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House of Lords back curbs on suspicionless protest stop and search

Peers have demanded tighter restrictions on officers using stop and search without suspicion to tackle disruptive protests.

The House of Lords has backed a Labour demand to impose curbs on the power to use stop and search without suspicion to tackle disruptive protests.

By 242 votes to 196, majority 46, the defeat will mean a continuation of the legislative tussle between the Lords and Commons.

The upper chamber had previously stripped out entire controversial provision from the Public Order Bill but it was subsequently reinstated by MPs.

The draft legislation is aimed at curbing the guerrilla tactics used by groups such as Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion, which have included blocking roads, to the growing frustration of motorists.

It would come in under amendments to the Public Order Bill - which also propose the introduction of new criminal offences of locking-on and going equipped to lock-on among other changes. 

Critics argue the actions of demonstrators can be dealt with under existing laws.

There had been particular concern raised over allowing police officers to search people without cause in a designated area to look for items that could be used in offences such as “locking on”.

This included warnings over the impact such a move may have on black and ethnic minority groups.

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “Having opposed and still oppose suspicionless stop and search all the way through the Bill, the pragmatic reality becomes what do we then try to do about it.”

Criticising the measure, he said: “It is completely and utterly disproportionate, completely and utterly over the top.”

He argued giving the officers “one of the most draconian police powers” should mean the imposition of stricter requirements over its use, including taking steps to inform the public when it is in force.

Former Metropolitan Police commissioner and independent crossbencher Lord Hogan-Howe said: “Stop-search without cause can be useful when there are dangerous conditions.”

However, he warned: “It’s a contentious power and we should be really careful before we give that power.”

Responding, Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “It’s long been the Government’s view that suspicionless stop-and-search powers are necessary and much-needed proactive powers for tackling highly disruptive protest offences. This view remains unchanged.

“Nobody should be stopped and searched because of their race and extensive safeguards such as statutory codes of practice and body-worn video ensure this does not happen.”

Earlier, a separate Labour bid to secure a higher threshold before protests are declared illegal and police can intervene was rejected by 233 to 222, majority 11.

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