Public Order Bill: Bishop of Manchester speaks in favour of amendments on police powers

On 30th January 2023, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Public Order Bill. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in the debate, supporting amendments by Baroness Chakrabarti concerning police powers to arrest protestors for “locking on” offences:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I shall speak very briefly in support of the amendment to remove Clauses 1 and 2 that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol signed. She regrets that she cannot be in her place today. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, establishing new offences of locking on and being equipped for locking on have very significant consequences for the right to protest. A few days ago I got an email from a retired vicar in my diocese. He wrote to tell me he is awaiting sentencing: he has just been convicted of obstruction by gluing himself to a road during a protest by an environmental group. The judge has warned him and his co-defendants that they may go to prison. I cite his case not to approve of his actions—which I fear may serve to reduce public support for his cause rather than increase it—but because it clearly indicates to me that the police already have sufficient powers to intervene against those who are taking an active part in such protests. Anything extra, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just so eloquently illustrated, is superfluous.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab): I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in this short debate. I believe it was such a short debate because so much of the argument has been rehearsed in the first two groups. I thank the Minister for the tone of his remarks. The reason that so many noble Lords voted as they did in the first two groups is because of their profound concerns about the breadth and vagueness of these offences. The brevity of this debate is in no sense any indication of support for, for example, locking on—an offence that could find a courting couple, if that is not too antiquated a term, who linked arms being accused of being capable of causing disruption to police officers and, if an argument ensues, finding themselves in the territory of locking on. It was a revelation in one of the debates on the Bill when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom—who is now in his place—said, in response to a challenge by one of my noble friends, that, yes, linking arms could be attachment.

There are reasons why, for example, people in wheelchairs might attach themselves to the wheelchair in order to feel safer during a busy demonstration. There are so many unintended consequences. Even if one thought it were legitimate to create specific—or bespoke, which is the phrase normally used by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby—offences to tackle the suffragettes of the future, this offence is so broad and so vague that it would catch people who do not even intend militant protest at all.

With respect to the Minister, when he tells us that the events of recent months make this legislation necessary, how does that square with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester? Gluing yourself to the road, with the intended consequence of being caught, has already led to prosecution and conviction. Legislating does not stop bad things happening but, with bad legislation, more bad things will happen. The law will be brought into disrepute, and the relationship between the police and the public will be further fractured at a time when it is under grave strain for a number of reasons that we need not rehearse.

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