A battle over the right to protest is being fought in parliament this week
The sheer number of amendments and likely votes on the Public Order Bill has led to the Lords taking an extra day for Report Stage, next Monday. The opposition last night was strong, with three straight defeats for the government. I feel that peers are now taking a more realistic view of how draconian this legislation is and the real motivations behind the government promoting it.
The government is corrupt and two thirds of the public agree with that statement. It demonises refugees, liberal lawyers and human rights like any populist, far right party seeking to divide and rule.
The Conservative Party has already pushed through a law that allows the police to declare a protest is illegal if they feel it is too noisy, and to set time conditions on its duration. Also, if people are obstructing a highway, even a local side road in a protest about air pollution outside a school, or trees being cut down, they can be sentenced up to 51 weeks in prison.
We now live in a country where undercover police, or even their paid spies within non-violent, peaceful organisations the ability to break the law and have immunity for their crimes. There is a well documented fifty year history of the police making political choices about spying on peaceful organisations merely because they oppose a government policy or the status quo.
The May elections will see the first impacts of the laws that enable voter suppression.
And with parliamentary power slipping into the hands of Ministers who can dictate policy and new laws with Henry the 8th powers that require minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Dictatorial powers that the government aim to take to a new level with the EU retention Bill.
So what is coming next?
- Laws that ban strikes in a vast range of sectors, according to criteria that Ministers will set.
- A proposed “Bill of Rights” which is meant to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 and its current mechanism for enforcement. A very cynical attempt to remove all human rights protections for people in the UK.
- A National Security Bill that could lead to the prosecution of journalists who do nothing more than report things our government wish to keep quiet.
I recently asked people on Twitter what kind of a government does such things? Many said it was clearly fascism when you suppress voting; ban strikes and make protest into a crime rather than a right. But I thought the most perceptive response was the person who said the government was “frightened”.
This corrupt government knows it has lost public confidence and that there are protests coming about the latest round of austerity; the collapsing and privatised health care system; about sewage in the rivers and a squeeze on everyone’s pay except the bankers and wealthy.
The government isn’t frightened of a few dozen peaceful climate protesters. It is frightened of several million people protesting about a country where nothing works properly but rich people are still making a lot of profit.
Next Monday, in the Lords, we are voting on giving the police power to declare a protest illegal if it disrupts someone and to designate a whole area in which the police can stop and search anyone without suspicion. That means people taking part in a protest, people walking past, or in a car, tourists or journalists —anyone in the area.
Above all, we are voting on pre-crime. Some of this legislation we can amend, but knowing that the government can bring it back and, much to my annoyance, the Lords will eventually back down to the elected House of Commons, no matter how wrong they are.
However, we can completely delete the pre-crime rules that allow the police to ban protests in advance. That alone would make a second chamber worthwhile.
The Lords successfully defeated the government in two votes on the Public Order Bill last night. The government lost their attempt to define “serious disruption” in a way that would ban protests that most of us regarded as reasonable. They also lost an amendment that would have removed protestors who are ‘locking on’ from claiming a reasonable excuse for their actions due to the issue being so important – something that juries take seriously.
Your Green peers also supported a successful amendment that sets up exclusion zones around abortion clinics. This was the Lords at their best with an intelligent debate and a consensus developing in favour of one of several options. We didn’t even have to vote as it was clear which amendment peers wanted.
The Lords have a big influence and some power. However, that only works if the Labour Party pulls out all the stops to oppose the most draconian laws this country has witnessed in modern times.
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Image credit: Alex Drop – Creative Commons