The government announced today it was reviving plans to make the popular protest technique of locking on a criminal offence.
The measure is a key part of a new public order bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech.
Previous attempts to criminalise locking on, where protesters lock themselves to each other, objects or buildings, were voted down in January 2022 by peers.
The protest has long been used by opponents of fossil fuel and fracking operations and more recently by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
Under the new legislation, going equipped to lock on would also become a criminal offence. People found guilty of both new offences could face a maximum penalty of six months in prison and unlimited fines.
The bill would also make it illegal to obstruct major transport works, such as HS2, with a maximum six month prison sentence on conviction. People found guilty of interfering with key national infrastructure, such as airports, railways and printworks, could face up to 12 months in jail. Both new offences would also carry unlimited fines on conviction under government plans.
Two other measures rejected by the House of Lords earlier this year have also been brought back in the new bill.
Police would get extended powers to stop and search people and seize articles related to protests. And serious disruption prevention orders would allow police to ban people from attending protests.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said today:
“As the Queen’s speech outlined, the public order bill backs the police to prevent antisocial protests from disrupting people’s lives.”
“The law-abiding, responsible majority have had enough of anti-social, disruptive protests carried out by a self-indulgent minority who seem to revel in causing mayhem and misery for the rest of us.”
But environmental and human rights campaigners described the bill as oppressive and said it would not stop people from protesting.
They said measures such as votes for women, legalisation of trades unions and decriminalisation of same-sex relationships would not have happened without protests like those that the government wants to make illegal.
The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, tweeted:
“Will be working cross party again to defeat. Our right to peaceful protest should be protected, not attacked. Shame on government for bring back these dangerous proposals.”
The human rights organisation, Liberty, said:
“These rehashed measures to crack down on protest are yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability. Protest is a right, not a gift from the state – measures like these are designed to stop ordinary people making their voices heard.”
Megan Randles, Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, said:
“The right to protest is one of the safety valves of our democracy. It allows ordinary people to protect their health, families and homes from harm when all other safeguards have failed.
“The government’s attempt to criminalise peaceful dissent is a threat to everyone’s right to stand up for what they believe in.
“Time and again, it’s activism that has dragged a reluctant UK government into confronting vital issues, whether it’s the climate crisis or women’s rights.
“Ministers who are so keen to talk about freedoms at every turn should rethink this attack on one of the most fundamental freedoms we have.”
The police monitoring group, Netpol, which campaigned against similar measures in the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill, said the new serious disruption prevention orders were “a particularly dangerous escalation in the government’s efforts to suppress dissenting voices”.
The group said:
“When the government proposed these severe restrictions on individuals before, they did not even require a conviction.
“Instead, the courts would simply need to ‘reasonably believe’ a campaigner had carried out protest activities resulting in, or likely to result in, ‘serious disruption’.
“Anyone who has organised with a direct action group or participated in a large-scale protest could be at risk.”
Netpol said the new powers may intimidate some people from exercising their right to protest. But it said:
“as long as the climate crisis – the biggest challenge the world faces – is ignored by governments then protests will inevitably continue.”