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Police: Protests — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 21st April 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office 3:00 pm, 21st April 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, following the decision of the Metropolitan Police to review their policies for policing protests, they will encourage other police forces to do the same.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, we welcome the commissioner's decision to invite Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to review the police tactics involved in policing G20. That is consistent with the police service's commitment to reviewing and examining tactics and operations continually. We shall ensure that the conclusions of the HMIC review are disseminated nationwide to ensure that the lessons are picked up by all police forces.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson for the Home Office

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's reply, particularly the undertaking that the inquiry will look at whether the tactics were appropriate. Clearly, some were not and some were disgraceful. Does the Minister agree that there is a great need to endorse the public's right to peaceful protest, and that some of the culture that has grown up in police forces—filming people at protests as if they were suspects and, in the case of the Nottinghamshire police, raiding a planning meeting for a protest before anything had happened—are examples of protest having become, among some elements of the police, somewhat equated to criminal activity?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I absolutely agree that we have a right to protest; it is one of this country's great freedoms. Before I say anything more, we should not lose sight of the fact that, the week before the G20, the "Put People First" demonstration had 30,000 people marching through London, and that went off peacefully. We should also not lose sight of this: during the course of the G20, thousands of officers acted absolutely professionally and proportionately, and thousands of people were able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, while criminal activity in the rest of the metropolis was kept to an absolute minimum. The police maintained high levels of security; we should be extremely proud of them. That is not to excuse criminal acts, and investigations are now taking place on those particulars. However, in general we are very well served by our police. I am proud of them, and my general approach is that they are on our side. They are our people, and that is the way to do it.

Photo of Lord Dear Lord Dear Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that most of the world's developed countries, when dealing with serious public disorder, do not rely solely on uniformed police in close or face-to-face contact with the demonstrators? In those countries, as we know, unrest or disorder, as it escalates, is met with other responses—CS gas, baton rounds or water cannon, and so on. In the light of that, can the Minister reassure your Lordships' House that all of those options will be explored in the forthcoming review? For the record, I do not personally applaud those methods, but the Minister may agree that a through review of the pros and cons of those options will equip us better to comment on our present approach, with all its advantages and disadvantages.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, Sir Paul Stephenson has asked Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary at HMIC, to look at a number of issues, including the effectiveness and impact of current public order tactics. He will look particularly at containment and kettling, an area where there has been some debate; at liaison with the media, where the issue of dealing with journalists has not always gone quite right; and at communication with the public and protestors, where there is clearly a need for more dialogue. He will cover all of those issues.

I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people, all of which seem to occur in some other countries; I am jolly glad that I live in this one. However, all of those things will, quite rightly, be looked at. On the timing of the report, we hope that will be in early or mid-July.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, given what happened outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday, what possible incentive is there for the police to control a situation where a proscribed organisation of terrorists is allowed to stage a sit-in that continues for seven hours? Is that what we call honest, genuine demonstration in this country?

J

Terrorists? That is a ridiculous statement and you are obviously misinformed. How DID you get to where you are one has to wonder.

Submitted by Joe Heaven Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police Service will of course be looking at any action that breaks the law, so if there is an issue about proscription, that will be covered. Again, the police handled that demonstration extremely well. That shows that the rules about demonstrating around Parliament need to be changed; we intend to do just that.

J

Actually, if you mread the news and look at the evidence it would appear that this was extremely badly managed and the Police behaved abysmally. It would be nice if your kind had more of a shop floor approach and...

Submitted by Joe Heaven Continue reading

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, following on from the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, does my noble friend accept that there is no principle in our liberal democracy that says that people, in exercising the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech, should be allowed to block access to Parliament? However much sympathy some of us may have for the plight of the Tamils, should not the police yesterday have ensured that access to Parliament was unimpeded, not just for parliamentarians and staff but, just as important, for other citizens?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the detail of the operation is for the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that the Metropolitan Police will take action against those who have broken the law.

J

Well I'm glad you are sure, the rest of the population have some serious doubts in case you hadn't noticed.

Submitted by Joe Heaven

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Deputy Speaker in the Lords, Deputy spokesperson for Northern Ireland, Home Affairs spokesperson for police matters, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, under what circumstances are police officers allowed or even advised to cover their personal number identification?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important point, on which we touched yesterday. It is absolutely wrong that that should happen. I know that Sir Paul Stephenson will be intent on getting to the root of that, finding out exactly what happened. The police are not above the law. They are servants of the people. We police by consent. What happened is wrong and will be tracked down and resolved.

J

My Lords, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Police hiding thier identification or refusing to give it has been comon practice, not just at protests but predominantly so, for the last 30 years to my certain knowledge having...

Submitted by Joe Heaven Continue reading