Birmingham Attacks and Extinction Rebellion Protests

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member) 4:48 pm, 7th September 2020

I thank the Minister for prior sight of his statement. I join him in deprecating the violence on the streets of Birmingham. Like him, my sympathy goes to the families and to the victims. We are grateful for the action by the police and agencies to address the situation and to reassure communities. Obviously due process will now apply. We also share concerns regarding violence perpetrated elsewhere, which shows why violence requires to be treated not just as a criminal justice issue, but as a public health matter.

Where I disagree with the Minister and differ from him in particular is that I very much regret his conflating that dreadful incident with the actions of Extinction Rebellion. The latter group perpetrated no violence—random or otherwise—nor is it a criminal gang, terrorist group or a deranged individual. Any attempt to portray those people as that is wrong and a dangerous precedent in a democracy. The actions carried out by Extinction Rebellion, both in Scotland and in England, were a peaceful protest. That should not be forgotten, and that remains legitimate. It is a group of young people, although not always entirely young, who care about the environment. That is a legitimate position to take. This action was not an attempt to close down free speech, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. All they were seeking to do was to disrupt the outgoing of print for a period of time. There was no cessation of the print being published. Indeed, it appeared online and at most delivery was delayed to some shops.

To equate that almost with actions such as those in Belarus and Hong Kong is fundamentally wrong. We must be very wary of overreacting. The protest replicated actions taken down through the centuries, from the Chartists, through the Suffragettes, to trade unionists and civil rights protesters, including over the poll tax. We might not all agree with Extinction Rebellion’s tactics, but we do have to accept it has a legitimate view and must be allowed to carry out its peaceful protests. Otherwise it is this institution that is threatened, as opposed to the right of free speech mentioned by the Minister.

On the acts of violence, will the Minister ensure that violence is treated as a public health and not simply a criminal justice issue, and that we must address its manifestations, on which progress has been made in Scotland? On the Extinction Rebellion protests, can we ensure that the right to protest that has been enshrined and protected in this institution and this Chamber throughout the centuries will remain? Opposing the views of particular titles is not interfering with free speech. Can I ask that the aim of this Government always be to protect peaceful protest?