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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) rose—

Mr. Hain: I can assure the House that the provision applies to Members returned to this House for two or more places and would not prevent a Member of this House from belonging to another elected body in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond: The Leader of the House has answered the point I wanted to make. I merely wanted to check that there was no insidious, nefarious scheme to prevent any Member from exercising that right if the electorate so wished. The Leader of the House has reassured me and I rest satisfied.

Mr. Hain: The urgency with which the hon. Gentleman leapt to his feet made me wonder what his future intentions are and where he sees himself sitting in future.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I—uniquely—come to the aid of the Leader of the House to respond, through him, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? Mr. Speaker encouraged the Procedure Committee to
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consider whether the Sessional Orders and resolutions should be retained or abolished. In our informal discussions we came to the view set out in our report that they should be abolished as they are no longer relevant to the modern age in which we live.

Mr. Forth: Ah, the modern age.

Mr. Hain: I shall not rise to the bait held out by the right hon. Gentleman. The Chairman of the Procedure Committee has explained the situation adequately.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House explain the logic of keeping the much-loved Outlawries Bill while abolishing other things? What is the logic behind that?

Mr. Hain: It was a radical-traditionalist coalition, following the Procedure Committee's expert advice.

The Committee felt that although those Sessional Orders and resolutions should go, we should still begin the Session with a reminder of matters that the House considers to be of importance. The Committee recommended that there should be a statement by the Speaker of the duties and responsibilities of Members—possibly, the Committee suggested, the seven principles of public life as set out in the code of conduct—together with historic claims to privilege, including those of freedom of speech and freedom from legal challenge embodied in the Bill of Rights 1689. The motion endorses that proposal.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that the Government have had more than a year to consider these matters, does the Leader of the House have a preferred form of words to present to the House? It might be difficult to make a judgment without knowing what is imagined.

Mr. Hain: As will be evident from the terms in which the debate is being put to the House, we are asking the Committee to look into the matter for us.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): That question needs to be answered, and I hope to return to it later if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I listened carefully to the remarks of the Leader of the House about the use of these words at the beginning of a Session, in which he referred to Members. However, the Sessional Orders relate not to Members but to witnesses and people from outside Parliament who should come here to say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth instead of hiding behind the Osmotherly rules and being economical with the truth. That is the real problem, and he has not addressed it.

Mr. Hain: With all due respect to my hon. Friend, who is a diligent and fine parliamentarian, I think that he has raised a separate issue.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): I am sure that the Leader of the House understands that this is an important issue, because we could be signing up to a document that is a statement of the way in which we should conduct ourselves. Will he
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assure us that it will be proceeded with on the basis of a proposal to the House and a full opportunity to debate and consult on it? In effect, it will be our constitution and it should not come to us other than after careful consideration so that the Bill of Rights, the freedoms of the House and all the other things are guaranteed.

Mr. Hain: Obviously, Mr. Speaker and the Procedure Committee will need to be consulted on the detailed wording before we move further.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Leader of the House accept that taking the Oath is enough for most of us? We do not want anything else.

Mr. Hain: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which was well made.

The larger, and more controversial, part of the Procedure Committee's report relates to the Sessional Order on the Metropolitan police and the linked issues of access to Parliament and demonstrations in Parliament square. The Committee finds that the Sessional Order is misleading, since it does not confer any additional legal powers on the police. The Committee recommends that the Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access are adequate and enforceable.

The Government are well aware of how strongly Members of the House, including Mr. Speaker, feel about this matter. We therefore agree that there needs to be specific legislation that recognises the unique position of Parliament and its surroundings. We will introduce such legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House explain exactly what his proposal means today? Is it a welcome for the suggestion of legislation at an indeterminate point in the future, or does it fundamentally encourage the police to behave and act differently from the way in which they have acted hitherto?

Mr. Hain: I think that my hon. Friend will find the answer to his question in what I am about to say. What is envisaged is a sensible proposal that particularly protects access and the orderly operations of the House.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Hain: I will give way to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), but then I had better make progress so that I can explain what we intend and take questions on it.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House said that legislation would be introduced as soon as he could find parliamentary time. Will he assure us that it will be introduced within, say, the next six months?

Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman knows from the previous positions that he occupied that I cannot anticipate what will be in the Queen's Speech. He knows
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that there are protocols and restrictions on me, but I have been pretty clear that we will introduce such legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. We will do that, and it will be sooner rather than later.

There is legislation to deal with disruptive demonstrations in Parliament square. Under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, the police can put conditions on assemblies that they believe may cause serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious damage to the life of the community. We amended the definition of "assembly" in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to cover two or more persons.

The Government recognise that existing legislation has not provided the police with all the powers they need to control all protests and demonstrations around Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has carefully considered what more can be done and we propose a new power for the police to give direction to and impose conditions on any protest, demonstration or assembly within the vicinity of Parliament. It will be an offence to fail to comply with a direction. The precise area will be defined in secondary legislation.

There is a difficult balance to be struck. It is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate provided that that they do so within the law. I have exercised those rights to protest, and would defend to the last the rights of others to do so, including in Parliament square. Equally, however, access to Parliament must be maintained and those who work in Parliament should be able to do so free from harassment. We are working on the detail of the new power and will of course ensure that it is compatible with the European convention on human rights.

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