The Government recently introduced a new Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and held the first parliamentary debate on the 15th March. 

Many charities across the human rights, climate and nature sectors are concerned that the sweeping new powers and vague wording in the Bill could impact the public’s ability to make their voices heard through peaceful protest. At the RSPB we are concerned about this because it would impact our supporters’ ability to object to policies that could harm our natural environment.

As you know too well, nature is in trouble, wildlife and their habitats are disappearing in front of our eyes and we all want to do something to change that. The ability to stand up for the natural world in peaceful protest has always been an important way for people to demand Government action. This year is particularly important to visibly show the public’s enthusiasm as we see world leaders gather to discuss global nature and climate policies as we recover from the pandemic.

Did you attend, support or follow the Walk for Wildlife organised by Chris Packham in 2018?  If the Bill is passed in its current form, it will give police officers the power to restrict, even end such marches in the future and increase sentences for those involved.  Protests that are considered too noisy are likely to be stopped, including in anticipation of the event: non-violent, family-friendly marches and events, like the Walk for Wildlife or The Climate Coalition Mass Lobby, require a certain level of noise to be impactful (it is also quite hard to avoid with that many people). Although we assume most authorities would act with both common sense and a duty to uphold our democratic right to peacefully protest, the Bill has the potential and scope to curtail that right. At present, it will significantly limit your ability to feel confident and comfortable organising or taking part in campaign events. 

Chris Packham at the Peoples Walk for Wildlife London, September 2018 (photo credits: Laura Harbard rspb-images.com)

These peaceful protests are not only an important tool for our supporters’ voices to be heard, but they are key tactics for the wider movement too, like young people. As we saw from the Youth Climate Strike in September 2019, the whole country felt a sense of energy and hope brought about by our young people’s passion for the planet, and many RSPB campaigners supported them, with our staff, volunteers and members attending hundreds of peaceful protests up and down the country.

Photo credit: Markus Spiske (pexels.com)

To make sure the Bill upholds our right to peacefully and legally protest together, last month we came together with almost 250 organisations to sign an open letter to the Government asking for the damaging proposals to removed.  We supported Friends of the Earth's petition which, through signing, provided you the opportunity to add your voice to that letter.  We were delighted to see thousands of you sign on to the petition and the numbers are still growing – the petition’s total is now over 96,000.

In addition to this action, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been established which will see members across all parties and the climate movement meet to examine and discuss the Bill.  APPGs are critical to bringing networks together to discuss important issues surrounding legislation, and we have confidence this group will play the important role of cross-party parliamentary scrutiny that will amend the Bill, but as always, sustained public pressure for these amendments will be vital.  

If you are concerned about this issue and wish to take more action locally, Friends of the Earth have developed a pack to support you in local campaigning.  You can access it on their website.

In order to protect your right to protest peacefully and continue to stand up for nature during a critical time, we need MPs across all parties to oppose the Bill as it currently stands.  By doing so, they will demonstrate that they are committed to defending our voices as we call for a nature rich and more sustainable future.

Anonymous