The government was defeated eight times in the House of Lords yesterday on its proposed legislation to limit certain types of protest.
Peers rejected key measures during the third reading of the controversial public order bill.
The government defeats included the rejection of measures to:
- Prevent slow walking
- Allow police to stop and search people without suspicion to tackle disruptive protests
- Allow serious disruption prevention orders (SDPOs) to be imposed against people who had not been convicted of any offence
Peers also backed restrictions on the use of SDPOs.
The measure on slow walking was introduced in the House of Lords and was not in the original legislation. This means it cannot be reinstated when the bill returns to the House of Commons.
The government has said the bill is needed to tackle protest tactics, such as blocking roads, previously used by groups such as Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion.
Opponents have argued that existing laws can be used to deal with demonstrators.
Many of the measures were added to the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill but defeated by peers in 2022 and were not in the final act.
The Home Office minister, Andrew Sharpe, said yesterday:
“I must express the Government’s disappointment at the removal of some very important measures, the aim of which was to support the police in better responding to the sort of disruption which has been impacting the public going about their daily lives. Those amendments will now be considered in the other place and we will no doubt be debating them again soon.”
“There should be no doubt about the merits of the Bill’s ultimate objectives: namely to better balance the rights of protesters with the rights of individuals to go about their lives free from disruption or harm.
“Blocking motorways and slow walking in roads delays our life-saving emergency services, stops people getting to work and drains police resources, and the British people are rightly fed up with it. It is more important than ever that the Bill moves swiftly to become law.”
The Lib Dem peer and former senior police officer, Brian Paddick, said:
“When similar restrictions on protests were considered by this House in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, the Government were defeated on 14 occasions.
“This time, the Government were defeated eight times, but that was only because we did not feel there was enough time to vote against other measures that we were very concerned about.”
The Labour peer, Vernon Coaker said:
“I want to emphasise that the debates here and the changes made reflect a genuine attempt to address where the line should be drawn between the right to protest and the right of others to go about their daily lives.
“It was not about those supporting a law-abiding majority and those putting the rights of protesters first.”
“Across the world, democracy and the right to protest are non-existent or under threat. In our great democracy, tensions arise and anger around protests can sometimes, quite rightly, provoke public outrage. In seeking to deal with that, however, we must not, even inadvertently, damage freedoms that we all cherish.”
Earlier this month, peers defeated the government six times on stop and search, slow walking, serious disruption prevention orders, stopping journalists reporting on protests and the use of disruptive protest on a current issue as a lawful defence.
Tine and time again, Judges and Lords understand common law and for their sake as much as the commoners protect the law from an assault on rights by corporate Britain, with all its stakeholders.
“with all its stakeholders…” – and that must include government.