Labour members in the House of Lords are to oppose last-minute amendments to the police and crime bill, which human rights activists have described as “a dangerous power grab”, in a move that could kill the proposals entirely.
In a low-key announcement on the LabourLordsUK Twitter account on Friday, the party said it would be “opposing protest clauses added late” to the bill, a reference to 18 pages of amendments introduced by the government in November.
Unlike the rest of the bill, however, where the lords can merely send amendments back to the Commons to be reconsidered, because the latest amendments were introduced in the Lords they will fall if peers vote against them.
Labour’s decision to oppose sections of the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill means that with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and some independents there will be enough votes to defeat the government.
It comes after intensive lobbying. Liberal Democrat and Green party peers have already said they would oppose the amendments and called on Labour to do the same, a call echoed by the civil rights groups Liberty and Big Brother Watch, and environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion.
Yvette Cooper MP, the shadow home secretary, said: “The policing bill should have been an opportunity to tackle violence against women, improve support for victims of crime and keep communities safe [but] …“the government’s priority has been to use the bill to bring in rushed powers that are incredibly widely-drawn – for example, allowing the police to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest, including passersby, people on the way to work and peaceful protesters.
“We’ve put forward an alternative sensible approach that improves training and guidance for the police and lets councils take action against threatening anti vax protests outside schools, as well as clear plans to tackle violence against women and girls. Security is at the heart of Labour’s contract with the British people. Instead of seeking headlines and stoking division, the Conservatives should implement Labour’s plans to keep the public safe.”
Jenny Jones, the Green party peer, said she welcomed Labour’s support at what she described as a “crunch time for opposition to this increasingly authoritarian government”.
“These are Belarus-style laws, but the Lords can stop them if we can motivate enough peers to stay with us during Monday’s late night sitting and vote for basic democratic values,” she said. “It’s no way to run a country, but a lot will come down to stamina and I’m bringing my sleeping bag.”
The late amendments, which focus on new powers to control protests, were introduced to the Lords on the day nine Insulate Britain protesters were sent to jail for breaking injunctions banning roadblock actions.
Among them were new offences of locking on, for cases where protesters attach themselves to objects or each other to make it more difficult for police to remove them; being equipped to lock on; wilful obstruction of the highway; and obstruction of major transport works, all with potential 51-week jail sentences.
They would also beef up police powers of stop and search, with reasonable grounds extended to include items intended for use in connection with disruptive protests and new orders to allow for suspicionless stop and search around protests.
They would also introduce asbo-style “serious disruption prevention orders” that would allow authorities to ban named individuals from participating in demonstrations or using the internet to encourage others to do so.
Lord Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson in the Lords and a former senior police officer, said: “The government wants to give the police power to stop and search protesters without suspicion and to give the courts the power to ban people from protesting, whether they have committed an offence or not.
“This entire bill is outrageous, but now there is a real chance we can irreversibly sink some of the worst parts.”
Labour said it was not intending to oppose all the measures. According to the announcement, the party will attempt to amend rather than vote down the roadblock clause to narrow its scope to the “strategic roads network”.
Critics fear this will leave space for the government to revert to these clauses in the Commons.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We will always champion the right to protest peacefully and this bill in no way changes that.
“We have seen some of the most self-defeating and dangerous protests in recent years with people gluing themselves to motorways, causing serious disruption to the law-abiding majority across the country and tearing police away from communities that need them most.
“That’s why our police, crime, sentencing and courts bill is so necessary – it gives police the power to proactively prevent this kind of chaos before it ensues, and focuses on a selfish minority of relentless reoffenders.”