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Mr. Hain: I am certainly happy to do so, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will do so as we proceed. However, we are trying to address the situation sensitively and ensure that we do not deal with the problem in a heavy-handed way. I believe that the House would expect us to achieve that balance.
Simon Hughes: May I seek two clarifications? In relation to loudspeakers, is the Leader of the House saying that the primary legislation exists, but no secondary legislation has so far been introduced? If legislation is passed, will it be a civil or criminal matter if somebody acts in breach of it?
Mr. Hain: All these matters will be debated in the House when the measure is introduced. As I said, the existing regulations apply between 9 pm and 8 am, and it is the problem that arises outside those times that we need to make progress on.
Obviously, there are questions about the area in which the regulations will apply. Many approved demonstrations begin outside Barclays bank and wend
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their way around Parliament square and up Whitehall. I imagine that that would be perfectly acceptable, but it might help all Members if a draft of the proposed regulations were made available to allow a quick element of consultation before the matter is taken forward.
Mr. Hain: That is an interesting point, and I shall certainly bear it in mind, as will the Home Secretary. We are trying to move by consensus. This is a House matter, and we have been criticised, understandably, for being a bit slow on it. We do not want to rush into things. A lot of care has been taken. [Interruption.] We have not been dragging our heels, as I hear impudently suggested, but taking some care, for precisely the reasons that have been raised in voicing concern that we should strike a balance between the rights of our citizens and voters to express their view to us and maintaining the proper access that we require and our ability to go about our business without the kind of harassment that we have had.
Once new legislation to control demonstrations in Parliament square comes into force, the Procedure Committee considers that the Sessional Order relating to the Metropolitan police will be unnecessary. Meanwhile, the Committee recommends that we continue with the Sessional Order, albeit in an amended form, so as to clarify that it covers the whole parliamentary estate. The motion endorses that proposal. If the House agrees to the motion, at the beginning of the next Session, only that one Sessional Order will be movedthe amended motion on the Metropolitan police.
In conclusion, I believe that the House as a whole will, as I said at the beginning of my speech, be very grateful to the Procedure Committee for its report and its clear exposition of the issues involved. I believe that the changes proposed to our procedures at the beginning of each Session are a sensible reform, and I commend the motion to the House.
Mr. Heald: Yes, I do, and I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) on his work and that of his Committee. I also pay tribute to the Committee for its output, which has been impressive over the past year.
The motion approves paragraphs 9, 10 and 25 of the report, the effect of which is to change the Sessional Orders by discontinuing some of the old and much-loved usages, such as the passing of orders about elections, witnesses and Votes and Proceedings, although the Outlawries Bill will be kept. The report also suggests that a statement of our rights, duties and responsibilities be recorded, and goes on to suggest a new form of the Sessional Order. Although those may seem modest ideas, I ask why some of these charming old traditions need to be abolished. Only last week, we were abolishing the use of the term "strangers", which never did anyone any harm. I imagine that the new
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Labour battalions are lurking somewhere in the building and that, although they are not debating this matter, they are ready to vote solidly with the Leader of the House if that is required.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am genuinely bewildered about why the hon. Gentleman utters the mantra of the Leader of the House when he refers to the Sessional Orders relating to witnesses as outdated. How is that measure outdated? It is essential. I would love to hear from the hon. Gentleman about that.
Mr. Heald: There is legislation that deals with the issue of witnesses, so I would have thought that the measure was not necessary. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, on his earlier comments about the Osmotherly rules. The fact that Lord Hutton can come into an inquiry and have all the witnesses and documents that he wants[Interruption.] A point about witnesses has been raised, and as the Osmotherly rules are about the conditions under which the Government allow witnesses to attend Select Committees, there is an overlap.
It is wrong that all the documents and witnesses in the world were available and put on the internet when we brought in a judge or a retired civil servant, whereas when the Foreign Affairs Committee asked for the same witnesses and documents, it was told that the matter was top secret and that it could not have the information. I remember the Foreign Affairs Committee report, which was stingingly critical of the Government, on that matter. One criticism of the Leader of the House that I make from time to time is why: on earth has he done nothing about it?
Mr. Hain: I gave evidence to the Liaison Committee on the Osmotherly rules and made proposals, which were widely welcomed, on how we can move forward. I was surprised when the hon. Gentleman referred to the new Labour battalions, because I have never thought that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), fits that description.
Mr. Heald: That was a cunning wheeze. The Leader of the House appeared before the Liaison CommitteeI am sure that it was gratefulbut he has yet to find a mechanism by which a Select Committee that asks for a witness or document can speak to the Leader of the House and the Government to explain the importance of the matter and obtain satisfaction.
At business questions the week before last, I suggested that one way in which to tackle the matter would be to form a sub-committee of the Liaison Committee, which could call in the Leader of the House if a dispute occurred. The Leader of the House dismissed the idea out of hand, but I do not know why, because it seems modest enough. If he will not accept my idea, surely as Leader of the House, who is supposed to uphold the rights of Select Committees, strengthen our procedures and support scrutiny, he must introduce a proposal that will work.
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Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): I am a member of the Procedure Committee, but as the Leader of the House well knows, I am not a member of the new Labour battalions. Many Sessional Orders were useless because they referred to proceedings in the St. Stephen's area and stopping people impeding MPs as they struggle through Westminster Hall. People were under the illusion that our contributions were protected, when actually they were not, which is why such matters needed adjustment. The adjustment had nothing to do with modernisation.
Mr. Heald: The access provisions were not underpinned by legislation to enable a police officer to enforce the Sessional Orders, and I am glad that the Leader of the House is introducing proposals on that matter. The main focus of today's debate is the effect of demonstrations in or near Parliament square on the work of the House, particularly the long-standing, visually unattractive demonstration that is accompanied by the extensive use of loudhailers, which disrupt the environment for not only hon. Members, but everyone who works here.
"The Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access are adequate and enforceable. We also expect the appropriate authorities to explore fully the possibility of using existing legislation to control the use of loud-hailers and other amplification equipment; failing that, the Government should consider legislation on this subject".
The Committee suggested that the mechanism of Sessional Orders is fundamentally insufficient to deal with the current problem, although it recommended that we introduce an interim Sessional Order in the terms set out in paragraph 25, which I support.
I seek assurances on exactly what the Leader of the House intends to do. The Government response stated that a consultation on developing the right police powers for effective and proportionate action would take place, and he has told us today that an offence of not following Sessional Orders will be created. It is important that the police have enough power to change the situation.
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