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May I say, perhaps in anticipation of the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) wishes to ask, that when I organised demonstrations it was impossible to bring them alongside the House of Commons because Sessional Orders and the state of the law did not allow that? That has subsequently become possible and hon. Members have not easily been able to get into the House for votes or to make their way through crowds. Additionally, the problem outside on the square itself is continuously with us, so we need an updated response.
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When the House reaches a decision on the motion, will we be approving the wording in paragraph 25 as a Sessional Order, or will we still be awaiting the legislation that he proposes to impact on the demonstration?
Simon Hughes: On the same important issue, can I assume that if we agree to the motion we are not approving paragraph 22 of the Procedure Committee report, which proposes that legislation should be introduced to prohibit long-term demonstrations? Is it the case that nothing that we agree today would prevent the man in the middle of Parliament square from remaining there until legislation that we can properly consider is introduced to determine whether one person, or some or many people, should be allowed to stay in Parliament square?
Sir Patrick Cormack: The Leader of the House is most kind. I think that I speak for most hon. Members on both sides of the House by saying that the thing that we are most worried about is the defacing of Parliament square that has occurred over the past three years. Will he assure me that any legislation that the Government introduce will apply to what is going on in Parliament square so that the gentleman concernedafter proper notice and following the due process of lawcan be removed?
I was interested to hear the Leader of the House's response to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)
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about the current peace protest in Parliament square. Paragraph 25 sets out the suggested Sessional Order under the wording:
Would that be an invitation to the Metropolitan police to clear the central area of Parliament square at all times, or would the status quo be maintained so that demonstrations in that area would be agreeable with the co-operation of the police? The system of co-operation with the police on demonstrations on the grass part of the square works well.
Mr. Hain: There are all sorts of anomalies. For example, the square is, I believe, owned and controlled by the Greater London authority. My hon. Friend should accept that if those powers existed, then, following pressure from Members of Parliament and requests from the Speaker, the noise would have been dealt with. A change in the law is needed, particularly to deal with the noise.
The Government fully accept that maintaining access to Parliament is essential to its working and to our democracy. We must maintain access; otherwise we cannot do our job as representatives in the cockpit of democracy. The police already use their existing powers, including powers under the Public Order Act 1986, to ensure that access to the House is maintained, and our new power will provide them with an additional tool to do so.
Mr. Salmond : The right hon. Gentleman said, almost regretfully, that when he was organising demonstrations he could not get into Parliament square. Many of us are reluctant to back the proposal, because we have attended business questions and listened to a number of Members who think it hugely important to moan about people demonstrating. There should be powers to prevent Members of Parliament from being obstructed when voting and carrying out their parliamentary duties, but some people, including many members of the Procedure Committee, if we read the evidence, conflate that with a dislike of people exercising their right to free speech and to demonstrate. I hope that hon. Members, whatever their party, believe that sacrificing that right is too a high a price to pay, even though some people think that it is a nuisance.
Mr. Hain: There is a balance to be struck. People must be able to exercise the right to demonstrate and protest, which, as I have stated, is an absolute, traditional and fundamental right in our democratic society. However, as an experienced Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman will agree that we must have access to the House. We simply cannot operate on any other basis.
The Committee's report addresses the use of loudhailers by demonstrators in Parliament square. The Government recognise that the use of loudhailers is of particular concern to Members, who have raised it regularly with me, as has Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will therefore consider using the order-making power in section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which governs the use of loudhailers in the streets, to ban the use of loudhailers in the area around Parliament square, subject to exemptions in the case, for example, of emergencies. It is intended to lay
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the necessary secondary legislation before the House as soon as possible in the new Session. Currently, the use of loudhailers in the streets is prohibited only between 9 pm and 8 am.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Leader of the House for giving way againhe has been very generous with his time. Would the order prevent the use of loudhailers in a permanent demonstration such as the one that is currently taking place, or would it apply to approved rallies, such as those that took place during the Iraq war, in the central part of Parliament square, which is controlled by Westminster council with the co-operation of the police?
Mr. Hain: Indeed, they can be used for the orderly progress of a protest. Of course, that will continue to be permitted. However, we are dealing with a persistent "bang, bang, bang", which is deafening for Members in the House who, quite understandably, have complained about it, as have members of press and others who work in the Palace.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for giving way yet again. I welcome his announcement while endorsing the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that properly policed demonstrations should not suffer as a result. Is the Leader of the House aware that existing legislation such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which can usually be used to stop incessant noise, includes an exemption for the purposes of political protest? Would he look at that legislation to see whether we could address the issue by ending the exemption?
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