Queen’s Speech: Government attempts to introduce ‘draconian’ protest laws for second time

Proposals initially defeated by House of Lords are being resurrected in new Public Order Bill

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Monday 09 May 2022 22:34
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<p>The laws were initially drawn up in response to Insulate Britain protests in 2021  </p>

The laws were initially drawn up in response to Insulate Britain protests in 2021

The government has been forced to draw up a new bill to bring in “draconian” protest laws backed by Priti Patel, following a humiliating defeat in the House of Lords.

The Queen’s Speech is to announce the introduction of criminal offences targeting “locking on” and allowing police to stop and search peaceful protesters.

Ministers attempted to enact some of the proposals previously through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

But the measures were stripped out by the House of Lords and branded “draconian and anti-democratic”, after being inserted at a late stage of parliamentary scrutiny - after the bill had been debated by MPs.

Downing Street confirmed that the new Public Order Bill - which is one of 38 unveiled in the Queen’s Speech - was created following “parliament’s failure to support these urgently needed measures”.

They were originally tabled as government amendments to the policing bill in November, following a wave of disruptive Insulate Britain protests.

Lord Paddick, who was a deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, said at the time: “If the government is determined to bring in these draconian, anti-democratic laws, reminiscent of Cold War eastern bloc police states, they should withdraw them now and introduce them as a separate bill to allow the democratically-elected house time to properly consider them.”

Downing Street said the new bill would create new criminal offences for locking on, when protesters attach themselves to objects or each other to prevent removal, and going equipped to lock on - punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment.

It is expected to extend stop and search powers so the police can seize articles related to the new offences, and create “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders” for protesters.

Human rights groups previously voiced deep concern over the extension of stop and search, originally designed for weapons and drugs, into peaceful protests and the prospect of banning orders for demonstrators who have committed no crime.

Liberty called the proposals “some of the most dangerous and authoritarian parts” of the policing bill, which saw other controversial measures including the power to restrict noisy protests approved by parliament last month.

The new Public Order Bill will also reintroduce an offence of interfering with key national infrastructure, such as airports, railways and printing presses - carrying a maximum sentence of a year in prison.

Extinction Rebellion blocks News Corp Printworks in Broxbourne

The inclusion of printing presses is a reference to the 2020 Extinction Rebellion protest outside a Rupert Murdoch-owned printworks in Hertfordshire.

The trial of several activists heard that Ms Patel had personally contacted Hertfordshire Police and Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick during the demonstration, seeking “early intervention and removal of the protesters”.

They had been aiming to stop newspapers including The Sun and the Daily Mail being distributed over their reporting of the climate crisis.

Commenting on the new proposals, the home secretary said: “The law-abiding, responsible majority have had enough of anti-social, disruptive protests carried out by a self-indulgent minority who seem to revel in causing mayhem and misery for the rest of us.

“The Public Order Bill will give the police the powers they need to clamp down on this outrageous behaviour and ensure the British public can go about their lives without disruption.”

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