It is shocking to watch the news reports that the British Parliament is considering a series of harsh laws to limit the right of free speech. For now the effort by the Conservative government of Boris Johnson has come to a halt. The House of Commons was ready to pass the legislation.
Fortunately reason prevailed in the House of Lords. At least temporarily. The goverment argued these harsh measures are necessary to preserve “the rights and freedom of the law abiding majority” and vows to keep pushing.
This is a free speech issue which needs close monitoring and scrutiny.
Excerpted from The Guardian 1.18.2022
Controversial measures including police powers to stop noisy protests could be brought back to the Commons by the government after a series of late-night defeats in the House of Lords, the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has said.
The Labour frontbencher Richard Rosser said the “sweeping, significant and further controversial powers” had not been considered by the Commons and called it an “outrageous way to legislate”.
Rosser said: “We cannot support any of these last-minute, rushed and ill-thought-through broad powers… … with the exception of approving the increased sentences for wilfully obstructing motorways and major roads.”
The independent crossbencher and prominent QC Alex Carlile, who served previously as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: “The dilution of without-suspicion stop and search powers is a menacing and dangerous measure.”
Brian Paddick, a Liberal Democrat peer who was a deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police, said: “If the government is determined to bring in these draconian, anti-democratic laws, reminiscent of cold war eastern bloc police states, they should withdraw them now and introduce them as a separate bill to allow the democratically elected house time to properly consider them.”
Lord Paddick added: “The anti-protest measures in the original bill were dreadful. These measures and the way they have been introduced are outrageous.”
Peers rejected a series of measures in the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill that were proposed in response to activist movements such as Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion. The bill will return to the Commons for MPs to decide whether to accept the changes.
Proposed powers that were voted down included allowing police officers to stop and search anyone at a protest “without suspicion” for items used to prevent a person being moved, known as “locking-on”.
A move that would allow individuals with a history of causing serious disruption to be banned by the courts from attending certain protests was also dismissed, along with a proposal to make it an offence for a person to disrupt the operation of key national infrastructure, including airports and newspaper printers.
In a separate defeat, peers backed restricting the imposition of tougher sentences for blocking a highway to major routes and motorways rather than all roads.
Asked if any measures would be reintroduced through the Commons, the justice secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ll look very carefully at all of that, but, yes, absolutely.
“In relation to noise, of course we support the right to peaceful and rambunctious protest, but it cannot be allowed to interfere with the lives of the law-abiding majority.”
Rejection of the Conservative government’s plans sets the stage for a protracted “ping-pong” parliamentary tussle, whereby legislation passes between the Lords and the Commons until agreement can be reached.
Peers were strongly critical of not only the measures, but also the way they had been introduced at such a late stage of the passage of the bill, after it had already gone through the elected house.
Earlier, the Lords also defeated other contentious curbs on demonstrations proposed in the legislation, including powers to impose conditions on protests judged to be too noisy.
Stressing the need for the protest measures, the Home Office minister Susan Williams argued they were “vitally important in protecting the country from the highly disruptive tactics employed by a small number of people”.
Lady Williams said: “The rights to freedom of speech and assembly are a cornerstone of our democracy and this government will not shrink from defending them.
“But a responsible government, one that stands up for the rule of law, must also defend the rights and freedom of the law-abiding majority.”