§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the contingency arrangements being put in place in the event of further blockades of fuel or other essential supplies.
1119 "The background to these arrangements is the severe disruption to fuel supplies which occurred between 7th and 14th September.
"Since the protests, a large number of meetings with outside bodies have been held by Ministers across government to discuss the concerns over fuel prices, in particular as they impact on the farming and haulage industries, which are already facing major structural problems. Indeed, prior to the protests, there were many such meetings. In the March Budget, as well as ending the fuel duty escalator, in place since 1993, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cut VED for the haulage industry and for smaller vehicles.
"In the past few weeks Ministers in various departments have held numerous meetings with organisations campaigning about the high cost of fuel. These include the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, the Fuel Forum, the People's Fuel Lobby, Farmers for Action and the Disabled Drivers' Association. In addition to setting up the Fuel Task Force, we have also held a number of meetings with oil company representatives, the trades unions and representatives of the food and other industries affected by the protests. Ministers have also visited all the main fuel refineries and depots to talk at first hand to the tanker drivers, company managers, police and others about the lessons to be learned from the protests.
"As a result, I think that no one can fairly say that we have not made every effort to listen to people's concerns, and of course in the days that remain before the Chancellor's Statement we shall continue to do so.
"Perhaps I may now explain to the House why it is so important to make proper preparations to protect people, industry and services as far as possible against further disruption.
"The United Kingdom now has the fourth largest economy in the world. Employment is at record levels and inflation is the lowest in Europe. But, like all modern economies, fundamental changes in the way in which we live and work, and all the just-in-time arrangements, increase our vulnerability to those determined to cause disruption.
"Whatever the motives of those involved, the disruption that took place in September very nearly caused serious damage to our economy.
"The British Chamber of Commerce has published details of the effect of the disruption on the commercial activities of its members. For example, in St Helens, it reported that more than a quarter of businesses lost orders, 6 per cent laid off staff and a third predicted a long-term impact on sales. In Peterborough, almost four in 10 firms suffered lost sales and 16 per cent had to close temporarily. Many other companies suffered financial problems and lost orders. The British 1120 Chamber of Commerce concluded from its research that if the protests had 'persisted for much longer' they would have caused,'severe damage to many firms from which some would not have recovered'.This conclusion has been endorsed by the Trades Union Congress and by the CBI.
"I am placing in the Library of the House a report summarising information available to government departments about the impact of the disruption.
"The blockades also disrupted essential public services. At some blockades the protestors sought to excuse the impact of the disruption by letting through supplies, which they judged essential.
"But there are literally millions of people who perform functions without which the health and other essential services would grind to a halt—from nurses, doctors, hospital receptionists and cleaners to volunteers delivering meals-on-wheels, cooks and telephone operators and of course the patients themselves. They all need fuel, yet their needs were barely recognised by those at the terminal gates.
"It is therefore not from any desire whatever for confrontation, which we still seek to avoid, but because of our responsibilities as a government to the country as a whole that we must now make preparations to minimise the risk of this happening again.
"So following the September events, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked me to chair a Fuel Task Force to help ensure that government, industry and others were better prepared to ensure the continuity for the future.
"The task force included Ministers and representatives from the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, the police, the oil industry, trade unions and others. It has met on four occasions. Its members first agreed a memorandum of understanding, which committed all concerned to work together to ensure continuity of oil supplies. The arrangements include plans to direct fuel supplies to a limited number of designated filling stations and to give priority to essential users. We have upgraded arrangements to ensure that local authorities and other priority users are better prepared for any future disruption.
"As I told the House in a written Statement last week and as my right honourable friend the Armed Forces Minister repeated on Monday, we have asked the Ministry of Defence to train military drivers to help drive tankers should such assistance prove necessary; but this would be very much as a last resort.
"Preparations have also been made to help to protect food depots; to keep major roads open; and to protect potential targets other than oil terminals.
"There has of course been a lot of debate as to whether intimidation of drivers took place. It could well be that some drivers were sympathetic to the aims of the protesters. Many of those involved in the protests were intent on acting lawfully and 1121 peacefully, and did so. Peaceful protest is an important right in any properly functioning democracy. It is a right which I regard as one of my first duties to defend, as do the police.
"But the behaviour of some of the protestors did create a climate in which the drivers and their managers judged that it was unsafe to allow normal operations to continue.
"Along with ministerial colleagues, I have spoken to a large number of the tanker drivers involved. Those I met told me of a real sense of fear that they felt about driving in the face of threats of intimidation and physical attack. I am placing in the Library of the House a detailed log of 180 incidents of intimidation prepared by the oil companies, amended only to avoid identifying publicly the drivers involved. This picture of intimidation is confirmed by the Transport and General Workers' Union, whose members form a substantial majority of the drivers concerned.
"Tactics of intimidation are unacceptable in any circumstances, but particularly so against the driver of an oil tanker in personal charge of many thousands of litres of highly explosive fuel.
"The police and the oil companies have, therefore, drawn up detailed plans better to safeguard tanker drivers from the threat of intimidation and better to ensure that the tankers can move freely on to and along the highway. Tanker drivers have the right to go about their daily business in security and safety. Ensuring that is a central aim of our preparations.
"Perhaps I may repeat again that the last thing this Government want is confrontation. There will always he people who hold strong and opposing views on many issues—including, today, what to do about oil prices, the problems affecting farmers, or the difficulties facing the road haulage industry. Peaceful protest can and does play an important role in drawing such concerns to the attention of government and Parliament. It is then for we in government and Parliament to make choices.
"But I hope that the whole House will join me in saying that no one has the right to instigate the kind of disruption that we saw in September, and still less to threaten the disruption now being prepared. We have already heard public threats to blockade not only the fuel supply, but also food distribution depots. The consequences of such disruption are obvious, and they would hit the weakest and most vulnerable first. There can be no justification for such action. It is opposed by every employers' organisation and trade union, and by established hauliers and farmers' representatives.
"The measures I have outlined today should ensure that the Government, industry and our health and other public services will be better prepared to cope with the sort of direct action we witnessed in September. But real risks will remain if people persist in protesting in an extreme and irresponsible way. Those now seeking further disruption must understand that the demands they 1122 have made could not be met without great damage to jobs and industry, to essential services including the National Health Service, to pensioners and children. We all have responsibilities.
"Whatever the supposed Budget surplus—some figures being mooted are wildly exaggerated—government action is necessarily limited in three ways: it must be consistent with keeping interest rates and so mortgages at their present low;, it must not prevent us taking action to support pensioners who also need help; and it must not change the absolutely essential programme of investment in key public services—schools, hospitals, transport and police—which the Chancellor announced in July.
"The right to argue, to complain and to protest is an essential feature of a democratic society; preventing law-abiding people from going about their business, and threatening the well-being of the country is not. I hope that the whole House will join in support of the measures and the approach which I have outlined today".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Home Secretary. However, it said little, and as far as I could detect nothing new, about what measures the Government propose to take in the event of further disruption. Instead it was full of bluster and argument, a lot of which is not controversial between all sides of your Lordships' House.
I confirm that we believe that the Government should take measures to protect essential supplies if there are further problems of the kind we witnessed in September. I also confirm that we thoroughly deplore unlawful or dangerous protests or intimidation. We shall, of course, study the evidence to be put in the Library on the extent of the intimidation that occurred in September. However, did the Minister see the statement of the Transport and General Workers' Union official at one depot at the time:This is a people's protest … It is a peaceful protest. It is the Government which is out of order"?Has the Minister also seen what Sir John Evans, speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:Despite some isolated and generally small-scale incidents of attempted intimidation, these movements have taken place peacefully"?In order to give noble Lords a feel for the extent of the intimidation, will the Minister tell us how many people were arrested and how many were charged with offences of violence, or threatened violence, as a result of the incidents in September? Given all this, does the Minister think it wise for the Government to make belligerent Statements such as this one; to talk of bringing in the Army; and publicly to urge what they in other circumstances call "panic buying" of fuel by government agencies, while deploring the same buying by other people trying to be prepared in the light of what Ministers have said?
1123 The impression I get is that Ministers—who were quite rightly politically intimidated by the scale of the protests—are now attacking the protesters. Do the Government now realise that if you dumb down and bypass Parliament people will find other outlets, however much we may deplore that? Do they realise that it is Statements such as this one which build up a crisis atmosphere, when the Government should seek to address the reasons why so many ordinary citizens feel the need to protest against the highest motoring and transport taxes in Europe?
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, first, I make it clear that we on these Benches do not consider the Statement belligerent but prudent. Whether it is an unnamed TGWU official talking about a people's protest or the Leader of the Opposition talking about fine upstanding Englishmen, we disown those kind of statements associated with this extra-parliamentary activity. I assure the Minister that the Government have the unequivocal support—I am not sure we have heard that from the Official Opposition—of these Benches for the Statement today.
On a point of clarification, the Statement was made in the other place by the Home Secretary as chairman of the Fuel Task Force and repeated in this Chamber by the Minister of State for Transport. Can we be assured that this is real joined-up government? Which department is taking responsibility for these matters? Will the Government embark on a public information campaign to explain their priorities in terms of availability? I suggest that that is a good job for Dr John Reid, who appeared to be the only Minister to keep his nerve during the previous disruption.
Is the Co-operative Movement fully involved in guaranteeing food supplies? I understand that in September it was not initially consulted about that. Are there plans to call in the oil company heads before the planned disruption to make it clear that certain things are expected of them in terms of leadership should the planned disruption take place?
Will the Government also educate the public on the need for us to face up to the problems caused by over-consumption of energy in the western world? Such a campaign makes sense economically and environmentally. However, it is not a matter of the Prime Minister dipping his toe in and then dropping the issue again. It must be a sustained campaign and commitment. Is the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions the right size and shape for the job? Do not we need a department shaped to the nation's needs rather than to the size of the Deputy Prime Minister's ego? That department is sprawling and showing signs of sprawl. In shaping policy will the Government have due regard to the needs of the rural economy? Will the Home Secretary use his full range of powers against intimidation and exploitation?
There are lessons to be learned on all sides. The Government made a mistake in assuming that fuel tax was a stealth tax with no political downside. There is 1124 now a need for a long-term strategy to lift environmental issues up the agenda and to win the argument for a public transport alternative which is cheap, efficient and available. Such a strategy will not be popular all the time. There will be losers as well as winners. However, my advice to the Government, at least for the next few weeks, is to send home the focus groups and the spin doctors and get on with the job of governing. If they govern with strength, they will have the support of this House and, I suspect, of the country at large.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for our efforts to protect essential services and for his condemnation, as far as it went, of the protest and the motivations behind it. However, I too found some of his quotations a little selective and unconvincing. I do not know the representative of the Transport and General Workers' Union whom he quoted. However, I know that the TGWU put up 25 solid instances of intimidation which it received from the drivers. Like my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I, too, have been visiting terminals, talking to scores of drivers and hearing their stories about varying degrees of intimidation.
Sir John Evans served with us during the days of the worst effects of the protests. At the time there were small-scale incidents. Subsequently, those have been collated in a more methodical way by the oil companies interviewing the drivers. That is why we reach the total of 180, despite the fact that the police took an understandably low-key approach which limited the number of arrests to a couple, as far as I remember. That police approach was typically British. They did not go in in a provocative way. They let matters develop and hoped that they would take the normal course: that people would make their point and then go home before they did any serious damage to the country or their fellow citizens. It became apparent towards the end of that week that some dangers were inherent in that assumption.
However, I do not believe that what we have said today is in any way belligerent. I went out of my way to stress the fact that we have been listening. I think that the country would expect no less of any government than that they would make these preparations. Indeed, it is prudent of companies and the public services to ensure that they can keep running as long as possible should there be any recurrence of the situation.
I find the implication that bypassing Parliament—a process I do not recognise or accept—might be a rationale for disruptive action somewhat distasteful. It can never be.
From the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave welcome and unequivocal support. I should explain that the task force is made up of Ministers from a number of departments. The Home Secretary is the chairman of the task force. I am there as Transport Minister, with the Secretary of State for 1125 the DTI and my right honourable friend Andrew Smith from the Treasury. On that task force we also have representatives of the oil companies. There were confusions; those difficulties affected all parties in such a complex, fast-moving disparate dispute. But the oil companies have signed up to a memorandum of understanding, with the police, government, trade unions and local authorities all involved in that process so that there is far more co-ordination should there be any recurrence of these events.
I have found the fact that my department covers environment, transport and the regions very useful with the joined-up government that that affords. The government offices across the regions help to co-ordinate the local authority and police efforts. Transport was vitally important—not only as regards the roads but also on our railways and bus and aviation services.
Yes, there is, too, the environmental aspect of which the noble Lord spoke. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister was referred to in unfairly disparaging terms. The Deputy Prime Minister drew attention just this week to the related environmentally created problems which so concern the noble Lord.
While the police are operationally independent, as ever, noble Lords may be assured that they have made it clear that they intend to use what powers they have, while guaranteeing people's right to peaceful protest. We shall govern with the strength required as events may recur. For the country's sake, let us hope that they do not recur However, I assure your Lordships that we shall govern for all the people. We shall never be intimidated by those who shout the loudest or push the hardest.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, should not the Minister address the disease rather than the symptoms of the disease? Despite the penal levels of taxation on fuel, is there not little evidence of consumption being reduced? To present this as an environmental measure is, frankly, dishonest. Is it not extraordinary to see a Labour Government, supported by their friends in the Liberal Party, defending a highly regressive form of taxation which damages people on fixed incomes, those living in rural areas and the elderly? Should not the Minister address that aspect and reduce the burden of taxation on fuel in our country?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I do not recognise the reference to the penal levels of taxation. The 26p per litre reduction demanded by the protesters would total some £12 billion. That is clearly utterly unrealistic. Also if one factors in the low personal taxes and the lower corporation taxes that we pay, and the fact that our VAT is often lower than elsewhere, one realises that the United Kingdom offers one of the lowest tax regimes in Europe.
I find the accusation of environmental dishonesty quite breathtaking in this context. The fuel duty escalator was introduced in 1993 by a government of 1126 whom the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was a member and who justified its introduction by reference to its environmental effect.
§ Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
My Lords, living as we do under the rule of law, does the Minister agree that the police role should rightly be that of impartially policing any dispute between parties—whether a domestic dispute or one of the nature we discuss today? Does my noble friend also agree that if there is evidence of people conspiring to commit criminal offences—it may amount to obstructing the road by slow convoy or otherwise—the police should consider offences such as conspiracy to deal with the problem, no matter how fine and upstanding the citizens who have conspired?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I defer to my noble friend's experience. He will know better than anyone else that it is a matter for police discretion. I sympathise with his concern. Statements have been made about bringing about Armageddon. I believe that it was stated yesterday that democracy had run out of time. Such statements, threats to food and fuel supplies and threats that lorries might be pulled across rail crossings, and so on, are unacceptable. However, the police are better prepared and have at their disposal the public order measure and highways legislation which contain provisions for arrestable offences. I am sure that the police can be counted upon to ensure that there is no disruption on a scale which would inconvenience our country.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, will the Minister indicate whether his task force will remain in being after the present crisis is resolved, as we hope that it will be successfully, in order to tackle the longer-term issues to which the Minister and my noble friend Lord McNally referred? I think particularly of forms of transport in the future and the way in which they should be fuelled.
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords. I hope that there will be no need to continue with our present task force after the Statement to be made next week by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are other ways of approaching the conflation of problems to which the noble Lord referred. Had we time to go into them in detail, I could show him that we are taking action on most of them.
§ Baroness Greengross
My Lords, does the Minister accept that many disabled, vulnerable and frail people, particularly elderly people, are deeply concerned and very apprehensive about the thought of further petrol shortages? We have heard that the Government are taking steps to maintain essential services, but many such people rely on access to a car to get to services or to have services brought to them that are essential to them. They may need to get food, to go to a day centre, or to visit the doctor. Many of them do not have their own car. They must be able to rely on help from others.
1127 I heard of one home care scheme whose co-ordinator was deeply worried during the previous shortages that she would lose touch completely with her elderly dependent clients, because her volunteer drivers in their own cars were running out of petrol. I am sure that that worry is replicated nationally. Robust measures need to be taken, particularly given recent weather conditions, to ensure that such voluntary measures can be maintained. If they are not, there will be very sad, if not tragic, consequences.
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Baroness. There was no greater obscenity during the recent events than the pickets outside gates deciding what was essential and what was inessential with very little understanding of how our complex and vulnerable society works. It is not a case simply of keeping blue light services supplied. As I said earlier, millions of our fellow citizens need to be mobile, particularly to look after the vulnerable. As the noble Baroness said, great concerns were beginning to develop at the end of the last set of events about the supply of drugs to people who were ill at home, some of them in a very poor condition. There were also worries about home helps, home care and meals on wheels. All those services require people to turn up at their place of work and get into a car and drive to help the most vulnerable in our society. It may not have been fully appreciated at the time, but it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that there are no illusions about the severity of the consequences of interrupting fuel and food supplies.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most distressing elements in the saga is the distasteful insensitivity of some of those threatening disruptive action? For example, whatever their difficulties, to see any comparison between the hardship that they claim that they suffer and the hardship suffered by the original Jarrow marchers is almost unimaginable from any quarter in our society. That should be treated with the contempt that it deserves.
Does my noble friend also agree that there is a strategic question at stake in the dispute? It is the relationship between our fuel policy and the accelerating dangers of global warming. Is it not important for the Government to give more prominence to that strategic consideration when deploying their case?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I entirely agree with those sentiments. The Jarrow march in the early 1930s, when millions were unemployed and people were in a state of destitution, is in no way comparable with the problems that some hauliers and farmers face today. That is not to underestimate the problems of those industries. As I said earlier, hauliers earn very tight margins—indeed, some of them make almost no margin—and the stresses in the farming community are well known. However, as some of this morning's newspapers have pointed out, some of those 1128 involved have substantial capital assets and could in no way be compared with those who marched from Jarrow.
I do not accept that we are not addressing the issue of global warming. My right honourable friends the Minister for the Environment, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister have all talked recently about the importance of ensuring that our actions today do not imperil this planet in the future.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, the Minister referred to the cuts in expenditure on health, education and other matters that would be a consequence of a reduction in fuel tax. Were not the funding arrangements made at the time of the Budget and based on the price of petrol at that time? Since then, has there not been a massive escalation in the price of petrol and consequent excess revenue for the Government? Is it not provocative to refer to such figures at such a sensitive time, suggesting that, after the bonuses that the Government have received, any reduction in fuel tax would inevitably cut into essential items such as health and education?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I do not accept the thrust of the noble Lord's argument, because the financial situation is always dynamic. I am sure that, like me, he has read this week that the Treasury's take from corporate taxation and capital gains tax may have gone down recently. Demands for a 26p cut in fuel duty have been made to me in private, on television and at many meetings that I have held with some of the groups who are demanding negotiation—as they put it—and who say that we do not listen when what they mean is that we have listened, but we do not agree with them. It is indisputable that that would add up to £11.8 billion. We could not take that out of our resources without consequent damage to other services. Those to whom I have talked have made it clear that it is not in their minds to reduce the £3.8 billion that goes to farmers—and nor should it be. I have pointed out to them that the Prime Minister took charge of the recent negotiations that delivered an extra £200 million to farmers. I have also pointed out that the fishermen who have come to the aid of some of the protesters pay no duty on their diesel. Farmers readily accept that they pay only 3p on their red diesel. The equation is complicated and was not illuminated by the noble Lord's contribution.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I hope it is accepted in every quarter of the House that in times of protest, whatever our opinion of the protest, the Government's first priority must be that the show must go on. Pursuant to that, the Minister may remember that during the last protest, a number of lorry drivers abandoned their lorries in the carriageway in the middle of Hyde Park Corner during rush hour. I must declare an interest, having been personally affected, but I doubt that the view that that is an undesirable practice is particularly controversial. Will the Minister consult his right honourable friend the Home Secretary and ask him to 1129 discuss with the police whether they see any need for additional powers to deal with that practice, should it be repeated?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I am assured by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and others on the task force that the police have said that they believe that they have all the powers necessary to deal with any events of the kind described. Yes, lorries were abandoned in Park Lane and, yes, in line with their operational independence the police took the type of decision which they felt was suitable at that place and time. Certainly, from this distance I would not try to second-guess those decisions.
However, the noble Earl is correct: the show must go on. I hope that, from what they have heard today, noble Lords will feel that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that the show does go on.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, noble Lords opposite blame the crisis on fuel duty. However, does my noble friend agree that the escalation in the summer was caused almost entirely by the doubling of the OPEC price? Therefore, a balance must be struck. We must stick to our Kyoto commitments, but it is the handling of the OPEC effect that has caused such difficulty, which of course includes the difficulty in relation to public finance.
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, in my previous ministerial incarnation at the Scottish Office I was responsible for North Sea oil and gas, and went to bed of a night praying that the price of oil would rise from l0 dollars a barrel. As it began to rise inexorably, I was switched to transport. Therefore, the fact that the price has trebled in only 18 months has burned in my brain. I believe that OPEC's impact has been important.
However, other forces are at work here, too. We have a stable economy; we have the lowest unemployment for 25 years; we have the lowest inflation in Europe; and we have historically low and stable interest rates. Consequently, we also have a very strong currency. Although the price of, say, a litre of diesel in this country seems high compared with the cost in Europe, it is worth saying that, were the pound still at 2.45 deutschmarks, we would probably have the fourth or fifth most expensive fuel in Europe. Therefore, many factors impinge on this matter. It would be simplistic to imply that our continuation of the previous government's fuel duty escalator and our subsequent increases in duty were solely to blame.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, the noble Lord said that it had been concluded that it was too dangerous for the tanker drivers to take out their vehicles. Therefore—I believe that there is a degree of causation about this—it is the Government's plan that in certain circumstances military drivers should be employed. In terms of the danger, can the noble Lord tell me the difference between a military driver, who, of course, is under discipline and will obey orders, and an ordinary 1130 tanker driver? Will they not be in equal danger when taking out such a vehicle? Is it planned that military tankers should be protected by the police (which would be interesting), or are we going to see armed convoys? Is this not a slight reflection of the General Strike, and will the Government be very careful in their use of the military for these purposes?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, like any government, this Government would be most cautious in introducing Army drivers. However, it is quite clear that that power should be available in the last resort. We shall continue to work closely with the police and with trade unions to ensure that maximum safety is provided for the tanker drivers. In those circumstances, it should be possible to keep fuel supplies moving. If occasions arise when that is not possible, then of course we must have recourse to other help. That help comes most readily from the Ministry of Defence.
However, I stress that no magic wand can be waved. We would probably be able to keep 20, 30 or 40 per cent of fuel going should we be forced to rely on the Army alone. Therefore, we look to the support of every part of the community. We look to the Benches opposite to stand alongside the Liberal Democrats, the CBI, the trade unions and, indeed, a whole range of industries. Yesterday the retail industry stated that this type of intimidation is utterly unacceptable inside a democracy.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, do the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, and Her Majesty's Government agree that at least some lesson is to be learnt from the quite extraordinary measure of support given to the protest by the general public, even though the general public itself was inconvenienced by it?
§ Lord Macdonald of Tradeston
My Lords, I accept that people have every right to feel aggrieved at what governments do and to support action in protest. However, I believe that, over time, the consequences of those actions have become clearer. People have had time to reflect and to see more clearly what could have happened as a result of the dispute. Therefore, it is no accident that, as reflected in the newspapers this week, we see a swing of opinion. I noted with interest that the Sun, the Daily Mirror and the Star as well as The Times, the Guardian and other newspapers have come out strongly against the protestors.
Should people persist with the threats that have been made recently, which would hit the sick and the vulnerable first and worst, then, as I say—I make no apologies for repeating the request—I hope that everyone in the House will stand up and declare firmly that that type of disruption has no place in a democracy.
§ The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, I believe that we have come to the end of the mandatory time available, as set out in the Companion.