The House of Lords have voted overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill to protect free speech.
Crossbench and Labour Peers, together with Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels, had a resounding victory and the amendment was passed by 306 votes to 178.
Under clause 1 of the Bill government ministers were seeking to replace Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) with injunctions that are easier to obtain and require a much lower threshold of behaviour than ASBOs.
The vote took place earlier tonight after a debate during which one Lib Dem opponent said the annoyance orders will place a huge burden on police and local authorities.
Another Crossbench Peer argued nuisance and annoyance are weasel words liable to be interpreted by different people in different ways.
The Reform Clause 1 campaign – backed by The Christian Institute and The National Secular Society – called the proposed orders, known as Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), a “threat to free speech”.
Former Chief Constable, Lord Dear, tabled an amendment to replace the “nuisance or annoyance” threshold with the test of causing “harassment, alarm or distress”.
Senior lawyers across political parties agreed that IPNAs were a real risk to free speech allowing courts to issue injunctions against those – including street preachers and buskers – who breach political correctness.
The test of causing “harassment, alarm or distress” would protect free speech while still allowing the courts to tackle anti-social behaviour.
The Government is yet to respond to today’s vote but it can either concede defeat and accept Lord Dear’s amendment or overturn it using its majority in the House of Commons.
Peers will further scrutinize the Bill as report stage continues on 14 January.