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New Clause 7 – Power of Secretary of State to bring proceedings | Public Order Bill | Commons debates

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), although I respectfully disagree with her position on this, and I will come to that shortly. I also welcome the Minister to his post.

I do not think anybody in this House was not deeply irritated by the sight of an ambulance having to turn around and go a different route because of protesters glued to the road, and I do not think there are many people in this House, when they saw protesters throwing soup at a van Gogh painting, who did not at least question whether that action had helped or hindered the cause of climate change. We all passionately believe in the right to protest, do we not? But we all understand that our fundamental freedoms are always balanced with the need to ensure business can carry on in its usual way.

That is why I thank the police for their response to the protesters who blocked the ambulance. They arrested 26 people for wilful obstruction of a highway and removed people glued to the road. Wilful obstruction is an offence that can carry a prison sentence. I also thank the police for the way in which they dealt with the incident in the National Gallery. Two people have been charged with criminal damage, which is an offence that can carry prison sentence.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you may ask yourself why, if the police were quick to respond, quick to arrest and quick to charge, we are debating a Public Order Bill to create a raft of new powers to tackle protest, after we have only just finished debating another Bill—the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022—which has introduced another raft of new provisions against protest.