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'(1) Any person who—
(a) organises a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(b) takes part in a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(c) carries on a demonstration by himself in a public place in the designated area,
is guilty of an offence if, when the demonstration starts, authorisation for the demonstration has not been given under section (Authorisation of demonstrations in designated area)(2).
(2) It is a defence for a person accused of an offence under subsection (1) to show that he reasonably believed that authorisation had been given.
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply if the demonstration is—
(a) a public procession of which notice is required to be given under subsection (1) of section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64), or of which (by virtue of subsection (2) of that section) notice is not required to be given, or
(b) a public procession for the purposes of section 12 or 13 of that Act.
(4) Subsection (1) also does not apply in relation to any conduct which is lawful under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (c. 52).
(5) If subsection (1) does not apply by virtue of subsection (3) or (4), nothing in sections (Notice of demonstrations in designated area) to (Offences under sections (Demonstrating without authorisation in designated area) to (Supplementary directions): penalties) applies either.
(6) Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (imposition of conditions on public assemblies) does not apply in relation to a public assembly which is also a demonstration for the purposes of this section.
(7) In this section and in sections (Notice of demonstrations in designated area) to (Loudpeakers in designated area)—
(a) "the designated area" means the area specified in an order under section (The designated area),
(b) "public place" means any highway or any place to which at the material time the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission,
(c) references to any person organising a demonstration include a person participating in its organisation,
(d) references to any person organising a demonstration do not include a person carrying on a demonstration by himself,
(e) references to any person or persons taking part in a demonstration (except in subsection (1) of this section) include a person carrying on a demonstration by himself.'.—[Caroline Flint.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this we may take the following:
Government new clause 19—Notice of demonstrations in designated area.
Government new clause 20—Authorisation of demonstrations in designated area.
Government new clause 21—Supplementary directions.
Government new clause 22—Offences under sections (Demonstrating without authorisation in designated area) to (Supplementary directions): penalties.
Government new clause 23—Loudspeakers in designated area.
Government new clause 24—The designated area.
Government amendment No. 1
Amendment No. 2, in clause 128, page 92, line 27, at end insert 'or'.
Amendment No. 3, in page 92, line 28, leave out from 'Parliament' to end of line 30.
Amendment No. 134, in page 92, line 30, at end insert—
'(d) erecting or displaying material prejudicial to security, or
(e) causing noise of an offensive or intrusive nature'.
Amendment No. 4, in page 93, line 4, after 'officers', insert
', being of or above the rank of inspector,'.
Amendment No. 5, in page 93, line 23, leave out 'one kilometre' and insert '100 metres'
Amendment No. 135, in page 93, line 23, leave out 'one kilometre' and insert '200 yards'.
Government amendment No. 6,
Government amendment No. 168.
These new clauses are a response to the Procedure Committee which, in its report on Sessional Orders and Resolutions, considered in detail the legislation governing protests and demonstrations in Parliament square, which have given rise to a great deal of discussion and concern among Members of the House, as well as staff.
Following the concerns expressed in Committee about clause 128, particularly subsection (2)(c), the Home Secretary and I reconsidered how best to implement the Procedure Committee's report. We need specific legislation that recognises the unique position of Parliament and its surroundings. The Government recognise that existing legislation has not provided the police with all the powers they need to control all protests and demonstrations around Parliament. That was demonstrated clearly during our debate on the ways in which local authorities, the police and others have tried unsuccessfully to use the law to deal with particular problems.
Government new clauses 18 to 22, which would replace clauses 128 and 129, require all demonstrations that are planned to take place in the designated area to be notified to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner six days in advance. That follows the requirement in the Public Order Act 1986 for all marches to be notified in advance. The precise area will be defined in secondary legislation.
Following our discussions in Committee, we decided that it was important to have a clear process in line with current precedent on processions to provide greater certainty on what we intend to achieve and greater consistency for people applying to hold demonstrations.
Let me say at the outset that the Government's proposals this evening appear to be much better than those that we considered in Committee, but does the Minister understand that one of the anxieties that remain is the potential geographical scope of the order? I appreciate that it is to be dealt with by means of secondary legislation, but what we pass here becomes rather important. The Minister knows my view that 1 km is much too great a distance. Would it not be possible for her to give an assurance during the course of the debate that we can at least amend the provision in another place, so that the distance is restricted to no more than 200 m from Parliament square?
My intervention is on the same subject. I, like many others I am sure, am concerned about restricting the right of free speech and demonstration. Why on earth should many public buildings in this area be included, as well as Trafalgar square, which is a traditional place of protest and demonstration? The Minister should think carefully about removing rights that are enshrined in our history.
I take my hon. Friend's point. I emphasise that our aim is not to prevent people from exercising their right of free speech. We simply believe that, in certain circumstances, certain conditions should be imposed because of the nature of the area in question. If I am allowed to make progress, I shall discuss the way in which the geographical area may be defined.
"When I pass protestors every day at Downing street . . . I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom."
How can the Government justify curtailing that very freedom for 60 million British citizens simply because they feel uncomfortable about one individual citizen's determination to exercise that right?
Neither the hon. Gentleman nor his party has a monopoly on defending the right of free speech. I defend that right and I have protested on a number of occasions in the past—indeed, I remember a time when I was not allowed to cross the bridge because of the restrictions then in place. I repeat, we are not denying people the right to protest in the area around Parliament. We are simply saying that, while recognising people's right to protest, we have to deal with some of the problems that Members of this House have raised in good faith.
Perhaps not, but I am certain that the Minister did when she was busy demonstrating. Does she think that a £5,000 fine is proportionate to the offence?
In fact, I do not recall using a loudhailer. Some would say that I had a big enough voice on me without one. However, there are issues relating to the use of equipment to amplify voice, one of which is its impact, day in, day out, minute by minute, on those who work in Parliament, whether they are elected representatives or staff of the House.
As the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I made it clear in the debate we had some time ago that we are not trying to stop people protesting or making their voice heard. Will the Minister ask those who are concerned about what we are trying to do whether they have read the evidence given to our Committee by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the Clerk of the House, the Serjeant at Arms and Members of Parliament, who expressed grave concern—particularly the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the ground of security? Had they done so, they would be far more sympathetic to the case she is making, which from the Opposition Benches I warmly support.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. It is for other Members to say whether they have read the full evidence. The Government have considered all the views expressed both by those who are concerned about measures that they believe might curtail protest and freedom of speech, and by those for whom such protests have become a real problem in terms of security and in terms of hindering the operations of the House.
Like my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, I support the Minister, and thank her for what she is doing. Has she talked to members of staff in Portcullis house and 1 Parliament street, as well as the police who are on duty at Members entrance day after day, as their lives are made intolerable by those people baying away, without a crowd to address, merely repeating themselves ad nauseam? The hon. Lady has the full support of every right thinking person in the House.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Individuals can make a protest, but there are genuine concerns when that protest voice is amplified, affecting people who are carrying out their jobs. In many other circumstances, hon. Members protect the health and safety rights of individuals working in certain environments. That is partly what we are trying to address, and that is why the House authorities are concerned about the problem.
I, too, join my hon. Friends in saying that it is most unfortunate that staff in the House have had to put up with a cacophony of debilitating noise. As we are debating the issue, the noise continues. There is not an audience out there—the only audience are the staff of the House, and I am surprised that they have put up with it for so long. Does the Minister agree that if the judges had been more reasonable in their interpretation of the original measure to remove an abuse of freedom of expression, we might not have needed to pass new legislation to deal with an isolated problem and an abuse of free speech?
We have reached this point because there are gaps and loopholes in the law, so we could not attend to the very problem that the hon. Gentleman outlined.
Has any representative of an environmental body attempted to measure the level of noise from the demonstrators in Parliament square? Does it in fact exceed the noise that exudes from Big Ben every 15 minutes? Does it exceed the noise of Division bells which, as we have heard this evening, can be frequently rung? The Bill attempts to silence one particular protester, who has been there for a considerable period. Far from attempting to silence him, every hon. Member should be extremely proud that we live in a society where he can continue to express his concerns.
I am very proud that we live in a society where people can express their point of view. However, I challenge my hon. Friend to spend a day out there and see how it feels listening to that noise. I wonder whether she could get on with her parliamentary work listening to it day in, day out, minute by minute. Mr. Salmond asked about the penalty for the use of loud hailers. It is the same penalty as applies under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which deals with the use of loud hailers at night.
My hon. Friend invited me to spend a day out there. My office in 1 Parliament street is certainly open to what she and other hon. Members regard as unbearable noise—I regard it as the voice of democracy. I would point out to her that in my previous work experience one of the first things we had to learn was the ability to concentrate regardless of exterior noise or sound.
I am not persuaded by the Government's case, but may I ask the Minister about something specific? I accept that, in general, demonstrators need to give six days' notice, but we often do things at a day's notice in the house. Where do people who want to protest about something that the Government suddenly announce or introduce in Parliament go so that we can hear and see them, and there is a relationship between the people and their Parliament?
I do not think that there is a shortage of opportunities for people to protest and express their point of view. Week in, week out, while the House is sitting, there are lobbies of Parliament. People have free access to the Commons, and can come to Central Lobby and demand to see their Member of Parliament. I do not believe that there is a lack of opportunity for people to express their point of view. If one person, who may have a huge amount of paraphernalia and loud hailers, wants to hold a demonstration, they should seek the authority to do so, just as people holding a procession do.
No, I shall make progress and describe how we see the provision working in relation to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. When notice of a demonstration is given, the commissioner must authorise the demonstration. I emphasise that, in response to concerns about whether people would be allowed to make their protest and express their point of view. However, the commissioner may attach conditions for the purpose of preventing any of the following, which are listed in new clause 20: hindrance to any person wishing to enter or leave the Palace of Westminster; hindrance to the proper operation of Parliament; serious public disorder; serious damage to property; disruption to the life of the community; a security risk in any part of the designated area; or risk to the safety of members of the public, including those taking part in the demonstration.
Those conditions are more helpful than the original provisions in the Bill. Hon. Members may not know that officers from Charing Cross police station currently make regular visits to the site in Parliament square to check behind paraphernalia for devices left not by the people who are protesting, but by people who might use the protest for their own motives to cause a security problem. Some of my hon. Friends laugh at that, but these issues are taken seriously by the police. There are questions about how much police time should be spent unnecessarily checking behind placards, fixed posters and so on. Conditions attached to authorised demonstrations would make matters much easier for the police.
No, I shall make a little more progress.
The current Sessional Order orders the commissioner to keep access to Parliament free when Parliament is sitting. Recent demonstrations, though not hindering access to Parliament, have disrupted its work. We propose that conditions can be placed on demonstrations so that they do not hinder access to or hinder the proper operation of Parliament. For example, the police could impose a direction on demonstrators to keep the demonstration away from Carriage Gates or to limit the number of demonstrators. The senior police officer at the scene of the demonstration would be able to impose additional conditions in order to secure these aims. It would be an offence to organise or carry on a demonstration that had not been authorised by the police, or to fail to comply with a direction imposed by the commissioner or the police officer at the scene.
Someone could turn up and say that they did not know about the conditions. It would be up to the police officer at the scene to deal with that in the way he or she saw fit. The major difference between the original provisions of the Bill and what we are proposing in the new clauses relates to consistency. The first version of the Bill raised questions about the extent to which an individual officer would have to interpret what would be the appropriate conditions. The new clauses make it clear that the conditions would be provided in writing to the person who had asked to hold the protest, and they would be able to show that to a police officer at the scene if there was any question about whether they were abiding by the conditions set.
It would be an offence to organise or carry on a demonstration that had not been authorised by the police, or to fail to comply with a direction imposed by the commissioner or the police officer at the scene. I must stress that there would be no power to ban any demonstration outright. It is for the police to decide what conditions to place on any demonstration. The police are best placed to decide what action is proportionate, taking into account human rights considerations. There are exemptions for trade union disputes and for public processions, which are subject to separate controls under sections 11 and 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. We believe that the new clauses will introduce consistency in imposing conditions on demonstrations around Parliament. It is open to all those who wish to demonstrate at short notice to do so, but away from the area around Parliament. That is what we are trying to protect.
The subject of loudhailers has been raised in the debate. During the debate on the Sessional Order and resolutions, the Leader of the House announced that the Home Secretary would consider using the order-making powers in section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to ban the use of loudhailers in the area of Parliament square. At that time we considered in good faith that we could use the Act to achieve a ban, but I must apologise to the House. Further legal advice is that the powers in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 are not flexible enough for us to achieve a complete ban around Parliament. New clauses 23 and 24 follow the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which ban the use of loudhailers in the streets at night. The new clauses ban the use of loudhailers in the vicinity of Parliament at any time, except for certain specified purposes, such as in an emergency.
The Government agree with the point raised by Mr. Forth in amendment No. 134: the police should be able to deal with those erecting or displaying material prejudicial to security or causing noise of an offensive or intrusive nature. That is why the commissioner can place conditions on an assembly to prevent hindrance to the operation of Parliament, disruption to the life of community, a security risk or a risk to the safety of members of the public.
The Government also agree with the point raised by Mr. Heath in amendments Nos. 2 and 3: that imposing conditions on demonstrators on the ground that they spoil the visual aspect of the area is a difficult judgment for police officers to make. [Hon. Members: "Bonkers."] As those on the Liberal Democrat Benches say, it is absolutely bonkers. I could say the same about them, but there we go.
We thought about that issue after consideration in Committee, and about how a police officer could determine what is aesthetically pleasing, or challenging for that matter. That is why we felt it important that the new clauses deal with situations where placards or other paraphernalia could affect the conditions we have set, particularly those dealing with serious damage to property—that is an obvious one—but also disruption, security risks in any part of the designated area, or for that matter risks to the safety of members of the public. That point has been clarified, and I hope that it is helpful to our discussion.
Amendment No. 4 would ensure that the officer who gives a direction to a protestor must be at least of the rank of inspector. We believe that it would cause operational difficulties to the police if an inspector was not at the scene and they had to wait for one to impose a direction. As we said in Committee, Members of Parliament would be rather annoyed if their access was hindered and a police officer had to wait for an inspector to come to effect a direction.
By ensuring that conditions are placed on a demonstrator before the start, the Metropolitan police will be able to consider more carefully the conditions to be imposed. I can assure hon. Members that the conditions set in advance will be agreed by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. We heard about that problem in Committee, and the advanced notice deals with some problems raised in Committee about the rank of the person deciding what conditions should be set. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will not press his amendment.
I can reassure hon. Members that the Government intend to lay an order specifying the precise area to be covered. We intend to consult the Metropolitan police so that it will cover the area where demonstrations take place that disrupt the work of Parliament, hinder access to the House and cause a security risk. We do not want to restrict unnecessarily the area that will be covered, and we want to ensure that all parliamentary and key Government buildings are covered. In Committee, we considered the distance of 200 m, or 200 yd, and there was a question whether the entrance to the House of Lords would be covered if we were to limit ourselves to such distances.
As I said, we do not want unnecessarily to restrict the area that is covered, but we want to consult on what the appropriate Government and parliamentary buildings would be.
I am trying to answer the question of Mr. Salmond. He should remember that the Sessional Order covers an area from Vauxhall Bridge road in the west to Wellington street and Waterloo bridge in the east. The area that we are proposing—within a kilometre—is smaller than the current Sessional Order area.
We are not enlarging the area to be covered; in fact, we are decreasing and restricting it. We will be clear on consulting on which buildings will be covered, but there are issues that we have to discuss with the police relating to where demonstrations would disrupt the work of Parliament. Of course, that work takes place not just in one building, but in several. We have to discuss issues of security risk as well. I make the point again: we are not banning demonstrations, but allowing them with conditions imposed on them.
I am glad that the Minister said that the work of Parliament does not just occur in one building. It occurs not only here, in this main Chamber, but in Westminster Hall, which is extremely exposed to Parliament square. As one of those who, on behalf of Mr. Speaker, chairs sittings in Westminster Hall—our alternative Chamber—I know that there have been occasions when debates have been badly inconvenienced by the level of noise from Parliament square. The Minister is right to be flexible about the area in which the Bill will apply. She has the Procedure Committee's wholehearted support.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. We want some flexibility, but as I have said, the area that we have proposed to consult on, in terms of the buildings concerned, is actually smaller than that currently provided for under the Sessional Order.
As we enter the 21st century, most children at school, including mine, are being taught in centimetres and metres. I think that those are appropriate measures to use, but we will differ on that issue, I am sure.
I believe that the matters that we have put before the House demonstrate—
Let me just make this point. The clauses that we have framed show that we have listened to concerns expressed inside and outside the Committee, about what is appropriate and proportionate. I believe strongly that providing for advance notification means that we can have greater consistency in the process than if we just leave the matter to an individual police officer, because the person who gets the authority for the process will have it in writing and will be able to provide that if they are challenged by any police officer in the area around Parliament.
There is a difficult balance to be struck. There is, and will continue to be, a longstanding tradition in this country that people are free to gather together to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law. Equally, access to Parliament must be maintained, and those living and working around Parliament should be able to do so in safety and free from harassment.
We believe that ensuring that those who organise demonstrations around Parliament—
I have taken several interventions and I am conscious of other people wanting to speak.
Those who organise demonstrations around Parliament should notify the Metropolitan police in advance, and the police should impose conditions in advance depending on the circumstances of each demonstration. That is the most effective way of achieving what we want, and of resolving the problem that has emerged. The issue is not just about one individual; it is about the fact that the problems of the past few years could be taken on by other individuals as well, and we need to deal with that. I state again that everyone is entitled to their point of view, but sometimes there have to be conditions on how that point of view is put across.
I am conscious of time, so I shall endeavour to be brief.
The Minister is right when she says that what she has come up with this evening is much better than what was before the Committee. That was frankly dreadful and this is an improvement on it, but there are several issues that the House ought to consider. Conservative Members will have a free vote on the subject, as it is a matter for Parliament.
My first point is that the system requiring authorisation for demonstration is one with which I do not disagree, but I am concerned that, under the provision, one should give not less than six clear days' notice. If that is the case, it means that any rapidly organised demonstration in response to a specific political event or situation will be impossible. If, for example, in response to an emergency, Parliament was about to vote to go to war, it would not be possible for demonstrators to stand in Parliament square to express their view. I simply cannot accept that it will require six days for the police to decide on such an authorisation. I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure us this evening that that matter will be revisited in the other place and that the period can be reduced substantially.
It will be open for people to demonstrate outside the designated area, away from Parliament square. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] However, we are considering a shorter period of notice for exceptional circumstances, such as an emergency. We are looking into that but the circumstances would have to be exceptional for such a demonstration.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary but the problem remains that the House is being asked to vote this evening on something that, in stark terms, I find unacceptable.
Of course it is unacceptable. Who determines the exceptional circumstances that reduce the six-day period?
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly good point.
The second problem is that we will delegate all the responsibility to the commissioner. I accept that the commissioner has to make difficult decisions but the matter is political and I wonder whether it is fair on him to have such choices and responsibilities delegated to him. That causes me some anxiety.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the provisions focus on one man, Brian Haw? Does he also agree that that puts political pressure on the commissioner to make a judgment on whether Brian Haw's demonstration is acceptable? The crucial point is that it shifts political judgment in the wrong direction and takes us away from it.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. When the measure was originally framed, I shared that view strongly. Speaking for myself, I could accept the idea of a regulatory framework to prevent excesses in Parliament square. I am focusing on my anxieties, which are about the commissioner, the ludicrous, unacceptable time for notification and the designated area, which I mentioned earlier.
There is no need for a designated area of 1 km around Parliament square. I heartily agree with the comments of Kate Hoey that the distance should be expressed in miles or yards. Frankly, we do not need miles—yards are sufficient. My right hon. Friend Mr. Forth tabled an amendment that would provide for an area of 200 yd. That is eminently sensible.
That brings me to my final point. All the amendments that hon. Members have tabled are redundant because the moment we vote on the clauses, all possibility of further amendment falls. That shows how ludicrous it is to consider those matters on Report. I require concrete assurances. I shall either abstain or vote against the new clauses. I shall abstain if I have a concrete assurance that the deficiencies will be adequately remedied; otherwise, with regret, I shall have to vote against at least some of the new clauses.
The process that we are going through tonight is absolutely shambolic. We have tabled amendments to what we thought were the proposals in the legislation, only to discover that the Secretary of State has signed our amendments—I thought that we had achieved a revolutionary position at one point—and other amendments have been tabled that are an absolute travesty. This is not just a question of not having time to debate these issues.
The definition in the new clause of a "public place" is
"any highway or any place to which at the material time the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission".
That could include Methodist central hall, Westminster Abbey or Trafalgar square. Spontaneous demonstrations will no longer be possible. Worse, if I get permission to hold a demonstration, having given my six days' notice, and someone sees me demonstrating and thinks, "That's a good idea. I'll go and join him", that person would be committing an offence. As the organiser of the demonstration, I would have a defence, but I might have committed the crime of incitement. So I could go down for 51 weeks or a year, not for organising the demonstration but for incitement. What is the definition of incitement? A phone call to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn the night before?
One demonstration could take place, having given notice, but there might then be no opportunity for another demonstration to take place at the same time on what could be a hugely important and divisive issue.
So, by the sound of it, we can no longer have competing demonstrations to counterbalance each other. In addition, the powers that the measure gives to the commissioner are absolutely staggering, and there is no provision for them to be circumscribed in the future, or for setting guidelines on them. Is the commissioner really to have the opportunity to designate how many people can turn up to a demonstration, how many placards they can bring and what the design of the placards should be? Is that what we employ the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for? He is going to have a wonderful time choosing between the different designs on Brian Haw's placards.
Will my hon. Friend help me on one point that is troubling me? What would happen in the event of the commissioner refusing permission for a demonstration in an emergency such as a potential war, and 10,000 or 20,000 people subsequently turning up in Parliament square anyway? Would there be pitched battles outside Parliament because people wanted to reach their Parliament to protest?
Under this legislation, large numbers of people would have to be arrested. That is the only way to interpret the provisions.
Furthermore, no conditions are to be placed on the commissioner in relation to when a decision has to be made after a person has given their six days' notice. Then there is the worrying provision that any police officer, of any rank, can change the conditions at will at any time during a demonstration in Parliament square. Those powers are beyond those that the police officers themselves would wish to have. The designated area of 1 km will include vast tracts of traditional demonstrating areas. The Government will be passing power to one part of the state to control demonstrations in a way that we have never known before in the history of this country.
Tonight, we are seeing a small but significant part of our democratic tradition being chiselled away. Why? Because one person out there has the moral authority, the guts, the tenacity and the courage to stand in Parliament square for several years telling us what we did wrong in this House by authorising a war. Part of the motivation behind this legislation is that some people cannot come to terms with the illegality and immorality of their actions in this place. We should be supporting that democratic voice out there, and the right of that individual to voice his concerns in this way—near to us.
Mr. Grieve said that all our amendments were redundant, but he is not entirely right. My amendment No. 1 is far from redundant—in fact, it has been signed by the Secretary of State. It seeks to remove the previous clause. As I said in Committee, that clause needed to be removed because it was "bonkers". It gave the power to a police officer of no higher rank than that of constable to determine that the appearance of a person in Parliament square was to the visual detriment of the square—in other words, that he looked untidy or a bit scruffy, or looked as though he should not be there. On the basis of that decision, the police officer could apply an order to that person to leave not only Parliament square but an area of 1 km surrounding the square. That person would have no capacity to challenge that order and could be excluded from an area running from north of Trafalgar square down to Millbank—I do not know why anyone would want to demonstrate down there—and across to Buckingham palace or over to Waterloo station. If he had the misfortune to want to catch a train home from Waterloo International, Victoria or Charing Cross, he would be out of luck, because he would be excluded on the say-so of a single constable. If ever there was an overreaction to a minimal disruption, this was it. That is why the Government were entirely right to withdraw their amendment, but what they have put in its place is very little better.
Apart from what my grandmother would have said about looking scruffy for a capital city, am I not right in saying that the most senior officer in law is the first police officer at the scene of a crime who decides to apply the law as he or she sees fit? Has that not always been the case? We should be careful about saying that someone's junior rank makes him or her, in a specific instance, not capable of using the judgment that we put every single bobby on the beat to use.
I do not think that Mr. Brian Haw suddenly appeared on the scene—he was there for some time. Yet the law, as it was suggested, would have allowed a police constable to wake up one morning and think, "He looks a bit scruffy. We'll get rid of him." I do not think that that is the right approach.
It is arguable that there was a nuisance. I do not happen to agree, and not just because I agree with the cause that Mr. Haw espouses. If there was a nuisance, however, the right remedy was a civil one, not the creation of a new criminal offence. The Government threw all that away, because they recognised that it was bonkers, and presented an alternative, but the alternative has some swivel-eyed aspects. It refers to "a demonstration", but a demonstration can be a demonstration by one person. When is one person a demonstration? Presumably when he or she manifests some aspect of demonstration. Is that a leaflet? Is it a placard? Is it a double-decker bus? I do not know. One person becomes a demonstration and requires a permit but another person is simply someone standing in Parliament square. How does a police officer determine who is a demonstration and who is someone who simply does not like the look of the Government?
The point about the removal of spontaneity in demonstrations has already been made. We are no longer allowed suddenly to feel that the Government are doing the country a grave injustice and protest about it. We must give six days' notice to the commissioner before we can mount our one-man demonstration with a leaflet outside the Houses of Parliament. What criteria is the commissioner allowed to take into consideration? Is it serious hindrance to the work of Parliament? Is it serious damage or disruption to the environment? No—it is simple disruption to the life of the community. How do we define disruption to the life of the community of Parliament square? I thought that the life of Parliament square was demonstrations. I thought that Parliament square was the centre where we expressed our political differences with the Government of the day.
Is this not the natural and unavoidable consequence of framing a piece of legislation with the sole aim of preventing one man, Brian Haw, from demonstrating in this way? The unintended consequences for the other 60 million of us arise because the Government have not thought this through strategically and have brushed away the issue of principle that has already been raised.
In fact, I do not think the Government have a clue what they are doing. They simply have a visceral dislike of someone disagreeing so obviously, and in such a prolonged way, on their doorstep. That is why we have what can only be described, although it is a cliché, as a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut. I do not believe that the Government should be making it a criminal offence for someone simply to express his view in Parliament square in a time-honoured way, and I do not think they should extend the area to 1 km. I find it alarming enough that the Minister has changed the Government's position since she said in Committee that the intention was to protect Parliament. Now it is Parliament and Government buildings, which is illustrative in itself.
I believe that the Government have got this wrong and I urge my colleagues to oppose their measure.
I will be brief as we have six minutes left.
I ask all hon. Members to think of whence they came. We are all elected to the House to represent people. We have the great privilege of having the opportunity to speak in this Chamber. The people of this country have every right to protest, to march, to meet and to demand.
Are we seriously saying that, because one person, Brian Haw, has been outside for three years, we will sweep away the right that has existed for centuries for people to come to the House, without seeking permission from anyone, to express their view? If these amendments are passed, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will decide who is fit to demonstrate and who is not. It puts a great burden on him and it will make it impossible for any person to come here in an act of spontaneity to demonstrate against a decision that the Government or House are about to take.
It is not for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to say who is fit to demonstrate or who is not. They can demonstrate but there will be certain conditions attached. That is totally different from what my hon. Friend just said.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be deciding what they can say, who they are, what they can carry, how long they can be there and how many people are involved. It will be police control of demonstrations outside our Parliament.
This is a very serious matter. I urge hon. Members to think very carefully of their privileges to speak, to vote and to talk before denying that right to others who wish to come to the House and make life uncomfortable for us. In a democracy, there is nothing wrong with people making life uncomfortable for elected politicians.
I personally admire Brian Haw but that is not the point. As I said when I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee, what he is demonstrating about is not the point. It is about his right or that of anyone else to come here and express their view, however welcome or unwelcome it is for us. That is what democracy is about.
Jeremy Corbyn speaks with great eloquence and fervour. I do not think that any individual has the right indefinitely to deface the centre of a great capital city, which is what we have seen over the past three years with Mr. Haw. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman sympathises with him and I do not sympathise with the cause that Mr. Haw is seeking to espouse, but that is not the point. What the Government are seeking to do is, basically, in line with the Procedure Committee's recommendations and it is right.
I hope that the Minister will think again about both the time and the distance. I also hope that she will think very carefully about Trafalgar square. As one who stood shoulder to shoulder with Michael Foot protesting on the subject of Bosnia—Kate Hoey was there with us, too—I know the value of protests in Trafalgar square. I have spoken at a number of protests on the release of Soviet Jews, Bosnia and other causes, some of which would not endear themselves to the hon. Gentleman. Some might. Again, that is wholly irrelevant.
Trafalgar square is a time-honoured place where people can and should be able to demonstrate. It is very important that Trafalgar square be exempted from such regulation. It is important that the time is brought down to 48 hours from six days. That is entirely reasonable. It is important that we have English miles in the Bill and not kilometres and that we have English yards because, in that way, we will get a sensible solution that I hope most people could, perhaps with a degree of reluctance, support.
It is a pity that we have come to this pass but, Mr. Speaker, you know as well as anyone in the Chamber how disrupted the life of Parliament square has been over the past two years and how it has been defaced. The Government have taken a proper step in the right direction. They still need to correct themselves to a degree. I would like the Minister to respond briefly and to assure us that she will listen very carefully on those points about time and distance in particular.
Sir Patrick Cormack spoke of the defacing of Parliament square. I have heard people say that no such demonstrations as we have seen for the past three years should be allowed in Parliament square because it is a world heritage site. It is a world heritage site not because of that rather scruffy square of grass or the statues at its corners, and it is certainly not surrounded by buildings of overwhelming architectural excellence, with the exception possibly of Westminster abbey. It is a centre that the whole world comes to visit because of what has happened in this Parliament, and certainly what happened in Westminster abbey.
This building is a symbol to the world of a democratic system whereby the rights of the individual were placed above those of, in the first instance, a sovereign, and, in the second instance, a state. Westminster abbey is the great symbol of Christianity with its call to all of us to have compassion for those who are the lowest in our esteem. We should be—
It being five and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Speaker put forthwith the question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House proceeded to a Division.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, the amendments that we are being asked to vote on are unusual. I am speaking from the Government Benches, because the amendments stand in the names of both Mr. Secretary Clarke and Opposition Members. The Government's last-minute changes to the legislation have coincided with Opposition amendments. In the case of amendment No. 178, for example, the Government's headlong retreat from aggravated trespass in Scotland has coincided with an amendment designed to remove powers from the Government. My point of order is simple: given the nature of the amendments, which indicates the last-minute, spatchcocked nature of the legislation, is there anything in your powers to prevent last-minute amendments making it impossible for hon. Members to submit amendments to legislation? The Government's programme motion makes it impossible for those matters even to be debated. Do you have the discretion to stop that abuse of legislation, which we are seeing this evening?
I am not used to seeing the hon. Gentleman on the Government Benches. He has raised the question of the programme motion, which is a matter for the House and not for the Speaker. My clear understanding of the rules is that any hon. Member can put his name to an amendment. If that is a Minister of the Crown, the amendment becomes a Government amendment. It is just like the trade union movement—there is such a thing as custom and practice, which we are dealing with here.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.
Mr. Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Motion made, and Question proposed, that new clauses 19 to 24, 8, 9, 15, 16 and 17 be added to the Bill.
The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 88.