With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 164, page 95, line 7, leave out clause 142.
Amendment 171, page 95, line 7, leave out clause 142 and insert—
‘142 Injunctions to prevent a prohibited activity in controlled area of Parliament Square
(1) The High Court may grant an injunction against a person under this section if—
(a) it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the respondent has engaged in, or is about to engage in, a prohibited activity; and
(b) the injunction is necessary to stop the person doing a prohibited activity or from starting a prohibited activity.
(2) For the purposes of this part, a “prohibited activity”; is an activity—
(a) which may result in serious public disorder or serious damage to property; or
(b) where the purpose of the activity is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do.
(3) A person who fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a prohibition in an injunction order under section 143(1) is in breach of the injunction.’.
Amendment 176, in clause 142, page 95, line 8, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 185, page 95, line 8, leave out ‘or authorised officer’.
Amendment 177, page 95, line 12, at end insert—
‘(1A) In subsection (1) a “senior police officer” means the most senior in the rank of police officers present at the scene.’.
Amendment 195, page 96, line 12, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘3’.
Amendment 165, page 96, line 13, leave out clause 143.
Amendment 172, page 96, line 13, leave out clause 143 and insert—
‘143 Injunctions under section 142: content and duration
(1) A condition included in an injunction ordered by the High Court under section 142(1) may prohibit the person from—
(a) being in the controlled area of Parliament Square for the purpose of undertaking a prohibited activity; or
(b) entering the controlled area of Parliament Square for the purpose of undertaking a prohibited activity.
(2) An injunction prohibiting a person from being in or entering the controlled area of Parliament Square continues in force until—
(a) the end of such period on which the injunction is made as may be specified by the court making the injunction; or
(b) if no period is specified, the end of the period of seven days beginning with the day on which the injunction is made.
(3) A period specified under subsection (2)(a) may not be longer than seven days.’.
Amendment 178, in clause 143, page 96, line 20, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 193, page 96, line 22, leave out ‘90 days’ and insert ‘seven days’.
Amendment 194, page 96, line 24, leave out ‘90 days’ and insert ‘seven days’.
Amendment 186, page 96, line 20, leave out ‘or authorised officer’.
Amendment 179, page 96, line 26, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 187, page 96, line 26, leave out ‘or authorised officer’.
Amendment 166, page 96, line 40, leave out clause 144.
Amendment 173, page 96, line 40, leave out clause 144 and insert—
‘144 Applications for injunctions under section 142
(1) An application for an injunction under section 142 may be made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to the High Court.
(2) Notice of any application under subsection (1) must be served on the respondent in accordance with the rules of the court.
(3) The court must give the respondent an opportunity to make representations in proceedings before it about the making of an injunction.’.
Amendment 180, in clause 144, page 96, line 41, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 188, page 96, line 41, leave out ‘or authorised officer’.
Amendment 181, page 96, line 43, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 189, page 96, line 43, leave out ‘or officer’.
Amendment 182, page 97, line 1, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Government amendment 57.
Amendment 183, page 97, line 6, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 190, page 97, line 6, leave out ‘or authorised officer’.
Government amendment 58.
Amendment 184, page 97, line 7, leave out ‘constable’ and insert ‘senior police officer’.
Amendment 167, page 97, line 28, leave out clause 145.
Amendment 174, page 97, line 28, leave out clause 145 and insert—
‘145 Breach of injunction
(1) The court may impose a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale where—
(a) an injunction under section 142 is granted against a person, and
(b) on an application made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person is in breach of the injunction without reasonable excuse.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, subsection (1) grants the only powers available to the court where it finds that an injunction under section 142 has been breached.’.
Amendment 196, page 97, line 28, leave out clause 145 and insert—
‘145 Power of court on conviction
(1) The court may, following the conviction of a person under section 141, make an order requiring the person not to enter the controlled area of Parliament Square for such period as may be specified in the order which may not exceed seven days.
(2) Power of the court to make an order under this section is in addition to the court’s power to impose a fine under section 142(8).’.
Amendment 168, page 98, line 1, leave out clause 146.
Amendment 175, page 98, line 1, leave out clause 146 and insert—
‘146 Discharge of injunction
(1) The court may discharge an injunction if an application to discharge the injunction is made.
(2) An application to discharge the injunction may be made by
(a) Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis who applied for the injunction; or
(b) the respondent.
(3) Before applying for the discharge of an injunction, the applicant mentioned in subsection (2) must notify the other.’.
Amendment 191, in clause 147, page 98, line 34, leave out ‘authorised officer and’.
Amendment 169, page 98, line 34, leave out clause 147.
Amendment 170, page 99, line 4, leave out clause 148.
I almost feel like apologising to the House for burdening it with so many amendments, but let me just explain the grouping of the amendments, which come in three blocks.
The first block starts with amendment 162, and includes consequential amendments 163 to 170. I will discuss the effect of the block later, but effectively it would remove the provisions in the previous Government’s legislation and prevent the current proposals from going through.
The second block includes amendments 171 to 174, amendment 196 and amendment 175, and it is an attempt to ameliorate the Government’s proposals.
The third block, which includes amendment 176 and amendment 185 onwards, is the last resort and an attempt to try to introduce some protections to the legislation. I would welcome the opportunity, ideally, to vote on the first block, which means voting on amendment 162, and at least on the last block, which means voting on amendment 185. If there is a choice, may I ask that we vote at least on amendment 185?
I declare an interest, because this part of the Bill deals with protestors in Parliament square, and I am a regular protestor there. I support Brian Haw, Maria and all the others. In fact, I was photographed on the demonstration at one point, and the image was included in the Tate Britain exhibition that won the Turner prize—so Members are now being addressed by a Turner prize.
We shall have another discussion, on aesthetics, later.
I am sure that all Members will be aware that Brian Haw is being treated for cancer, and, whatever our feelings about the protest camp and, in particular, Brian himself, I am sure that we all wish him well in his recovery, even though some might not want a specific geographical location designated for that recovery.
I will explain the background to the amendments, because the issue was excellently debated in what was an entertaining Committee. I am not often placed on such Committees—on average, it happens once every 10 years—but I read the Committee notes and thought that it was an excellent debate about the background to the Bill and the amendments themselves.
As people know, Brian took up his protest a decade ago, and anyone who has ever talked to him will understand his fervent belief in the need for peace and for the avoidance of war, and his concern for the innocent victims of war. His chosen method of protest has been to bear witness in front of the Houses of Parliament to the suffering of others as a result of war, and he has done so by choosing to place an encampment in the square, by addressing Members and others with a loudhailer and by engaging in discussions with others to try to convince them of the errors of entering into military action.
Brian reminds us all of the consequences of the decisions that we take in this place, and he perhaps attempts to influence us in our future decisions. His is a traditional form of protest: peaceful, non-violent and similar to protests that have occurred elsewhere in this country and throughout the world.
When the original proposals came forward under the previous Government, we engaged in that debate and a number of Members expressed their extreme dislike of Brian Haw and his colleagues’ presence outside Parliament. I sat through endless pompous speeches about the sanctity of Parliament square, complaints about not being able to work for the noise of the loudhailer that Brian used, and long-winded debates about the aesthetics of Parliament square. I have a sneaking suspicion that what a number of Members did not like was being reminded of the impact of the decisions that they had taken in this House—decisions that have caused so much human suffering.
The previous Government nevertheless brought forward legislation, which, I think we all agree now, was tedious, bureaucratic and unworkable—and has degenerated into farce. I commend the comedian Mark Thomas for his work to expose its farcical nature. Interestingly, the poor drafting of that legislation meant that it failed to deal with what many Members thought was the harm being done by Brian’s presence, because the legislators—I did not like to point it out to them at the time—failed to make it retrospective, so it never addressed the issue of the encampments. In addition, the permit system became a mockery of what the legislation intended. It degenerated into farce when one person was arrested simply for reading out the names of the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I welcomed—and I said so publicly—the statements by the former Opposition that that legislation would be repealed. I made that very clear before the election and during the election campaign as a result of which the coalition Government were formed. The problem is that this Bill does not scrap the previous Government’s proposals. In fact, it impedes peaceful protest. I give this warning: if it goes through, it will degenerate into the same unworkable and unmanageable farce that the previous legislation degenerated into. Having looked at the evidence from Committee and read the discussions, I think that these proposals will put an unmanageable burden on police officers and local authority officers, and increase their vulnerability to conflict rather than reducing it.
In my view, the Government’s proposals are unacceptably restrictive. They replace one unworkable system with another and have the same effect of restricting, for no good, sensible reason, the right of peaceful protest and assembly and free speech in Parliament square. These proposals are still specific to Parliament square, although I accept that the definition is narrower than in the previous Government’s legislation. The proposals still place a burden on a constable, but extend it to a local council officer to direct a person to stop doing something and to use physical force to take equipment away. Under the proposals, a person who is convicted may be fined up to £5,000, which is a level 5 offence—I find that draconian, to say the least, and well over the top—and a formal application would still have to be made concerning loudspeaker use and to prevent the erection of sleeping structures.
The bizarre debate in Committee about what is a sleeping structure was extremely entertaining. The most intense and heated part of the debate involved the modernist versus the traditionalist: those who supported the duvet approach to sleep as against those who supported the blanket and sheet approach. That is the nature of the judgments and valuations that individual police officers will have to make: “Is that a sleeping bag I see in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”; “Is that a sleeping structure you’re carrying with you or a banner supporting the Police Federation?” It will become absolutely ludicrous. The other issue is this: what if someone can sleep standing up, leaning against a structure or against a wall? Does that become a sleeping structure itself? We will go through the same old problems that we had with the previous legislation.
I will be brief, because other Members want to speak, and there is another important group of amendments to discuss. The reasons for the amendments are very straightforward; they have been rehearsed in Committee and in debates on the previous Government’s legislation. In this country, we pride ourselves on a strong democratic tradition of peaceful protest. That has created climates of opinion external to Parliament that have influenced decisions in this House and the decisions of Governments of all political persuasions. It is linked to the fundamental right to free speech and fundamental right of assembly and association. In everything that we do in this House, it behoves us to guard against undermining any of those basic human rights.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the right of peaceful protest and the strength of our great British democracy in allowing that. Surely, however, there is a distinction to be made between those who are genuine protesters—I rather agree with him about loudspeakers, incidentally—and those who are campers and dossers staying on a permanent basis, and who are demonstrably an eyesore.
I do not think that the peace campaigners in Parliament square are vagrants or dossers; they are performing a basic democratic service. If they were vagrants or dossers, other legislation, which is used on a regular basis across the country, is available to address that problem. Spending parliamentary time specifically to target half a dozen people who are trying to express their democratic wishes demonstrates to the outside world that we might not have our priorities right.
I am sorry that I missed the earlier part of my hon. Friend’s contribution. He will be aware that a great deal of parliamentary time has been spent discussing Parliament square over the years, all of which has been unsuccessful from the point of view of those who want to clear it of all signs of protest. Is he aware that in the United States, there has been a peace camp outside the White House for some 15 years, and that there have been peace camps outside the Australian Parliament and other places? Is it not part of something that we should be proud of, namely the democratic tradition?
It is exactly that. Before my hon. Friend arrived, I mentioned that it is a traditional form of expressing democratic views. Rather than banning or impeding it, we should celebrate it. It is as simple as that.
This matter is linked to fundamental human rights. In the Human Rights Act 1998, we adopted those human rights specifically in legislation, but we accepted that they are qualified and can be limited. I accept that, but any limit has to be proportionate and for a legitimate aim. We have to be clear what harm is being inflicted as a result of an individual’s activities if we are going to restrict their fundamental rights. That is the problem with this debate and the debate under the previous Government. There has been no clarification of exactly what harm is being done outside Parliament that requires such disproportionate legislation. As far as I can see, there is no legitimate aim in the proposals of this Government, just as there was not in those of the previous Government.
The issue of security was raised by the previous Government and in the Public Bill Committee. People will remember the ludicrous debate that was held last time around when we were all worried that members of al-Qaeda would hide behind the banners erected by Brian Haw. That was actually suggested in this Chamber. I remember the last IRA attack in London because it nearly hit us when I was in my office. It came from a
Transit van that fired missiles, which landed near No. 10. The police officer made it very clear in Committee that the peace campaigners out there have allowed their tents to be searched whenever they have been asked. There is no security risk.
The other issue is whether there is a threat to public order or any form of violent behaviour associated with the peace camp. As far as I am aware, none of the peace campers, including Brian Haw, has been prosecuted for violent behaviour. That issue has not been raised to promote this legislation.
The main objection is therefore the aesthetic one. People do not like the look of a few tents and campaigners outside Parliament. I do not accept that people’s aesthetic judgments can be used to undermine someone’s basic human rights of free speech, association and assembly. And anyway, the protest won the Turner prize, so there are different judgments here about aesthetics. However, I do not want to get hon. Members going about the Turner prize. It reduces the argument ad absurdum that we regularly spend a few hours in Parliament on an aesthetic judgment because some peace campaigners outside Parliament annoy a small, or perhaps even a large, number of Members.
My hon. Friend will know that the processions of our fallen will no longer go through Wootton Bassett, and that an attempt was made to move the announcement of the names of the fallen from Wednesday to a Monday and a Tuesday. The Government wished to bury the bad news. Is it not a matter for celebration that Brian Haw, through all weathers and for 10 years, has reminded us in the House of the terrible results of war and the price of those who have fallen?
Whether or not people agree with Brian—and I do—he provides us with an essential service in reminding us of the consequences of our decisions in the House. That might offend some people, but sometimes it is helpful to have such offence to draw our attention to the consequences of what we do here. Whatever Members think, and whether or not the tents annoy people who think they are messy or untidy, that is no reason to take away people’s right to choose their method of peaceful protest.
If the hon. Gentleman was not prepared to accept the distinction that I proposed to him a moment ago, might he not accept that there is a distinction to be made between Brian Haw, who is quite possibly a genuine peace protester and possibly to be respected for his commitment, and the large number of other people who have appeared in recent months and put up their tents? Who knows who they are? If he will not accept that distinction, how many more tents should we accept in Parliament square before we decide that the people in them are illegal campers rather than protestors?
The hon. Gentleman has an exceptionally valid point, which has to be addressed reasonably. Wherever in the country we find that constructions have been erected that people find objectionable, we use planning legislation to deal with them. That legislation already exists. The other people who have joined Brian Haw are mostly peace protestors, and others have come along in support of other causes. If the hon. Gentleman remembers, we had the Tamils come along when the war in Sri Lanka was going on. They camped there for a week, and it would have been heart-rending to try to shift them when they were seeking to influence us to intervene to seek peace, which we did. We helped as best we could to prevent further disaster in Sri Lanka. It is all a matter of reasonable judgment and trying to ensure that we protect basic human rights. The grounds for incursions on human rights cannot just be about the aesthetic displeasure of a number of Members of the House. That is why repealing the previous Government’s legislation was extremely important.
In the debate on that legislation, and I believe in Committee on the Bill, the question was asked whether allowing one group of people to protest precluded others from turning up to protest. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, to which I pay tribute for the support it has given us on the issue, has made it clear that there has been no evidence of other people saying that they cannot protest, or of a backlog of protestors unable to get to Parliament square.
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend on that point. I can recall at least two demonstrations in the square that Brian Haw and others possibly did not support. One was when a pig, Winston, was kept there for some months by a pig breeders association, until Winston became too big for the square and had to move on to pastures new. There was also the pro-hunting lobby, for which I do not think Brian Haw had a huge amount of sympathy. Nevertheless, the pro-hunting lobby and the peace campaigners managed to co-exist for quite a long time. That proves that democracy can work even in Parliament square.
There was a worrying consequence of one of those cases—I think Winston got eaten, as a form of capital punishment introduced as a result of what happened. However, a range of protests have taken place in Parliament square unhindered by Brian Haw and the other protestors. If there were a specific harm caused, and one protestor or group of protestors was preventing others from protesting, we should legislate on that specifically rather than have the blanket approach in the Bill.
The amendments are fairly extensive and are in three basic batches. The first begins with amendment 162, and suggests scrapping the previous scheme and preventing the new scheme from being introduced. The proposal is based on the commitments that both coalition parties made before the election, and the argument is the same: this Government’s proposals disproportionately target protests and protesters, just as the previous Government’s measures did. The amendments would remove the powers to harass peaceful protesters. It is very straightforward: there is enough legislation on the books already to prevent protests in Parliament square that we feel impede the operation of Parliament or in any way cause disorder. In effect, the amendments would remove the restriction on protests in Parliament square overall.
The second of three batches of amendments begins with amendment 171. They propose a reasonable, and a more appropriate and proportionate, alternative. Basically, amendment 171 would introduce an injunction process, whereby people concerned about prohibited activity within the square could apply to the High Court for an injunction. It defines “prohibited activity” not as tents or the use of loudhailers, but specifically as something that
“may result in serious public disorder or serious damage to property; or…where the purpose of the activity is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act that they have a right not to do.”
Existing public order legislation can already deal with security concerns and violence within the square, but if hon. Members want specific powers, the amendment would give people the opportunity to seek an injunction, which would be imposed by the High Court if it reasonably believed that a prohibited activity or serious disorder was being planned or had taken place. Basically, that would introduce due process into the act of preventing people from undertaking protests within the square when that could result in public harm. The harm on the basis of which someone’s human rights can be restrained and constrained is thereby defined. Amendment 174 would in addition reduce the overall penalty to level 3, which attracts a £1,000 penalty, rather than the current £5,000 penalty.
Our next batch of amendments—the batch of last resort—addresses who will implement the legislation. As I said, at the moment, the existing legislation and the Bill put an unmanageable burden on police officers. At the same time, the Bill introduces local authority officers into what could be very difficult and dangerous waters.
I propose that if a police officer is to take such decisions, it should be a senior police officer rather than a constable. We should remember that the decision will be to direct someone that they cannot protest in a certain way, and that they must give over their loudhailers, sleeping equipment or whatever. The officer will also have the ability to use force to take such things and arrest people, which is an extensive power that could cause unnecessary conflict. That should be done by a senior officer.
Amendment 185 would mean that if an officer is to arrest someone, that officer should at least be a police constable—I do not believe that that should be the role of a local authority officer. The Bill introduces a vulnerability to local authority officers, who are not trained to undertake such work, and who are not capable of exercising the judgment that police officers exercise. Police officers are trained to make judgments instantaneously on whether someone is committing an offence, and on balancing human rights and an individual’s behaviour. A series of linked amendments would mean that a court could prohibit someone for only seven days rather than 90, although I can understand why certain Labour Whips do not want that for some of us.
As I said, amendment 174, which is in this batch, seeks to reduce the scale of the fine from £5,000 to £1,000—from level 5 to level 3. It is a matter of judgment, but I feel that the fine of £5,000 is so heavy that it will intimidate anyone seeking to organise a protest on the square or even thinking of applying for a licence, because something could go wrong and they would then be held liable. Rather than risk people thinking twice and therefore not coming along to protest legitimately, we should err on the side of caution before deterring people from such activity.
The amendments would define the powers on court conviction much more clearly to avoid the individual summary offence. They also address issues involving the forfeiture of any items. There is a danger that, under the wide and vague power given to police officers at the moment, police officers can take goods from people in a summary way without there being recourse to the courts.
I have rattled through the amendments, because I know that a lot of Members want to speak. [Interruption.] Well, I think they do. Certainly, members of the Committee will want to speak. However, the issue before us sets a test for individual Governments. It relates not only to major issues, but to smaller ones such as this. It is a test of whether Governments are, as they say they are, truly liberal and committed to human rights, and whether they really want to be reforming Governments. This might seem like a minor issue for the House to be addressing—I do not think that we should be wasting our time, and we should not be introducing this sort of legislation—but it is an important test on which the Government will be judged.
In opposition, the Conservative party agreed that this legislation was outrageous and illiberal, and it promised before the election that it would scrap it and support the right of peaceful protest, which I supported as well. Now the Government have introduced proposals that vary very little from the existing regime. In fact, they will become equally contradictory. As a result of this small matter, I believe judgments will be made on the illiberality of the coalition Government, and on their competence too. If this measure is implemented, and individual officers seek to enforce it, it will produce conflict. It will demonstrate an illiberality of mind and the oppressive nature of the Government’s approach.
On that basis, it would be wrong to legislate in this way. I appeal to the traditions not only of my own side but of the Liberals in respect of the right to protest and to freedom of speech, and those of the Conservative party in respect of individualism. I think Disraeli said that man is great when he is motivated by his passions. Those people out there are motivated by a passion for peace and against war. We should not do anything to impede the expression of their views, but that is what this legislation does, and that is why I urge the Government either to withdraw the provisions or support at least elements of my amendments.
Unlike John McDonnell—and, I suspect, every other Member in the House at the moment—I did not have the privilege of being on the Bill Committee. As he will appreciate, however, Parliament square stands in my constituency.
I have quite a lot of sympathy with a number of the things the hon. Gentleman said in speaking to his amendments. Above all, there is nothing worse than the sheer powerlessness of this place in the public’s eye. He was right about the indeterminate number of hours spent on this small matter over the past 10 years. We need only consider the incidents and terrible disturbances last weekend on Piccadilly circus and Oxford street. There is a sense of powerlessness. Many constituents—they would not necessarily blame the police, and neither would I—think, “These events are allowed to go ahead, yet we have absolutely no say in the matter.”
In many ways, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the sense in which Parliament is weak and almost entirely marginalised when such debates take place. A decision can be taken by Executive order to go to war and then be rubber-stamped 48 hours later in a parliamentary debate. I know that he and I take very different views about the rightness of what has happened, but I would agree with him in this regard: we spend endless hours debating such matters to no avail and end up with unworkable legislation. We have had some unworkable legislation in the past, so I share some of the hon. Gentleman’s fears that we might be going down that route again.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to have open opportunities for the public to protest. Whether we like it or not, Parliament square is an iconic place, in front of the Parliament building. There can be no other place where a more legitimate protest can take place, on an occasional and high-profile basis. I would be loth to repeat the idea of the erstwhile Administration, which was to have a 1-mile exclusion zone around Parliament, on the spurious grounds, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, of security. That was entirely wrong and an absolutely absurd route to go down. To that extent, my party has gone down the right route in this Bill by trying to row back from that position.
However, I share fears about the legislation still being slightly unworkable, not least because so many different authorities are involved, from the police and Transport for London, to the Mayor of London and Westminster city council. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about too much power potentially being in the hands of local authority officers. I do not doubt their ability: many are very able and have shown great judgment. Indeed, in places such as Westminster, local authority officers deal with such problems on a more day-to-day basis than they might in—with great respect—a borough such as Hillingdon. Ultimately, however, these are policing matters. Given the security, the high profile and the difficulty of a lot of what happens in Parliament square, it makes sense for the Metropolitan police to be involved in the process, rather than local authority officers.
Can the hon. Gentleman update us and clarify whether it is true that the local authority and the Mayor have now secured sufficient legal judgments in the courts to remove the peace camp in due course anyway?
I understand that that will be “in due course”, and there is of course an important event on
The hon. Gentleman might not be quite as much of a royalist and a monarchist as I am, but he will appreciate that that is not what I am saying. However, there was a focus on trying for this thing, although the wheels of the law take a while to turn—there are a number of lawyers in the House, including, either side of me in the Chamber, some rather more distinguished lawyers than I ever was in my brief legal career. I understand that there will be no further legal proceedings on the matter until considerably after
It occurs to me that the people in Parliament square might actually be awaiting the royal wedding and have got themselves a good place from which to see it. They have got there early. We should commend them for their enterprise in being there so far ahead of the date.
I suspect that it is only a matter of time before the Evening Standard discovers a secondary market for the tents that are already erected, let alone any new ones that go up.
But it is a valid point, which was also addressed in Committee. We get ourselves into a ludicrous position in which someone turning up with a sleeping bag to wait for the wedding—as the Prime Minister did, when, as he told us, he turned up with his sleeping bag for a previous royal wedding—could be arrested under the legislation in the same way.
Ad absurdum, the hon. Gentleman’s argument is right. However, that is also precisely the distinction that we have to face: the distinction between a one-off arrangement for the one, exciting night before a major public event, and having a permanent encampment around Parliament square. It is to the latter that most sensible people—not those only in this House, but many millions of our constituents—would turn their minds. It is not acceptable that a UNESCO world heritage site—Parliament square, the parliamentary buildings and Westminster abbey—is blighted by having a large permanent encampment. That is an issue, in part, of aesthetics. However, millions of tourists come to Parliament and they must be dismayed by what they see, week after week, month after month. It cannot make much sense for us to allow it to continue.
To an extent, I had sympathy with elements of what the erstwhile Government were trying to do, such as their idea of having a licensed system covering demonstrations when major debates were taking place. In my view, it would have been entirely legitimate, for example, on the day we had our debate on Libya, for those who felt strongly about the issue, on either side, to have held a large, peaceful demonstration. But the notion that encampments can exist day after day, week after week, is another matter. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Tamil encampment that was in Parliament square in the autumn of 2009, which reached a ludicrous stage. There was a lot of noise and disturbance. There were old-fashioned local authority health and safety issues, as well as the whole question of toilet provision, and the area became something of a health hazard as the Tamil group camped there for six weeks before finally leaving.
Many of our constituents are bemused by our sheer powerlessness, and by the fact that we have not been able to get our act together to get the necessary workable legislation in place to ensure that we can achieve our goal.
One of the reasons that the previous Administration were on such a sticky wicket in regard to the legislation was that it simply did not work. This provision seeks to create a legal regime within which legitimate demonstrations can take place and be adequately controlled in accordance with the UNESCO status of Parliament square.
Indeed, one has heard those words before. My hon. and learned Friend Stephen Phillips is a relative newcomer to the House, but I fear that we have been having this debate for many years. As we all know, the workability, or otherwise, of legislation often does not become apparent until well after an Act has been placed on the statute book.
It is essential that we do our best, and we must protect the right to protest. I appreciate that Parliament square is a special place for protest, and I would be very loth to see the perhaps spurious ground of security being used to prevent legitimate, high-profile protest on days when debates were taking place in the House of Commons on high-profile legislation. This encampment, however, does disturb some local residents. That certainly happened when the Tamils were here in great numbers in 2009, and many residents wrote to me to say that their sleep was being disturbed.
We need to strike a balance. Either we have to solve this problem or we have to move on, because there is now a sense that we are powerless. Parliament and all the authorities are becoming a laughing stock. This should be a tremendous site for millions of tourists to visit from across the globe. Parliament is the most iconic building in the United Kingdom, and having that eyesore here is unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will take on board some of the very valid comments that have been made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, but I also hope that we will move hastily towards getting a workable provision on to the statute book to ensure that that eyesore becomes a thing of the past.
I am sorry that I missed the earlier part of the speech by my hon. Friend John McDonnell. I pay tribute to Mr Field for the measured way in which he has represented his constituents in the debate. He is fortunate to represent this constituency, but he also recognises that this area is a centre of national life and that there are bound to be demonstrations here. One should thank him for that.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington for tabling the amendment and for his consistency in standing up for civil liberties and the right to protest. We have debated Parliament square on many occasions. Indeed, a Select Committee once took it upon itself to examine the issue, and the former
Member for Macclesfield, Sir Nicholas Winterton, invited me to give evidence. The Committee sat in due deliberation for several weeks discussing Parliament square. I gave my evidence, and the former Member for Macclesfield questioned me at some length. I think the House is beginning to get the flavour of the occasion. A report was duly prepared and legislation was duly proposed. That legislation was duly carried, and duly challenged in the courts.
The Herculean parliamentary effort to remove Brian Haw and non-existent protestors from Parliament square succeeded in being passed into law—and the only person unaffected by it was Brian Haw, because he successfully challenged the legislation on the basis that he was a pre-existing resident of Parliament square. One has to pay tribute to Brian Haw for making legal history by doing nothing more than taking up residence in Parliament square. Parliament made itself look a total ass during the whole process, sitting in all due majesty, but having no effect whatever on what Parliament wanted to achieve. We should thank Brian Haw for that. I know he has not been well recently, and I am sure all Members will join me in wishing him well in his recovery. He has shown courage, principle and determination. Not everybody agrees with him, but I think we have to respect it when somebody is prepared to give up such a long period of their life for a cause. Let us all respect it and admire it.
We should also recognise something about the importance of this building and this area of London. The previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had a plan for reducing traffic in Trafalgar square. He succeeded by closing the north side to through traffic and wanted to carry out a similar plan for Parliament square. I am not sure which side of Parliament square was due to be closed, but we should think about this. I feel constantly sorry for the number of visitors arriving to see Parliament. Because of the size of the building, the difficulty of ensuring its security and so forth, the number of people who get in is much smaller than the number who would like to get in. I realise that we are slowly changing that, which is welcome, but most people have to spend most of their time fighting traffic lights and motor traffic simply to see the building. We should invite the Mayor to revisit the whole question of traffic planning, traffic layout, widening pavements and reducing traffic through the square so that everyone can see a very fine and very beautiful building, and enjoy the experience. It is possible to spend some time seeing other national assemblies and Parliaments around the world without having to dodge traffic—I am thinking of the United States, Sweden and a number of other places.
History often turns on itself on these occasions. This country is very good at the incorporatist view of history, as I put it. It is ironic, and many visitors do not always appreciate it, that Oliver Cromwell has a statue outside Parliament, while further up the road is a statue of Charles I and, indeed, not so far away, one of Charles II. They are all part of our history, and they should all be remembered and commemorated for what they did. Many people are vilified for their protests, yet commemorated later. Why do we have a plaque in St Stephen’s entrance to Marjory Hume, who chained herself to a statue there? The statue was damaged during the removal of her chains, when she was there demanding votes for women. Downstairs we have a plaque to Emily Wilding Davison, who locked herself in the broom cupboard to protest about the census of 1911 and in support of voting rights for women. Many other examples of people who have participated in protest outside this building and in this area have become part of our history and part of the road towards what one hopes will be a more democratic society.
Attitudes have changed quite a lot. The Sessional Orders used to be enforced extremely rigorously so that whenever the House was sitting no procession was allowed within a mile of Parliament. The police then relented slightly and changed their attitude. As I recall it, the first time they relented was when General Pinochet was in this country—detained in luxury in Virginia Water. “El Pikete”, as it was known, the Chilean picket that dogged him all the time, had a candle-lit event overnight in Parliament square. It was approved by the police and was an iconic and memorable event; it was part of our history that Pinochet was here. The Stop the War protest took over the square on
Every Member will have observed, on television, what happened in Tahrir square in Cairo, in the central square in Tunis or at the Pearl roundabout in Bahrain, and will probably have said, “Good on you, well done, you have stood up against a state that tried to prevent you from demonstrating.” I am not suggesting that the current regime or indeed any other regime in Britain is or has been the equivalent of the regimes in those countries, but I do believe that the principle of the right to protest and to dissent is the very stuff and centre and heart of a democratic society. I hope the House will recognise that the amendments are designed to ensure that the traditional right to protest is maintained, and that protests can take place outside.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that aesthetic considerations should apply to a world heritage site, and that is true. Some would argue that siting the wheel—the London Eye—across the road was aesthetically inappropriate. Indeed, I advanced that argument very strongly, and for the first 15 years of the London Eye’s existence I refused to go on it. I finally swallowed my pride, relented and went on it last year, and it is a fine experience, particularly on a cloudy day when it is impossible to see anything. I still consider that siting it there disfigured the area, but anyway it has happened.
The hon. Gentleman said that because this was a world heritage site, protests should not be allowed. At least, I think that that is was he was saying, and I do not entirely go along with him. Protests have taken place outside Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire for a very long time. Which is the bigger eyesore, the protest or the listening station? I think I know the answer to that, and I think everyone else does as well.
May I clarify what I said? I did not say that there should be no protests, but the permanence of the encampment means that all the paraphernalia of the barricades is there permanently, which is clearly not compatible with a world heritage site under UNESCO rules. I was trying to draw a contrast between that and large-scale demonstrations on, perhaps, half a dozen days a year relating to debates that are taking place in the House.
I was not trying to put words into the hon. Member’s mouth. The agreement of the police to the anti-Pinochet demonstration some years ago showed sensitivity, intelligence and involvement on their part. If we approach the issue in a co-operative way, recognising the right to protest, rather than immediately reaching for the law and the barricades and confiscating equipment, we may proceed a bit further down the road.
The problem with the Bill is that it addresses the issue of protesters sleeping in the square overnight, but does not adequately address the concept of permanence. The peace protesters say, “We are not here permanently; we are just here while the country is at war. Cease the wars and we will depart.”
That is a fair point. It does no harm for Members who come into and go out of the building every day to be reminded that we are involved in wars. I do not think that we should be, but others disagree. In any event, we need to be reminded of the decisions we have taken and of why we have taken them, and there is a constant reminder out there.
British television shows what some people consider to be shocking scenes in Westminster on the occasion of the state opening of Parliament, but other people around the world say to me, “Thank God that you live in a democracy where protest is allowed even on a day like that.” The Queen goes past in the gilded coach, and we see Brian Haw behind her. I think he once gave her a wave, actually. That is an example of protest in a democracy.
Other countries have experienced significant protests, such as Mexico. After the 2006 election, the result of which was hotly disputed, 1 million people occupied the centre of Mexico City for weeks on end in encampments. The mayor of Mexico city decided that it was impossible to move them, and that it would be wrong to do so because they were mounting a legitimate protest. Had he tried to move them, the consequences would probably have been pretty serious and severe.
Democracy is never simple or straightforward, and our image is never straightforward. We do not live on a chocolate box cover or in a postcard environment. We live in a working parliamentary building, and that working parliamentary building ought to be the centre of our democracy. The centre of our democracy is the right to support, the right to protest, the right to dissent, the right to campaign. It is a very powerful tradition.
This House is full of powerful traditions. I think of Charles Bradlaugh and the way he stood up for what he believed, and Tony Benn standing up on the issue of hereditary peerages, and so many others. They are part of our life and our history. We will make ourselves look very silly if we simply stop people taking part in such protests, because if we deny them the right to protest here, they will protest somewhere else; we will move the law somewhere else and make ourselves look even more ridiculous. We should be a bit grown up about this and accept that diversity and differences of view are good things. That is what makes a democracy vibrant and real.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members who have spoken on this topic so far. I absolutely respect the stance of John McDonnell, the passion with which he has spoken on these issues over so many years, and the spirit in which he moved his amendments. I had some sympathy for him, especially after the past 13 years, when he appealed to the Liberal vision of freedom and said that he could not appeal to his own party’s tradition on that.
It is also a pleasure to speak after Mr Field, who clearly knows about these topics, and who perhaps represents in his constituency more historic buildings than I do in Cambridge, which I envy slightly. [Interruption.] It is close, however, as he says.
It was great that Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to one of my predecessors as Member for Cambridge, Oliver Cromwell, who was probably one of the greatest political reformers the House has ever had. I am not saying I agree with everything he did, but as he is one of my predecessors, I feel I should speak up for him.
Peaceful protest plays a critical role in our country, and I hope that everybody agrees that we should encourage and respect it—I hope we all share that spirit. It is good that the Government are undoing some of the worst things the previous Government did in this area. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the speed of the changes and his wish that they would move faster. I am grateful for the progress that has been made however, and I will continue to try to unwind even faster all the problems that have arisen.
I am not as persuaded as some of the Members who served on the Public Bill Committee—both Government and Opposition—that the encampment in Parliament square is a problem. I do not share the concerns about it being an eyesore; although it is not something I particularly like to see, it does not bother me. We also had a discussion about the effect on tourism, and I do not share that concern to the same extent as some other Members.
I am delighted that the Government are repealing sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We said we would do that when we came into government—both coalition parties were clear on that. The key question is: should there be any lesser replacement for those provisions? The Metropolitan police have made their attitude to peaceful protest very clear. I have been pressing them on this in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I have the pleasure of serving. They are very clear that their role is not to prevent peaceful protest, and it is not even to allow peaceful protest; Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens was very clear that their role is to facilitate peaceful protest. That is absolutely right. The job of the police is to make it easier for such protests to take place. That does not mean I agree with all the protests—I happen to disagree absolutely with a number of them—but the role of the police must be to try to make it easier for them to happen.
The key question was put very clearly by the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti—she is always very clear—when she asked: what is the harm? I should declare an interest: I used to be on the national council of Liberty, so I am perhaps biased in my opinion of her, but I am sure that other hon. Members would join me in paying tribute to her efforts over so many years in that cause. We need to address the question: what is the harm? We should be having only those controls appropriate to that harm. I do not agree with the level of assessment of harm put forward by some people so I understand the separate blocks of amendments suggested by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, although I hope he is not going to put them all to the vote, because that would take a long time and some of us were hoping to get home to do some constituency work tonight.
The idea of having no constraints is unlikely to attract support—that is a shame, but I have accepted that that is the case—so the debate has been about the practicality of how to work out something that interferes as little as possible with the right to peaceful protest, which I take extremely seriously. We discussed a number of aspects of that in Committee.
It is important to put on record the fact that this debate is not about having no constraints, because the public order legislation is in place. It contains those constraints, which prevent violent disorder and public disturbance.
That is a very good point. A range of legislation applies, and in Committee we discussed some aspects that could or could not be used. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point, but the question is whether the provisions before us are required.
I do not propose to detain the House by going through all the discussions we had in Committee, because I am sure that Members can read Hansard, if they have not already done so—I am sure that many Members have. Questions arise on the scale of activity. There is a spectrum and we need to consider: who should be allowed to do what; how often; and for how long? The worst of the Bill’s original proposals was the one to give council officials, or even non-council officials given authority by a council, the power to use reasonable force to try to deprive a protestor of an item of property. I was extremely alarmed by that. I am not comfortable with the idea that those people, who are not trained, should be allowed to use that power, and I was not alone. I thank the Minister for listening to me when I voiced my concerns early on and for having to endure our talking about it extensively in Committee.
In one of the Committee’s evidence sessions, I asked what our witnesses thought about that proposal. Shami Chakrabarti, from Liberty, made her position very clear:
“I am also very nervous about non-police personnel exercising those powers.”
None of us would be surprised about that. Metropolitan police Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens made the point that police officers receive a lot of training and operate within a legislative framework and a misconduct procedure, but she said:
As the hon. Gentleman will have gathered from my contribution, I have considerable sympathy with what he is saying. However, how would he view the counter-argument, which is that there is a risk of upping the ante by having people in uniform—police officers—doing this work, rather than making this a local authority-related civil offence? Does he think there is a risk that bringing uniformed officers into the piece could turn a peaceable situation nasty?
There would be no requirement to bring the police in if one did not want to use “reasonable force” powers. I am very alarmed at the idea of a council official, who might not be particularly well trained, who might not be in uniform and who might not have any obvious form of authority, having the power to use reasonable force in such an instance. If I was involved in a situation like that, I would not expect that person to have such powers. If one did not wish to escalate the situation, one could simply not use reasonable force—one could use no force at all.
But does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the use of the words “reasonable force” in the legislation is to protect the council officer, rather than to reflect what might take place?
I think that that was indeed the intention, but “reasonable force” is not a beautifully defined phrase and it is tough to define it. It is particularly tough for people who are not experienced to work out what is and what is not “reasonable force”, particularly in a situation that may well be inflamed. I would not want to see council officials having to make those tough judgment calls.
That brings to me to the comments made in Committee by my hon. Friend Mike Crockart, who used to be a police officer and policed public order situations. He made the point that it is hard enough as a police officer to deal with such situations during public order protests. Some people will resist and some will be reluctant to accept authority, and that is in the context of the specific training received by the police, which would realistically not be available to council officials. Bringing police into such a situation, if it escalates, is relatively easy. We are talking about an area that the police can get to pretty quickly if requested—I do not think we are short of police officers around Parliament. Bringing the police in would also comply with other situations. For example, bailiffs will often have the police standing by; they hope not to use them, but they are available if necessary.
The power for council officials and others to take such action was, to me, the single worst item in this part of the Bill and I am therefore delighted that after a number of discussions the Minister and the Government propose to get rid of it. I thank the Minister for his work and for accepting the points that were made. We are not yet in the position I would like to reach, and I hope that there will be opportunities in the other place to discuss the next level up and whether those council officials should make judgments about property confiscation.
I am relatively relaxed, within the context of the framework, with the idea that council officials should be able to give a direction, because non-trained officers are often allowed to do that. Confiscation powers give me a little more pause for thought, however, and I hope that the Minister will consider them. I hope that he will also reflect on our discussions in Committee and elsewhere about the interplay of various other aspects of the situation. A direction can be given lasting for 90 days, it can be given orally and it can be given by one of the officials. I understand the reason for each part—for example, I understand why an oral direction would be needed for a large crowd—and that is why I do not think that the amendments dealing with senior police officers will work. If there were a large number of people, it would be odd to make one police officer go round individually to each one.
There need to be some constraints. A 90-day period under an oral direction is very hard on the person subjected to it, so there should be a written record if at all possible. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that and give us some assurances that that will be the case—whether in his comments, in the legislation or in regulations.
The Prime Minister, in one of his more messianic moods, recently told the House that he defended the right to protest from Tahrir square to Trafalgar square. It would not have had the same resonance had he said from Tahrir square to Parliament square, because of the Bill before us today.
I do not know whether Members are familiar with some of the restrictions on our rights as hon. Members to raise certain issues. On two occasions, I have read out the names of the fallen in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, but it is no longer possible to do that because it would be declared out of order—a ruling was made in the previous Parliament. It is now very difficult to read out the names from Afghanistan because there are 320 and, if one included the ranks, it would take half an hour to read them out. We are forbidden as MPs to read out the names of the fallen in the wars who died as a result of our decisions. A woman read out the names of those who had fallen in Iraq at the end of Downing street, and for doing so she was arrested and jailed under, I believe, the Terrorism Act 2000.
Other restrictions have been introduced more recently. There has been a change to the route by which the bodies of the fallen are taken through Wootton Bassett. They will not be taken by that route, a good reason has been given and the town has been given a royal prefix as a tribute to what its people have done. I think we all appreciate the reminder they gave us; it was a powerful picture to see the bodies being brought through Wootton Bassett and to hear the sobs of the families. The grief is obvious on the television. That will not happen any more.
Twice last year, the names of the fallen were announced first on a Monday and next on a Tuesday, and it was only as a result of points of order and early-day motions that we returned to having announcements made at the right time, when they should be made: at Prime Minister’s questions, a time of maximum attendance in this House and maximum attention from the world outside.
I am afraid that the previous Government and this Government want to ignore the consequences of our actions. For 10 years Brian Haw, heroically, has given us and many people in the country a reminder of our decisions.
The practice of the Prime Minister reading out the names of those who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan started in June 2003 with Tony Blair. It never happened before. Does my hon. Friend think that we should have read out those names in the Kosovo conflict, the first Iraq war or the Falklands conflict?
In the first world war there were pages in newspapers listing the fallen and those missing in action, so it would not have been practical then, but it is practical in this conflict. Sadly, we are still losing soldiers—about one soldier a week dies in Afghanistan—so it is absolutely right to continue reading out their names and making such announcements. The Government should not stop doing that. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend agrees that MPs should be forbidden from reading out the names of the fallen, but I do not think that was a reasonable decision. I have challenged it and been stopped and I am sure that you would stop me now, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I attempted to read out the names of the fallen.
We really must pay tribute to Brian Haw. On nights when we have finished here and gone out, even in the middle of winter and sometimes in the early hours of the morning, he has been there, night after night, with his simple, anti-war message. Whether we agree with him or not he deserves our admiration and we do not need any attempt to sweep him and his companions out of sight to have a cosmetic effect on the square for an event that will be forgotten in a few years’ time.
I agree entirely with those who have said that the right to protest is honourable. It is a matter of pride when visitors come to London from countries in which any sign of protest would be swept away from their well-manicured streets and tourist attractions. The majority of the world’s countries would not allow such protest to take place in such a situation, but we are better and more advanced than them, and we should be proud that we have the right to protest. It is not available in the House, as it might be, but it is in Parliament square.
I join the diverse coalition of interests championing the right to protest in Parliament square, but I suspect that that is where the similarity between my interests and theirs comes to an end. Suffice it to say that the Government’s proposals take us a long way towards the goal we are all attempting to reach. Some Members might be aware that between 2000 and
2004 I was responsible for eight protests, in different forms, in and around Parliament square, six of which were resoundingly successful but two of which were not. I shall explain why things went wrong on those two. In each circumstance there were conditions that made it almost impossible for the police to safeguard the community and the protestors in a reasonable way. We are getting away from that situation and I commend the Government for their measures in that regard.
In championing the rights of legitimate protest, there are three areas that I want to address—accessibility, affordability and spontaneity. My first point on accessibility is fairly obvious: most protestors need to have the necessary access to make their point while the interests of other users of Parliament square and this building, as well as those of members of the public going about their business, are safeguarded.
Affordability is a rather different issue. It must be in the interests of those of us in this House and outside it to ensure that people who wish to protest can do so with the minimum of obstacles in their way in the lead-up to their protest. If any protestor has to go through a process that involves going as far as obtaining a licence in some instances—not in this one, I add—we will be putting obstacles in the way of those who wish to register, often in the only way they can, their distaste for what we are doing in this House.
I shall say only that I am surprised that it took so long for that point to be made. I prefaced my contribution by saying that I was going to discuss legitimate protest, so I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
I want to discuss spontaneity. It is vital that we enable people who wish to do so to rise up in anger, frustration and exasperation and express their view loudly and lawfully in the minimum amount of time. If there was a problem with the previous legislation it was that the preparation time for protest was rather lengthy if people followed the measures sequentially. The Government’s proposals will ease that, which is why I am a big supporter, but it is right and proper to enable people who have read the papers one morning metaphorically to bang on the gates the next morning. If we prevent them from doing so we will fall into the trap to which most speakers have referred of setting one set of rules for our country while condemning those in other countries who adopt a different procedure on protests.
I have referred to the two occasions on which protests in which I was involved went wrong. The first took place in 2004, and there was a legitimate presence of angry protesters as well as of police to ensure the safety of the community. The protesters came that day with every intention of being peaceful, and the police policed the event with every intention of its remaining peaceful. However, Members who have taken part in a protest know that it is a potent and often high-temperature environment, and it does not take much to spark something that leads to a sequence of events which, in our case, led to 425 complaints from members of the public, about 60 people being treated in hospital for serious head injuries, a number of arrests, and an inquiry by the
Independent Police Complaints Commission that lasted nearly a year, cost a fortune and regrettably resulted in a number of Metropolitan policemen being recommended for disciplinary action or worse. That was a thoroughly unsatisfactory conclusion to what should have been a perfectly legitimate protest.
We could debate the cause for hours, but I will suggest one particular reason why it ended up in that unsavoury position. Both parties were the victims of legal rigidity. In the case of the protesters, there was arguably not enough flexibility to enable nearly 20,000 people at one stage to engage in reasonable protest. From the police’s point of view, the confines or boundaries were set too tightly to enable them to adapt and adjust their policing as the protest unfolded over the day. When the IPCC report was eventually published, it focused on three things including, first, a complete breakdown of communications for technical reasons between the police and the protesters. That is not an issue for the Government—it is an issue for protesters and police in future—but the second and third reasons are important.
The IPCC confirmed without any doubt that the lack of loudspeaker equipment in the south-east corner of Parliament square led to an inability by the organisers and the police to communicate with a crowd that was contained and angry, which led to unfortunate downstream consequences. That happened because there was confusion about whether Westminster city council, I think, would allow us to have loudspeakers lest we contravene noise abatement conditions. In the circumstances, the police, in my humble opinion, should have had the operational ability to insist on having equipment on site that could have prevented that incident from arising in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. During one of the Tamil demonstrations that I attended with a number of colleagues from the House, loudspeakers were not allowed for the demonstration. People needed to be moved, because there was a crush in one corner, and the police lent us loud hailers so that we could address the crowd. One could argue that that is breaking the law, but it was sensible and practical. We just need to be a bit more sensible, because there is a safety issue about being unable to communicate with a loud crowd.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The point I am trying to make is that in such circumstances the police should not be encumbered in any way by having to refer to a local authority, some guidelines or a piece of statute. They should be able to make decisions that protect public safety and the interests of this building and of the demonstrators as an event unfolds. It was the inability to do that on the day in September 2004 that led directly to the unfortunate consequences I have described.
It is interesting to see the coalitions developing across the Chamber on shared interests.
The hon. Gentleman will presumably be pleased to see that clause 142(3)(a) states that for police purposes it is not an offence to proceed with such activity, which I think will allay his concerns. On a slightly broader point, has he seen the transcript of the discussions that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has had with the TUC and the Metropolitan police about the planning for the demonstration on
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The short answer to his question is yes, notwithstanding my earlier comments about the need for spontaneity in—perhaps smaller—events. Steps are being taken in the right direction. However, having been personally responsible for a number of events between 2000 and 2004, I know that we were always led to believe that lessons had been learned from previous protests, but it became quite clear that they had not.
In more recent events in and around Parliament square, and indeed at the G20 demonstrations, it was quite obvious that some of the findings of the IPPC report, which were produced several years ago, had not been implemented, which was unfortunate. Perhaps there is some value, despite the views of one or two Opposition Members, to having this discussion and debate yet again, because it would perhaps lead us a little closer to a situation that is in the interests of protesters first and foremost and parliamentarians last and least.
The third point made in the IPCC’s findings was loosely described as relating to lines. I recall only too vividly being told at my meeting with the responsible commander on the morning of the demonstration in September 2004 that there was an invisible line—a line on his order paper—across which protestors could not pass under any circumstances. It was a ludicrous situation, as he admitted. We explained that it was ludicrous because there was no way to guarantee safely with 20,000 people that none of them would at any stage drift across that line for one reason or another. Flexibility was needed, but there was none. The result was that when protestors did drift across the line, officers fulfilled their orders, which was absolutely right, and started to make arrests, which led to a sudden and irreversible rise in the temperature. That contributed to the transition from an angry but peaceful protest to one that fell apart and resulted in serious injuries for a number of protestors and career-threatening implications for the officers concerned.
That is an extremely valid point. When a particular line is used to demarcate a geographical area, often the protest spills out into another area and matters become confusing. On that basis, I believe that the legislation will simply lead to encampments elsewhere. It is almost a provocation for other encampments breaking out around the city. We should watch Trafalgar square in future; we will be back here in a few months’ time, with Members urging us to bring forward further legislation to deal with other areas of London.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He might be interested to learn that a week after the demonstration we held in September 2004 in Parliament square, the same angry army protested outside the Labour party conference in Brighton. It would be fair to say that the organisers—me—were getting quite nervous at that stage about what might happen in Brighton, but the lessons learned by Sussex police in those few short days in between the two protests were very evident when we got there, because they successfully achieved a flexible attitude to protestors, and as the temperature rose so they retreated, and vice versa.
The second point that John McDonnell made, which I should address, and which the Metropolitan police acknowledged at the time and subsequently, is that although the law said one thing back in those days, which was, “You cannot march within a mile of the Palace of Westminster when Parliament is sitting,” its enforcement by the police would have been entirely foolhardy. They knew and made it very clear to us that, had they prevented legitimate and angry protestors coming to the gates of Parliament to make their point, the consequences might have been even worse.
I am encouraged by the fact that the Government are moving a significant, if not the whole, way towards a situation in which there is greater recognition of the arguments that I have set out—enabling, I hope, the police to exercise that operational flexibility which is so important, which was so lacking and which led so directly to very unfortunate injuries and consequences for a large number of people who were already angry and frustrated.
I endorse absolutely the comments made by pretty well every other speaker. We should not underestimate the anger and the frustration sometimes at the consequences of the decisions that we make in this House, or the helplessness felt by many people who perhaps reside a long way from here, who can play no part in the political process and for whom protest is the only way in which they can make their feelings loudly and clearly heard not just by us in here, but by the media and the wider public.
I support any measure that makes it easier for protestors to exercise that absolutely ancient and important right, and I am not persuaded by arguments, which I hope will be put not too seriously, that the tidiness of Parliament square for the royal wedding is somehow more important than the ability of people to protest. If in the next few weeks we make a decision that has profound consequences for very many people, and those very many people wish to make their feelings heard, why on earth should they not do so? If that happens to coincide with the royal wedding, I argue that their right to protest is far more important, and I am glad that the Government recognise that point and are enabling protest to take place legitimately.
I much appreciate the speech from Simon Hart—his apologia pro vita sua.
I am trying to find out who was responsible for the dramatic changes to Parliament in my short time here, including, for example, the security screen that we now have between us and the Public Gallery. That came about because somebody who felt passionately about the cause of Fathers 4 Justice also felt that he had the right to come in here and throw a pink powder over the Bench—actually, where the hon. Gentleman is sitting; it did not quite arrive on the Front Bench. As a result, we changed the security laws dramatically.
Then, people felt so passionately about fox hunting that an hon. Member allowed a protestor to infiltrate this very Chamber, and as a result we have much tougher security. In the name of protest, we thus have a denial of the right of British citizens to come freely and easily into this House of Commons. When I was first elected, not so long ago, I took an American intern to Central Lobby, where he watched people coming in. I told him, “Any citizen can come here and ask to see his Member of Parliament,” and he replied, “My God. You let your voters get that close?”
On Monday night, I hosted the Belarus Free Theatre with Mr Jude Law and Kevin Spacey, the two actors. It was a marvellous moment, except that our police—acting under orders; I do not blame them—kept out the men who had been booted out of Belarus by dictatorial policemen. They were not even allowed into our House of Commons in time, so we need to set in some context the importance of access to this Parliament for MPs and for citizens who want to exercise their parliamentary, political and constitutional right to talk to their MPs.
I am concerned about what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Will he clarify whether the problem was that the police would not allow those people into Parliament, or that they did not get in in time because of inefficiencies in the queuing process?
My point is that we have now instituted such draconian security systems as a result of the invasion of this House—I do not think the hon. Gentleman was here at the time—and the attack from the Gallery that things have become all but impossible, and the police famously do not have the flexibility to allow certain people to come through ahead of ordinary—
Order. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is in full flow, but he will see that we have before us amendment 162 and a lot of other amendments. There is a lot of meat here, and he is on another meal. I ask him to restrict himself to the amendments.
Having enjoyed many happy meals with you in Strasbourg, Mr Deputy Speaker, I always thought we were sharing the same plate.
I will not enter into the question of reading out the names of those who have fallen in war, on which my hon. Friend Paul Flynn animadverted at great length, and the curious proposition that if one person falls his name should be mentioned, but if 20 or 100 fall there are too many names to read out.
We return, then, to a very important point—the centrality of Parliament and all democratic institutions to which all people should have easy and free access. In several democracies, there is, for good reason, the notion of the parliamentary mile, which means that for approximately 1 mile—a given space—around a Parliament, there should be no protests or demonstrations, and lawmakers should be able to go into their Parliament without being shouted at, as we were here for a number of years by the Iraq war protester with the very loud loudspeaker. We should certainly be able to confront citizens who are protesting or on their way to attend their protests in Trafalgar square, Speakers’ Corner in
Hyde park, or wherever. One only has to walk up Whitehall to see a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s house every day, but a Parliament is not a pressure cooker; it is a place for deliberation.
I recall being outside the White House a few years ago when there was a protest about President Clinton’s policy on Haitian refugees, and Arthur Ashe, the tennis player, was arrested and taken away. Those protestors were very brave. They went there, they knew they were going to be arrested, and they were making a profound point. However, American law says that when the President is in the White House—or when Congress is sitting—people cannot organise demonstrations directly under his nose.
That is a very important principle that dates back to the 19th century—
Let me just finish my sentence, and then of course I will give way.
This is a very important principle going back to earlier times when there were huge pressures on parliamentarians. For example, fascists in France tried to stop the French National Assembly meeting in the 1930s. That is why the same rules apply here. I am not saying that any one individual is going to stop any of us, but it is reasonable to say that around Parliament we do not have people permanently demonstrating, and when Parliament is sitting we do not have people permanently trying to break into it.
But surely the right hon. Gentleman recognises that this flies in the face of many of the great traditions of democracy that we have in this country. Nothing could be worse, in the current environment, than having the political class divorced ever more from the public at large.
I took part in Saturday’s demonstration, and that showed that the political class, at least those in it who care for public services, is not divorced—although part of it is, given that the Home Secretary said last week that the only march she had been on was to protect foxes, not to protect libraries and disabled people from cuts.
Our forefathers won the right to vote in the great demonstrations of the 1880s by shaking down the railings of Hyde park. Since my school and student days, I have marched, and marched again, in London, but I have not demanded to come and stay here permanently or to scream abuse at MPs coming into the House. I am happy to go up to Downing street to join protests that I associate myself with. That is right, fit and proper. This is not about the political class. Frankly, we have allowed a general degrading and devaluation of the role of MPs. Mr Field is not disconnected. No hon. Member is disconnected: we go back to our constituencies and talk to far more people than any journalist, pontificator or other professional. I still say that we should protect the notion that Parliament is a special place and not just another venue for whatever protest people feel passionate about.
It is important to put it on the record that no evidence has been presented and no representations have been put forward that allege that the encampment opposite Parliament has prevented Members of Parliament from entering the House. All the evidence that has been brought before us shows that there is sufficient legislation to ensure that legal action will be taken against anybody who does impede an MP. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is not trying to allege that that has happened.
My right hon. Friend seems to be drawing a distinction between demonstrations outside Parliament and elsewhere. Does he recall that a number of MPs, including me, were arrested outside South Africa house in 1984? The police decided to prosecute us, bizarrely, for behaviour that was offensive to a foreign mission, to which we happily pleaded guilty, given that the protest was against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The court found us innocent on the basis that we had a moral right to protest. As a result, there was a permanent picket outside South Africa house, despite many objections by the then South African embassy. That played its small part in ending apartheid. Surely my right hon. Friend recognises that the right to permanent protest is enshrined in judicial precedent in this country.
Yes; if one goes to the Chinese embassy in Portland place, the Falun Gong are always there. I am not talking about the other streets of London, and I am not talking about Downing street; I am talking exclusively about the law-making building of our nation, which requires slightly different consideration. I do not see that as the political class dividing itself from the population. I want more protest. However, that is different from saying that one particular issue can stay there for ever. One could be flippant and say that we could have a rota of issues. There could be a right-wing protest, when the fascists, the British National party and the UK Independence party can all come and make their little points.
I think that we are conspiring—perhaps that is an exaggerated word—to devalue the centrality of democratically elected legislatures when we allow protest and noise. Of course it is not preventing anybody from getting in, although hon. Members were prevented from coming in by the foxhunting protest.
I am having trouble following the logic of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. He is right to say that this is a place of deliberation, and I think we all share the belief that there should not be protests inside this Chamber, other than those made by Members of Parliament. However, we are not talking about that, we are not talking about protests in the Members’ Lobby or Central Lobby, and we are not even talking about allowing protests within the precincts of the Palace. We are talking only about protests outside the Palace of Westminster. That is outside of where the deliberation is happening. I would love him to explain why he thinks it is all right to protest outside Downing street, but not outside the Palace.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept the fear that many of us in this Chamber feel, that once we go down the path of saying that Parliament—
I am so sorry. I was just trying to put the interventions together to save time—your time, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I shall try to explain my point to the hon. Member for Cambridge. It is a concept common in many countries, and Britain can exclude itself from it, that the legislators of the democracy should be able to come to the area around the legislature—not around the Executive, not outside Downing street, not in the great centres where people gather such as Trafalgar square or Hyde park, and not anywhere else, such as outside embassies or town halls, but outside Parliament—without being told directly how or on what to vote at that moment. Anybody can come to my surgery on a Saturday or write to me to tell me how to vote. We have colluded in saying that Parliament needs to be protected from the people, which is why we have the absurd security systems that are now in place. If we do not re-establish the principle of parliamentarianism being something that requires reflection, debate and deliberation, with all of us voting in the Aye or the No Lobby to pass a law, and if we say that Parliament is simply an adjunct to a process of protest, it will weaken Parliament.
I will take the next intervention, but I will then sit down because other colleagues may want to speak.
I will be very brief. Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that many of us fear that this will be the thin end of the wedge? The moment we say that Parliament is special, people can say that every local government chamber is special, then that Downing street is special, then that all our courts are special. We have a passion and a love for living in an open, democratic society. I disagree profoundly with many of the protestors who have been in my constituency, and obviously with the violent disturbances, but peaceful protestors are the essence of the democracy that we all hold close to our heart.
I am happy to accept the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman’s point of view. Arguments have been held for 200 or 300 years about whether Parliament is different from the Executive, and whether elected representatives have something called privilege—not just privilege to speak in Parliament but privilege to come here and make up their minds on how to speak and vote as they think best.
We have been talking about an individual, and I admire his sacrifice over a number of years, but let us remember what happened not so long ago when passions were so high that the very security of this place was changed. As a result, the one, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 demonstrators who had filled Parliament square for their particular moment, expressing their right to protest directly to parliamentarians within the narrow area around Parliament, found that they had prevented many other citizens from being able to enter freely into the House of Commons to discuss matters with us calmly and peacefully.
There is a difference of opinion, and I respect everybody’s point of view. I am just dismayed that compared with when I came into the House, the level of security has changed, denying people access to MPs, as a result of protests that have gone too far and gone wrong. That has caused us some damage. I see quite good rules working in other democracies. If anybody wants to be arrested in Parliament square, or walk through it to make a protest and move on, so be it. However, the notion that there should be a permanent encampment or that Parliament square should be a place where anybody can come to protest at any time goes just a bit too far.
I respect the views of John McDonnell. I do not agree with them, but I respect them and the way in which he expressed them. However, I strongly support the provisions in the Bill.
I respect the right to protest, but a number of speakers in the debate have conflated or confused the issue of protest with that of the encampment outside. This is not a personality-driven debate, or it should not be, and one should not sentimentalise the issues involved. I wish to focus, I hope succinctly, on the rights and views of people other than the handful of individuals who have been camped outside for a prolonged period.
People have the right of quiet enjoyment of Parliament square and the facilities therein. I remind hon. Members that the statues have been put up over many years by public subscription. The public have a right to enjoy them, but for at least the past six months there have been fences around them. The taxpayers—not only the residents of the cities of Westminster and London, but people who come from far and wide to Parliament square and Parliament—have the right to use the park, and perhaps have a lunch sandwich.
Some consideration ought also to be given to the servants and agents of this place, and to the police who help to guard it and have to stand in very close proximity to the protest all day for month after month.
I am sorry, I cannot give way, because I have been told that I have only two minutes.
The reality is that the encampment is not a traditional form of protest, as it has been described. In my respectful submission, the problem does not have much to do with aesthetics, either. I, for one, am not really interested in what the protest looks like. I am interested in the rights of others to use the square without their quiet enjoyment being obstructed. The nuisance factor also has to be taken into consideration.
The question of sleeping impedimenta is one of fact and degree. We frequently ask police constables to exercise their discretion in many areas of law, some of which are difficult to define, which is part of the reason why we must give them discretion. The term “reasonable” cannot be easily susceptible to definition, because what is “reasonable” will vary depending on the individual circumstances of the event.
We in this country pride ourselves on protest and I certainly support the right to protest, but there must be some balance. Nowhere else in the world would put up with that type of protest over such a prolonged period. That does not mean that other countries are undemocratic for not putting up with 10 years of an encampment—of course they are democratic. They proudly maintain their democracy, and so would we, but we must balance the right of the handful of people who wish to live in Parliament square to the disadvantage of others, and bear in mind the rights of the latter.
Hon. Members have asked, “What harm is being done by the protest?” Criminal damage is one example of harm. Anything that causes action to be taken by another amounts to criminal damage if it means undertaking repair work. Nuisance, noise, hygiene and health and safety issues, and the loss and effect on tourism, also indicate harm. Such persistent protests do harm. We seek not to stop demonstrations, but just to stop people permanently encamping and sleeping in the square, and disguising that as a right to protest.
I shall be very brief and make only a couple of comments, because the Minister will need a few minutes to speak, and my hon. Friend John McDonnell will no doubt wish to respond to the debate for a couple of minutes before 5 o’clock. This has been a good debate; we also had one in Committee, when hon. Members on both sides raised many of the issues that we have debated this afternoon.
The Opposition support the Government in the repeal of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 provisions. On both sides of the House, there is a general recognition that despite the intention, those provisions went much further than any of us would have wanted. For example, a woman was arrested for reading out the names of the war dead. Many of us—perhaps all of us—thought that inappropriate.
The Opposition agree with the repeal of the SOCPA provisions, but our position has always been that there is a need to balance the right to protest with the right of others to enjoy Parliament, and to protect their freedom, as Mr Field said. We want to balance freedoms and to protect the right to protest.
In Committee, we concentrated on the workability of the Bill. I say to the Minister that considerable problems remain. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and my hon. Friends. He has carefully drafted, obviously with some help, a set of alternatives. I do not agree with his alternative, but he has also sought to address some of the problems that the Government seek to address.
I am surprised that the Minister has tabled only two Government amendments—57 and 58—to deal with one of the major problems with the Bill, namely that reasonable force can be used not only by a constable, but by an authorised officer of the council. In the Opposition’s view, the amendments simply do not go far enough. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington were minded to press amendment 185 to a Division, he would find support on the Opposition Front Bench.
Why do the Government amendments not go far enough? The Bill still allows an authorised officer to do all sorts of things with respect to activities in the prohibited area of Parliament square. Dr Huppert pointed out that even with the Government amendment, the Bill still gives the authorised officer—the council employee—significant powers to seize and retain property in the area described in clause 144(1). That is an extension of the power that one would expect authorised officers to have in any circumstances. This is the policing of public protest—not littering, loud music or neighbour nuisance—and the involvement of anybody other than a warranted police officer would be a dangerous extension of power to people who are not servants of the Crown.
The devil will be in the detail. There is still not an adequate definition—Michael Ellis and I debated this in Committee—of “sleeping equipment”. Lawyers will have a field day. The hon. Gentleman is right that we would expect an officer to act reasonably and so on, but there will be endless litigation over what reasonableness means in the Bill. What does “sleeping equipment” mean? Sleeping out? Sleeping on concrete? Is the concrete “sleeping equipment”? That is the sort of debate that we have started to get into. What would be the consequences of displacing this sort of activity? My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made this point. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster will find that if we deal with the protest outside, it will simply move across the road or down the road, and similar problems will persist. In repealing the legislation—we support the repeal of SOCPA—the Government need to be extremely careful that they do not find themselves in exactly the same situation as the previous Government: with unworkable legislation that simply results in many court actions as people seek to exercise their right to protest.
This useful debate has given the House the opportunity to discuss an important issue. We made it clear when we introduced our proposals that it was right and proper that the House should have a proper say on the Bill’s provisions relating to Parliament square, and I believe that the House has had that say this afternoon.
There are clearly issues of agreement on both sides of the House. The right to protest is a cherished and important right that the Government seek to uphold, and it is a positive step forward if the Opposition
Front-Bench team accept that fact and accept that the draconian approach that in many ways had become their hallmark was a wrong turn. I certainly welcome therefore the comments from Vernon Coaker about scrapping SOCPA, which had a very chilling effect on the right to protest. That is why one of the fundamental effects of the Bill will be to scrap those provisions and to return to treating Parliament square the same, in many ways, as the rest of the country.
The question before us relates to the extent of the right to protest. I think that it has been accepted that it is not an exhaustive right or something that we can do to the nth degree, and that there are limits to the right to protest. In her evidence to the Bill Committee, Shami Chakrabati made that point very clearly. We are discussing the limits to and the extent of that right. We have to take a step back and say, “We have that right to protest, but what is the issue at hand?” The issue at hand is that the right to protest does not mean the right to permanent encampment. That is at the heart of what we are seeking to address and why the provisions in the Bill are structured in the way they are.
I hear those who say that it does not make any difference, that it is not a problem and that we should not be seeking to introduce changes in respect of Parliament square and the surrounding area that contrast with the rest of the country. However, I would make the point that the square has been fenced off for six months to allow remedial and repair work, and has therefore been unavailable, which has clearly affected not just people’s access to it, but the right to protest there. That is why it is important that we examine the issue, and why the proposals in the Bill reflect that approach.
Is it not true that the vast majority of the public would think that any encampment outside Parliament should go? I have heard a lot of speeches this afternoon about why it should stay, but the vast majority of our public would say, “Get rid of it. It shouldn’t be there.”
The act of protest does not by default give individuals the right to erect permanent encampments in Parliament square or on the pavements outside it. That is the essence of what we are proposing. We want to protect the right to protest, but that does not mean that we endorse the permanent encampment that has arisen and that, in essence, has deprived others of access to that space.
I heard the points that the hon. Member for Gedling made about practicability and workability—in some ways he summarised the reasonable discussions and detailed debate that we had in Committee. However, we have had discussions with the Metropolitan police—he will be aware of the exchange of correspondence—and I have spoken to Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens in recent days, in advance of this afternoon’s debate. One of the challenges has been about differences of ownership, between the Greater London authority and Westminster city council, and ensuring that the proper protocols are agreed. However, with those protocols in place, our strong belief is that our proposals are workable; otherwise we would not be bringing them before the House.
I hear the debate about the language and the drafting. The Government recognise that any new law will be robustly tested by determined individuals—indeed, that would be the case for any proposals. We have therefore sought to capture attempts to circumvent the legislation that have been raised with us by the police. However, that necessarily carries the potential of capturing others, which is why we have allowed some discretion, as it is important that the provisions should be used proportionately.
Let me turn to the amendments tabled by John McDonnell. I suppose that the debate comes down to the context and this issue of a permanent encampment, which we think is so significant. As we have heard, Parliament square is a world heritage site, surrounded by important historic buildings such as Westminster abbey. Given its location opposite the Houses of Parliament and the limited space, we are seeking to balance the competing and legitimate needs of members of the public who come to the area as visitors or protesters, with those of Members of Parliament and others who need to be able to carry out their daily work and enjoy the space.
The Government are clear that no one particular person or group of persons should take over the area to the detriment of others. Encampments remaining on Parliament square in defiance of the byelaws have caused significant damage to the garden and the space, which has underlined the unworkability of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act thus far. The encampments have required considerable remedial work by the Greater London authority, during which time nobody has been able to enjoy the unique space. In relation to the democracy village occupation, the courts found that Parliament square gardens were not a suitable area for any sort of encampment. More recently, the High Court has said:
“Parliament Square Gardens is not a suitable location for prolonged camping; such camping is incompatible with the function, lawful use and character” of Parliament square gardens, and
“it is also inconsistent with the proper management of the area as a whole”.
The Government and, I think, most Members of this House and the other place would agree with the court’s findings.
Encampments prevent the public’s enjoyment of this unique location and deter people from visiting the area. They even deter and prevent others from protesting, although I have heard the points that have been made in that regard. Let me stress again that we are not seeking to prevent people from protesting on or around Parliament square. We are not seeking to put time limits on protests or to regulate them in that way.
The package of measures in part 3 is aimed at preventing encampments, at dealing with disruptive activity by anyone on Parliament square and at giving the police and authorised officers of the Greater London authority and Westminster city council powers to ensure that Parliament square can be enjoyed by all. So, for example, anyone who pitches a tent in the controlled area defined in the Bill may be directed to take it down. If they fail to comply with the direction, the tent may be seized and they may be charged with an offence.
I welcome the constructive debate that we had in Committee, during which Opposition Members recognised the problem with the current SOCPA provisions and acknowledged the need for new measures. We have heard this afternoon, however, that some of them do not agree with our proposals and continue to have issues. We have introduced a co-ordinated package of provisions that will link into byelaws to ensure that the issues of displacement that have been identified are addressed.
We have listened and reflected on what has been said, which is why the Government have tabled amendments 57 and 58, which deal with authorised officers using powers of force. We continue to believe that the right of authorised officers properly to manage and support the activities in Parliament square, and people’s enjoyment of the square, requires them to have the ability to give directions and to seize items, but not to use reasonable force, because that is the role of the police. That is why we have tabled amendments 57 and 58. They reflect the point that has been highlighted by my hon. Friend Dr Huppert and others inside and outside the House. We believe that the package in the Bill strikes a proportionate balance.
We will continue our discussions with the police, with Westminster city council and with the Greater London authority on the management of Parliament square, and on any moves that might result in more co-ordinated ownership and management of the site. Fundamentally, we believe in the right to protest, but that right does not mean permanent encampments. The measures before the House are proportionate and appropriate, because they will enable those who want to protest to have their say outside the House while ensuring that that does not result in the permanent despoiling of Parliament square.
I wish to press amendments 162 and 185 to a vote. The debate has been helpful in that it has reassured me that we support the right to protest. I look forward to Members joining me in protests in the coming months. There is a disagreement over the difference between protest and permanent protest. There is a tradition of effective permanent protest in this country, and that is the tradition that we are seeking to support.
There is a basic human right, enacted in legislation in this Parliament, to assembly, association and speech. Members must have due cause if they want to tamper with that right in any way. If there is an argument that the encampment causes noise, nuisance or any form of obstruction, legislation already exists to deal with that. Indeed, the Minister has just demonstrated that the court is now dealing with the matter in relation to the grassed area. There is therefore no need for the House to waste its time in introducing specific legislation for a small encampment of principled people who are reminding us of the consequences of our actions in this House.
Let me advise Members and warn that we will come back again on this issue. What we are doing here is counter-productive: it will cause further conflict; it will put police officers in an impossible position and council officers in an even worse position. The encampment will move elsewhere and the Government will then have to come back to the matter, as the last Government tried to do with their Civil Contingencies Bill to ban protest elsewhere and outside other public buildings. I believe that this is an error.
I wish the coalition parties had adhered to their promise before the election to—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 30 March ).
The House divided: