A PEACEFUL protest took place outside South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt’s Hindhead office last Wednesday (January 13) against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The protest took place between 11am and 12pm.

The protesters included four councillors from Haslemere Town Council – Green councillors Gary Lloyd and Claire Matthes and independent councillors Nikki Barton and Kirsten Ellis – all of whom attended in a personal capacity.

Cllr Lloyd said: “In effect this Bill as it is currently written gives the police, acting under instruction from government, the power to stop any protest which the government might choose to want to stop, and the criminal offences it creates carry a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison.

“Such powers contradict the Human Rights Act and are more typical of a dictatorial regime than a democratic country.

“Thinking about the year ahead, they would enable the government to criminalise people for protesting peacefully about the looming cost of living crisis.

“In future hard-right or hard-left governments could use the powers to quash political dissent.”

Organic farmers Edwin Brooks and April from Ed’s Veg said: “As well as the criminalisation of peaceful protest, this bill aims to stamp out the historic way of life of gypsy and traveller communities.”

Several interested passers-by stopped to ask the protesters about their reasons for the protest, and a number of passing vehicles “beeped” in support upon reading the signs.

Several protesters said they had already written or would soon be writing to Jeremy Hunt to make a statement against the bill.

Mr Hunt said: “I appreciate some peoples’ concerns regarding the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill but freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are rights both I and the government wholeheartedly support.

“The measures in the Bill are not about stopping or clamping down on the right to protest but about ensuring the police are able to better manage highly disruptive protests and maintain the balance between the rights of a protester and the rights of individuals to go about their daily business.

“They will specifically ensure we don’t see repeats of the scenes where ambulances were blocked from getting to hospitals for instance.”