Last night the government suffered a series of defeats in the House of Lords over its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Among the many controversial proposals voted down were Serious Disruption Prevention Orders – or “Protest Banning Orders”, lengthy sentences for those attaching themselves to other people or property while protesting, and a vague noise complaint measure, which would give police the power to disperse any protest that is deemed to be too loud.
Despite the defeats in the Lords, a few of the measures that were rejected may be amended and reintroduced in the house by the government.
In a lengthy debate, peers from all parties spoke passionately against the amendments, with Labour’s Lord Hain saying that they were “the biggest threat to the right to dissent and the right to protest in my lifetime”, and Conservative peer Lord Deben saying, “We are a democratic society and if I cannot go outside here and make a noise to point out that I think a whole range of things that the Government —or any Government—are doing are unacceptable, then my human rights are very seriously impugned.”
In total, 14 government amendments were defeated in the Lords. But MPs opposing the bill will now have to work hard to protect the gains made in the second chamber.
Campaigners and civil society organisations welcomed the news but emphasised that the bill remains extremely concerning – particularly because it continues to criminalise the way of life for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK.
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The Police Bill Alliance, made up of organisations including Liberty, Bond, Quakers in Britain, Friends of the Earth, and Friends, Families and Travellers, said: “Peers have rightly rejected some of the most extreme proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We are grateful to every Peer who stayed late to push back against this draconian Bill which seeks to destroy the right to protest in the UK.
“With the Bill set to return to the Commons, we now urge MPs to uphold the changes Peers have made on ‘noise-based’ conditions on protests.
“Unfortunately many of the measures criminalising protest remain in this Bill, meaning you could get ten years in prison for causing ‘serious annoyance’. The Bill also introduces oppressive new measures which criminalise the nomadic way of life for Gypsy and Traveller communities.
“This Bill is just part of a suite of legislation going through Parliament which attack our fundamental rights and undermines democracy in the UK. Be it stripping people of their British citizenship without warning, or allowing Ministers to throw out Court decisions they disagree with – placing politics above the law, we are now entering dangerous waters when it comes to Britain’s civic freedoms and democracy.”
With the amendments likely to be reintroduced in some form in the House, Bond has pledged to keep campaigning against the measure.
Stephanie Draper, Bond CEO, said: “Thank you to all the Peers who voted to oppose some of the most dangerous measures proposed by the government.
“People need to be able to stand up for the issues that matter to their families and communities, both here in the UK and around the world. Be it about climate change or against inequality, protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and we must not take it for granted.
“This is why international development charities will continue to campaign against the Police Bill, especially those parts that remain incompatible with international law and set a bad precedent internationally. At a time when the right to protest is under attack around the world, the UK should be setting a positive example, rather than making it harder for people to exercise their democratic freedoms.”