04 Apr 2022
In recent weeks, parliamentarians have debated the detail of, among other things, its measures to crack down on protest.
Opposition to these measures 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.
Changes made by the House of Lords were debated by MPs on 28 February 2022. Despite so many of us speaking up against the Bill’s anti-protest measures, it was a disappointing result. MPs voted to reintroduce the police powers to restrict noisy protests, peaceful assemblies and one-person protests.
Thankfully, in a process called “ping-pong”, the Bill returned to the House of Lords where Peers rejected the police powers to restrict noisy protests, one-person protests and peaceful assemblies for a second time.
The Bill bounced back to the House of Commons where MPs voted against the Lords' amendments. The Peers remained persistent and voted for a third time to remove the noise trigger for restricting public processions and assemblies, and the police powers to restrict one-person protests.
Parliament is now on recess until 19 April so the Bill won't bounce back to the House of Commons for a few weeks, where MPs will vote on the Lords’ amendments again. Contact your MP or tweet them and convince them the anti-protest measures in the Bill are a direct threat on our rights.
This is our final opportunity to defend against the government’s clampdown on peaceful protest and stop the worst parts of the Bill from becoming law.