Members of the House of Lords expressed their “outrage” and fury as the government fended off attempts to block new controversial measures over the right to protest.
Peers slammed the “underhand” methods of ministers to pass new police powers by using “regulations” denouncing the tactic “as an absolute fundamental constitutional outrage.”
Despite the levels of opposition the Lords yesterday approved the new regulations that give new powers to police in England and Wales to stop slow-walking protest marches.
Peers condemned the government’s method of making the changes after the same policy was rejected by the Lords earlier this year. The government had tried to include the new measures in the Public Order Bill – which was given Royal Assent just days before the King’s coronation – only to be blocked by the Lords.
However, the government reintroduced the measures as “regulations”. Green peer Lady Jenny Jones tabled a fatal motion to try and kill the legislation, calling it a “make or break moment for democracy”.
Jones told the Lords: “There are two issue at stake here: first is suppression of freedom with a measure that your Lordships have rejected as unreasonable only very recently. And in some ways more seriously, secondly, a government move that sets a precedent that the government can use secondary legislation to overrule parliament’s will as expressed in votes in primary legislation.
“This means that any future minister at any time could decide to change any law, in any way. Now this to me is deeply, deeply disturbing.”
Home Office minister Lord Andrew Sharpe argued the change “will bring clarity” and provide a consistent definition of what constitutes “serious disruption”.
Sharpe told the Lords: “Without these changes there is potential for confusion over what is the lawful extent of protest activity. The police and public will have to grapple with one threshold for criminal offences in the new Public Order Act and another for the use of discretionary police powers in the 1986 Act. With these changes it will be easier for all to understand when disruption from a protest is no longer legitimate.”
The minister justified the new regulations saying the current slow-walk protest by Just Stop Oil has taken up more than 13,770 police officer shifts “diverting police attention away from local communities.” He said this has “cost the taxpayer £4.5 million in just six weeks” on top of the £14.5 million it cost last year.
Labour peer Lord Vernon Coaker told the House that the government’s use of “regulations” to pass the police powers “is an absolute fundamental constitutional outrage.”
“This House defeated these or similar proposal brought forward in a panic by Lord Sharpe” earlier this year, continued Coaker. “Primary legislation was defeated. So what does the government do? It doesn’t bring forward new primary legislation. It tries to sneak through in an underhand way, secondary legislation without proper public consultation.”
Despite his rhetoric Coaker said Labour would not back Jone’s fatal motion to block the regulations, saying “we will respect convention, we will respect tradition, we will respect the right way of doing politics in our country”.
He said “voting down the wishes of the elected government of the day” would not show respect to democracy.
In the Commons MPs approved the regulations with a majority 60 votes on Monday night. Yesterday, peers rejected Jones fatal motion, voting through the regulations with 154 for and 68 against – a majority of 86.
Lords investigates problems in homecare medicine services
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports the Lords is to investigate private health companies that are paid millions to deliver NHS medicines in England.
The Lords’ inquiry – which begins today (June 14) – follows revelations by the newspaper that exposed how sick children and adults are “being harmed by botched, delayed or missed deliveries”.
More than 500,000 patients and their families depend on medical deliveries by private companies. Sciensus, the biggest private company in the sector, “has struggled to provide a safe or reliable service” that is putting children’s health at risk, according to the Guardian.
The House of Lords public services committee inquiry will examine “the extent of the problems in homecare medicine services”.
Chair of the committee, Lady Estelle Morris said: “There are reports of missed deliveries, delays, and potentially significant health impacts for patients. Our inquiry will seek to examine how far these problems are occurring and the impact of these problems – both for individuals and the wider NHS.”
First female Lord Chief Justice in 755 years
Elsewhere, the Telegraph reports a “possible” historic change to the title of Lord Chief Justice when the first women in 755 years takes on the post.
Either Dame Victoria Sharp or Dame Sue Carr will take on the position with the possibility they could retain the Lord Chief Justice title, adapt it to Lady or take on the gender neutral “chief justice” term used in the US, Ireland and New Zealand.
The post dates back to 1268 and Sharp or Carr – the only two on the shortlist – will be confirmed by the King, replacing Lord Burnett of Maldon who is stepping down after six years in the role.
Carr is 58 and a Court of Appeal judge while Sharp, 67, is a senior judge and the twin sister of Richard Sharp – the controversial former BBC chairman who helped Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan before being appointed by the then PM to the role with the national broadcaster. Sharp was forced to quit as BBC chairman in April this year after an investigation found he had failed to disclose key information about his relationship with Johnson before the appointment in 2021.