Many peaceful grassroots actions, like the Make Votes Matter action days, could be curbed if the policing bill being debated in parliament this week is rushed through.

In an open letter to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice, Make Votes Matter joined forces with a number of organisations – including allies Friends of the Earth and Unlock Democracy – to call for a rethink on the proposals.

Emma Knaggs, Grassroots Director at Make Votes Matter, said: “We share the profound concern and alarm the bill raises over people’s right to protest. Many of our peaceful grassroots actions could be ruled out in the future if this bill goes ahead, which is why we’ve added our name to the open letter. We are also sharing it with supporters of our campaign for fair votes so that they are aware of it and can lend their voice to calls for the bill to be amended.”

A copy of the letter is below.

Dear Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Justice,

We write to share our profound concern and alarm over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill published last week. Not only does this Bill contain numerous threats to the right to peaceful protest and access to the countryside, criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities’ way of life, as well as a whole host of expansive policing powers, but it is being rushed through parliament during a pandemic and before civil society and the public have been able to fully understand its profound implications.

Contained within this 307-page bill are plans to:

Introduce draconian new police powers to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest and have their voices heard by those in power;

Increase penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests and the ease with which they can be found to have done so;

Create a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities, while the government manifestly fails to provide adequate sites and permitted stopping places, and has implications for the public’s right to protest, access to the countryside and people experiencing homelessness.

This is a huge bill, both in length and in potential consequences – for young people calling for social change facing greater criminalisation by the state, for Gypsy and Traveller communities facing threats to their way of life, and for anyone who values freedom of expression and the right to make yourself heard against the powerful.

This in itself is enough to cause alarm, but the government is also trying to rush this Bill through parliament, with less than a week between publication and second reading. This is deeply inadequate and provides no time for MPs and their staff, let alone the communities it stands to affect so profoundly, to understand what the consequences of this wide-ranging Bill may be.

For a country that so often prides itself on civil liberties, this Bill represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, in particular those from marginalised communities, and is being driven through at a time and in a way where those who will be subject to its provisions are least able to respond.

We urge the government to fundamentally rethink its approach.