Many constituents have contacted me about the Government’s Public Order Bill.

The Public Order Bill will extend stop and search powers and introduce serious disruption prevention orders (SDPOs) that will target repeat offenders and create new offences including in relation to locking on, going equipped to lock on, and obstructing major transport works and national infrastructure.

This is the Government’s second bill relating to public order in 12 months, even though it has apparently shelved the much-needed Victims Law, which was first promised several years ago. The Government seems more focused on divisive, headline-grabbing policies rather than dealing with the people’s priorities, such as the appallingly low charge rates for rape and sexual offences, worrying levels of violent crime, thousands of criminals going unpunished and victims withdrawing from the investigation process because they do not believe they will see justice.

While it is of course important to safeguard the national infrastructure, the right to protest peacefully must also be safeguarded. The police and courts already have powers to deal with serious disruption or dangerous protests including injunctions, offences such as obstruction of a highway, criminal damage, aggravated trespass, public nuisance and the power to apply conditions to processions, when people can be arrested. These powers have been frequently used to deal with recent disruptive protests including locking on and blocking roads.

The Public Order Bill is too broad and imprecise, putting a burden on the police to interpret the legislation and making it difficult to apply consistently. The threshold for triggering the new offences casts the net too wide, risking legitimate, peaceful protests and non-criminal action falling within their scope. I also think the Bill may interfere with human rights legislation and that there are not enough safeguards in place to mitigate this risk.

For these reasons I have voted against the Public Order Bill at every opportunity, most recently at the Bill’s Third Reading in the House of Commons on 18 October 2022. Sadly, attempts to amend the new powers in this Bill have so far been unsuccessful. The Bill is currently being considered in the House of Lords where I hope such amendments will have a greater chance of success.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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