Birmingham Attacks and Extinction Rebellion Protests

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 7th September 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:48 pm, 7th September 2020

I thank the Minister for his statement and for advance sight of it. I will first turn to the awful events that took place in the early hours of yesterday in Birmingham. This terrible attack in our second largest city was an absolute tragedy. A young 23-year-old man lost his life, two people—a 19-year-old man and a 32-year-old women—suffered critical injuries and a further five people were injured. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the man who was killed and all those injured in this senseless attack as well as those affected by other violent incidents in Lewisham and Suffolk, to which the Minister referred.

Like the Minister, I pay tribute to the first responders and emergency services who were on the scene rapidly to attend to the injured. They acted with dedication and bravery, and we are all grateful to them.

I would also like to pay tribute to the people of Birmingham. The police and crime commissioner for the west midlands, David Jamieson, told me this morning how calmly people were getting on with their business, despite this tragedy. That is a testament to the spirit of the people of Birmingham and the hard work of the local police to keep them safe. I also want to thank officers from surrounding forces in Lincolnshire and Staffordshire, who came to the city to help police locally and provide reassurance.

As the Minister said, this incident is the subject of an ongoing investigation, so we must not jump to any conclusions or prejudice any potential investigation or conviction. However, whenever such an incident occurs, there are of course serious questions that must be asked. What was known about the suspect, and when, prior to arrest? What systems were in place to respond to such incidents, and what systems would prevent such an incident from occurring again? As the picture becomes clearer, it is vital that these questions are answered and that any lessons are learned going forward.

More generally, all Members of the House will be deeply concerned about the wider rise in violent crime that we are seeing. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am all too aware of the seriousness of this issue. I know that West Midlands police, along with David Jamieson, the PCC, is taking this very seriously, and the violence reduction unit is doing some great preventive work in the west midlands. Does the Minister accept that over the past decade we have seen knife crime rise in every police force area in England and Wales, and that easing lockdown restrictions poses particular challenges? Does he further accept that rising violent crime must be urgently addressed?

Turning to the matter of Extinction Rebellion, I trust that the Minister will agree with me, rather than some members of his own party, in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation. However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change. Those who break the law should be held to account. As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.

On the policing response to the incidents, can the Minister confirm whether the authorities had any intelligence that these incidents might occur?

Today in the media, new laws have been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Can the Minister confirm what aspects of our current public order laws he believes are inadequate? Will he also confirm which aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 dealing with gatherings he believes leave gaps? Does he agree that we should not forget the many people who are concerned about climate change who wish to peacefully and lawfully protest, and that that right should be protected?

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that this generation faces, and I am sure that many colleagues across the House have had the same experience as me. Whenever I go into a school, it is the children who want to talk about climate change and who cannot understand why we have not done more to tackle this existential crisis. The Government must do all they can to drive climate change up the agenda, and on this we will hold them to account.