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The current Sessional Order orders the commissioner to keep access to Parliament free when Parliament is sitting. Recent demonstrations, though not hindering access to Parliament, have disrupted its work. We
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propose that conditions can be placed on demonstrations so that they do not hinder access to or hinder the proper operation of Parliament. For example, the police could impose a direction on demonstrators to keep the demonstration away from Carriage Gates or to limit the number of demonstrators. The senior police officer at the scene of the demonstration would be able to impose additional conditions in order to secure these aims. It would be an offence to organise or carry on a demonstration that had not been authorised by the police, or to fail to comply with a direction imposed by the commissioner or the police officer at the scene.
Someone could turn up and say that they did not know about the conditions. It would be up to the police officer at the scene to deal with that in the way he or she saw fit. The major difference between the original provisions of the Bill and what we are proposing in the new clauses relates to consistency. The first version of the Bill raised questions about the extent to which an individual officer would have to interpret what would be the appropriate conditions. The new clauses make it clear that the conditions would be provided in writing to the person who had asked to hold the protest, and they would be able to show that to a police officer at the scene if there was any question about whether they were abiding by the conditions set.
It would be an offence to organise or carry on a demonstration that had not been authorised by the police, or to fail to comply with a direction imposed by the commissioner or the police officer at the scene. I must stress that there would be no power to ban any demonstration outright. It is for the police to decide what conditions to place on any demonstration. The police are best placed to decide what action is proportionate, taking into account human rights considerations. There are exemptions for trade union disputes and for public processions, which are subject to separate controls under sections 11 and 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. We believe that the new clauses will introduce consistency in imposing conditions on demonstrations around Parliament. It is open to all those who wish to demonstrate at short notice to do so, but away from the area around Parliament. That is what we are trying to protect.
The subject of loudhailers has been raised in the debate. During the debate on the Sessional Order and resolutions, the Leader of the House announced that the Home Secretary would consider using the order-making powers in section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to ban the use of loudhailers in the area of Parliament square. At that time we considered in good faith that we could use the Act to achieve a ban, but I must apologise to the House. Further legal advice is that the powers in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 are not flexible enough for us to achieve a complete ban around Parliament. New clauses 23 and 24 follow the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which ban the use of loudhailers in the streets at night. The new clauses ban the use of loudhailers in the vicinity of Parliament at any time, except for certain specified purposes, such as in an emergency.
The Government agree with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in amendment No. 134: the police should be able to deal with those erecting or displaying material
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prejudicial to security or causing noise of an offensive or intrusive nature. That is why the commissioner can place conditions on an assembly to prevent hindrance to the operation of Parliament, disruption to the life of community, a security risk or a risk to the safety of members of the public.
The Government also agree with the point raised by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) in amendments Nos. 2 and 3: that imposing conditions on demonstrators on the ground that they spoil the visual aspect of the area is a difficult judgment for police officers to make. [Hon. Members: "Bonkers."] As those on the Liberal Democrat Benches say, it is absolutely bonkers. I could say the same about them, but there we go.
We thought about that issue after consideration in Committee, and about how a police officer could determine what is aesthetically pleasing, or challenging for that matter. That is why we felt it important that the new clauses deal with situations where placards or other paraphernalia could affect the conditions we have set, particularly those dealing with serious damage to propertythat is an obvious onebut also disruption, security risks in any part of the designated area, or for that matter risks to the safety of members of the public. That point has been clarified, and I hope that it is helpful to our discussion.
Amendment No. 4 would ensure that the officer who gives a direction to a protestor must be at least of the rank of inspector. We believe that it would cause operational difficulties to the police if an inspector was not at the scene and they had to wait for one to impose a direction. As we said in Committee, Members of Parliament would be rather annoyed if their access was hindered and a police officer had to wait for an inspector to come to effect a direction.
By ensuring that conditions are placed on a demonstrator before the start, the Metropolitan police will be able to consider more carefully the conditions to be imposed. I can assure hon. Members that the conditions set in advance will be agreed by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. We heard about that problem in Committee, and the advanced notice deals with some problems raised in Committee about the rank of the person deciding what conditions should be set. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will not press his amendment.
I can reassure hon. Members that the Government intend to lay an order specifying the precise area to be covered. We intend to consult the Metropolitan police so that it will cover the area where demonstrations take place that disrupt the work of Parliament, hinder access to the House and cause a security risk. We do not want to restrict unnecessarily the area that will be covered, and we want to ensure that all parliamentary and key Government buildings are covered. In Committee, we considered the distance of 200 m, or 200 yd, and there was a question whether the entrance to the House of Lords would be covered if we were to limit ourselves to such distances.
If the Secretary of State is about to consult on the designated area, why does the new clause specify 1 km either side of Parliament square? Why is a
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distance suggested that would go up to Trafalgar square? If there is to be a consultation, why should new clause 24 be part of the Bill?
Caroline Flint: I am trying to answer the question of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). He should remember that the Sessional Order covers an area from Vauxhall Bridge road in the west to Wellington street and Waterloo bridge in the east. The area that we are proposingwithin a kilometreis smaller than the current Sessional Order area.
We are not enlarging the area to be covered; in fact, we are decreasing and restricting it. We will be clear on consulting on which buildings will be covered, but there are issues that we have to discuss with the police relating to where demonstrations would disrupt the work of Parliament. Of course, that work takes place not just in one building, but in several. We have to discuss issues of security risk as well. I make the point again: we are not banning demonstrations, but allowing them with conditions imposed on them.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am glad that the Minister said that the work of Parliament does not just occur in one building. It occurs not only here, in this main Chamber, but in Westminster Hall, which is extremely exposed to Parliament square. As one of those who, on behalf of Mr. Speaker, chairs sittings in Westminster Hallour alternative ChamberI know that there have been occasions when debates have been badly inconvenienced by the level of noise from Parliament square. The Minister is right to be flexible about the area in which the Bill will apply. She has the Procedure Committee's wholehearted support.
Caroline Flint: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. We want some flexibility, but as I have said, the area that we have proposed to consult on, in terms of the buildings concerned, is actually smaller than that currently provided for under the Sessional Order.
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