Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are vital rights that I wholeheartedly support, and I can reassure you that the Government is clear that the right of an individual to express their opinion and protest is a cornerstone of our democratic society.
I would like to make clear that under no circumstances do I believe that protests should become violent. The rights to a peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order.
Of course, the responsibility for the maintenance of public order lies with the police, who have a range of powers to manage protests. How they deploy their powers and the tactics they use are rightly an operational matter for the police but I am pleased that we live in a country where policing is by consent.
The issue at hand relates to the balance between the rights of a protestor and the rights of individuals to go about their daily business. There have been examples where protests have caused unjustifiable disruption and distress to other citizens. The PCSC Bill is designed to ensure that essential services can continue unabated by disruptive protests.
The Government is seeking to widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on static protests to match existing police powers to impose conditions on marches; broaden the range of circumstances in which the police may impose conditions on a protest; amend the offence relating to the breaching of conditions; restate the common law offence of public nuisance in statute; and ensure vehicular entrances to the Parliament Estate remain unobstructed. These measures will enhance the police's ability to manage protests and ensure the everyday lives of the overwhelming majority are not disrupted by a selfish minority.
It is completely right that the police should have the powers to intervene in exceptional cases where the noise generated by a protest is such that it is injurious to others. I also welcomed ministers' reassurances that the police would only impose such conditions on noise where necessary and proportionate and where they have fully considered protesters' freedoms of expression and assembly.