By Ann Higgins
Baroness Jenny Jones with Tom Scott – photo by Bev Haigh-Jones
Thanks to CfE committee member and Green party organiser Tom Scott, Bev Haigh-Jones and I were able to attend a meeting in Truro on Saturday night at which Baroness Jenny Jones was “in conversation” with Tom and then answered questions from the floor about her work. Presently in the news because of the “Fatal Motion” she has put down for debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14 June (see below), she is one of only two Green peers, the other being Baroness Natalie Bennet who joined her in the Lords in 2019. Having joined the Green party in 1988, in 2000 Jenny was elected as part of the three strong Green group in the inaugural London Assembly and in 2003 found herself as deputy Mayor of London after the Greens accepted Ken Livingstone’s offer to nominate a deputy. Whilst she found Ken easy to work with, her experience of his successor, a certain Boris Johnson, was, she said, rather different, despite his facile charm and the excellent memory he uses to try to endear himself to others. (Ed: funny how he forgot being at those parties then).
She credits her time in the Assembly as being a terrific training ground for learning how to grow cross-party cooperation which has since stood her in good stead in the Lords, which she entered in 2013, and also in deepening her interest in civil liberties, policing, road safety and traffic, and environmental issues. It was also interesting to hear how the contrasting reactions that she received as a novice peer differed greatly from party to party, senior Tory lady peers perhaps surprisingly being amongst the most helpful. A skill she had quickly to develop was how to work with peers from across the Chamber and this culminated recently in her guiding the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill through the Lords with cross-party support and it is now going through the HoC, where it received its first reading in December 2022. Otherwise known as Ella’s law, it aims to create a duty upon the government to achieve and maintain clean air as a basic human right for the population of England and Wales. Unfortunately it seems that there is unlikely to be enough time to get it through all its stages in the HoC in this Parliament, but Jenny was hopeful that it could provide a blueprint for similar bills in future.
With her interest in the environment and civil rights, it was inevitable that this would lead Jenny into conflict with the police but even she was shocked to discover through the freedom of information system that the police had labelled her as a “domestic terrorist” before shredding the files they held on her. She was subsequently deeply involved with policing matters whilst on the London Assembly and latterly has worked closely with LibDem peer and former police officer Lord Brian Padddick on the Tory government’s increasingly authoritarian bills restricting the right to protest and demonstrate. Having contributed to the defeat of the government’s attempt in the Public Order Act 2023 to criminalise protests where “disruption was anything more than minor”, she was outraged to discover that the government was planning to use secondary legislation (which normally concerns the detail of legislation so usually goes through without challenge) to reinstate the defeated wording. She has therefore put down a Fatal Motion, which, if carried, would keep the current “serious disruption” threshold preserved by the Lords and which the government did not seek to reverse on the Bill’s return to the Commons when it received its third reading. Describing this as a gross assault on our democracy, as she said, if the government thinks it can overrule any amendment put through by the Lords by simply creating a statutory instrument, what is the point of any votes in the Lords? It appears that she has already had an effect as she told us that the government has now set aside 90 minutes on Monday 12 June to debate this change, presumably because they hope that if they can get a majority to support it in the HoC, that will enable them to argue that the Lords will be going against the will of the Commons if they pass the Fatal Motion. That does not however detract from the argument that to use secondary legislation to overrule a parliamentary vote is constitutionally and democratically wrong.
After a lively questions and answer session Jenny stayed to talk informally to the audience and discuss some local issues such as the carbon capture project proposed to take place in St Ives Bay and the severe damage by pollution to Cornish oyster fisheries which she had visited during the day. She was very generous with her time and is clearly a very energetic and diligent member of the House of Lords, who, despite her misgivings about it, works very hard to use the current system to the benefit of the UK population.
Unfortunately the Fatal Motion was defeated by 64 votes to 154, despite cross-party outrage and dismay at the Government’s tactics. All is not lost, however, because Liberty is to launch an application for judicial review of their actions as set out here. We will be following their battle with interest. For those who want to delve a little deeper into the subject, here’s a detailed look at the issues raised from David Allen Green.