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Jeremy Corbyn: If I had not given way so soon, I could have explained to the hon. Gentleman that the conclusion of our lengthy conversation was that he was a Tory, is a Tory and will remain a Tory. In those circumstances, grateful as they are for his work as their Member, they will never be able to vote for him. I am sure he understands the democratic context in which those remarks were made.
To return to the issue of the right of free speech outside the House, Brian Haw's presence has never prevented anybody else from demonstrating or expressing a point of view. He has resided there because he believes passionately that this country's policy towards Iraq is wrong and that we should not be associated with the war. He has established a presence there and become a focal point. I think that what upsets Members who supported the war, who walk, drive or cycle to Westminster, is being reminded of that by his presence. They do not like it and feel slightly irritated by it.
I was irritated at times by the presence of the hunting lobby in the centre of Parliament square, but, as those Members who have read the Select Committee report will know, evidence was given to that Committee by the hon. Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and by me. It was a rare afternoon out when the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Lady and I all agreed on the need to protect the right to demonstrate. We made that point very clearly.
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I want to make two quick points. First, there is no universal right of assembly, march or demonstration, although perhaps there should be. That was removed by the Public Order Act 1986, which was passed by Parliament and which requires police permission to have a demonstration, unless the police allow an unusual demonstration to take place. The fact that someone says that Brian Haw has outlived his usefulness proves just how useful and important he is. He should be congratulated on that.
I was thinking about long-term demonstrations that I have visited at different times and at various places in this country and around the world. The presence of one person making a point, taking sanctuary or making a public protest is very powerful. Sun Yat-sen occupied a place in London and became a figure of Chinese nationalism at the start of the 20th century, while the presence of Aboriginal land rights demonstrators outside the Australian Parliament has continued for years. There is a peace camp outside the White House, which has gone on for years. There was a demonstration for a long time1,000 days, indeedoutside the United States embassy to bring US troops out of Vietnam. Those who organised it said, "We will stay here until the troops go."
I took part in a vigil that lasted many years outside South Africa house. I was there at the beginning. Indeed, along with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), I was arrested and told that I was obstructing the pavement. Then the charge was changed to acting in a way that was deliberately offensive to a foreign embassy based in London. As it was the apartheid regime's foreign embassy, I could do nothing but plead guilty with honour to that charge. The charge was thrown out, and the demonstration therefore won the right to be outside South Africa house and it stayed there until the apartheid regime was ended. So, there are plenty of examples.
Did not the women who stayed on Greenham Common for all those years play a major part in promoting the cause of nuclear disarmament, in exactly the same way as those demonstrating currently at Menwith Hill? We owe our rights to those who have been prepared to stand up and express them.
Lembit Öpik: On exactly that point, is it not interesting that those who are in defence of Brian Haw consider his motivations for the demonstration, while those who oppose the likes of him simply consider the inconvenience caused to themselves by the demonstration? Does not that prove that the essence of such a demonstration is to try to get people who consider it an inconvenience to listen to the fundamental reason why such a person has inconvenienced himself by virtually living outside the Palace of Westminster?
Jeremy Corbyn: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I happen to agree with what Brian Haw says, but if others were there, such as the pig farmers, I would not have to agree with them. I would respect their right to be there and to express their point of view
Or, for that matter, the demonstration for five years outside the Scottish Office, which Conservative Secretaries of State for Scotland wished to have removed, as we now know, but could find nothing
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in the law of Scotland to support the removal. That makes it all the more disappointing that Labour Members apparently want to go ahead with this mumbo-jumbo.
Jeremy Corbyn: I did not get involved in the demonstration outside the Scottish Office, but it had an important effect, as demonstrations do. Members who are prepared to pass this motion should think for a moment about where our democratic rights came from. Were they handed down, or were they gained because people were prepared to demonstrate and demand a freely elected Parliament? Did not the Chartists make a great contribution to the history of this country from which we draw many of our rights? We should be very careful about taking away the rights of others on fairly spurious grounds, as we are doing at present. It becomes the start of a slippery slope.
Demonstrations are inconvenient and a nuisance, and different points of view are sometimes not believed to be acceptable. But if we want to live in a free and democratic society, we must protect the right of those who are prepared to stand up and speak for a cause, outside this place, and remind us day in, day out that the decisions that we take have effects elsewhere, all the way over in Iraq or wherever. I ask Members tonight to think of our democratic values and not to support the proposals.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) made an extremely powerful case for the protection of witnesses. Witnesses are not well enough protected, and it would send the wrong signal to strike that out of the opening remarks of the Session. Instead the Government should consider ways of strengthening the position of witnesses, especially vulnerable witnesses such as civil servants, whose testimony is often crucial. Until that strengthening has occurred, I hope that we will keep in place the stern warning from Mr. Speaker at the beginning of the Session that witnesses will get, and deserve, the protection of the House. We then need to think about how we can do that.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was right to say that there are occasions when right hon. and hon. Members have their passage to the House delayed. It would be good if the whole House, through the Speaker, said to the police at the beginning of each Session that we expect themour friends on our sideto make sure that all Members in possession of their passes are given quick and free passage, whatever may be going on outside. There have been occasions of state visits that have led to delays and impediments to Members getting through, and policed demonstrations when Members have been delayed or detained and not able to get through. I am sure that the police would want to help us, and it would be good if the whole House united to say that Members in possession of their passes, or well-known Members whom the police can identify, should be let through as a matter of urgency and courtesy. Members have sometimes been delayed in getting into the House to debate and vote on the very issues about which the demonstrators are complaining. Surely all demonstrators in a free and
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democratic society would wish to see elected Members having the opportunity to be in the House when such important matters are being discussed
My third point relates to the proposed change of words with the suggestion that a form of words connected with the duties and responsibilities of Members should be used instead at the beginning of the Session. It is difficult for us to make a judgment tonight, as we are not in possession of whatever that form of words might be. I suspect that if we asked all Members to jot down on a piece of paper how they would define "duties and responsibilities" we would see variations and nuances on a large scale, although we trust that there would be some family resemblance. It would, I think, prove contentious and difficult. It would be odd of us to sweep away existing words before knowing that we had a much better form of words in the spirit of modernisation that the Government and the Committee suggest. The devil could well be in the detail, and I am reluctant to sign up until I have seen a difficult task carried out successfully.
Having observed the passions and disagreements that have arisen today over demonstrations, let me suggest that it is a question of balance. Some of us are on the side of free demonstrations, while others are more interested in having a beautiful square with law and order. Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. I think that the issue will be resolved by Government proposals on legislation, and I do not think Members should be swayed by proposals on Sessional Orders tonight. There should be plenty of time for debate when legislation is before us. As the Government have made clear, this issue cannot be resolved without primary legislation. That, surely, is the time for a strong and passionate debateagain, about wording, so that we can decide whether the balance has been struck in the right way.
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