20 Jan 2022
For the past few weeks, members of the House of Lords have debated the detail of, among other things, its measures to crack down on protest and criminalise nomadic communities.
Opposition to the new laws now includes over 350 organisations, 800,000 members of the public, a number of senior former police officers, three UN Special Rapporteurs, and the government's own human rights watchdog. International civil freedoms monitor Civicus has even placed the UK on its watchlist of countries which are seeing a rapid decline in civic freedoms – alongside with Belarus, Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
The UN COP26 summit showed us, more than ever before, the power of protest to hold world leaders to account. The police bill includes a range of measures which would limit our ability to similarly hold leaders to account in the future – including restricting protests due to their noise, convicting protesters for breaching police conditions even if they didn't know about them, extending prison sentences for protesters.
The bill also creates new police powers to confiscate the homes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families suspected of trespass. On 13 December, these measures tragically passed without amendment following a drawn vote in the House of Lords.
On 17 January, peers voted on the anti-protest parts of the bill and rightly rejected almost all of the government's last-minute attempts to add even more authoritarian measures – such as police stop and search powers for protesters and individual protest banning orders. They also passed new amendments to remove dangerous measures already in the bill, including the powers to restrict noisy protests.
This was a humiliating night for the government, as peers stood up for our historic rights and freedoms. However, other significant parts of the Bill still survive untouched by peers and there is no further opportunity to amend or remove them. These will make it easier to restrict and criminalise protests and introduce harsher sentences for peaceful actions.
Some of the changes made by the House of Lords still need to be debated and confirmed by MPs – in a process called Ping Pong – so that's where we'll now be focusing our effort so that they get the clear message that these new measures are fundamentally unjust and undemocratic and must not become law.
Specifically we will be pressing MPs to stop the government reintroducing: the police powers to restrict protests due to their noise level; increase restrictions possible on peaceful assemblies and restrictions on one person protests. And to support provisions for protest on the streets around parliament.