New Clause 18 — Demonstrating without authorisation in designated area

Part of Orders of the Day — Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 7th February 2005.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:45 pm, 7th February 2005

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.