Labour peer Vernon Coaker leads opposition to controversial Government anti-protest legislation

Vernon Coaker makes his case in the Lords
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

Former Gedling MP and Labour peer Vernon Coaker led a successful resistance against a Government Bill intent on cracking down on disruptive protests.

The Public Order Bill, which is at a draft stage, was stopped in its tracks in the House of Lords on Monday, January 30.

Lord Coaker (Lab), who became a peer in March 2021, led an amendment to alter the Government’s proposal to lower the threshold for the definition of ‘serious disruption’.

Peers voted 243 to 221 in favour of a higher threshold before the authorities may intervene in a protest, particularly ridding the legislation of the phrase “or is capable of causing serious disruption”.

Lord Coaker argued such a fact “should trouble us all”, and said: “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.”

However Home Office minister Lord Sharpe (Con) said the Bill is simply aiming to prevent hindrance to the British public.

Similarly another section of the Bill, which sought to stop protesting about a topic in current debate being used as a defence, was also rejected by 244 votes to 221.

The defeat comes as teachers across Nottinghamshire and beyond tok part in strike action on Wednesday, February 1, the latest in a flurry of strikes from public sector workers.

Speaking in the Lords, Lord Coaker said: “It is my contention, and that of my party and others from other parties across the House, that the Bill has gone too far.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

Responding Lord Sharpe of Epsom, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, said: “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.

“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.”

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