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Sir Nicholas Winterton: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with some impatience. It seems to me that he has not read the report in full, and has not taken note of the fact that we received representations and evidence from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner himself, the Serjeant at Arms, the Clerk of the House and others associated with the security and administration of the parliamentary estate. Does he give no weight to the evidence and views of those who have looked after this place for hundreds of years?
Mr. Tyler: I am a great fan of the hon. Gentleman and of the traditions of the House, but I have read the evidence in the report, and it is far from clear that there is unanimity. I wish there were, because that would make it much easier for us. I also have great respect for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but let us face it: the police made some absurd mistakes on the day of the hunting demonstration. It was their fault that people came into this place disguised as building workers; it was no fault of officers of the House. I take with a pinch of salt the suggestion in the evidence that the commissioner is seeking new powers. Whenever the police seek new powers, I think it the right and responsibility of Members to establish why the existing powers are not sufficient.
Much has been made of the permanent demonstration. The commissioner spoke of what happened four years ago when there was a demonstration, Parliament square was cut up and statues were damaged. He said that there should be
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stronger powers to tackle such dangerous incidents. I do not think we should spend the entire debate speaking about Mr. Haw.
Mr. Tyler: I entirely agree, which is why I want to return to recommendation 7. It is clear from the recommendationI understand that the Government accept thisthat the legislation they are now considering, in a wider sense, will require extensive consultation, for reasons that I think all hon. Members would appreciate. The new Sessional Order is essentially an interim measure, and a very insubstantial and probably rather ineffective one.
What happens next? I am always slightly suspicious of secondary legislation, and the suggestion that everything will be straightforwardthat it is just a matter of detail, and that the wish of the House is being implemented. It is easy for us to agree to that. The Leader of the House said earlier that this would be a matter for secondary legislation. I hope that there will be the fullest possible consultation, and that we will have a full opportunity to examine the implications of that secondary legislation. All too often, such legislation goes through with insufficient scrutiny. That is a major criticism of our parliamentary procedure, and this particular issue surely requires very careful scrutiny indeed.
Yes, we need to strike a balance. In considering access to this place, we have to ensure that Members, their staff and constituents, and the staff of the House are protected. That is critical, and we cannot afford to allow undue pressure to be applied that prevents us from doing our duty, but equally, in terms of freedom speech, one of our duties is to ensure that members of the public are not impeded if they want to exercise their right and duty to express their views in a democratic society. The balance between those two conflicting pressures is a very difficult one to strike, and it requires that all Members of the Housenot just somebody Upstairs in Committeeconsider them very carefully.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): I will not detain the House for long, but there are just a couple of observations that I would like to make. First, we should dissociate the question of access to the House from what is currently going on in Parliament square, inasmuch as we can. Unlike the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I consider the Procedure Committee's proposalI am a member of that Committeeto be effective. It orders that
and subsequently refers to the duties that we carry on in the House. Such duties are the very reason why we are trying to ensure that Members are not so obstructed, so the proposal makes eminent sense.
In my view, the police need this reminder. On both of the two occasions on which I was prevented from entering the House, the police were responsible. When George W. Bush was in the areaI understand that he
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has been re-elected President of the United StatesI and other MPs were prevented from getting anywhere near the House of Commons for some considerable time. [Interruption.] I note that other Members did indeed experience such a problem. Whatever the commissioner understood about his responsibility to ensure that Members of Parliament could actually get here to perform their duties, that message somehow failed to percolate down to officers controlling the area. They treated Members of Parliament as if they were members of the public, who could be directed as and when they wished.
Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point. If the Government proceed with criminal legislation, who might be prosecuted if such circumstances are repeated? Would he like to venture an answer?
Mr. McWalter: I am tempted to say that if members of the police force do not carry out their duties, they would be subject to the normal process of police discipline for failing to understand and act on their responsibilities. I rather doubt whether the laws that we get will push things any further than that, but Members will also know that historically, this Chamber has been ringed with policemen to prevent Members from entering. I know that we are talking about the 17th century, but that is how Cromwell succeeded in getting complete control of the parliamentary process.
So there is an historical precedent to show that, if one wants to turn democracy into tyranny, the first thing to do is to ensure that Members of Parliament cannot sit on these Benches and discuss matters in the way that we are currently doing. The House needs to be very mindful of that pivotal right. It is a pivotal right not only for Members of Parliament, but for the 56 million people whom we represent when we come here. We are the custodians of their freedoms, and our freedom is a condition of that. So this is not a trivial matter, and we need to ensure that that right is properly protected.
The second issue that I wish to raise relates to the suggestion that all MPs should wear an identity card for security purposes. I would like to make a couple of points about that. On the other occasion when I was stopped from entering the House, the officer on the door did not just ask whether I was an MPI said yesbut also whether I had my identity card. I scrambled around in my pockets but was unable to find it. I was detained nearly beyond the end of a vote, but just about managed to get in at the very last minute.
If it became a condition for entry to the Palace that one had to have a pass, it would pose many interesting issues. First, Members could forget their pass; it could be lost or stolen. In many ways, the requirement to use a pass could prove a significant obstacle to Members carrying out their duties. I heard one Member say last week, "MPs want to be privileged, being the only people who do not have to wear a pass", but the answer to that is that as few obstacles as possible should be put in the way of MPs who come here to participate in debates. Any requirement to wear a pass could certainly compromise that freedom.
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Demonstrations in Parliament square are a separate issue. I have already provided my own example to show that Members are sometimes prevented from entering the Palace. Not having a clear understanding of the rights of people in Parliament square is another important component of the problem. We need to sort out whether people can have a permanent encampment and whether hundreds of thousands of people can be allowed there. We need to make clear exactly what rights people have. I insist that that be factored in, of course, with the rights of Members of Parliament to unhindered passage to this place in order to perform their duties in the House. That is the most important matter. It is vital to have facilities for demonstrations and perhaps we should look into their longevity, intermittence and similar issues. Crucially, the right of MPs to get into the House is a fundamental part of our democracy, so I hope that Members will accept the recommendations of the Procedure Committee.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), who is a hardworking member of the Procedure Committee, bringing independence and objectivity to the views that he expresses in considering the matters on which we take evidence and produce reports.
I am grateful for the opportunity to support the Government motion and to speak about the Procedure Committee's report. Perhaps you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that the structure of these debates puts the Committee's Chairman in some difficulty. Many Front Benchers and a number of Back Benchers have spoken, and it is wrong that the Chairman is not allowed to express the views of the Procedure Committee to the House before others get up to criticise it.
Let me respond immediately to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). In no way are we seeking to end demonstrations in Parliament square. In no way are we seeking to deny people the right of free speech or the right to make their views clear and well known to Members of Parliament. What we are seeking to do is to use Parliament square in a far better fashion. I believe that Mr. Haw has been there for some considerable timeat least three years. We believe that that is rather long for one demonstrator to do what he is doing there. In being there, he may well be deterring other groups or other individuals from exercising their right of free speech, and they might do it in a rather better way than Mr. Haw.
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