Metropolis (Marches)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 May 1983.

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Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet 12:00, 5 May 1983

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what criteria he takes into consideration when deciding whether to accede to any request to ban a march or demonstration in the metropolis.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I have no power to ban demonstrations. As to marches, the Public Order Act 1936 provides that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis or the Commissioner of the City police may, subject to my consent, make an order banning all marches or any class of march, but only if he believes that his other powers of control under the Act will be insufficient to prevent marches occasioning serious public disorder. In each case I consider the Commissioner's reasons for reaching his operational judgment. Beyond that, specific considerations may vary, but I always reach my decision on whether to consent to a banning order on what I judge will be in the public interest.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Barnet Chipping Barnet

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his considered reply. Since last year, over 750,000 police man-hours, involving more than 100 officers, have been used in controlling demonstrations in the metropolis. Will my right hon. Friend seriously and sympathetically consider an extension to the Public Order Act, if necessary, so that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis can ask for the re-routeing or banning of a march or demonstration if he can show that, if it went ahead, it would impede his main priority of fighting crime in London?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

My hon. Friend will appreciate that that does not come into the present law on serious public disorder. Those who decide to exercise their undoubted right to have marches or demonstrations must recognise the responsibilities that they are taking on and the danger that they will take away from others in the metropolis the police protection that they want.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

How many police officers were engaged in controlling the demonstration in Trafalgar Square the Sunday before last, organised by Lady Olga Maitland and her upper-middle class friends, in support of nuclear weapons? Has the Home Secretary, or anyone else in his Department, considered sending the bill for policing such demonstrations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence or to the Sunday Express?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I cannot give an answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question without notice.

If I were to send bills to all those who organised demonstrations, those bills would be considerable. —[Interruption.]—If the right hon. Gentleman would like me to send those bills, I should be pleased to do so.

Photo of Mr Michael Neubert Mr Michael Neubert , Romford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I would very much like him to send those bills to the organisations that arrange demonstrations on the streets of London? Is he further aware that the number of such demonstrations has increased sevenfold in nine years? As people are increasingly taking politics on to the streets, at great cost and inconvenience to the general public, particularly the ratepayers of London, is it not about time that they were asked to pay for the privilege?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I say again that those who decide to have marches and demonstrations, which is their democratic right, must accept their full responsibilities. In the Green Paper on public order I have made it clear that there are formidable problems, in principle and in practice, in suggestions about making conditions of control and in deciding to levy costs. However, we must look at the responsibility of all those who seek to organise demonstrations and marches.