Government accountability / Protest rights
The Policing Bill – What you need to know
Posted on 25 Apr 2022
As the Government’s controversial Policing Bill reaches its final stages in Parliament this week, here’s a primer on how we got here and what could happen next.
What is the Policing Bill?
The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge and dense piece of legislation with seriously worrying consequences.
It includes a clampdown on protest, sweeping new powers for the police, and would criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities’ way of life.
The Bill would hit those communities already affected by over-policing hardest, particularly young Black men.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a huge amount of opposition to the Bill from across society – with almost a million signatures on our petition, more than 700 academics calling for the Bill to be dropped, and over 350 charities signing a letter against the Bill – not to mention huge demonstrations on the streets from groups like Sisters Uncut and Kill the Bill.
It has also been opposed by parliamentarians of all parties, former Prime Ministers, former senior police officers, and three UN Special Rapporteurs.
What has happened so far?
When the Bill was voted on in the House of Lords previously, Peers voted to remove some of the worst elements of the Bill. Some of these were thrown out for good, including:
- Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (protest banning orders)
- The offences of locking on and being equipped to lock on
- Suspicionless stop and search related to protest.
Some other threats to protest were defeated, but with the option for MPs to vote them back in when the Bill returned to the House of Commons. These included measures to give the police the power to impose noise-based restrictions on protest.
These measures have been widely opposed – including by former senior police officers and parliamentarians across the political spectrum – as they would strike at the very heart of what makes protest effective, literally silencing people trying to make their voices heard on the issues that matter to them.
However, when the Bill returned to the House of Commons, MPs voted to reject the Lords’ amendments, meaning that noise-based restrictions went back into the Bill.
What is ping pong?
In this part of Parliamentary procedure, known as ‘ping pong,’ the Bill goes back and forth between the House of Lords and the House of Commons until it is approved by both.
Usually, if MPs reject amendments that Peers have made to a Bill, Peers won’t insist on them – meaning they won’t try and pass those amendments again.
But last month, Peers in the House of Lords insisted on the noise amendment – meaning they voted once again to remove restrictions on noise-based protests from the Bill. They also insisted on removing the police’s ability to impose conditions on static demonstrations.
This gave MPs another chance to reconsider this part of the Bill – but sadly MPs voted again to reject the Lords’ amendments – and to keep noise-based restrictions on protests as part of the Policing Bill.
However, when the Bill returned to the Lords, peers insisted – for a third time – on removing noise-based restrictions from the Bill.
What happens now?
Today, the Bill returns to the House of Commons. The Government will have to decide whether to once again put the noise-based restrictions back into the Bill, or whether to back down and accept the Lords amendments.
At the moment, the Government is fighting to push nine bills through in just a few days – the result of introducing a huge amount of unwieldy and unpopular legislation all at once. If they don’t get these Bills passed before Parliament closes, they will all be dropped.
This means there’s a greater chance that they will concede and leave noise-based restrictions out of the Bill – but if they insist on keeping them in, the Lords will once again be able to vote to remove them.
It’s unusual for a Bill to go through this many stages of ping pong, and it’s a mark of just how unpopular these measures are. Whatever happens in the next few days, at Liberty we will keep fighting for the right to protest, and against the Government’s attempts to make itself untouchable.
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