Fundamental rights / Protest rights
We’ve won some crucial victories on the Policing Bill – but this government’s attempt to make itself untouchable is far from defeated
Posted on 23 Jan 2022
Last Monday, Peers in the House of Lords voted down 14 of the worst aspects of the Government’s Policing Bill – the most defeats inflicted in one day on the Government by the Lords since 2005. Among them were the removal of draconian amendments making locking on an offence, introducing new protest-related suspicionless stop and search powers, and creating serious disruption prevention orders (protest banning orders). These are crucial victories, stripping the Bill of some of its worst excesses, and cause for celebration among anyone who values our freedom to protest.
However, this is no time to rest on our laurels.
Deeply damaging parts of the Bill remain, including those which would effectively criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities’ way of life, and those which would increase discrimination and the danger of police interactions, particularly for Black men. We also will have a fight on our hands to ensure the proposals to limit protest based on how noisy they are not voted back in by MPs. The amendments voted down earlier this week were just the tip of the iceberg that is this Government’s shameless attempt to put itself above the law and strip away the vital mechanisms by which people can hold them to account.
Like we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, policy affecting millions of people was pushed through without proper debate from Parliament.
In fact, the very reason that Peers were able to ditch those amendments was because the Government had introduced them at the eleventh hour, slipping them into the Bill at the last moment in order to avoid scrutiny. It was only through our own campaigning, the campaigning of hundreds of organisations, and the tireless work of grassroots groups like Sisters Uncut and Kill the Bill, that the pernicious impact of the new powers was widely known and comprehensively rejected.
Even so, Peers were at risk of running out of time to debate some of the hugely consequential elements of the Bill – which runs to over 300 pages. We must not forget how appalling it is that a bill packed full of dramatic new powers for the state and the police is being pushed through Parliament without the time for proper scrutiny. This is typical of this Government’s approach, sidelining MPs wherever possible. Increasingly, laws are being made through secondary legislation, which doesn’t get examined by parliamentarians to the same level that primary legislation does. This means our elected MPs have no chance to debate or vote on some of the laws that are being passed – instead, laws are simply being made at the whim of a minister.
And while Peers were rejecting key elements of the Policing Bill in the Lords, MPs in the Commons were passing a piece of equally pernicious legislation in the Elections Bill. The law that would bring in compulsory Voter ID for elections – a move which could disenfranchise millions of voters and make it harder for those already sidelined to make their voices heard at the ballot box – was passed through to the next stage in just over two hours. Again, like we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, policy affecting millions of people was pushed through without proper debate from Parliament.
Monday’s votes in the House of Lords showed we can win. When we come together to make our voices heard, we can stop this runaway train in its tracks.
Let’s be clear: this is not normal. We are facing an unprecedented weakening of key democratic principles, with far-reaching new powers rushed through Parliament, MPs and Peers unable to properly scrutinise legislation, and transparent moves to make it harder for people to vote. We know that this is a Government that doesn’t like being held to account: in addition to this recent legislation, they have also announced plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act, the law that makes our basic rights real, and to limit judicial review, a vital mechanism that allows ordinary people to challenge governments and public bodies if they get it wrong and don’t uphold their duties.
In Parliament, in the streets, in the courts and at the ballot box, this Government is intent on stripping away people’s power to challenge them, and re-writing the rules so that only they can ever win. In the face of this barrage of dangerous legislation being rushed through parliament, it’s clear how determined they are to make themselves untouchable – and it’s easy to feel powerless.
But Monday’s votes in the House of Lords showed we can win. When we come together to make our voices heard, we can stop this runaway train in its tracks. The Policing Bill is just one of many power grabs from this Government, and now it’s absolutely vital that we carry on this fight to stop them making themselves untouchable, and protect our most basic rights.
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