The government’s attempt to pass laws to curb protests has taken a major hit after the House of Lords voted down a number of the controversial proposals.
The government had been moved to act after the disruption caused by eco-activists such as Isolate Great Britain.
But the Lords rejected several of the proposed powers, including:
• Allow police officers to stop and search someone by protesting “without suspicion” of objects used to prevent a person from being moved, known as “locking”
• To allow persons who have previously caused serious disturbances to be barred by the courts from participating in certain protests
• A proposal to make it a criminal offense for a person to disrupt the operation of central national infrastructure, including airports and newspaper printers
In a separate defeat, peers supported the limitation of stricter penalties for blocking a highway to major routes and highways rather than all roads.
Controversial restrictions on demonstrations, including powers to impose conditions on protests considered too noisy, were also defeated.
Why were the laws voted down?
Peers criticized the measures and their introduction at such a late stage in the adoption of the bill.
Labor frontbencher Lord Rosser said the “pervasive, significant and further controversial powers” had not been considered by the Commons, describing this as an “outrageous way of legislating”.
He said: “We can not support any of these last-minute, hasty and ill-considered broad powers … with the exception of approving the increased penalties for deliberately blocking motorways and major roads.”
Green Party Peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb: “These are draconian laws that are a broader attack on our democracy.”
Independent crossbencher and prominent QC Lord Carlile of Berriew, who has previously served as an independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, said: “The dilution of stop and search powers without suspicion is a threatening and dangerous measure.”
But the Secretary of the Interior, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said: “The right to freedom of expression and assembly is a cornerstone of our democracy and this government will not shy away from defending them.
“But a responsible government, one that stands up for the rule of law, must also defend the rights and freedoms of the law-abiding majority.
“Their rights can and must not be trampled on by a small minority of protesters who believe they should not be held accountable to the law and should be given carte blanche to cause any kind of disturbance at any cost.”
‘Reminiscent of Cold War Eastern Bloc Police States’
Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick, who was deputy assistant commissioner to the Metropolitan Police, said: “If the government is determined to introduce these draconian, anti-democratic laws reminiscent of the Cold War Eastern bloc police states, they should withdraw them now and introduce them as a separate bill to give the democratically elected House time to consider them properly. “
He added: “The anti-protest measures in the original bill were terrible. These measures and the way they have been introduced are outrageous.”
In response, Lady Williams said: “The arguments posted here tonight are about the middle class trying to stop working people from going to work, and I know where I stand in this.”