Amendment 1

Public Order Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 21st February 2023.

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Baroness Sugg:

Moved by Baroness Sugg

1: Clause 10, page 11, line 14, at end insert “at an abortion clinic”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment and the following amendments in the name of Baroness Sugg clarify that in order for an offence to be committed under subsection (1) of Clause 10, the person mentioned in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of that subsection must be in the safe access zone for the abortion clinic in relation to which they are accessing, providing or facilitating the provision of abortion services.

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment 1 I will speak briefly to the other amendments in my name, all of which are clarifying amendments.

Amendments 1 to 4 make it clear that for an offence to be committed under Clause 10(1), the person mentioned in subsection (1)(a) to (1)(c) must be in the safe access zone for abortion clinics. Amendment 5 is a change in wording though not in intent, to follow current Ministry of Justice practice to refer only to a fine, as is done elsewhere in this Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 1, tabled by my noble friend Lady Sugg. I will not repeat the comments made on Report. However, given that these are helpful tidying-up, administrative amendments, it is appropriate to put on record my very serious concerns about Clause 10.

I still have reservations about the sui generis nature of the proposal, particularly the use of “influence” in Clause 10(1)(a). Including this subsection in the legislation is an extremely slippery slope. This will come back to haunt the House and the Government in due course, not least because the clause is unnecessary. It is legislation by anecdote and a knee-jerk reaction to lived experience, rather than empirical evidence, not least because there is existing legislation in place and, as I mentioned before, there are PSPOs—which, incidentally, do not work. The two notable cases raised in the debate earlier this month have resulted in no criminal action and their dismissal, because the threshold for criminality and prosecution was not being met in those unique cases, involving a minister of religion and a Christian activist.

The clause will result in stigmatisation, hostility towards and, eventually, the criminalisation of, one group of people: Christians. I do not think that is what the vast bulk of your Lordships would wish to happen. The clause is pernicious and a fundamental assault on freedom of speech and thought. Although it cannot be stopped and this Bill will get Royal Assent, it is timely and appropriate for some of us to make the case that this is bad law. It is stigmatising a small group of people who are not fashionable, and it will come back to haunt in due course all of us who care very deeply about freedom of speech.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I rise briefly to support what my noble friend has just said. I am grateful, as we all are, to my noble friend Lady Sugg, who has made a genuine effort to improve things since the first time she moved her amendment. That should be, and I think is, acknowledged throughout the House.

As my noble friend Lord Jackson said, we are potentially on a slippery slope here, because the stigmatising of someone who privately prays and does not necessarily say anything at all is very dangerous. We sometimes debate what happens in other countries, and although this is a long way off Chinese practice, it is going in that direction. We should be very careful. The law as it stands, without Clause 10, is adequate to deal with any problems that might arise. I can see that they might from time to time, but I do not believe that the “sledgehammer to crack a nut” approach is the right one. As my noble friend said, the Bill will go on the statute book. It will accompany many other imperfect pieces of legislation that we really should not have allowed through your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I want to say three things. First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for the remarkable job she did after the contentious committee hearing on this clause. She forged a result which, although certainly not perfect, and which continues to evoke strong feelings, had the support of a very great majority of your Lordships.

Secondly, I thank the Minister for taking on board Amendment 9, which is surely not controversial but mends the hole in this Bill by ensuring that the same incidents are not taken into account for successive serious disruption prevention orders.

My third point is also addressed to the Minister, but I suspect more particularly to his ministerial colleagues. On both stop and search and serious disruption prevention orders, your Lordships’ House has not obstructed clear government policy but has found a way—with the benefit of our collective experience—to leave the police with the powers the Government say they need, while removing the excessive and unnecessary elements of each power. The things we removed are no-suspicion stop and search and the power to trigger SDPOs on the basis of activity that does not meet the criminal threshold.

I remind the Minister that all this was passed with overwhelming Cross-Bench support. All three amendments on these subjects were signed or supported by two Lord Chief Justices, two further judges of our highest court and a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe, who, in my experience, knows exactly what he is talking about on these issues. The three amendments collectively attracted 162 Cross-Bench votes, with only eight against. Of course, these Benches are only a small part of the House, but not one, I hope, that anyone would willingly confuse with a crypto-anarchist front. I believe that the Minister, with his own policing experience, will see the force of these views, and I ask him to convey that to his colleagues in the Commons. I hope that this Bill can become law without tiresome ping-pong and with these amendments in place.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, we wholeheartedly support all the amendments in this group. Noble Lords often talk about the tremendous work the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, has done on this Bill, although I realise they have not said it in those terms.

It may come as a surprise to Members of this House that I consider myself to be a Christian. I rather overdid it: I was baptised as an infant; then I became a Baptist and was baptised by total immersion; and then I went to Oxford and was confirmed in the Church of England. It was belt and braces as far as I am concerned. This legislation is not anti-Christian and, in respect of people who privately pray, my understanding is that prayer works very effectively outside of a 150-metre radius of an abortion clinic.

I have to apologise to the House: I should have been on my guard on Report. I refer to the debate on 7 February, when the Minister talked about the Government having tabled amendments

“which seek to allay some of the concerns expressed by your Lordships.”

I think the Minister knows what is coming. He went on to say that the second amendment, Amendment 58,

“reduces the relevant period of past conduct which is considered for SDPOs from within five years to within three years … It is the Government’s view that these amendments represent a substantive offer and address the main criticisms of SDPOs”.—[Official Report, 7/2/23; cols. 1147-48.]

Regrettably, when it came to Amendment 58, the Minister “not moved” his own amendment. I was not quick enough to intervene to rescue it, so that amendment is lost. It was not part of an amended part of the Bill, so it cannot be amended here at Third Reading, and it cannot be amended in the Commons either. As I said, I apologise for not being quick enough to spot that mistake. Having said that, we support all the amendments before the House today.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, we too support all the amendments today. I open by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for all her work on this matter; I know that she has worked tirelessly between both Houses and both sides of this House. I am glad that we have reached this point and, to that extent, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.

I reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said: plenty of Christians support the amendments and there are a number I know who would take exception to people describing them as somehow not as good Christians as those who wish to protest by praying within 150 metres of an abortion clinic. It is perfectly clear that you can pray wherever you like, but outside 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

I would like to reinforce the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who talked about the strength of the votes at earlier stages of the Bill. He highlighted stop and search and SDPOs, and the strength of support from across the Cross Benches, including from many very senior former judges. I hope that when the Minister wraps up, at this stage or the next, he says something or gives us some hint about how far the Government will go in recognising the concerns that this House has expressed.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, subsequent to Report and ahead of today’s Third Reading, the Government have brought a number of clarificatory technical amendments.

First, during the debate on Report on 7 February, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked for clarification, as he has referred to, that a second or subsequent serious disruption prevention order made in respect of the same person could not be founded on trigger events that had already been taken into account for the purposes of a previous order. I confirmed that that was indeed the Government’s intention. In this spirit, the Government have today brought an amendment clarifying that position within the legislation. I hope noble Lords are satisfied with that legal clarity and I thank the noble Lord for his remarks.

Finally, on Report, your Lordships voted to remove from the Bill Clause 11 on suspicionless stop and search, and Clause 20 on serious disruption prevention orders made otherwise than on conviction. As a result, the Government have brought tidying amendments that are consequential to those amendments. I will not speculate further on what may happen later.

Amendment 1 agreed.