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What’s happening on the Policing Bill

ACEVO is a member of the Police Bill Alliance, a coalition of civil society organisations working to change certain elements of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Momentum is building as the bill heads towards a crucial vote in the House of Lords.  Police Bill Alliance convenor Kathleen Christie summarises progress since the last update was shared in November and the crucial next stages of influencing.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes major government proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales. ACEVO and numerous other organisations across civil society have concerns about the contents of the bill. The Police Bill Alliance is an informal alliance of many of these organisations, with founding members including Liberty, Bond, Friends, Families and Travellers, Quakers in Britain, and Friends of the Earth. The Alliance is working to influence Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill, which are the areas containing concerning proposals which would infringe on democracy and discriminate against minoritised groups.

Update on Part 4 Committee debate

In December, we lost the Part 4 Committee stage vote on two key amendments in support of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities – one by a single vote. Two amendments were moved to a vote during the Part 4 debate. The first was championed by Baroness Whitaker, the Bishop of Manchester, Lord Alton, and Lord Bourne. It asked that those who had set up an encampment were not asked to leave until somewhere could be found for them to go — in effect, making sure that they would not be pushed endlessly from one place to another. The speeches on the floor were strongly in favour of these amendments, but it resulted in a draw of 171 votes on either side. Unfortunately, an amendment needs a majority, and so the vote was lost by a single vote. It’s a very disappointing result but it does show how strong the feeling was in the House. The second division was Baroness Bennett on Clause 63 not standing part (a suggestion to remove that section altogether, often used when Peers feel the section is so badly drafted that it needs to be completely rewritten), and that was a clear loss for us. Part 4, therefore, remains unamended, except for the minor government amendments to lay guidance before Parliament.  The government is clearly doubling down on Part 4 and keeps repeating the same lines: that the new restrictions are not discriminatory and that only those who engage in criminal behaviour will be impacted. 

New amendments

The government has proposed a number of new amendments to the bill which are extremely concerning. These amendments have broad definitions for offences and increase sentences for existing offences, as well as expanding stop and search powers which could result in high levels of criminalisation of protestors. We are extremely concerned by the addition of Serious Disruption Prevention Orders, which would allow named individuals to have their right to take part in protests undermined. Adding new amendments at this stage is also deeply concerning in its own right; the Bill is highly complex and it has been challenging to afford all aspects of it appropriate parliamentary scrutiny even before these new amendments. Without proper consideration at such a late stage in the process, these new amendments could see new draconian powers introduced.

Part 3 Report Stage

We’re now approaching a crucial stage in the Policing Bill, where the Lords will have their last chance to amend Part 3 on protest. Amendments on Parts 2 and 4 of the Bill didn’t pass because there weren’t enough supportive Peers in the chamber by the time the votes took place. We want to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen on Part 3. Our priority is to encourage peers to turn up to vote at Part 3 Report Stage. 

The Police Bill Alliance has produced a priority amendments summary to assist alliance members in briefing peers ahead of the vote on Monday 17 January. In addition, a new alliance briefing will be distributed to peers early next week urging them to vote for/reject specific amendments.

Meanwhile, influencing and mobilisation activity is gaining momentum. A series of lobbying letters addressed to all members of the House of Lords are being generated by like-minded organisations ahead of the 17 January Lords vote.  Over 150 concerned business leaders – including The Body Shop; Patagonia and former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman – have signed a joint letter from business leaders. A letter from environmental and climate NGOs addresses the specific impact of the bill on environmental protests.  Further joint letters are being generated by democracy organisations and faith and belief groups.

A mobilisation moment will take place on Monday 17 January to draw attention to the Lords vote.  During the day, Police Bill Alliance representatives will hand in the combined petition – currently standing at over 760,000 signatures – to the Home Office.  Later in the evening, a Noisy and Annoying Protest has been called by the comedian Mark Thomas oppositive Parliament, with coordination by Global Justice Now. 

The lobbying focus will switch to the Commons as we approach ping-pong, with the alliance focussing on target MPs and organisations invited to ask their supporters to write to their MPs with personal stories of the importance of protest to real social change.

We will continue to spotlight positive demonstrations and protests on social media, including the short protest videos produced by Liberty. They feature a network of influential campaigners, including the Gurkha campaigners, and other groups spanning issues including disability rights, domestic violence and community resources, These videos serve to highlight that anyone at all may need to protest at some point, so we’re using the hashtag #WeProtest.

Next stages of influencing

The House of Lords started its Part 3 Report Stage this week, giving all peers a further opportunity to examine the bill and propose further amendments . The final day of Report Stage is on Monday 17 January when the Part 3 vote will take place.  We expect Third Reading (when the amendments will be debated for the final time) to take place at the start of February.  Our current analysis is that ping-pong (when amendments are passed back and forth between the House of Lords and the House of Commons) will occur either during the week beginning 7 February or the week beginning 21 February.  After ping-pong is completed, we will know which elements of the bill will pass into law.

There are several things you can do to support our work influencing this bill:

  • Share your concerns with MPs ahead of ping-pong and encourage them to attend the Commons vote in February by writing to them
  • Convene like-minded organisations in your sector and generate a lobbying letter to Peers
  • Promote positive stories of demonstrations and protests. Tag @PoliceBillAll on Twitter so we can help amplify social media posts
  • Generate an opinion piece to remind politicians of the breadth of support for scrapping Part 3 and Part 4 ahead of ping-pong
Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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