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World News

Bishops in Lords vote to uphold right to peaceful protest

by Donna Birrell

Bishops in the House of Lords are among peers who have rejected a range of measures in the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

They were debating proposed measures for England and Wales which would include banning known activists from demonstrations, imposing restrictions on protest marches judged to be too noisy and expanding police search powers.

It follows a number of high profile demonstrations by groups including environmental protestors and Christian climate activists, who have blocked roads and glued themselves to trains in recent months.

The Bishops of Bristol, Leeds, London and St. Albans were among those opposing the measures. The Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Vivienne Faull said “good disagreement involves noise, and is not quiet and orderly". 

“There is real hurt and trauma when protests are mishandled. Public spaces belong to the people, and they should be able to have good disagreement in them."

Christian charities welcomed the debate and say if the measures were introduced they would have a direct impact on the right of Christians and others to hold events such as prayer vigils and other peaceful gatherings.

Pete Moorey is Christian Aid's Head of Campaigns and Advocacy. He’s been giving Premier his reaction.

“It’s really good news that the Lords have voted to turn over these proposals from the government. They really would have a big consequence for faith and belief communities right across the country. 

“Those kinds of protests and demonstrations that many, many Christians have been involved with, are not a new thing, it’s something that we've been doing for decades, if not hundreds of years.

“We have a rich tradition in this country of churches being involved in protests in this kind of way. 

“It’s really worrying that this bill would give new powers to the police that could restrict that the kind of impact that it could have, particularly on faith communities and could extend to things like prayer vigils or public acts of worship.”

At the same debate, peers also voted to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales. It would mean stricter penalties being imposed if prejudice against women is proved to be the motivation for a crime.

The Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell who is also a Christian told Premier this is long overdue.

“The fact that this is now being addressed through this piece of legislation is absolutely welcome. 

“But we can't take our foot off the accelerator while protecting the rights of women and there is much more that we need to do.

“It's really important that this is now being expanded across the country because we know that hateful speech and conduct towards women has been a major issue that has then clearly led to more issues like violence and sexual violence against women.”

Ms Maskell also welcomed the rejection of proposals to restrict the right to peaceful protest.

“If women didn't protest, we would never have the vote. If trade unions never protested, we wouldn't have workers’ rights. It is our heritage and our tradition, that through campaigning and protesting we're able to advance legislation and to have a better society as a result of it. 

“So these are really important principles.”

The Bill will now return to the House of Commons and speaking to the BBC, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested the government would reintroduce the measures.

“We’ll look very carefully at all of that, but, yes, absolutely.

“In relation to noise, of course we support the right to peaceful and rambunctious protest, but it cannot be allowed to interfere with the lives of the law-abiding majority.”


 

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