Disclaimer: I have only recently learnt about this and have minimal baseline political knowledge. It’s taken me a while to understand it and I still don’t know everything about the bill and the parliamentary processes. I just know we all need to be talking about it.
What is the bill?
The PCSC bill is a 300 page document that was published in March. Within it, it includes clauses which are infringing on our rights to protest. Being a "serious annoyance" would become an offence, as stated in Clause 61; the ramifications of this clause are that any protest which is noisy or disruptive could be classified as illegal and organisers could face up to 10 years in prison (the maximum sentence being set out in Clause 61 as well).
The bill would allow Home Secretary Priti Patel to decide which protests are acceptable or not. How many do you expect her to consider 'acceptable'? Very few I imagine. The bill also includes measures which will discriminate against Roma, Gypsy and Traveller people, such as Clause 63 relating to "residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle". The Government have indirectly admitted this bill does impact more groups that others by justifying their actions: “Any indirect difference on treatment on the grounds of race is anticipated to be potentially positive and objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving our legitimate aim of reducing serious violence and preventing crime.” This is not the only piece of legislation we should be concerned about which challenges human rights - Patel has proposed a 'Nationality and Borders Bill' which has been labelled the 'Anti-Refugee Bill' and breaks the 1951 Refugee Convention. Such an act of legislation, if enacted, would be immoral and unlawful.
Protest is our democratic right, without it – we are not a democracy. It is enshrined not only in the UK 1998 Human Rights Act but also by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights; this convention was created by the European Courts of Human Rights, which I should clarify is not a body related to the European Union and therefore we are still obligated to comply with it. The point of protests is to be noisy and disruptive. We must be able to challenge the government, or we become a fascist police state – and that is where we are heading very quickly.
‘Kill the Bill’ protests began around the country following the introduction of the bill, demanding it be scrapped. However, the bill has progressed through the House of Commons and is passing through the House of Lords, with the report stage on Weds 8th December. If the House of Lords reject a bill, it can then go back and forth between the two until an agreement is reached. Their role is to refine bills rather than to say no to proposals by the House of Commons who are democratically elected. They have only rejected bills on a few occasions previously.
What are the amendments?
Priti Patel has now added 18 pages of amendments to the bill after it has already passed through the House of Commons and has had the 2nd reading in the House of Lords. It seems like a tactical move to avoid further outrage and criticism. They include maximum sentences of 51 weeks in prison, a fine, or both for: locking on; blocking a highway; carrying items with intent to lock on; obstructing major transport works.
It will increase stop and search powers for police, which will have a disproportionate impact on black people. A study from 2017 by The Criminal Justice Alliance found that "Black people in particular are now six times as likely to be searched". As a result of this bill, even more black people could be searched and as a result, there could be a greater disengagement from people of colour with protesting.
Social changes come from protest and civil disobedience. Here are just a few examples of when this has happened:
AND THERE ARE SO MANY MORE.
You may feel like its not that bad because you don’t protest, that it will only impact those who do protest such as Extinction Rebellion. That it will all be fine in the end. But it won’t. As George Monbiot tweeted: ‘You know all those documentaries about a dictator’s path to power? You know there’s always the bit where you think: “Why didn’t people do something? They could have stopped him while there was still time”? That’s the bit we’re at.’
WHAT CAN YOU DO:
On Weds 8th Dec from 5-7pm, there will be a protest outside the House of Lords in London. There will be singing, poetry, music and speeches. There is bound to be local protests happening so check social media for these and ask around.
If you feel scared and uncertain what to do; join a local social justice group. They are amazing communities who always want to welcome new people into movements. We are all scared but all we can do is come together and take action to stop this happening. Take it one step at time - reach out to someone, go to a meeting, find someone to go with you to a protest. We can’t give up now.