The UK Home Secretary’s Public Order Bill is an anathema to Welsh protest culture
Liz Saville-Roberts, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd
While the Westminster political class is distracted by the utter chaos around Liz Truss and her zombie cabinet, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman is pushing through yet another draconian piece of legislation.
The Public Order Bill hugely expands stop-and-search powers to cover protesters, and will also launch new orders that ban serial protesters from events. They will be forced to wear electronic tags, with six months’ jail if they refuse. It is utterly disgraceful that the Government is getting away with violating fundamental human rights in this way.
Protest and dissent is strong throughout Wales’s is history, and this Bill, like the Policing Bill before it, is an anathema to our culture.
Take the Welsh language protestors of Cymdeithas yr Iaith who would have likely fallen foul of this Bill for their now historic protest at Trefechan, Aberystwyth in 1963.
Their brave act of peaceful civil disobedience in blocking Pont Trefechan, for which none of them was arrested, was broadcast throughout the media across Wales and the UK.
This gave valuable momentum to the movement which has played a vital role in promoting Welsh language rights and helped Welsh to receive official status in law.
The provisions in the Bill were originally defeated in the House of Lords when the Home Office tried to add them to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. They should never have been brought back.
Democracy is about more than a cross in a box – it is about being able to exercise the right to voice dissent, to stand up for what you believe in, in short, being free to protest.
This Bill violates this basic democratic principle which is valued by people all over Wales. Plaid Cymru oppose it completely.
That’s why we tabled an amendment today requiring the Secretary of State to issue impact assessments for all provisions in the Bill which impact on devolved policy and services in Wales.
This is an attempt at least to mirror existing arrangements under Section 110A of the Government of Wales Act 2006 whereby the Welsh Government is required to produce an assessment of the impact of devolved Welsh legislation on the reserved justice system.
It also includes a requirement for the Secretary of State to co-draft guidance with the Welsh Government on the implementation of the Bill’s provisions in Wales which have been assessed to have an impact on devolved policy and or services.
For example, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to add, vary or amend certain types of infrastructure that fall within scope of the offence of interfering with key national infrastructure.
If this power is used in the future, it may increase the number of people convicted of this public order offence, which may in turn have implications in terms of cost and capacity for those devolved services which are intrinsically linked to the justice system, such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental and physical health and education.
To take another example, civil liberties groups such as Liberty note that the Bill’s extension of police stop and search powers will note ‘have disproportionate effects on marginalised communities – in this case, people of colour exercising their right to protest’.
Stop and Search, which is one of the most intrusive interactions that members of the public have with the police, is already widely acknowledged to be used disproportionally against black communities.
In Wales in 2020/21, 8 out of every 1,000 White people living in Wales were stopped and searched. This compares to a rate of 56 per 1,000 Black people, 16 per 1,000 Asian people, and 28 per 1,000 people who identify as being from a Mixed ethnic background.
How does expanding stop-and-search and potential exacerbating this trend align with devolved policy such as the aim ‘to make Wales a more equitable, anti-racist country’ noted in the Welsh Government Race Equality Action Plan?
Plaid Cymru’s amendment would at least allow us to assess questions such as these, and to recognise the simple fact that decisions taken here on policing and justice have a direct impact on Welsh devolved policy. Ultimately this is just a stop gap, and the real solution for Wales is to devolve policing and justice.
It would also ensure that we in Wales would not be subject to these draconian Westminster laws which have no mandate in Wales.
Let’s create a fairer justice system which truly serves the people of Wales.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.