of the police tougher, not easier, and it will certainly make it more political in nature.
For instance, if protest that has until now been kept away from residential areas will also be removed from business areas, where does it go? Presumably, it will go to a place where it cannot be heard, but, as has been said, noise and disruption are integral to protest. As many commentators have pointed out, in practice, the police will increasingly be put under pressure from businesses to impose conditions, and they will be put under pressure from demonstrators, who will then go ahead in any case, as they did at Clapham common and in Bristol.
This clause could well undermine public confidence in the police and reduce public safety. That is why our inquiry recommended the production of guidance to help both police and organisers to understand their respective powers and obligations—that is what is in new clause 85. More fundamentally, we also need to question whether it is still appropriate that police both condition protest and enforce their own conditions. To that end, I am drawn to having something like the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, which has power to place conditions on public processions, thus leaving the police with the enforcement role that they know how to do so well.