Marches and protests can be an important part of our democratic processes. However, increasingly there have been extreme attention-grabbing tactics deployed that cause real financial, social, education and health harm to others. That’s not right and it’s not fair.
Our area has been one of the areas particularly affected by these extreme tactics. The anti-oil protests resulted in fuel shortages locally. The main roads and the Port have been blocked by environmentalists gluing themselves to the roads and a lorry. So I was pleased to be appointed to the parliamentary bill committee for the new Public Order Bill. The job of the committee is to hear evidence for and against the Government’s proposed law and to scrutinise each line of the proposed bill to make sure it does what it sets out to do in a workable and proportionate way.
In evidence to the committee, National Highways explained the impact of the roads protests, including the M25 and M20/A20. The builders of the new railway, High Speed Two, talked about the impact of the dangerous practice of ‘tunnelling’, where protestors dig themselves into holes underground to stop construction works. The oil refineries gave shocking testimony of a protestor gluing themselves to a full oil tanker- and another lighting up to smoke on an oil storage tank, at terrifying risk of a major explosion to everyone involved, police and emergency services, refinery workers and protestors themselves.
Matters have reached such a serious state of affairs that there must be safeguards in place to stop a small number of people intent on causing maximum mayhem. Locally this means blocking up our roads, preventing emergency services such as ambulances and police cars from getting to where they are needed, damaging trade through our port, including perishable goods, and harming trade at local shops and market stalls and damaging our local economy.
Such direct action can cause people who work on zero-hour contracts or are self-employed to miss out on pay, hurting the pockets of people working hard to make ends meet. The antics of Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and others have already cost the taxpayer more than £50 million. We all pay the price for their protests, and that’s not fair, especially when the whole world is facing rising costs of living. We already have a great democratic system where people can protest without causing excessive and unfair disruption to people, and make their political views known in a large number of ways, including emailing their Member of Parliament.
In a democratic society there is a balancing act that must be struck. That’s why the new Public Order Bill is an essential piece of legislation to provide a robust balance between our democratic right to protest and making sure that unfair direct action protests are not allowed to harm major national infrastructure, like roads and ports.