Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupt House of Lords debate on Public Order Bill to crackdown on protests

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Twelve members of the activist group demonstrated against the Public Order Bill wearing tops with the slogan ‘Defend Human Rights’

Members of Extinction Rebellion (XR) stormed the House of Lords on Monday in protest against the new Public Order Bill.

Twelve members of the environment activist group disturbed proceedings wearing tops bearing the slogan ‘Defend Human Rights’.

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They were removed from the upper chamber by doorkeepers and security staff. No arrests were made and the disturbance led to a short adjournment to proceedings. The campaigners later posted footage of the protest on social media.

A House of Lords spokesperson said: “A small group of protesters staged a demonstration in the public gallery of the House of Lords during the report stage of the Public Order Bill.

“Proceedings were suspended for a short time while the protesters were escorted from the building and the House resumed.”

Extinction Rebellion

‘The right to protest and the right to strike is crucial’

Speaking outside the chamber, Extinction Rebellion protester Marion Malcher, 67, from Woking, said the “draconian legislation severely infringes on our human right to peacefully protest”, and slammed the Bill as “oppressive”.

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Biologist Alex Penson, 39, from London, who was part of the demonstration said: “I’m terrified that the government is rapidly shutting down all ways to hold it to account, especially on issues of inequality and the climate and the ecological emergency. The right to protest and the right to strike is crucial for a free and sustainable society.”

Fellow XR activist Jane Leggett, 72, from London, added: “I spent 35 years mainly teaching English to 16-19 year-olds in Hackney and Islington. Only the dystopian, post-apocalyptic literature we studied could describe the society young people can look forward to as envisioned by this vicious Tory Public Order Bill, and by successive governments’ inaction on effectively addressing the climate and ecological emergency.”

What is the Public Order Bill?

Peers are on course for a showdown with the government after inflicting several defeats over its controversial plans to crack down on protests.

The draft legislation is aimed at curbing the guerrilla tactics used by groups such as Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion, which have included blocking roads, to the growing frustration of motorists.

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As well as creating new offences of locking-on and tunnelling, it also introduces increased stop and search powers for police and contentious protest banning orders.

But critics argue the actions of demonstrators can be dealt with under existing laws.

In the first setback for the Bill in the Lords, peers backed by 243 votes to 221, majority 22. This was on the proposal of police having a higher threshold before they can intervene in protests with a stricter definition of “serious disruption”.

Later, a government-backed move to prevent protesting “an issue of current debate” being used as a reasonable defence for offences such as locking-on, tunnelling and blocking roads was narrowly rejected by 224 votes to 221, majority three.

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The defeats set the stage for a parliamentary ping-pong between the unelected chamber and the Commons over the proposed law.

Arguing for a higher bar before the Bill’s provisions are triggered, Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “We are going to pass legislation here where protests, that all of us would regard as reasonable, all of us would regard as acceptable, are going to be illegal.”

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “What we are trying to ascertain is the point to which protesters can disrupt the lives of the general public. And the government position is clear – we are on the side of the public.

“The government wants to protect the rights of the public to go about their daily lives without let or hindrance. 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, they make small businesses struggle. Any change in law must address this.”

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