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By Matt Chorley, Mail online Political Editor PUBLISHED: 09:39, 9 January 2014
The Government has suffered a massive defeat over plans to outlaw ‘annoying’ behaviour which could have outlawed noisy children, carol singers and nudists.Dozens of Tory and Lib Dems peers in the House of Lords struck out the plan to impose new injunctions on people accused of creating ‘nuisance and annoyance’.Critics said the legislation would have had a ‘chilling effect on lawful conduct’ and insisted the British public must show ‘tolerance and forbearance’.The row centres on the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which includes power for the courts to grant an injunction against someone who ‘has engaged in, or is threatening to engage in, anti-social behaviour’.
The Government wants to replace anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) with injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (Ipnas).Under the new rule, an injunction could be granted if a person has ‘engaged in conduct which is capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person’.But opponents warn people behaving perfectly legally like street preachers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers and clay pigeon shooters could fall foul of the law just because some people are annoyed by their hobbies.Bell ringers warned they would fall silent if someone claimed they were being annoying.Carol singers were warned they would have to fall silent if someone claimed they were being annoying.It was warned bell ringers and carol singers would be silenced under the law if someone claimed they were being annoying.Crossbench Lord Dear, a former chief constable of West Midlands Police, was backed by several prominent Tories and Lib Dems to strike out the phrase ‘nuisance and annoyance’ in the legislation with ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ – the same wording used for Asbos introduced by the Labour government.Peers defeated the government by 306 to 178, majority 128.Lord Dear said Ipnas could be used for anyone over the age of 10, only required proof ‘on the balance of probability’, could last for an indefinite period of time and result in a prison term if breached.
He warned a power which had worked for dealing with housing issues would be inappropriate to be used in the ‘public environment’.He insisted the current wording of the legislation would result in practitioners leaving it to the courts to decide, which would cause a ‘chilling effect on lawful conduct’.He told peers: ‘It risks it being used for those who seek to protest peacefully, noisy children in the street, street preachers, canvassers, carol singers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers, clay pigeon shooters, nudists.‘This is a crowded island that we live in and we must exercise a degree surely of tolerance and forbearance.‘Because I shall continue to be privately annoyed at those who jump the bus queue, those who stand smoking in large groups outside their office, drinkers who block the footpath outside a pub on a summer’s evening, those who put their feet on the seats on public transport, those who protest noisily outside Parliament or my local bank, but none of that surely should risk an injunctive procedure on the grounds of nuisance and annoyance.
Lord Dear and Lord Morris
Baroness 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.’Peers were told that under coalition plans the police, British Transport Police, the Environment Agency, local authorities, Transport for London, the health secretary and housing providers would be among the bodies able to apply to use Ipnas.Conservative Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former Lord Chancellor, also opposed the Government, telling peers: ‘One of the fundamental freedoms is the freedom of speech and it is surely clear that in exercising that one may annoy other people, one or more.’Former Attorney General Lord Morris of Aberavon criticised the Home Office for bringing forward ‘ill thought out’ proposals with ‘little regard for the consequences’.
Home Office minister Lord Taylor earlier tried to placate opponents by offering to put forward an amendment which he said would address the ‘concerns of the breadth of the nuisance or annoyance test’.The Government amendment would have changed the wording of the legislation so that it covered behaviour ‘that could reasonably be expected to cause nuisance or annoyance’ instead of behaviour ‘capable of causing nuisance or annoyance’.He denied the Bill would create a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.But the government was still defeated on Lord Dear’s amendment, which was backed by 25 Tory rebels and 16 Liberal Democrat rebels.
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