Labour set to block No 10’s Just Stop Oil slow-walking protest curbs
A new law to combat Just Stop Oil’s slow-walking protests is set to be blocked by Labour as peers prepare for a knife-edge vote on the Government’s plans.
House of Lords sources said that it was “50-50” whether the proposals in the Government’s Public Order Bill would be passed when they come before peers on Monday.
Chris Philp, the policing minister, issued an 11th-hour appeal to critics, saying it was the job of politicians “of all colours” to stand up for the law-abiding majority whose lives were seriously disrupted by such protests.
Writing in The Telegraph, below, he said that the changes were requested by police and criticised opponents who labelled the measures anti-democratic.
He said such claims were “harmful” and “sensationalist”, and the law would “impact only a reckless few who are disproportionately impacting the ordinary, hard-working majority”.
The amendment, announced two weeks ago by Rishi Sunak, will give police new powers to deal with slow-walking protests by broadening the legal definition of “serious disruption” during demonstrations.
Police will be able to intervene where there is “more than a minor hindrance” and require such protests take place on the pavement. If demonstrators refuse, they could be arrested and removed.
Police officers will not have to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents, but can instead consider their impact overall.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has indicated his party will oppose the plan on the basis that he believes the police already have sufficient powers to take action against those obstructing a highway and that “headline-grabbing” legislation is unnecessary.
He said: “I don’t accept that if you are walking at a funereal pace that that is not obstructing the highway. And I think if police were told, in terms, ‘Yes, that is an offence, get on and do something about it’, they could get on and do something about it tomorrow morning.”
Baroness Chakrabarti, a former Labour frontbencher and civil rights campaigner, has tabled a rival cross-party amendment defining “serious disruption” as action which causes “significant” harm or delay.
“The new government amendments are illiberal and ministers should have a very difficult time on Monday trying to turn more than a minor hindrance into grounds for preventing peaceful defence,” she said.
However, Mr Philp said: “We believe in the right to protest. But standing up for what you believe in does not mean you can deliberately disrupt the lives of others.”
Back the Bill to keep British public moving and police fighting crime
By Chris Philp, the minister for policing
On Monday, the Bill is back in Parliament for its report stage in the House of Lords. Some of its key measures are up for debate and will be voted on, including this crucial issue on serious disruption.
These powers are needed. They are in the public interest and it is our job as politicians of all colours to stand up for the law-abiding majority.
It’s time to stop the madness. Yes, we all agree that climate change is one of the greatest global threats and urgent work is under way to reverse damage that has been done to the planet. And we believe in the right to protest.
But standing up for what you believe in does not mean you can deliberately disrupt the lives of others.
We are not trying to place curbs on democracy. This harmful and sensationalist counter-narrative really must stop.
These new laws will impact only a reckless few who are disproportionality impacting the ordinary, hard-working majority.
I urge everyone to support the Public Order Bill to keep the British public moving and the police free to focus on protecting those who need them the most.
In a vibrant democracy such as ours, differences of opinion are inevitable. Every day, we engage in debate and discussion, whether in Parliament, in the media, with friends and family, or out on the streets in peaceful protest.
Of course, people have the right to protest. The freedom we have in the UK for this lively exchange of views is something to be treasured and protected.
But does exercising this right extend to criminality or deliberately disrupting the lives of others? Absolutely not – and I know the British public agree with me.
Yet that is what certain groups like Just Stop Oil do by committing organised criminal acts that are intentionally designed to disproportionately impact hard-working people.
Our motorways and public transport networks have been ground to a halt, fuel supplies have been targeted, and priceless artwork and buildings have been vandalised.
Ambulances have been blocked from their journeys, and people are missing vital hospital appointments and simply unable to get to work. As people are facing pressures with rising costs, the irony of this is more than just irksome. It’s mind-bogglingly senseless.
This government is clear that disruption to people’s lives on this scale cannot continue.
The good news is that our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which was brought into law last year, made public nuisance a statutory offence, raising the maximum sentence for obstructing a highway to up to six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
As a result, leaders of the groups responsible for the worst disruption are now locked up. And what have they achieved in furthering their cause? Absolutely nothing.
The bad news is that last year, about 75 days of Just Stop Oil action cost the taxpayer £12.5 million in policing response. The Metropolitan Police Service alone had to use 12,500 officer shifts in just three months.
Protecting your right to go about your life in peace is important. But police officers shouldn’t have to be doing this.
They should be out in our neighbourhoods, preventing kids from getting stabbed, stopping harassment of women and girls, and protecting our homes from getting burgled.
A range of new powers are necessary if we are to support the police to respond more efficiently to these guerrilla protest tactics and not have their time wasted.
That is why we brought forward the Public Order Bill to make it a criminal offence to glue yourself to a road or building to cause serious disruption; or interfere with key national infrastructure such as airports, railways or printing presses.
Police chiefs have said we need to go even further, to clarify what, in law, constitutes as serious disruption so that they are empowered to intervene in certain situations more quickly.
Shut down stunts before chaos ensues, not after it
We all saw the news about Just Stop Oil’s latest stunts – where they slow-marched along roads in London, hoping to severely disrupt people’s daily lives while circumventing the law.
Clearly, tactics that bring London’s busiest roads all but to a standstill are highly disruptive. So, after discussion with Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Prime Minister and I were on the same page that even more needs to be done.
We have introduced an amendment to our Public Order Bill which would clarify the definition of “serious disruption” so that police can swiftly act to shut down guerrilla stunts before chaos ensues – not after it already has.
Police will also be able to consider the cumulative impact of a series of disruptive incidents spearheaded by the same group, rather than needing to treat each as a standalone incident.
This amendment is backed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Government suffers defeat over public order bill
Attempts to block Just Stop Oil slow march tactics were dealt a blow last night (Mon) as the Government suffered its first defeat in the Lords against the proposed protest law.
The upper chamber backed by 243 votes to 221, majority 22, a stricter definition of "serious disruption", which would trigger measures to curb demonstrations.
The Government is proposing that police should get new powers to deal with slow walking protests by broadening the legal definition of “serious disruption” during demonstrations.
Ministers have proposed that police should be able to intervene where there is “more than a minor hindrance” and require such protests take place on the pavement. If demonstrators refuse, they could be arrested and removed.
Police officers would also not have to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents but can instead consider their impact overall.
However, proposing a stricter definition, Lord Coaker, a Labour frontbencher, said: "I want a serious threshold."
He added: "We are going to pass legislation here where protests, that all of us would regard as reasonable, all of us would regard as acceptable, are going to be illegal."
The cross party amendment would define serious disruption as causing significant harm to people, organisations or the life of a community, including “significant” delays in delivery and “prolonged” disruption of access to essential services or goods.
Opposing it, home office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “The debate is not about whether these measures ban protests. Quite simply they do not. What we are trying to ascertain is the point to which protesters can disrupt the lives of the general public. And the Government position is clear - we are on the side of the public.
"The Government wants to protect the rights of the public to go about their daily lives without let or hindrance. We are listening to the public who are fed up with seeing day after day protesters blocking roads. They make children late for school, they make people miss hospital appointments, they make small businesses struggle. Any change in law must address this."