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Jeremy Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend help me on one point that is troubling me? What would happen in the event of the commissioner refusing permission for a demonstration in an emergency such as a potential war, and 10,000 or 20,000 people subsequently turning up in Parliament square anyway? Would there be pitched battles outside Parliament because people wanted to reach their Parliament to protest?
Furthermore, no conditions are to be placed on the commissioner in relation to when a decision has to be made after a person has given their six days' notice. Then there is the worrying provision that any police officer, of any rank, can change the conditions at will at any time during a demonstration in Parliament square. Those powers are beyond those that the police officers themselves would wish to have. The designated area
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of 1 km will include vast tracts of traditional demonstrating areas. The Government will be passing power to one part of the state to control demonstrations in a way that we have never known before in the history of this country.
Tonight, we are seeing a small but significant part of our democratic tradition being chiselled away. Why? Because one person out there has the moral authority, the guts, the tenacity and the courage to stand in Parliament square for several years telling us what we did wrong in this House by authorising a war. Part of the motivation behind this legislation is that some people cannot come to terms with the illegality and immorality of their actions in this place. We should be supporting that democratic voice out there, and the right of that individual to voice his concerns in this waynear to us.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said that all our amendments were redundant, but he is not entirely right. My amendment No. 1 is far from redundantin fact, it has been signed by the Secretary of State. It seeks to remove the previous clause. As I said in Committee, that clause needed to be removed because it was "bonkers". It gave the power to a police officer of no higher rank than that of constable to determine that the appearance of a person in Parliament square was to the visual detriment of the squarein other words, that he looked untidy or a bit scruffy, or looked as though he should not be there. On the basis of that decision, the police officer could apply an order to that person to leave not only Parliament square but an area of 1 km surrounding the square. That person would have no capacity to challenge that order and could be excluded from an area running from north of Trafalgar square down to MillbankI do not know why anyone would want to demonstrate down thereand across to Buckingham palace or over to Waterloo station. If he had the misfortune to want to catch a train home from Waterloo International, Victoria or Charing Cross, he would be out of luck, because he would be excluded on the say-so of a single constable. If ever there was an overreaction to a minimal disruption, this was it. That is why the Government were entirely right to withdraw their amendment, but what they have put in its place is very little better.
Mrs. Fitzsimons: Apart from what my grandmother would have said about looking scruffy for a capital city, am I not right in saying that the most senior officer in law is the first police officer at the scene of a crime who decides to apply the law as he or she sees fit? Has that not always been the case? We should be careful about saying that someone's junior rank makes him or her, in a specific instance, not capable of using the judgment that we put every single bobby on the beat to use.
I do not think that Mr. Brian Haw suddenly appeared on the scenehe was there for some time. Yet the law, as it was suggested, would have allowed a police constable to wake up one morning and think, "He looks a bit scruffy. We'll get rid of him." I do not think that that is the right approach.
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It is arguable that there was a nuisance. I do not happen to agree, and not just because I agree with the cause that Mr. Haw espouses. If there was a nuisance, however, the right remedy was a civil one, not the creation of a new criminal offence. The Government threw all that away, because they recognised that it was bonkers, and presented an alternative, but the alternative has some swivel-eyed aspects. It refers to "a demonstration", but a demonstration can be a demonstration by one person. When is one person a demonstration? Presumably when he or she manifests some aspect of demonstration. Is that a leaflet? Is it a placard? Is it a double-decker bus? I do not know. One person becomes a demonstration and requires a permit but another person is simply someone standing in Parliament square. How does a police officer determine who is a demonstration and who is someone who simply does not like the look of the Government?
The point about the removal of spontaneity in demonstrations has already been made. We are no longer allowed suddenly to feel that the Government are doing the country a grave injustice and protest about it. We must give six days' notice to the commissioner before we can mount our one-man demonstration with a leaflet outside the Houses of Parliament. What criteria is the commissioner allowed to take into consideration? Is it serious hindrance to the work of Parliament? Is it serious damage or disruption to the environment? Noit is simple disruption to the life of the community. How do we define disruption to the life of the community of Parliament square? I thought that the life of Parliament square was demonstrations. I thought that Parliament square was the centre where we expressed our political differences with the Government of the day.
Lembit Öpik: Is this not the natural and unavoidable consequence of framing a piece of legislation with the sole aim of preventing one man, Brian Haw, from demonstrating in this way? The unintended consequences for the other 60 million of us arise because the Government have not thought this through strategically and have brushed away the issue of principle that has already been raised.
Mr. Heath: In fact, I do not think the Government have a clue what they are doing. They simply have a visceral dislike of someone disagreeing so obviously, and in such a prolonged way, on their doorstep. That is why we have what can only be described, although it is a cliché, as a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut. I do not believe that the Government should be making it a criminal offence for someone simply to express his view in Parliament square in a time-honoured way, and I do not think they should extend the area to 1 km. I find it alarming enough that the Minister has changed the Government's position since she said in Committee that the intention was to protect Parliament. Now it is Parliament and Government buildings, which is illustrative in itself.
I ask all hon. Members to think of whence they came. We are all elected to the House to represent people. We have the great privilege of having the opportunity to speak in this Chamber. The people of this country have every right to protest, to march, to meet and to demand.
Are we seriously saying that, because one person, Brian Haw, has been outside for three years, we will sweep away the right that has existed for centuries for people to come to the House, without seeking permission from anyone, to express their view? If these amendments are passed, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will decide who is fit to demonstrate and who is not. It puts a great burden on him and it will make it impossible for any person to come here in an act of spontaneity to demonstrate against a decision that the Government or House are about to take.
Caroline Flint: It is not for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to say who is fit to demonstrate or who is not. They can demonstrate but there will be certain conditions attached. That is totally different from what my hon. Friend just said.
Jeremy Corbyn: The Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be deciding what they can say, who they are, what they can carry, how long they can be there and how many people are involved. It will be police control of demonstrations outside our Parliament.
This is a very serious matter. I urge hon. Members to think very carefully of their privileges to speak, to vote and to talk before denying that right to others who wish to come to the House and make life uncomfortable for us. In a democracy, there is nothing wrong with people making life uncomfortable for elected politicians.
I personally admire Brian Haw but that is not the point. As I said when I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee, what he is demonstrating about is not the point. It is about his right or that of anyone else to come here and express their view, however welcome or unwelcome it is for us. That is what democracy is about.
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