NEW LEGISLATION being debated in Parliament has been slammed as "draconian" and an assault on freedom of speech by Southampton activists.

Boris Johnson’s controversial curbs on protests would “make a dictator blush” and show his Government’s liking for “authoritarianism”, MPs have warned.

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

As part of efforts to overhaul the justice system, the Government has proposed a raft of changes in the Bill.

These include 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.

However, Extinction Rebellion in Southampton has criticised the bill which could see time and noise limits could be imposed on protests.

Manthan Pathak, a spokesperson for the environmental campaign group said: The Government’s Policing Bill is a draconian piece of legislation that seriously threatens the integrity of our democracy. It is an assault on the freedoms of speech and protest that were hard-won and should be protected at all cost. These freedoms allow us to speak up when we see injustice, as the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates so powerfully. Extinction Rebellion is no different - we see the injustice of the climate emergency, its catastrophic effect on the poorest and most vulnerable, and we campaign to prevent it.

He added: "The move to expand police powers to manage protests and the proposed increase in sentences for those involved is a clear attempt to censor anyone who is critical of the government. That is incompatible with being a free and democratic country. It is also dangerous - the disturbing scenes at Clapham Common highlight the fact that the police misuse their existing powers.

"We’re urging all those who are concerned about what is happening to basic civil liberties in this country to come together to stand up for our democratic values. The bill is a deeply worrying step towards becoming an authoritarian police state, and we must resist that. "

Commenting on the bill in the Commons earlier this week, DUP MP Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) said: “The loose and lazy way this legislation is drafted would make a dictator blush. Protests will be noisy, protests will disrupt and no matter how offensive we may find the issue at their heart, the right to protest should be protected.”

MPs debated the Bill as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square to protest against it, in the latest public display of anger in the wake of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common on Saturday.