Tory Minister grilled over Policing Bill 'diminishing' right to protest

14 March 2021, 14:02

Tom Swarbrick questions Safeguarding Minister over protest clampdowns

By Seán Hickey

Safeguarding Minister was confronted over proposed legislation which seeks to criminalise people for causing 'serious annoyance' during protests.

Victoria Atkins joined Tom Swarbrick to discuss the aftermath of shocking scenes in Clapham Common on Saturday which saw women arrested for attending a vigil.

The Safeguarding Minister cited lockdown restrictions as the reason behind gatherings of this nature being disallowed, but Tom nudged the minister by reminding her that the science doesn't support such measures

He went on to play Sir Patrick Vallance stressing that outdoor gatherings are low risk in terms of spreading coronavirus, and even cited examples of BLM protests during the summer and protests in New York which didn't result in spikes of the virus.

"There's no scientific evidence for making these gatherings illegal based on the spread of coronavirus" Tom claimed. Ms Atkins argued that the Government have "always been very careful" to follow the advice of scientific experts.

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Tom pushed the case: "Do you think they need to be looked at again given that the science is changing?"

"We have to be very methodical in how we deal with this pandemic," the Conservative MP replied, going on to note that a slow easing of restrictions is currently in place which is in line with scientific advice.

Tom reminded the minister that "people worry about their civil liberties" and fear that such measures are "lingering over for longer than is necessary," citing the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which has lost support of Labour before it even reaches the House.

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"This bill you're bringing forward on Monday, for example, would allow the police to stop protests which would cause 'serious unease' and create criminal penalties for people who cause 'serious annoyance.'"

Ms Atkins noted that the bill is a "huge piece of legislation" with many other proposals contained within. Tom pushed Ms Atkins, stating "you are diminishing or taking away a fundamental right," with proposed new laws in the legislation.

"Most people would accept that public order matters and protests have changed since 1986," the Safeguarding Minister argued, explaining that the new bill aims at "trying to update those laws to reflect some of the practices we've seen in very disruptive protests in years gone by."

She cited some protesting methods used by Extinction Rebellion such as glueing oneself to a building or hampering people's routes to work as examples of the sort of protest the bill seeks to prevent.

"There will be a lot of people worried about some of the language in this – the idea of serious unease and serious annoyance," Tom concluded.

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