The Government are seeking in this Bill to make protest a crime instead of a right. If not completely overcome by corruption, this Government do at least have filaments of corruption winding their way through the whole body politic.
My speeches to the House on Day 2 of Committee Stage (3rd day now scheduled for 13th December)
Lord Paddick was absolutely right to raise both the inherent potential racism in these measures and the prison population. We are already one of the most imprisoned nations in the world, even with Iran having corralled 15,000 or 16,000 protesters against its repressive regime.
I also oppose Clauses 10 and 11. I am very worried about Clauses 10 to 14, because they give the police extensive new powers to stop and search anyone in the vicinity of a protest and confiscate items from them. Under Clause 11, a police inspector can designate a whole area in which the police can stop and search anyone without suspicion. That means people taking part in a protest, people walking past, journalists—anyone in the area. That is ludicrous and repressive. It beggars belief that the Government think this is okay to include. It also includes stopping vehicles and searching them, again without suspicion.
My Amendment 101 exposes some of the risks. With this offence of locking on, any cyclist who has a bike lock in the vicinity of a protest could have it confiscated. This could even include a random person cycling past. Anyone cycling past is likely to have a bike lock on them, because if they are not cycling then the bike lock is likely to be on their bike. This exposes endless cyclists to being stopped, searched and having their bike locks confiscated. There are similar risks for anyone who has glue, Sellotape or presumably anything that police do not like the look of—jam sandwiches or anything.
Like the other protest clauses in this Bill, this one is far too broadly drafted. The Government are so obsessed with fighting climate activists that they will expose anyone to being stopped and searched and having things confiscated. The Government are seeking in this Bill to make protest a crime instead of a right. That simply is not just.
Clause 17 is very dubious. It is bad enough when private companies use civil injunctions, which have become quasi-criminal private tools against protesters. I was up at Preston New Road and I saw this in action by fracking companies. The fact is, of course, that the protesters who had injunctions brought against them were proved to have been entirely on the right side of history, yet they were targeted by the fracking companies, very unfairly, because their trying to halt the companies’ damage to the environment was perfectly appropriate. We have seen injunctions used against tree protectors as well. Of course, breach of an injunction is contempt of court, with the risk of fines and imprisonment. It is actually quite onerous, and it is bad enough when a private company chooses to do it, but it is pretty concerning when a Secretary of State decides to do it.
I think we have all agreed that, if not completely overcome by corruption, this Government do at least have filaments of corruption winding their way through the whole body politic. Therefore, we have to be very careful that we do not introduce other ways for corruption to happen within government. Clearly, the Government should review the situation and propose reforms, because this really is not how injunctions are supposed to be.
Read the whole debate here