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Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman merely expresses his own vain envy because I mentioned Ministers rather than himself, but I am sure that with a couple of words across the road, Brian Haw would give the thumbs up to him as well. I suggest that it is, at least in part, the message that causes us to have the current debate.
Prohibiting long-term demonstrations itself brings about all sorts of difficulties. How might such legislation be implemented? The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) suggested that the problem with having Brian Haw there all the time is that there could be a long list of other people who would like to demonstrate there, too. I assume therefore that he
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would have no problem if Brian Haw decided to do a hot megaphonein other words, operated a rota with two or three other people. There would always be demonstration going on, but not on the same matter.
Perhaps we could have a demonstration against the war in Iraq on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; we could have another gentleman opposing the war in Afghanistan on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; and on Sundays we could have someone who generally objected to the Government's foreign policies such as the sale of arms to the very people we are now having to attack. There would be three demonstrations in a week rather than one long-term demonstration. That is the sort of preposterous position we get into once we accept that people are allowed to demonstrate without restriction, but not in one continuous blast.
I accept that people are uncomfortable or inconvenienced by what Mr. Haw and other people like him do, but that is not a good enough reason to prevent them from having the opportunity to demonstrate if they want to. It strikes me as very telling that people who support such demonstrations tend to consider the motivations of those who demonstrate, while those who would curtail the demonstrations tend to consider the inconvenience to themselves. The irony is that demonstrations become effective only when some inconvenience is caused.
That is the heart of the matter, and I support those who have argued so eloquently about the importance of giving a voice to people who are willing to inconvenience themselves to raise a concern. In this case, we are talking about Brian Haw, but the principle applies to the nation.
Mr. Mega[Interruption.] I was going to say Mr. Megaphone, because it seems that I am fixated with that word. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was going to conclude by saying that megaphone diplomacy is alive and well in Parliament square. Its guardian is a man called Brian Haw. We are guardians of democracy and have the right and responsibility to look after his interests. It is an old truism to say, for reasons that we have heard many times before, that although some of us may abhor what Brian Haw says, if we are serious about democracy we are duty bound to defend to the end his right to say it.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I want to mention a couple of things that have not been talked about much so far. First, I draw the House's attention to paragraph 6 of the report, which gives the lie to a lot of what has been said about what this is about. It states that
"in the absence of an Order of Business for the first day of a Session, the Orders and Resolutions are proposed to the House without notice and have to be read out in full: they have on occasion given rise to debate and even (in 1984) a division."
That shows that the report is about cleaning up, controlling and disciplining what happens in this House, in case it should inconvenience the Government or hon. Members at large. It seems that we must never have surprises in this House any more, or anything that is unpredictable or that might upset the Government. I am afraid that we are seeing that sort of thing repeatedly these days.
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I should have thought that hon. Members would welcome the spontaneity that could arise from some of our rather quaint traditions. We should not want everything to be so ordered, arranged and controlled that we know exactly what is going to happen, but we are moving in that direction. I am sad to say that the report takes that process a step further.
"the Sessional Orders and Resolutions . . . should be replaced by a statement of the duties and responsibilities of Members, possibly the seven principles of public life as set out in the Code of Conduct".
That is nonsense: Members of Parliament define their responsibilities and account to their voters for them. We do not want to start getting involved in job descriptions and procedure manuals that tell us how to do our job, but it appears that that is what underlies that supposedly innocent proposal involving a
I know that a lot of hon. Members regard themselves effectively as social workers, and not even very glorified ones, but a few of us still cling to the view that it is the variation in the attitude that they take to their responsibilitiesand their definition of those responsibilitiesthat is the essence of what it means to be a Member of Parliament. If we start to move away from that, we shall diminish even further the already diminished role that we have created for ourselves.
We are making rather heavy weather of this very important issue involving demonstrations and the balance between freedom and discipline. Some time ago, I suggested to the Leader of the House that we institute a very simple rule stipulating that Parliament square be cleared between sunset and sunrise every day. That would be one way of dealing with the problem of whether a demonstration is continuous, for example.
My other suggestion would be to ban voice amplification. People would be perfectly free to forgather and use their voices in an acceptable way, but they would not be allowed to set up the permanent encampments that have arisen. That would be a reasonable balance between maintaining people's freedom to be in Parliament square opposite the House of Commons and express a point of view, either individually or collectively, and the need to maintain some sort of discipline.
Mr. Salmond: The right hon. Gentleman clings to a view, which I support, of his rights as a Member of Parliament, so why cannot he cling to the idea that there are rights for people who want to demonstrate to Members of Parliament?
I have no desire to stop people demonstrating. They could gather freely in Parliament square, as long as they did not permanently camp there, because if a large enough number of them did so, it might prevent others from demonstrating. There should be some equity. The noise thing is relevant, too. There are probably some fairly simple and elegant solutions to the problem, and I hope that we can find them, rather than being too heavy-handed.
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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I have waited seven long years to find something in common with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). My wait has been fulfilled today, because like him, I have been arrested for demonstrating in public. I have even been locked up in a cell for demonstrating in public, and one of the reasons for that was that I made too much amplified noise in public.
In May 1982, there was a huge demonstration going up Whitehall, led by Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn, against the taskforce that was deploying to fight in the Falklands war, so I and a number of friends and colleagues ambushedas it werethe demonstration from the rooftops, playing at excessively loud volume Her Majesty's national anthem. That led the police to arrest me and others on the ground that by playing the national anthem we might so upset the serried ranks of Trotskyites, communists and other agitators marching in the main demonstration as to cause a breach of the peace.
Jeremy Corbyn: I have to inform the hon. Gentleman that he did not upset us at all. We quite enjoyed it and thought it was a bit of fun. Not one person on the demonstration requested that he or anybody else be arrested for mounting any form of counter-demonstration. There was a spirit of democracy about the event.
People felt that the police had been a tad heavy-handed, so on future demonstrations, in October 1983 and June 1984, we mounted similar counter-demonstrations, by arrangement with the police. The councilI think it was Westminstersent along an officer with a decibel meter, and whatever may or may not have happened in 1982, there were plenty of protests from the demonstrators to that environmental officer. He kept telling us, "If you don't turn it down, we'll confiscate your equipment." In those days, it was possible to hold a major demonstration with a minor counter-demonstration and to have a certain balance of forces so that both sides could put their point across.
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