There are so many issues in the gracious Speech that I would like to tackle. I would like to talk about nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries and the folly of HS2. However, I will try to contain my enthusiasm—or my fury—and talk about only two or possibly three issues.
First, I want to speak about counterterrorism. I would welcome any legislation being brought forward that kept the police and the security services focused on the real problem of terrorism and serious crime rather than their wasting time and our money monitoring green campaigners, anti-fracking protesters, journalists and elected politicians. The Government’s manifesto said that they would consider what new offences or aggravated offences might be needed, but I recommend that your Lordships’ House block any legislation that does not include a clear definition of an extremist.
Some noble Lords may be aware that I was on the domestic extremism database for more than 10 years. At the time I was an elected politician, I was on the oversight body for the Metropolitan Police Authority and I was successfully working with the police on all sorts of issues, including road crime, FGM and protecting their National Wildlife Crime Unit. Just to be clear, the wildlife crime unit deals with things like the import of exotic, threatened and endangered species, rather than naughty squirrels. It is likely that my personal emails were hacked by police officers, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is currently investigating the reasons for the hasty destruction of my file and any evidence of hacking that it might have contained, a file that was destroyed despite the Met commissioner specifically ordering that such files should not be deleted.
There is also a proposal for a commission on extremism. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, has said that we do not need new laws to tackle the current terrorist threat; we need to use the laws that we have and resource the agencies responsible for upholding them. Despite that, the Government appear keen to legislate, not for terrorism but for what they call “non-violent extremism”. So the new statutory commission for countering extremism will,
“identify examples of extremism and expose them”.
The simple fact is that it is impossible at the moment to agree a definition of what constitutes an extremist—a terrorist, yes; an extremist, no. One person’s non-violent extremist is another’s political hero. We have to be very careful with these terms.
The Met police currently use a very clear definition of “domestic extremists”, which restricts it to those involved in terrorism or serious crime, but they regard this as guidance only, which means that they can use it or not as they please—and, of course, they please to use it on people like me. In the past the police have wasted large amounts of their time on monitoring Greenpeace campaigners or people like me, and one can imagine all sorts of people being labelled “extremists”, particularly in the current political climate. Why should I be a domestic extremist but not the DUP? I would argue that I threaten fewer of our national values than it does. We especially do not want our own distinctively British brand of McCarthyism. That is incredibly important.
The second issue that I want to tackle is climate change, particularly in view of Brexit. I think everyone will agree that the gracious Speech was rather light on any reference to the environment. It was in there—it came right at the end, just before the mention of the royal visit of the King and Queen of Spain—but it is in fact the greatest global threat that we face, and it deserves a little more prominence in our Government’s thinking. We need an environmental protection Act. Such an Act would cut through all the political ideology of left and right that often sidelines the environment. It would be an evidence-based long-term approach to the problem, and it would infiltrate every aspect, so that when we talked about economics or business we would be thinking about the environment at the same time. Crucially, it would have to be via primary legislation, which would guarantee a proper level of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight.
We also need a clean air Act. It is obvious that at the moment we have a huge public health problem with dirty air, especially in our urban centres, and it is time that we dealt with it. A lot of the regulation on the environment needs primary legislation, including, for example, an independent agency similar to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. We need to take climate change seriously, and if we do not it will be the worse for all of us.