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Public Order Bill

Volume 827: debated on Monday 30 January 2023

Report (1st Day)

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Meaning of “serious disruption”(1) In this Act, “serious disruption” means disruption causing significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community, in particular where—(a) it may result in a significant delay to the delivery of a time-sensitive product to consumers of that product, or(b) it may result in a prolonged disruption of access to any essential goods or any essential service, including access to—(i) the supply of money, food, water, energy, or fuel,(ii) a system of communication,(iii) a place of worship,(iv) a transport facility,(v) an educational institution, or(vi) a service relating to health.(2) In subsection (1)(a), “time-sensitive product” means a product whose value or use to its consumers may be significantly reduced by a delay in the supply of the product to them.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause defines the concept of “serious disruption” for the purposes of this Bill, which is the trigger for several new offences and powers.

My Lords, I start consideration on Report by moving my Amendment 1. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, for their support for this amendment regarding serious disruption and its meaning and relevance to this Bill’s new powers. I start by also thanking the Minister for his courtesy and usual help in discussing the Bill and its relevant parts, which have been very gratefully received. I also thank all his officials and other Ministers.

However, in thanking the Minister, I have to say how disappointed I was by the Minister in the other place, who said in an online article in the Telegraph over the weekend that our job as politicians “of all colours” was

“to stand up for the law-abiding majority whose lives were seriously disrupted by such protests”.

Who does not want to stand up for the law-abiding majority? I have never said, in any of the debates on this Bill, that the Government, or anyone who has opposed what I have said, want to ban protests, or accused any of them of being against the law-abiding majority. This is a genuine debate and discussion between people of different parties, across this House, on very serious issues on which we are seeking to improve and amend the Bill. There will be differences of opinion, but that does not mean that people are against the law-abiding majority, and that does not mean that people are not in favour of protest.

The debate is about clarity and thresholds; it is about where we draw the line—democracy at its best, thrashing out these issues and, yes, voting in the best traditions of a revising Chamber. It is my contention, and that of my party and others from other parties across the House, that the Bill has gone too far. My amendments have a higher threshold than there are in other amendments, such as Amendment 5—but there are others. There is a risk of the police, in my view and that of others, being given lots of new powers that, instead of providing clarity, will end up undermining and clamping down on peaceful and legitimate protests.

My Amendment 1 says that “serious disruption” must cause

“significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community, in particular”

in certain situations, but not exclusively in those situations. That would keep the threshold at a relatively high level, not lower it. The EHRC says, in an article published today, that these new amendments have the potential to enable the police to block peaceful protests or to shut down non-disruptive protests.

I shall not go through every amendment in this group tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and supported by the Government. The language of Amendment 5 is much the same as in many of the other amendments, as it seeks legal clarity on definitions that are offence specific. Amendment 5, for example, relates to locking on, which means attaching yourself to a person, object or land, as set out in Clause 1. There is no definition of “attach”, so it can be linking arms. Clause 1 goes on to say that the offence happens if this

“causes, or is capable of causing, serious disruption”.

I want us all to consider that when we decide how we should vote on these matters. In other words, on some of the specifics around these amendments, we have to remember that an offence does not even have to happen—it just has to be capable of happening, and that should trouble us all.

Amendment 5 has a threshold and uses language such as “prevent” or

“hinder to more than a minor degree the individuals or the organisation from carrying out their daily activities.”

The same threshold is set for all the offences in Clauses 1, 3 and 4. Goodness me. Many of us—noble Lords in this Chamber and others watching these proceedings—would have been arrested or would have fallen foul of the law under these provisions. Let me give one example from my background. I will not go into the miners’ strike—it is more recent than that.

I, along with a community group, stopped a bus, rerouted by the bus company, from going down a road through an estate where there were children’s play areas, parks, et cetera. Many in that community were determined to act together because they decided that the bus company was acting in a way that was irresponsible with regard to the lives of people in that community and put children’s lives at risk. So we blockaded the road, linked arms across it and stopped the bus coming down that road for a few days. As a result, the bus company changed back to the original route.

This Bill would have threatened that activity and protest, making it unlikely that I, as a politician and councillor representing that area, as well as mothers, parents, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends with their children, using pushchairs in the road, would have been able to do that because it was more than a minor hindrance. It stopped that bus going down the road. Who is to say that that was wrong? Who can also say, if we pass these amendments, that that action would not be made inappropriate?

Do not take my word for it. I stand here as a Labour politician, but sometimes I read ConservativeHome. I was doing so at the weekend to see what might be said, which is always interesting and worthwhile. An article from Policy Exchange says that,

“the amended offences would make criminal liability turn on proof of serious disruption, which makes the meaning of ‘minor’ hindrance and ‘daily activities’ loom large”.

Of course there is a debate. I am sure that people are going to say, “Well, if you look at Lord Coaker’s amendment, and the others that support it, what does ‘significant’ mean? What does this mean? What does that mean?” Of course, there are debates about what different words mean, but the Government are pretending that, by lowering the threshold and using the words that they have included, you get rid of the legal uncertainty. That is not the case because, instead of having a debate about “serious”, you have a debate about “minor”. What is a “hindrance”? All those debates will loom large as, as the ConservativeHome article suggests.

As I have said, on my Amendment 1 there will be debate on the meaning of “significant”. It sets the threshold higher, which is the point that I am trying to make in my amendment. It does not prevent protest that might be capable of hindering someone carrying out their daily activities. So the lower threshold for serious disruption in Amendment 5 and others means that more than minor hindrance to the carrying out of daily activities, or construction, maintenance works or other activities, could result in police intervention and arrest. Wheelchair activists chaining their wheelchairs together in certain circumstances could cause more than a minor hindrance to daily activities. It could stop someone shopping.

I have looked at various websites through the weekend and have seen lots of different people supporting tree protests, where people have roped or attached themselves to trees to prevent something happening. Who is to say that those protests will not be affected by the new amendments? I have seen fine, upstanding citizens—not just members of the Labour Party, Communist Party, Socialist Workers, Liberal Democrats, Greens or others of similar ilk but even Conservatives—join those protests. Well, they are going to get a shock when they wake up and find that their own Government have said, “What you are doing is illegal, the village green trees that have been outside the pub for 300 years are going and there is nothing that you can do about it because we have introduced measures and amendments that mean that such protests will not be able to happen”.

Are we really saying in this Chamber that the definition of “serious” is “more than minor” and not incompatible with Articles 10 and 11 of the European convention? At the heart of this is the question of what “more than minor” means, particularly if applied to Clause 1. If, as Liberty says, I chain myself to a traffic light, and if that hindered two or more people for 10 minutes from crossing the street to shop, would that be “more than minor”? There is no legal certainty in what is meant by “more than minor”, nor indeed in what is meant by “hinder”—remembering that “serious disruption” does not even have to happen for those offences to be committed.

The noble Lord spoke about legal certainty. Could he help the House on how a court is to determine whether disruption is “prolonged”? If there is locking on and I am unable to take my child to school or my mother-in-law to hospital for an hour, two hours, or 10 hours, is that prolonged?

That is the point I am making: there is of course going to be a debate about what various words mean. I have admitted it. I said to the noble Lord and to others that I have asked in the debate what “significant” means in certain situations. All I am saying is that I want to set the threshold higher; I want the threshold to be at a level at which “serious” can be used, rather than the “minor” level which the Government seek to introduce, supported by other noble Lords. Of course there will be a debate, whether about what I have put forward, or about “minor”, or about what “hindrance” means in certain situations. But this Chamber should be saying to the courts that what we mean by “prolonged” is that it has to happen not just once. It has to be more than a daily activity; it has to be something that impacts on the life of the community more than once or twice. That is what we are saying and that is why I am putting forward these amendments. I want the courts to realise that, when this Chamber passes these amendments, we are saying that serious means serious.

Of course there will be a debate about what that actually means. It is the same as with any other law we pass—it does not matter which one. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has much more experience in this than I do, but, in the end, the courts will have to determine what it means. We will come on to “reasonable excuse” in a minute, but I think the courts would want to know that this House has debated it. I am saying that “serious” means more than minor, and that “prolonged” means more than daily. In the end, the courts will have to determine that. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that that would be true whatever wording we use in the Bill: there will be a debate in the courts as to what it actually means. I want the courts to debate what “serious” means and what “prolonged” means. I do not want them to debate what “minor” means because the threshold starts too low.

I think the noble Lord said, just before the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that it would not be necessary to prove serious disruption. That cannot be right, with respect; I hope it was a mistake on his part. I understand that the proposed new clause inserted by the amendment is to go before the definition of the offence, which includes the words “serious disruption”, which will have to be established. Is that correct?

Yes, of course. If I gave that impression, it was a mistake on my part. This is the whole point: there has to be “serious disruption”, as in my amendment. The debate—not the argument but the debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, just raised—is about what we actually mean by serious disruption. I thank the noble Lord, for pointing that out. If I said that, it was a mistake.

I am curious about this “serious disruption”. Quite honestly, if anyone has driven on the M4, the M25 or through the streets of London, they will know what serious disruption is, because we get it every single day from people using their cars. If we have any confusion about what serious disruption is, that is what it is: traffic jams. Perhaps we ought to lobby the Government to stop traffic jams, because they cause more delays to children getting to school, to ambulances getting to hospital, and so on. Please, can we just understand that serious disruption is something we all experience, every single day of our lives? What we are talking about here is not really serious disruption: this is people who care about the future of humankind, here in London and worldwide. Could we take it a bit more seriously?

I agree with my friend the noble Baroness about the importance of the issues. I think everyone in the Chamber is taking this seriously. There is a legitimate debate going on as to what “serious disruption” means. My friend is right to point out that we are discussing very serious issues, and we will talk about that when we come to “reasonable excuse” in particular. Before I am accused of being a hypocrite, I should say that I did drive here today—I thought I had better own up to that.

I turn to Amendments 48 and 49 and the Government’s response, we think, to slow walking, introduced at a very late stage—not in the Commons, and not even in Committee in this Chamber, but here on Report. It has been our contention that existing legislation, enforced robustly, would deal with many of the problems we have seen. As the chief constable of Greater Manchester said—and no doubt we will quote chief officers at each other, so let me start—in an article in the Telegraph on 12 December 2022, entitled “Just Stop Oil protesters should be arrested ‘within seconds’”:

“I think fundamentally, if people obstruct the highway they should be moved … very quickly”.

In other words, he argued for greater use of obstruction rather than a whole range of new powers, as contained in Amendments 48 and 49. We should remember that existing law, whatever the rights and wrongs of this, have led to Extinction Rebellion calling off its action.

In new subsection (3) as inserted by Amendment 48 and new subsection (4) as inserted by Amendment 49, there is the same argument about hindering that is more than minor, which I have just been through with respect to the meaning of “serious disruption”. In other words, the threshold for what constitutes “serious disruption” is being lowered.

I think all of us believe in the right to protest. Yes, sometimes we may get irritated when protests disrupt our lives, and clearly there have to be limits, but many of these amendments simply go too far; they will have a chilling effect on protests and protesters. It will undermine one of the fundamental freedoms we all enjoy: standing up to injustice as we see it. It is a price we pay for our democracy. Any interference with these freedoms poses an unacceptable threat to the right to protest, which is a fundamental cornerstone of our rights and our democracy. I beg to move.

My Lords, I remind the House that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments 5, 14 or 24 due to pre-emption. As we are on Report, I remind noble Lords that they are allowed to speak only once.

My Lords, I support Amendment 1, and no less strongly I oppose Amendment 5 proposed by the Government, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope and others. I never feel comfortable at the opposite end of the spectrum from my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, but I trust that he feels at least as uncomfortable on the other end of the spectrum from me.

Before commenting briefly on the actual language of these rival amendments, let me make what seems to me to be a critical preliminary point, and it is this: the meaning of “serious disruption”—assuming it is to be defined by one of these proposed amendments—is closely related to the concept and discussion and issue of “reasonable excuse” and the rival proposed amendments to that. I recognise that “reasonable excuse” comes under the next group but it is important that it should not be ignored at this stage. As your Lordships will readily understand, the lower the threshold is set for what constitutes “serious disruption”, the less justification there is for narrowing down, let alone excluding, the defence of “reasonable excuse” or for putting the burden of that defence on the accused. It becomes highly relevant as to what is decided in group 1 when we get to group 2. I acknowledge that the converse is true too: the higher the threshold for what constitutes “serious disruption” then the readier the House may be to look at shifting the burden, as the Bill already does, on matters of that sort.

Let me now turn briefly to the proposed definitions. Is “serious disruption” really to mean no more than substantial—in other words, something that is merely more than to a minor degree—interference with someone’s daily activities, as proposed by the Government, such as somebody driving to the shops? “Hindrance”, which is the concept used in the proposed government amendment, is effectively just that: it is really no more than interference and inconvenience. What weight, one asks, is given in the Government’s proposed definition to the word “serious”? Is it to be suggested that this is sufficiently catered to merely by the “hindrance” in the definition having to be

“more than a minor degree”?

I would submit it is surely not.

I do not wish to damage the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I would risk doing so if I were to go on at any great length. Surely the preferable definition is that which is proposed in Amendment 1, “significant harm”, as illustrated in the amendment. It is that significant harm, not merely interference or inconvenience, against which this legislation is directed, and it is certainly only that which could possibly justify most of the regressive, repressive features of this Bill. I therefore support Amendment 1.

My Lords, I will first address the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. As I have told the House before, I have considerable experience of public order policing and my view is that the police have sufficient powers without any of the measures contained in this Bill. In fact, that is the view of many serving police officers who were interviewed by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, some of whom referred to the powers that currently exist as an “armoury” of powers to use in public order policing. Now even the Just Stop Oil protesters say they are no longer going to protest in the way that they have before because too many of them are in prison. If too many of them are in prison, and they are not going to protest in the way that they have before, why do we need yet more powers for the police and more laws?

I have Amendments 3, 4, 12, 13, 22 and 23 in this group, which are nothing to do with the definition of “serious disruption”, so let me deal with these first. These amendments relate to the new offences of locking on, tunnelling and being present in a tunnel. The new offences include activity that is capable of causing serious disruption, even if no disruption whatsoever is caused—another example of giving the police the power to intervene in anticipation that serious disruption may be caused before a protest has even started.

Amendments 3, 12 and 22 restrict the offences to activities that actually cause serious disruption. The new offences are not only committed by those who intend to cause serious disruption, but also extend to those who are reckless as to whether serious disruption may be caused, even if they have no intention of causing serious disruption. Amendments 4, 13 and 23 remove the “reckless” element.

Amendments 5, 14 and 24—and part of Amendments 50 and 51, as we have heard—relate to the definition of “serious disruption”. The Minister will no doubt cite the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in saying that the police would find it helpful if the definition of “serious disruption” was clearer. Amendment 1, to which I have added my name—[Interruption.]

Sitting suspended.

That was a natural break in proceedings as I am now going on to talk about the definition of serious disruption.

As we have heard, Amendments 5, 14, 24 and part of Amendments 50 and 51 relate to the definition of serious disruption. The Minister will no doubt cite the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis in saying that the police would find it helpful if the definition of “serious disruption” were clearer.

Amendment 1, to which I have added my name, provides greater clarity in relation to, what—with the best will in the world—will ultimately be a judgment call by the police. I respectfully suggest that

“Significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community”

provides the clarity the police are seeking in ways that the alternative, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, does not. It even provides examples of what might constitute “significant harm”.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. The noble and learned Lord probably realised that he had gone too far in his definition when the Minister signed them. I am not a lawyer. At university, I studied philosophy, not law, but I am not sure that defining “serious” as being “more than minor” is that helpful or reasonable. Surely it begs the question, “Well, what is minor?” Does the noble and learned Lord define minor as “less than serious”?

Having taken a common-sense rather than legal approach, I thought that serious was the opposite of minor. They are at opposite ends of a spectrum, in the sense that black is the opposite of white, not just the next level up. There are 50 shades of grey, apparently, between black and white; anything lighter in tone than black is not white. To use another analogy, the definition of a serious injury is not “anything more than a minor injury”.

I am reminded of the story of a student at Oxford University where the rule was that cats could be kept as pets, but not dogs, so he called his dog “Cat”. Saying that “serious disruption” is “anything more than minor” does not make it serious, even if the noble and learned Lord wants to call it that.

Of course, if the Government want to ban all protest that prevents or would hinder individuals carrying out their daily activities to more than a minor degree, they should say that in the Bill. They should not try to disguise the fact by saying that anything more than minor is serious—that dark grey is white. More than a minor degree cannot reasonably be defined as serious. We will vote in support of Amendment 1 and, if necessary, against Amendments 5, 14 and 24.

Government Amendments 48 and 49 deserve additional mention, over and above their adoption of the noble and learned Lord’s definition of serious as anything more than minor.

The police are asking for clarity. Let me quote from Amendment 48. Among other things, proposed new subsection (3A)(c) states that

“(c) the senior police officer reasonably believes that one of the conditions in subsection (1)(a) to (b) is met in relation to the procession mentioned in paragraph (a), and (d) the senior police officer reasonably believes—(i) in relation to a procession mentioned in paragraph (b)(i), that one of the conditions in subsection (1)(a) to (b) is met in relation to the procession, or (ii) in relation to an assembly mentioned in paragraph (b)(ii), that one of the conditions in section 14(1)(a) to (b) is met in relation to the assembly ... (3B) The senior police officer may—(a) give directions under subsection (1) in relation to—(i) the procession mentioned in subsection (3A)(a), and (ii) any procession mentioned in subsection (3A)(b)(i) in relation to which the condition in subsection (3A)(d)(i) is met, and (b) give directions under section 14(1A) in relation to any assembly mentioned in subsection (3A)(b)(ii) in relation to which the condition in subsection (3A)(d)(ii) is met.”

I am not sure that is the clarity the police are seeking.

These amendments go far beyond a too-weak definition of “serious disruption”. In considering whether a protest may result in serious disruption, the senior officer must have regard not just to the protest they are considering but to any other protest being held in the same area, even if they are organised by different people, involve different people, or

“are held or are intended to be held”

on the same day. The next thing the police will be telling protesters is that they cannot protest in central London because “There have been a couple of protests this month already”.

What is more, the police can define what “in the same area” means. When the police were given powers to designate a delimited area for a limited time for stop and search without suspicion under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, they designated the whole of London every day for years. There is nothing in these amendments to stop the Metropolitan Police, for example, designating the whole of London as the area in which the cumulative impact of protests needs to be taken into account.

The police are asking for clarity, so can the Minister please explain proposed new subsection (2ZH)(a), to be introduced by Amendment 48? What does

“all disruption to the life of the community … that may occur regardless of whether the procession is held”

mean? How can the life of a community be disrupted if a procession is not held?

These amendments would give the police extraordinary new powers to limit where, when and for how long marches and assemblies can take place, even if the protest is going to be peaceful and is not itself going to cause serious disruption, but, taken together with others in the area, even on a different day, may cause serious disruption. They would also allow the police to define what “area” means. These are yet more totally unjustified, unreasonable and excessive powers being given to a police service that no longer enjoys the confidence of large parts of society. We will vote against the amendments.

My Lords, we genuinely saw a demonstration there during an argument about what might constitute a “serious” or “minor” disruption. We could argue for ages whether it was “serious” or “minor”, but one thing I want to stress is why I support raising the threshold to the maximum and why I will support the amendments.

However, I want to ask the Minister, and the Government in general: who are the Bill and these amendments aimed at? Too much of the justification for the Bill that we heard in Committee, in newspaper articles since and in statements by Ministers, focused on the tactics of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. Those organisations boasting that they wanted to maximise serious disruption to people’s lives to force and shock society into acting undoubtedly did not help those of us trying to be liberal about the right to protest. They did not exactly help my side of the argument, and I am certainly no fan of those tactics—but how on earth will the Bill confine itself to only those protesters? That is my point.

When we were talking earlier about serious disruption, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made the point that those of us who get stuck in traffic jams know what serious disruption is. She used the point to illustrate that she feels there are too many cars on the roads, but in London—and not only London—there are lots of disputes concerning low-traffic neighbourhoods. Local people will tell you that, because the councils have put up obstacles and bollards on local roads, journeys that once took 15 minutes often take an hour and a half, and that that often goes against public consultations.

The mayor of Hackney boasted last week that he is going to block 75% of roads in Hackney, which I think is pretty serious disruption and so do local people. I mention this because lots of protests are now being planned by local people against low-traffic neighbourhoods. When I explained to some people, including two Conservative councillors, how this Bill could be used against the protests against low-traffic neighbourhoods, they said, “Don’t be ridiculous. This Bill is about stopping Extinction Rebellion.”

I want the Government to explain how they will confine this Bill to what they say it is about. Actually, it will affect anyone who wants to protest about anything, including Conservative councillors, while Home Secretaries, who will not necessarily be of the party opposite, will in future have enormous powers. I do not understand the logic of what the Government are trying to do; they are shooting themselves in the foot and confusing members of the public, who think that this will be directed only at one type of protester. It will not.

My Lords, I would have thought that the necessity for the Lord Speaker to retire for five minutes might be termed a “serious disruption” of the working of this House. However, the point I want to make, briefly, concerns the use of the phrase “capable of causing”. According to Amendment 48, a senior police officer will make the decision. What on earth will he base the decision on? It would certainly be easier with Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion, but, as we know, there are many other processions and disturbances—particularly in London but right around the country—that he would not know to what they were leading or what they would be like. How on earth is he to assess whether they are capable of causing serious disruption? I find the issue very difficult to understand. I hope the Minister will explain what is really meant by a police officer deciding what is “capable of causing” serious disruption.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and a daunting privilege, as always, to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. My views on the necessity and desirability of this proposed anti-terror-style legislation are no secret. But whether noble Lords are for or against this Bill—whether they are for or against its new offences, including thought crimes, stop and search powers, including without suspicion, and banning orders, including without conviction—all noble Lords must agree that the concept of “serious disruption” has been used throughout the Bill as a justification and trigger for interferences with personal liberty.

So, “serious disruption” should be defined. However, His Majesty’s Government resisted any definition at all, all the way through the Commons stages of the Bill and in this House, until this late stage, notwithstanding attempts by some of us on this side to provide a single overarching definition very early on, in Committee, and despite even senior police requests for clarity. What a way to legislate, bearing in mind that we are here at all only because of late amendments to last year’s bus—sorry, Bill—the police et cetera Bill, which would have had this whole Bill dropped into it, again at a very late stage.

Just over a week ago, via a Sunday afternoon No. 10 press release—because No. 10 press officers never rest on Sundays—and with no amendment even attached to that press release, we learnt that there was to be some sort of definition so that

“police will not need to wait for disruption to take place”.

The government amendments and signatures to amendments from other noble Lords were not published until about 24 hours later, so there was a whole media round of debate the next morning—this was before the conviction of Police Constable Carrick—concerning unpublished amendments. I hope that the Minister will tell us when he first knew about this new approach of having a definition, and why it was heralded by press release rather than discussion in your Lordships’ House.

As for the substance of the issue, government amendments are confusingly piecemeal and set the bar too low before a number of intrusive police powers and vague criminal offences kick in: “more than minor” hindrance is not serious disruption. More than minor is not serious enough. They cannot be serious.

I face more than minor hindrance in congested London traffic every day or even when walking through the doors and corridors of your Lordships’ House at busy times. The definition of civil nuisance at English common law involves “substantial interference” with the use and enjoyment of my property. Should it really be harder to sue my neighbour for polluting my private land than it will be under the Government’s proposal to have my neighbour arrested for protesting against pollution in the public square? Obviously not—or at least, not in a country that prides itself on both civil liberty and people’s ability to rub along together and even disagree well.

Instead, the single overarching and more rigorous Amendment 1 defines “serious disruption” as

“causing significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community”.

That is the overarching definition, and it includes “significant delay” in the delivery of goods and “prolonged disruption” of access to services, as set out in the Public Order Act 1986. To help the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the concept of prolonged disruption is already in the 1986 Act as amended by last year’s bus, the police et cetera Act, so that is not a novel concept. We are really talking about significant harm instead of more than minor hindrance. I urge all noble Lords, whether they are for or against the Bill in principle, to vote for that.

I would like to speak next because my amendments have been mentioned and it is probably best that I explain what they are. I stress that the amendments under discussion are my amendments: they are Amendments 5, 14 and 24 in this group, which substantially repeat amendments I tabled in Committee. There is a certain amount of revision of the words but essentially, I am making the same point as I did in Committee. They seek to give effect to a recommendation by the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who, as I speak, is still a member of that committee, for adding his name to the amendments.

The committee noted that the three clauses concerning locking on, tunnelling and being present in a tunnel—the offences that are the target of my amendments—use the term “serious disruption” to describe the nature of the conduct that the Bill seeks to criminalise. The committee noted that this could result in severe penalties, such as providing the basis for a serious disruption prevention order, and took the view that a definition should be provided. On that issue, I think there is a wide measure of agreement across the House—perhaps with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—that a definition is needed because of the nature of these offences and the consequences that follow from them.

I would like to clarify that I wholeheartedly support Amendment 1, which is a definition of “serious disruption”.

So there is agreement that a definition is needed because of the nature of the crime and the consequences that follow from it. The committee noted that a definition was given in Sections 73 and 74 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has referred. Those sections deal with the imposition of conditions on public processions and public assemblies. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seeks to adopt the same definition for the purposes of the Bill.

I am sorry to be a hindrance to the noble and learned Lord, although I hope no more than a minor hindrance. The concept of “prolonged disruption” is a tiny part of the definition, but my noble friend Lord Coaker’s Amendment 1 does not replicate the definition in Section 73 of the 1986 Act. The new overarching principle that we would introduce with Amendment 1 is

“significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community”,

and that is not in the 1986 Act. It is not the provision that is limited in that Act to processions or indeed assemblies.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness and accept her correction. Of course the catalogue that follows is very much the catalogue that we see in the 2022 Act, and it was that which took our attention in the committee. Our view was that the definition is not suitable for use in the Bill because of locking on and, especially, tunnelling. The committee said that the definition should be tailored to the very different offences with which we are concerned in the Bill, and recommended that the meaning of the phrase should be clarified in a proportionate way—for a reason that I will come back to, because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned that point—in relation to each offence. That is what my amendments seek to do. I suggest that they are more in keeping with what the Constitution Committee was contemplating than the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.

I have tried to provide definitions that are tailored to each of those three offences and are short, simple, proportionate and easy to understand. After all, this is a situation where guidance is needed for use by all those to whom the offences are addressed. That audience includes members of the public who wish to exercise their freedom to protest; the police, who have to deal with these activities; and the magistrates, before whom most of any prosecutions under these clauses will be tried.

At the end of my speech in Committee, my aim was to invite the Minister and his Bill team to recognise the importance of the issue and, if my amendments were not acceptable, to come up with a more suitable but just as effective form of words. As noble Lords can imagine, as we so often issue invitations of that kind and those words were uttered more in hope than expectation, it was rather to my surprise that on this occasion my hope was realised when the Bill team began to take an interest in what I was seeking to do. I am grateful to them and to the Ministers in the other place and in this House for the discussions that then followed, which helped me to improve and finalise my wording. I cannot claim that I have found an absolutely perfect solution, but I think what I have done is achieve the best that can be done. Certainly, it is very much better than the alternative that is before your Lordships.

Let us look at tunnelling, for example. This is, after all, meant to be an overarching definition to supply the needs of three offences: one is locking on, the other two are tunnelling. What does the amendment really tell us about tunnelling and what the police and others should be looking at? It tells us that

“‘serious disruption’ means disruption causing significant harm to persons, organisations or the life of the community”.

The closest the effect of tunnelling comes to this, thinking particularly of HS2, is “harm to … organisations”. The problem is that the amendment does not really say what that means, and that is the question; that guidance is missing. The long catalogue of examples, of the kind of things that may result from processions and assemblies, is no help at all. As a lawyer, I am concerned with the proper drafting of things that are being produced by this House as definitions. It should really do the job it is designed to do: providing definitions that are appropriate for the language found elsewhere in the particular Bill.

My amendment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has very kindly added his name, in the case of tunnelling refers instead to preventing or hindering to no more

“than a minor degree any construction or maintenance works or other activities that are being … performed … on the ground above the tunnel or in its vicinity.”

My amendment directs attention to what is really happening on the ground. I believe that is very much more helpful than the language in Amendment 1.

Of course, I recognise that I am using the words

“to more than a minor degree”,

whereas the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, uses the words “causing significant harm”. It has been suggested that this is a lower threshold, but that is to misunderstand the words that I have used. The key word in my phrase is “more”. My point is that the disruption becomes significant when it is “more than minor”—what is “more than minor” is significant. What everyone wants to know in a situation where the disruption is likely to continue for some time, which is the case with these three offences, is at what point it reaches the stage when it is appropriate that the police should intervene because the disruption has become significant. My point is that it reaches that stage when it is “more than minor”.

We are dealing with words, about which we can argue, and I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is shaking her head—

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord says that “more than minor” is “significant”. Would he say that “more than minor” is not “serious”; it is “significant”?

These are the words we are dealing with. “Significant” is the word in the Amendment 1 and it is defining “serious disruption”, but we are trying to find words that define what we mean by “serious disruption” in the case of these three offences, which is my point. I come back to the point that the important word is “more”, because I am trying to establish the threshold at which it is right that the police should intervene. The problem with “significant”, of course, is that can mean different things to different people in different contexts.

I think the difference between us is that the noble and learned Lord is suggesting that there is a binary: there is “minor” and there is “significant”, and therefore anything “more than minor” must be “significant” or—forget “significant”—“serious”. To understand the intention behind our amendment, one needs to think about “significant harm”—“harm” as in damage. Harm and damage, and significant harm and damage, are well understood in the law, as he knows. As for his concerns about the long list, it is a replication of provisions previously in the 1986 Act for assemblies and processions. To reiterate, it is a non-exhaustive list of examples. The crucial part of our definition is “significant harm”. I think an ordinary person on the street would understand “significant harm” as more serious a minor hindrance or one iota more than a minor hindrance.

I was looking to identify the threshold at which one reaches the point where, on my approach, one moves beyond a minor disturbance to something that becomes significant. That is why I use “more” for the point at which, I suggest, given these particular offences, it is right that the police should then intervene. I asked the question: once one reaches that point, in the case of the tunnelling, why should that go on and on? People are arguing about whether we have reached the stage where the harm is caused is significant without the further guidance of being directed to the point at which it becomes significant.

The problem with the words that the noble Baroness is addressing to me is that they can mean a range of things within the compass of the word “significant”. I am trying to direct attention to the particular offences and consequences that follow from the activities being carried on. That is why I suggest that “more” is the most important and significant part of my formula.

As for locking on, the other of the three offences, I do not have a long catalogue of things that may be affected. There is always a risk that something might be missed out, so I have tried to capture what is put at risk by the omnibus words “their daily activities”. But here again, the threshold that I am seeking to identify is to be found in the words

“more than a minor degree”,

for the reasons that I have explained. Again, the question is: why should the police wait any longer once that threshold is reached?

I come back to the point about proportionality that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned, and the reasonable excuse point. Proportionality is very important and the threshold has to be put into the right place, because we need to consider at what point the interference with the convention rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association becomes disproportionate.

In its judgment in the recent Northern Ireland abortion services case, delivered last December, the Supreme Court said in paragraph 34:

“It is possible for a general legislative measure in itself to ensure that its application in individual circumstances will meet the requirements of proportionality … without any need for the evaluation of the circumstances in the individual case”.

In other words, there is then no issue for a jury to consider or a magistrate to address his or her mind to; it will have been sufficiently addressed if the issue identified in the legislation is in the right place.

As to whether that is so, some guidance can be found in a decision of the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg court in a Lithuanian case called Kudrevičius in 2015. That case was about a demonstration by farmers, of which a number have happened in recent years. They had gathered in a number of groups to block the traffic on a number of public highways. The court said that in that case the disruption of traffic that resulted could not

“be described as a side-effect of a meeting … in a public place, but rather as the result of intentional action by the farmers”—

in other words, they were intending to disrupt the highway—and that

“physical conduct purposely obstructing traffic and the ordinary course of life in order to seriously disrupt the activities”

of others, the court said,

“is not at the core of”

the right to freedom of assembly. That in itself, however, was not enough to remove their participation entirely from the scope of the protection.

That is the background for what the court then decided. It said that “Contracting States”, which included ourselves,

“enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in their … taking measures to restrict such conduct”

and that the farmers’ intention—a serious disruption of the highways to a more significant extent

“than that caused by the normal exercise of the right of peaceful assembly in a public place”—

was enough to enable the Court to conclude that the criminal sanction which was imposed there was not disproportionate. That is an example of a case which went across the border from being a side-effect of what was happening to something that was a deliberate obstruction of traffic, which is what locking on is all about, and a deliberate interruption of, let us say, the HS2 development, which is what the tunnelling is all about.

My approach also has the support of a decision by the Divisional Court in March last year in a case called Cuciurean. That case was about tunnelling. It affected only a small part of the HS2 project, it lasted for only two and a half days and the cost of removal was less than £200,000. However, the prosecution for aggravated trespass was upheld as not amounting to a disproportionate interference with the protester’s rights. I am sorry to weary your Lordships with those references, but, having looked at those and other case law, I believe that the position I have adopted in these amendments strikes the correct balance for the proportionate treatment of the rights we are talking about.

Of course, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will not press his amendment—although I have no doubt he will feel he should—because I believe it is not fit for purpose. It is not right to introduce a general definition of that kind, which is perhaps all right for one of three offences but is completely out of place for the other two. It is not good legislation. We try in this House to improve legislation. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not think his amendment improves it. On the contrary, I suggest that my amendments do improve it and, when the time comes, if I have the opportunity to do so, I will seek to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, I admire the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for trying to convince us. I support and have signed Amendment 1. I cannot argue the law—I cannot argue how many angels dance on the head of a pin—but I can question the politics. My concern about the politics of the whole Bill is that the Government are seeking to be “regressive” and “repressive”—these words have been used. This is nasty legislation.

You have to ask: is it appropriate for a few dozen protesters? Is this heavy-handed legislation appropriate for that number of people who occasionally disrupt our lives? I would argue that it is not. It is almost as if this legislation is perhaps designed instead to prevent millions of people protesting, because the Government know they have lost the confidence of the public in Britain. In a recent poll, two-thirds of people thought that the Government were corrupt. That suggests that any legislation this Government try to bring in is possibly not very well designed for the majority of people in Britain. They are giving very heavy powers to the police when we have already seen that the public do not trust the police, and they are giving more powers to Ministers—and we do not trust Ministers.

It is very heavy legislation. I am worried that the Government are actually bringing legislation for when there are general strikes and hundreds of thousands of people on the streets protesting about the collapsing and soon-to-be privatised health system or the fact that everybody’s pay is getting squeezed apart from the pay of the bankers and the wealthy. I worry that they are bringing in these laws for far more people that just the protesters. Quite honestly, who would not agree with Insulate Britain? It is the smartest thing we can possibly do if we are worried about our energy crisis. So it seems that the Government are not really focused on the protests we have had so far; they are focusing on protests we might have in the future.

We are going to vote very soon on whether to declare a protest illegal if it disrupts somebody. The whole point of protest is that it disrupts life to some point, so that you notice and start debating it and it gets reported in the newspapers. It is incredibly important, in a sense, that protest is disruptive. I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, say that Amendment 1 was not suitable, but I have taken advice from lawyers and I think it is entirely suitable, so I will be voting for it. My big concern in this House is that we have a Government who are simply out of control. They talk about protesters being out of control, but it is the Government who are out of control.

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, the Constitution Committee considered that a definition of “serious disruption” would be useful. I think there is a measure of agreement around the House that it would be, but the debate is about how best to define it. The amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, to which I have added my name, is an attempt to provide that clarification. I can well imagine a court asking itself, “What is a serious disruption?”, and looking to see whether Parliament has given any help. None is provided at the moment. So I welcome that the Government have accepted, albeit somewhat at the 11th hour, that a definition will be useful.

Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and which has the support of others who have already spoken to it, places the bar high. When combined with the necessity of proving not only intention or recklessness on behalf of the putative offender but the absence of a reasonable excuse, which—if the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is accepted—is a prerequisite before you get to the other elements in the offence, it seems to me that, with all those requirements combined, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to establish that an offence had been committed. That may well be the underlying purpose behind the combination of amendments. The opposition parties may not approve of the legislation, and, if they cannot get rid of it altogether, they may wish to emasculate it to such an extent that, practically, it cannot be relied upon. That is a perfectly tenable point of view, but not one that I share—and neither do the general public, I think, having seen the effect of some recent demonstrations.

The definition proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, does not place the bar as high as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, does in his amendment. The former provides for an act that

“will result in, or will be capable of causing, serious disruption if it prevents or would hinder to more than a minor degree”—

he emphasised that last phrase—

“the individuals or the organisation from carrying out their daily activities.”

Clearly, that would exclude mere inconvenience, but it would include “disrupting”—that is an important word—people going to work, hospital, a funeral or a sporting event or taking a child to school; in other words, their “daily activities”. If they were inconvenienced only to a minor degree, that would not be a serious disruption, but the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would, I suggest, be a useful guide to courts in determining what amounts to a serious disruption. If it is suggested that it sets the bar too low, we should bear in mind those additional requirements: mere accidental interference is not enough. We should bear in mind, too, how those are bespoke amendments to deal with locking on or tunnelling; they are not general or vague attempts to raise the bar to a particular level.

I also think the opposition parties may wish to bear in mind what the Labour Party shadow Justice Secretary said in connection to this:

“Our brave emergency services are being held up from helping those in distress, and lives have been put at risk. On top of that, the public has been stopped from going about their everyday business.”

I do not suppose that the Opposition would wish to disassociate themselves from that. It seems entirely consistent with the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on serious disruption—and, when we come to them, on “reasonable excuse”.

Of course, I entirely accept that the right to protest is fundamental, and we must, as citizens, be prepared to put up with inconvenience caused by those exercising that important democratic right. We may find it noisy and annoying—depending on how much we sympathise with the cause, even very annoying—but that would not be enough to be a serious disruption. It must be something more than annoying, but less than the very high hurdle which must be surmounted by the wording of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Ultimately, it may come down to whether your Lordships consider that the right to protest is so fundamental that it must trump the rights of ordinary people going about their everyday lives. It is a difficult balance to strike, but although I profoundly respect the right to protest and have sympathy for many of the relevant causes, it seems to me that one has to counterbalance that with the rights of others to go about their lives—those rights are entitled to protection, too, and this amendment attempts to achieve a balance between those respective rights.

My Lords, I am also glad that your Lordships’ House is trying to explain for the benefit of protesters and police what is meant by “serious disruption”, even if we are not finding it very easy.

I will start with the new tunnelling offences in Clauses 3 and 4, which, as I said in Committee in support of the consistent approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are in a very particular category. The key point, recognised in Amendments 14 and 24, is that the disruption liable to be caused by tunnelling is not to the general public but to construction or maintenance works. Delays to the delivery of time-sensitive products, and prolonged disruption of access to a rather specific range of goods and services specified in Amendment 1 of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, are not really to the point. The one-size-fits-all approach in Amendment 1 is neither designed for nor appropriate to the tunnelling offences. I would add that to require disruption to be “more than minor” in order to constitute the new offences seems quite sufficiently generous to tunnellers who are seeking to disrupt those engaged in lawfully organised works. That is why I put my name to Amendments 14 and 24 and shall support them if they are put to a vote.

The arguments are more finely balanced in relation to Amendment 5. The locking-on offence, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said, can be constituted by a remarkably wide range of actions. I am wary of a test that is too easy to satisfy, bearing in mind that serious disruption, or the prospect of serious disruption, is the trigger for the no-suspicion stop and search power, and for SDPOs, the whole existence of which is controversial, at least to me. But I take comfort from the fact that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has explained, hindrance to the public needs to be significant before it can meet the test of being more than minor. Indeed, “significant”, not “substantial”, is the very word used in Amendment 1 when it refers not only to “significant harm” but to “significant delay”.

The recent Policy Exchange briefing, to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred, complains that the “more than minor” test may be interpreted in the light of the Strasbourg case law

“so as to maximise the space for protest”.

I agree that it will have to be interpreted in conformity with the ECHR. Policy Exchange seems dismayed by that; I am rather encouraged by it. When the definition offered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is criticised from one side for being too easy to satisfy and from the other for being too difficult to satisfy, perhaps it is not too wide of the mark, even in this more sensitive context.

My main point is that whatever view noble Lords may take of Amendment 5, the case for Amendments 14 and 24 is a strong one. I hope we will have the chance to vote for them.

Before my noble friend sits down, would he agree that there is no particular reason why Amendment 1—although plainly it would pre-empt Amendment 5—should pre-empt Amendments 14 and 24?

I believe the Deputy Speaker so directed at the outset of this debate—but I will be corrected if I am wrong about that.

My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Lord, and not from a musical perspective, whether if we change the words “more than minor” to “major” we might not make some progress, because surely that is what they mean.

I am conscious that an expert musician will certainly know the difference between minor and major. I take refuge in the fact that there is no such amendment before us, so perhaps I do not need to answer that today.

My Lords, the right to protest in a democracy is of central importance, but I cannot see that there is much of a right to glue yourself to another person or object in order to disrupt the daily lives of other people. That is what we are talking about here. There are many ways of protesting in our democracy without locking yourself on—without disrupting the lives of others. The conduct with which these clauses are concerned is very often, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, accepted, for the very purpose of disrupting the lives of others. I think that such conduct should not be unlawful, as Amendment 1 proposes, only if it causes prolonged disruption.

Preventing people going to work or taking their children to school or relatives to hospital should be unlawful. That is, as far as I can see, more at the minor end and sufficiently strong to outweigh the interests of the protesters, as the cases cited by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, demonstrate.

I suggest that the House bears in mind one further point. There is a danger, when we consider all these amendments, that we do so by reference to protest with which we may sympathise—maybe environmental causes. But the protest may also be by those whose causes are far less attractive and far more damaging to a democratic society. Such protesters may also decide to lock on, and the law needs to deter and penalise them.

My Lords, I would like to think about how we got here. First, there has been a series of events over the past few years during which people criticised the police, the CPS and the Government for not intervening when people were seriously disrupted. That is why we are having this debate. We could go through various cases, whether it is Heathrow, the M25 or the taxis around Parliament Square, when the drivers were kind enough to leave a lane around the outside; that was their decision, a point I shall come back to. Therefore, people have complained that the police have not been intervening.

One reason why the police have not been intervening concerns the offence that they usually rely on: obstruction of the highway, which is a very simple and absolute offence. There is no intent to be proved; all that needs to happen is obstruction of the highway. The Supreme Court has had to consider that simple offence, and it concluded that there was more to consider than whether the highway was blocked. It asked whether there was an alternative route and other action could have been taken by the police. There was lots of talk about intent in respect of what is really a very simple offence. Usually the penalty is a fine; very rarely is imprisonment imposed.

The second reason why this issue is having to be considered is that the public have got angry and sometimes started to take action themselves when the police have not, which is always dangerous. We can all recall seeing film of someone sat on the top of a tube carriage and the crowd dragging him off. That is very dangerous for everybody involved—a terrible situation, and it should not happen. We have seen cases where the motorways have been blocked, and the people at the front have started to intervene because they are fed up with waiting. It appears that nobody is going to do anything and, in any case—

Certainly in Committee, the point was made—and I wonder what the noble Lord felt about it—that this was a crisis of policing, with the police not enacting laws we already have. It is entirely fair that the public have got frustrated, demanding that something should be done. If the police are uncertain what to do with a huge armoury of public order offences that could be used and sometimes are used, but in a fairly arbitrary fashion, why will giving them more powers and laws solve the problem of not using the ones they already have? That will disillusion the public even more with the whole process of criminal justice.

The noble Baroness makes a good point. I was going to come on to a point that she made, but the point the police are making is that, if there is a lack of precision around something as simple as obstructing the highway, can we help them? People have alluded to the fact that the police have asked for help, and that is one of the things Parliament can do: explain more clearly how obstruction can be a protest that is beyond the criminal boundary, particularly when political motives are involved. Generally, the police will try not to get involved in that, which why they are seeking help in asking for more legislation, rather than less, although in general I think they would say that they do not need any more legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, explained very well why he would like to approach this issue in a different way. The problem I have with his amendment is that it refers to a “prolonged disruption”, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said. I particularly do not like its reference to health. What if someone is having a heart attack or another very serious medical issue that involves minutes rather than hours—or days, in some cases?

Just to be clear one more time, prolonged disruption is just an example. One does not need prolonged disruption for significant harm to be caused to a person, an organisation or the life of the community. I cannot think of a more significant harm than a person with a heart attack not being able to be transported in an ambulance.

That is what the amendment says: “prolonged”.

Who is going to decide? The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made this point: people may have lost confidence in the police, for reasons that we understand. However, the alternative appears to be that we leave it in the hands of the protesters to decide how long they will stay. That is unacceptable. If the state is going to have a view on these matters, it is for the state to decide, not the protesters. Of course they will have a view, which may be different, but they have to take the consequences if they get that line wrong. That is not happening at the moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said that we could all be disrupted. She has often made that point and I have often disagreed with her. She says that we are always disrupted every day, certainly in London—not the rest of country, frankly—by congestion and, therefore, why should we criminalise protest that only does the same thing? I hope that I am fairly representing her argument.

Nearly. Pollution kills people but we are not trying to legalise unlawful killing. One could pursue that argument to its logical extent, but I do not accept that someone intentionally blocking someone else’s path is the same thing as someone suffering the consequences of congestion. I expect that the noble Baroness is going to say something.

I am sorry—I was looking at my notes and missed that. Would it be terrible if the noble Baroness repeated it, so that I can properly respond?

The noble Lord is so profound. I said that when there is disruption, people know that it is going to last some time, so they can turn off their engines. What happens in traffic is that people leave their engines running, which is, of course, highly polluting, as he said.

The Met Police, after the disruption on motorways into London, put out a tweet asking people to report instances of being unable to get their children to school, medical emergencies or whatever. The stream of replies after the tweet was nothing to do with people objecting to the disruption; they were supporting the action. So the Met Police might have got that slightly wrong.

My final point is that although I cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for the reasons I have explained, I support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. However, the challenge made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is that “minor” sounds intuitively contentious when referring to something serious, and it is an unusual bar by which to define something. The noble and learned Lord I think acknowledged that there may be more work to do on that.

I did stress that the word “more” is important. I agree that the word “minor” raises issues, but the “more” point is crucial to an understanding of my formula.

I accept that point and I would of course never tangle with a lawyer. However, I am just saying that at an intuitive level, even describing something as “more than minor” may be a concern and there may be a different form of words. In fact, I thought that noble Lords might have been able to group around the form of words the noble and learned Lord used in his speech, be it “significant” or “major”, as was suggested. It may be that we broadly agree that “serious disruption” is not okay. That is why we are struggling to find the exact definition in the amendments.

Finally, we should not leave the police with too many problems in terms of intent, recklessness or reasonable excuse. If we have a simple definition of an offence but then have to worry about intent or recklessness, the situation will, I suspect, become almost impossible and we will be back to where we started. That would be a concern.

My Lords, I just gently remind the House of the rules of debate on Report, which say:

“On Report, no Lords Member may speak more than once to an amendment, except: the mover of the amendment”.

Intervening repeatedly on other Members is not really in keeping with the rules of debate on Report.

My Lords, at Second Reading and in Committee there was much discussion on the meaning of “serious disruption”, and many noble Lords spoke to the need to provide a clear definition in the Bill. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in what has been a fascinating debate. At Second Reading, I agreed with many of the comments made by your Lordships and committed to take the matter away. What we are debating today is the matter of thresholds, as all noble Lords who spoke noted. The debate is not about whether these measures ban protests: quite simply, they do not, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his comments emphasising that fact. We are trying to ascertain the point to which protesters can disrupt the lives of the general public. This Government’s position is clear: we are on the side of the public.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for tabling his amendment, which provides a definition of “serious disruption” for offences in the Bill. I agree with the purpose of his amendment but do not believe that the threshold is appropriate. The Government want to protect the rights of the public to go about their daily lives without let or hindrance. I do not believe that his amendment supports this aim; therefore, I cannot support it. I make no secret of what the Government are trying to do. We are listening to the public, who are fed up with seeing, day after day, protesters blocking roads: they make children late for school; they make people miss hospital appointments; and they make small businesses struggle. Any change in law must address this, and I do not believe that the noble’s Lord’s proposed threshold does.

In this vein, I turn to the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which also provide a definition of “serious disruption”, but for the specific offences of locking on, tunnelling and causing disruption by being present in a tunnel. His amendments follow the judgment handed down by the Court of Appeal following the Colston statue case. The court found that the right to protest does not extend to acts of criminal damage that are violent or where the damage is to more than a minor or trivial degree:

“We cannot conceive that the Convention could be used to protect from prosecution and conviction those who damage private property to any degree than is other than trivial.”

We agree with the judiciary and believe that this threshold should be consistent across the statute book. Although the court concerned itself with the matter of damage to private property, the same principles apply to obstructing the public from enjoying their right to go about their business without hindrance. That is why the Government support the noble and learned Lord’s amendments; I am very pleased we were able to surprise him in that regard. They provide a threshold for “serious disruption” that is rooted in case law. I thank him for tabling this amendment and, indeed, for explaining it in such a detailed and precise way. It provides both clarity to the law and a threshold that addresses the public’s frustration with disruptive protests.

I will now speak to government Amendments 48 and 49. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service has asked for further legislative clarity on police powers to manage public processions and assemblies. These powers are conferred by Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 for processions and Section 14 for assemblies. They allow the police to place reasonable and necessary conditions on protests to prevent specific harms from occurring. One of these harms is

“serious disruption to the life of the community”.

These two amendments provide clarity to this phrase for both Sections 12 and 14. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was quite right in anticipating that I would be quoting Sir Mark Rowley, who said:

“I welcome the Government’s proposal to introduce a legal definition of ‘serious disruption’ and ‘reasonable excuse’. In practical terms, Parliament providing such clarity will create a clearer line for police to enforce when protests impact upon others who simply wish to go about their lawful business.”

These amendments, supported by the police, prioritise the rights of the law-abiding majority. First, they carry over the noble and learned Lord’s definition of “serious disruption”. Secondly, they define the meaning of “community”. Thirdly, the police may consider the absolute impact of the disruption caused to the public. Fourthly, they allow the police to consider the cumulative disruption caused by protests. Finally, they allow the officer responsible for managing the protest to place conditions on more than one connected procession or assembly. In answer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that these are too complicated, I say that the Home Office will work closely with the NPCC and the College of Policing to ensure that appropriate guidance and training are developed. Mirroring the definition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will provide consistency across the statute book. As I have said, this is welcomed by the police. I point out that the definition specifies that the disruption is caused by physical means only.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised in the Policy Exchange paper the use of “minor” in the definition. These amendments protect the daily activities of the public; it is clear that the public are fed up with the disruption caused by protesters, and that is what these amendments address. Many protests that do not disrupt the lives of others occur on a regular basis. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, made a very good point: that we should not allow the protesters themselves to determine the scale of disruption. Many protesters are able to express themselves and place pressure for change without blocking roads.

Currently the term “community” is undefined. The police should be able to use their powers to protect anyone who is detrimentally impacted by serious disruption from protests, not just those who live, work or access amenities where the protest occurs. The police must consider the absolute disruption caused to the public, as opposed to the disruption relative to what is typical for an area. The measure will give officers the confidence that they can use to respond to disruptive protests, even in areas routinely subject to spontaneous disruption such as traffic jams. To prioritise the rights of the public, the amendment allows the police to consider the cumulative impact of protests and separate protests. It is wrong that the public must repeatedly put up with disruptive protests, in part because each time there is a new protest, the police must consider the level of disruption afresh and in isolation from what has previously happened and what may be planned. If multiple protests cumulatively ruin the daily activities of a community, they must be considered collectively. Following from this, if the police are to manage the collective impact of protests, they must be able to apply the conditions on separate but connected protests. For example, a large protest campaign made up of multiple small protests that disrupt a large area should be subject to blanket conditions. Allowing the police to consider the cumulative impact of protests by requiring them to manage each individually complicates the operational response unnecessarily. Collectively, these measures will allow the police to protect the public from the disruptive minority who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow walks. The public are clear that they want the police to protect them from these tactics. In turn, the police have asked for clarity and law to confidently and quickly take action and make arrests where appropriate. The Government have listened to both, and I hope this House does the same and supports the amendment.

I will speak collectively to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. These measures do two things to the locking-on and tunnelling offences. First, they lower the threshold of the offence so that acts capable of causing serious disruption are not in scope. Secondly, they alter the mens rea so that only intentional acts, and not reckless ones, are in scope of the offence. It is clear that the public do not want to see police officers sit by while criminal protesters disrupt their lives; lowering the threshold would mean that the police will have to do so. Why should an officer stand by and watch someone lock on or dig a tunnel that is clearly going to cause serious disruption to the public? As for the mens rea, as I have said already, the Government are concerned with the disruption caused to the public. It does not matter whether it is caused recklessly or intentionally; what matters is the impact it has on people’s daily lives. For all these reasons, I encourage all noble Lords to support the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and those by the Government and reject the others.

I did deal with that when I was talking a little about the tunnelling and locking-on offences. Why should the officer stand by and watch someone lock on or dig a tunnel that is clearly going to cause, or be capable of causing, serious disruption to the public? Certainly in terms of tunnelling, I think that is very clear.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this really interesting and thoughtful debate. I thank the Minister for his response. I do not want to go through every single contribution; I do not wish to be rude to anybody who I do not respond to, but I want to make and reinforce a couple of particular points. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I repeat that the attempt by this Chamber to define “serious disruption” on the face of the Bill, as the Constitution Committee asked it to do, is a really important step forward and to try and do. The debate between us is where we set the threshold and how we define “serious disruption”. Perhaps this debate should have taken place on the Bill a few months ago, but it is taking place now and is particularly important.

Before coming on to a couple of points about the amendments, I worry—the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was quite right to point this issue out—that one gets the impression that the Government, faced with protests that all of us have been annoyed, frustrated and angry about, want to be seen, both initially and with the amendments that have just been brought forward, to be doing something about it. The Prime Minister’s announcement two weeks ago was a typical example. I do not believe that the Home Office would have known anything about that. From what I know, the Prime Minister thought, “I’m not having all this, with Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, and people moaning about protesters being out of control—we need to do something. Put it out there that we’re going introduce new amendments to the Public Order Bill at Report stage in the House of Lords, and ring up the Home Office in the morning and tell them we’re doing it.”

That is exactly what happened, in my view, though I will be contradicted by the Minister, who will say that he knew all about it and was consulted on Sunday afternoon, with the Minister of State, about all the amendments that were going to be put forward, that he amended and adapted them, and that he contributed to the press release. I was so disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, was not on the radio, explaining it all on the “Today” programme on that Monday morning; that would have convinced me that it was not a prime ministerial coup against the Home Office. That is no way for new amendments to be introduced into the Bill. That is the serious point I am trying to make through humour.

The whole debate is about the threshold. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made a really interesting contribution. In debating with the noble and learned Lord—I have never been a deputy chair of the Supreme Court—he said that my amendment is deficient. It is a fair criticism to make but what I am seeking to do, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, is to say that such is the importance of protest that we want “serious disruption” to have a high threshold to be proved.

The first part of the amendment is an attempt to deal with the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others in the Constitution Committee. We took advice to make it relevant to this Bill. We asked people how to make it relevant and they said that the inclusion of the first three lines of the amendment makes it relevant. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, may criticise me by saying that that is not the case, but that is the advice that we had. I say to the noble and learned Lord—this is where I criticise the amendment from him, supported by others—that the Constitution Committee quite rightly says that serious disruption should be put in Bill, but it also says that it

“should be clarified in the Bill in a proportionate way”.

My contention to the Chamber is that the threshold proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others is not proportionate. It sets the bar so low that, even as we debated this amendment, noble Lords proposed that it would be better if the noble and learned Lord had said major rather than minor. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, had to say that he did not just mean minor and that it is word “more” in front of it that is extremely important. In other words, we start to debate what the court itself would be debating, whatever the words would be. That was the point I was making to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, when he had a go at my amendment—though he did not put it quite like that; noble Lords do not put it in the way that I might in debates. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made the very interesting point that my amendment did not deal with that. I am making the point that, however you define it—in the way that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, suggests or the way that I suggest—it is the courts that will define it in the end. The courts will have to determine whether that threshold has been met.

My contention is that by using “more than minor” and “a hindrance”, the noble Lord, Lord Hope, has set the bar at a low threshold. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Buter-Sloss, has just said, a hindrance is something that does not have to have occurred. It does not have to have caused serious disruption; it simply has to be capable of causing it. How on earth are you going to work that out in a court? If these amendments are passed, we are going to pass clauses, with offences linked to them, which will allow a court to actually convict someone on the basis that something was potentially capable of causing serious disruption—good luck with that. I want a serious threshold.

This is a serious group of amendments. I say to all noble Lords, when considering how they will vote—I will push Amendment 1 to a Division—that although these amendments have been introduced in the light of the serious disruption we have seen that we all think is unacceptable, that this is no way to legislate. It is no way to legislate to say, “I’m so irritated. I’ve got to be seen to be doing something; it doesn’t matter whether it’s needed”. We believe that the police have existing powers for this. The chief constable of Greater Manchester said that it was no wonder people were annoyed with them: the police should use the existing powers that they have. The question for this Chamber is why the confidence of the police has been eroded to such an extent that they will not use the powers they have got because they are so worried about what the impact of that will be. That is the fundamental question. You can give the police whatever powers you want, but if they do not have the confidence to use them, they will not use them, and they will not make any difference.

Let me tell you what will happen: we are going to pass bad legislation with respect to serious disruption and, in a few months, a year or two years, at a protest such as the one I identified, people will link arms. Under the Bill, you do not have to glue yourself; you can attach yourself by holding each other’s arms. I do not know what protests people have been on, but who has not done that? I would think that even lots of Members on the opposite side of the Chamber will have linked arms about something. I can think of a few protests—I will not mention them—where many noble Lords opposite will have linked arms. I suspect that many of them would have been on a road, and that many of them would have blocked the traffic by linking arms. I have certainly seen a few outside here doing that—and not necessarily Labour supporters, from what I saw of them.

My point is that we are going to pass legislation under which protests that all of us would regard as reasonable and acceptable are going to be made illegal. I will use one last example and then stop. Again, I use the example of a bus company in an area where I was the local councillor which changed its route to run a bus right through the middle of an estate—past children’s playgrounds, nurseries and a housing estate. We objected to that; the community objected to it. To get the bus company to change its mind, we linked arms across the road to stop the bus coming down it. There were people going to work on that bus, and I do not know who else, but we stopped it going down that road. That was not just me, as a Labour agitator; it was mums, grandmums and—I know I said this in my original remarks but it is so important—ordinary people, standing up against the reckless decision of a bus company which took no notice of the safety of children. It wanted the bus to go down there and we were not having it. We linked arms and we stopped that bus coming down the road. I would say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that this hindrance was “more than minor”, but I do not know—it might have to be “major”.

The point I am making is that we changed the bus company’s mind. It moved from having that bus going through an estate, past children, to going on its original route. That protest would be banned under the Bill; it would not be allowed by what the Government are proposing here. Even if serious disruption is defined in the way that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, wants, it would not be allowed. There are countless examples of such protests. I ask each and every one of your Lordships to think about times where they may have protested or taken action. I tell you that, for each of us, there will be times which, under this legislation, would not have been allowed.

That is why my Amendment 1 is so important. It seeks to say to the courts, the police and others that people have a right to protest, and that there must be proof of serious disruption to stop a protest. In the end, it comes down to whether your Lordships want a low bar, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, wants, or a higher bar, as Amendment 1 proposes. Amendment 1 seeks to protect the right to protest and as such this Chamber should support it.

My Lords, in view of the fact that Amendment 1 has been agreed, for the convenience of the House, I remind the House that I shall not subsequently be able to call Amendments 5, 14 or 24, by reason of pre-emption.

Clause 1: Offence of locking on

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “without reasonable excuse”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes the lack of a reasonable excuse a component part of the offence of locking on, thus placing the burden of proof upon the prosecution.

My Lords, I first thank noble Lords; so too does Cole Porter from the grave, because “how strange the change” would have been from “major” to “just a little bit more than minor”.

This second group deals with the concept of “reasonable excuse”, which noble Lords will remember is present in a number of the new criminal offences in the Bill. As noble Lords have heard, some, including locking on in particular, are very vague and dangerous. I have some amendments, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that attempt to set straight a reversed burden of proof, inappropriate in criminal law, where the Government have sought to place the burden on the innocent cyclist with the bike lock or the protester, or whoever, to demonstrate that they had a reasonable excuse when, really, the lack of a reasonable excuse should be a component part of the criminal offence and, indeed, something that a police officer considers before arresting someone.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has said eloquently many times in your Lordships’ House that criminal offences need to be fit for purpose not just in a courtroom or even during a charging decision in a police station, but on the ground when an officer is considering who to arrest. Therefore, it is important that the lack of a reasonable excuse be a component, core part of the offence and not something that a hapless bystander or protester has to prove.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will speak to other amendments in this group that he has tabled. I support all of them, whether my name is there or not; it is there in spirit. I would like to be clear about that and, similarly, with attempts to improve these offences and improve the definition of “reasonable excuse”. But, on account of time, I just want to focus on and prioritise the importance of not supporting the government amendments or, should I say, the amendments that Ministers have now signed in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.

It seems harsh, to say the least, to single out “protest” from all the potential excuses that may or may not be reasonable in a particular case and a particular set of circumstances. Why single out protest as something that can never be reasonable? That seems to me to be an attempt to take proportionality out of the mind of a decision-maker—not just a court but a police officer on the ground. I think that is a mistake.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will no doubt cite very leading authority on circumstances in which proportionality is so clearly part of an offence that there is no need for second guessing at the arrest or prosecution stage. But that will not be the case in relation to some of these offences and, I venture, locking on in particular.

I will not attempt to repeat the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Coaker with the various descriptions of linking arms, but the idea that an offence that can be committed with such trivial activity should not have an element of proportionality put in the mind of a decision-maker is of huge concern to me.

Without further ado, I commend the various amendments that I have described, but also ask noble Lords not to support any attempt to single out protest as the one excuse that is never reasonable. That seems rather unreasonable to me. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness on her amendments and am opposed to Amendment 8 from the Government and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, which seeks to exclude and narrow down very dramatically the scope which, I submit, should be present in this offence for a defence of reasonable excuse.

Why should not a demonstration against measures concerning, for example, climate change as a question of fact and degree for the trial judge be adjudged reasonable, as was the case in DPP v Ziegler, which went to the Supreme Court. It is perfectly true and perfectly right that I should acknowledge this. Indeed, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope drew my attention way back at the end of last year to the latest Supreme Court decision, which he mentioned today with regard to group 1, in the Northern Ireland abortion case. It is a reference from the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland.

It is perfectly true to say that you can have crimes defined in such a way that they can properly be said to have taken account, in so far as is necessary, of Articles 10 and 11 of the convention. If the actus reus, the fact of the criminality, is established, that is the offence with no scope for a reasonable excuse. This watered-down version of that, in exclusion of the possibility of contending for the rights of protest and demonstration against matters of public concern and public debate, is a version of it, but it needs criminality of a serious sort—that countervailing interest—to justify any change to the ordinary position such as was arrived at in Ziegler, where the Crown or the prosecution has to disprove that you have a reasonable excuse, and a reasonable excuse, as in Ziegler, can perfectly well be a matter of public concern.

Respectfully, I simply remind your Lordships of the facts, which is that the Northern Ireland case did not question the actual result of Ziegler, which was to find reasonable excuse in the following circumstances. Basically, the facts were that a demonstration was concerned with objections to the arms trade. The demonstrators in that case, held to have acted lawfully, blocked off one side of a dual carriageway approach road to an exhibition centre. They prevented traffic from going to the centre and prevented the delivery of arms to the exhibition, and were there for 90 minutes before they were cleared by the police. That was found to be perfectly capable of providing the reasonable excuse defence, and so, I respectfully submit, should be the position here. It is then a matter for the court to judge the proportionality of the obstruction or disruption that occurs. I simply remind noble Lords of that.

It is very important not to depreciate in any way the rightly valued and historic rights of protest and demonstration. The fact is that they operate as a valuable safety valve. Not everyone who demonstrates is entirely logical, sensible or reasonable. Ratiocination is not necessarily behind it. There are disaffected, disillusioned and disenchanted people. Frankly, you weaken the defence of reasonable excuse and the position of the right to protest at your peril.

It is true that an example was given at Second Reading where there may be countervailing interests. There is a strong public interest, for example, with regard to not carrying bladed articles. They should not be carried in public without good reason. In that case, the courts rightly held that that justified the burden of proof being on the defence to prove a reasonable excuse for carrying a bladed weapon. However, I respectfully submit that the criminality necessarily involved in an offence under this legislation, despite the sensible vote—if I may say so—on the first group, does not justify putting the burden on the defence. That should be for the Crown to disprove.

My Lords, I hesitate to participate in a legal argument when I am not legally qualified, particularly when I wrote this contribution in isolation at the weekend. However, there are two separate and distinct groups of amendments within this group. My amendments are about whether someone who has a reasonable excuse for their actions commits an offence or whether they should have a defence of reasonable excuse only once charged with the offence; in other words, does the reasonable excuse mean that they do not commit an offence, or should they be arrested and charged and only then have a defence of a reasonable excuse? The other amendments are about the definition of what amounts to a reasonable excuse.

On when reasonable excuse can be deployed, I have Amendments 7, 16, 26, 32 and 36 in this group, which are intended to have a similar effect to Amendments 2, 6, 11, 15, 18, 20, 25 and 34 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I am just as supportive of the noble Baroness’s amendments as of my own; in fact, bearing in mind that they have the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, I am sure that hers are to be preferred. My amendments are designed to ensure that a person does not commit the offence to which the amendments refer if the person committing the act in question has a reasonable excuse for their actions, instead of, as currently drafted, if a person has a reasonable excuse, they can use it as a defence only once charged.

The offences to which my amendments apply are: locking on, in Clause 1; tunnelling, in Clause 3; being present in a tunnel, in Clause 4; obstruction of major transport works, in Clause 6; and interference with key national infrastructure, in Clause 7. For example, Amendment 16 provides that a person does not commit an offence if they have a reasonable excuse for tunnelling. In Clause 3, the Government give an example of a reasonable excuse as being

“authorised by a person with an interest in land which entitled them to authorise its creation.”

Surely someone properly authorised to construct a tunnel should not be arrested and charged with tunnelling and only then be able to deploy that defence, when they are clearly not guilty of that offence from the outset.

The Minister may argue that the police will use their discretion, but we saw the case of the accredited and documented broadcast journalist Charlotte Lynch, who, while reporting on a Just Stop Oil protest, was arrested, handcuffed and held in police custody for five hours for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance. Using their discretion to avoid the detention of innocent people is not the police’s strongest suit—at least, not in public order situations. Perhaps I should remind the House that I am a former police officer.

The Minister may say that the police have to be able to act quickly and decisively in public order situations, and that determining whether or not someone has a reasonable excuse is difficult in such situations. If he were to say that, is the Government’s position that innocent, peaceful protesters should expect to be arrested and detained by the police, even if they have a reasonable excuse for their actions? The chilling effect on people’s right to protest would make such a stance reprehensible.

The other amendments in this group relate to the limitation of what amounts to a reasonable excuse, and I broadly agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, has just said. Yet again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has secured government support for his Amendments 8, 17, 18, 27, 28, 33 and 37. The Government seek to extend the proposed limitation to the offences of highway obstruction and public nuisance by means of Amendments 50 and 51 respectively, while the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, has come up with his own alternative, Amendment 55.

I was taken with the debate we had in Committee on this issue, as I said to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, at the time. In summary, the noble and learned Lord suggested that, taken to its limits, provided that the reason for the protest was sufficiently serious, any criminal action, however serious, could be seen as reasonable. So, for example, if the purpose of the protest was to save the planet, surely nothing could be more serious and so protesters could argue that that gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Hence these amendments, signed by the Government, seek to remove any issue of current debate from constituting a reasonable excuse. The argument is that it is the legislature that should set out clearly the limits of reasonable excuse, rather than the courts, as recommended by the Constitution Committee.

In his letter of 23 January, the Minister cites two Supreme Courts cases, that of DPP v Ziegler and others, and, referenced by the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill. As I keep saying, I am not a lawyer and I hesitate to offer a lay opinion, but in Ziegler the Minister rightly cites Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights as offering some reasonable excuse for obstructing others. He then cites the judgment in the Northern Ireland case that, during a criminal trial, it is not always necessary to assess whether a conviction for an offence would be a proportionate interference with a defendant’s rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11. But my understanding is that this is the case only when the restriction of the exercise of convention rights is prescribed by the law in question, the law pursues a legitimate aim and the law is proportionate.

My understanding is that the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights does not need to be considered in a criminal trial if, and only if, the offence explicitly restricts those convention rights: for example, being present in an abortion clinic buffer zone; that the offence pursues a legitimate aim, the protection of women seeking an abortion in that case; and that it is proportionate—in that case, being limited to 150 metres around the clinic. For me, the question is whether the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, meet the three tests cited by the Supreme Court in the Northern Ireland case. If the noble and learned Lord’s amendment were accepted, taking Clause 8 as an example, the restriction of a person’s convention rights by excluding issues of current debate from being a reasonable excuse would clearly be prescribed in law. That would be the first condition. It might even be considered to be pursuing a legitimate aim, in preventing someone from causing serious disruption by locking on, but I believe it fails in being disproportionate, in that it would apply to every attempt to exercise a person’s convention rights, no matter what the circumstances.

Take, for example, the march against the war in Iraq in February 2003, where the official estimate was 750,000 participants—the BBC reported that over 1 million people took part. The march brought central London to a standstill and, by any definition, serious disruption was caused. Are we really saying that the purpose of the march, in that case the war in Iraq, then an issue of current debate, should not have been taken into account by the courts when considering whether the protesters had a reasonable excuse for causing serious disruption? I accept that this is a serious issue, but I do not accept that this is a serious solution, in that it fails the Supreme Court judgment’s third test of proportionality.

As with the case of serious disruption in the previous group, I believe the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, goes too far, as evidenced by the Government’s support for his amendments. In terms of “reasonable excuse”, that there should be no difference between a dozen extremists blocking the roads around Trafalgar Square—because, for example, they believe Covid is a myth—and 1 million people blocking the roads around Trafalgar Square in protest against the war in Iraq, because the issue of current debate about which they are protesting cannot be taken into account when considering reasonable excuse, cannot be right.

The other concern I have with the noble and learned Lord’s amendments is

“as part of or in furtherance of … an issue of current debate”.

Would a protest by the Flat Earth Society that caused serious disruption be permitted, because they could argue that they have a reasonable excuse for their actions and it was not an issue of current debate, but protesters in favour of additional support for families facing the cost of living crisis would not be able to access a reasonable excuse defence?

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, seeks to overthrow the judgment of the Supreme Court in DPP v Ziegler and others. If my understanding of the noble Lord’s amendment is correct, no protest that inconveniences members of the public would be lawful, nor could there be any reasonable excuse for such conduct. Needless to say, we do not support the noble Lord’s amendment.

I accept the Constitution Committee’s recommendation:

“It is constitutionally unsatisfactory to leave to the courts the task of determining what might be a ‘reasonable excuse’ without Parliament indicating what it intends the defence to cover.”

However, it surely cannot be the case that Parliament wants the courts to ignore what the protest is about when determining what might be a reasonable excuse. As my commander said when I presented my solution for rotating police officers between uniform and CID, “I don’t know what the answer is, but this isn’t it”. We oppose these amendments.

My Lords, in the temporary absence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, from the Chamber, I speak to the amendments in his name, to which my name and that of the noble Lord the Minister have also been added.

The Constitution Committee, in its report published on 11 November 2022, considered the question of “reasonable excuse”—which is used, as has already been pointed out, in a number of contexts in this part of the Bill—and pointed out that it was not defined. It also said, at paragraph 14 of its report, that the offence does already

“require intent, which may render redundant the need for a ‘reasonable excuse’”.

The committee considered it unsatisfactory to leave to the court the task of determining what might be a “reasonable excuse” without Parliament indicating what it intends the defence to cover. Including a “reasonable excuse” defence invites arguments as to whether certain, but not other, political motivations might constitute an excuse. What the committee recommended was that that,

“unless a precise definition of ‘reasonable excuse’ is provided then the ‘reasonable excuse’ defence”

should be

“removed from Clauses 1, 3, 4 and 7”—

apart from anything else, in the interest of legal certainty.

This was a report from a committee looking at the constitutional aspects of the Bill. It included, as the House will know, Peers from all parties and none. I confess to some uncertainty as to what the Government can have intended by originally including a defence of “reasonable excuse”. If you cause serious disruption by attaching yourself to an object or land or otherwise locking on, as defined in the Bill, and you do so intentionally or recklessly, what could provide a “reasonable excuse” for doing so?

It seems to me that probably the only excuse that could be offered would be that your cause is a noble one: in particular, that you are concerned about the damage to the planet caused by climate change. I see the noble Lord, Lord Deben, taking a close interest in this debate, but I am not suggesting for a moment that he would be inclined to lock himself on—but that has been the stance taken by Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, as we know. It could be argued that any demonstration, however serious the disruption, is justifiable if it contributes in some way to putting extra pressure on the Government to take appropriate steps to, if not completely turn back climate change, at least substantially reduce its effect.

I suspect that “reasonable excuse” was put in the Bill in an attempt to ensure that the Bill then complied with the Human Rights Act: in particular, that it did not contain provisions that, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision on Ziegler, might be said to be in breach of a demonstrator’s convention rights. The Ziegler decision has been controversial. Policy Exchange, in particular, in a number of publications has pointed out the flaws in the judgment, or at least the flaws in how the judgment has been interpreted.

Since the Supreme Court decision on Ziegler, there have been other cases which seemed significantly to water down its effect—the case of Cuciurean and the Colston statue case. However, the recent decision in the Northern Ireland abortion case, handed down in on 7 December 2022—after the Bill had progressed a long way in your Lordships’ House—has made it perfectly clear that Ziegler needs to be very substantially qualified. The ingredients of an offence can themselves ensure that it will be compatible with convention rights even if it does not include a defence of reasonable or lawful excuse.

It would be perfectly convention-compliant, in my view, to remove the defence of reasonable or lawful excuse altogether. I have to say that was my original preference, but I have been persuaded that it is better to retain the defence giving the possibility of a reasonable excuse that is restricted in the way the amendment allows. It would not be enough to say in relation to the offence that there is a worthwhile cause, such as combating climate change, and then to say that that is a reasonable excuse and have us ask a fact-finding tribunal, whether it be magistrates or even a jury, to give its views as to whether a reasonable excuse exists in the circumstances.

On the analysis of the relevant jurisprudence, the Supreme Court in the Northern Ireland case referred, among other cases, to the well-known animal defenders case decided in 2013. That case, and the European Court of Human Rights case law, shows that the state is granted a margin of appreciation in these areas. It would be a question of law rather than fact whether an offence sufficiently reflects the principle of proportionality. The prosecution will have to establish a serious disruption. It will also need to establish intention or, at least, recklessness. It seems entirely consistent with the Northern Ireland case that there is no need, as a matter of law, to provide for the free-ranging and imprecise defence of reasonable excuse.

The right to protest is extremely important. It is reflected in the ECHR, just as it was in the common law before the Human Rights Act was enacted, but this right should be balanced with the right of our citizens to go about their everyday life without interference. Inconvenience is something we should be prepared to put up with but where there is serious disruption involved, defined as the amendment which succeeded in the previous debate says, it should not be an answer for a defendant to say: my cause is so important that it trumps your right to go to hospital, to take your children to school or to go to work. This amendment is consistent with the law and with what the vast majority of the population would want.

My Lords, I support the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown. They would require the police to prove that a person charged with an offence lacked reasonable excuse, rather than the person charged to prove that they had a reasonable excuse. In other words, they restore the presumption of innocence rather than guilt.

The presumption of innocence is not just an archaic legal point. The intricate legal arguments are worthy of great respect but I do not think they get to the heart of the matter. Presumption of innocence is a cardinal principle of a liberal society—a cardinal political principle. Governments and law-enforcement agencies are always disposed to believe that their citizens are potential lawbreakers, I am afraid, so placing the burden of proof on the police is an essential safeguard for civil liberties. That seems to me the crucial point because unless that cardinal political principle is there, you are reducing the extent to which the police are answerable to the courts—and lawyers should be very interested in that point. You are reducing their accountability to the courts and that is why, in systems such as those in Russia and China, there is very rarely an acquittal because the presumption is that the person charged with an offence is guilty. The bias is then all in favour of the conviction rather than the acquittal. It is on the basis that this group of amendments embodies a fundamental political principle that I support it.

I wonder whether I could suggest to the House that we have to think a little beyond the precise legal issues we have been concentrating on. First, I was drawn into this discussion by a previous speaker—the noble Lord, Lord Faulks—but I would remind him of my constant demand that we should take seriously the words of the Green vice-Chancellor of Germany, who made it absolutely clear that behaviour which meant that ambulances could not get to hospitals and suchlike was unacceptable as well as counterproductive. I do not think anybody would suggest that I have ever been a supporter of that kind of thing, and I do not think the noble Lord would have said that.

However, the Government have to face two very important questions. The first is on the point referring to the march of a million people, which of its nature is bound to discommode large numbers of other people. But as somebody who voted against a three-line Whip and against the Iraq war, it seems to me that unless you can accept that something so appallingly wrong can result in large numbers of people saying, “Not in my name”, you really cannot run a democracy. That is absolutely essential, so I need to know from the Government how they would explain that their particular way of looking at this would not have made illegal a march against the Iraq war. If that is not covered, then it seems that any of us who happen to believe in some fundamental issues will find it very difficult to support the Government.

The second thing the Government have to explain is how they see the position in which this puts the police. I have to say this carefully, but the truth is that the police’s reputation is practically at its lowest ever. We have to ask whether this is the right moment, in any way, to put them in the small “p” political position of making these kinds of decisions. That is why I voted against that ludicrous thing we introduced, which was that you could be prevented from making a noise. The concept was that, somehow or other, the police were going to say that if your protest was too noisy, they could stop it before it was started. I have never been on a protest that was not noisy and meant to be so; its noisiness was essential. But we passed that provision, which was and is nonsense. It will never be imposed but the Government argued for it, so they are in a slight difficulty here. The argument I used against that was not only that it was barmy, which was obvious, but that it would put the police in an embarrassing position at a time when the police are themselves—

If I can just finish that sentence—when the police are themselves in a difficult position. I give way to my long-lasting jouster.

Does my noble friend not agree that the insertion of the words in this amendment would place upon the police the initial duty of deciding what is or is not a reasonable excuse?

I do not disagree, since that is what it says. I am merely saying that I want the Government to be clear about what they are doing by involving the police at what may not be the most sensible time.

The last thing I want to say to the Government is this. There are many serious issues which, in a democracy, we have to ask the Government and the Opposition to deal with. Some of those serious issues are not being satisfactorily dealt with and, in a democracy, there comes a moment when a Government have to say to themselves, “We are so unable to deal with this that we will have to accept that there will be a significant increase in the public demonstration against where we are”.

The Government are pretty close to that on climate change—if I may say so as chairman of the Climate Change Committee. Therefore, I want the Government to think. If they insist on the further restriction of protest, they had better think very clearly about the policies they are carrying through on issues about which the public as a whole feel very strongly. It is not an excuse to say, “My view is so important that it is therefore a good excuse for marching”, otherwise the Flat Earth Society or the Jehovah’s Witnesses are in a position to be able to hold us all to ransom. In many areas, the Government have to realise that their policies must in some way reflect the deep-held worries and concerns of the public, or it does not matter how many laws they pass, because they will not be obeyed.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, has made some very important points, particularly in relation to the police. It is worth elaborating for a couple more sentences. The fact is that the police already have great powers to deal with demonstrations and simply do not use them, as he suggested—partly because the police do not carry a huge amount of trust. The fact is also that these demonstrations reflect a huge amount of feeling among the public, and the police do not wish to stand out against those very strong feelings. Adding further powers for the police is not going to be helpful because the police will simply not use them for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, very brilliantly—as always—pointed out. My main argument against these powers is that there is no point in them. They are designed to frighten people not to go out on protests. The police do not want these powers; they know that they would not use them. Therefore, they should not be introduced by Parliament.

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 55. I am grateful to follow the speech of my noble friend Lord Faulks. My amendment addresses the legal difficulties caused by the judgment of the Supreme Court in 2021 in the case of Ziegler, in respect of offences in which it will be, and will remain, a defence for a person charged to prove that they had a lawful or reasonable excuse for the act in question.

The judgment in Ziegler concerned Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980, which makes it an offence for a person

“without lawful authority or excuse”

wilfully to obstruct

“free passage along a highway”.

The Supreme Court ruled that the exercise of the convention rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association—which might loosely be summarised as the right to protest—constituted a lawful excuse. This has the effect that, before a person may be convicted of obstructing the highway, the prosecution must prove that a conviction would be a proportionate and thus justified interference with that person’s convention rights. In practice, this has caused real difficulties for the police, who at times have appeared paralysed. It has made it difficult for judges to run trials fairly and for magistrates to reach decisions.

My amendment leaves in the word “reasonable”. It does not make it a strict offence to obstruct the highway. You can still do it if you have a “lawful authority or excuse”. What is to be judged in future would be the duration and nature of what is done, not the fact that you have what you consider to be a high motive—whether it is flat-earth or anti-abortion protesters, it does not matter. It is not about whether you are a good person, or you think you are a good person; it is about what you are actually doing and whether you are stopping ambulances and people going about their daily lives unreasonably and for too long.

The amendment means that conduct being intended or designed to influence government or public opinion will not, of itself, make it reasonable or lawful. That is consistent with the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court. I stress that the court has said:

“In a democratic society based on the rule of law, the ideas which challenge the existing order and whose realisation is advocated by peaceful means must be afforded a proper opportunity of expression”.

However, the law protects only the right to peaceful assembly. Articles 10 and 11 of the convention establish that public authorities are entitled to interfere with the right to protest for legitimate purposes such as the prevention of disorder, the prevention of crime and—importantly—the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It is not about stopping every march, but about stopping prolonged obstruction. That is what we are about.

The Strasbourg court has gone on to rule that the rights of the public include the right to move freely on public roads without restriction, so there are two rights here; you have a right to protest, but the general public also have a right to move freely on public roads without restriction. It is a balancing exercise. The court has further recognised that states have a wide margin of appreciation in determining necessity when it comes to taking action against those who deliberately disrupt traffic or other aspects of normal life.

The right to protest in a public place exists, but it is not unfettered. It must be balanced against the rights of your fellow citizens. If the public are to be protected in the face of these novel types of protest we have not seen before, which in their duration and nature go far beyond what is fair and reasonable, the police must be able to intervene and not be paralysed by anxiety. Peaceful assembly and ordinary marches will still be protected. The public will still have to suffer and tolerate a measure of inconvenience and delay, but that will be within bounds.

My amendment would end the state of affairs in which persons who obstruct the highway, damage property or seek to avoid arrest can distort and upset the proper balance by asserting their motive. Peaceful protest will be permitted, but the balance will be restored. That is why, at the end of the amendment, it makes it plain that

“this section must be treated as necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

Henceforth, if my amendment is adopted, your assertion of a high motive will not suffice. You will be judged by what you did, how long it went on for, and the effect on other people.

My Lords, as the House has just heard from my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, the area of law we are dealing with is the proportionate interference with convention rights. I respectfully agree with him that the decision of the Supreme Court in Ziegler raises the question of the correct balance and makes it important for the House to legislate in this area. However, it is my misfortune to disagree with him that we should take this opportunity to overturn the decision in Ziegler. Rather, I respectfully commend the approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which has been set out for us this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.

Critically, the presumption of innocence is at the heart of our judicial process, and I do not think that any of these amendments cut across that. There are three reasons why I suggest that the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which is supported by the Government, ought to be accepted. The first is the point made by the Constitution Committee that we need precision in this area. Secondly, there is the fundamental point that we should not be leaving this to the police or the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis; as Parliament, we should take the opportunity, and indeed the responsibility, to draw the bounds of the offences in this area. Thirdly, we need to remember that, at the moment, Section 3 of the Human Rights Act requires the court to read any legislation, if possible, consistently with the convention. Absent, I suggest, the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, there is a real risk that the court will read down clauses to make them consistent with how it considers convention rights should be applied.

On the basis of the approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, there is scope for reasonable excuse, but it is limited. That means we do not run the risk of the courts deciding cases on an unanticipated, or perhaps even incorrect, basis. We also do not need—despite my noble friend Lord Sandhurst’s amendment—to overturn the Ziegler case; what we will have, however, is a consistent, clear and precise approach to criminal law, which is precisely what we ought to have. I accept that some of my colleagues at the Bar may not be particularly happy with that, but, in this area and perhaps in others, their loss may indeed be the law’s gain.

My Lords, in supporting Amendment 2 tabled by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and the points they have made, I will focus my remarks on Amendment 8 and the amendments consequent to it which seek to define a “reasonable excuse defence”.

I start by saying that I cannot really believe the mess the Government have got themselves into on both the definition of “serious disruption”, which we discussed previously, and the definition of a “reasonable excuse defence” we are discussing now. Nobody disagrees with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks—again, I agree with the Constitution Committee, as, I think, do most of us—but it would be extremely helpful if there were a definition of “reasonable excuse defence” in the Bill. I do not think that is a point of disagreement between us; the Constitution Committee itself recommends that. However, let us look at Amendment 8 as an example of the wording that is also used in Amendments 17, 27, 33, 50 and 51, as well as in other related offences. What protest ever takes place that is not part of a current dispute? Who protests because they are happy about something? I have not seen any demonstrations saying how brilliant this or that is; there might be an example, but, usually, a dispute happens and then people protest it—that is logical. But in each of these amendments, you cannot use “an issue of current debate” as a reasonable excuse in any circumstance. That is what we are being asked to agree to in Clauses 1, 3, 4 and 7 and some of the later clauses. Those clauses currently contain the reasonable excuse defence; the Constitution Committee says, quite rightly, that it would help if that were defined; and the definition the Government have supported says that you cannot use a current dispute as an excuse. I could go on at great length, but it makes the point by itself—it is ludicrous. That is the amendment the Government are supporting and that they are asking people to vote for.

Somebody asked for an example. I gave an example earlier from my own situation, but I will give another. Wheelchair activists locking themselves to Parliament’s Gates—I am not certain, but I believe that this has happened—is an example of locking on. While that would cause quite serious disruption to the actions of Parliament, particularly if it meant that people could not come in, they cannot use the fact that they were protesting about disability rights, or the lack of them, as a reasonable excuse for doing it. That is ludicrous and ridiculous, but it is what the amendment the Government are supporting says.

Then there are all the other issues; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, mentioned climate. Of course, nobody agrees with the serious disruption we have seen over the last year—that is a fallacious and ridiculous argument; we all agree that much of that went too far—but you cannot legislate on “serious disruption”, as we discussed in the previous group of amendments, or on “reasonable excuse”, the subject of this group, on the basis that you are fed up with a few people and therefore you are going to do something about it by coming up with a definition that simply does not make sense. I say this in jest: goodness only knows what the previous Prime Minister but one would have made of this. If noble Lords remember, he said, with respect to the third runway at Heathrow, that he was going to “lie down in front” of the first bulldozer. That would have been something: he would have been arrested for that; his own party would have passed legislation to arrest him for that.

In view of the time, I will not go on at great length. Including wilful obstruction of the highway in the Bill would mean that nobody could protest against any road that is currently under dispute. Imagine that the council or the Government come along and decide that there will be a motorway or road right through the middle of the most beautiful countryside in the area where you live. As that is an issue of current dispute, you will not be able to do anything about it and you will not be able to use a reasonable excuse defence to protest against it. I know that people will say that that is the wilful obstruction of the highway—they can argue about tunnels and so on—but, under this amendment, you will not be able to do anything about it or use a reasonable excuse defence, because it is an issue of current dispute. That is a nonsense. What about a railway line? I have seen Conservative MPs trying to obstruct, stop or delay HS2—even though the Government say that it is the Labour Party, Green activists or people who dress peculiarly, et cetera, who do it—but, under this amendment, they would not be allowed to do that.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks: in the end, the courts will wrestle with what a “reasonable excuse defence” means. I understand that, but surely it cannot be right that, under the terms of many of the amendments in this group, including Amendment 8, this House will be able to say, “You cannot use the reasonable excuse defence where it is linked to a current dispute”.

I finish with the point I started with: what protest is not about a current dispute? I cannot think of any, because people do not protest unless there is a dispute, yet the Government are saying to us that that is part of the definition they want to pass. The Minister has a really tough job defending the indefensible here. I am interested to hear what he has to say, as, I am sure, are most of us. But how on earth can he put before this House an issue as serious as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has said it is—I accept that—and then provide a definition that just does not make sense. The Government are in a real mess, and they ought to get themselves out of it pretty quick.

My Lords, clearly, I intend to shed some light. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has generated a lot of heat on the purpose of “reasonable excuse”. I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for tabling his amendments. These exclude protest as a reasonable excuse for the criminal offences within the Bill. We would say that this amendment is consistent with the reasoning of the Court of Appeal in the Colston case in relation to the criminal damage allegations that were at issue in that case.

These amendments implement the Constitution Committee’s recommendation that instances of “reasonable excuse” in the Bill are defined. I thank the committee for its thoughtful analysis in this regard, which has helpfully informed much of today’s debate. The amendments from the noble and learned Lord also follow from the Supreme Court’s recent judgment that a lack of reasonable excuse in criminal offences is not necessarily incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has set out a compelling case for these amendments, so I will try to refrain from repeating the same points. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has very cogently set out the case for these amendments, and I will not repeat the points he made.

In summary: the Government support these amendments. They are necessary to ensure that these criminal offences serve their purpose. The entire reason we are legislating is to make it clear that locking on, tunnelling, and disrupting infrastructure are illegitimate tactics of protest. Now that we are satisfied that it is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights to carve out protest as a reasonable excuse for these offences, we should do so. Parliament should make it explicitly clear that protest is not of itself a reasonable excuse for these offences. Not doing so will simply lead to protracted litigation in the courts. This much is clear from the Supreme Court’s decision in the Northern Ireland abortion clinics case.

Following from the noble and learned Lord’s amendments, the Government have tabled two more. The first similarly carves out protest from the offence of public nuisance. I take the opportunity to remind the House that the former common-law offence did not have a reasonable excuse for the offence at all. One was included in the statute on the recommendation of the Law Commission. Similarly to the offences within this Bill, and keeping in line with recent case law, we should now carve protest out of the offence.

The second amendment carves protest out of the lawful excuse for the offence of wilfully obstructing the highway. However, recognising that the offence is a low-level one, we do not carve it out in its entirety. Instead, the amendment removes protest from the reasonable excuse only where “more than” serious disruption is caused. The hope was to ensure consistency in the law; we sought to replicate the same proposed threshold of “serious disruption” in this offence. Therefore, protesters will still be able to obstruct highways to a certain degree. This, in the Government’s view, strikes the right balance between the rights of the public and the rights of protesters—an exercise that the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, rightly reminded the House is a fundamental part of the consideration of human rights.

Despite the definition proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, now not standing part of the Bill, there is still a need to clarify the circumstances in which obstructing a highway is not a legitimate exercise of one’s Article 10 and 11 rights. I would expect the precise wording to be settled as the matter is debated further by Parliament, and in such a manner as to ensure consistency and clarity for protesters, the police and the courts.

On the question from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on the impact of such an amendment on a march such as that against the Iraq war, which we saw under the Blair Administration: under Section 3 of the Human Rights Act, this measure will still have to be read compatibly with the ECHR—a point the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, made. Therefore, the point at which arrest and prosecution would be a proportionate interference with people’s Article 10 and 11 rights depends on the circumstances of each protest.

My noble friend Lord Sandhurst has tabled a similar amendment to those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the Government.

I do not think I understand what my noble friend is saying. Is he saying that a march against the Iraq war would be acceptable? After all, it was about current issues. Very few issues were more current at the time. How would people know in advance that it would be acceptable? That is quite important, too.

The reasonable excuse defence arises only once there has been a decision by the police to prosecute. The fact of the march itself is something that the authorities would have to judge, and they would have to do so in accordance with their obligations to act lawfully and in pursuance of their obligations under the Human Rights Act, including those under the provisions of that Act.

I return to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, which seeks to remove protest from the reasonable and lawful excuses of all criminal offences. While I appreciate the elegance of addressing the protest as a reasonable excuse question in one fell swoop and agree with the sentiment behind it—and find interesting the research in the Policy Exchange paper—I cannot support the amendment. Some offences, such as minor obstruction of the highway or the most minor of damage, such as that caused by water-soluble paints or dyes, can be a legitimate exercise of Article 10 and 11 rights.

The burden of proof was debated at length in Committee. The government position remains that the burden of proof should rest on the defendant. They are aware of all the facts pertinent to their case. As I made clear in Committee, it is not a novel concept for the burden of proof to rest on the individual.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. These take issue with the reasonable excuse defence and seek to shift the burden of proving such a defence for the criminal offences from the defendant to the prosecution, making it a key element of the offence. Amendment 35, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, also adds

“support for … a trade dispute”

to the protected activities of acts

“wholly or mainly in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute”

under Clause 7. The government position remains that the burden of proof should rest on the defendant. While I understand the sentiment, Amendment 35 is not necessary as we assess that support for a trade dispute would already be captured under the defence.

I also want to address one of the criticisms that was made in Committee, which I believe has inspired some of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. As I made clear in Committee, the reasonable excuse defence resting on the individual does not, and would not, mean that those suspected of committing the offences would be arrested and charged without consideration of whether or not they had a reasonable excuse for their actions. With regard to the arrests, Code G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 states that the use of the power of arrest requires the belief that an individual is committing, has committed or is about to commit an offence, and that the arrest is necessary.

With regard to charging decisions, the Crown Prosecution Service has to consider whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction at trial, and whether the suspect has a reasonable excuse will factor clearly in that decision-making process. This obligation on Crown prosecutors is set out in the Crown Prosecution Service’s Code for Crown Prosecutors in paragraphs 4.6 and 4.7. Any reasonable excuse defence that a suspect may have will be considered as part of these processes.

Finally, I have considered the proposal in the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to include support for a trade dispute as a reasonable excuse. I do not believe that it is necessary, as an act in support of a trade dispute is, in essence, in furtherance of one and therefore already in scope of the defence. As with the last group, I encourage all noble Lords to support the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the Government and to reject the others.

The Minister said that the Northern Ireland Supreme Court case shows that the amendments are consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. I made the point that the proportionality test that the Supreme Court made in that case was on the basis that the convention rights were restricted only within 150 metres of an abortion clinic and not outside that, whereas these amendments would apply universally and therefore, in my judgment, are disproportionate. The Minister did not address that issue.

I entirely understand that that is the noble Lord’s view. The test of proportionality will, of course, be decided on the facts of each case as it arises, which will be matters that will feed into the decisions taken by the police and CPS in the charging process.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in an incredibly thoughtful debate—your Lordships’ House at its best, if I may say so. Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention everyone, for obvious reasons of time, but I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, for explaining that sometimes reverse burdens make sense when the criminality is just so obvious, such as carrying a bladed article in public, but that linking arms is generally not thought of as the same kind of criminality.

I am also grateful to the noble and self-deprecating Lord, Lord Paddick. He may not be a lawyer, but he is certainly a better lawyer than many of us lawyers would be police officers, I suspect. His brilliant exposition of the Northern Ireland case in particular, including by way of his last intervention, demonstrates that Ziegler is not dead. As we have heard from many noble Lords in this thoughtful debate, protest is not a trump card; it will not always be a reasonable excuse for criminality. But sometimes it might be. It is not irrelevant to these matters. Good law is about rules and discretion and, without the right amount of discretion, injustice will follow.

Most of all, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because it was his particular thought experiment that made me most concerned about a mass demonstration such as the one on Iraq—but it could be on another subject under another Government in future. We are talking about a mass demonstration where, quite deliberately, the police do not run around arresting everybody; they use their discretion in the public interest not to do so, so as not to cause a very hazardous situation to human beings and public order, or because they simply would not be able to arrest a large number of people.

In my development of the thought experiment from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, instead of just not arresting people and just ensuring that people are safe, certain police officers arrest only a certain type of person—say, only people in wheelchairs, or only women, who are easier to arrest, or, dare I say it, only people of a certain race. If those people alone were then prosecuted and were not permitted to argue a reasonable excuse that they were just on the demonstration like everybody else, I suggest that a grave injustice would follow. The fact of the protest is never a trump card, but sometimes it is highly pertinent.

I shall not press the amendments in my name to a Division, because I have decided, on the basis of this debate, that the priority in the time that we have is to vote against the government amendments, which is what I would urge all those concerned about this to do.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendments 3 and 4 not moved.

Amendment 5 not moved.

Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

“(2A) The fact that the person did the act mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) as part of or in furtherance of a protest on an issue of current debate will not constitute a reasonable excuse for doing that act.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to limit the scope of the reasonable excuse defence, as the ingredients of the offence themselves ensure consistent with case law that its interference with a protester’s Convention rights is proportionate.

The House has heard the debate, and I am not going to repeat the arguments, which have been well set out. I suggest that it is clear as a matter of law that this is a perfectly sensible and legal amendment to the Bill that would provide clarity. The alternative approach is that the police somehow have to assess the absence of reasonable excuse. It is a difficult balance to achieve; what the amendment does is strike a balance between the undoubted and important right to protest and the right of people to go about their everyday life. I commend this amendment to the House, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: Leave out Clause 1

My Lord, we come to the next group, and I have put my name to leaving out Clauses 1 and 2, on locking on and going equipped. I will not rehearse the problems with the vague nature of the offence of locking on, which, at its lowest, could literally be linking arms; or going equipped, which is a thought crime that could criminalise people carrying all sorts of innocent items in their rucksacks—bicycle locks or even potentially, in the context of the way in which some journalists or photojournalists have been arrested of late, the camera they were going to use to photograph the locking on, because they knew there was a protest. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will speak to some amendments he has tabled in the group to tighten and improve some of the more serious offences, and the Minister will of course speak to the government amendments, which I do not believe, for once, are incredibly controversial. I beg to move.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Quite honestly, we are trying to amend this awful piece of legislation and really, it is not enough: we should just kick it all out, including these government amendments.

My Lords, I have Amendments 19 and 31 in this group. As I explained in Committee, the offence of causing serious disruption by being present in a tunnel, as drafted in the Bill, could criminalise those in London Underground tunnels, for example. Amendment 19 is designed to restrict the offence to tunnels constructed in contravention of Clause 3: that is, a tunnel created to cause, or that is capable of causing, serious disruption. I am pleased to say that the Government agree, albeit that their alternative, Amendment 29, restricts the tunnels an offence can be committed in to

“a tunnel that was created for the purposes of, or in connection with, a protest”,

whether the tunnel was created in contravention of Clause 3 or not. They are not adopting my amendment, which covers any tunnel built in contravention of Clause 3.

I know one should not look a gift horse in the mouth, but can the Minister explain how being present in a tunnel that does not cause, and is not capable of causing, serious disruption—that is, a tunnel that was not created in contravention of Clause 3—can result in serious disruption being caused by a person being present in it? Why is it necessary to extend the definition of a relevant tunnel beyond tunnels created in contravention of Clause 3? Why should the House agree to government Amendments 21, 29 and 30 rather than my Amendment 19? I am sure the Minister will have been prepared to respond to that question. Maybe not, looking at him at the moment.

My Amendment 31 concerns the offence of being equipped for tunnelling in Clause 5. We believe that the offence of having an object

“with the intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with the commission”

of an offence of tunnelling is unnecessarily complicated. Can the Minister explain why the proposed alternative wording—having an object

“for use in the course or in connection with”

the offence—is not sufficient? For example, Section 25 of the Theft Act 1968 states:

“A person shall be guilty of an offence if, when not at his place of abode, he has with him any article for use in the course of or in connection with any burglary, theft or cheat.”

What does

“with the intention that it may be used”

mean? Either the person intends to use the object or they do not, even if they may end up not using it—for example, because it might prove to be unnecessary. “I’ve got this pickaxe in case the protest tunnel we’re building encounters rocks, but if there are no rocks I may not have to use it,” is still having the pickaxe for use in the course of or in connection with tunnelling.

The other amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, seek to leave out Clauses 1 and 2. Locking on has been used for centuries as a form of protest, most notably by the suffragettes. This new offence is widely and vaguely drawn—for example, to include people attaching themselves to other people without defining what “attach” means. Not only is there a right to protest, there is also a long-standing acceptance that people should be able to protest in the way they see fit. The creation of a locking-on offence is not even supported by the majority of rank and file police officers, according to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services:

“Most interviewees did not wish to criminalise protest actions through the creation of a specific offence concerning locking on.”

As with the whole of the Bill, there is sufficient existing legislation to cover locking-on activity, whether it is highway obstruction, for which the penalty now includes a term of imprisonment, or public nuisance, where the maximum penalty is a prison sentence of 10 years. Can the Minister explain the circumstances in which locking-on activity would not be covered by any existing legislation?

As for Clause 2 and the offence of being equipped for locking on, as currently drafted, the offence of having something

“with the intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with the commission”

of a locking-on offence by any person, not just the person in possession of the object, could cover a whole range of everyday objects that someone is innocently in possession of. While the offence presumably requires the prosecution to prove

“the intention that it may be used in the course of or in connection with”

an offence of locking on, the power of the police to arrest is merely based on a reasonable cause to suspect that an offence may have been committed—a very low bar. As I said in the debate on a similar clause in what was then the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, you could buy a tube of superglue to repair a broken chair at home, get caught up in a protest and be accused of going equipped for locking on.

From my own extensive knowledge of policing, I say that if you have a tube of superglue in your pocket while innocently trying to negotiate your way around a protest and are stopped and searched by the police, as this Bill will allow, and if you then believe you can convince a police officer that they do not have sufficient cause to suspect you are going equipped to lock on and, as a result, that you should not be arrested, that would represent a triumph of hope over experience. We support Amendments 9 and 10.

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.

I would like to add to my noble friend’s very precise definition of the drawbacks of this clause. In more general terms, its provisions will lead to situations in which people do not know they are breaking the law and are then accused by the police of doing so. I should have said they do not know they might be breaking the law because of its broad terms. That is a very unhelpful situation should it arise; in my submission, it will arise quite frequently. The sorts of things that are covered by this provision are everyday household items—as my noble friend pointed out—such as glue or a padlock. I referred in earlier debates to the practice of young people of placing a padlock on a bridge—as a sign that they are eternally joined with each other—and throwing the key into the river so that it cannot be taken off again. Imagine the conversation you would have with a police officer when you are trying to explain those circumstances, and he thinks you are on your way to a protest.

I am afraid that a secondary element to this general argument is that we have been reminded recently that some police officers abuse their powers—and a minority of police officers have clearly been doing so in a number of cases—and then here are more powers which are rather too easily abused. It is very easy to say to someone, “You are resisting my clear observation that you are carrying something that could be used in a protest.” A new situation is being created in which police officers are given more power over, for example, women, who are encouraged to be cautious about getting into a police car or accompanying a police officer if he says she had better go with him. This is allowing more situations with that kind of problem to arise. It is all completely unnecessary: existing powers can be used in all the threatening or worrying circumstances which this clause seeks to address. We do not need it but, worse than that, it is potentially damaging.

My Lords, I will make only a very brief intervention. I agree with what my noble friend said in her introduction of this group, and also what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said about his Amendments 19 and 31. I am looking forward to the Minister’s explanation of Amendment 29 and how that is a more appropriate amendment than Amendments 19 and 31.

One thing I can add to this interesting short debate is as a magistrate who deals regularly with the issue of reasonable excuse, and it is something we have got used to dealing with over many years. The context in which I see that excuse is when someone is carrying a knife or a bladed article. That is almost invariably the defence that one hears when one is in court. That is something that we are used to dealing with. It is also something that there is a lot of public interest in, so changing definitions and giving more scope to more complex laws does not help the courts. The courts have, in these contexts, the defence of reasonable excuse and they are well used to dealing with it. Nevertheless, the amendments in this group have been well presented and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, the amendments in this group take issue with offences listed in the first five clauses of the Bill, so it might be helpful to set out exactly why the Bill is so necessary and how it differs from existing public order legislation. The Bill seeks to speed up the ability of police to pre-empt, intervene and respond to the evolving tactics we have seen from—what can best be described as—a selfish minority of protesters. It also seeks to establish clear stand-alone offences, which target disruptive and dangerous behaviour, and impose sentences that are proportionate to the harm caused.

I have heard many times that the police already have the powers necessary to deal with disruptive behaviour, such as tunnelling or locking on. I disagree. We have only to look at the high levels of disruption as recently as a few months ago to see that more needs to be done. The Bill provides police with the powers necessary to combat these specific offences while ensuring that those who seek to cause serious disruption on private, as well as public, land are held to account. It is completely unfair that the hard-working public have to face misery and disruption caused by individuals locking on to a road or tunnelling under a building site, only to see the perpetrators arrested several hours after beginning their actions and then let off with a light sentence.

Clauses 1 and 2 are a key part of the Government’s plans to protect the public from the dangerous and disruptive protest tactic of locking on. We have seen protesters who use locking on and who tunnel be acquitted on technicalities. Therefore, it is important to have clear, stand-alone offences for locking on and tunnelling. This ensures that those intent on causing serious disruption for others can be brought to justice quickly and given a proportionate penalty that reflects the harms they have caused. The “going equipped to lock on” and the “going equipped to tunnel” offences enable the police to intervene earlier to prevent serious disruption. Dealing with a tunnel or a lock-on is extremely resource-intensive, taking hours of police time, which could be much better spent tackling other crimes and disorder on our streets. Surely noble Lords would agree that enabling the police to act before the acts are committed is in everyone’s best interests.

The Government are on the side of the public and will act to ensure that the public are protected from these disruptive acts. We welcome Extinction Rebellion’s sensible new year’s resolution to

“prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks”.

However, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain are digging their heels in and have committed to continue trampling on the lives of others. Faced with this threat, it is clear to me that Clauses 1 and 2 should stand part of the Bill. Therefore, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw Amendment 9.

Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, limits the extent of the offence of causing serious disruption by being present in a tunnel to tunnels which have been created through the commission of the offence of causing serious disruption by tunnelling. I thank the noble Lord for tabling this amendment and accept the need for clarity in distinguishing between those who cause serious disruption in a tunnel created for the purposes of or in connection with a protest, and those who cause serious disruption in tunnels such as the London Underground tunnels.

My noble friend Lord Murray previously committed to considering this matter further: subsequently, the Government have tabled Amendments 21, 29 and 30. These amendments provide that the offence of causing serious disruption by being present in a tunnel, as defined by Clause 4, is committed

“only in relation to a tunnel that was created for the purposes of, or in connection with, a protest.”

The Government’s amendments provide clarity in the legislation on the scope of the offence. This means that people who cause serious disruption in tunnels not created for the purpose of or in connection with a protest—such as the London Underground tunnels—would not fall within the scope of Clause 4. In contrast to Amendment 19, it also includes no additional burden for the courts when prosecuting offences under Clause 4, in that they would not be required to show that an offence has occurred under Clause 3 as well.

Finally, Amendment 31 raises the threshold at which an object may be captured within the scope of the “going equipped to a tunnel” offence, as doing so would limit the effectiveness of the offence. We are trying to ensure that the police can act proactively before these harmful tactics are used. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raises the threshold for intervention too high. In light of this, I hope noble Lords will support the amendments in the Government’s name and reject the other amendments in this group.

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.

In the light of the first two votes, His Majesty’s Government are going to have to do some serious thinking before the further passage of this Bill on these offences, the definition of “serious disruption”, the issue of “reasonable excuse”, and the need to protect journalists such as Charlotte Lynch, who the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned earlier, and a number of others who have been arrested under existing offences, including conspiracy to cause a public nuisance—no reasonable excuse for them before detention in a police station for many hours. The Government are going to have to think again.

In closing—because we may not get to the journalist protection amendment this evening—when the Home Secretary Ms Braverman appeared before the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who is in her place, as chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, before Christmas, she very kindly agreed to consider the subsequent amendment in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, to give specific protection to journalists. I have not yet heard a response from the Home Office. I have followed up with emails to the Home Secretary and to the public correspondence section of the Home Office. I hope that, before we reach that later amendment, there could be some consideration, as was promised to your Lordship’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee before Christmas.

I shall withdraw my opposition to Clause 1 standing part for the reasons I gave. I have every confidence that, in the light of the last two votes, which may have come as a surprise to them, the Government will sensibly now give some consideration to the way forward for this Bill.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Clause 2: Offence of being equipped for locking on

Amendment 10 not moved.

Clause 3: Offence of causing serious disruption by tunnelling

Amendments 11 to 18 not moved.

Clause 4: Offence of causing serious disruption by being present in a tunnel

Amendments 19 and 20 not moved.

Amendment 21

Moved by

21: Clause 4, page 3, line 28, after “a” insert “relevant”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendments in the name of Lord Sharpe of Epsom at page 4, line 14 and page 4, line 15 provide that the offence in Clause 4 may be committed only in relation to a tunnel that was created for the purposes of, or in connection with, a protest.

Amendment 21 agreed.

Amendments 22 to 28 not moved.

Amendment 29

Moved by

29: Clause 4, page 4, line 14, at end insert—

“(5A) In this section “relevant tunnel” means a tunnel that was created for the purposes of, or in connection with, a protest (and it does not matter whether an offence has been committed under section 3 in relation to the creation of the tunnel).”Member's explanatory statement

See the amendment in the name of Lord Sharpe of Epsom at page 3, line 28.

Amendment 29 agreed.

Amendment 30

Moved by

30: Clause 4, page 4, leave out line 15 and insert “References in this section to the creation of an excavation include—”

Member's explanatory statement

See the amendment in the name of Lord Sharpe of Epsom at page 3, line 28.

Amendment 30 agreed.

Clause 5: Offence of being equipped for tunnelling etc

Amendment 31 not moved.

Clause 6: Obstruction etc of major transport works

Amendments 32 and 33 not moved.

Clause 7: Interference with use or operation of key national infrastructure

Amendments 34 to 37 not moved.

Amendment 38

Moved by

38: Clause 7, page 7, line 39, leave out subsections (7) to (9)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations by statutory instrument amending subsection (6) to add a kind of infrastructure or to vary or remove a kind of infrastructure; or to amend section 8 to re-define any aspect of infrastructure included within the new criminal offence.

My Lords, now we turn to the offence of interference with the use or operation of key national infrastructure, which is clearly a matter of considerable concern to the life of the community and to the balance that we have been discussing between peaceful dissent and the rights and freedoms of people in a democratic society.

The definition of key national infrastructure becomes very important in relation to a new criminal offence which attaches to it a maximum of 12 months in prison. My Amendment 38 is perhaps fairly predictable for an amendment in your Lordships’ House: it seeks to remove the Secretary of State’s ability by regulations or statutory instrument to amend the definition of key infrastructure. As your Lordships will understand, it would be just too easy for any Government, now or in the future, to amend the definition in a way that was not proportionate, and to add matters and items to key infrastructure that the public did not consider to be key. On principle, I do not think that criminal offences should be created or amended in that way by Henry VIII powers. That is the reason for my Amendment 38. It is the sort of amendment that I would have tabled to any number of criminal justice Bills. It is not specifically about protest; it is an objection of principle to amending important definitions within criminal law in that way.

Amendments 39 and 40 in the group, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, similarly try to tighten important definitions, but I will leave him to speak to those. I beg to move.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, just said, I have Amendments 39 and 40 in this group. As we discussed in Committee, while there may be some sympathy for measures designed to stop protesters blocking motorways, airport runways and railway lines, the legislation as drafted—covering anyone who interferes with the use or operation of any key national infrastructure, including being reckless as to whether it could be interfered with—could criminalise those legitimately protesting on railway station forecourts or concourses or those protesting outside or inside airport terminal buildings who do not intend directly to impact train journeys or flights. Clause 7(4) is extraordinarily broad in its scope, in that anything that prevents the infrastructure being used or operated to any extent for any of its intended purposes is covered.

For example, those awaiting the arrival of a controversial figure whose presence is arguably against the public interest, and who wish to demonstrate their objection to the person’s presence in the United Kingdom, should be excluded from the overbroad remit of this offence. I accept that they may be committing other offences, but to be prosecuted for interference with the use of key national infrastructure when this is clearly not the purpose or intention of the protest does not appear to be right. Amendments 39 and 40 seek to restrict the offence to infrastructure that is essential for transporting goods and passengers by railway and air respectively. We support Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on the regulation-making powers of the Secretary of State to add, alter or delete the kinds of infrastructure covered by this offence.

My Lords, we also support these amendments. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti made clear in her introduction, her Amendment 38 would remove

“the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations by statutory instrument amending subsection (6) to add a kind of infrastructure or to vary or remove a kind of infrastructure; or to amend section 8 to re-define any aspect of infrastructure included within the new criminal offence.”

As she explained, she is trying to give the Secretary of State a slightly more limited remit to introduce Henry VIII powers, along the lines suggested in her amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has explained his Amendments 39 and 40 very well. I will not repeat his explanation, other than to say that we are in favour of them in general terms.

My Lords, Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, seeks to remove the delegated power for the Secretary of State to amend, add or remove infrastructure in the list under the legal definition of “key national infrastructure”. We have heard throughout the passage of the Bill about ever-evolving protest tactics, targets and technology. We therefore see it as entirely right that Clause 7 is accompanied by a delegated power which will allow us to respond effectively to emerging threats. This was the position taken in Committee when this amendment was first tabled, and it is still the Government’ position. I assure the House that the power is subject to the draft affirmative procedure, thereby facilitating substantive parliamentary scrutiny.

I turn to Amendments 39 and 40 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Amendment 39 seeks to narrow the scope of “rail infrastructure” to exclude protests that do not directly impact on the operation of trains, while Amendment 40 seeks to narrow the scope of “air transport infrastructure” to exclude infrastructure that is not essential for the purpose of transporting passengers and goods by air. As was noted when these amendments were considered previously, the scope of the offence as drafted reflects the importance of the continued operation of the infrastructure as defined in Clause 8.

I would be keen to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, what he deems to be the essential and inessential elements of rail and air transport infrastructure. Rail and air infrastructure are each complex, interconnected systems, and it is not an easy exercise to find rail and air infrastructure that you can describe as non-essential to the running of services.

The Minister asks me to explain: I explained in my opening remarks, which I accept are not reflected in his notes. If there was a protest at the arrivals part of an airport against somebody who people felt should not be in the United Kingdom, they could be criminalised by this offence as drafted, because they would be interfering in some way with air transport—perhaps arrivals, but not disrupting flights, as the legislation intends. The Minister asked for an explanation; I have just given him one.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. As I said previously, rail and air infrastructure are each complex, interconnected systems, and it is not an easy exercise to find rail and air infrastructure that you can describe as non-essential to the running of services.

Adopting this carve-out could pose a risk of ambiguity as to whether certain facilities—sidings, depots, maintenance facilities, freight facilities, air infrastructure used for pilot training, air shows and, potentially, trials of flights, aircraft and so on—would be covered. It would therefore create ambiguity for the transport industry, the police and protesters, and would give protesters another opportunity to delay prosecutions where the prosecution has to prove that the infrastructure targeted was “essential”. I also note that these are not safe places to conduct a protest, although this has not necessarily stopped people in the past. It is therefore the Government’s view that all parts of our rail and air transport infrastructure must be protected. For these reasons, I respectfully ask that noble Lords do not press their amendments.

I am grateful once more to all noble Lords who spoke in this short debate. Once more, not testing the opinion of the House should in no way be taken as consent, let alone enthusiasm, for what the Government are doing here.

The criminal law should be an exercise in precision technical drawing, not impressionist art. However, this Government, and the Home Office in particular, are painting with a very broad brush. These broad powers and offences, which we have debated at length, are a blank cheque not just for police officers to use and misuse by accident or design, but for the Secretary of State to further define and amend this serious criminal offence of interfering with key infrastructure without the proper scrutiny that comes with primary legislation.

I am grateful to the Minister for at least giving me the assurance of the affirmative procedure. However, the problem with even the affirmative procedure is that, at a time of great public concern about the next protest movement down the track—the one that has not made the new year’s resolution that this Minister approves of—a list of amendments will be made to the regulations governing what is to be key infrastructure. Some of them will be sensible and acceptable, and some will be outrageous. Members of the other place and Members of your Lordships’ House will be put in the invidious position of saying yes or no without the kind of scrutiny and line-by-line consideration, voting and amendment that is possible with a criminal justice or public order Bill. This need to sub-delegate seems all the more extraordinary when we are getting public order Bills every year at the moment. This just does not compute to me.

Having tested the patience of noble Lords and the Minister, I will not test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

Clause 8: Key national infrastructure

Amendments 39 and 40 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.15 pm.