By Ann Higgins
In amongst all the talk of cheese and wine and birthday parties, it would be easy to overlook that, whoever the PM happens to be, the Tory juggernaut continues to roll over our rights and freedoms. Even though Parliament has only been back at work for a couple of weeks or so, and has spent much of that time listening to the unspeakable trying to excuse the indefensible, that didn’t stop both the Elections Bill and the PCSC Bill progressing with only the slightest hitch.
Here are the developments so far this year:
- Starting with the Elections Bill, despite David Davis’s well-publicised opposition to the introduction of Voter ID, which he described as “an illiberal” solution in search of a “non-existent problem,” he meekly trotted through the government lobbies enabling the Bill to get its third reading in the House of Commons (HoC) with a majority of 90. True, he voted to remove the clause introducing Voter ID from the bill, but unlike his Tory colleague and Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, William Wragg, when push came to shove he was found wanting. Even though Mr Wragg could not find the courage to vote against his government, he did at least abstain though he could hardly do otherwise when the report on the Elections Bill by the Select Committee he chairs recommended that the clause on Voter ID be withdrawn until further research and consultation has been undertaken. Needless to say, the government has rejected this and the Bill as a whole now passes to the House of Lords (HoL), where hopefully some inroads into the more problematic aspects of this Bill can be made.
- Fortunately when it came to the PCSC Bill in the HoL, the opposition was more successful, removing clauses that would have criminalised locking on and obstructing the construction of or maintenance of major transport works, created new serious disruption prevention orders and powers to impose conditions on public assemblies, and extended stop and search laws. Because these clauses did not originate in the HoC, the Lords is not bound by the convention that it should not delay public bills for longer than 2 parliamentary sessions or one year and therefore in theory it can continue to reject them for as long as it likes.
- The HoL also voted to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, thus establishing that sleeping rough is not in itself a criminal offence.
- The Bill is now awaiting its third reading in the HoL before it goes back to the HoC where a fight over these changes to the Bill can be expected.
- Also awaiting detailed consideration in the HoL is the Nationalities and Borders Bill which received its second Lords reading on 5 January and progresses to the Committee stage starting on 27 January. Anyone who would like to learn more might be interested in reading this HoL Library briefing on the Bill.