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Climate Protests in Cambridge: Police Response

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 3:39 pm, 3rd March 2020

I understand the passion, the urgency and the importance that people feel about climate change, but that does not justify breaking the law.

This is also clearly counterproductive. I have had lots of correspondence from my constituents, as perhaps the hon. Gentleman has had from his, saying that people cannot be won over to a cause by alienating them. If we want to make a political argument, I would say that Extinction Rebellion portrays itself as a fringe group with a fringe cause and actually undermines support for action on climate change. It must obey the law, which is the way to win people over.

I am close to finishing my legal arguments. The Human Rights Act also says that restrictions can be legally imposed on assemblies to prevent crime, as with the Trinity College lawn, or to protect the rights of others, as with the blockades.

In summary, there is nothing in law—in the Human Rights Act or in the Public Order Act—to stop the police upholding other laws.

The public are rightly angry that we have got ourselves into a position where the police believe that they cannot uphold criminal law. Why has this come about and what can be done about it? I believe the police fundamentally want to uphold the law, but are beset by uncertainty, with one problem being that they get weak legal advice—that is the point my hon. Friend Tom Hunt was making. Can something be done to improve the legal advice that police forces get, and the advice from the College of Policing? The police are up against strong activist groups, which are often chasing them through the courts, always pushing to constrain the powers of the police, but no one is chasing the police through the courts to force them to uphold the law. Can the Government do something so that there is less one- sided pressure on the police?

I would like to ask the Minister whether the Home Office can undertake a public review to see what can be done to stop a repeat of the unfortunate events in Cambridge in other locations in the coming months and years. That might mean a change in the law, but, as I have said, I do not believe that is necessary. It would be good to have practical, deliverable proposals to help the police do their job. Never again should police feel they have to stand by and watch powerlessly as criminal acts take place. In future, the police must be able to do what they are employed to do: uphold the law.