The Senedd has voted to withhold legislative consent on elements of the UK Policing Bill branded “draconian” and “racist” by members.

The vote, which took place on Tuesday evening, was held to decide whether the Welsh Parliament should give consent for Westminster’s Policing Bill to make law changes that would impact on devolved areas.

The Senedd voted to withhold consent on a number of the Bill’s clauses, including most of its restrictions to public protest, the criminalisation of trespass, and a new offence that could punish vandalism of statues with a ten year prison sentence.

Some clauses, however, were given consent - including measures on public nuisance and the extraction of data from mobile devices by police.

The National Wales: Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a complex and controversial piece of legislation,” Jane Hutt, Social Justice Minister, told members before the vote.

“There are some provisions that fall within the competence of the Senedd, which make changes that will benefit Wales. 

“However, there are also provisions in the Bill… that we should not accept, some of which are egregious breaches of people's rights.”

In her Legislative Consent Memorandum (LCM), the minister recommended members vote in favour of Clause 61, which introduces the offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”. The offence will carry a possible sentence of one year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. 

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The Welsh Government stipulates that the offence should only be considered where “serious harm” is caused, which can include “serious annoyance” to a member of the public, and says that it supports the measure “in relation to protecting residents from increased noise pollution”.

The recommendation appeared to cause some discontent.

“I will vote for the motion, before the whips get onto the phone with me,”  Labour MS Alun Davies commented.

“But let me say this - I find myself with a very, very heavy heart in this matter.

“We should be united, as politicians - united, across political parties - in saying that people’s right to make our lives uncomfortable is more important than our right to keep people quiet.”

The National Wales: Jenny Rathbone MS called Part 4 of the Policing Bill "an abomination". (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Jenny Rathbone MS called Part 4 of the Policing Bill "an abomination". (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

Jenny Rathbone, Labour MS for Cardiff Central, disagreed, calling the measures “unremarkable proposals which safeguard communities.”

The government also recommended consenting to new powers for police to extract data - including deleted data - from electronic devices, providing that a device has been provided to authorities voluntarily.

This measure has been criticised by civil liberties groups including Big Brother Watch and Privacy International, who said that the Bill did not include strict, precise limits on the kind of information that can be extracted and why, and would rely on consent from potentially distressed victims and witnesses.

READ MORE: Westminster 'increasingly authoritarian' says Welsh Government

Similarly, another policy recommended for consent by the Welsh Government, the Serious Violence Duty, was condemned late last year by more than 600 experts - including doctors, teachers and social workers - who expressed concerns that the policy would obligate them to inform on vulnerable children to the police, and therefore prevent them from accessing support services.

Under Clause 16 of the Bill, a wide range of public bodies would be required to share information with the police if requested to. Civil liberty campaign group Liberty said the measure would breach data confidentiality “in a racially disproportionate way”.

The government also recommended consenting to measures that would increase punishments for poaching and double the maximum prison term for assaulting emergency workers.

Plaid Cymru members voted against allowing consent for any part of the Policing Bill.

The National Wales: Sioned Williams MS, Plaid spokesperson for Social Justice (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Sioned Williams MS, Plaid spokesperson for Social Justice (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

The party’s Social Justice minister, Sioned Williams, told members: “The dangerous extremism of the present Tory Westminster government is evident when it prompts the House of Lords to act with the determination it showed last night - sitting into the early hours, defeating clause after clause.

“We must send an equally powerful message from this place, that we will have no part in the passage of a Bill containing draconian measures which are in many cases racist, authoritarian, and disproportionate - undermining as they do the very cohesion of our society, and the values we hold dear, upon which our democracy rests.”

Consent was nevertheless agreed for all those measures recommended by the Welsh Government.

Part Four of the Policing Bill, which would make residing on land without permission a criminal offence, was voted against by members - meaning that consent was withheld. 

This afternoon, The National reported on the potential impact of this policy on Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) communities. Charities and campaign groups had today lobbied Senedd Members over fear that the measure would put GRT people at risk of poverty and homelessness, and place increased pressure on social services.

Jenny Rathbone called this element of the legislation “an abomination”, adding that she held “little hope” that the Westminster government would take notice of opposition by either the Senedd or the House of Lords.

“It is extremely likely that they will railroad these proposals through the House of Commons as part of their ‘Save Big Dog’ campaign’.”

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative MS for north Wales, acknowledged concerns that the plans would discriminate against GRT people, but said that the onus was on the Welsh Government to ensure suitable encampment sites were provided.

Pointing to Monday’s late night defeat at the House of Lords for the UK government, Mr Isherwood emphasised that Westminster’s policies were subject to “robust” scrutiny.

“We must therefore trust our colleagues in the UK Parliament to do their job, just as we expect to be trusted to do ours,” he added.

The Welsh Conservatives voted in favour of all the clauses laid before the Senedd.

Other measures for which consent was withheld included the ability to try those accused of damaging a memorial in Crown Court - with the possibility of ten years’ imprisonment - and many of the Policing Bill’s restrictions to public protest, including the ability for police to impose limits to one-person demonstrations.

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