It’s said the climate movement are bad at celebrating victories.
So here we celebrate the (partial) success of the #Killthebill campaign and the coalition of movements that have fought to oppose the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill since its introduction in March 2021.
Power to the People!
Last night The Lords defeated the government FOURTEEN times on a raft of amendments to the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill. In speeches that went on past midnight, “Draconian, anti-democratic, oppressive and outrageous”, were some of the words peers used to describe the Bill’s most controversial amendments. (1)
Bill’s latest Amendments a direct attack on our Freedoms
The Home Secretary crowbarred in the latest raft of amendments to the Bill were crowbarred at the last minute (2) They would make it a crime to cause “serious annoyance” to the public, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. With the Home Secretary getting to decide what the hell ‘serious annoyance’ means, this power would effectively grant a minister the ability to suppress the kinds of protests that he or she does not like or agree with. (3)
“The biggest Threat to the right to dissent”
Saturday saw a national day of action where people took to the streets of cities across the UK to oppose the Bill as it was having its final hearing in the House of Lords. And behind the scenes, thousands of people wrote, emailed and lobbied the Lords to vote against the amendments – amendments Labour’s Lord Hain called “the biggest threat to the right to dissent and the right to protest in my lifetime”. He added that it would have “throttled” protests by the suffragettes. (4)
The campaign group #Killthebill wrote:
“Most significantly, a number of amendments introduced at the last minute by the government were defeated, including proposals to ban “locking on”, stop-and-search without suspicion of a crime, and Serious Disruption Prevention Orders (dubbed “protest ABSOs”). These CANNOT be reintroduced to Parliament.”
Let us be clear, The PCSC Bill isn’t just about ‘demonstrators’. This is about a government that’s coming for all our freedoms. (5)
While the Home Secretary’s knee-jerk response to climate activism received a drubbing in the upper chamber, much of the PCSC Bill returns to the Commons virtually unscathed. There are still substantial threats to protest, including linking immigration status, so that people will be afraid of losing their right to stay in the UK if they step out of line. The Bill also poses a terminal threat to the travelling way of life, as Roma people and gypsies are made ever more marginalised and have their rights removed. We have to continue to stand for our hard-won freedoms and rights, and so the fight against this legislation is not over.
There will be more struggle to come, but for now let’s celebrate a historic victory for protest and the power of ordinary people to make change.
The list of government defeats
Peers voted against the government’s plans to:
- create a new offence of “locking on”, a tactic protestors use to make it difficult to remove them, carrying with it a penalty of up to a year in prison
- create a new offence of obstructing the construction or maintenance of major transport works
- make it an offence for a person to interfere with the use or operation of key national infrastructure, including airports, the road network, railways and newspaper printers
- allow police officers to stop and search a person or vehicle if they suspect an offence was planned, such as causing serious disruption or obstructing major transport works
- allow police to stop and search anyone at a protest “without suspicion”
- allow individuals with a history of causing serious disruption to be banned by the courts from attending certain protests
Peers voted for new amendments to the bill that would:
- scrap the power to impose conditions on protest marches judged to be too noisy
- protect Parliament Square as a place to protest
- require police officers to tell the truth in public inquiries
- demand an urgent review into the prevalence of drink-spiking offences
- restrict the imposition of tougher sentences for blocking a highway to major routes and motorways (rather than all roads)
- scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes it a crime to beg as well as sleep rough
- make misogyny a hate crime by giving the courts the power to treat misogyny as an aggravating factor in any crime and increase sentences accordingly