POLITICS

The Government Tried To Make Being 'Annoying' Illegal, It Failed

09/01/2014 09:16 | Updated 25 January 2014
Oli Scarff/PA Wire

Are you really annoying? If so, good news, you can carry on irritating people without fear of arrest. The coalition wants to replace Labour's anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) with new injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (Ipnas).

Under the new regime courts would have been allowed to impose sanctions on people found guilty of causing "nuisance or annoyance".

But the change was removed from the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill by the House of Lords after peers voted 306 to 178 against the government - a 128-vote defeat for the coalition.

The defeat was inflicted after peers backed an amendment tabled by crossbencher Lord Dear. The former Chief Constable of West Midlands Police said anti-social behaviour was "a blight on society" perpetrated by people who are "thoughtless, selfish or deliberately provocative". However he told the Lords on Wednesday that plans to crack down on people causing "nuisance or annoyance" went too far.

He said there was a risk of the new power being used "against 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 and nudists".

Lord Dear added: "I shall continue to be privately annoyed by 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 should risk an injunctive procedure on the grounds of nuisance or annoyance."

The peer received widespread cross-party support for his criticism. Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu said whoever in the Home Office had come up with the way to sneak the new rule into the Bill deserved an Oscar or a golden globe for ingenuity.

Outlawing people from being annoying, she said, "threatens fundamental freedoms" and that "to try to prohibit behaviour that is capable of annoying someone is a step far too far".

Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, told peers a political anecdote to illustrate why he felt the new law proposed by ministers was over the top and that the current rules governing "harassment", "distress" or "alarm" were enough.

He said: "I now want to take your Lordships to the very top of government in 2007. The right honourable Tony Blair has announced that he is about to leave and the right honourable Gordon Brown thinks he is about to be the Prime Minister but he is still the Chancellor.

"The Chancellor was about to move out of No. 11 with his red briefcase to announce a Budget to a particularly unstartled world when we discovered that a man was standing amid the cameras dressed in a full union jack outfit with a notice saying 'John Reid for Prime Minister'.

"It was reported to me, as commissioner, that the Chancellor was likely to be annoyed; it was pointed out to me in very firm terms that the putative Lord Reid was going to be extremely annoyed; and, as the commissioner, I was annoyed because the Home Secretary was annoyed, but nobody used the terms 'harassment', 'distress' or 'alarm'."

The defeat will have been extremely annoying for the government.

Suggest a correction
Comments

CONVERSATIONS