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THE government has suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords over its widely condemned plans to curb protest rights.
Opposition peers voted on Monday night against 14 amendments put forward by ministers to the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill.
The rejected amendments included limiting noise during demonstrations, new powers for police to stop and search anyone at a protest “without suspicion” and allowing individuals with “a history of causing serious disruption” to be banned from attending certain protests.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Labour peers voted against the government’s last-minute protest amendments, and it was striking how many Conservative peers were not prepared to support the government’s approach.”
Opposition members also succeeded in introducing new clauses to the legislation, including one to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales for the first time.
In a further setback for ministers, peers voted to protect Parliament Square as a place to protest and to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which makes it a crime to beg or sleep rough.
Speaking during the debate, Labour peer Lord Coaker said: “The right to protest in this country has never, ever had to have a condition placed upon it which is about noise.”
Veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Lord Hain said: “This Bill, in my view, represents the biggest threat to the right to dissent and non-violent protest in my lifetime.”
The legislation will now go back and forth between the Lords and the Commons as the government has signalled that it will not drop its authoritarian proposals.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme today whether the measures would be introduced, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, said: “We’ll look very carefully at all of that, but, yes, absolutely.”
Responding to the Lords votes, campaign group the Police Bill Alliance urged MPs to uphold the changes made to noise-based conditions.
A statement from the alliance, made up of Liberty, Bond, Friends of the Earth, Quakers in Britain and Friends, Families & Travellers, said: “Unfortunately, many of the measures criminalising protest remain in the Bill, meaning you could get 10 years in prison for causing ‘serious annoyance’.”
Socialist Campaign Group secretary Richard Burgon hailed the government’s defeat in the Lords as uplifting and added: “Now let’s kick the whole Bill into the dustbin of history.”
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