The speech made by Jon Trickett, the Labour MP for Hemsworth, in the House of Commons on 16 March 2021.
I join others in expressing my condolences. This Bill continues the authoritarian drift of this Government. First, we had the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which basically gives immunity to people abroad serving our country who committed torture. Then we had immunity given to state agents breaking the law in our country, including the crime of rape. Now we have clause 59 of the Bill, which proposes a 10-year jail sentence for causing the risk of “serious annoyance”—those are the words in the Bill. Note that is not even for causing “annoyance”, but for causing the risk that there may be annoyance. There are many things with which we might risk causing annoyance every day, but it is only in dictatorships or repressive regimes that such actions are subject to drastic sentencing.
This Government claim to have their roots in libertarianism and, of course, they are champions of liberty, but it is liberty only for the powerful and the wealthy, the “get rich quick” merchants and the spivs, those whose freedoms allow them to cause all kinds of annoyance—firing decent, hard-working employees and then rehiring them on worse conditions and paying poverty wages. Now we have a new freedom—the freedom to bung multimillion-pound taxpayer contracts to mates in the private sector. They have set their sights on our tradition of dissent, because their legislation is designed to crack down on our rights to take action against injustice. Black Lives Matter activists, workers who take industrial action, environmentalists and the women’s movement are all in their sights.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend and I have organised and been on many peaceful protests together. The measures in this Bill are so regressive that, under them, surely some of those protests that we have been on would have ended up in scenes like those we saw on Clapham common, with us and others being arrested. This shows that peaceful protest is not safe under the remit of the Bill.
I have indeed worked many times with my hon. Friend on all kinds of activities. What the Government have in their sights are the ancient rights of assembly and freedom of association, which are now threatened by clause 59. The fundamental right to free speech means nothing if these other freedoms come under attack. We may end up with a situation in which we are free to shout at the telly in the privacy of our own homes but not free to organise ourselves collectively in public.
It is not as if our country has done away with all forms of injustice and inequality, is it? Yet instead of standing against injustice alongside, for example, the women on Clapham common the other night, the Government appear to be more interested in empowering the police force to arrest people who the state judges to have risked causing annoyance. It is interesting that many police officers have said that they do not wish that power to be bestowed upon them.
This House of Commons should be a beacon of liberty—a protector of our rights to speak, associate freely and assemble in public to express our reservations about how the country is going. Repressive legislation will never eliminate the thirst and hunger for justice that remains so powerful in our country today. It is the duty of the Commons to stand up this evening and reject this Bill.