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Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I thank the Home Secretary for his statement, and through him I thank the police and the other public services which did a good job in difficult circumstances yesterday.
Is the Home Secretary's information and analysis that the majority of people at events in both London and Manchester were peaceful, whatever the motives of organisers may have been, and that only a minority of people were set on being disruptive and criminal? As Home Secretary and as the police authority for London, has he had any success in identifying the troublemakers since June? In the case of football, the minority of thugs are targeted by the police and dealt with. Has there been success since last year?
The Home Secretary, again in his role as police authority for London, also endorsed and supported in advance the non-confrontational strategy. Are the right hon. Gentleman and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis satisfied that sufficient police officers were on duty in London adequately to police all the other May day events in the city's boroughs, as well as to cover what happened in the centre of the capital?
Finally, one matter is still troubling. The damage to the Cenotaph caused great affront to many people, especially to those to whom the monument is a tribute. Was the Cenotaph policed specifically, in an attempt to protect it?
Mr. Straw: I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's questions in turn, and I shall also respond to the question from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about the cost of yesterday's events, which I omitted to answer earlier.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether a minority of people who took part in the demonstration were involved in the violence. The numbers of people arrested show that only a minority of people were violent, but I am sorry to say that a significant proportion of those who turned up in Trafalgar square understood what was likely to happen. Given that they knew people who were going to be involved in violence, those people should not have gone to Trafalgar square to engage in unlawful activities. However, the same does not appear to have been true about those who went to Parliament square.
The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not go into detail about the work of the police service in detection. I will say only that the police have arrested about 100 people already--significantly more than were arrested after the much more serious events of 18 June last year--and that they are engaged in a serious crime investigation into many of the offences committed yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether enough police were available. The answer is yes: 5,500 police officers were directly available to Gold command in New Scotland Yard for the operation, and sufficient officers were available elsewhere in greater London.
Mr. Straw: A great deal of effort was put into policing Whitehall. The House will know that, in certain areas, it was decided initially--and quite properly, in my judgment--not to use officers in riot gear. The hope was that protesters would act peacefully as a result, and to some extent that expectation was fulfilled. However, the events in Whitehall that I have already described meant that officers in riot gear had to be brought forward. I have already explained the police recommendation that the Cenotaph and the statue of Sir Winston Churchill should be boarded up. It is for the Royal Parks Agency and English Heritage to explain why they judged that neither monument should be so protected.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Manchester condemn to the utmost degree the disgraceful disfigurement of their city? In addition, they are appalled that police resources and manpower should have been distracted from the genuine law and order issues that I was discussing with my constituents only yesterday afternoon.
With regard to London, is my right hon. Friend aware that what took place is exactly the sort of direct action against capitalism that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has advocated and supported? Is he also aware that the Livingstone brand of approval would be given to such activities if the people of London were conned into voting for that smarmy charlatan?
Mr. Straw: I had better not follow my right hon. Friend's latter remarks. I, of course, share his deep anger and concern at the disfigurement of his great city of Manchester by those who took part in the unlawful series of protests and the violence committed yesterday--and, I
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I join in congratulating the police on their impressive conduct of yesterday's affairs in London. Pursuant to the Home Secretary's answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris), if no plans have been submitted and no permission sought for a protest or demonstration, is an offence committed under the Public Order Acts by that very protest and demonstration taking place unplanned, unco-ordinated and with no permission sought? If there has been a forewarning of trouble, what principles govern the police in their plans, actions and decisions in response to the potential threat?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the impressive conduct of the police. He asks me to speculate about whether certain offences might have been committed by virtue of the fact that there was no permission for the demonstration. The position on bans and permissions is complicated. There is a power, which I have used on two separate occasions--upon application by the chief officer of police in West Mercia and in Norfolk in the past two weeks--to ban processions in certain circumstances. There is no power to ban assemblies which take place in public areas, although there are laws relating to obstruction if assemblies take place in the public highway. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not speculate about whether particular offences may or may not have been committed yesterday.
The right hon. Gentleman also asks me what principles guided the police in their decisions as there was forewarning of trouble--of that there is no doubt. The principles that guided the police were the safety of the public, the safety of the police and the safety and security of the property of this great city--and, in particular, given the right hon. Gentleman's concerns following the events of 18 June last year, ensuring that the business life of this city could continue. The police made their judgments in the light of those principles and, as I have told the House, I think that they made the correct judgments.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): As a veteran of many demonstrations in the 1960s, some of which my right hon. Friend will remember with great affection, may I say that what is happening now is characterised by a new brutality and ugliness that we never saw then? The use of balaclavas, helmets and masks shows that some people attend these rallies and demonstrations with only malice in mind. I hope that we never ban demonstrations, but the police must have the powers to deal with people who are basically criminals.
Mr. Straw: Like my hon. Friend, I went on many demonstrations in the 1960s--too many to name--and on many more recently, including those against the high levels of unemployment caused by the previous Government. Every demonstration that I went on was peaceful. We celebrated that fact, and ensured that we co-operated fully with the police, because such right of peaceful process is the essence of a democratic society.
My hon. Friend is entirely right about the new brutality, which none of us is used to, or wishes to become used to. It is wholly unacceptable--it includes using balaclavas and seeing the police as enemies. One of the many things that we were able to do in response to police requests as the Crime and Disorder Bill went through Parliament in 1998 was to give the police powers to require the removal of balaclavas and other face coverings in unlawful and violent demonstrations such as took place yesterday, and those powers have been used.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Like the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I am a veteran of the demonstrations of the 1960s--except that I was on the opposite side. In the anti-Vietnam demonstrations of both 1967 and 1968, police officers, of whom I was one, prevented desecration of property.
I agree with the Home Secretary that the current threat is completely different from those of the 1960s and others. The circumstances are difficult for the police, and I am willing to accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of what happened yesterday. However, the people of this country will never again accept the desecration of the Cenotaph. Following the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation that the mayor of London will not have powers to interfere, and that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will have freedom of operation, does he agree that in the face of a similar threat in future, everything will be done to prevent such desecration?