Today, the Home Office announced a package of measures to put a stop to protestors climbing war memorials, once and for all.
Firstly, they are removing the ability to cite the right to protest as a reasonable or lawful excuse to carry out disruptive or even criminal behaviour. There can be no justification for the British public to be prevented from getting to work, visiting a loved one in hospital, or feeling safe by protesters.
It is not right for roads to be blocked, preventing ambulances getting to hospital and people from attending funerals, and people should not be able to use protest as an excuse for doing so.
Under new plans, climbing on a war memorial will carry a prison sentence of up to three months and the possibility of a fine.
Police will also be able to arrest protesters using face coverings to conceal their identities at designated protests.
We cannot have individuals hurling abusive, extremist rhetoric and hiding behind a mask. There will be no more hiding from justice. The Home Office are also putting an end to people attempting to carry flares and other pyrotechnics on a march which poses a significant risk of injury to the wider public. A new offence will ban the possession of flares, fireworks, and any other pyrotechnics at public processions and assemblies for protest. Those who transgress may face a hefty fine.
These changes are proportionate and sensible, and fully in keeping with what most people would consider to be the proper bounds of free speech. Public spaces and monuments belong to all of us, not just to a minority of selfish thugs or extremists seeking to undermine our democracy.
Of course, the right to protest is profoundly important, free expression is vital to our democracy, and people must be able to speak freely and express themselves. But the freedom to speak does not mean the freedom to incite hatred and commit criminal behaviour. It is not an absolute right, and for good reason. It does not permit violence or intimidation; it does not permit harassment or abuse.
The changes announced today build on the legislation we brought in last year to help the police tackle the public nuisance and serious disruption caused by protesters. Since the passing of our Public Order Act last year, I am proud that 638 protesters attempting this kind of disruption have been arrested.
Paul Howell MP said:
"I fully support the Home Office's package of new measures to put a stop to protestors using protests as an excuse to cause criminal damage, climb war memories, stop ambulances getting to hospitals and saving lives, and disrupting individual's lives.
The people war memorials honour gave their lives to protect our freedom. No one can reasonably claim attacking such monuments represents the legitimate exercise of free speech.
Under these new measures, I am pleased police will also be able to arrest protesters using face coverings to conceal their identities at designated protests."