Public Order Bill committee stage day 1

This is clearly rubbish legislation. For example, there is a lack of a definition of “serious disruption”, what about arresting the Government for serious disruption to the NHS over the last 12 years? I would support that. The criminal courts in this country are crumbling and cannot cope with the number of cases that they have at the moment. Yet here the Government will insist on more cases which will clog up the courts even more. This is so right-wing; it is not an appropriate Bill for a democracy.

My amendments on Day 1 of the Public Order Bill Committee Stage

Amendment 5

Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) In this section, “attach” means to connect by mechanical means, and does not include circumstances where persons, objects or land are merely touching, holding or being held, or seated or placed upon each other.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment probes the definition of “attach” in the Clause 1 offence of locking on, and whether it includes for example holding hands or sitting down.

All these offences deserve to be probed because they are so badly drafted, so broadly drafted, that we cannot be sure what they mean. For example, the Bill names the offence of locking on, but the definition is much broader. The Bill talks of a person attaching themselves or an object to another person, another object or land. What does “attach” mean? Does it mean people linking arms or holding hands? What if they were tied together by a ribbon with a loose bow that you could undo? Would that be attached? Exactly what does it mean? If it is easy to remove the attachment, does it count? Is it still criminal? It seems that these offences are absurd. I do not understand where the threshold is for criminal conduct. It makes the whole Bill worthless if we cannot be sure what it means, and certainly the courts are going to have a field day with this. 

I hope it gets thrown in the rubbish bin because we are spending an awful lot of time and energy debating it when we know it is awful. It is not as if we can see a glimmer of hope that it might solve some problems. The Minister talked about the damage and disruption that these protesters are doing. In fact, the Government have done more damage and disruption to our social fabric than XR, Insulate Britain or Just Stop Oil could ever do. 

Amendment 9

Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

“(2A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) that their actions were likely to avoid greater disruption or were otherwise in the public interest.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment creates a defence for actions that are in the public interest or which avoid greater disruption.

I am probing on the basis that the offences are so broadly drawn that they require equally broad defences to protect innocent people from being criminalised. That is why the drafting is so bad. These issues will not just detain us here—she says, bitterly—but will create hours, days and weeks of legal arguments in the courts, which is very much to be avoided.

There is an opportunity in this legislation which I might explore later: that fossil fuel companies and other environmentally destructive actors could be prosecuted and convicted for locking on. For example, if a fracking company attaches a drilling rig to land, that potentially causes serious disruption to two or more individuals. It could leak or cause earthquakes; it could contribute to climate change, or two people might have wanted to walk through that field but now there is a rig in the way. Local people could be seriously inconvenienced by having to protest against the fracking rig, rather than pursuing their hobbies such as birdwatching. 

I want to vote against everything in this Bill.

Read the whole debate here