Activism

MPs to vote on keeping ‘draconian’ anti-protest measures in the Policing Bill today

The government was defeated 14 times in January, but has the opportunity to reject the Lords amendments today

kill the bill, policing bill

Protesters at a Kill the Bill protest in London, January 2022. Image: Andrea Domeniconi/Extinction Rebellion

MPs will today vote on watered down anti-protest measures in the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill previously described as “authoritarian” and “draconian”.

After historic government defeats in the House of Lords, peers last month voted to introduce amendments which threw out proposals to restrict protest.

While measures addressing protesters “locking on” to fixed objects and increases to police powers of stop and search were removed, MPs are still to consider restrictions on noise at protests, and on whether people should be sent to prison for blocking motorways.

A protest is planned outside parliament on the same day the Nationality and Borders bill enters the House of Lords.

Labour peer Lord Peter Hain, an anti-apartheid campaigner in the 1970s, told the House of Lords the bill “is deeply reactionary. It is an authoritarian attack on the fundamental liberties of our citizens.

“If enacted in past generations, it would have throttled the suffragettes and blocked their ability to rattle Parliament’s cage to secure votes for women.”

In January, the government suffered a huge number of defeats on the bill in the Lords. Some last-minute amendments it introduced — such as making “locking on” a criminal offence andgiving police the right to stop and search without suspicion — were removed by the Lords and can only be re-introduced in a separate piece of legislation.

But a number of amendments inserted by the Lords will be in front of parliament today. Two anti-protest measures are of particular significance, with MPs given the opportunity to decide whether to keep these “watering-down” amendments or scrap them.

The original bill gave police power to impose noise restrictions on protests but the Lords added an amendment to remove this. The Commons will now vote on whether to put the power back in – by rejecting the Lords amendment.

MPs will also decide whether to agree to limit the offence of “wilful obstruction of highway”. The bill would, in effect, make blocking roads punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison. The Lords passed amendment 88 to limit this offence to the “Strategic Road Network” — mostly motorways and A-roads — rather than all roads.

Non-protest measures will also be voted on today, including making “sex for rent” a crime, making misogyny a hate crime, and imposing a duty of “transparency, candour and frankness” on the police. The government is expected to vote against these.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill is at its final stage before it receives royal assent and becomes law. 

The bill and its amendments – totalling nearly 400 pages – do not mention the word protest but the measures are being dubbed the biggest restriction on the right to protest in our lifetimes.

After today’s votes, the Lords can decide whether to accept or reject what the Commons has decided. The convention is that they defer to the Commons, as it is the elected house, rather than dig their heels in. They can also offer watered down versions of their amendments in the hope MPs will accept these.

The government has a huge parliamentary majority so, barring a huge Conservative rebellion, votes will almost certainly go the way it wants. Beginning just after 3.30pm, with six hours of debate and votes scheduled, it is the main piece of business in the Commons today.

A protest, the latest in the long line of Kill the Bill protests against the legislation, is planned for this evening.

Scheduled for 6-8pm in Abingdon Street Gardens, outside the Lords, the protest’s organisers promise “lots of music”, and say “we need your voice to amplify the movement.”

The Kill the Bill official Twitter account wrote: “We fully intend to express ourselves and have fun as we protest. Oppression is miserable and violent, but we can resist through joy and creativity.”

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