Lords defeat UK plans to penalise 'annoying' behaviour

LONDON (AFP) - British government plans for new laws to penalise 'annoying' behaviour were defeated in the House of Lords on Wednesday by critics who warned they might be used against anybody from carol singers to nudists.

Unelected members of the upper house of parliament voted 306 to 178 to amend plans for new court-imposed injunctions to prevent nuisance or annoyance (Ipnas), the breach of which could lead to a prison term.

The measure is now likely to return to the House of Commons, the elected chamber of parliament, and will undergo further debate in both houses.

Ipnas were intended to replace existing anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos), which can be used to sanction anybody over the age of 10 engaging in behaviour causing "harassment, alarm or distress".

But amid concerns from rights groups and lawmakers from across the political divide that the new injunctions were frighteningly broad, peers voted by a large majority in favour of an amendment to tighten them up.

The amendment by independent peer Lord Geoffrey Dear, a former police chief, proposed the injunctions maintain the wording of Asbos.

During a debate on the measure contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, Dear warned the new injunction "risks being used against any of us".

"It risks it being used for 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, nudists," he said.

He added: "I shall continue to be privately annoyed at 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 surely should risk an injunctive procedure on the grounds of nuisance and annoyance." Home Office minister Norman Baker, the bill's architect, maintained that many of the fears were unfounded.

"The bill was never intended to ban noisy children or carol singers, and does not do so as currently drafted," he said.

"I am disappointed that the Lords fell for what appear to be scare stories.

"We have already provided alternative wording to provide reassurance but will reflect further given the position the Lords have taken," he added.

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