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Mr. Heald: The case of the Lord Chancellor.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Indeed. However, we do not need to say something about such cases every year. That is now part of the longstanding practice of the House.

Andrew Mackinlay rose—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I give way to another Government Member for whom I have enormous admiration.

Andrew Mackinlay: Likewise, but the hon. Gentleman's admiration may be against his better judgment. However, does he realise that the Sessional Orders are the only thing that we have to caution witnesses and those people who would lean on witnesses? The orders afford some protection to those who might be leant on. The fact that they have not been drawn to anyone's attention is the real problem.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The hon. Gentleman has made his point to the House and I am sure that it will be noted by the Deputy Leader of the House and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). As we say at paragraph 10 of our report, the survival of the Sessional Orders for so long may reflect a desire by the House to begin the Session with a reminder of matters that it considers important. Certainly the issue to which the hon. Gentleman has just drawn attention is important.

As I hope I have made clear, we believe that the Sessional Orders are no longer appropriate for that purpose, but we have suggested that, instead, Mr. Speaker might make a statement about the duties and
 
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responsibilities of Members. I believe that that will be very useful to the House, and the House, my Committee and Mr. Speaker will clearly turn their attention to it.

We also recommend the continuation of the First Reading of the Outlawries Bill. That takes only a few seconds and serves to remind the House of an important principle. Once Parliament has been opened, it does not have to begin a Session by considering the Queen's Speech. It can, if it wishes, consider other business.

I return to the Sessional Order that has dominated the debate: that on access to the House. I tell the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Islington, North that the order, like the others, is nearly 300 years old, so it is much older than the Metropolitan police to whom it is now addressed. As hon. Members will note, it includes a provision to prevent disorder in Westminster Hall, but we think that that has become unnecessary because Westminster Hall is now within the parliamentary estate and the precincts of the House.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the order also provided that there should be no annoyance by chairmen. Quite by chance, I have an interesting extract from the Journal of the House from the year of 1801, and I hope that hon. Members will not mind if I read it out. It says:

Of course, those chairmen were not Chairmen of Committees, but those who would be at either end of a sedan chair. I thus do not take the matter, which was drawn to my attention by the Clerk of the Procedure Committee, too personally, although having recently injured my Achilles' tendon, I could do with the use of a number of chairmen and a sedan chair to get around the Palace of Westminster.

Mr. Salmond: This is all rollicking good stuff, as we expect from the hon. Gentleman. Will he tell us where the specific phrase in paragraph 25 of the report that says

is currently contained in the existing Sessional Order, printed on page 3 of the report?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: May I come back to that, even if I perhaps do so after I have finished my speech, because I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a direct answer off the cuff? I know that he would not want me to give him false information, because he and I have an understanding that we are always direct with each other.

Although the existing Order has a quaint aspect, it has a serious side, too. I am sure that most hon. Members agree that access to the House should be preserved at all times so that its work may go on uninterrupted. I suspect that hon. Members believe that the Order gives the Metropolitan police extra powers to ensure that that occurs, but unfortunately that is not the case. No Order of the House—neither the current one nor any revised one—can give the police extra powers, which to an extent addresses a concern raised earlier by the hon.
 
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Member for Hayes and Harlington. Powers relating to London exist in the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, but they are largely unenforceable.

Measures to prevent large numbers of people from approaching the House for specific purposes were repealed in 1986. I know that because on at least two occasions I took part in demonstrations in support of textile workers and those in this country's textile and clothing industries—they still have my support. We were allowed to march from Hyde park, but the closest we could come to the Palace of Westminster was the Tate gallery, because we were governed by the legislation that existed prior to 1986. The law on demonstrations that block access to Parliament is in practice exactly the same as the one applying to demonstrations elsewhere in the country.

I repeat and emphasise the point that we are not calling for a ban on demonstrations. As we say in paragraph 11 of the report:

John McDonnell: Further to the intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the words to be inserted in the new Sessional Order do not exist in the old one, and greatly expand the advice that we are giving the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) is arguing that he simply wants to regulate demonstrations, but he has not given us any information about how that is to be done. Will they be licensed, and will the licence have to be paid for? Is he going to set up a regulator called Ofdemo?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I fear that those questions should be put not to me but to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley, and the Government. We have highlighted a problem that requires attention. However, I am grateful for much of what the Leader of the House said.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that with the best will in the world his proposals will almost certainly have the unintended consequence of restricting demonstrations? For example, he thought that Mr. Haw could be prevented from demonstrating in Parliament square, but there could be a continuous demonstration on a rotating basis. He cannot have it both ways—he must accept either that there is a continuous demonstration by different people or that demonstration is limited.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Personally, I believe that there could be many demonstrations, but longstanding demonstrations by individuals should be regulated and come to an end. If other people want to come and demonstrate in their place, they can do so. However, more stringent regulations are needed because of the environmental and heritage importance of Parliament square.

Mr. Heald: The original text includes the words


 
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John McDonnell: That applies to Westminster Hall.

Mr. Heald: No, it applies to a much a wider area and covers all the environs of Parliament. The new wording is as follows:

If anything, that is a narrower definition.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Following the quote that I read out a moment ago, I should highlight the fact that that is not the same as preventing access to Parliament. Demonstrations should not prevent hon. Members from reaching the House, as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), a member of the Procedure Committee, said. The police tell us that they need powers to ensure uninterrupted access. Although the order deals with access, we also considered the related matter of the nuisance caused by demonstrations in Parliament square—both the unsightly nature of long-term demonstrations in a world heritage site and, perhaps more importantly, the noise from megaphones and amplifiers, which prevent people in nearby offices from doing their work properly. I have seen evidence that members of the public are grossly inconvenienced by the raucous noise emanating from those megaphones.


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