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Statement on Lord Walney’s report 'Protecting our Democracy from Coercion'

The Security Minister updated the House of Commons on the Walney report (22 May 2024).

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on Lord Walney’s report titled Protecting our Democracy from Coercion.

Lord Walney was appointed in 2019 to advise the government on political violence and extremism.

Throughout the course of his review, laid before Parliament yesterday and available on GOV.UK, he has consulted an extensive evidence base, and engaged government, public bodies, international partners, academia, civil society, and those personally affected by violent disruption and extremism.

Lord Walney’s timely and compelling report identifies a rising extremist trend in this country.

Its central finding is that political intimidation and the incitement of hatred by extremist groups and individuals are infringing on the essential rights and freedoms of the general public, and those they choose to represent them in politics.

In recent months we have too often seen intimidatory and aggressive protest activity, with frequent disruption to our democratic processes: be that protests outside MP’s home addresses, council meetings interrupted, and speaking events shut down.

Lord Walney eloquently describes the threat posed by the extreme right, as well as the extreme left, whose activists, in his words, ‘systematically seek to undermine faith in our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law’.

This has a very real impact on the elected representatives who choose to dedicate themselves in service to the public. Lord Walney highlights a 2023 Local Government Association survey finding that 70 per cent of local councillors ‘felt at risk at least some of the time whilst fulfilling their role’.

It also has an effect on the public servants working to make their communities a better place up and down the country.

I was particularly struck by the section on protests at schools.

The purpose of schools is to educate our children. To teach our students how to think, not what to think.

Our teachers must be free to do this without fear or favour. While it’s right that schools consult parents on sensitive issues, it is not their job to appease pressure groups, self appointed community activists or religious institutions.

That’s why I was deeply concerned by the aggressive protests targeting schools detailed Lord Walney’s report.

It’s unacceptable that in Birmingham, one assistant head had to be escorted in and out of school for his own safety.

It is unacceptable that in Batley, a teacher and his family are reportedly still in hiding after being accused of blasphemy.

There is no right not to be offended in this country. No religion or belief system is immune from criticism, or exempted from our liberal democratic tradition. Blasphemy laws are incompatible with British values and principles.

The effect that these incidents have had is utterly unacceptable. Every politician and public servant, at all levels and across all parties, must be able to perform their duties without fear.

This transcends party dividing lines. We must, all of us, stand up for our shared democratic values and freedoms.

Mr Speaker, this government will take every possible step to safeguard the people and institutions upon which our democracy depends.

We recently committed an additional £31 million to bolstering the protection of elected representatives and our democratic processes, an investment which will be used to enhance police capabilities, increase private security support for those facing a higher risk, and expanding cyber security advice.

This investment is underpinned by the Defending Democracy Policing Protocol, agreed with police chiefs, to ensure a robust policing response to disruptive activity, including the provision of dedicated, named police contacts for all elected representatives and candidates to liaise with on security matters.

As Lord Walney sets out, it is vital that we take action to manage and limit the impact of protests that descend into violence and disruption.

These haven’t just resulted in vile displays of antisemitism on our streets and aggressive, disruptive tactics deployed by some protestors.

They’ve also drained police resources, as officers are redeployed away from their frontline duties protecting the public from criminals who target them with fraud, theft and violence.

We must not forget that is the public who pays for this, Mr Speaker. We must not permit the selfishness of an extreme minority to deprive them of the services they are owed in return.

That is why, over the coming weeks, the government will look carefully at Lord Walney’s recommendations on public order and changing the thresholds for imposing conditions on protests and the way in which they are applied.

This includes amending the threshold to prevent protests from going ahead on account of the cumulative impact of serious disruption, or where there is the threat of intimidating or abusive conduct based on the persistence of previous arrests.

In addition, we will consider his recommendation for greater responsibilities being put on the organisers of protests to limit disruption, and to allow the police to account for demands on their resource in setting conditions to ensure wider public safety in their jurisdictions beyond protests.

The Home Secretary, Policing Minister and I will be considering the merits of these suggestions over the coming weeks.

This government is already introducing measures through the Criminal Justice Bill to crack down on dangerous disorder, many of which were inspired by close working with Lord Walney over recent months.

The government has also introduced serious disruption prevention orders to allow courts to place requirements or prohibitions on an individual aged 18 or over which they consider necessary and proportionate to prevent that individual from causing serious disruption.

We must go further in tackling the root causes. In this vein, the government has updated the definition of extremism to be used by government departments and officials, alongside a set of engagement principles. This is to ensure they do not – whether inadvertently or otherwise - provide a platform, funding, or legitimacy to groups or individuals who attempt to advance extremist ideologies that would deny our fundamental rights and freedoms.

I thank Lord Walney for his tireless effort in bringing the report together and will continue to work closely with him to ensure his findings inform ongoing policy development. We will, of course, update Parliament on our progress at the appropriate time.

Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that extremism poses a threat to our democracy.

Left unchecked, it would gnaw away at the very foundations of our society. This government will not allow that to happen.

We will hold ever faster to the values of freedom and tolerance that make this country great…

…we will use every available tool to combat those who seek to divide us and the poisonous ideologies they espouse…

…and, in the end, we will defeat extremism in all its ugly forms.

I commend this statement to the House.


Channel website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/home-office

Original article link: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-on-lord-walneys-report-protecting-our-democracy-from-coercion

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