Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill
Dr. Harris: I have just two points to make. Perhaps the Minister feels that this is not the appropriate placewhere is?but she has not really addressed the problem that we see in society of expectations being raised through large protests, some of them involving unlawful acts, that people shall not be subject to insult to their religion. I know that that is not the intention of the Bill, and I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the steps that the Government are taking to make that clear.
The Minister has also been silent on the not unreasonable question raised by no less a person than Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality and by Justice and the British Humanist Association, all of which are claimed to support her Billwhy has she not chosen the simple act of abolishing the blasphemy law? That would help send the message that the Bill is not about criticism of beliefthe message she says she is so keen to send. The Government said that they would review the matter, but they have never explained why they are not seeking to abolish the blasphemy law. The longer the Minister remains silent on that point, the more difficult it is to convince people that they can be confident that she is confident that the
Ms Blears: Again, the hon. Gentleman is in danger of confusing the debate and conflating issues. I have made it as clear as I can that the provisions are not about blasphemy, but are about preventing people from stirring up hatred against one another. The hon. Gentleman brings in the separate issue of blasphemy. He knows that the Government are keeping that under review. We do not consider it appropriate to take action in that regard in connection with the Bill. The purpose of this fairly narrow, targeted Bill is to deal with the mischiefs that bedevil our communities, where hatred can be stirred up against vulnerable groups on grounds of their religion.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.
Division No. 10]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Racial and religious hatred
Amendment proposed: No. 226, in schedule 10, page 179, leave out lines 3 to 7. [Mr. Clappison]
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.
Division No. 11]
Question accordingly negative.
Schedule 10 agreed to.
Column Number: 434
Directions as to behaviour in vicinity of parliament
Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 191, in clause 123, page 87, line 14, at end insert 'or'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 190, in clause 123, page 87, line 15, leave out from 'Parliament' to end of line 17.
No. 192, in clause 123, page 87, line 36, after 'officers', insert
No. 193, in clause 123, page 88, line 9, leave out 'one kilometre' and insert '100 metres'.
No. 307, in clause 123, page 88, line 9, leave out 'one kilometre' and insert '250 metres'.
No. 194, in clause 123, page 88, line 11, leave out subsection (11).
No. 308, in clause 123, page 88, line 12, leave out paragraph (a).
Mr. Heath: We have just come out of two extremely serious debates. One on the appropriate response to animal extremism and one on the proper way of dealing with incitement to religious hatred. The Government had serious things to say about both of those subjects and we can engage in a proper debate.
Clause 123 is similar to the earlier debate on the proposal to extend the power of arrest to absolutely anybody for absolutely anything. It is an example where the Government have gone completely bonkers. I really do not understand how they can bring forward such disproportionate proposals. This clause deals with the behaviour in the vicinity of Parliament. There is at the core one serious issue, which is the fact that Sessional Orders have been debated and it has been determined that they have no effect. I believe that it is important to the liberty of this country that there is free access to this Parliament. I do not want anything I say to be interpreted as meaning that it is all right for people to prevent Members of this House from coming here and exercising their democratic duty on behalf of their constituents. There are parts of clause 123 that it is sensible to have in statute if there is any doubt whatsoever as to what the duties of the Metropolitan Police are in respect of providing free access to this House.
There is in this clause a totally different proposition, which is based on the long-standing demonstration that has taken place in Parliament square ever since the advent of the Iraq War. I set aside any sympathies I may have for the cause professed by those who are demonstrating. It does not matter whether I happen to agree with them or they happen to agree with me in terms of the war. What I cannot believe is that the Government, in response to a demonstration that they happen not to like, in a place where they happen not to want it to be, are prepared to bring forward not a civil remedy to provide for an injunction, but a new
In other words, a constable can decide that somebody looks untidy in Parliament square. Furthermore, on that basis they can apply an order with the force of law that excludes that person not just from Parliament square but from a radius of 1 km around Parliament square. I have taken care to map that area out so that I know exactly where these people might be excluded from. The area extends to Waterloo station and then goes right the way up to beyond Trafalgar square and across to Buckingham palace. It means that they would not be able to catch their train home if they happened to want to use Waterloo, Victoria, or Charing Cross, because they will be excluded from those areas by the fiat of a constable who thinks that they look untidy.
This is a reduction to the absurd of the powers that the Government apparently wish to exert here. And for what? In order to deal with somebody exercising their democratic right to protest in a free society. I cannot see the argument for it. Ifit is a big ifthe permanent demonstration is a nuisance, there are grounds for applying an injunction against a nuisance. The proper remedy is in the civil courts, and if the Government do not believe that they can get satisfaction from the civil courts, they must try harder, or examine the arrangements for applying for an injunction in the civil courts.
I do not believe that this way of dealing with the problemif it is a problem, which I do not acceptis the right way to do it. My amendments therefore question almost every part of the clause.
First, I question whether it is proper to include subsection 2(c), which refers to behaviour that is
because I do not believe that that matter is germane to the operation of Parliament.
Secondly, I question whether it is appropriate for a police officer below the rank of inspector to take the decisions necessary under the clause. The clause provides that the powers should be exercised by the senior officer present, but the senior officer present could be a constable, and I do not believe that that is acceptable.
Thirdly, I question why a radius of 1 km is specified. That is clearly excessive. Even if one accepts all the other premises behind the proposal, a radius of 1 km is excessive and, to test the Minister, I have included the proposal to substitute a radius of 100 m.
I make my final point to seek clarification of the clause. Subsections (2)(a) and (b) contain serious considerations; if someone is preventing a Member of Parliament from going about their duties, that is a serious matter. Why, then, do the provisions not apply to someone who is engaged in conduct that is lawful under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992? Why should they be able to impede a Member of Parliament? Moreover, why do the provisions not apply to someone who is
Mr. Grieve: I have considerable sympathy with the points that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome makes, as he will be aware from the fact that we have joined our names to his amendment. However, I also have some sympathy with those who consider that the current permanent encampment on the middle of Parliament square outside Parliament is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I am a great believer in the right of the public to demonstrate, but it seems to me that a permanent demonstration, which rather than just being sited day after day in the same place, has become what amounts to an encampment, is excessive.
Having said that, I am concerned about legislation that has been put together to deal with that problem. It is clear that although the intention of subsection (2)(c), which refers to behaviour that is
is clearly targeted at the particular activity that has been taking place day after day, week after week and month after month outside Parliament, it could also operate to prevent any demonstration taking place there, even one of a limited kind, on the grounds that it spoils the visual aspect.
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