Greater police powers to clampdown on noisy protests in England and Wales are set to become law.
After a stand-off at Westminster, the House of Lords voted by 180 to 113, to approve a new Bill that will widen the range of situations in which police officers can place conditions on protests – allowing officers to specifically set conditions to prevent noise.
Peers rejected a Labour move to strip the controversial curbs from the legislation. They also rejected a Liberal Democrat attempt to remove powers to impose conditions on public assemblies.
The restrictions are part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which contains a wide-ranging raft of measures aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system as a whole.
The noise-curbing measure has nothing to do with the content of the noise generated by a protest, just its level.
It would give police in England and Wales more powers to impose conditions on non-violent protests judged to be too noisy, and thereby causing “intimidation or harassment” or “alarm or distress” to the public.
The votes mark an end to a protracted tussle between the two Houses over the Bill, known as parliamentary ping-pong.
With the current parliamentary session expected to end on Thursday, the impasse had to be resolved before then or the legislation would have fallen.
Opposing the protest measures, Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “The ‘too noisy’ provision is a nonsense. Protests are about noise.”
Arguing the police already had “perfectly adequate” powers, he added: “The provision is ridiculous. It won’t work and it’s something that’s not needed.”
Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick, who was a deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, said: “Asking the police to anticipate what noise levels a protest that has yet to take place might result is likely to bring the police into unnecessary and unavoidable conflict with the public, further undermining the trust and confidence the police rely on to be effective.
“The more popular the protest, the more likely it is to be noisy and the more likely it is to be banned.”
But responding, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said: “These provisions do not enable the police to ban noisy protests. They do enable the police to attach conditions on protests in relation to the generation of noise.
“That is quite an important distinction.”
She added: “These provisions represent the measured and proportionate rebalancing of the rights of people to protest peacefully with the rights of those whose lives may be unacceptably disrupted by the tactics employed by the minority of protesters, such as those from the group Just Stop Oil, who believe that their rights and their point of view trump everybody else’s.”
In a concession, the government agreed a requirement for the Home Secretary to conduct a review of the new powers within two years of them coming into force.
The Bill now goes for royal assent.