Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

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Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Brian Haw’s case would be tested by the law in due course. It has been tested and he won his case. The Government were wrong to try to apply their legislation to him because it did not apply to him. It was impossible to criminalise activity that would not otherwise be criminal by means of a commencement order, which was the gist of the Government’s case. They have been shown to be incompetent even in that one central tenet of what they intended to do.

Harry Cohen: That point was made and I am sure that the Minister will have noted it.

I pick up on the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough about the way in which this order has been presented to us. It has already been enacted. We have to do all or nothing. It is heavy handed, but I understand what the Government are doing in relation to terrorism in this area. I seek a reassurance that the Minister will consider changes, as appropriate, after listening to what we have said and taking into account the comments made by Mrs Simpson in her e-mail. How will the order be implemented by the police? Again, we do not want it to be implemented in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way.

Mr. Garnier: If the order is going to be changed, the Government will have to take it away and change it, but it has been in place since 10 June. The Government need to do some pretty nifty footwork to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. I urge him to follow the logic of his argument and to vote with us this afternoon.

Harry Cohen: I am loth to do that and to kill the order off. I want to hear what the Minister has to say. Important points have been made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and Mrs. Simpson. There is still time for the Government to get the detail right here and to offer some civil libertarian changes. I want to hear that the Minister will do that and I urge him to consider some of the changes and how the order would be implemented. I do not take the same position as the
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other two Members who have spoken. There is a terrorism problem in this area that needs to be addressed. The balance needs to be got right. I await with interest what the Minister has to say.

3.10 pm

Mr. Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): When I took my seat in this place for the first time a few months ago, I was overcome by the great sense of privilege to be in a place in which free speech was guaranteed, practically unfettered. I therefore find it uncomfortable to find within a few months that we are debating a range of measures proposed by the Government that impose very considerable restrictions on the speech and civil liberties of the rest of the population. This week, there have been proposals to detain people without trial for up to three months, and now there is this measure, which effectively brings forward a presumption that it is wrong to demonstrate in the environs of Parliament square without the permission of the police. It is the reversal of what I believe should be a fundamental presumption on the part of the British citizen that it is acceptable to demonstrate anywhere, provided that no nuisance to others is caused. That lies at the heart of the measure, which I consider to be so wrong.

The police already have considerable powers to deal with protests that get out of hand. They have exercised those powers on demonstrations that I have attended myself, in and around Parliament square. None of us would say that the police should not be in a position to exercise such powers. However, the measure prevents anybody peacefully protesting, unless the police give them permission in the first place, with written notice. That is very different to the police having to accept notification, which I understand is the position under existing law. Any proposal that outlaws the use of loudspeakers in the environs of Parliament unless the police have given permission—I am not even clear that the police can give such permission—must be wrong in principle.

Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he is new to this place, and has not therefore had the experience of the amplified interference with our proceedings. We must bear in mind that we are elected to this place, salaried to do our work here, and we need to be able to get on with our work effectively. Our work take places not only in the Chamber of the House of Commons, but in other Rooms and buildings of our Parliament. If the noise from the demonstration interferes with our ability to do our jobs properly, I am not sure that our constituents will necessarily look favourably on us if we did not take action.

Mr. Herbert: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, in the defence of free speech and the freedom of people to demonstrate properly, that he shuts his windows and gets on with his work. I think that that is a totally inadequate justification for the measure. I do not accept that the measure has some kind of justification because of the terrorist threat that Parliament and its vicinity confront. We all know that the measure was
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first introduced in order to deal with one individual, and any legislation designed to deal with one individual, or small numbers of individuals, should set alarm bells ringing straight away in this place. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, the great irony is that the measure totally fails to deal with that individual. It is wrong that an individual is able, in effect, to erect a village in the middle of Parliament square. That is obviously absurd. It is an eyesore, and I am sure that it is absolutely dreadful for the Prime Minister to read all the abusive slogans about him as he sweeps past in his armour-plated Range Rover. However, there should be civil remedies to deal that, or we should consider specific remedies to deal with such permanent demonstrations in Parliament square. But this measure goes much, much further. The Government and the police have taken the opportunity to draft the legislation far more widely because of the inconvenience they face in having to deal with demonstrations.

Chris Mole: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Herbert: Yes, but I hope that the intervention is better than the previous one.

Hon. Members: Oh!

Chris Mole: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. In the light of his newness, I forgive his intemperance. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said earlier that he would like a definition of a demonstration. Perhaps in the hon. Gentleman’s proposal that there is another way of dealing with it, he would give us a definition of a permanent demonstration.

Mr. Herbert: It must be obvious to any sensible person that Mr. Haw has constructed a dwelling in the middle of Parliament square. Why cannot we deal with that? It is very different from someone choosing to walk into Parliament square with a group of other people and protest about something about which they feel strongly and which inconveniences the hon. Gentleman because he cannot get on with his work. It is a perfectly straightforward distinction, which I believe could have been made.

Mr. Heath: Would the hon. Gentleman care to conjecture just how loudly someone would have to shout, standing outside the Army and Navy building in Victoria street, seriously to inconvenience the hon. Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole)?

Mr. Herbert: I am grateful for that intervention as it brings me to another point. One of the tests under this legislation is that there might be a disruption to the life of the community. That is a very wide test indeed. It is an occupational hazard of living or working in Westminster—I have a flat just on the edge of this very large zone—that people might choose to demonstrate there. That is what happens in democracies. The disruption test is capable of being applied by the police to prevent or severely to restrict any demonstration that might be inconvenient for them to have to police.
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It is surprising that a Government who introduced the Human Rights Act should so flagrantly propose these measures, which must surely be in contravention of that Act. I hope that they are struck down under that Act or under the European convention on human rights.

It is shameful that hon. Members should joke about provisions that I regard as being a serious abuse of Executive power, more appropriate to Tiananmen square than Parliament square and we are absolutely right to vote against the proposal.

3.17 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): I am very concerned about the measure. Before I came through the door at the start of the sitting, I had no idea what was before us and we must take great care about what is proposed.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Herbert) advises shutting the window in one’s office when Mr. Haw or anyone else is using the megaphone. I can tell the Committee that I have actually opened my window to hear what is being said. When I hear the outside world expressing its opinion, I feel that I am at least in touch with the outside world. The last thing we want is to prevent people from coming to the environs of Parliament in order to express an opinion.

I am very proud that, with 2 million other people, I took part in the march against the Iraq war. The march began at Embankment station and ended in Hyde park. It wound around the perimeter of the Houses of Parliament, under the shadow of Big Ben and past Downing street. People on the march were wearing all sorts of badges, some of them not very complimentary to the Government. We should be democratic and say, well, yes, that is one of the prices that we have to pay for living in a democracy. With this legislation, people could be prevented from being in a procession going to Hyde park passing through, or very near to, Parliament square.

In an intervention, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked how loudly someone would have to shout to be heard from the Army and Navy stores. A number of small demonstrations that did not require permission have taken place in Victoria street. I remember on one occasion speaking about a particular issue in Victoria street with the vice-chairman of CND, Bruce Kent.

I am very proud of young people who have demonstrated in Parliament square. We often object to the fact that young people take no interest in politics. However, hon. Members will perhaps remember that, during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, many schoolchildren were all over Parliament square. I need to be satisfied that, if the order is made, those children would continue to be allowed to do precisely as they did before.

I fully understand there being objections to someone using a megaphone—of course I understand that. It may be that legislation is required to prevent undue
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noise and nuisance to people who are working in offices round and about. However, to deny people the right to be in Parliament square—or to leave it to the police to decide—is another issue altogether.

I am a little worried about the order’s boundaries. Like the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, my flat is not very far from Parliament square. I shall have to be careful in future. Hon. Members would be surprised at some of the comments I make to friends when they call at my flat. What I say might not be too complimentary to the Government.

The order is a step too far. I am extremely concerned about the direction in which we are going. Of course we must combat terrorism, but do not forget that terrorists were in Whitehall before any of this legislation was thought about. The terrorists who fired the mortar into the garden of 10 Downing street did so from Whitehall. What is required is real vigilance on the part of the authorities to ensure that such events do not occur. The order will not do that; it has nothing at all to do with combating terrorism. It is more about certain people’s concerns that dissent should not be too fondly expressed.

That was illustrated at our conference only two weeks ago, and I was concerned then. We must get away from the business of wanting to hear only one side of an argument. I am wholly against the Countryside Alliance’s cause, but I would not deny its members the right to be in Parliament square to express their opinion.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that, when he spoke about a loudspeaker not being allowed, the Government Whip said that that is not the case. If I can remind the Committee, section 137(1) of the 2005 Act, referring to the designated area, says that

    “Subject to subsection (2), a loudspeaker shall not be operated, at any time or for any purpose, in a street in the designated area.”

Therefore that is exactly what is proposed.

Mr. Wareing: Oddly enough, that is not something that I would particularly object to, because of the inconvenience that is caused to other people and the noise that is created. However, people should always be permitted to express their opinion, to speak and to hand out written arguments on a subject. It should probably be permitted more so in Parliament square than anywhere else, because it is the closest vicinity to the House of Commons and the House of Lords at which people can express opinions.

I reserve the right to determine my vote on the order, or not to vote, possibly. It is far too sweeping. Were it simply a question of the megaphones, or some measure to try to tidy up the area, which is now a bit of an eyesore, I would not be too concerned. I accept that, but there must be a way around that. The area could be made much more presentable, even though perhaps the arguments are not presentable as far as the Government are concerned.

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3.25 pm

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): As other members of the Committee have pointed out, this is deeply flawed legislation. I believe that one of its greatest flaws is the fact that the expression “demonstration” appears never to be defined in the 2005 Act. My understanding of a demonstration during my student days was that it consisted of a column of people walking along the road, usually displaying placards. However, that is obviously an out-of-date interpretation because, according to section 132 of the Act, a demonstration is now something that can be undertaken by an individual. I suggest that it would have been far more sensible for the Government to name Mr. Haw in that section, which would have removed all doubt.

The difficulty is that, if the expression “demonstration” is not defined, it can arguably be anything—any activity—that the officer in question deems it to be. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough indicated earlier, it could be walking along the street wearing a CND or Countryside Alliance badge. That is a demonstration of a political point of view. If it is an action that can be conducted by an individual, that lays that individual open to being banged up by a police officer simply for wearing that badge. That is most illiberal and not what the legislation was intended to achieve.

What makes the matter worse is that the designated area is, in many respects, very far away from Parliament square, where Mr. Haw is encamped. Every day, to come to this place, I walk through a little back street called Strutton Ground. Strutton Ground is a street that links Horseferry road and Victoria street. If, tomorrow morning, I were to decide to wear my CND badge on my way to the Palace, along Strutton Ground, I would be in severe danger of being apprehended by an officer of the law for conducting a demonstration. That is, of course, a ludicrous example, but the real danger is that it puts a power in the hands of an individual police officer to arrest an individual purely because he does not like the look of that individual, or the way he is behaving, because in his interpretation it is a demonstration.

This is possibly one of the most illiberal pieces of legislation that I have ever seen. I strongly urge the Committee to overturn it. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough said, there are no two ways about this: either we accept it, with all its illiberality, or we reject it out of hand. I hope that the members of the Committee, if they have any concern at all about the liberty of the individual and the sort of society that they live in, will do just that, and reject it out of hand today.

3.28 pm

Paul Goggins: This has been an excellent and vibrant discussion, in which various points of view have been expressed. I agree with some of those points and disagree with others. None has been put in a frivolous manner and it has been a good exchange of opinion.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) is right to stress that we value the importance of demonstrations. In a democracy, we have a right to be able to demonstrate our opinions and our views. As politicians, we have a duty to listen to those demonstrations and those views when they are expressed in that way and to take all that into account. That is the nature of our parliamentary democracy. I therefore make it absolutely plain that that is my belief and that is the view of the Government, and nothing in the order changes any of that. The provisions in the 2005 Act that we are discussing are not about denying the right to protest. I say to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that they are not about preventing people from demonstrating, or about ensuring that people cannot indicate their dissatisfaction or opposition to what the Government are doing, or to what the Government’s policy is on any matter whatever.

The provisions require the organisers of demonstrations to give prior notification of the protest to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He is obliged to authorise that demonstration. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) that there is no question of people having to seek permission to hold their demonstration. They have to give prior notification of it.

While I cannot comment on the individual case that my hon. Friend raised—he will understand why—his points about freedom of assembly and expression were well made. I wholeheartedly agree with them. It is open to the commissioner, using the power within the order, to attach conditions to the authorisation where he judges that necessary, for example, to safeguard the operations of Parliament or to prevent a security risk to the area. I will come on in a little while to the criteria that he must apply when making a judgment as to whether any conditions need to apply. I make the point as strongly as I can. This is not about seeking permission. It is about prior notification.

I must tell the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and other hon. Members that, whatever the media may say, this is not about one person. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned himself, it goes back to November 2003 when the Procedure Committee made certain recommendations and we have been considering those and bringing forward our proposals. I cannot comment on the individual merits of that case, but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would consider it quite a good feature of our democracy and judicial process that a gentleman who thinks he has been wrongly caught by legislation has the right to challenge that in the courts. That is what he has done.

The Government have a different view. The Home Secretary is seeking leave to appeal the judgment that was made. But that surely shows that our system is working well. People can challenge things, get an answer and even when that answer comes it is possible for another person to challenge it. Those are all features of a good, working, proper democracy.

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Hon. Members will recall that the 2005 Act made it clear that no point within the designated area may be more than 1 km in a straight line from the point nearest to it in Parliament square. The precise area to be covered was left to be defined in secondary legislation. Indeed that is what we are doing here. It appeared that most hon. Members had access to a copy of the map that we are discussing. The order defining the precise area to be covered has now been laid and came into force on 1 July.

Hon. Members who are good at map reading will have noticed that the area covered is considerably less than 1 km distant from the nearest point in Parliament square. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome quoted my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, whose pleasant duty it was to take the 2005 Act through Parliament in the previous Session. He was right to quote her as saying that the map would be drawn up in consultation with the Metropolitan police, based on their operational experience as to where demonstrations may hinder the proper operation of Parliament, cause a security risk or a risk to the safety of members of the public.

Mr. Garnier: Let us look at this map. Let us travel across Lambeth bridge and up Horseferry road. What factors led the Government to include the top end of Horseferry road and Strutton Ground, for example?

Paul Goggins: All the features of this map have been drawn up in consultation with the Metropolitan police based on their particular experience over many years of policing demonstrations in and around Parliament. Therefore, the advice that they have given us about the area that needs to be covered has been based on their experience of policing demonstrations over the years.

Mr. Garnier: I fully accept that the police have told the Government that that is what they want. In order to judge whether this is a proper delineation, we need to know the reasoning behind it, not simply the Minister’s assertion that that is what he has been told by the Metropolitan police. They may have told him any number of things, but that does not necessarily justify what is being presented. I also hope that he will tell us a little more about the reasons why the commissioner has imposed certain conditions.

Paul Goggins: In a genuine spirit of trying to be as co-operative as possible, may I say about the specific area that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough mentions that I am not able at present to advise him. If I am able to do so before the end of our deliberations, I shall share that information with him; if not, I shall write to him about it. However, as a principle, we have entered serious discussions with the Metropolitan police, based on years of their experience of policing demonstrations here, and the map reflects that experience. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have noticed, as will other hon. Members, that the map excludes Trafalgar square,
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which is, of course, a traditional location for demonstrations, and I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to see that the square is outside the area.

Mr. Wareing: One of the fundamental difficulties of this order is the lack of a definition of a demonstration. Was it, for example, a demonstration when, on Monday of this week, a number of men and women from different parts of the country—British women who are married to Iraqis and people from other dangerous countries—were demonstrating, some of them wearing wedding dresses, at St. Stephen’s entrance and lobbying Members of Parliament on the matter? In view of the fact that the police can impose conditions, that goes against the idea that people do not require permission. If there are to be conditions, the police must be notified and, presumably, they can say no.

Paul Goggins: The one thing that the police cannot say is no. There is no question of the police having to have permission sought from them; they must allow demonstrations to go ahead, although they may attach conditions. I shall come on in a while to the criteria against which they must judge any conditions that they apply.

Several hon. Members rose

Paul Goggins: May I respond to the main point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby about the definition of demonstrations? It is true that demonstrations are not defined in the legislation, although the approach that the Government have taken, and which was taken during the passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, is reflected in the comments made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs. In response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich he said, “It would be obvious to any sensible person”, and that is the approach that we have taken. In other words, it is a combination of the experience of the police, common sense, and the application of the judgments of the courts. That is the means by which we define demonstrations.

We know we are talking about a static demonstration, not a march. Marches operate under completely different public order legislation. The order is about static demonstrations: people in a specific place, making a specific point of view known. I use that as my working definition. It is not in the Bill, but that amplifies the understanding that I explained earlier of the combination of police experience, common sense and the judgments of the courts. I am happy to repeat the comments of the hon. Gentleman: that should be obvious to any sensible person.

Mr. Garnier: I do not want the Minister unwittingly to mislead the Committee into thinking that the absence of Trafalgar square from the designated area was a generous concession. We all know that Trafalgar square is already covered by a statutory regime, which gives powers to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, if not the Home Secretary, to control demonstrations in that area. There is no need for the Government to add the square to the order.

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Paul Goggins: Perhaps we can agree on that point. What happens in Trafalgar square is not affected by the order. Whatever the provisions are for Trafalgar square, they will continue to operate in the normal way. Members of the Committee will be pleased about that.

Mr. Heath: I would like the Minister to confirm, so that the Committee is clear on this point, what is in section 132(7)(e) of the 2005 Act. It states that

    “references to any person or persons taking part in a demonstration . . . include a person carrying on a demonstration by himself.”

A demonstration, if I heard the Minister correctly, may be one person expressing a view. If that is so, how does the person know when they express the view that they should have given prior notification to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner?

Paul Goggins: The whole point of a demonstration is to convey a point of view. Someone demonstrates their point of view; that is a demonstration. It can be an individual person who so arranges their demonstration that they make their point. It can be one person or more than one person. We use the combination that I outlined of police experience, common sense and the rulings of the court.

Let me move on to a point that several hon. Members raised and, I think, fairly.

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