Lords kill off Government’s attempt to stop protesters using slow marches to block roads
Protesters will be free to use slow marches to block roads after the House of Lords killed off the Government's attempt to block the tactic.
Peers in the House of Lords voted by 254 to 240 to reject a Government move aimed at cracking down on groups such as Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain who have brought chaos to Britain's roads.
Last year, environmental activists used a strategy of walking slowly along roads, bringing traffic to a near standstill.
Police face public anger for failing to intervene, after they said they were uncertain about how to act. They claimed they could only intervene if the disruption being caused was serious and that the definition was unclear.
The amendment to the Public Order Bill that was rejected by the Lords on Tuesday night had been championed by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and aimed to clarify and broaden the definition of “serious disruption”.
It would have given police powers to shut down protests before such “serious disruption” took place, to require demonstrators to move to the pavement and take action against them if they refused and to take account of the cumulative effect of a series of protests by a group rather than a single incident.
However, an alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers defeated the plans with some arguing that it an excessive extension of police powers, and others angry at the Government’s “undemocratic” late introduction of the amendment after the bill had cleared the Commons.
Because it was introduced in the Lords rather than Commons, it cannot return to the lower House, so has been killed off for now.
Peers mounted a similar attack on last year’s public order laws after then home secretary Priti Patel also introduced late in the process new measures to tackle Insulate Britain protesters. The Government had to reintroduce them in the current Public Order Bill.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Selfish, guerrilla protest tactics disproportionately impact the law-abiding majority. The police specifically asked the government to clarify what constitutes serious disruption in law, so that they can act more decisively to prevent misery for the public.
“It is extremely disappointing the House of Lords rejected this important amendment. We will reflect on today's debates and consider next steps."
Labour claims the police already have sufficient powers to tackle slow marches by applying offences such as obstruction of the highway.
Shadow policing minister Sarah Jones said: “Police already have powers to stop serious disruption and dangerous protests and Labour supports the police in using them. But, as usual, Ministers are more interested in manufacturing rows than helping the police to do their job.”
Ministers were also defeated on powers to let police use stop and search without suspicion to look for “lock-on” equipment on suspected protesters after peers warned shoppers at John Lewis could end up being frisked and even face arrest.
A cross party amendment prohibiting police from stopping journalists reporting on protests was also passed in a further defeat for the Government.