Beth Winter – 2022 Speech on the Public Order Bill

The speech made by Beth Winter, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, in the House of Commons on 23 May 2022.

The Bill is a draconian piece of legislation that undermines our democracy. It is the sort of Bill I would expect from an extreme and authoritarian Administration anticipating opposition, and perhaps even fearing for their continued existence. As Members across the House have said, the provisions are not necessary. Existing laws are sufficient. The provisions would leave the UK in breach of international human rights law, would clearly restrict fundamental human rights, and severely compromise the UK’s ability to promote open societies and respect for human rights internationally. They have rightly been condemned by Members from across the House today.

Paul Bristow

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Beth Winter

No, I will not give way because of time. Causing obstruction at a site of key national infrastructure was something the Prime Minister proposed doing at Heathrow a few years ago, when he threatened to lie down in front of bulldozers. That was, of course, before he became Prime Minister. I wonder what his actions would be now. The offence of locking on, or being equipped for locking on, is far too broadly drafted and far too wide-ranging—purposefully so, I would argue, in order to restrict individuals’ willingness to protest. Those measures must be thrown out.

The “stop and search without suspicion” measures are an over-extension of police powers. Given our knowledge of the racial bias in the application of stop and search, the measures are a green light from the Government to create further racial tensions in policing. Those measures must also be thrown out.

The serious disruption prevention orders risk depriving people of the fundamental human rights of assembly and movement. As commentators and colleagues in the House have said, they are like the protest powers in Russia or Belarus, but even more extreme. They, too, must be thrown out.

I take issue with some of the comments and approaches of Conservative Members. The Conservative Benches are empty now, unfortunately, which I think says a lot about the Conservatives’ position. Their comments have been very selective and subjective, and a lot of the language used has been extremely offensive. The measures in the Bill are extremely broad and far reaching. For example, the protest banning orders are extremely broad in scope and allow the police to put restrictions on processions and assemblies beyond those mentioned in recent debates. They can include religious festivals and activities, community gatherings, football matches, vigils, remembrance ceremonies, and trade union disputes and pickets. These are absolutely terrifying proposals.

The powers in the Bill will be extended to Wales, but have the Welsh Government been consulted? I doubt it, given past experience. This is how the Government normally act towards our devolved, democratically elected Governments. They change the laws affecting Wales, but do not ask Wales its views. The Welsh Government were clearly opposed to the measures on protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I believe that they will make clear their opposition to this Bill. Furthermore, there is concrete evidence that the Welsh police are not supportive or likely to make use of such powers, given what was said by four constables at a recent session of the Welsh Affairs Committee.

Paul Bristow

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Beth Winter

No, I will not. I believe that Welsh MPs will reject the Bill tonight. I will wrap up with one final point. This Conservative legislation has been presented as a necessary measure to deal with climate protesters. We are facing a climate catastrophe, and the Government should be addressing its root causes now. The overwhelming majority of climate protesters are using democratic rights that we have fought over for many, many years. Among those protesters, I include myself, my parents and my children, as we have been on many a protest in our lives, locking arms, so we would probably be criminalised and called eco-hooligans, which is how the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) shamefully described protesters earlier.

Paul Bristow

Will the hon. Member give way?

Beth Winter

No, I will not. As I said at the outset, there are sufficient laws in existence to deal with protests.

I believe that there is another reason for the Bill: the current cost of living crisis will drive such poverty and polarisation that the Government are concerned that their economic policies mean that public protest is increasingly likely. Rip-off energy bills—like the poll tax—pushing people into poverty and debt will lead to more protests on our streets. Is the Prime Minister readying himself for his Thatcher moment, confronting those on a low income in Trafalgar Square? How proportional will that be? I hope that we do not see such violence from this Government, but I fear that that is what the Bill is about.

Hundreds of civil organisations, legal academics, cross-party parliamentarians and UN special rapporteurs condemned the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and they will do the same with this Bill. I urge Members to listen to them and to us and to do the right thing today: vote against this absolutely rotten Bill on Second Reading. Throw it out.