Political Violence and Disruption: Walney Report

– in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 22 May 2024.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 1:45, 22 May 2024

With permission, I will make a statement on Lord Walney’s report entitled “Protecting our Democracy from Coercion”. Lord Walney was appointed in 2019 to advise the Government on political violence and extremism. Throughout the course of his review, laid before Parliament yesterday and available on gov.uk, he has consulted an extensive evidence base and engaged Government, public bodies, international partners, academia, civil society and those personally affected by violent disruption and extremism.

Lord Walney’s timely and compelling report identifies a rising tide of extremism in this country. Its central finding is that political intimidation and the incitement of hatred by extremist groups and individuals are infringing on the essential rights and freedoms of the British people and those they choose to represent them in politics. In recent months, we have too often seen intimidatory and aggressive protest activity, with frequent disruption to our democratic processes, be that protests outside MPs’ homes and council meetings or shutting down events where people from both sides of this House have been speaking.

Lord Walney eloquently describes the threat posed by the extreme right as well as the extreme left, whose activists, in his words,

“systematically seek to undermine faith in our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.”

This has a very real impact on the elected representatives who choose to dedicate themselves in service to the public. Lord Walney highlights the 2023 Local Government Association survey’s finding that 70% of local councillors felt

“at risk at least some of the time” while fulfilling their role. It also has an effect on the public servants working to make their communities a better place up and down the country.

I was particularly struck by the section on protests at schools. The purpose of schools, as I am sure we can all agree, is to educate our children and to teach students how to think, not what to think. Our teachers must be free to do this without fear or favour. While it is right that schools consult parents on sensitive issues, it is not their job to appease pressure groups, self-appointed community activists or religious institutions. That is why I was deeply concerned by the aggressive protests targeting schools detailed in Lord Walney’s report. It is unacceptable that, in Birmingham, one assistant head had to be escorted in and out of their school for their own safety. It is unacceptable that, in Batley, a teacher and his family are reportedly still in hiding after being accused of blasphemy.

There is no right not to be offended in this country. No religion or belief system is immune from criticism or exempted from our liberal democratic tradition. Blasphemy laws are incompatible with British values and principles. The effect that these incidents have had is utterly unacceptable. Every politician and public servant, at all levels and across all parties, must be able to perform their duties without fear. This transcends party dividing lines. We must all stand up for our shared democratic values and freedoms.

This Government will take every possible step to safeguard the people and institutions upon which our democracy depends. We recently committed an additional £31 million to bolstering the protection of elected representatives and our democratic processes, an investment that will be used to enhance police capabilities, increase private security support for those facing a higher risk, and expand cyber-security advice. This investment is underpinned by the defending democracy policing protocol, agreed with police chiefs, to ensure a robust policing response to disruptive activity, including the provision of dedicated, named police contacts for all elected representatives and candidates to liaise with on security matters.

As Lord Walney sets out, it is vital that we take action to manage and limit the impact of protests that descend into violence and disruption. These have not just resulted in vile displays of antisemitism on our streets and aggressive, disruptive tactics deployed by some protestors; they have also drained police resources, as officers are redeployed away from their frontline duties to protect the British public from criminals who target them with fraud, theft and violence.

We must not forget that it is the British people who pay for this. We must not permit the selfishness of an extremist minority to deprive them of the services they are owed and should rightly expect. That is why, over the coming weeks, the Government will look carefully at Lord Walney’s recommendations on public order, and will look at changing the thresholds for imposing conditions on protests and the way in which they are applied. This includes amending the threshold to prevent protests from going ahead on account of the cumulative impact of serious disruption, or where there is the threat of intimidating and abusive conduct based on the persistence of previous arrests.

In addition, we will consider Lord Walney’s recommendation for putting greater responsibilities on protest organisers to limit disruption, and to allow the police to account for demands on their resources in setting conditions, to ensure wider public safety in their jurisdictions beyond protests. The Home Secretary, the Policing Minister and I will be considering the merits of these suggestions over the coming weeks.

The Government are already introducing measures through the Criminal Justice Bill to crack down on dangerous disorder, many of which were inspired by working closely with Lord Walney over recent months. The Government have also introduced serious disruption prevention orders to allow courts to place requirements or prohibitions on an individual aged 18 or over that they consider necessary and proportionate to prevent that individual from causing serious disruption.

We must go further in tackling the root causes. In this vein, the Government have updated the definition of extremism to be used by Government Departments and officials, alongside a set of engagement principles. This is to ensure that they do not, inadvertently or otherwise, provide a platform, funding or legitimacy to groups or individuals who attempt to advance extremist ideologies that would deny our fundamental rights and freedoms.

I thank Lord Walney for his tireless effort in bringing the report together, and we will continue to work closely with him to ensure that his findings inform ongoing policy development. We will, of course, update Parliament on our progress at the appropriate time.

There is no doubt that extremism poses a threat to our democracy. Left unchecked, it would eat away at the very foundations of our society and the liberties of our people. This Government will not allow that to happen. We will hold ever faster to the values of freedom and tolerance that make our country great. We will use every available tool to combat those who seek to divide us and the poisonous ideologies they espouse. And, in the end, we will defeat extremism in all its ugly forms.

I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 1:54, 22 May 2024

I thank the Minister for his statement and for providing advance sight of it. I join him in thanking Lord Walney for his work on this report.

It is important to say from the outset that the Opposition absolutely respect the fundamental freedom to make legitimate, peaceful protest but, when that freedom is abused to intimidate, harass and harm others, safeguards must be put in place to protect the public and our democratic system as a whole. We have seen in recent months that people have been intimidated and have felt threatened due to protest activity.

I therefore agree with the Minister that this is totally unacceptable, and there must be no no-go areas in our country. That is why we have been crystal clear that where there are public order offences, hate crime offences or terrorist offences on marches and demonstrations, they must face the full force of the law. The police have our full support in taking swift and robust action. Furthermore, we have been crystal clear that our police forces need the utmost clarity and support to carry out sometimes complex policing operations around protests.

The Walney report on political violence and disruption deals with some of the most fundamental and sensitive cornerstones of our democratic society. The Opposition will therefore go through and consider the report’s 41 recommendations very carefully, with an approach that our long and proud tradition of the right to peaceful protest must never be undermined by criminal or threatening activity on Britain’s streets.

In the first instance, I will touch on two points discussed in the report before asking the Minister a couple of questions.

The first point relates to whether the police should have more powers to ban protests that are intimidating or disruptive. It is important to note that the police already have powers under the Public Order Act 1986 to place conditions on protests, including amending routes and timings. They also have the power, in cases where there may be serious public disorder, to apply to the Home Secretary to prohibit a particular protest from taking place.

In addition, we have already had several new pieces of public order legislation in recent years that, in some cases, police forces are still getting to grips with. With this in mind, we believe the focus should be on making the existing framework work to make sure that the police can take robust action against those engaging in hateful or criminal behaviour on our streets. That said, we will look at this recommendation in more depth and see what the Government bring forward, because it is vital that everyone in our country feels safe on our streets.

The second point relates to protest organisers paying policing costs. The report’s recommendation raises a series of practical considerations about which organisations would be forced to pay and under what circumstances. Again, we think the focus at the moment should be on making existing legislation work but, as with the rest of the report, we will examine these recommendations in more depth and see what the Government bring forward.

Before asking the Minister a couple of questions, I welcome that the report raises serious concerns about the growing intimidation of Members of this House and local councillors. The Minister knows that, through the Defending Democracy Taskforce, we will continue to support the Government in their important work. He also knows that I stand ready to work closely with him to support his vital work in this area.

The report has been published amid activity across Government to counter extremism, bolster community cohesion and protect our democracy from malign forces, not least the work under way in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities after the definition of extremism was published in March, and the work of the Defending Democracy Taskforce. I therefore ask the Minister to explain how other relevant Ministers in other relevant Government Departments will be involved in the preparation of the Government’s response to the Walney report.

Lord Walney’s work started in 2021 and, entirely understandably, had to be revised in the aftermath of the 7 October attacks. Although there had to be proper consultation and careful thought applied to such important matters, does the Minister think it would have been helpful if the report had been published sooner? I also point out to the Minister that the counter-extremism strategy is nine years out of date, while the hate crime strategy is now four years out of date. What plans does he have to update them?

To conclude, let me be clear that we on the Labour Benches will work to ensure that these threats are countered. We will work to defend the values of freedom and tolerance that are the cornerstones of our democracy, and we will work to defeat all those who seek to harm and undermine our way of life—in that, we will be unrelenting.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and the way he has approached this matter. He has always been extremely pragmatic in areas of national security, and has certainly been a very capable partner with whom I have been able to work. I am grateful for his approach today.

I am particularly grateful that the hon. Gentleman is open to looking at certain areas of this report seriously, such as the question of where costs should lie. Football clubs have to contribute to the cost of policing matches, and Wimbledon has to contribute to the cost of policing tennis, and yet here are organisations costing tens of millions of pounds in policing costs each year, and doing so as though this was their own private fiefdom. It strikes me as a very odd way of behaving. I also welcome the hon. Gentleman’s approach to the Defending Democracy Taskforce and the support he has offered for it today.

Let me just answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions briefly. We will be discussing with DLUHC—as he knows, it is an important participant in this discussion—and other relevant departments, including the Ministry of Justice, how to take these recommendations forward and which to adopt. I am sure he understands that I will update the House in the usual way at the appropriate time. I am also grateful for his support on that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I call the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I personally find it reassuring that this matter is being debated by two gallant hon. and right hon. Members—my right hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat and Dan Jarvis—who first met, I believe, fighting extremism in a foreign country.

I wish to draw particular attention to Lord Walney’s recommendation 20 on requiring the organisers of repeated protest marches to contribute to the cost of policing. Last Sunday, the relatives of the wartime Telegraphist Air Gunners held their commemoration service in a nearby church, rather than at the Fleet Air Arm memorial on the seafront at Lee-on-the-Solent, because to do the latter would have involved a road closure and policing for which their little association would have had to pay. Even if one says there should be a wider regime where political protest is concerned, after one large protest on a particular cause, the repetition of the same protest week in, week out—possibly for intimidatory purposes—should certainly not be cost-free to the organisers.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The challenges we are seeing with different churches and communities across the land are where individuals organise protests surrounding areas that are used for different purposes, and that is exactly why this report is so important. When people assemble at sites that should otherwise be free for groups to associate in, whether that is churches or village halls, the important thing is that our democracy is able to be performed there. What my right hon. Friend spoke about may not sound like part of the democratic process, in the sense that it is not party political—it is not a ballot box or an election—but it is part of that process because it is about people getting together, with people able to associate together, feel a place in our community and know that they are part of a rich tradition, all the way from those Fleet Air Arm Telegraphists to those serving today. That is why this report is so important, and why we will be putting so much effort into it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On the SNP Benches, we stand firmly against intimidation, violence and extremism anywhere. We stand against antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate in all its pernicious forms. But this report goes nowhere near tackling the causes of hate and violence. To recommend—as it does in many different ways—clamping down further on people’s right to protest is entirely inappropriate.

Just yesterday, Liberty won a notable victory at the High Court. The Tory anti-protest laws have led to substantially increased exposure to criminal sanctions on the part of protesters exercising their civil rights, and the court found that the Home Secretary had failed to consult groups who may be affected. Last year, when we debated the statutory instrument on which that court case was founded, I criticised the wide and vague definitions within that SI, which led the Government to that challenge. We certainly do not need more illiberal legislation—that goes against our democratic principles, does it not?

It is in that context that we have Lord Walney’s doorstop of anti-democratic measures in front of us today. I note that Lord Walney has a serious conflict of interest in this matter, as a paid adviser to defence and oil and gas interests—a matter of public record. To say that there should be further restrictions on groups such as Just Stop Oil or anti-war demonstrators smacks of a conflict of interest. It certainly strikes me, as somebody who has been on many protests over the years, that the author of this report must have been on very few, based on his lack of understanding of such protests, how they are organised and the types of people who attend them.

I also ask the Minister if he will take this opportunity to clarify what the Prime Minister said the other week when he put people who support the democratic self-determination of their country in the same bracket as those who support extremist regimes around the world. Scottish nationalists are not extremists. We have been asking for our independence for a very long time and in democratic ways.

I also wish to—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a very long report. I also wish to criticise in particular recommendation 4, which says:

“Serious incel-related violence in the UK should not be routinely categorised as terrorism”, which I think is extremely worrying. I would ask the Minister to reconsider that. In the online space, I also feel there are a lot of contradictions, as the report says that platforms should not use artificial intelligence but that the police should be empowered to do so.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Lady and I have a slightly different perception on many things—that is true—but certainly on liberty. Over the past few weeks and months, I have seen members of our communities terrified to walk the streets of our country. I have seen people, particularly from the Jewish community, but from many others as well, fearful that the radicalisation and violence threatened by some of the protests is threatening them. I have also spoken to friends in the Muslim community who are terrified that their children will be radicalised into groups that advocate violence. I think it is the job of this Government—of any British Government—to defend the interests of all our citizens. I make absolutely no apology for standing up against extremism; whether it seeks to target Jews, young Muslims or anybody else, it is simply unacceptable.

The suggestions that Lord Walney has set out are just that—suggestions. They are suggestions that the Government will look at, consider and come back to, and I will update the House as soon as we have been able to do that. However, if liberty means anything, it means the ability to travel freely to the synagogue on Saturday, to the mosque on Friday, and to the church on Sunday. It means being free from intimidation. It means the ability to enjoy life in the United Kingdom free of those pressures and terrors. This Government will always stand up for those freedoms.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Having organised a number of demonstrations myself, I am nervous at the prospect of being invited to contribute financially to their policing. Nevertheless, clearly there are public order issues and issues of great public nuisance, not least to retailers, commercial businesses and ordinary people going about their business. When there are a repeated series of demonstrations, may I suggest that the Government explore the possibility of confining them to a static demonstration, be it at Speakers’ Corner or elsewhere?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, touching on some of the issues covered by Lord Walney’s report. He highlights the important aspect that, time and again, we have seen protests stretching and spreading, and being allowed to effectively close down large areas of a city or town, when in reality the point is made long before the march.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

The Minister knows that I have fought extremism since I have been in this place, and I will continue to do so. I fought against it in Birmingham, over the Trojan horse schools matter, and I continue to do so. I deplore right-wing extremism. Having had death threats made against me, I have gone to the police, to the House and to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The latest report from the West Midlands Police says that they are not prepared to take any action, so I will proceed further with the IOPC. The report raises the issue of the protection of Members. When Members do not get protection, as we saw outside schools in Birmingham, Hall Green, or when candidates were intimidated in Batley and Spen, it is not appropriate. I hope that the report will lead to some conclusions on that.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I pay a huge tribute to the hon. Gentleman. He has been a voice of sanity and courage for many years, on many of these issues. His leadership on the Trojan horse scandal was inspirational, and his voice of clarity, standing up for members of the British public who do not wish to see their children or themselves pushed into supporting extremist ideology, has been an example to many of us. I am enormously grateful for his support and I would be delighted to work with him on the appalling issues he has faced himself.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Lord Walney has come up with a marvellous report. I am not surprised: I knew him when he was a Member of Parliament and he was an excellent Member of Parliament too. His report talks about preventing protests from going ahead on account of the “cumulative impact” of serious disruption. He is right to identify that; it is intimidatory and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has already said, many Jewish people, Muslims and others are frightened of going on the streets because of it. If the report now leads to more legislation by this Government, how certain is the Minister that individual police forces, in particular the Metropolitan police, will implement those new laws?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the noble Lord Walney is still a Member of Parliament, but he has the misfortune to sit in red, not green. The truth is that many police forces are taking effective action already. It is sad that some of those who hold the office of police and crime commissioner do not always feel that it is their role to insist that that leadership is offered; in that case, we are, of course, speaking of London. We may need legislation, but not necessarily. At the moment, we need decisions.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

Where there is a threat to democracy and to people giving service in public life, surely the most effective response will always be one that commands the support of all those who are part of that democratic process. We can only do that by building consensus. The Government have tabled late amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill involving the policing of demonstrations, some of which include the removal of defences of lawfulness. We do not have a consensus around those amendments. Will the Minister go back to the Home Office, get the agreement of his Department to pause the amendments and convene talks involving all parties to see if we can build genuine consensus in this House, and beyond? That is surely the best and most effective threat to the extremists.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am rather enjoying the idea that the former Deputy Chief Whip is now telling me that we need to build consensus; that was certainly not the impression I got when he held that office. [Interruption.] The recovery is going extremely well, if that is the case. In reality, of course we try to work across all parts of the House and try to build consensus, but I am here to serve the British people not the whims of other hon. Members.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I welcome the report and thank Lord Walney for his excellent work. It contains 78 references to social media, which of course has been instrumental in allowing extremists not only to organise but to spread their message. The social media algorithms reward radicalism, fake news and division. Lord Walney makes some excellent recommendations, but does the Minister agree that it is the anonymity of online accounts that is particularly pernicious? When we speak in real life, our free speech comes with accountability, but that is not the case online because there are so many anonymous accounts. Should the Government look at whether anonymous accounts are appropriate in a democracy, as supported by my hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie? Cracking down on such accounts would go a long way towards sorting out the problem.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I welcome my hon. Friend’s approach to this, and to many other aspects of social media and online harms. She has been an example to many of us in how campaigns can be led to include, not exclude, and she has made her voice heard extremely clearly. All of us in this House will have had that Jekyll and Hyde experience of meeting someone in person who has previously been utterly vitriolic online—like seeing a country parson walking down the lane, and then discovering from their social media that Satan himself could not have come up with more bile. It is quite remarkable.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point that we need a little bit of recognition about who we all are—not just elected Members but others who are campaigning in favour or against a political issue. By and large, people approach issues in our democracy from a position of interest in the common good and support for each other, their families, communities and neighbours, but the treatment that somehow comes out of people when they are anonymous can be simply vile.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Earlier this week, I met a female chief fire officer who explained to me some of the intimidation, harassment and abuse that she had experienced, alongside some of her female colleagues in senior leadership roles in our emergency services, up to and including credible death threats. As far as I can tell, that is for no other reason than that they have the audacity to be women in senior leadership roles in our emergency services. The Walney reports considers the intimidation of academics and journalists, but I urge the Minister to speak to colleagues across Government to see what other protections we might need to offer those people doing incredibly important work, who under no circumstances should be subject to that type of intimidation?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments; she makes some very good points. Yesterday I was talking to Festus Akinbusoye about the racism he faced as police and crime commissioner. Whether people are in a public-facing role in our emergency services—our ambulance, police or fire crews, for example—or they hold an elected position, from Prime Minister to parish councillor, the idea that they should face any hostility at all is unacceptable, but the idea that they should be targeted because of their sex, race, gender or religion is even more unacceptable.

This country is extraordinary for many reasons. One thing that I love about it is the fact that many people from many different backgrounds have found their home here and have found their voice here and made it strongly. The transformation that has made to our country for the good is remarkable. I am hugely proud of that. To see that voice silenced by people, as the hon. Lady says, because they happen to be a female fire officer, is simply unacceptable, and I will certainly talk to the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire to see what more we can do.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does my right hon. Friend accept that at the next election it would be wrong for parliamentary candidates to be intimidated into not disclosing their home addresses on their nomination papers? If we change the conventions on that, we will be giving in to these threats. Does he also accept that if a person hires a public hall for a protest meeting, they are liable for public liability insurance? Might it not be better to say that if someone is organising a large public event in a public open space, they should also be liable for public insurance? Would that not be a better way of doing things, rather than expecting fees to be paid to the police?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

As usual, I will listen very carefully to my hon. Friend’s suggestions. As for addresses, I do not think the election system will change between now and the second half of the year, as we have now learned. I look forward to standing in that election, whenever it comes, and for my address to be recorded as an address in the Tonbridge constituency.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

There are aspects of this report that I welcome. For example, the careful cataloguing of the harassment and intimidation of gender critical feminists across the United Kingdom is a valuable contribution to our public debate. However, I consider the recommendations to be largely far too draconian. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, has repeatedly stressed that public authorities, including the Government and the police, are under a negative obligation not to interfere with the right to peaceful protest, and a positive obligation to facilitate peaceful protest. Yesterday’s High Court ruling, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss, gave a very clear message that, in regulating protest, the Government must act within the law, and they must not pursue an anti-protest agenda at the expense of human rights, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. I would like a cast-iron assurance from the Minister that protection of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and the right to protest will be at the heart of the Government’s consideration of the report’s recommendations.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I pay tribute to the hon. and learned Lady for her courage in speaking out on women’s rights, which she has done with enormous dignity and integrity, when others have sought to silence her by shouting her down, closing her out, or using genuinely quite vile language against her. She will, I hope, excuse me when I say that I have had the misfortune to see what some people have said to her on social media, and they are things that should not be said to anyone.

The hon. and learned Lady’s approach is pragmatic, as usual, and I am grateful for that. This is a challenging report. The points that she makes about our having the civil rights to assemble, debate and discuss are correct. This Government are not trying to—and never will try to—silence the British people. Hearing the voices of our fellow citizens in the ways in which they choose to express them is, of course, part of a democracy, but the ways in which they choose to express them is also mitigated by the ways in which we choose to live as a community. Those choices we call laws, as she knows. My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right in holding all of us to the principles that we have agreed in advance. What we are looking to do is ensure that those prior agreements—those laws—reflect the reality that everybody has the right to express their views and to live freely in our society, and that extremism and extremists have no place in it.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

This is a welcome statement. I have previously discussed some of these issues with Lord Walney. He is an incredibly thoughtful individual, and this is an incredibly thoughtful report. Some of those ridiculous smears that we heard earlier were completely unnecessary.

As somebody who believes in freedom of protest, do I believe that there should be an unlimited, totally unfettered right to cause huge disruption to the majority of people who just want to go about their lives, no matter the economic cost? That includes, for example, Suffolk constabulary having its resources pulled to help out with the management of these protests. No, I do not think that there should be a totally unfettered, unlimited right, so I would welcome it if this report could help to address that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to hate—be that anti-Muslim hate or some of the antisemitism we have seen in recent months—it should be tackled and be seen to be tackled as it is happening, not simply after the event?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My hon. Friend is right. We have seen the police taking some very good action on some of these protests. I think about 600 or 700 people—I might be slightly out on the numbers, so forgive me—have now been arrested following the protests that we have regularly seen on these weekends. About 50 or so have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000, which is just to say that these are not small arrests, but serious crimes with which the police are dealing.

I would like to make my next point extremely clearly. It is a point that was made to me by a middle-class Muslim family—not in my constituency—who have been friends of mine for many years. One of them said to me something that struck home very hard. They have been trying to protect their teenage kids, as we all do, from the kind of hatred and inspiration to hatred that is now all too prevalent online, through social media and sometimes other means. They do what responsible parents do: they make sure that their kids are home at a reasonable hour, and that they are part of community groups that support their lifestyle and values. Then they see broadcast on national media the kind of despicable hatred that inspires people to radicalisation and extremism and, sadly, they say, “It is not your son who is likely to be radicalised into Islamist hatred; it is mine.” I am afraid that he is absolutely right.

It is the responsibility of this Government, and any British Government, to protect the interests of every British citizen. Frankly, it would be racist and deeply unacceptable to consider that the radicalisation of one child is worth more or less than that of another. It is not, and it is wrong. That is why we will stand up against it. That is why, as my hon. Friend said, some of these protests are not just public order offences, but incitement to radicalisation and hatred, and they should be treated as such immediately.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South

I wish to put it on record that things have been said today, on both sides of the House, with which I agree, but that fundamentally I disagree with this report. I also wish to put on record my commitment to the protection of democracy and to the hard-won rights that we enjoy today, but this report contributes nothing to those rights—in fact, it undermines them. This morning, I spoke to a legal mind and expert on these matters who, last night, had the pleasure of reading all 300 pages of the report. He told me that it was broad, sprawling, poorly written, littered with errors, not proofread, entirely confused and, frankly, ludicrous. I shall provide an example, on which the Minister may wish to comment on. Paragraph 1.12 of the report said the Government can

“convene a process to examine the potential issue of juries acquitting defendants and judges applying laws differently when they are transgressed in the name of progressive causes like climate change and anti-racism”.

We have enjoyed the right to trial by jury in this country since before Magna Carta, and this report is undermining that. It is a sham report, and I hope the Government understand that.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

As the hon. Member will understand, I will not answer every single page of the report at this stage. I will look at all the pages that have been submitted. In fact, I have looked at many of them already. The reality is that this will take a little bit of work, so I hope that he will understand.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister talked earlier about the difference between online and offline, but for many of us there is now no distinction in the intimidation and aggression that we face. If liberty means anything for elected officials, it means being able to take time off and go to the park. Last week, a man made my toddler cry because he would not leave us alone in the street, and was instead determined to call me a child killer in front of her because he did not agree with my views on abortion, a matter that I have debated with many others in my constituency. I should say that he was not a constituent.

I am not alone in being targeted on my own—many Members present have talked about it—but the parliamentary police tell me that such behaviour is completely normal and acceptable within a democracy, that this man had a right to express his opinion, that MPs should expect to be contacted wherever they are in the street and whoever is with them, and that if our families are distressed that is just unfortunate. The report talks about a Speaker’s Conference. We have an election in the offing. Many of us have spent years encouraging a diversity of candidates to come forward, particularly women with children. Does the Minister agree that we need an urgent Speaker’s Conference to get the balance right in how we can all protect our families, because we are parents and carers as well as politicians?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I offer my deepest sympathies to the hon. Lady, because that is completely unacceptable. I would be happy to take that up with her afterwards and have a specific conversation about it. I do not think that a Speaker’s Conference is necessary right now because we have set up the defending democracy taskforce, and Dan Jarvis and hon. Members from other parties are already on it, as is Mr Speaker, represented through the parliamentary head of security, Alison Giles. We have effectively the same thing being assembled, with the ability to draw on information from the intelligence services, GCHQ and the police. While I agree entirely with the spirit of the hon. Lady’s suggestion, I merely argue that we are already doing it, and I know that the hon. Member for Barnsley Central and others will pull me up if they do not think that we are getting it right.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I stand against extremism, hate and violence in all forms, but I still think that the report is extraordinarily dangerous, draconian and undemocratic. The pretence that it is in any way independent is totally undermined by a quick glance at the entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests of its author, who works for lobby companies that represent arms manufacturers and fossil fuel companies. Will the Minister at the very least reassure us that the Government will reject recommendation 27, which undermines jury trials in cases related to climate change and anti-racism, and instead uphold our great legal tradition of allowing juries to decide as they see fit? Will he also accept the High Court’s judgment in Liberty’s case against the Home Office and abandon any further restrictions on the right to peaceful protest, and instead protect all our rights to freedom of expression and association?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

We are reviewing the decision in the courts yesterday, and we will look at whether or not to appeal.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

I thank the Minister for his kind words about Lord Walney, who reminds a friend to many on the Labour Benches, including me. London bears a disproportionate burden of the protests and countering extremism, so how will the Minister ensure that the Met’s operational costs are met by this Government for the rising challenges outlined in the report? Also, he mentioned protecting all British nationals. Will he meet with people from Hong Kong who have British national overseas status, who are increasingly the target of Chinese Communist party agents in the UK, including with those who live in my constituency who are very concerned about their safety and security?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Member knows that he and I share a strong interest in the BNO community in the United Kingdom. Hongkongers being targeted by state actors is deeply wrong. One of the things that I have focused on in the period for which I have been the Security Minister is the threat of foreign states here. We know that China has acted deeply wrongly by threatening individuals here in the United Kingdom, and we will never stand for it. We have been extremely clear that Hongkongers or BNOs are first and foremost British nationals. We will defend their rights, as we will defend everyone’s rights. I have already met them, and I will continue to meet them. They are fantastic members of our society, and they are welcome.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

I thank the Minister for his statement. I completely agree with a lot of what he said. As somebody who has been harassed a lot, I am against harassment, discrimination and all of that, but let me ask a question on procedure, because I think his responses today are superior to the report itself. I queried the Table Office about unopposed returns, and was told that they are essentially a way for the Government to publish a document or papers so that, according to paragraph 7.32 of “Erskine May”, they can be protected by statute. Unopposed returns cannot be debated or voted on, and there is no opportunity for Members to object. Will the Minister explain to the House why the Government used that procedure, and are they scared that the report will not stand up to scrutiny, whether from the public or within this Chamber?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Lady for her very kind comments about my responses. I was somewhat surprised to hear them, but I am delighted none the less. [Laughter.] I see I am not alone in my surprise. It is perfectly standard to introduce an independent report conducted in order to help the Government through this process, in order to prevent any form of vexatious prosecution. We were not expecting any; this is merely a formula that is very often used to afford parliamentary privilege to a report.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his statement. I know that he takes the issue seriously, and I hope that he will agree that liberty also means the right to protest. That is a cornerstone of our democracy, and people have the right to protest in a peaceful and respectful manner. A number of these protests go through my Vauxhall constituency, and police are often abstracted to cover them. We know that protests can be difficult and complex, and remain an operational issue. I note some of the report’s recommendations, but does he agree that for this to work Ministers and politicians must respect the operational independence of all police forces?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The hon. Lady is right that the police are operationally independent, but they are not independent of the considerations of the people they serve—in her case, the people of Vauxhall. She knows that the people she represents have a legitimate voice in discussing policing and having their representation heard; indeed, she champions them in this place, and the Mayor of London is supposed to champion them through the policing bodies. As she also knows, it is important to balance different rights. Of course there is a right to protest. People have a fundamental democratic right to raise their voice in opposition to things that they find objectionable. People also have a simple right to be able to feed their family, take their kids to school, or attend a place of worship. When the two are in conflict, it is right that the police set a reasonable balance. I think Lord Walney is suggesting that that balance should be looked at carefully.