My Lords, my Amendment 62 would require consultation on the right to protest and undertake peaceful, non-violent direct action. This is a very personal amendment for me because I do go to peaceful protests, and it is possible that some other Members of your Lordships’ House do as well—although, looking round, possibly not.
I am compelled to bring the amendment for personal reasons but also in the knowledge that the Stansted 15 are undergoing a criminal trial for heroically trying to stop deportations in response to the Windrush scandal and the Government’s now discredited hostile environment policy. I also bring the amendment in the name of all environmental protectors who are harassed by armies of police and private security in the fight against fracking. This includes the Fracking Three, who were thrown in jail by a judge who had family ties to the oil and gas supply chain. They were later freed by the Court of Appeal. I also highlight the tree protectors in Sheffield, who spent years trying to stop the council felling thousands of healthy trees. They faced rough tactics by the police, and the council has taken unprecedented steps that risk bankrupting individual protesters.
I pay my respects to all environmental protectors in the UK and around the world who face persecution and prosecution for the crime of protecting our planet. A noble Lord earlier said something about civil liberties being outdated. Not in my world they are not. I argue that if we want to live in a democratic society, civil liberties are a crucial component of it.
A common thread runs through all the cases that I just mentioned. That thread is the use and abuse of laws which stamp out legal, peaceful protest. Whether it is terrorism legislation at Stansted, obstruction of the highway in Lancashire or trade union legislation in Sheffield, we see time and again that the state will use the law creatively to deter and punish those who put their bodies on the line to fight injustice and environmental destruction.
There is an emerging application of civil injunctions, which means that companies and councils can bankrupt people for exercising their right to protest, even when they have not broken the law. Environmental protesters and campaigners have faced persecution in other ways, too. We have often been designated as domestic extremists and put into the same category as far-right neo-Nazis and the man who murdered MP Jo Cox. We have been spied on by the police and had our campaigns infiltrated by police officers. Some of us have even been deceived by police into forming a sexual relationship as part of their cover story. The sense of state intrusion in our lives is difficult to convey, and undoubtedly puts many people off taking part in protests.
We have seen our causes proved right with time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that even if we meet the targets in the Paris climate agreement, which is unlikely, we will still see catastrophic consequences. The anti-fracking movement, once mocked for its suggestion that fracking would cause earthquakes, has been proven right by Cuadrilla causing dozens of quakes in the vicinity of its fracking site in Lancashire. Those quakes have repeatedly breached the upper limits set by the Government’s “gold-standard fracking regulations”. The Government’s response has been to change their myth-busting fact sheet from stating that fracking does not cause earthquakes to saying that it does not cause “serious earthquakes”.
If the suffragettes were alive today, they would be standing alongside us as domestic extremists facing trumped-up criminal sanctions for doing the right thing. I am sure that in time history will recognise the environmental movement as forcing the same scale of social change as the suffragettes are credited with today.
For these reasons, my amendment would require the Government to conduct a consultation on the impact of the Bill on the right to protest and to consult on a statutory system for designating people as “domestic extremists”. This is an essential first step towards enshrining a true right to protest in the UK, recognising that people should have legal defences when they act in protection of the environment and human rights. The powers in the Bill would add to the already long list of laws which can be used or abused against honest, dedicated campaigners—and that must be opposed. I beg to move.