Lords urged to back changes to ‘anti-protest bill’

Businesses and campaign groups have raised concerns about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Patrick Daly
Monday 17 January 2022 00:01
Demonstrators on Whitehall during a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Demonstrators on Whitehall during a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Peers are being urged to back an amendment to a controversial bill that campaigners say could prohibit large-scale demonstrations from taking place in Westminster.

The House of Lords on Monday will consider the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which has sparked “Kill the Bill” protests across the country.

Campaigners have argued that, without changes, the right to peaceful protest could be curbed by the legislation.

Protests are meant to make an impact - and that is something this Government does not seem to want to allow

Dominic Grieve

They are pushing for the upper chamber to back an amendment drafted by former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve which they say would enshrine demonstrators’ rights.

The amendment was tabled by crossbench peer Lord Colville and campaigners say it is backed by opposition parties as well as Conservative peers.

Separately, a number of high-profile business figures have spoken out about the bill, with Dragons’ Den TV star Deborah Meaden along with 200 firms such as The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Innocent Drinks, calling for “anti-protest provisions” in the draft legislation to be rejected.

Ms Meaden said the bill was “bad for business” and “weakens the fundamentals of a strong democracy”.

She added: “Giving voice to those who challenge and disrupt the status quo is an essential part of business.

“It creates a culture of innovation and leads to better ways of doing things. The same applies in society.”

Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden has voiced concern about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Yolanthe Fawehinmi/PA)

Best for Britain, an anti-Brexit turned internationalist campaign group, said that, as the bill stands, it would have prevented some of the largest demonstrations in British history, including the Countryside Alliance march, the protest against the Iraq war, the marches for a second referendum on European Union membership, and the Brexit day of celebration.

The group’s concerns related to clause 59 – intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance.

The change invoked in the clause would see the common law offence of public nuisance replaced with a new statutory offence, targeting the tactics used by the likes of Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion, where protesters have glued themselves to road surfaces and blocked bridges and newspaper pressing plants.

But critics say the wording is too broad and could prevent peaceful protest from taking place.

The 133B amendment would ensure that legal avenues continue to be available for people to apply to hold peaceful demonstrations, Best for Britain said.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve (Jacob King/PA)

Former cabinet minister Mr Grieve said: “Whatever our political differences, it is important that we are all allowed to air them freely and fairly.

“By changing this one part of the bill, we can hope to retain this vital method of holding power to account.

“Protests are meant to make an impact – and that is something this Government does not seem to want to allow.”

Lord Colville said: “The Police Bill as it stands will ban protests of over 5,000 people taking place in Parliament Square.

“My amendment will protect the right for protests to continue to take place in Parliament Square.

“It will protect our most basic freedom, the right for the people of the UK to be heard by those who exercise power in their name.”

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