Priti Patel – 2022 Statement on the Public Order Bill

The statement made by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2022.

The right to protest peacefully, for people to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and assembly, is a cornerstone of our democratic values and will always be defended by this Government. However, the rights of protesters must be balanced with the rights of the general public to go about their daily lives free from serious disruption or harm. In recent months, we have seen a minority of protesters using guerrilla tactics that cause misery to the hard-working public, disrupt businesses, interfere with emergency services, cost millions in taxpayers’ money, divert the police from tackling crime and put lives at risk.

The Public Order Bill, introduced in the House of Commons today, builds on the public order measures in part 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which, among other things, updates the powers in the Public Order Act 1986 enabling the police to impose conditions on a protest, provides for a statutory offence of intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance and increases the maximum penalty for the offence of wilful obstruction of a highway. The Government had originally sought to include the majority of the new measures announced today in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, but the Government’s amendments to that Bill were blocked by the House of Lords. Since then, we have seen the Just Stop Oil protests which threatened fuel shortages across the country.

The Public Order Bill includes the following measures:

Offences related to locking on—creating two new offences designed to deter individuals from “locking on” and “going equipped to lock on”. Locking-on is the tactic in which protesters attach themselves to other individuals, objects or land, or attach objects together or to land, creating an obstruction which is capable of causing serious disruption and is difficult and time consuming for the police to remove.

Obstruction of major transport works—creating a new offence of obstructing the construction or maintenance of major transport works

Interference with key national infrastructure—creating a new offence which covers any behaviour which prevents or significantly delays the use or operation of key infrastructure, such as roads, railways, airports, oil refineries (which we have seen an increase of in the last few months), gas installations, power plants and printing presses.

Powers to stop and search—extending existing stop and search powers to allow the police to search and seize objects made, adapted, or intended for use in the course of specified protest- related offences (including the new offences listed above). There will be both a suspicion-led power, amending section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and a suspicion-less power, based on section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Serious disruption prevention orders—introducing a new preventative court order—the serious disruption prevention order (SDPO), aimed at tackling repeated highly disruptive behaviour by prolific protesters. The new Bill now includes provision for the electronic tagging of persons subject to an SDPO.

Power of chief officers of police to delegate certain functions under the Public Order Act 1986—equalising the seniority of police officer in London who may attach conditions to an upcoming protest or prohibit a trespassory assembly to match that applicable in forces outside of London. The current minimum rank of assistant commissioner will be changed to that of commander, which is equivalent to assistant chief constables outside of London. This is a new measure included in this Bill.

To support the parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, I am publishing the following documents on gov.uk:

Impact assessment;

Policy equality statement;

Delegated powers memorandum;

ECHR memorandum; and

Fact sheet.