Sweeping measures to crack down on protests, including making activists pay to protest and potentially spying on campaign groups have been put forward by the Government’s adviser on political violence.

Lord Walney recommended a series of severe changes to “protect our democratic values from intimidation”, such as a blanket ban on face coverings at protests and making it easier for businesses or members of the public to claim damages from activist groups that cause disruption.

He said the Government should consider making protest buffer zones around MPs’ constituency offices and local council chambers, in the same way that abortion clinics will be protected.

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The peer backs measures to restrict the ability of some groups to organise and fundraise if they are considered to have a policy of using criminal offences that would lead to a prison term, for example destroying property or causing serious disruption or injury.

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Asked about the report, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (above) said: “Extremism has no place in our society. Threatening or intimidating behaviour that disrupts the lives of ordinary hardworking people isn’t acceptable.”

In his 292-page report on political violence and disruption, he also claims law enforcement does not know enough about “the extreme left”.

He says: “I conclude, unsurprisingly, that there is a greater violent threat from the far right.

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“Yet I find a worrying gap in our understanding of the extreme left, whose activists do not routinely employ violent methods yet systematically seek to undermine faith in our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.”

The report sets out 41 recommendations, including:

  • A review of whether undercover surveillance is being used appropriately in the context of public order and aggravated activism
  • The Government should develop a mechanism to review charging decisions by prosecutors to make sure protest laws are being followed properly
  • The law should be changed to allow the police to consider the cumulative effect of protests on antisemitic hate crime levels
  • The intimidation of candidates and campaigners should be specifically criminalised before the next election
  • The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should review whether juries and judges are more lenient on protesters who support “progressive” causes such as climate change and anti-racism
  • The Government should boost physical protection for private defence companies against protesters
  • The intelligence services and relevant Government departments should be given more resources to identify disinformation online and work with technology companies to have it removed

Lord Walney (below) came under fire before the publication of the report because his interests as declared on the House of Lords register include jobs for companies that also act for energy firms.

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He told The Guardian he had maintained an objective standard and sought a wide range of views while writing the report.

Lord Walney rejected suggestions that such links undermine the credibility of the report on Tuesday, saying at a media Q&A in London chaired by Peter Mandelson: “No it doesn’t. My list of interests is transparently set out.”

Asked whether the recommendation for extra protection for defence and energy companies in particular was connected in any way to his financial interests, Lord Walney said it was "worth implementing" extra protection for those industries. 

Asked by Lord Mandelson whether the proposals were workable, the former Labour MP, who quit the party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, admitted they could be "laborious” to try to implement. 

“I just think the public is sick of the way in which they feel that their priorities are ignored there is not sufficient deterrent effect in stopping this kind of extreme economic disruption,” Lord Walney said.

Just Stop Oil said it did not recognise the legitimacy of the report because of the links, while Extinction Rebellion (XR) called it “shameful” that he had been asked to write the report.

An XR spokesman said: “We are a movement committed to non-violence.

“We train everyone acting in the name of Extinction Rebellion in non-violence.

“We have stewards to manage crowds responsibly. We have a policy for how to clear an area for emergency services.

“If the government can come for a group that works this hard at peaceful protest, they can come for anyone.”

Jo Maugham, head of the Good Law Project, also highlighted Lord Walney's links with energy firms and the defence industry. 

He added: "We are firmly into the territory of our government banning organisations whose politics it disagrees with."

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Home Secretary James Cleverly said he would carefully consider Lord Walney’s recommendations.

He said: “The right to protest is a vital part of democracy, but there is absolutely no place for criminality or harassment on our streets. Too often, we have seen vile displays of hate crime and aggressive tactics used by so-called protesters.

“Lord Walney’s report raises important questions on the cumulative impact of disruptive and extremist activity on our communities. I thank Lord Walney and his team for this extensive and compelling report.”

Cleverly said an extra £31 million of funding has been provided for security for MPs, and the definition of extremism has been updated.