Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend neatly anticipates my concern about noise. Can he confirm that, whatever demonstrations are allowed, whether they are individual, long-term, short-term or, indeed, rotating, it is important that they should not cause annoyance by bombarding people doing legitimate work with incessant sound? Does he also accept that while loudhailers are, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) rightly pointed out, essential to communicate with people participating in a set-piece demonstration, it is an abuse to use them continually to interfere with people who are not part of the demonstration?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend anticipates what I am about to say. The Committee simply could not understand why the noise is allowed to go on, day after day, given all the recent legislation on noisy neighbours. Attempting to prevent long-term demonstrations may be controversial—and hon. Members have expressed such a concern—but we think that that should be done while allowing short-term demonstrations, provided that they do not impede access or produce unreasonable amounts of noise.

Mr. Salmond: We are now coming to the nub of the issue. What I would like to know is where the phrase

comes from. Did it come from the Committee Clerk, or was it a joint production of the Committee? Was the Committee influenced by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who is so worried and concerned about noise pollution? Where did the phrase come from and what does it mean?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I can only say that it was the wording chosen by the Committee as a whole, with the
3 Nov 2004 : Column 400
advice of our Clerk, and as Chairman, I therefore take full responsibility for it. I say those words with Ministers present on the Treasury Bench.

The Government undertook at paragraph 7 of their reply to the report to consult on ensuring that the police have power to act—again, I address my remarks to the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Islington, North—"effectively and proportionately" in relation to activities near Parliament. That consultation took place as part of a wider Home Office consultation on modernising police powers. We know that, and I accept that process, which closed recently, on 8 October.

Mr. McWalter: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is about to emphasise that many of the orders relate to Parliament proceeding with severity, although he is now making the completely accurate point that these duties have to be reposited in the police. In the 1840s, Parliament imprisoned an Irish Member for failing to sign up to a Committee on the basis that his not doing so destroyed the work of the Committee. He was imprisoned here for a week by Members of Parliament, but those days are gone, and we have to have a new agency dealing with these matters.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Parliament should once again assume those powers and authorities. I fear that, on both sides of the House, there would be a number of people whom we would like to see locked away.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Would not imposing in the 21st century the punishment of being confined to the Chamber with some speakers whom we could name be categorised in Europe and elsewhere as a cruel and unnatural punishment?

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not referring to the person who currently has Mr. Deputy Speaker's permission to speak. I know the hon. Gentleman well and I know that he is not doing that, but I would be inclined to agree with him.

I am grateful to the Government for what they have said today in respect of taking action both about demonstrations, and perhaps the unsightly nature of some of them, and about the raucous noise, which disturbs not only tourists and other members of the public in and around Parliament square, but Members of the House, staff of the House and those who work in the proximity of the square.

I make my next point just as the Leader of the House is leaving—he has returned; I did not know I had that influence. To follow up the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire, I ask the Government to look at this matter urgently, seek to introduce orders or legislation taking account of the views that have been expressed by those who are concerned that we are not trying to limit demonstrations, and to ensure that action is taken as urgently as possible, not only to enhance Parliament square and to ensure that demonstrations are more regulated in future, but also to act in a modest way in respect of security. This House is spending very large sums on security, and we should not ignore that.
3 Nov 2004 : Column 401

In the meantime, although I accept that what has been said so far could perhaps be implemented sooner—some people might say that it is second best—the Committee recommended that the Sessional Order on access should continue in a modified and updated form until new legislation comes into force, which is a point the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and others have raised in the course of this debate. The Committee left out references to Westminster Hall, but we included not only the Palace itself, but the whole parliamentary estate.

I hope that I have answered most of the concerns. If the point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has not been fully dealt with, on hearing from him, I will seek to provide him with further information. I commend the report to the House and hope that the legislation, which we called for and which the Government have promised, will be introduced at an early date for Parliament's consideration.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): On a point of order—I apologise to hon. Members who want to continue the debate, which is on an important subject—earlier today, an important exchange occurred between my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and the Leader of the House on resources for Members of Parliament in connection with IT provision for remote users. That problem is being made worse by the amount of spam that we receive. I seek your assistance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because one particular company, Argos, is bombarding us with commercial material in a perfectly legitimate attempt to sell things, but it has not responded to requests to remove Parliament from its database, which causes the problem raised by my hon. Friend. Will you bring that matter to the attention of the relevant authorities and see what can be done not only to stop that nonsense, but to release resources that would help us to serve our constituents?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I cannot make a ruling on that matter from the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman's points are on the record and will be noted by the appropriate department of the House.

6.7 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I regret the fact that the Order Paper invites us to deal with all the changes to the Sessional Orders in one vote rather than deal with them separately. I have listened to the important points about Parliament square with considerable interest, and my view has moved backwards and forwards as the debate has gone on.

I urge hon. Members to join me in the Lobby tonight to resist the changes, because the overriding point is the removal of the Sessional Orders relating to witnesses, which have been around since the 1700s and have their genesis in the Bill of Rights. What fools we would be if, late one Wednesday evening, we swept away something that is essential to our parliamentary democracy. We are being invited to do that tonight, and it is foolhardy in the extreme.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): I respect the strength with which my hon. Friend speaks, but I refer him to evidence 4 in the
3 Nov 2004 : Column 402
Procedure Committee report, which gives the reason why those Sessional Orders are obsolete—namely, the definition of parliamentary contempt in "Erskine May". I suggest to my hon. Friend that the protection that he seeks exists elsewhere.

Andrew Mackinlay: Even if I am wrong—I do not think so—it is incumbent on those seeking a change to advance an alternative, which they have failed to do, to ensure that evidence given to Parliament is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and that people do not interfere with witnesses. We should not support any change until we know the alternative.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and admire his stance. The Deputy Leader of the House's response that the protection exists elsewhere is not sufficient, and surely that protection should be strengthened rather than weakened. There would be no harm in reasserting that protection at the beginning of every Session, because a civil servant coming before this House needs reassurance that their career will not be wrecked if they speak the truth.

Next Section IndexHome Page