Patel urges MPs to avoid ‘mob rule’ and back new Bill to limit protesters

Interfering with key national infrastructure – such as railways, roads and printing presses – would become a criminal offence.

21 May 2022

Priti Patel will tell MPs that “we do not make policy through mob rule in this country” as she urges them to give their support to the new Public Order Bill.

It represents the Home Secretary’s most recent attempt to reintroduce measures which had previously been blocked by the House of Lords as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Such measures include introducing a new offence of obstructing major transport networks, which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

Interfering with key national infrastructure – such as railways, roads and printing presses – will also become a criminal offence, which would bring a penalty of up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

Ms Patel will give a speech on the proposed Bill as she opens the Second Reading debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

The Home Secretary is expected to say to MPs: “From day one, this Government has put the safety and interests of the law-abiding majority first… but recently we have seen a rise in criminal, disruptive, and self-defeating tactics – from a supremely selfish minority.

Climate activists protest on a Docklands Light Railway train in London
Climate activists protest on a Docklands Light Railway train in London (PA)

“Their actions divert police resources away from the communities where they are needed most… and we are seeing parts of the country grind to a halt… This is reprehensible behaviour and I will not tolerate it.”

As part of the Bill, police will also be given the power to proactively stop and search people to seize items intended for “locking-on” purposes, such as glue or bamboo structures meant for obstructing police.

‘Lock-on’ tactics, such as protesters gluing themselves to roads or public transport, have been repeatedly employed by groups such as Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil.

Insulate Britain protests
Police officers remove a protester glued to the road at an Insulate Britain roadblock on the M25 (PA)

Courts will also be given new powers to make Serious Disruption Prevention Orders, which would make those who have been found to repeatedly cause disruption wear an electronic tag, to ensure they are not in a particular place where they might commit a “protest-related offence”.

She will add: “I will not stand by and let anti-social individuals keep causing misery and chaos for others. The Public Order Bill will empower the police to take more proactive action to protect the rights of the public to go about their lives in peace.

“However passionately one believes in a cause, we do not make policy through mob rule in this country… I will not be deterred from backing the police and standing up for the law-abiding majority, and that’s what the Public Order Bill does.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This Bill fails on every count; it won’t safeguard vital infrastructure against serious disruption and it’s so widely drawn it will penalise passers by or people protesting peacefully against a library closure instead.

“This is a wasted opportunity to take a sensible approach and is getting things all wrong.

“Rather than adopting Labour’s practical suggestions to make it swifter to get injunctions when vital services are threatened with serious disruption, the Home Secretary is just recycling widely drawn measures from the Police Bill which have already been rejected by Parliament.

“Tomorrow we should instead be having the second reading of the long awaited Victims Bill with measures to tackle rising crime and falling prosecutions; instead, the Home Secretary is letting everyone down.”

Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said: “It’s frankly outrageous for the Home Secretary to smear peaceful protesters as a ‘mob’, though sadly it’s part of a recent pattern of ministers demonising those who hold views the Government dislikes.

“At a time when protesters in places like Moscow or Hong Kong are hailed for their bravery – including by members of our Government – it’s incredibly depressing that Priti Patel is pushing these repressive laws.”

Norman Reimer, the chief executive of the group Fair Trials, had said of the Home Secretary’s latest proposals: “By reintroducing plans that have already been rejected by UK parliamentarians, the UK Government appears to be intent on destroying the right to peaceful protest rather than protecting it.”

Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion (XR) has already announced plans to “bring millions of people on to the streets” in response to the new Bill after it was announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month.

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