On 13th December 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Public Order Bill in the third day of Committee. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in support of two sets of amendments to the bill:
- firstly to amendments tabled by Lord Paddick, with the support of the Bishop of St Albans, which would raise the burden of proof required to impose a serious disruption prevention order on protesters.
- secondly to amendments tabled by Baroness Chakrabarti and the Bishop of Manchester, which would place a moratorium on extending existing police powers without a parliamentary debate on current recruitment, vetting, and discipline of police officers.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I intend to be brief, but I wanted to speak in favour of Amendments 128, 129 and 130, addressing the Bill’s provisions on serious disruption prevention orders, adding my support to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others, and in particular my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. SDPOs are particularly hard-line and risk undermining people’s fundamental rights to protest, and they risk subjecting individuals to intrusive surveillance—methods that, as we have heard, are not typical in this country, and nor do we want them to become typical. The terms used to define who they can apply to are worryingly broad. The definition of “protest-related offence” as
“an offence which is directly related to a protest”
leaves the door far too open to interpretation. It therefore seems appropriate that the burden of proof for imposing SDPOs to the criminal standard should be raised as set out in Amendments 128 to 130.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I add my support to Amendments 146 and 147, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester added his name—I know he regrets that he is unable to be here today. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for bringing these important amendments forward. Throughout the debate on the Bill, it has been clear that there are many justified and genuine concerns about provisions and the expansion of police powers laid out in it. I believe that it is therefore appropriate that further reflection should take place, and these amendments would provide for exactly that opportunity, requiring parliamentary debate of an HMCI report concerning improvements to the vetting, recruitment and discipline of protest police officers. In recent years, we have arguably seen an accelerated decrease in trust in the police, and it is critical that any expansion of powers such as those set out in the Bill does not occur without regard for the real implications of such measures.
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