Amendment 319A

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:45 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford:

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

319A: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—“Offence of locking on(1) A person commits an offence if—(a) they intentionally—(i) attach themselves to another person, to an object or to land,(ii) attach a person to another person, to an object or to land, or(iii) attach an object to another object or to land,(b) that act causes, or is capable of causing, serious disruption to—(i) two or more individuals, or(ii) an organisation,in a place other than in a dwelling, and(c) they intend that act to have a consequence mentioned in paragraph (b) or are reckless as to whether it will have such a consequence.(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for the act mentioned in paragraph (a) of that subsection.(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine or to both.(4) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (alteration of penalties for certain summary offences: England and Wales), the reference in subsection (3) to 51 weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months.(5) In this section “dwelling” means—(a) a building or structure which is used as a dwelling, or(b) a part of a building or structure, if the part is used as a dwelling,and includes any yard, garden, grounds, garage or outhouse belonging to and used with a dwelling.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment creates a new offence of “locking on”, involving the attachment of an individual to another individual, to an object or to land, or an object to another object or to land. It is a requirement of the offence that the act causes or is capable of causing serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation and that the accused intends that to occur or is reckless as to whether it will occur.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the amendments tabled in my name are in response to the significant and repeated disruption we have seen over the last months by a small number of protesters. Their behaviour has clearly demonstrated that the balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others tips far too far in favour of the protesters.

It is completely unacceptable for a minority of protesters to repeatedly and deliberately cause serious disruption to members of the public trying to go about their daily lives: trying to get to work or trying to get to hospital. Additionally, some of the tactics we have seen have been extremely dangerous, placing the police and the public, and the protesters themselves, at serious risk of harm.

We cannot have sections of our transport infrastructure or other critical infrastructure brought to a halt by a small group of protesters, whatever their cause. As I said in an earlier debate, we accept that some level of disruption is to be expected and tolerated from protest actions, but there is a line to be drawn. Insulate Britain, Extinction Rebellion and others have overstepped that line. The sentences recently handed down for breaches of the injunction obtained by National Highways demonstrate that clearly.

These amendments will strengthen the police’s ability to respond to the types of protests we have seen and reflect the seriousness of that type of behaviour. We need to update the criminal law and police powers to deter and prevent such wholly unacceptable disruption taking place. Civil injunctions have their place, but they are not enough on their own.

Amendments 319A and 319B introduce new offences of locking on and going equipped to lock on. These offences are designed to deter individuals from engaging in lock-on tactics, which cause serious disruption to the public and organisations. Lock-ons waste a considerable amount of police time and some, such as those on the side of buildings or on tripods or similar temporary structures erected by protesters, place the police and the protesters themselves at serious risk of injury or even death.

The locking-on offence will be committed where individuals attach themselves to other individuals, objects or land, or attach objects together or to land. It would be an offence only if their act causes or is capable of causing serious disruption. Furthermore, there must be an intention to lock on, and the offender must intend to cause, or be reckless as to causing, serious disruption. If found guilty of this offence, an individual will be liable to a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, six months in prison or both. The offence will apply to lock-ons that cause, or are capable of causing, serious disruption on public and private land. However, private dwellings, including people’s houses, will be excluded.

Supporting this measure is the new offence of “going equipped to lock on”. This offence will apply where a person has with them an object with the intention that it will be used, either by themselves or someone else, in the course of or in connection with a lock-on. In this case, the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine.

Amendment 319C increases the maximum penalties for the offence of obstruction of the highway and clarifies the scope of the offence. Currently, individuals found guilty of this offence face a maximum fine of only £1,000. Recent actions by Insulate Britain have shown that this is disproportionality low compared with the widespread misery and disruption that an obstruction of a major road can cause. Anyone found guilty of this offence will now face an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison or both.

Additionally, this amendment clarifies that the offence is still committed even if free passage along the highway in question has already been suspended. This is to address the defence that some have used, claiming that they were not guilty of obstructing the highway because they joined a protest after the police had already closed the road to ensure protesters’ safety while they were being removed.

Amendment 319D creates a new offence of obstructing major transport works, such as airports, roads, railways and ports. As noble Lords will know, protesters have caused huge disruption in the construction of HS2. Additional costs to the project resulting from protester actions alone are estimated at £80 million. That is unacceptable.

Protesters have been able to evade conviction for highly disruptive and dangerous acts, such as tunnelling under Euston Square Gardens, on effectively a technicality, namely that HS2 was not carrying out construction work on the site at the time of the occupation. This new offence will make it clear that obstructing the construction, and preliminary work to construction, of important transport infrastructure constitutes criminal activity and that the Government see this as a serious offence.

Acts in scope of this offence would include interfering with construction apparatus or obstructing the surveying of land prior to the commencement of construction. Such behaviour will carry a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or six months’ imprisonment.

The amendment defines “major transport works” as any works that are

“authorised directly by an Act of Parliament” or by development consent orders under the Planning Act 2008. This would capture transport works of strategic importance that support the levelling up of our transport infrastructure across the country.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

Will the Minister explain that a little further? In relation to the recent announcement about not proceeding with the Yorkshire leg of HS2 but instead carrying out a variety of other works, does that mean that these other works, which are not separately sanctioned by Parliament, will not be included within the scope of the clause?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Yes—it is confined to works that are authorised directly by an Act of Parliament, so, if they have not been, they are not in scope. As I said, the amendment would capture transport works of strategic importance that support the levelling up of our transport infrastructure.

To ensure that the police have the ability to proactively prevent protesters causing harm, we are introducing supporting stop and search powers for these and other protest-related offences. In its March 2021 report on policing protests, Getting the Balance Right?, HMICFRS argued that new stop and search powers could help police to prevent disruption and keep the public safe.

Amendment 319E amends Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow a police constable to stop and search a person or vehicle where they reasonably suspect that they will find an article made, adapted or intended for use in the course of committing one or other of the offences relating to locking-on offences, public nuisance, obstructing a highway or obstructing major transport works. While this power will significantly help police in preventing protesters using highly disruptive tactics, in a fast-moving protest situation it is not always possible for the police to form suspicions that certain individuals have particular items with them. Therefore, Amendment 319F provides for a police officer of the rank of inspector or above to authorise the use of the suspicionless stop and search power.

I have just been passed a note that says that Amendment 319D defines major transport works as any works that are

“authorised directly by an Act of Parliament” or by development consent orders under the Planning Act 2008. That further clarifies my response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Beith.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

That is very helpful of the Minister. It probably means that the announcement made last week about HS2 not proceeding but various other kinds of rail works going ahead will mean that none of those alternative rail works will be covered by these provisions.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

It depends on whether they have been authorised directly by an Act of Parliament or by development consent orders under the Planning Act 2008. I will not pretend to know the detail of that at this point, but I can get the noble Lord the detail, if he would like me to.

Amendment 319F provides for a police officer of the rank of inspector or above to authorise the use of the suspicionless stop and search power. This mirrors the powers currently available to the police under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. As with existing Section 60 powers, this power can apply only in a specific locality and for a maximum of 24 hours, with the option to extend it if deemed necessary by a senior police officer. Amendments 319G to 319J make further provisions in respect of the suspicionless stop and search powers, in line with the existing Section 60 stop and search powers.

Finally, Amendment 319K introduces serious disruption prevention orders, or SDPOs. These new preventive court orders are designed to tackle protesters who are determined to repeatedly cause disruption to the public. There are two circumstances in which they can be made. A court will be able to impose an SDPO on conviction where an individual has been convicted of a protest-related offence and has been convicted of an earlier protest-related offence.

Alternatively, the court will be able to make an SDPO on application by the police if the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the person has on two or more occasions been convicted of a protest-related offence or been found in contempt of court for a protest-related breach of an injunction; caused or contributed to a protest-related criminal offence or breach of an injunction; or carried out, or caused or contributed to another person carrying out, protest-related activities that have, or were likely to, result in serious disruption. The courts must consider it necessary to make an SDPO to prevent the person committing, or causing or contributing to, a protest-related offence or breach of injunction, to prevent the person carrying out, or causing or contributing to another person carrying out, protest-related activities that result in, or are likely to result in, serious disruption, or to protect from serious disruption. They will also have discretion as to what prohibitions and requirements will be necessary and proportionate to prevent these acts.

These orders may be imposed only on those aged 18 or over, will last anywhere from one week to two years, and can be renewed or discharged on application to the court. Breaching an order will be a criminal offence, punishable by an unlimited fine, six months imprisonment or both.

This suite of new measures is necessary to protect the public from the unacceptable levels of disruption that we have seen as a result of the reckless and selfish tactics employed by some protest organisations in recent weeks. We stand by the right to protest, but that does not afford a right to cause unlimited disruption to others irrespective of the cost to business, the dangers caused to road users and the police, the risk to life by blocking ambulances and the hardship caused to the public seeking to get to work or going about their daily lives. I therefore commend these amendments to the Committee. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has tabled a number of amendments to the government amendments; I will respond to these and any questions on the government amendments once we have heard from other noble Lords. I beg to move.