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Policing: Protests

Volume 642: debated on Monday 4 June 2018

The Home Office monitors protest threats, but the management of protests is an operational and independent matter for the police so no Home Office guidance or briefings have been issued.

Does the Minister agree that protest groups whose core aim is to disrupt legitimate business, such as meat production, should pay towards the cost of policing? Surely it cannot be right either for there to be too few police covering the protests, or for there to be fewer police elsewhere because those who are covering the protests cannot police the rest of the community.

I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and I understand how distressing it must be for a legitimate business to be on the receiving end of a campaign of disruption. I am sure that, as a good democrat, my hon. Friend would not want to do anything to undermine the principle of peaceful protest. When that crosses the line into harassment or threats to public safety, we have recourse to the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Ealing’s police have been dealing with one protest for 23 years outside our local Marie Stopes clinic. The aim of the protest is to prevent women from accessing healthcare. Although our council has now introduced a public spaces protection order, this is a national problem that requires a national solution. Will the Minister respond to the letter that 160 of us—including the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), and three Select Committee Chairs—wrote to him asking for his predecessor’s review to be published, and will he opt for our proposed solution of buffer zones? That would be an easy win for him at an early stage in his already successful career.

The hon. Lady and I have debated this matter in Westminster Hall, and we both know that there is a balance to be struck between the right to protest and ensuring that protests do not cross the line into harassment and intimidation. As she says, her local council has introduced a public spaces protection order, and we need to see how that goes. As for the review that she mentioned, it was entered into in good faith and it is ongoing.