Ministers have launched a new bid to crack down on disruptive ‘guerrilla protests’, with tougher penalties and new criminal offenses for those who stick or lock themselves onto roads or structures.
The Public Order Bill will ban tactics in England and Wales such as protesters ‘locking on’ to public transport infrastructure or sticking to roads, which have been adopted by campaign groups such as Insulate Britain.
It represents an attempt to revive measures that were previously proposed as part of the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, now passed, but had to be shelved after being rejected by the House of Lords .
In a sign of the government’s determination to push through the measures, officials said the legislation could be presented to parliament as early as Wednesday.
A government document detailing the bills unveiled in the Queen’s Speech said: ‘Our Public Order Bill will give the police the powers they need to stop a minority of protesters from using tactics of guerrillas who cause hardship to the working public, disrupting businesses. , costing taxpayers millions of money and putting lives at risk.
The bill will create new criminal offenses of ‘enclosing’ and ‘enclosing’ other people, objects or buildings for the purpose of causing ‘serious disturbance’, with a maximum penalty of up to six months in prison. imprisonment, an indefinite good, or both.
A new offense of interfering with key national infrastructure – such as airports, railways and printing presses – will carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
It will also become illegal to obstruct major transport works, such as the HS2 high-speed rail link, again punishable by up to six months in jail, an unlimited fine, or both.
The bill will also expand stop and search powers so police can seize items related to the new offences, while new severe disturbance prevention orders will also be available for those who repeatedly cause criminal disturbance. .
Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers were determined to stop protesters from ‘bringing to a screeching halt’ when she was asked about the plans during a visit to the specialist training center Metropolitan Police in Gravesend, Kent, on Monday.
“The responsible, law-abiding majority is fed up with the anti-social and disruptive protests led by a complacent minority who seem to revel in bringing chaos and misery to the rest of us,” she said.
Ms Patel denied she was trying to erode the right to protest, describing it as a ‘fundamental right… which we all hold dear’ and dismissing such claims made by opponents as a ‘lazy excuse’.
Asked what checks would ensure police did not abuse the new powers, amid concerns from opponents over officer brutality, she said police had ‘specialist training’ to deal with incidents of ‘public order.
“Police are incredibly sensitive in how they treat these protesters – they have to be for very good reasons, public safety is the overriding issue here,” she said.