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Prosecution Rates for Blocking Public Rights of Way

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting protesters who block public rights of way. (901760)

The Government continue to ensure that the police and prosecutors have the necessary tools to tackle the dangerous and highly disruptive tactics used by a small minority of protesters to wreak havoc on people going about their lawful daily lives. In relation to the Insulate Britain protesters, for example, the CPS has so far secured no fewer than 364 convictions in the magistrates court. It continues to take those cases to trial, which shows its resolute determination to bring those criminals to justice.

On Tuesday, the House decided to criminalise grandmothers who hold prayer cards outside abortion agencies. At the same time, quite rightly, we brought in ever more new powers to deal with Just Stop Oil protesters. The difference is that the grandmothers will go away quietly, but the other protesters will keep turning up. There is no point having more and more legislation—we have so much legislation in this area—if the police do not enforce it and the CPS and the courts do not throw the book at these people and give them long custodial sentences.

Of course, the sentencing of such individuals is a matter for our independent criminal justice system, but we have an offence of nuisance on the statute books, as well as offences such as obstructing the public highway, the powers of which have been increased to 12 months’ imprisonment. The Public Order Bill is going through Parliament, which I was rather surprised that the Opposition did not support. As I have said, we are determined that those who seek to disrupt the normal lives of citizens meet the full force of the law. That is what should happen and that is what is happening. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police, as the operationally independent authorities, are working extremely hard in close partnership to bring those people to justice and see that they receive the punishment that they richly deserve.

May I welcome the latest team of Law Officers to their places? I think I missed a stray Solicitor General in the summer recess, between the incumbent and the hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), but it is very hard to keep up these days.

We all know there are well-trusted laws to criminalise this type of behaviour, but is the Conservative party now opposed to all public protest and free speech? Reading its 2019 manifesto, I would have expected to see the Solicitor General and the Attorney General on the picket line opposing fracking, but last night they voted to allow fracking to go ahead, including, I presume, in their constituencies. If the Law Officers are prepared to break a clear promise in such a blatant and cynical way, what example does that set to others in upholding the rule of law?

The hon. Gentleman’s question is not of course on point to the question asked, but the reality of the matter is that the Labour party is embarrassed by the fact that it is on the side of the protesters, rather than those people who wish to go about their lawful duties, and that is why it did not support the Public Order Bill. The offence of public nuisance is available, it has a wide array of penalties available to it and we know the courts will use those powers. I think the Labour party ought to focus on supporting the British public, who wish to go about catching trains, driving along roads and going about their lawful business.