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Coronation: Policing

Volume 829: debated on Thursday 11 May 2023

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the policing arrangements during the Coronation weekend.

My Lords, I refer to my policing interests in the register and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper—which of course was submitted before the decision on yesterday’s UQ was made.

My Lords, the policing of the Coronation was a tremendous success. The event passed off without incident and tens of thousands of people were able to witness it, while hundreds who do not support a monarchy were able to express their views. I am grateful for the opportunity once again to pay tribute to the police, volunteers, staff, military and everybody else who was involved in delivering such a momentous day on behalf of the nation.

My Lords, I would want to be associated with precisely that tribute, as I think would all the Members who spoke yesterday in the UQ. I think the Minister said to us yesterday that some 600 people had been arrested under the Public Order Act.

The Minister corrects the figure. I am sure I listened, but it does not really matter. My point remains this: one of those who was arrested was a 59 year-old woman volunteering for Night Stars, which is run by Westminster City Council, providing slippers, vomit bags and rape alarms for vulnerable women coming out of nightclubs. She was arrested in the early hours of Saturday morning and held for 14 hours. I suggest that this sort of incident—I am not privy to the sort of intelligence that the Metropolitan Police may have had—suggests that we need to look at how the powers, which were highly criticised in this House, are used in practice. Will the Minister ask the Home Office to ask His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to look at all the cases of people arrested and charged under the new Public Order Act—not just at the Coronation but over the next few months—so that this can be reported publicly, we can see whether the actions were proportionate and appropriate and whether new guidance needs to be issued or the law itself needs to be tweaked?

There were a number of questions there and I will go into the detail. There were 64 arrests. Only six were under the new powers in the Public Order Act, all of which were under Section 2, which is about locking on. Regarding the specific case the noble Lord referred to, and in particular rape alarms, as I mentioned yesterday at the Dispatch Box, there was serious intelligence that was enough to disturb the military—it provoked a call between the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Home Secretary and the mayor quite late on Friday night—suggesting that rape alarms would be used in an effort to cause disruption to the procession. That may have included disturbing horses, which were on display in large numbers. I will not comment on the operational background to this particular arrest because I cannot, but obviously there are powers of redress and if a person thinks they were wrongfully arrested, they should absolutely use those. It will then be for the police to justify their reasonable suspicion and to prove that it was proportionate.

Will my noble friend the Minister pass on the congratulations of the majority of people in this House and the overwhelming majority of people in the country on a very well policed and very important occasion? I do not think anybody can doubt that it was well done. Can he also pass on the feeling that, while we all allow peaceful demonstrations, the idea that such an important occasion should have been disrupted by self-indulgent young people—or indeed middle-aged people—is outrageous? I think the majority of people in this country support that.

I agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s remarks, but of course it is important that people are aware of the powers the police have. I should have said yesterday, in answer to a question from the right reverend Prelate, that the College of Policing did issue guidance on the day of Royal Assent. The police chiefs’ lead on public safety also wrote to chief constables and the Police Powers Unit in the Met wrote to five particular organisations it felt might be affected by this. Also, as Sir Mark said, the police explained in advance that there would be low tolerance of disruption and zero tolerance of security and safety threats. No one can say they were not warned, but I agree with my noble friend that, overall, the whole event passed off magnificently.

My Lords, my question does not detract from the superb job the police did in managing what they had to do to make the Coronation work as it did. However, from the figures that the Minister has just given us and information we have received from the Metropolitan Police, there were some six of those arrests for which an apology was given. That is an apology rate—or an error rate—of between 10% and 12%. Does the Minister accept that that is an issue he would be concerned about? Does he also agree with the chief constable of Manchester that the powers in general given to the police force need to be re-examined because they are too broad?

My Lords, I do not agree that an apology was given for these arrests. The Metropolitan Police expressed regret that six people who were arrested were unable to join the protest—not that they were arrested but that they were unable to join the protest. This is what I agree with: “Most people say police need powers to deal with Just Stop Oil and some of their tactics. They do need powers to deal with that. Legislation needs to bed down. We need to let it bed in. We need to look at how it operates in practice”. That quote was from Sir Kier Starmer.

My Lords, I want to ask particularly about one arrest, because in the Public Order Act it was agreed that people covering protests—journalists, film-makers et cetera—were not going to be arrested. However, Rich Felgate, who was filming both the wonderful ceremony as well as the protest, was stopped by a policeman. He said:

“He stopped my filming, they handcuffed me behind my back”.

He started to say,

“‘the police are arresting a journalist’ and they proceeded to rip off my press pass lanyard, I presume because they didn’t want it to be visible that they were arresting a journalist”.

He was taken into police custody, held for 18 hours, interviewed and released under investigation. Could I have the Minister’s comment on this case and whether what was passed in the Public Order Act actually does stand?

I failed to answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on when this part of the Act will commence. I can give her a better answer today. It is on 2 July this year. However, I can also say that this gentleman was not arrested under the Public Order Act. He was arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. I cannot go further in commenting on the specifics of the case.

My Lords, why did the Government not bring in the protection at the same time that they brought in the new powers?

My Lords, obviously the ability to protest is one we take incredibly seriously in a constitutional democracy. Weighed against that are the rights of the hundreds of thousands of people who turned up, queued patiently and filed behind barriers. Many actually camped out. They have rights as well. Would the Minister reflect on this very simple point? Had there been a major incident of any kind during this remarkable day of the Coronation, the police would have attracted a huge amount of castigation from many people—the same people who are criticising them for what they did with the arrests.

We all supported the actions of the police in enabling the Coronation to take place and praised them for it yesterday, but we also said that certain questions arose. I did not ask yesterday who decided that the Home Office was the appropriate authority to write letters to individual protesters warning them of the consequences of the Public Order Act and telling them what it was about. The Minister always makes a great play of the operational independence of the police, and that it is Parliament that makes the law. What happened with respect to the Home Office doing that? Who signed the letters to individual protesters? Is this a new tactic? Can we now expect the Home Office to write letters to protesters, rather than it being a matter for the police, which I thought it would have been?

As I understand it, an operation called the Police Powers Unit wrote to five protest groups to inform them of the changes to public order legislation. It is obviously right that people who may fall foul of changes in legislation should be warned. As to who signed it and where that unit sits, I am afraid I do not know but I will find out.

My Lords, in general, would the Minister agree—I think he has already said this—that the operation seemed to go really well? I think over 11,000 officers were deployed. Hundreds of thousands of members of the public were able to attend and people were able to protest. There was a collection of heads of Government from many countries across the world, including our own, which always invites security issues, as well as protest and all the other things that go with it. The fact that so few people were arrested is pretty remarkable. If individual cases need looking into, people should take the opportunity to make a complaint or take civil action. That should not detract from the overall operation, which seems to have gone so well, together with the great ceremony on the day.

The success of the police’s actions over the Coronation as a whole surely does not prevent us from considering the long-term dangers, which we started to learn about during the Covid regulation period, of creating situations in which police officers are felt by citizens to be interfering with legitimate rights, whether it is protest or just the ability to walk in the countryside during the Covid regulation period, or to take home a tube of glue to repair some domestic damage. Surely we have to consider those long-term issues, while rejoicing in the fact that a good job was done by so many police officers.

I agree with the noble Lord: all of those matters should stay under active consideration, particularly as the nature of crime, disruption, protest and what have you evolves. But, overall, I also agree with the noble Lord that last weekend was a magnificent one in the life of the nation, and all of those involved should be applauded, including the people who went and those who protested peacefully.