Battling against this government’s moves towards authoritarianism

Jenny Jones: photo by Tanoshimi, Wikimedia Commons

This is the text of Jenny Jones’ speech in the House of Lords’ Queen’s Speech debate. You can read all the speeches on Hansard, including the powerful words of Lord Judge who asked:

“…what is the point of us being here if, when we identify a serious constitutional problem, we never do anything about it except talk? We cannot keep doing that. I just want us to consider the possibility that the next time we have a Henry VIII clause in a Bill that has not been given careful explanation in advance, we chuck it out.”

The general trajectory of modern history has been away from oppression and towards human rights. It has been a pathway of liberalisation, more fairness, more opportunity and more freedoms—as well as less state power, greater checks and balances, and more accountability. However, this Government are obsessed with rowing back on that progress. We have a Cabinet and a Prime Minister who want more authoritarianism; they are trying to transform the whole state apparatus to hold them in power indefinitely. The Bill of Rights pushes on with the Government’s repressive agenda. It is perhaps the first Bill of Rights in world history to curtail individuals’ rights and allow the state to interfere with people in ways which are presently unlawful. Yet the first paragraph of the Queen’s Speech says that the

“Government will play a leading role in defending democracy and freedom across the world”,

Official Report, 10/5/22; col. 2.

apart from here in the UK, it seems.

The National Security Bill will grant unspecified new powers to the security services. This decades-long slippery slope continues: it is always more powers and less scrutiny; more spying and less privacy. The giant of the security state is never satisfied with its amassed power, so who knows what will be in that Bill, which we will be expected to pass this time.

The Public Order Bill brings back legislative proposals that were flatly rejected by your Lordships’ House in the last Session. The Government say that this legislation is urgent in response to new tactics used by activists, but this is clearly untrue. The suffragettes and suffragists used methods such as locking on, even in this very Parliament building. Under this Bill, they would be criminalised and labelled as serious criminals, yet in the end they were proved to have been right to protest. Their actions were not popular at the time, but they eventually won the right to vote.

You can complain about Extinction Rebellion but, as a result of its actions, Parliament passed a declaration that we are living in a climate emergency—I must remind the Government that they passed this. Local campaigners blocking roads and equipment stopped the fracking industry bypassing local democracy and being imposed on residents by a top-down Government. In the last few days, a protester at a rally was not arrested there but later at her home by the police. The police explained that they did not want to arrest anyone at the rally, so they arrested her later.

The Government want to stop any protest that might get noticed and be effective. They want to clamp down on peaceful, non-violent protest that people use to get attention. This is the crucial point: protesters are people. They are people who work, pay taxes, study or collect the pensions they have earned; people who see something wrong and want it to stop; people possibly like your Lordships, but definitely like me. I hope that, once again, we will reject this legislation. I honestly think that it will encourage protesters to be even more creative.

All this legislation is moving us in the wrong direction. We should be granting people more human rights, not fewer. This Government are absolutely incapable of making positive change; everything is regressive. At a time when more of us are sinking into poverty, the Government are not doing their job to promote the well-being of all. As Peter Walker from the Guardian pointed out, we have 38 government Bills, none of which helps reduce energy bills or deals with the climate emergency with a national programme of insulating homes. Instead, the only mention of insulating Britain is talking about locking up the campaigners who wanted action. On Twitter, an account called “The Secret Barrister” said:

“The criminal justice system has never been in more chaos. This government has defunded every element—from police to CPS to legal aid to courts to probation to prisons. There has never been a better time to be a criminal than under this Prime Minister and this Home Secretary.”

It looks as if we are set for the busiest 12 months of scrutiny in the nine years I have spent in your Lordships’ House. I hope that, together, we can do exactly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, suggested: try to insist to the Government that what they are doing is not legal. I have tabled a regret Motion. I wanted to table a Motion that repealed all of last Session’s legislation, but apparently I was not allowed to do that, so I have tabled a regret Motion which is a series of complaints. It is a puny Motion, but it will come up at the end.

I would like the Government to understand that, although I perhaps use more invective and rhetoric than other noble Lords, there are a lot of people—perhaps in this House, but definitely outside it—who would agree with me and would like the Government to be in more of a listening mode.