The Government really do not need the sort of repressive powers in the Bill that are worthy of Russia, China or Iran. We should vote against this legislation—again—to protect the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and the right to protest, which is what we expect in a free society. Of course protest is inherently disruptive; that is its nature. But do the Lords know what is more disruptive? The fossil fuel companies and extractive industries that are destroying our planet, and the billionaires who are amassing huge claims over the world’s resources while everyone else worries about how to pay our energy bills this winter. BP has made £7 billion profit in three months, yet we will pay the extra cost of coastal defences and higher food prices for the next three decades or more. Shell makes £9.5 billion profit in a quarter. They have billions in the bank; we will have a country that swings from drought and wildfires to floods of sewage. Every dollar or pound that the oil and gas companies make equals the world becoming a worse place for generations. That is what real disruption means, and we have a Government encouraging it with tax breaks and licences for big business.
Jenny’s speech to the House at Second Reading:
I felt that this debate was moving quite fast, and I realised that this was because many of us have been here before: this is actually a zombie Bill that the Government have dragged out of its grave because they do not like opposition at all. That is the real problem we are facing with the Bill. As we have heard, the powers are there already, and the Government really do not need the sort of repressive powers in the Bill that are worthy of Russia, China or Iran. Noble Lords probably know exactly what I am going to say now.
There is no doubt in my mind that we should vote against this legislation—again—to protect the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and the right to protest, which is what we expect in a free society. Of course protest is inherently disruptive; that is its nature. But do noble Lords know what is more disruptive? The fossil fuel companies and extractive industries that are destroying our planet, and the billionaires who are amassing huge claims over the world’s resources while everyone else worries about how to pay our energy bills this winter. Then there is the plastic and sewage choking up our rivers, coastlines and oceans. BP has made £7 billion profit in three months, yet we will pay the extra cost of coastal defences and higher food prices for the next three decades. Shell makes £9.5 billion profit in a quarter; our arable land will produce half as much value by 2100. They have billions in the bank; we have a country that swings from drought and wildfires to floods of sewage. Every dollar or pound that the oil and gas companies make equals the world becoming a worse place for generations. That is what real disruption means, and we have a Government encouraging it with tax breaks and licences for big business.
We must think ahead to the chaos that will happen when climate change disrupts the global economic system: these current disruptions will be nothing compared to that. The likes of Extinction Rebellion are polite dissenters compared to what is coming in the next few decades. The clampdown on the climate protesters of today is the foolish reaction of a Government in the pockets of the oil and gas industry. Sensible politicians would listen to Just Stop Oil, because its demand is incredibly reasonable and one that noble Lords have heard from the Greens on these Benches before: no new fossil fuel extraction. Quite honestly, it is a warning of what is to come if the Government refuse to change course.
We cannot stand idly by while this destruction and injustice takes place. No one wants to be a protester; we all have better things to do with our time—that is true for all of us. I have been to a lot of protests—I have sometimes even been to protests where I have watched the police from their side—so I have a very clear view of what protests can be. The police actually do their best, but the Government do not help them by giving us laws that are incomprehensible at times. The protesters and I are desperate: while there are more fun things that we could do, we are desperate because of an economic and political system that has proven again and again that it is detrimental to the vast population of the world and to life on earth.
Protest and non-violent direct action are essential parts of a free country, and the disruption caused is part of the pressure; it is what raises something beyond merely complaining on Twitter to having direct real-world consequences that force our leaders to pay attention. Protesters are supported by millions of people. There were several things in the Minister’s opening speech with which I disagreed very strongly, and I actually had to leave the Chamber after the opening speeches so that I did not start shouting across the Chamber. I listened in my office, because I could shout at the screen and not disrupt proceedings here. The Government are creating an attack on nature that people have seen is plain wrong, and they are angry. So please do not say that everybody is against these protests; that is absolutely not the truth.
I have been on protests where it is local people who are protesting and getting out there. One man I stood next to said, “I retired last month and I thought that I would be bird watching, but here I am, standing at the roadside and holding a banner to stop fracking at Preston New Road”. Local people do not like fracking—and they do not like HS2. Yes, there have been a few thousand people on protests, but actually there are millions of people who do not want it. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about a “long and hard democratic process”, or something, but actually the Government did not listen to any of the advice that
said that this was not the section to build first and that we should have built the other, northern section first. It is the Government’s fault that we are losing masses of very beautiful and precious places because of HS2. We cannot replace them; it is something much more precious than a railway line that cuts 20 minutes off the average business person’s journey.
When people locked on to trees that were due to be cut down by Sheffield Council, when they blocked roads and sat on drills to stop fracking or when they ran in front of a horserace to get women the right to vote, these were all acts of heroism. They brought about real political change in the face of obvious injustice. As the Prime Minister said only this week in response to a question from our colleague Caroline Lucas, the anti-frackers were right—and thank goodness that the Government saw sense on that. I shall give them a small round of applause for that. But while this Government dither and delay on insulating Britain and support a whole new generation of fossil fuel extraction, and while they fail to prosecute the climate criminals and ecocidal maniacs destroying our planet, they instead imprison those of us who sound the alarm and respond to mass injustice with minor inconvenience —and even those who carry a bike lock without so-called “reasonable excuse”.
A few other things were said this evening. No artwork was damaged. I cannot remember which noble Lords mentioned that—but no artworks were damaged. They had glass on them, and they were cleaned up; they were not damaged, so please do not repeat that falsehood again. And how dare this Government talk about a shortage of police time or police being used on things they should not be used on? This Government have actually cut tens of thousands of police officers. They have, so please do not argue with that; it is a clear fact. They have also cut thousands of back-office jobs, which of course hindered the police, because then they had to go into the back office and do all the paperwork. So please do not let us hear any more about, “Oh dear, police time”. If this Government had done their job, we would now have a police force that could do its job properly.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, is not in his place, but he said something like, “These disruptions are irritating”. I am irritated on a daily basis by some of the things said in this Chamber; that is why I went up to my office, so I did not have to hear them. I am irritated, but does that mean that I can call the police and say, “Please don’t do that”? The noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, who is not in his place—and was not on the list for this debate—managed to interrupt the Minister’s opening speech. He irritated me—and what options do I have for that irritation?
We have to vote against the Bill again and again, for as long as it takes to show this Government that it is the wrong thing to do.
Read the whole debate here