Rights to Protest Debate

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Department: Home Office
Monday 26th April 2021

(8 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I am pleased to contribute to this important debate as, like other Members, I have received a high number of emails about the Bill. I also dissociate myself from the derogatory comments made by the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers).

Liverpool has a long history of peaceful protests and campaigns for social justice. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is just one of a number of recent profoundly concerning moves in this Government’s calculated and authoritarian agenda to sweep aside democracy, stifle dissent and strengthen the hand of the state against the people. The recent Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021 provides immunity to state agents breaking the law in our country. Last week, we debated the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which—now in its final stages—will create an unprecedented two-tier legal system of human rights. We will soon face a voter suppression Bill that will restrict the right to vote of black, working class and other disadvantaged communities, as well as plans to limit the judicial review process to stop the public challenging the Government’s decisions in court.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill gives unprecedented powers to police and the Home Secretary to criminalise people standing up for social justice. Those powers include draconian punishment of up to 10 years in prison for anyone who poses a risk of serious annoyance or who causes a public nuisance. Those provisions strike at the heart of our democracy and the trade union movement, and they severely erode the public’s right to protest and hold the Government to account for their actions.

Working people throughout history have campaigned with protest and demonstrations for democratic rights in the face of exploitation and oppression by employers and Governments. In the last year, we have seen widespread and popular demonstrations around the Black Lives Matter movement, violence against women, environmental concerns and more. If the Bill passes into law, all those actions will come under threat.

The petition has received nearly a quarter of a million signatures, and there are more than 14,000 responses to the linked online survey, which shows the strength of people’s disgust about the content of the Bill. More than 250 civil society organisations have signed a letter warning that the Bill represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of our citizens. Those signatories span from human rights organisations to environmental campaign groups and homelessness organisations; from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights groups to trade unions representing millions of people.

The right to protest is the lifeblood of any democracy, and the provisions in the Bill will not make us safer. Instead, they strengthen the hand of the state against all who oppose or fall foul of it, and most concerningly for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, as the police will be given powers to break up so-called unauthorised encampments and needlessly push people into the criminal justice system.

Last week, campaigners forced the Government into a significant U-turn by making them exclude torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from the scope of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. That victory shows that the fight is not yet over. We must, and we will, do this again and force the Government to drop the crackdown on our rights to collectively organise against injustice.