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 Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department 4:48 pm, 7th September 2020

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks and her thanks to the police, which are very welcome, and also for clearing up a little confusion about the Opposition line on the XR protests. Her unequivocal support for the rule of law is very welcome.

On her questions, obviously there will be lessons to learn from the Birmingham attack. Like all these unusual events—and it is an unusual event, thankfully—there will be lots of analyses done post event and post the case that may be brought, if there are charges to be brought. We will then use our general networks and work in the Home Office to try to promote them in similar police forces. It is gratifying, as she pointed out, both with regard to that incident and with the protests in mind, that police forces have honed their ability to co-operate and provide mutual aid to each other very swiftly. Much of that has come out of the covid preparedness work to make sure we are able to deploy large numbers of police officers across the country if and when we need to. Certainly the response of neighbouring forces around Birmingham and Hertfordshire over the weekend was gratifying and very welcome.

In terms of the hon. Lady’s specific questions, the intelligence picture is not entirely clear. The fact that the disruption was successful would indicate there was not a police presence there to prevent the intervention. No doubt there will be questions asked about how intelligence around these protests can be improved. As part of that work, we will be looking at the tactics deployed by the protesters, not least the gluing on and locking on. That is a new phenomenon of the past couple of years, which has required the police to develop specialist teams and techniques, paradoxically using quite unpleasant chemicals to get people unglued. We will ensure that the police have got exactly the tools they need, from a legal and practical point of view, to deal with these kinds of problems swiftly.

Finally, I reassure the hon. Lady that we absolutely believe that peaceful protest is a key freedom and a key part of our way of life in this country, and we will do everything we can to protect it, but that also means protecting those who have different views from a protest group and ensuring that they can express their views, whether that is through the pages of The Daily Telegraph or, indeed, on the streets. Making sure that we have a sense of order around protest and debate in this country is critical to our freedom in the future.