Amendment 104FE

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 12 January 2022.

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Votes in this debate

Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

104FE: After Clause 172, insert the following new Clause—“Fast-track public space protection ordersIn the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, after section 61 (variation and discharge of orders) insert—“61A Fast-track public spaces protection orders(1) A local authority may make a fast-track public spaces protection order where the conditions under subsections (2) or (3) are met.(2) The conditions under this subsection are—(a) the public space to which the order will apply is a school within the local authority area;(b) activities carried on, or likely to be carried on, in the vicinity of the school have had, or are likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life for pupils and staff; and(c) consent for the order to be applied has been granted by—(i) the leadership of the school to which the order will apply,(ii) a chief officer of police of the police area in which the school to which the order will apply is located, and(iii) the leader of the local authority which will make the order.(3) The conditions under this subsection are—(a) the public space to which the order will be applied is a venue providing NHS vaccination services to the public;(b) activities have been carried on, or are likely to be carried on, in the vicinity of the venue with the intent of—(i) harassing or intimidating members of the public using the service, or staff or volunteers providing the service, or(ii) impeding members of the public from accessing the service, or staff or volunteers from providing the service; and(c) consent for the order to be applied has been granted by—(i) the NHS body with responsibility for provision of the service to which the order will apply, (ii) a chief officer of police of the police area in which the venue to which the order will apply is located, and(iii) the leader of the local authority which will make the order.(4) A public spaces protection order granted under this section may come into effect immediately on the fulfilment of the requirements in subsection (2) or (3).(5) Restrictions in section 72(3), that consultation must take place before an order is made, do not apply to public spaces protection orders made under this section.(6) The local authority must carry out the necessary consultation, as defined in section 72, following the making of an order under this section.(7) A fast-track public spaces protection order may not have effect for a period of more than 6 months unless extended under this section.(8) Before the time when a fast-track public spaces protection order is due to expire, the local authority that made the order may extend the period for which it has effect if satisfied on reasonable grounds that doing so is necessary to prevent—(a) occurrence or recurrence after that time of the activities identified in the order, or(b) an increase in the frequency or seriousness of those activities after that time.(9) A fast-track public spaces protection order under this section may not be extended for a period of more than 6 months.””Member’s explanatory statementThis would allow fast-track public spaces protection orders, which can come into effect immediately, to be made for schools and vaccination centres. Usual statutory consultation on the order would still be held, but would not delay the start date of the order.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I start this debate by deploring—I hope the Minister will pass this on—the anti-vaxxers who targeted the home of Sajid Javid MP, the Health Secretary, in early January when his children were there. We all deplore that.

Amendment 104FE fast-tracks public spaces protection orders. It would provide for fast-track public spaces protection orders—what we know as buffer zones—around schools and vaccination centres. It builds on existing powers in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. It does not create new powers. The Government have already accepted the need for and use of these buffer zones. The amendment simply provides that, in specified circumstances, a buffer zone around a school or vaccination centre can be put in place immediately, without being delayed by a lengthy consultation process. The required consultation process would still take place, but it would do so alongside the operation of the order—community views would still be taken account of and changes would be made to the order as necessary.

The key point is the ability to take immediate action where there is hostile behaviour which is impacting education or intimidating people attempting to access NHS vaccine services. It is not a blanket ban on any protest, which was a concern rightly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, in Committee. I want to reassure the noble Baroness about that, because it was an important point that she raised.

The specifics of the amendment are that, for a school, a fast-track order would be permitted where activities planned or carried on near the school had had or were likely to have a detrimental effect on the quality of life for pupils and staff. For vaccination centres, the amendment applies to venues providing an NHS vaccination service. It would permit a fast-track buffer zone to be set up where activities were being done or planned with the intent of harassing or intimidating the public or staff, or impeding members of the public from accessing the service, or staff or volunteers from providing the service.

In both the cases that I have just outlined, the buffer zone can be set up only with the agreement of the school leadership or the NHS body responsible for the vaccine service, the local chief of police and the local authority leader. Where each of those bodies agrees that there is an immediate need to prevent hostile or intimidating behaviour, or behaviour aimed at preventing children accessing school or people being able to get life-saving vaccines, this amendment would allow us to take action there and then.

As I said in Committee, the need for the amendment is shown by the distressing anti-vaccination protests that have been happening outside schools, targeting teachers and young children. They have happened—as I know the Government accept—in every part of the UK, from Glasgow to Dorset. The Association of School and College Leaders found that 420 schools had experienced some sort of protest activity, 18 schools said that demonstrators had gained access to the school and 20 had received communications threatening harm. I know that the Government accept, as I know each and every Member of this House accepts, that this is totally unacceptable. All the amendment seeks to do is say that in certain specific cases, where there is the agreement of the people that I have outlined to the Chamber, there is the possibility of taking immediate action. Of course, the legislation allows that, but it is with a consultation process that could take days and in certain circumstances could take weeks. So, while the protest was going on, while children, staff and parents were being intimidated or people prevented from accessing NHS vaccination centres without harassment, the amendment would allow for those orders to be put in place with immediate effect.

It is a sensible amendment; it is a sensible way forward. There is no point of difference between the Government and us, except on the requirement for the legislation to allow immediate implementation rather than a delay caused by a consultation period. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 8:00, 12 January 2022

My Lords, as has already been noted, I raised concerns about an earlier version of this amendment in Committee, when I argued that, ultimately, it felt like it was legitimising a climate of demonising protests based on a subjective assessment of whether those protests were politically approved of or not.

Specifically, this new amendment relates to attitudes to Covid vaccines, which I want to look at. To put it beyond any doubt, I support the use of vaccines, although not vaccine passports or mandated vaccines—I say that too—but I do not believe that those who are opposed to vaccines, whether they are tennis players, NHS anaesthetists, fearful pregnant women or even conspiratorial cranks, should be criminalised or discriminated against because of their views, and I am concerned that aspects of that would happen from this amendment.

This new amendment would expand the use of the proposed fast-track public space protection orders beyond activities outside schools to venues providing NHS vaccination services to the public. We all have in mind those scenes—they have already been described—of vaccination centres being invaded, with equipment trashed and abuse shouted and so on. As it happens, like everyone else, I condemn that activity. However, if, as the amendment notes, such activities involve harassment, intimidation or impeding members of the public accessing a service that they want to access or impeding the staff or volunteers providing that service, surely we have laws on the statute book to deal with this, and those laws should be applied.

My question really is: why do we need to use PSPOs, and why are they proposed for non-specified activities outside schools, which could obviously be used, for example, to prohibit anything from leafleting to collecting names on a petition for any cause? In relation to the schools part of the amendment, anti-vaccine issues are not mentioned. I confess that I have long been an opponent of PSPOs. Sadly, I feel, they are used as arbitrary powers, issued by councils acting as though they run fiefdoms. I have written about the issue regularly in council publications such as the Municipal Journal since 2014 when they were brought in.

PSPOs do not ban any particular activities, which is why they are so broadly interpreted, often depending on the pet hates of local councils. Their name is something of a misnomer because, rather than protecting the public, they are used mainly to eject the public from public space, effectively privatising public space. Indeed, they are regularly used as dispersal orders for, for example, groups of individuals “hanging around”, often young people, or for political vigils or leafleters. Often, they are dispersed by authorised private security guards with the power to issue on-the-spot fines—one has to consider who would police the PSPOs in this amendment.

No wonder the civil liberties group the Manifesto Club has warned that PSPOs fundamentally undermine rights of free association and free expression in the public square. Indeed, in 2017, the Home Office recognised the overuse and overreach of PSPO powers and produced amended statutory guidance—but to no discernible effect as they are now being issued at an increased, and rising, rate.

The fast-track PSPOs proposed in this amendment have conditions, but those conditions simply use the phraseology usually associated with the orders in terms of activities that various individuals consider have

“a detrimental effect on the quality of life for pupils and staff”,

or whoever is being discussed. The phrase “detrimental effect on the quality of life” has been critiqued by many opponents of PSPOs as very vague and elastic. It has led councils in recent years to use PSPOs to restrict everything from cycling, charity collecting, rough sleeping, walking dogs without leads, begging and busking. A couple of dozen councils have used that phrase and PSPOs to ban—two of my favourites—swearing and loitering. I do not know whether any noble Lords have ever dropped their kids off at the school gates, but loitering in groups—often involving a little swearing, I confess—is almost a compulsory activity for parents.

More seriously, as the Manifesto Club has regularly noted, the test of “detrimental effect” is an unprecedentedly low legal test for criminal intervention, but there is also no requirement to show any substantial evidence of such detrimental effect. There is no proper democratic oversight locally, with no requirement for PSPOs to be passed through internal scrutiny procedures within a council.

Normally there is a requirement for consultation, but, as has been explained, this amendment would dispense with that. The consultations are usually fairly procedural, and many PSPOs have been passed with as few as 10 respondents. Anyway, in this instance we would remove even the formal need for consultation. Therefore, the PSPO would be issued. It would be signed off, as we have been told, by three people—the police chief officer, the school leadership and the local authority leader—and the public would be consulted only after the order is issued, which is laughable and contemptuous.

Also, there is no workable system for appealing PSPOs locally beyond an appeal to the High Court. Finally, to note the wording of the amendment, these fast-track PSPOs can be issued for activities not just carried on but

“likely to be carried on”,

and that not just have had a detrimental effect but are “likely to have” a detrimental effect. These are weasel words, wholly open to speculation and a pre-crime-like interpretation.

I hope those noble Lords who, on Monday, will oppose the swathe of legislative proposals that threaten to close down protests and chill the rights of free assembly will also oppose this amendment. I find the views of hardcore anti-vax protesters distasteful, nihilistic and absolutely things I would argue against. I actually feel the same about Extinction Rebellion, but that misses the point. We need to be very careful about picking and choosing which protesters we support. If there is a problem of obstruction or any kind of unlawful activity outside schools or vaccine centres it should be dealt with, but I fear this amendment would give succour to the Government ahead of Monday’s battles. I will therefore oppose it.

Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated

My Lords, surprisingly, my remarks will overlap substantially with the noble Baroness’s speech, although they come from a somewhat different perspective.

I thought that the opening speech from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was convincing and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply before I make my mind up on how to vote. But it left me wondering whether this approach ought not to be actively considered for extension around not simply schools and vaccination centres but seats of democracy such as Parliament and potentially local councils, where we have seen pretty disgraceful activities that are clearly designed to intimidate elected members—anti-vaccine activists have pursued a highly aggressive strategy. It is notable that that is off the table in the amendment.

There is no reason why this issue should necessarily be covered, but—this is my point of overlap with the noble Baroness—I raise it because I will be listening with interest to what Members of the Opposition and from all sides of the House say about the very controversial measures that are due to come on Monday. I share the concern that we have a real tendency as a House and a legislature to find ourselves in instinctive agreement with measures designed to avoid intimidation from groups whose causes we do not agree with; yet we find ourselves, often subconsciously, contemplating what can be equally intimidatory methods of protest deployed in the name of a cause whose broader case we do agree with. It is really important that we guard against doing that.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:15, 12 January 2022

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, talked about demonising protest—I bet she is looking forward to Monday. The noble Lord, Lord Walney, talked about exclusion zones around Parliament; there are significant powers to protect Parliament from this sort of thing.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has explained, this amendment is a significantly improved version of the one considered in Committee, with numerous safeguards. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, I am “glass half full” man: I think that the safeguards here are actually quite significant, in that it requires the consent of the leadership of any school affected or of the NHS body responsible for any vaccination centre affected and, in addition, of the local police chief. Generally speaking, the police are very averse to making political decisions and siding with one particular protest group against another, so that is a significant safeguard. It also requires the consent of the local authority leader, which is another significant safeguard. The potential for selective protection orders based on the issue being protested about—the one the noble Baroness raised in Committee—is therefore significantly reduced.

In addition, contrary to what the noble Baroness said, the statutory duty to consult the public on the order is not waived at all but can take place concurrently with the order taking effect, if the matter is urgent. It also cannot last more than 12 months; the initial grant is for six months, and it can be extended only once. If only the Government were to take such a reasonable approach to the renewal of orders in other aspect of the Bill.

In the light of recent events such as the invasion of the test and trace centre in Milton Keynes last month, we have seen the importance of such orders and the need for the police to secure intelligence and take action to prevent such interference with the vaccination effort, which does not seem to be going away any time soon. There is ample recent evidence of the need for this amendment, and we support it.

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

My Lords, I start by joining the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in deploring the anti-vaxxers who stood outside my right honourable friend Sajid Javid’s house. I deplore it every time they disrupt our public services such as schools and hospitals. More recently, they have taken part in some very disruptive and abusive activity. On the point about Parliament made by the noble Lord, Lord Walney, we will of course debate that on Monday.

I actually share the aims of this amendment, and I am grateful for the further opportunity to debate the policing of anti-vax protests and consider the merits of fast-track public space protection orders, or PSPOs. The amendment is very similar to one debated in Committee that sought to provide the fast-track PSPOs to protect schools from harmful protests, but it goes further, also allowing for fast-track PSPOs outside premises providing NHS vaccination services. It also removes the need for a consultation in advance of a PSPO outside these premises being implemented.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, pointed out, I set out in Committee the powers of the police to protect pupils, teachers and staff from disruptive protest activity outside schools, as well as the benefits that some of the new measures in the Bill will bring. Many of these existing or new powers apply also to disruptive protests at vaccination sites. I sympathise with the noble Lord’s intention to protect schools and vaccination sites from harmful protests, but this amendment will not help to achieve that aim. It removes the need for a consultation prior to a PSPO being put in place, instead requiring consent from the relevant school or NHS body, the chief of police, and the leader of the local authority. This is unlikely to materially speed up the process in which a PSPO can be implemented as there is currently no minimum consultation period required before a PSPO can be put in place. I struggle to understand how we can implement the PSPO and run a consultation concurrently.

It is also important to note that in making a PSPO under this amendment a local authority would still be accountable, potentially in legal proceedings, for demonstrating that the order is compliant with Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR. Consultations can provide supporting evidence to demonstrate this compliance, meaning that a local authority could find itself subject to increased legal risks if it does not perform a consultation prior to implementing a PSPO, even if legislation states that it is not necessary. I share the unease of the noble Lord, Lord Walney, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that it would, at the hands of a very few people, allow local areas to pick and choose which protests were politically acceptable.

Although I support the underlying aims of the amendment, in the sense that no one working at a school, hospital or other vaccination site should be subject to abusive or highly disruptive protests, powers are in place, which we are strengthening through the Bill, to assist the police and others to tackle such protests. We will be discussing many of them on Monday. The powers already include the ability for local authorities to make, at speed, a PSPO. Given this, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for the courteous way in which she always tries to engage with the issues. I also thank all noble Lords who joined the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, can call me naive, but I was, though the amendment and the changed amendment, trying to address some of the concerns that she raised, particularly in trying to make it clear that it was not a blanket ban but was dealing with a very specific problem that has resulted in and around some schools—

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I was reading my speech, but I acknowledge that the noble Lord said that in his opening. It is perhaps an unintended consequence, but can he see from the Minister’s response that it fuels arguments that they will be using on Monday? That was always my concern.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

That is a different point. I accept some of that. It was not what the Minister was saying, but I take the point. The noble Baroness raises legitimate points. I do not agree with her on many of them, which is fine. It is not a problem. It is the whole point of debate and discussion. The fundamental point is that the amendment seeks to do what the public space protection orders do not do. They are not a blanket ban on protests. They do not allow people to pick and choose in the way that some people, including the Minister, have highlighted.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and do not believe that school leaders, local authority leaders, NHS vaccine providers and the chiefs of police for an area would pick and choose protests. I do not believe it. The school leaders in our country know and understand what causes alarm and distress to parents and pupils in their area and they would not abuse that power—nor, in 99.9% of cases, would local chiefs of police, NHS vaccine providers or local authority leaders of whatever political party. They are upstanding public servants who understand the responsibility that comes with their post and would not seek to use one of these orders inappropriately, just because there happened to be a protest outside a school.

I was a deputy head teacher. There were numerous protests at different times, about different things. We did not seek to ban or stop them. One occasion was when I reintroduced school uniform. There were people saying how ridiculous it was that Coaker was reintroducing school uniform, but I did not stop them doing that; nor do I believe that school leaders, police chiefs or others in an area would do that.

The amendment seeks, for particular circumstances that we have all seen on our televisions and read about in our newspapers, to give an immediate power for people to act reasonably, not to prevent any protests but to deal with a specific situation where alarm or distress is being caused. Whatever the current law says, it is not dealing with people in that situation. All we seek, in a reasonable way, is to give those people the power, in situations where there is consensus and agreement, to take immediate action to protect those going for a vaccine, or children, staff or parents going to school. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the law to provide that and, because of that, I ask to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.

Ayes 157, Noes 145.

Division number 2 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (5th Day) — Amendment 104FE

Aye: 157 Members of the House of Lords

No: 145 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Amendment 104FE agreed.

Clause 44: Pre-charge bail