Speaker's Statement

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 13th May 2009.

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee 12:32 pm, 13th May 2009

Before I proceed with the business of the House, I wish to make a statement about demonstrations in Parliament square and issues of control and access to the House.

First, let me make it clear to the House that I support the right to demonstrate, but as right hon. and hon. Members have made clear through points of order the recent demonstration by Tamils has caused disruption to the work of the House and to individuals and organisations seeking access to it. It has also involved considerable cost to the House and to the police and exposed many issues of health and safety.

In the light of those difficulties, and given the distribution of responsibilities for Parliament square between various authorities, I can tell the House that I have arranged a meeting with the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, the deputy Mayor of London responsible for policing, the leader of Westminster council and an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police to discuss how demonstrations in the square can be better regulated so that the functioning of Parliament is not impeded and the health and safety of individuals is not breached. I shall come back to report any progress that we can make to resolve this highly unsatisfactory situation.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for that statement, and I hope that you will bear in mind during your discussions the pain and suffering that the Tamil people are going through. We must understand their need to express their point of view, in the hope that the British Government and others can encourage a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. These are desperate people shouting out for help, and I think we should listen to them.

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Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right that a Member should use your statement to further a political cause? Would you argue that that is not what your statement was about?

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee

I have known Jeremy Corbyn for many years. He made his comment through a point of order in good faith, and I think we should leave it that.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Please can you, Mr. Speaker, tell us the date of the meeting that you have convened?

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point has to do with the meeting and the demonstration. Like you, many of us have had considerable involvement with the demonstration. Would you be willing to accept a short note from any colleagues who have had some professional involvement with the police and others with regard to the events of the past few weeks? We want to assist you, and to make sure that the resolution of the matter commands the consensus of the whole House, irrespective of hon. Members' individual views on the demonstration and the issue involved.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Mike Gapes Committee, Chair, Mike Gapes Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have focused today on events with regard to Sri Lanka and the Tamil demonstrators, but over recent years there have been a number of demonstrations of different kinds. We need to bear it in mind that London is a global city, and that we cannot have its centre and our Parliament regularly disrupted by any organisation whatever.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Joint Committee on Human Rights produced a report on policing and protest a few weeks ago, and one of our recommendations was that there should be no surprises, either from demonstrators or in the policing of demonstrations. We also stressed the importance of dialogue between police and demonstrators. In the light of that, would you consider inviting organisers of the Tamil protest to meet the people whom you are seeing later today, to discuss terms of reference for the demonstration?

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee

I am meeting the people with responsibility in this matter, but who they write to is up to them. Let me make it clear: as I said in my statement, I believe that it is part of the democracy that we live in that people are entitled to demonstrate around Parliament, and therefore in Parliament square. However, what we have out there at the moment is a blocking-off of the right of others to demonstrate, and that is a deep concern to me. The square is an absolute shambles, and that should be taken into consideration as well.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, The Rt Hon. the Lord Martin of Springburn Committee

Order. I will not be holding court on the statement that I have made. The statement was clear and the meeting is at 5 o'clock, so I think that we should move on.

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