MP warns Westminster policing bill will silence valid protest and curb democracy
A Welsh MP has warned that Westminster’s policing bill risks silencing valid voices and curbing the democratic right of the people to tell truth to power.
Reflecting on the history of protest in Wales, Liz Saville-Roberts points at the many battles ordinary Welsh people have fought over the centuries and how important they have been to progress.
Whether fighting to save communities like Tryweryn or Epynt, protecting the language, securing a Welsh language media or fighting for independence, ordinary people in Wales have never been afraid to speak up, the MP for Dwyfor Meirionydd said.
In an article for the Noisy & Annoying Campaign, which defends the right to protest, she said: “Protest has always mattered in Wales as a means of protecting our communities, our language, and our rights.
“The Tory Policing Bill takes direct aim at the heart of the right to protest on the streets. We’d be well-advised, therefore, to learn the lessons of history, and to hold fast to how they taught us to resist the creeping constraints on our hard-won liberties,” the Plaid Cymru MP said.
“Over the years, protest has often been the only route available for those people who – with neither the advantages of economic or political resources – sought to demand their rights when the powerful threatened to oppress them.”
Liz Saville-Roberts suggests that disregarding the views of peaceful protesters leads to frustration and escalation of action, where ordinary people do extraordinary things which risk their liberty for the cause.
She adds: “The common people of Wales have refused time and again to accept injustice, even though their leaders were threatened with prison, capital punishment, and transportation to Australia.”
It is argued the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would, by giving police additional powers, make it easier for someone to be criminalised through protest.
Laws surrounding static rallies and marches would be brought into line and old common law of public nuisance would be replaced by statute, under which “noise” and “annoyance” will become offences.
New stop and search rules would be introduced, circumstances under which police can impose restrictions on a protest will be widened and the threshold for an act being construed as a breach will be both lower and more ambiguous.
Pointing to the success of YesCymru rallies prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, she said: “Anyone who enjoyed the sheer thrill and excitement of the noisy, joyous marches held in Cardiff, Caernarfon, and Merthyr Tudful in 2019, must be asked:
“What will be the impact of the Policing Bill on both our burgeoning independence movement and the proud Welsh tradition of taking to the streets and raising our voices to call out injustice and oppression?”