Hundreds join Block the Bill protest outside Leeds Civic Hall in Millennium Square

A Block The Bill protest was held in Millennium Square today in response to plans to allow police more powers to restrict public demonstrations.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 6:52 am

Hundreds gathered outside Leeds Civic Hall on Sunday, March 21 where they spoke out against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a new piece of Government legislation that would give the police more power to control protests.

It cleared its secondary reading and officers could be able to impose start and finish times, set noise limits and apply the new rules to demonstrations of one person.

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Protesters at the Block the Bill demonstration in Millennium Square. Sam Brooke-Wilkinson

Protests against the Bill have taken place across the country.

Extinction Rebellion Leeds, said the act would "strip us of human rights and lead us to a totalitarian police state".

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Liz, a spokeswoman for XR Families Leeds said: "The protest was in response to the police crime and sentencing Bill.

"The next stage has been postponed for a couple of months but we wanted to do something in reaction to the fact that the majority of MPs and our Government passed it.

Protesters at the Block the Bill demonstration in Millennium Square. Sam Brooke-Wilkinson

"It gives police more rights to curtail protesting and also has serious implications for people that are already marginalised in society such as black people and people from minority ethnic backgrounds who are already disproportionately affected by police.

"We wanted to make a stand and speak for ourselves."

She added: "If we were not allowed to protest, we wouldn't have half the rights that we have today - women would not have the right to vote, and we wouldn't have racial equality, even to the extent that we have it now.

"The reason that the government declared a climate emergency in 2019 was because of pressure from Extinction Rebellion and climate activists.

"Everybody has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly" written on the floor outside Leeds Civic Hall.

"The Government should be working for us, that is their job, but in reality, the MPs are not working to protect people or the environment.

"One of the only ways we can have our voice heard at all is to join together in collective action.

"These Draconian laws are going to affect everyone so we need to stand together and do something about it because if we don't do anything, no one else is going to do it for us.

"We wanted to say that this was not something we're going to take it.

"We are going to keep watching what is happening and make sure this Bill does not get passed."

Speeches and poems were read out at the protest, and many members of the crowd joined in to chant "Kill the Bill".

Standing in front of placards on the steps of Civic Hall, one speaker said: "Throughout history many significant improvements have been gained through protest.

"We have stood collective in our fight of injustice many times before.

"It is our time to make history and fight for improvements for our children and grandchildren.

"They are already fighting climate change and we need to give them the tools to do that and the democratic right to protest is one of them.

"This Bill is impacting on our freedoms and we shall not let it pass.

"Make no mistake, this Bill comes from a place of fear. They are frightened of our collective action - and they should be.

"We are so powerful when we come together and they know it."

Another speaker added: "It is a Draconian attack on our basic democratic freedoms and our right to protest."

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cleared its secondary parliamentary hurdle on March 16, after receiving a second reading by 359 votes to 263, majority 96, despite opposition to several measures contained within it.

Changes included in the Bill are plans to give police in England and Wales more powers to impose conditions on non-violent protests judged to be too noisy and thereby causing “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm or distress” to the public.

Time and noise limits could be imposed as a result of the measures in the Bill and those convicted could face a fine or jail.

The wide-ranging Bill includes plans to bring in tougher sentences for child killers and those who cause death on the roads, longer jail terms for serious violent and sexual offenders, and expand child sex abuse laws to ban religious leaders and sports coaches from having sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.

The Bill could also see the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial increased from three months to 10 years.

Labour tabled an amendment intended to block the Bill from being considered further, although this was defeated by 359 votes to 225, majority 134.

The motion from Labour was based on support for some sections – such as tougher sentences for serious crimes including child murder – alongside warnings it “rushes” changes to protest law and “fails” to take action to protect women.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage.

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