Clause 57 - Obstruction of vehicular access to Parliament

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 8th June 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The clause is designed to protect vehicular access to Parliament, and it will amend the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. That will ensure that preventing access to the parliamentary estate is prohibited, but it will not give the police powers to arrest those who contravene it.

Clause 58 requires a new controlled area around the temporary locations of Parliament, and the central rules around protests may be imposed around the temporary home of Parliament during restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, whenever that may occur.

Clause 59 replaces the common law offence of public nuisance with the statutory offence of intentionally or recklessly causing a public nuisance. The new statutory offence of intentionally or recklessly causing a nuisance includes the term “serious annoyance”, and it is unclear what will constitute a serious annoyance or serious inconvenience. A person does not have to actually suffer any of the above consequences, but only be at risk of suffering them.

The Minister said in the evidence sessions that the term “annoyance” was not dreamed up on the back of an envelope, but follows many centuries of legal development, culminating in the 2015 Law Commission report. However, that does not help to explain or to guide the police as to how to enforce conditions on a protest that puts someone at risk of suffering “serious annoyance”. During the evidence session, Chief Constable Harrington, the public order and public safety portfolio lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said:

“On serious annoyance, we need to see what Parliament’s decision on the definition of that is and to interpret that accordingly… We will have to see what Parliament decides and whether it is able to give us some clarity about what that means”.––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 10, Q8.]

Can the Minister reassure us today by providing some clarity on what “serious annoyance” might mean and what is the threshold for “serious annoyance”?

I will finish on this point: the designated area for Parliament includes Parliament Square, where can be found a number of statues of celebrated pioneers of struggle and protest, including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the suffragist Millicent Fawcett. I wonder what they would think about the state limiting people’s rights of protest in this way. I think we can all guess.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If I may, Mr McCabe, I shall confine my remarks to clause 57, which deals with “Obstruction of vehicular access to Parliament”. I will take up the challenge on annoyance when it comes to clause 59.

Clause 57 delivers a clear recommendation from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Ms Harman. Its 2019 report, “Democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of association: Threats to MPs”, refers to

“unimpeded access to the Palace of Westminster for all who have business in either House, or wish to meet their representatives”, and to how vital that is. The report continues:

“Even though there is a special legal regime for the area around Parliament, it is clear that those responsible for policing and controlling that area have not always given the need for access without impediment or harassment the importance it requires. This must change.”

We are acting on the recommendations of the Joint Committee and, through clause 57, strengthening and extending the Palace of Westminster controlled area in relation to section 142A of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Would my hon. Friend be interested to know that, more than a century ago, precedent was set by the grandfather of the current Lord Montagu? He arrived in a motorcar and the police tried to prevent it from entering the precincts of the Palace, but he insisted that it came in. Precedent was therefore set well over a century ago at the dawn of the age of the motorcar, and I hope that that precedent will be followed.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is a wonderful example to explain how that fundamental right of our democracy was introduced. I note, of course, that my right hon. Friend has great knowledge and expertise in all matters vehicular, to which I defer.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Division number 6 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill — Clause 57 - Obstruction of vehicular access to Parliament

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.