The coronation was a once-in-a-generation moment, a moment of national pride and a moment when the eyes of the world were upon us. It was a ceremony with roots over a millennium old, marking a renewed dedication to service by His Majesty the King in this new reign. The coronation went smoothly and without disruption. I thank the 11,500 police officers who were on duty alongside 6,500 military personnel and many civilians.
Today, Commissioner Mark Rowley has outlined the intelligence picture in the hours leading up to the coronation. It included more than one plot to cause severe disruption by placing activated rape alarms in the path of horses to induce a stampede and a separate plot to douse participants in the procession with paint. That was the context: a once in a generation national moment facing specific intelligence threats about multiple, well-organised plots to disrupt it. The focus of the police was, rightly, on ensuring that the momentous occasion passed safely and without major disruption. That was successful. All plots to disrupt the coronation were foiled by a combination of intelligence work and proactive vigilant policing on the ground. I would like to thank the police and congratulate them on that success.
At the same time, extensive—[Interruption.] Wait for it. At the same time, extensive planning ensured that protests could take place. That was also successful. Hundreds of protesters exercised their right to peaceful protest, including a large group numbering in the hundreds in and around Trafalgar Square. Where the police reasonably believed they had grounds for arrest, they acted. The latest information is that 64 arrests were made. I will not comment on individual cases or specific decisions, but the arrests included a person wanted for sexual offences, people equipped to commit criminal damage with large quantities of paint, and arrests on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance, often backed by intelligence. The Met’s update last night included regret—to use its word—that six people arrested could not join the hundreds protesting in Trafalgar Square and nearby. The Met confirmed that those six people have now had their bail cancelled with no further action.
The police are operationally independent and it is primarily for the Mayor of London to hold the Met to account, but let us be clear: at the weekend officers had to make difficult judgments in fast time, in a highly pressured situation against a threatening intelligence picture. I thank the police for doing that, for delivering a successful a coronation and for enabling safe, peaceful protests.
On Saturday, millions of people greatly enjoyed the coronation ceremony. Others, who wish to see a republic, chose to protest peacefully, as is their right in a democratic society. Protests in Glasgow and Edinburgh went off without incident. In London, however, protesters who had gone to considerable lengths to liaise with the Metropolitan police in advance of their protest to clear both the nature and the location of the protest, were detained, searched, arrested and held in the cells from 7 am until after 11 pm. All six of those arrested have now received letters saying there will be no further action taken against them. There were a number of other arrests of concern, but because there are no legal proceedings in respect of the six, and therefore no reason for Parliament not to begin today to address what happened to them, I will focus on them.
Graham Smith, the leader of the group Republic, tells me that the arresting police showed absolutely no interest in contacting the liaison team and seemed focused on luggage straps holding placards together, which they said might be used to lock on. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that public authorities, including the police, are under a negative obligation not to interfere with the right to protest unlawfully and a positive obligation to facilitate peaceful protest, so why did police arrest protesters who had gone to such great lengths to clear their protest in advance, and why did they do so on grounds that they now admit were not sufficient to charge them and without following up with the liaison team? What do citizens need to do now to clear a protest in advance?
On the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme, Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said that what happened has to be seen in the context of media, political and public pressure on the police. He referred to what he called
“some pretty direct and personal feedback”
brought to bear on Sir Mark Rowley before the Home Affairs Committee on 26 April by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson)—I have notified the hon. Member that I would mention him, Mr Speaker. So, was political pressure brought to bear on the police? Sir Peter also said that the legislation, the Public Order Act 2023 and the policing Act, is very poorly defined and far too broad. That was what Opposition MPs warned of, particularly regarding offences such as locking on. Will the Minister review the legislation and set up an inquiry into what happened to those six citizens on Saturday?
I have the greatest respect for the hon. and learned Member and take her questions seriously. She asked about pressure; the police are operationally independent and make decisions independent of Government. Ministers received a briefing, particularly as the intelligence picture escalated in the 24 hours before the event. The Mayor of London also received briefings, as did the shadow Home Secretary on Friday, I believe. There is nothing out of the ordinary in Ministers receiving briefings, not least because the police and other security and civilian agencies need to co-ordinate. The House has just debated and scrutinised the legislation at some length, and there are no plans to change it.
On the six people arrested and the question of protests more generally, I repeat the point I made in my initial answer: hundreds of people exercised their right to protest peacefully. As the hon. and learned Lady said, that was done following engagement with the Republic protest group. The fact that hundreds of people were able to protest peacefully is testament to the right of peaceful protest.
I do not want to get into the details of the six people because, frankly, neither the hon. and learned Lady nor I has all the facts. But clearly, when the arrests were made, the police reasonably believed that there were grounds to do so. I emphasise again that several hundred people were able to peacefully protest on that day, as is their absolute right.
Nobody should question that it was a difficult time and a difficult task for the Metropolitan police. Nobody should question that, to a large extent, they carried it out brilliantly and gave us a marvellous occasion this weekend. That being said, within one week of the Public Order Act entering the law, and in its first serious use, we end up with the head of the Met having to apologise to people who were wrongfully arrested. In the event that the Home Affairs Committee reviews this matter and comes back with recommendations on how to change guidelines and perhaps laws, will the Home Office take that on board?
I caution my right hon. Friend against asserting that those people were wrongfully arrested. That is a legal threshold and it has not been established that it was met. On the issue of testing the legislation, I draw the House’s attention to the fact that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, which took place against an intelligence backdrop that suggested that there were multiple, well-organised plots to cause serious disruption. Had they proceeded, they would have been taken very seriously by this House and been seen around the world. I do not think one can infer from what happened at the weekend that the recently passed legislation is defective.
The coronation of King Charles III involved the largest police effort ever undertaken. I thank the thousands of police officers who ensured that so many people were able to enjoy such a historic occasion without incident. Rightly in our democracy, the police had operational responsibility and had to take decisions at pace and under pressure. Rightly in our democracy, we have scrutiny and accountability where problems arise. Hundreds of people who chose to do so were able to protest. As the Minister stated, some plans to disrupt were foiled, but serious concerns have been raised about some of the arrests.
The six people from Republic were arrested under new powers in the Public Order Act for
“being equipped for locking on”,
which came into force two days before the coronation. They have now been released with no further action, and the Met has expressed regret. The Minister knows that I have warned him and his colleagues repeatedly that the new powers mean that people might be arrested for the wrong thing, such as carrying in their bag a bike lock or, as in this case, some luggage straps. Many former police officers have warned that the powers put the police in a difficult position and risk undermining the notion of policing by consent.
The arrests raise questions that we want answers to. Why did the arresting officers not know or take into account that Republic had been working with the police? Why were those people held for 16 hours? Does the Minister support the Mayor of London’s review, so that Parliament can see the lessons to be learned? Will the Minister ask the inspectorate and the College of Policing to monitor and review the new public order powers and report back to Parliament? Will he support the recommendations in the inspectorate’s report for more specific training on public order for our officers?
This weekend was a celebration, and one that could not have happened without the dedication of our police service. But just as important to our British democracy as our constitutional monarchy is our historic model of policing by consent, trust and our freedom to protest peacefully. It is our job as Members of Parliament to come up with laws that solve problems rather than creating them. I urge the Minister to learn the lessons and take responsibility for protecting that careful balance between the police and the people.
I agree with the shadow Minister that it is important to maintain the balance to which she refers, but as I said in my opening and subsequent responses to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the right to protest was, for those hundreds of people, protected. The protests did happen, and indeed there is no question, in principle or in any legislation, but that the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct. In recent months, however, we have seen that right being stretched into acts that were deliberately disruptive, when people have sought to close down the M25 and to close down the streets of London, not so much as an act of protest as to deliberately inconvenience the public. That is where we draw the line.
At the weekend, broadly the same test was applied. Peaceful protest is, of course, absolutely fine, but activity that was designed to seriously disrupt the coronation—including potentially causing a stampede of horses or covering the ceremonial procession in paint—was not acceptable. I think we can agree that this was a unique situation. The police had to make very difficult judgments and decisions in a very short time, against an extremely threatening intelligence picture, and the facts were often unclear at the time. I think all of us here should accept that those are difficult decisions. While it is for the police to answer operationally, I think that if they were here, they would say that they acted lawfully at the time to the best of their reasonable belief. However, I do want to put on record that the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct, and I am sure that no one on either side of the House would ever seek to undermine it.
Does the Minister agree that, as a matter of law, the police are entirely within their rights to arrest individuals in order to prevent a crime? That happens somewhere in the country pretty much every day. Obviously, the police do not wait until a crime is committed—until the active offence is committed—before acting. If they know from intelligence received that an armed robbery was about to take place, they do not have to wait until it is taking place before acting, and the same applies here. Does the Minister agree that the police did an excellent job in very difficult circumstances? This is a Government who support the police; we will leave the Opposition parties to support those who do not follow the law.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the Public Order Act is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and it is deeply disappointing to hear both Labour and the Conservatives make it clear that they are wedded to legislation that undermines our rights to protest. Graham Smith, the CEO of Republic, has said:
“These arrests are a direct attack on our democracy and the fundamental rights of every person in the country… The right to protest peacefully in the UK no longer exists. Instead we have a freedom to protest that is contingent on political decisions made by ministers and senior police officers.”
That is entirely unacceptable.
In the statement that he has issued, Sir Mark Rowley said:
“Having now reviewed the evidence and potential lines of enquiry we do not judge that we will be able to prove criminal intent beyond all reasonable doubt.”
So these arrests were not necessary. Sir Mark also said:
“I support the officers’ actions in this unique fast moving operational context.”
That suggests that there is no certainty that if similar circumstances occurred, the same thing would not happen again. Will the Minister tell me what protections people can expect when they, in good faith, engage with authorities before protests to prevent this kind of thing from happening, only to find it happening again, and does it concern him that a journalist was among those arrested?
It is entirely inaccurate to say that the right to protest does not exist. As I pointed out, hundreds and hundreds of people did peacefully and lawfully protest on coronation day. They did so unmolested and unimpeded, which goes to show that the idea that the right to protest does not exist anymore is absolute nonsense. What does not exist is the right to cause disruption to other members of society. That is what our laws seek to prevent.
In relation to the Human Rights Act 1998, and particularly articles 10 and 11 of the European convention on human rights, the Public Order Act 2023 has a section 19(1)(a) statement on the face of it, saying that legal analysis finds the Act is compatible. If the hon. Lady studies articles 10 and 11, particularly the second paragraphs, she will see that qualified rights are able to be balanced against the right of democratically elected legislatures to legislate to prevent criminal activity, including disruption.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the Metropolitan police did a great job? They took the necessary action to protect the public during a unique state event. We have heard not one word from Opposition Members—and will not hear anything in what is yet to come—that provides evidence to the contrary. It is reassuring that, for once, the Metropolitan police acted on the side of the hard-working public who want to have the opportunity to enjoy events, rather than being the victims of left-wing protest groups.
I add my thanks to those involved in the arrangements for the coronation and keeping the public safe. However, the Home Affairs Committee will no doubt want to look at the policing of protests at the coronation and, in particular, the specific provisions in the Public Order Act 2023, brought in just last week and used to arrest members of Republic.
We have heard a lot about the operational independence of the police this afternoon. Will the Minister explain why on 27 April the Home Office’s police powers unit sent an official letter to Republic, ahead of the coronation? Republic has no history of its members locking on. How many other organisations and groups received such letters? On what basis were they sent those letters? Will that practice now be the norm for the Home Office?
I do not believe that any such letters were sent in my name, so I cannot comment on who may have received them. I suspect, although I am not certain, that those letters related to clarifying the new statutory provisions that were recently brought into effect through the Public Order Act 2023. The operational independence of the police is important, because Parliament legislates and it is then for the police to apply those laws without fear or favour, and they did so on this occasion.
There has clearly been a misunderstanding, despite the police doing a brilliant job, and that is why there has been an apology. But would the Minister not expect that misunderstanding to have been resolved well within the 16 hours for which the six were incarcerated? Surely there should be some questions asked about that.
Again, exactly what happened is an operational matter for the police. Clearly, last Saturday the police had a lot going on in central London, policing the largest public event we have ever had in our country’s history. I do not know—in fact, no Member of this House knows or can know—precisely what inquiries were being undertaken while the decision ultimately to release those individuals was taken. Complaint processes are available if any individual member of the public wants to follow them. They are available to anyone who is arrested or encounters the police. If someone feels that the police have behaved unreasonably in a particular situation, they are able to use those complaint procedures.
Is it not the case that the arrests of peaceful protestors at the weekend were not an aberration, but exactly what the Public Order Act is designed to do—to clamp down on legitimate peaceful protest, which should be a basic democratic right in this country?
No, that is not the purpose of the Public Order Act, which is designed to prevent people from deliberately disrupting the daily lives of their fellow citizens, as we have seen with the locking-on on public highways, which causes enormous traffic jams that stop people getting to hospital, getting their children to school and getting to work—we have seen 10-mile tailbacks on the M25. We had specific intelligence that people planned to disrupt the coronation by creating a stampede of horses and by covering the ceremonial procession in paint. The Public Order Act is designed to stop such disruption while, of course, allowing peaceful protest. That is its purpose.
Given the heat of this debate, I must add, as a Greater London MP, that it is complete and utter nonsense to say that people can no longer peacefully protest in London. I attended my first protest a couple of weeks ago, against the Mayor of London’s disgraceful ultra low emission zone, and we were left to protest peacefully. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, over the weekend, the 11,500 police officers and armed forces personnel did an excellent job of policing and keeping the public safe during the fantastic coronation celebrations?
My hon. Friend puts it very well, and I join him in opposing Sadiq Khan’s appalling ULEZ idea.
The police and armed forces did a great job of policing the coronation. Between the Metropolitan police and Thames Valley police, who policed the Windsor concert the following day, almost 30,000 officers were deployed at one time or another during the relevant period. I think 11,500 officers were deployed on the day of the coronation itself, in addition to 6,500 armed forces personnel. There were 312 protected people who came to this country from around the world, and we deployed almost 1,000 close protection officers. All those officers did a fantastic job in a moment of national pride for all of us.
I am a little surprised that the Minister apparently accepts, without question, the proposition that the Metropolitan police now apologises to people who have been lawfully arrested. Even by his standards, that is something of a novel departure.
The Public Order Act has given police officers broad and sweeping powers, which in turn require the police to exercise discretion and judgment with no context or guidelines. If there is no change to this legislation, such things will keep happening. There should have been better pre-legislative scrutiny of the Act, but there was not. Will he now commit to allowing post-legislative scrutiny?
Many pieces of legislation require on-the-ground interpretation, whether by the police or subsequently by the courts in case law. Indeed, the new Act contains much more precise definitions of what constitutes serious disruption, which was previously extremely ambiguous. The police and others had called for that clarity. Obviously, the House is welcome to conduct scrutiny whenever it wants. It is standard for new legislation to be subject to post-legislative scrutiny some time later, but in many areas this new Act, which recently received Royal Assent, provides additional specificity, clarity and precision that were previously lacking.
The Minister rightly said that hundreds of people protested against the once-in-a-generation coronation. Hundreds of thousands of people were present to celebrate the coronation, and millions in the United Kingdom and around the world were watching. I am getting pretty fed up with the police apologising all the time. Ordinary police officers who do a decent job, as they did on Saturday, find their morale at rock bottom when, after being instructed by the Metropolitan police on 3 May that
“We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration”,
someone apologises because they did just that.
I recommend that Members on both sides of the House read the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s article in today’s Evening Standard robustly setting out the background and defending the police’s approach to the coronation. My hon. Friend refers to the expression of regret that those six people were unable to join the hundreds of others who protested peacefully. Those hundreds of others were exercising their right to peaceful protest, as they are perfectly entitled to do. It is worth mentioning in passing, as he did, that they were in a tiny, tiny minority, but that does not undermine their right to protest if they so choose.
This is obvious to anyone who looks at it; we take a piece of draconian legislation, such as the Public Order Bill, we rush it through this place, via an unelected Head of State, who gave it consent, and we hand it to a failing institution such as the Metropolitan police, who then decapitate the leadership of the republican protest movement. What do we expect? This piece of legislation is doing exactly what it says on the tin: it is stopping peaceful protest.
That is absolute nonsense. This legislation is preventing disruption to the lives of our fellow citizens. I wholly repudiate the suggestion that it was rushed through; there was extensive ping-pong, which I do not recall the hon. Gentleman turning up to, although he is so concerned about scrutiny. As for his comment about the process for a Bill gaining Royal Assent, I will not dignify that with a response.
I cannot think of a greater waste of time than an inquiry into this matter. The police did a fantastic job over the weekend. They took actions under pressure, having to make decisions quickly to ensure that a great national event went ahead without any kind of negative event—I am glad that that happened. Does the Minister share my concerns that some Just Stop Oil protesters think they might have found a loophole in the Public Order Act and can get away with slow marching? Will he assure me that that is not the case and that we will not continue to see Just Stop Oil protests cause havoc in our towns?
Just Stop Oil has adapted its tactics since it blocked the M25 in November, causing 10-mile tailbacks, after which a number of arrests were made, with some of the people involved then being remanded in custody. It has changed to these slow walking tactics, but the police are applying cumulative disruption tests to those, using section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 and making notices under that Act. Following recent disruptions in the past 10 to 14 days, the roads have typically been cleared within 10 minutes, which I am sure Londoners, my constituents and others, will welcome strongly.
The Minister just said that the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct and no one would seek to undermine it, but I put it to him that that is exactly what his Government have just done: Ministers are criminalising protest. Just because some people were allowed to protest, that does not mitigate against the fact that a number were not. Let me just correct him: those who were arrested and kept in were not causing an obstruction, which is presumably why the police went to apologise to them afterwards. Does this not show that the powers the Government have handed to the police are dangerously broad and liable to gross misuse, as many of us have pointed out? I urge him again to review this legislation urgently.
I do not accept that analysis. The powers are designed to prevent disruption where it might occur or where it is occurring. That includes things such as locking on, which we have seen cause huge disruption on the streets of London. The law allows peaceful protest where it is not disruptive and where people do not plan to cause disruption, which is why hundreds and hundreds of people, albeit a tiny minority of the total there, were able to protest peacefully. Where someone is preparing to commit or is committing a criminal offence, such as disrupting a procession, it is reasonable for the police to act.
As the secretary of the National Union of Journalists’ parliamentary group throughout the passage of the public order legislation, I asked for and was given assurances by Ministers that it would not impede upon journalistic freedoms. Yet, on Saturday at least one journalist was stopped and searched—nothing was found. He was handcuffed, he had his credentials torn off him and he was then detained for 16 hours. He is a member of Bectu and a professional film maker. Will the Minister investigate why the assurances this House was given on media freedom were not adhered to?
The new legislation contains a specific clause, added during its passage, protecting journalistic freedoms. An incident took place in Hertfordshire a few months ago, in November, I believe, where a journalist was incorrectly arrested and the relevant police force, Hertfordshire, apologised subsequently. The Government then legislated in the recent Bill, with a specific clause protecting journalistic freedom. I do not want to comment on an individual operational matter, not least because neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I have the full facts. As I said, if an individual or others feel that they were not fairly or properly treated, there is a complaints process they can go through. Parliament, however, has made its view clear.
Does the Minister agree with the former Greater Manchester police chief, Sir Peter Fahy, who has extensive experience of public order policing, who previously said that the Public Order Act was
“poorly defined and far too broad”
and who added this weekend that we now
“see the consequences of that”?
The Minister has repeatedly used the example of hundreds being able to protest as evidence that our right to protest has not been undermined. But when people can be pre-emptively arrested on the flimsiest of pretences and then thrown in a police cell for the best part of 24 hours, how can he reassure people who are attending a protest, or even walking near a protest, that the same thing will not happen to them? How can he claim that our right to protest is not being undermined by his Government?
I have mentioned the ECHR compatibility, particularly in relation to articles 10 and 11. Before the police can arrest anyone, they have to have reasonable grounds for suspicion that an offence has been committed. Obviously, individual operational decisions—in this case relating to six people—are something that can be looked into subsequently if that is necessary, but the Public Order Bill, as passed by Parliament, does nothing to criminalise lawful protest. As I have said, hundreds and hundreds of people did exercise exactly that right, although they were in a tiny minority.
There is no doubt that the police have a difficult job in making swift on-the-ground judgments, but their job is made harder when they do not act in a consistent manner. I had an eyewitness account that a protester was allowed to go in among the republicans unchallenged, jostling them and acting in a provocative manner right in front of the police for about 10 minutes before the police intervened. There was no doubt that that was disruption, but the police did not act for quite a long time. Does the Minister agree that that sort of thing creates the impression that some types of protest are more equal than others?
I have not heard that particular account before. It is not really appropriate for me to comment on something that I have just heard about on the Floor of the Chamber. However, I have already drawn the attention of the House to the procedures that are available to members of the public. I do appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s opening comment that the police had a very difficult job. They were under enormous pressure; they were dealing with a number of intelligence threats that I outlined at the beginning of my response. Things were moving very quickly. Often the picture was confusing, and often things had to be done in a rush, so I do appreciate his acknowledgment of the very difficult job that the police had to do, but I think they rose to the occasion
I voted against the Public Order Bill at every stage, but as a former police officer I highlighted, from Committee onwards, the need for training to give police officers the capacity and capability to exercise their powers so that those dynamic pressures that the Minister has just referred to can be dealt with appropriately. How many officers, at what rank, were trained in relation to this legislation prior to attending the coronation on Tuesday, and what did the training consist of?
The overall gold commander at the event is one of the Metropolitan police’s most experienced public order commanders—at the rank of commander. Many officers have had specialist public order training in the course of their career, but training must keep up with legislative changes. The College of Policing and others will be issuing the relevant guidance to ensure that that is addressed.
Does the Minister agree that the Metropolitan police’s expression of regret regarding the arrest of six anti-monarchy protesters this weekend is an admission of guilt, and does he accept that that is a chilling violation of basic democratic rights that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Public Order Act should be immediately repealed?
The Minister has a real brass neck. The Tory Government brought in this draconian legislation, yet he tells us that the police are operationally independent of the Government, as if this is nothing to do with their actions. Human Rights Watch has said that what we saw was,
“something you would expect to see in Moscow not London.”
Given that reportedly only 6% of those arrested for protesting against the coronation were charged with anything at all, does the Minister agree that the new legislation is nothing but an advert for how to impede people’s right to protest?
With great respect, that is nonsense. Comparing the policing of the coronation with Putin’s Russia, where opposition figures are incarcerated and people such as Alexei Navalny are in prison and suffering the most appalling and inhumane treatment, is an insult to the appalling treatment they are suffering and not at all respectful to those being oppressed in Russia. Hundreds of people peacefully protested against the monarchy—they were a tiny minority, but they did protest—and the police only made arrests, 64 in total, where they had reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence had been committed or was in preparation. If anyone feels the arrest they experienced was not proper or appropriate, there are mechanisms they can use to complain and to seek redress.
I appreciate that this was an exceptionally challenging weekend for the police, but I am particularly concerned about the arrest and detention of members of the Westminster Night Stars team, volunteers out in central London helping to keep people safe. Communication between local authorities, the police and other agencies is critical. Can the Minister assure me that he will find out what went wrong in that communication to ensure that lessons are learned, so that volunteers who are out supporting the police in their work do not get arrested because of a breakdown in such communication?
I agree that communication between local authorities and the police is important and that that join-up needs to happen. The question the hon. Lady asks is probably best directed via the police and crime commissioner for the Mayor of London, who I am sure will be happy to take up the query.
No one will wish the new commissioner of the Met success more than London MPs, whose constituents have suffered a catalogue of institutional harm under his predecessors, but his statement in the Evening Standard today is political somersaulting from start to finish, including justifying arrests because celebrating crowds “applauded and cheered” them. Is that not a direct result of the undue pressure put on the commissioner by a Conservative party that increasingly picks and chooses when it follows the rule of law?
I do not accept that. I have already pointed out the operational independence of the police and I have said that briefings by the Met on the coronation were received not just by Home Office Ministers, but also by the shadow Home Secretary and the Mayor of London, all of which was completely proper.
The whole world could see on Saturday the effects of the public order legislation on policing, trying to prevent legitimate peaceful protest in a democracy. Will the Minister reply in a considered and reasonable way to say that he will undertake a full review of the operations of the Public Order Act thus far on preventing peaceful protest in this country, as an example of how a democracy is prepared to admit it has got something wrong and change it?
There is an unwritten law in Scotland that the best policing is carried out with the consent of the public. What is it about the Met that means that the policing of public events is heavy-handed and often completely wrong in its tone? When that becomes part of the policing approach, does that not undermine public confidence in the police itself? Will the Minister review urgently the basic training needs at the Met, and does this Government diktat through the Public Order Act not get in the way of good policing?
Training is very important, as the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) mentioned a little while ago, but, once again, I do not think we saw any trampling on the right to protest. We saw hundreds of people exercising their right to protest. I urge the House to keep in mind that this was a unique, once-in-a-generation event. The eyes of the world were upon us and there were numerous intelligence reports, which I was briefed on and perhaps the shadow Home Secretary was briefed on too, indicating well-developed plots to disrupt the coronation. The policing response needs to be considered in that context.
Following the arrests of peaceful pro-democracy campaigners on the route of the coronation on Saturday, the Security Minister’s claim that the weekend would “showcase our liberty” has fallen flat. Can the Minister explain why the Home Office, and not the Metropolitan police, wrote what protest groups have referred to as “intimidatory” letters about the public order powers, and will he provide a comprehensive explanation of why journalists are now being arrested when section 17 of the Public Order Act prohibits it?
As I said earlier, those letters were not, as far as I can recall, sent in my name. They may well have been attempting to be helpful by clarifying recently enacted legislation that some groups may not have been familiar with; it is not unreasonable to try to ensure that relevant parties know when the law changes. On journalistic freedom, as the hon. Lady says, this House—supported by the Government—voted particularly and specifically to protect journalists, and that is the right thing to do. If anyone feels that that has not been properly implemented, complaints procedures are available.
Among those arrested on Saturday was Rich Felgate, a documentary filmmaker, who identified himself as a journalist. He claims that a police officer ripped off his press credentials, and that he was then arrested and detained. The Minister will know that Rich was one of four journalists and filmmakers who were arrested and detained in or near my constituency in Hertfordshire last November. It is incomprehensible to me that after the outcry last November, police forces can keep getting the basics wrong when it comes to protecting the freedom of the press and the right of journalists to do their jobs. Will the Minister look again at the legislation and consider the proposal for a statutory duty on police to facilitate peaceful protest and for a code of conduct so that the police and protesters know where they stand?
As I have said two or three times already, the new Public Order Act contains a section—the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) suggested a moment ago that it was section 17—specifically to protect journalistic freedom. Of course, that came after the incident in Hertfordshire. If there are particular individual cases where the new law, and indeed the wider ECHR and common law right for journalists, is not being applied, there are complaints mechanisms. But this House, supported by the Government, has legislated specifically to protect journalistic freedoms.
Given what happened to the six individuals on Saturday who were clearly not involved in any plot to use rape alarms or paint to disrupt the coronation—otherwise, why would the police have apologised to them—what confidence can the organisers of any future protest have that what they are told in advance planning meetings with the police can be relied upon on the day?
Without wanting to go into too many specifics, I believe that the police assessment at the time did not relate in this particular case to rape alarms or paint but to locking-on equipment. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is clear, but of course, many things are clear with hindsight; they are sometimes less clear in the heat of a live operation. In terms of assurance on the right to protest, the Public Order Act does not in any way infringe or undermine the right to protest. Indeed, we saw on Saturday quite a reasonably sized group—a few hundred people—protesting at the coronation event without any impediment, and these days we see Just Stop Oil protesters protesting almost daily, so there is evidence in front of us showing us how the right to protest unfolds on a near daily basis.
On Saturday, we saw Metropolitan police officers pre-arresting people whose only offence was to want an elected Head of State. Despite their planned peaceful protests being pre-authorised, UK citizens who had committed no crime whatsoever were taken off the streets and detained simply because of their political beliefs. Is that not exactly how this anti-democratic, draconian and authoritarian piece of legislation was designed to work, and is it not proof of what makes the legislation so dangerously wrong?
No, the legislation does not in any way criminalise or prevent protest. We see protests happening on a daily basis, including on Saturday. The legislation enables the police to prevent disruption. They need to have a reasonable belief in order to do that. If anyone feels that in this very small minority of cases—a tiny minority of cases—those powers were misapplied, there are complaints procedures, but the vast, vast, vast majority of people wishing to protest on Saturday did so.
Does the Minister accept that the troubling scenes witnessed during the coronation vindicate Opposition Members who warned that the Government’s new anti-protest laws would be used to stifle dissent and limit freedom of expression? Does he accept that if we are to protect the most fundamental right of free speech, the Public Order Act must be scrapped in its entirety?
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) on securing the urgent question. The seemingly random way in which the Metropolitan police can apply the law only to fully exonerate those arrested soon after is something that one might see in an illiberal democracy like Hungary or Turkey, and all this just a week after the Security Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the coronation was a chance to “showcase our liberty”. Does the Minister agree with their colleague? Are these arrests a showcase of British liberty?
The fact that hundreds of people protested against the monarchy, albeit they were a tiny minority of the crowds, demonstrates that the right to protest is unfettered, as does the fact that, as I speak, and as we have this discussion here in Parliament, I suspect there are Just Stop Oil protesters somewhere in London no doubt up to their protesting activities. The right to protest is sacrosanct, and it is protected, not least by the European convention on human rights, but also by our domestic legislation, which is something we should all be pleased about.
The Minister has repeatedly told us that there was evidence of, in his words, a well-developed plot to misuse activated rape alarms in a way that would clearly have been criminally reckless, which no one would condone. Given that that plot was so well developed, with the exception of three Night Stars volunteers who have been mentioned, can the Minister tell us, of all the people arrested, how many were found to be in possession of rape alarms, how many have been charged with intent to use those rape alarms for criminal purposes, and how many rape alarms were seized on Saturday? If the answer to all those questions is nil or next to nil, does he accept that in this case the police intelligence was badly and dangerously misinformed?
I think that there is an update on all the arrests on the Metropolitan police website, which provides some of the information for which the hon. Gentleman asks. Some arrests were made close to the ceremonial footprint, including people who had large quantities of paint. Other arrests were made at locations away from the ceremonial footprint at what might be described as a safehouse. The briefings that I received from the Met the night before—I believe the Mayor of London received them and possibly the Home Secretary; I am not sure—indicated multiple, well-developed and credible plots materially to disrupt the coronation, and it is greatly to the credit of the Metropolitan police that they prevented those from unfolding.
Participating as I have done in protests across Northern Ireland—all peaceful protests in the politics of Northern Ireland—I recognise that the Government are trying to ensure that peaceful protest can take place. The coronation weekend has been a globally celebrated event, and something on which the United Kingdom will look with pride for many years to come. The 64 arrests were made, as I understand it, in relation to intelligence that suggested that there would be deliberate attempts to cause nuisance on coronation day. Will the Minister join me in thanking the Met police, as opposed to critiquing them, for carrying out their duties in a swift manner, to enable people to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty the King in peace and without disruption?
Yes, I would like to join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the police, the armed forces personnel and the civilians involved in laying on the coronation for a successful and, ultimately, peaceful event, despite the plots that were uncovered in advance. I also thank the police for ensuring that those protests were able to take place. It is an event that, overall, this country can be proud of. I am sure all of us want to wish King Charles III well at the beginning of his reign and say, “God save the King.”