Speech in opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposals to criminalise ‘noisy’ protests, 28th February 2022
I stand here today in support of the historic right to protest. To protest noisily, to protest on my own and together with others. To sing in the streets and to make my views known.
One of the fundamental principles that sets this country apart from brutal authoritarian regimes is that tomorrow I could go out and join a protest and make my voice heard in a peaceful way without the fear of losing my freedom.
I support Lords Amendments 73 and 87 which relate to the Bill’s noise provision and oppose clauses 55 and 56 of the Bill which will make it easier for the police to impose conditions on marches and static protests, including giving the police power to impose conditions on a protest, public assembly or public procession if it is deemed ‘too noisy’.
Not for being violent, or causing damage – for being ‘noisy’.
The Government claim that the measures are necessary to protect the public from “unacceptable levels of disruption” caused by a very small minority of protests in recent months and years, but the reality is quite different.
This is legislation is too vague and open to abuse and left to police officers to define what is noisy.
It is not needed as there are already all the powers that the police need to direct a protest.
It will limit freedom of speech.
The threshold for this is so low. The power could be used if noise causes someone ‘alarm’ or ‘serious unease’. What does this even mean?
Protesters and the police both face an impossible task in judging the subjective impact of noise to determine whether it might breach the threshold
And there are already powers for the police it is not needed.
Police officers have been in touch with me to say that they have all the powers they need and the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights called for this to be removed stating that ‘it was not necessary in a democratic society’.
Protesters who do not comply with a police direction are already committing an offence and those convicted of not complying with a condition can be fined or imprisoned.
Opposition to part 3 of the bill now includes over 350 organisations and 800,000 members of the public.
Last week 32 environment and nature organisations – the Ramblers, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, Oxfam, Save the Children and Tearfund all oppose this Bill.
Today I even had a letter from the Women’s Institute today saying:
‘We are deeply concerned that part 3 of the bill represents a serious threat to the rights of citizens to make their views known and to ensure their voices are heard in our democracy.’
Even the WI oppose this, and they are right to.
The letter of this law, and the threat of this law will have a chilling effect on the right to protest, it will make people second guess whether they could or should, it will make organisers of protests concerned about whether they can go ahead and we will never know which protests do not happen as a result.
But I do know that our democracy will be weaker because of it.
I stand here as a woman MP because the suffragettes protested. And they protested noisily.
Indeed, I have spent three decades campaigning and joining protests on the issues I care about.
I have joined many environmental protests, protests on apartheid, international debt, protests led by Nelson Mandela, protested against Brexit and against my local children’s centre closing and my local pub.
I have marched the streets, banged many drums and chanted and sung until my voice was hoarse. In fact, I still do and last weekend I was at a protest against sewage in the River Thames.
It was always not only important to me but important for the causes I have protested about and for, for our democracy and to rightly join together with others to try to get the attention of politicians.
Even more worrying still, it comes after the Lobbying Act of 2014, the Trades Union Bill and the Elections Bill which already have and will have a chilling effect on campaigning together on issues as well as on democracy.
Too often the voices heard by the political elite are the ones with money, with influence, with access to the right clubs, the right schools, the right dinner parties.
We have to take the streets to counter this ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ kind of influencing.
We have to take to the streets to build our movements, to learn from each other, to give our individual small voices, that we sometimes doubt, actual power. Power in numbers, power in common cause and courage to take truth to power.
We have to take to the streets, not only because we must, but because – at the moment at least – we can.
So I find it completely disheartening and tragic that whilst Putin’s thugs are clamping down on peaceful anti-war protestors right now in Moscow, we are passing this unprecedented piece of legislation that attacks our historic freedom to protest.
At this crucial moment in history where the forces of democracy and freedom are being threatened by the forces of authoritarianism and thuggery, the Government should listen to the public, accept the amendments and stop this attack on the freedom of speech.