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Insulate Britain

Volume 815: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the costs to (1) public services, and (2) the wider economy, of the recent campaign by Insulate Britain of obstructing motorways and major roads.

My Lords, Insulate Britain’s irresponsible actions have disrupted thousands of people’s lives. National Highways estimates that the financial impact on drivers from time lost during just three days of disruption totals £559,946. This does not include the costs of missed appointments or of managing the incidents, disruption to manufacturing or retail, or the impact of disruption on other days. These costs would have been even higher without prompt action by the police to remove protesters and free up traffic.

My Lords, according to the Observer at the weekend, Insulate Britain activists are baffled as to why they are not in jail already. They thought that their campaign would be over in two days, rather than being allowed to go on for five weeks. I think that the rest of the country rather shares their bafflement. As they resume their very expensive campaign of disrupting ordinary people’s lives, can my noble friend say that the Government both have and will deploy the necessary legal powers to bring them before a court of law?

We are investigating all possible legal avenues to bring these people to justice. National Highways and Transport for London have both rapidly put in place injunctions to deter these sort of dangerous actions. Only yesterday, the High Court granted National Highways an interim injunction banning activities which obstruct traffic and access on any part of the strategic road network—that is, all motorways and major A roads. Last Friday, National Highways applied for committal for contempt of court in respect of nine individuals suspected of breaching injunctions. If found to be in breach, these individuals could face an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that what appears to have been a cunning plan by the secret society of evil net-zero sceptics to get Insulate Britain to undermine the appeal of the Green movement was brilliantly executed? Was it not a particular triumph to choose upper middle-class twits to confront ordinary people trying to get to work or school? Was it not a stroke of genius to make sure that some of them had not insulated their own homes? Does she agree that it is surprising that the environmental movement has not yet seen through this stunt?

My Lords, there is no doubt that the activities of the Insulate Britain campaign have caused problems and disruption for many people. I guess that was the point. Does the Minister agree that these problems will come to be seen as trivial when compared to the disruption we shall all face to our lives if we fail to address climate change?

This Government have one of the strongest records in the world in tackling climate change, and I fear that using the word “trivial” in relation to this disruption is a poor choice of word. Insulate Britain has said that days of disruption are necessary to force the Government to act. This is just a small, rag-tag group of people who will not force the Government to do anything.

My Lords, I am sure that most of your Lordships’ House have been on demonstrations or protests during their lives, even if they do not want to admit it now. Those demonstrations were different: the police were involved beforehand and looked to make sure that the law was not broken. What we are seeing here are people who have gone out deliberately to obstruct ordinary daily life. Some of the demonstrators have said that they think they are not being arrested and charged properly and ending up in prison because of the COP 26 conference. There is a kind of feeling that they do not want people to be in jail for anything vaguely to do with climate change. Can the Minister confirm or deny this?

It certainly has nothing at all to do with COP 26. Obviously, certain matters are operational matters for the police, but the noble Baroness is right: we all know of good protests. Getting a million people out on the streets on a Saturday afternoon where the police have been told in advance, where there is a good level of public support and where you do not destroy any statues is a good protest. Insulate Britain members are not good protesters.

Climate change is the major challenge of our time, and winning public support for the cause is critical. Blocking roads and antagonising people is not going to achieve that objective.

This week, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has significantly extended London’s ultra-low emission zone. The Evening Standard yesterday said that it backed Sadiq Khan in

“taking steps to clean up our city’s toxic air and cut our carbon emissions in the process.”

Do the Government also back Sadiq Khan on this, regarding it too as an effective example of how the ballot box can prove to be an effective way for people to respond to the climate crisis?

As the noble Lord will know, we probably have a much closer relationship with the Mayor of London than we would ordinarily have at the moment. Although transport is devolved in London, owing to a substantial hole in TfL’s finances we have to provide it with quite significant funding every now and again. Indeed, the last deal we agreed with the mayor included that there would be no change to the extension of ULEZ.

My Lords, the laws already exist to deal with this matter, but the police are just not using their operational freedom to put them into effect. Could the police be advised that there would be a lot of public support if they were to use their influence and arrest people, and a few of them could spend a few days in prison? It might put them off further action.

As I noted, policing matters are an operational matter for the police, but I am sure that the Metropolitan Police will have heard my noble friend’s wise words.

I call the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley. No, he is not present. In that case, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

My Lords, as of March last year the cost of road congestion in the UK was £7 billion, estimated at £784 per driver. Clearly, the Government are irresponsible to let that congestion go ahead and really ought to have a plan to reduce it that does not involve building more roads, which actually will attract more traffic. Would the Minister like to say something about that? Plus—Insulate Britain is right. Its tactics might be colossally difficult for us to cope with, but it is right that the Government should be insulating the leakiest council housing homes in Britain, rather than allowing those people to spend cold winters, be ill and emit endless CO2 emissions.

Well, I am just relieved that the noble Baroness did not stand up and agree with her fellow eco-warriors. As I have previously set out, this Government have a very strong record on tackling climate change. I point the noble Baroness to the transport decarbonisation plan, published by the Department for Transport, which clearly sets out exactly how we intend to decarbonise our transport system.