Yesterday (9th January 2014) the House of Lords rejected the government’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which has been the subject of concern because of its definition of “nuisance or annoyance” in Clause 1.
If the bill was accepted as is, it would curtail the rights of people or organisations to hold protests, and any public activity could be prevented for any reason which states that someone may be annoyed by the activity.
At first, this may seem quite reasonable, and a useful piece of legislation to prevent us from being subjected to unjust discrimination, incitement, and violence. The problem is the wide definition of ‘nuisance and annoyance’ under Clause 1.
It would be within the scope of the definition of Clause 1 to prevent activities which may be acceptable to the majority of the population in an area, but which one member may feel annoyed about.
A few examples of this are shown on the Reform Clause 1 website:
- GREAT BARFIELD CHURCH BELLS: Great Barfield Church has a tradition of bell-ringers that has survived for centuries. The group of eight villagers ring the eight bells every week at 10am for Sunday morning worship and on most Wednesday evenings when they have their weekly practice. But a couple who recently moved into the Old Vicarage next door have expressed ‘annoyance’ at having their Wednesday evening disturbed. Unless Clause 1 is reformed, they could demand that the council silence the church bells for good.
- CHURCHILL CHOIR: t’s Christmas Eve and the Churchill choir are about to begin their carol singing round the village to spread good cheer and raise money for charity. Last year they earned £457 and hope to do even better this year. But if any residents decide they are ‘annoying’, the Parish Council might threaten them with an IPNA, which bans them from singing carols again at Christmas.
- SWINTON FOOTBALL: In Swinton, the village football pitch borders a row of houses. A group of ten year old boys love playing there on a Saturday. Their shouts of excitement can be heard from the nearby houses. If the neighbours consider them to be causing ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’ and complain to the council, these ten year olds could be landed with injunctions banning them from playing there. Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance can be served on a person aged 10 or over.
The proposed definition in Clause 1 would also mean that the government could object to any legitimate public demonstrations, such as those of campaign groups and trade unions.
Fortunately, the House of Lords has rejected the bill in its current form:
JANUARY 9, 2014
Last night the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favour of Lord Dear’s amendment to reform Clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Peers, including a number of Tory and Lib Dem rebels, voted 306 to 178 – a majority of 128 – following a lively two hour debate. See which Peers voted to reform Clause 1 here.
The Government’s proposed injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (IPNAs) faced fierce criticism from peers on all sides of the chamber.
Lord Dear, a crossbencher and former chief constable of West Midlands Police, told the chamber: “We live on a crowded island and we must surely exercise a degree of tolerance and forbearance.”
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a Lib Dem peer said the ‘anti annoyance’ orders would place a huge burden on police and local authorities.
Lady Mallalieu, a leading QC and Labour peer, said, “my main concern is the extent to which lowering the threshold to behaviour, ‘capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person’, has the potential to undermine our fundamental freedoms, and in particular the way in which the proposed law might be used to curb protest and freedom of expression.”
Lord Cormack, a Conservative peer, said: “It is crucial that this House, one of the bastions of freedom and civil liberties through the ages, should not weaken the right of our fellow citizens to be able to speak and to annoy.”
Former Attorney General Lord Morris of Aberavon criticised the Home Office for bringing forward “ill thought-out” proposals with “little regard for the consequences”.
The Bill will move to the House of Commons where MPs will vote on whether to accept the amendment.
It still remains to be seen if any amendments will have a significant difference to the bill. But the House of Lords rejecting the bill in its current form is a positive step.