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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 16th February 2011|
Publications on the internet
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Police Reform and Social
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Diana Johnson: Good morning to you, Mr Benton, and to the Committee. This is the last group of amendments on licensing provisions and the late night levy, in particular. Amendment 581 would insert the word “other” at the
Amendment 580 would require the levy to be reduced by 50% for premises participating in well-established and recognised corporate responsibility initiatives, specifically Best Bar None, business improvement districts —we have heard a great deal about them in relation to the Bill’s provisions on the late night levy—the Purple Flag scheme, Pubwatch and similar watch initiatives. If a reduction for those initiatives was left to the discretion of the local authority, the general view is that it might risk the reductions not being made and thus affect the credibility of participating in such initiatives, for which there is widespread support. It is also felt that those initiatives have achieved a great deal during the past few years and we are worried that the Bill might undermine the initiatives themselves.
In order to acknowledge the important contribution and investment that the industry has made to improve standards and address the challenges of the late night economy, particularly in town and city centres, it is appropriate that such high-profile initiatives are clearly identified under the Bill as requiring a reduced levy. That would also safeguard the initiatives themselves and encourage further take-up in areas where such partnership approaches do not yet exist. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on the proposal because it would be positive for the late night levy and several of the existing initiatives.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Good morning, Mr Benton, and members of the Committee. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North for the way in which she introduced the proposals. Like her, I want to put on record my welcome and support for the local initiatives that she highlighted, such as business improvement districts, Best Bar None, community alcohol partnerships, Purple Flag and various others. It is important to recognise the contribution made by those local schemes to managing the night-time economy.
Our problem with the hon. Lady’s amendments is that we plan to consult on the details of the various categories of organisation or scheme that may be engaged with that sort of provision. The consultation will include close working with, and input from, best practice scheme representatives. That consultation would be pre-empted if we were to set out in the Bill a number of different local schemes, as amendment 580 would. Putting such a provision in the Bill would unduly circumscribe the clause because we would require primary legislation to change it. Indeed, the schemes themselves might alter, and new schemes might come onboard, so we think that it is best to conduct the consultation, although I certainly welcome what the various existing schemes do and the contribution that they make.
The other theme running throughout the licensing provisions is that they are an attempt to promote local engagement and local decision making. Licensing authorities, given their knowledge of local priorities, are best placed to decide which schemes to exempt. We should not try to limit that discretion by defining national
Diana Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. It is absolutely right that there should be full consultation on the issues and a debate on other initiatives that might be helpful to local communities, and town and city centres, in dealing with the late night economy. However, the excellent approaches throughout the country through the schemes, and existing good partnership working, mean that the Government ought to focus on the schemes. They should acknowledge that as local businesses contribute voluntarily to those schemes as part of that partnership working, they ought to receive some credit. There is concern that local businesses will be asked to make a contribution to the late night levy in addition to their work with some of these initiatives. They should be given credit for the work that they already undertake, and that work should be acknowledged through a reduction in their funding of the late night levy.
James Brokenshire: Obviously, we will not be able to introduce regulations before Royal Assent, but we hope to move forward swiftly. The regulations are part of the implementation process, so I think that we will move forward with them in a matter of months, following consultation. As I have said before, we want to engage and have proper consultation, and it is intended that that will take place during the summer.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Good morning to you, Mr Benton, and to all members of the Committee. We have now reached an extremely important clause. The clause repeals provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which will be replaced with provisions in subsequent clauses.
It would be remiss of me not to welcome the Under-Secretary to the Committee. Before I had to leave on Thursday, he said some kind things about me, and I appreciate and reciprocate his remarks. His right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is in the room, and I am glad that his iPad—or whatever is in front of him—is working.
This part of the Bill includes extremely important clauses, and clause 139 enables those clauses that follow it. There is no doubt that members of the Committee understand that policing protests can generate controversy, given the conflicts of interest that need to be balanced. It is important that the interests and rights are protected of not only the protestors, but those against whom the protestors are protesting. Of course, we must also consider the interests of the general public. Balancing all interests is difficult and sometimes controversial. The balance is even more difficult to strike when protests relate to what we think is appropriate around Parliament. Should the normal laws of the land apply or should additional provision be made, as we have seen over the past few years?
That is important because Parliament, for reasons that we do not need to go into, is a symbolic place for protest. It is where laws are made, so people rightly feel that they need to come here to protest if they feel strongly about a policy that the Government are, or are
It would be helpful in this stand part debate on the Bill’s big set-piece clause, if the Committee spent some time considering the background to the existing position. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s justification for what the Government are doing and it is important to discuss how they arrived at this position. Before the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was introduced, a number of byelaws and the Public Order Act 1986 applied to Parliament. In addition, there were Sessional Orders for the House of Commons and Stoppages Orders for the House of Lords, which related to access and gave the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the power to direct police officers to keep Parliament free from obstruction. I had not realised until a few years ago that those powers applied under an Act of 1839, which is astonishing.
In 2003, the Select Committee on Procedure carried out an inquiry into those powers as a result of demonstrations that had taken place outside and near Parliament. It was particularly concerned about the demonstration by Mr Haw who, in 2002, the High Court found, despite people’s irritation at his behaviour, was not obstructing the pavement. [ Interruption. ] Well, that is the courts. As my legal friend, the hon. Member for Northampton North would say, that was the result of a legal process, which is how things operate properly in a democracy—we have Parliament; then we have the legal process. The Procedure Committee went on to say that because of the various protests and demonstrations that had taken place, the law was inadequate—indeed, the House authorities and the police said that it should be adapted for modern circumstances.
Not every Committee member was in the House at the time, but many of us were. We remember the Countryside Alliance demonstrations in May 2004, when there were serious disturbances outside Parliament, and the five protesters who got into the House of Commons Chamber. Whatever the rights and wrongs of those protests and their causes, there were real concerns and, consequently, the 2005 Act was passed.
Almost as soon as that Act came into force, however, more concerns were raised about whether it struck the right balance. The SOCPA provisions cover a wide area and various behaviours are prohibited. We all remember the cases of Maya Evans and Milan Rai, who were arrested and prosecuted for reading out the names of British soldiers and Iraqi citizens who had been killed in Iraq. I do not think that any member of the Committee would think that that situation was acceptable, and yet it was a consequence of an Act passed in Parliament.
In a desire, quite rightly, to protect Parliament and to strike a balance between protests and the ability of Parliament to function, we unintentionally—I do not think anyone deliberately set out to do this—created a situation where someone could be prosecuted for such an act. We then saw people trying to find loopholes in the law and ways to get around it. On the one hand, the law has an unacceptable impact on individual citizens who, I believe, were participating in a simple and effective
The Government have introduced their own proposals to deal with the problem, but I think that it is helpful to provide background. I have said this in private to the Minister, and I will say it again in public: everyone has been wrestling with the problem, and everyone has said that it should be possible to deal with it more effectively. Everyone says it and all of us think it, yet it seems to present an enormous problem for us when seeking to legislate in a fair but effective way. The Minister needs to put on record the Government’s thinking behind the proposals in the Bill about the balance that they are seeking to strike in clause 139 and the following clauses between the right to protest, which the Government want to maintain—it would be idiotic to say that they are trying to stop that—and the right for people to go about their everyday business and to enjoy the square. We need to understand how the Government have arrived at their proposal in the Bill and how they have balanced those almost competing parts of the equation.
The proposals before us do not exactly mirror the SOCPA provisions, but some of the powers that they will give to police and authorised officers are significant. Clause 139 will repeal SOCPA, but the Government have introduced proposals that are similar to SOCPA, albeit that they will be applied to the much narrower and restricted geographical area of Parliament square. The Minister needs to explain how that decision—that that narrow bit of the square is the obvious piece of land to legislate for—was arrived at.
Vernon Coaker: What has disquieted people is not the protest, but its permanence. The trouble that arises as soon as one asks that, as the hon. Gentleman did—I ask this without being sarcastic to him—is that one must define what one means by “permanent”? Is it one, two, four, three or six weeks? That is part of the problem in trying to legislate for that matter.
I am trying to keep my comments fairly broad, because we will come to the detail in later clauses, and I do not want you to rule me out of order, Mr Benton. There is a need for reform—I am not saying that there is not—but there is a problem with the Government’s proposal, because if the arrangement is reasonable and not permanent, people should be able to protest overnight. I do not have a problem with that. The Government cannot say whether a protest should stop at 11.30 pm or midnight. We have a problem with the permanence of it, rather than the right to protest in itself. How have the Government struck the balance in the Bill—dealing
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, however well meaning the Government may be on some of the same problems that we got into, there is a danger that if the area is narrowly defined, the protesters could move to the other side of the road or in the park round the corner and the same problem returns? It is a difficult issue to frame.
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem is not the legislative desire or intent, because the Committee would agree that the current situation is unacceptable. How do we move from where we are to where we want to be, balancing the two sides of the coin? To be fair, the Minister will have been struggling with that as well.
There are some practical difficulties, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North will deal when we debate subsequent clauses. That is why I asked how the provisions, which now relate to a small area outside of Parliament, have been arrived at. Westminster city council said, “Let’s have a massive designated area.” Without wanting to extend that area a great deal—we do not want that, before the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice quotes me somewhere—there is a problem if that is not done. Why should they not just cross the road? If they were on Parliament square, they could just move to the other side of the road and put their tent up. We will come to these practical things as we debate later clauses, but my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside is absolutely right to raise that issue.
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): I think the hon. Gentleman makes some excellent points. Does he agree that what the public find so confusing is that if they went down a pavement in their locality and pitched a tent, they would be moved on pretty quickly by the police? They do not understand why this one bit of pavement, which is similar to every other bit of pavement in this country, is allowed to have a permanent encampment that cannot be moved by the police. We all accept that people will camp overnight for Wimbledon tickets, and the police will turn a blind eye on occasion, but it is the continued permanence that people do not understand.
Vernon Coaker: That is a reasonable point. My understanding of the court judgment was that the obstruction being caused, because of where the pavement was, was not sufficient to justify the tent being removed. If it had been on the pavement nearest the Palace, where many people go past, it would constitute an obstruction under the law, and could be moved. The public and other Members of Parliament have to understand that, while we all want to do something, it is difficult to legislate for this. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth has made a point about the visual impact, which we will come on to. The more important point is that while there is an obstruction if someone wanted to walk along that pavement, that is not the same thing as having the burden of proof for the judge to agree that the law has been broken. That was my understanding of what the law said in respect of the clause.
Mark Tami: There is not only an issue on permanence, but on the nature of some of the protest as well. Some of it is not issue-based. As an MP, I feel that some of it is just abuse—someone with a megaphone abusing people day in, day out. That is not particularly nice for those concerned, or for people walking past coming into Parliament.
Vernon Coaker: I think that that is right. It is outside there all the time and there is abuse. There are clauses in the Bill to say that the use of a loudhailer is a prohibited activity. People cannot use amplified noise equipment to generate noise outside Parliament unless they get 21 days’ authorisation, so may I ask the Minister, what if I get 15 drums? People can make a hell of a noise with a load of drums and they are not amplified. The unintended consequences of the measure are enormous. People stand outside with a load of drums beating, or with cymbals—we can all make up other examples of noise equipment that is not amplified, but which can be used to make a significant noise—until it amounts to the abuse that my hon. Friend has pointed out.
Mr Burley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We are in danger of a cross-party consensus. Another thing that is confusing for the public is that they all know pavements that are as wide as that bit around Parliament square, where they could equally pitch a tent, yet they are not allowed to do it there. What is so unique about that bit of pavement? It is not particularly wide, nor very different from other pavements. On the access point, is it not ironic that there is concern about access to that bit of pavement and yet, when Parliament square turned into a Glastonbury-style tented village, one could not walk across it? There was no access whatsoever and there did not seem to be concern about that.
Vernon Coaker: Again, that is a reasonable point, but the hon. Gentleman must be careful about gestures towards the Liberal Democrats. Luckily, his Whip did not see. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. The tents on the grassed area could be removed.
Vernon Coaker: Yes, eventually. Of course, that is Greater London authority-owned, as opposed to the pavement, which belongs to Westminster city council. Sometimes, Mr Benton, the public glaze over, as I do. It goes back to my earlier question—is it not possible just to get this sorted? The honest answer is that that is more difficult than it appears.
Moving on, is the focus of the Bill and the relevant clauses, particularly the enacting clause, clause 139, really driven by the tents? Is the individual target Mr Haw? Is that what has driven all this? I think that that is an important question, because what people say is that they are irritated by the tents and by Mr Haw. Is that what the Government are saying? We will come on to the clauses that focus on sleeping bags and sleeping equipment. Are the Government really saying that they do not want any overnight protest outside Parliament? Are they saying that it is fine if people stand up and stay
Michael Ellis: Does not one have to consider the mischief that the Bill is trying to address? Would it not be preferable if the shadow Minister and Labour Members were to agree with the concept behind the clause? This is clearly designed to prevent the mischief of the permanence of the encampment on Parliament square and the frequent noise that disturbs those who wish to work, live in and traverse the area. The purpose of the clause is to encourage tourism and, for example, to allow the quiet enjoyment of statues, many of which were placed in Parliament square by public subscription. Do not people have the right of quiet enjoyment of a public place as well as the right to peaceful protest? This is not a protest; it is an encampment. Should not the shadow Minister and his Labour colleagues be fully behind clause 139 and the subsequent clauses?
We agree with the repeal of the SOCPA provisions and the need for further proposals. However, as the Minister and the hon. Member for Northampton North would know if they were in opposition, we cannot simply wave the provisions through without pointing out some of the difficulties. The reality is that scrutiny of the Bill and questions that are asked about it will improve and strengthen it, and make it more effective.
To be clear, we support the repeal of the SOCPA provisions and I am pleased that the Public Order Act 1986 will be used. However, the designation of Parliament square and the powers in the Bill to deal with that area cause other problems that we need to ask questions about, otherwise in a year’s time we will have an unworkable Bill and the Government will be introducing fresh revisions to deal with exactly the same problem.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): We want to support the same position as the hon. Member for Northampton North—[Hon. Members: “Or South.”] Or wherever. We certainly want to will the ends, and we might benefit from his professional expertise, but past drafting to address this crucial area has not led to the outcome we intended, and that is exactly why we have to debate these provisions now.
Vernon Coaker: That is exactly the point. It might seem like dancing on the head of a pin, but if we do not get the wording right, there will be unintended consequences and loopholes for people to drive through. We agree with the intention, but we need to deal with the issues around it.
May I ask the Minister whether the House authorities are satisfied with the proposals in the Bill? How satisfied are the police? Can he reassure us that the clause is
“is to go to the High Court to remove Haw and Barbara Tucker, a fellow campaigner, from their camp. Westminster city council will also this week apply for an injunction to shift the shanty town of tents that has sprung up on the adjoining pavement.”
Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case, or did The Sunday Times get that wrong a couple of weeks ago? On 17 January 2011, the BBC reported that Westminster city council had served letters on the remaining protesters to vacate the pavement surrounding Parliament square. It stated:
“Peace protesters camping on the pavement surrounding Parliament Square green have been served legal letters to vacate the site. Westminster Council asked 30 people living in 20 tents to clear the area by Friday afternoon or face court action. People from what is called Democracy Village, moved on to the pavement after being evicted from the green in July following a High Court order.”
We have therefore seen two media reports—one on 30 January in The Sunday Times, and one on 17 January —so will the Minister clarify the exact position with respect to the protesters, because that will inform our view of the clause?
We have received a very helpful note from the Metropolitan police about the policing of the square. It would be helpful if the Minister advised the Committee about the policing aspect. The note states:
“It is important that Parliament makes clear to those who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest…what is not acceptable in the vicinity around Parliament…As an attempt to bring clarity to protest groups and the broader community that uses the Square, the MPS is supportive of the repeal of s132-138 SOCPA…and believes all marches and static protests in the area around Parliament should be governed by the Public Order Act 1986...The MPS believes that the POA should be amended to reflect the MPS Commissioner’s duty to ensure access to Parliament by defining exactly what access is required and allowing conditions to be imposed to allow this to occur…The MPS believes that the POA should be amended to apply to single protestors in the small area around Parliament Square and allow police to impose conditions on the grounds of security, as is currently catered for within SOCPA.”
As we discuss the repeal of SOCPA provisions and their replacement with provisions of the Public Order Act and the clauses in the Bill, it will be helpful to have the Minister’s response to the Metropolitan Police Service’s points.
Our debates on this and subsequent clauses are extremely important. We have all seen the power of protests recently—not only in this country, but across the world—and none of us wants to see protests restricted unnecessarily. I wonder whether the balance is correctly struck in the Bill, and whether some of the practical difficulties that we have started to address are dealt with. As we go through the Bill, we can deal with some specifics, but we, as a democracy, should be rightly proud of the right
There are questions about and irritation with what is happening outside Parliament. I reiterate to the Minister that although I understand points about the permanence of the protest, the visual aspects of it, access and other people’s human rights to enjoy the square, I am particularly concerned that that does not translate into something that would stop people turning up to protest there, even for a few days because they stayed overnight. There is a real difficulty in striking that balance. The Minister will have wrestled with it, and the Committee will be interested in what he has to say.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I welcome subsection (1) absolutely unreservedly. It is fantastic that sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA are going. I might say that that was one of the worst things done by the authoritarian aspect of the Labour Government, but they managed to beat it with so many other strictures that it does not even rate as one of the worst—[ Interruption. ] Indeed, there was the 90 days, as one of my hon. Friends says. Getting rid of the SOCPA provisions is a great achievement for this Government.
We have a good direction of travel on how to enable protests. I even discerned some of that in the speech made by the hon. Member for Gedling, who seemed to be recanting some of the ways of the past on protests. There is an issue about what protest is. I got the sense that he believes that protest should be allowed and that things should not be put in place to prevent it from happening. I agree with that, but I would go significantly further.
It is not just that we should tolerate protest and allow it to happen in a controlled way, but we should welcome it. We should support and encourage the fact that people in this country protest peacefully. We should not allow violent and illegal protest, but we should be pleased when people are sufficiently engaged with issues to take the time to show how they care and that they care. Protest is a great thing in a democracy.
While I am delighted that we are getting rid of the SOCPA provisions, and clearly some considerations must to be given to Parliament square for security and other reasons, we must ask the question that Shami Chakrabarti put very clearly in her evidence session: “What is the harm that we are trying to deal with?” I hope the Minister will answer that question. While it is possible that these protests affect tourism, I would be interested to hear evidence of that. I have heard comments that they are not very nice. There have certainly been comments that they have prevented other people from being able to protest, which is extremely serious, but while it is a fact that there is quite a lot of noise, we should not ban something just because we do not like it. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain how he has achieved such a balance. The direction of travel is excellent, however, and I am glad that it is sucking along members of the previous Government.
I understand that the Minister has received advice on how subsection (2) applies to assemblies that started or were being organised before the clause comes into force.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Cambridge said. We should not just tolerate the protest outside the House of Commons—we should celebrate it. We need to connect with the people. Over the years, there have been some cracking protests outside, such as the Countryside Alliance protest and the almost continuous anti-war protests. More recently, we have seen student protests and the Tamil protests, and we will see more over the next few years as the swingeing cuts hit the ordinary people. They will want to voice their opposition to the cuts, and this is the place to do so.
One of the key issues is the permanence of the protests and their impact on a range of people, including tourists. The hon. Gentleman was a little dismissive of people who work in the Palace of Westminster and the surrounding streets, and of MPs and the rights of other people to protest. Let us consider the impact of protests on tourists. London is one of the most popular international tourist destinations in the world. Millions of people visit London each year and the Houses of Parliament must be one of the most visited destinations. As was said by the hon. Member for Northampton North, the gardens in the square are beautiful. There are important statues there of Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill—all great people who have done a lot for their countries and, indeed, the world.
Mark Tami: Does my hon. Friend accept what was said about permanence? There are many demonstrations at which people get their point of view across and then leave. They do not set up a permanent camp and abuse people.
Chris Ruane: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We have beautiful statues that mean a lot to many people, some of whom go on a pilgrimage to contemplate them and reflect on what those great people have done. The ability to do that is diminished if people are creating a hell of a noise—screaming for days or weeks on end. We must not only look at it from the protesters’ point of view and celebrate their protest, but consider the tourists’ point of view.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman comes back to the question of tourism, which I dismissed for want of evidence on the subject. Presumably he has some sort of study that shows that tourism to the UK is down because of the protest, or feedback that suggests that there is a real problem. Is he just guessing?
Chris Ruane: Well, it affects the ability of a tourist to get from A to B, because they cannot get over the fence to see Nelson Mandela or Winston Churchill, so the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. I have witnessed that with my own eyes. I shall move on to local people who work in the area. Something like 17,000 pass-holders work in the Houses of Parliament.
Chris Ruane: If legal minds on the Committee want to support us, I welcome their legal advice—I look to my friend, the Member for Northampton North, to back us up. There are 17,000 pass-holders who work in the Houses of Parliament, and the square is the nearest place they can go to if they want a bit of time out. As we all know, those on the Committee and those serving the Committee—and those watching it—have a stressful job. This is a stressful time in the House of Commons, and the square is the nearest place to go to sit down and have some quiet reflection. The ability to do that is diminished by the scale and longevity of the protest.
There is also the right of MPs to gain access to the Houses of Parliament to do our job and our duty. The Tamil protest was one of the best protests outside Parliament. Those involved were protesting about really emotive stuff, and the protest spilled out on to the road, so the police came. I tried to get in to vote during the week of the Tamil protest. I was in the right-hand lane to turn right into the House of Commons in my car, and a police officer said, “No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to go over Westminster bridge and round the roundabout, and come back and take a left.” I complained to the Sergeant at Arms about that. She investigated and ruled that the police officer was incorrect in his observation of the rules and should have let me pass. So the protests have an impact on MPs getting into the House. We often have messages from our Whips—the authorities—on our bleepers saying, “Make sure you’re here early because there are huge protests outside.” They recognise that MPs cannot gain ready access to the House of Commons. We have eight minutes in which to vote, and protests outside, especially large-scale protests, affect our ability to do so.
There are also the rights of other protesters to protest. Has the area been colonised by one group of protesters? [ Interruption. ] Does the hon. Member for Cannock Chase want to intervene? I am getting some sedentary support from the Government, which is welcome. The permanence of the protest is damaging the rights of tourists, people who work in the House of Commons and the surrounding streets, other protestors and MPs.
The issue is not only the permanence of the protest, but how that protest is, on occasion, articulated—and I use the word “articulated” carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside referred to the lady with the loudspeaker shrieking for hours on end. I was taking visitors from my constituency, who had come on a special day out, round the House of Commons. I took them on to the roof of the House next to Big Ben; it was a special moment for them. The lady was screaming and screeching for hours on end, but then she stopped for one minute. After the stop, she came back and said,
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling referred to night-time protests, which we need to be careful about. Some of the best protests that I have been on were night-time protests. They are often organised by Churches, and include overnight candlelit vigils. Those protests made their points peacefully using candles, prayer and reflection, and posed no threat to anyone. Candlelit vigils and overnight protests should be respected.
Vernon Coaker: That is a good point. I am sure that a number of people have done something like that. For example, I am sure that quite a lot of hon. Members from across the House have slept out overnight to protest about homelessness. A practical consequence of the Bill could be that a charity that wanted to organise a sleep-out in Parliament square to raise awareness of homelessness would not be able to do so. The clause is drawn so widely that it catches people whom I do not think the Minister wants to catch.
Chris Ruane: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In the press, we can already see the impact of the cuts on the homeless. The other week, the Evening Standard had a report about people sleeping in large bins—they go down a chute and sleep in the bins overnight. One of the worst effects of Thatcherism in the 1980s was that in the west end of London thousands of young men and women slept rough on the streets and on seats. I think that we will see a return to that situation, and the ability of people and charities to protest outside the House of Commons as they see fit, and in a way that causes no disruption, should be respected.
The balance, the wording and every dot, comma and apostrophe have to be right. The legislation drawn up when our party was in power failed to nail the issue down. We have another chance now, and we should take it.
James Brokenshire: May I say how much I appreciate the manner in which the debate has been undertaken, and the genuine desire on both sides of the Committee to address what has been an issue for some time? The hon. Member for Gedling set out the history of the issue quite well, referring to court cases, the distinctions between each different part of the square—the front footway is owned and maintained by Westminster city council, while the gardens are part of the Greater London authority—and the distinctions and variations in the law. His contribution setting out the context was useful. I also appreciate the comments made by the hon. Member for Cambridge, and the entertaining but well-made points raised by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd, even though I was concerned that we might have to get some oxygen for my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase part of the way through his contribution.
In line with our commitment to restoring the right to non-violent protest, we seek to repeal sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We considered that they imposed unnecessary
The law has not worked as some hoped it might, as we have heard this morning, and as the Metropolitan police have acknowledged, and it has created a bureaucratic burden into the bargain. We see no reason to retain the provisions, and I note—I think that the hon. Member for Gedling accepted this—that the previous Government had almost come to that point. When the issue was looked at in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill in 2008, it was accepted that SOCPA was not the right way forward and that repeal was necessary to ensure that people’s right to protest was not subject to unnecessary restrictions.
We certainly welcome and recognise the consensus in Committee this morning that the current law did not work as intended and is not fit for purpose, and that we therefore need to move on from that situation. However, repeal of the provisions does not mean that anything goes in Parliament square. In relation to protest, the police will once again have powers under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to impose conditions on public assemblies of two or more persons to prevent, where necessary, serious public disorder, serious disruption to the life of the community, serious damage to property or intimidation of others. The police will therefore have the same powers to deal with demonstrations around Parliament that they have for the rest of the country. Additionally, members of the public who wish to use the Parliament square gardens for a protest or rally will still need to seek the permission of the Mayor before they do so, in line with the byelaws that apply to the grass area.
James Brokenshire: I will come on to single protesters, because I accept that it is one of a number of points that are probably easier to deal with in this stand part debate, together with the broad headline points, rather than when we get into the detail of the drafting. I accept the point that the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd raised about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. We have been looking very carefully, with our lawyers and our legal team, at how the provisions are prepared, recognising that, as we have seen from previous legislation, it will be subject to challenge, and that there will be those who look for opportunities around that. I hope that from my comments, both on this stand part debate and when we get into the detail, hon. Members will see the consideration that we have given to a number of those points in order to test and to make sure that the provisions are a robust
We are clear that everyone must have the right to protest peacefully in the area around Parliament, and we believe that the police should have the same powers to police protests in that area as they do in the rest of the country. Understandably and rightly, Parliament square is a focus for protesters, but it is a limited space, and that is why we are bringing forward the provisions—so that everyone can access the square equally and enjoy its amenities. I know that that is the strongly-held view of members of the Committee and—as I know from conversations I have had outside the Committee with MPs—of Members across the House.
The approach that we are taking is to apply the law to everyone, not just protesters, in order to clarify that the issue being addressed is the taking over of public space. Our provisions are not about dictating who can and cannot be in Parliament square, or how long they can be there; they are about ensuring that the minority does not usurp the rights of the majority. As long as individuals are abiding by the byelaws that protect the Parliament square gardens and are not committing any other offences, we are not concerned if individuals choose to remain on the square.
By limiting the area to which the provisions apply and the type of activity that is prohibited, we intend to take a proportionate and targeted response to a documented problem of encampments in a specific location. In doing so, we are focused on addressing an evidenced harm. The area around Parliament is, understandably, one of the most protested-in areas in the country, and the measures are about ensuring that the right to protest is respected, in a proportionate way, while addressing the issue of encampments and fair access to the space. I stress the interrelationship between the provisions in the Bill and the byelaws that operate in the square and the surrounding areas. When we come to later provisions in this part of the Bill, the importance that we place on clause 148, which is on the enforcement of byelaws and the power of seizure, will speak to some of the displacement issues raised by Westminster city council. We believe that there is a mechanism in place to deal with its concerns.
The hon. Member for Gedling highlighted the current situation as regards certain legal actions. The Greater London authority’s action is ongoing in the High Court. Westminster city council has served notices of its intention to issue proceedings regarding the current encampment on the pavement directly in front of the House of Commons. Some individuals left following those notices, and Westminster city council has indicated that it intends to issue proceedings in respect of the notices that have been served. That is the latest information that I have.
James Brokenshire: The actions that are being taken should be seen as dealing with the short-term or temporary measures. There is a recognition from the Metropolitan police, Westminster city council and the Greater London authority that there is a need for a long-term settlement.
The hon. Member for Gedling also highlighted the 1839 Act and how some of these provisions relate to old law. The Sessional Orders are viewed by the Lords authorities as providing a good indication as to expectations on access and certain other issues, which highlights the fact that, in many ways, there are practical issues that need to be considered. Sometimes, setting things out in statute does not necessarily deal with some of those practical issues. We are in discussions with the Metropolitan police and the House authorities on those specific provisions on access.
The issue of security has been raised. We have to be careful about blurring the line between security and protest. Separate provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 relate to security as distinct from protest. Blurring the two is not the right way to proceed on the matter, because, in essence, security issues arise from large gatherings, whether they be protests or otherwise. I will talk more about some of the issues that the Metropolitan police highlighted, but it is important to make that broader, high-level, point.
The hon. Member for Gedling highlighted the specific matter of noise amplification versus drums, and so on. Parts 3 and 4 will prohibit activities that Parliament and the public find offensive and disruptive. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the noise and disruption caused by drums. It is worth mentioning, however, that a Greater London authority byelaw requires people to have the Mayor’s permission to use any musical instrument in Parliament Square gardens. There is, therefore, an interrelationship between existing byelaws and the specific issues with which we seek to deal. Noise amplification is the concern that hon. Members have highlighted the most in recent years, which is why we address it in the Bill. We recognise, however, the ancillary powers under byelaws, which cover other issues that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge expressed concern about retrospection in relation to section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, which applies to public assemblies. The measure is not retrospective at all, but deals with a transition point from SOCPA to section 14 of the 1986 Act. It is about setting out that transition clearly and is not about retrospection.
The hon. Member for Gedling mentioned some of the points that the Metropolitan police service raised on the provisions, which I shall address specifically. I do not underestimate the enforcement challenges that are involved in securing the enjoyment of Parliament square for all. Determined individuals will try to circumvent the measures and there are genuine challenges in balancing different rights. The Metropolitan police service, the
Some people have said, “Maybe you should have taken more robust measures— maybe you should have extended them further.” This, however, is a question of proportionality and balance. We think that the provisions strike that appropriate balance in how they are framed and how they are intended to operate. One of the key drivers for repealing SOCPA is that the position on protests should apply to the area around Parliament in the same way that it does to any other area in the country. I hope that such a position will help operationally by applying the same law across the Metropolitan police districts instead of applying one law on one side of the line, and another on the other.
If someone wants to protest overnight, they may do so. The Government do not accept, however, that they should be entitled to erect temporary structures and take over public space to do so. Discretion and balance must be applied, and we will continue to discuss that with the Metropolitan police service. We recognise that any new law will be robustly tested by determined individuals, so we have tried to capture the attempts to circumvent the legislation that were raised by the police. I am sure that we will look at those in detail as we debate the Bill’s substantive provisions.
Vernon Coaker: Will the Minister reiterate that point? For absolute clarity, is he saying that overnight protest in Parliament square will still be allowed under the provisions? Is he also saying—this is where there will be some difficulty—that protesters will not be allowed to erect any sort of structure? I appreciate the point about “overnight” and we will come to what is meant by “permanent”, but it is important that people understand that overnight protest will be allowed. There is a problem about what is meant by “structure”.
James Brokenshire: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but tents and overnight structures are the issues that have been highlighted. We can look at the relevant clauses in relation to the directions power that exists for the police. The Government are clear that it is important that there should be a discretionary element to the provisions. That is consistent with the police service’s wider call to return discretion to the police and to trust the professional judgment of officers in that regard. It is important to make that point in this context.
We have considered lone individuals—I said I would come back to this point—and have decided that the power to deal with lone individuals is not deemed necessary in the rest of the country. Following the principles of providing clarity for the police, the Government see no compelling reason for the police to have specific powers to control an individual who is protesting around Parliament. That does not mean that they are immune from the wider criminal law—for example, obstructing the highway, committing public order offences, breaching byelaws or failing to comply with the proposed new directions in the Bill. It is appropriate to have the same operation of law outside Parliament, in the same way that it applies in the rest of the country. I have not been persuaded of the need to make separate provision.
I will return to the issue of preventing security. We need to be careful about conflating protest with terrorism, when there is no evidence that the protest, more than any other large gathering, poses a distinct security risk. To do so would be at odds with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary report “Adapting to Protest”, which was clear that the police had sufficient powers to manage public order and that changes to the law were unhelpful. As far as I understand it, the security issues around SOCPA have been used to limit the size of Brian Haw’s encampment, out of concern that devices could be hidden in tents. That is why tents are prohibited under the Bill. This measure is about dealing with any of those security issues.
Since sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA came into force, physical security measures around Parliament have been increased. There are operational measures in place for the protection of certain areas and it is fair to say that Whitehall is probably one of the safest of places. That is why Lord Carlile said that he was not convinced of the need to have special powers to operate around Parliament. We need to be careful about conflating the two issues, and ensure that we are focused on the problems that we have heard about this morning, as well as being quite distinct when looking at protest.
A number of issues will need to be carefully considered as we examine the specific provisions of this part of the Bill. The proposals that we have set forth are proportionate and address the concerns expressed by hon. Members and by others outside the House. I recognise the points that have been made, and it is important that Parliament has its role in the consideration of these matters, given that the provisions affect Parliament so directly.
I welcome our debate in the broad sense. It is important that we as a Committee, and Parliament in general, examine the provisions properly and consider them carefully. I hope that, on that examination, the Committee and the House will recognise that the provisions strike the right balance, will be effective and address the concerns that have been highlighted for some time.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for his response; a couple of points arise from it. I love the explanation of these measures being not retrospective, but transitional. I would love to delve deeper into that, but there we are—I shall have to leave it at that.
The Minister said that the Government do not want the provisions to apply to individuals, despite what the police have said. One problem is that there could be 15 individuals outside Parliament. Also, he did not deal with what is meant by “permanent”, so we will have to come back to that. All members of the Committee agree that a permanent protest that becomes an encampment is a cause for concern. We have already established that it is possible for people to stay overnight in Parliament square, provided that they do not use a structure. That is a step forward, and that is clear from what the Minister said.
Without being silly about it—I would be interested in what other members of the Committee think—I do not think it unacceptable for people to stay for two, three or four nights. I appreciate that, at some point, a protest turns into a permanent encampment, but as we go through the legislation, we need to explore what that means. The right of people to protest for a period is a
The legislation is still not clear, however. How long is it acceptable for someone to stay in Parliament square and protest in a democratic, non-violent way? That will become an issue somewhere along the line.
Mark Tami: Can my hon. Friend envisage a situation in which one person comes to protest and stays for one or two nights, then someone else takes over? In some ways, that is a permanent protest, but it involves different individuals.
Vernon Coaker: Of course, and that, again, is part of the problem. We have established, and the Minister has agreed, that an overnight protest in Parliament square is appropriate and allowable, provided no structure is used. The key question is exactly as my hon. Friend says: we could have a rolling programme of different people coming for 58 nights, 365 nights or whatever. Although there may be all sorts of possibilities and maybes, we face real difficulties when we are legislating, because of how the legislation is interpreted and the way it is perceived and acted upon.
James Brokenshire: Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, I want to test whether he has a problem with continuing protests. I do not want to put words in his mouth, but it is important to understand where he stands. Does he support our point that tents and structures appear to be the problem, regardless of the right of people to protest?
Vernon Coaker: One of the advantages of standing where I am now is that that issue is for the Minister to sort out. I am simply saying that there are potential loopholes. Of course I accept that it is difficult to determine whether a protest has moved from overnight to permanent, and of course I do not want somebody trying to use loopholes to overcome the intention of the legislation, but we are scrutinising the Bill, and highlighting loopholes and potential problems is part of the process of trying to ensure that we get legislation that works, which is what the Minister and I want.
James Brokenshire: If it is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, I will say that, with regard to the issue of permanence, as far as the Government are concerned, people can remain outside and protest as long as they like, so long as they do not breach byelaws, contravene any criminal law or fail to comply with a direction. We are seeking to make it clear that that is how the provision is intended to operate.
Vernon Coaker: I think that is helpful. We have moved from having no definition of “permanent” to starting to address what it might mean. The Minister says that someone can stay outside for a long time, provided that they do not breach the law. That is a statement of the obvious, but it is helpful to have it on the record, because I am sure that when people read the report of our proceedings, they will see what he has just said—a
I agree with the Minister that this has been a worthwhile and interesting debate. The Committee is united in saying that the SOCPA provisions should go and that we need to put in place a workable solution. He is absolutely right to say that, as far as possible, what we have outside Parliament should replicate the law in the rest of the country and that we do not make special provision unless it is necessary. I am sure that when we discuss the later clauses in Committee, and when the Bill is considered further on Report and in the other place, there will be significant debate on the issues, but our debate on individual protests and whether people can stay overnight, in addition to the clarification on permanence, has allowed us to move forward considerably. I am sure that our debate will be read with interest by people outside, and I thank the Minister for his comments.
The amendment follows on from the discussions that we have just been having. Given that we had such difficulty defining the area that we are trying to protect and preventing the types of protest that we find unacceptable, I am trying to understand, through the device of the amendment, how the Government came to define the prohibited area under the clause. I am also trying to understand whether we can be confident that that will be sufficient to meet the Government’s intentions and not simply move the protest to some other part of the area or an adjacent street. Rather than deal once and for all with the problem that has bedevilled us for several years, will it be shifted to another location, where the whole routine may start again?
This is a basic and simple probing amendment. I am trying to understand how the Minister arrived at the definition of the prohibited area under the clause, and I am anxious to hear whether he is confident that that will do the job this time and whether he recognises the anxiety that the problem could simply be transferred elsewhere.
The Minister will say that Westminster city council’s existing byelaws can deal with the issue. The problem for the Minister is that the people responsible for the byelaws do not agree with him; Westminster city council says that there is a problem. The argument is, “The hon. Member for Gedling doesn’t have to worry, because the byelaws are sufficient to deal with it”, but that is not what the council responsible for the byelaws says. The Minister can turn round and say that there is no problem, but I am simply telling him what Westminster city council says. I do not propose that we should accept this, but the council map covers a fairly wide area. The Minister will be able to tell me whether it is bigger than the existing area. It points not only to the pavements across the road but to the gardens down the road; supposing the protestors all pitch up there? I do not know if that is Westminster city council’s responsibility.
Who owns College green? The media put up their tents there, so are they affected by the measures? I bet the Minister does not get the media to take their tents down. The serious point is that Westminster city council raised the issue of College green, the gardens next to Parliament and the pavements. It is a serious problem. We are not trying to destroy the Bill; we are saying that the unintended consequences will be exploited. We have seen that the protestors outside Parliament are extremely adept at using the law and loopholes in the law to avoid being moved on and, in many ways, to thwart the will of Parliament and MPs to deal with the issues sensibly and proportionately.
Why does Westminster city council say that there is a problem, if the Minister says there is not? Does the council have it wrong? Does it not understand its own byelaws? Is it because the GLA owns or controls that area? I may have missed them, but I have not seen any representations from the GLA with respect to the grassed area. If I have missed something from the GLA, will the Minister correct me? What is the GLA’s view about the grassed area?
Dr Huppert: We heard comments about probing amendments, but I am still unclear as to whether the Opposition know what a probing amendment is. For clarity, is the hon. Gentleman calling for restrictions to cover a wider area than the Government propose?
Vernon Coaker: No. One thing about being in opposition, as the hon. Gentleman will find, is that someone can put down any amendment they want and not have to vote for it, whereas he has to vote for stuff to put it into law, or not vote as the case may be.
The point I am making to the hon. Member for Cambridge is that the amendment was tabled to see what the Government’s thinking is on the problems that Westminster city council raised. The alternative is for us all just to sit here and wave the Bill through, but scrutiny is not about that.
Westminster city council has clearly and properly raised a problem with the Bill, because, in line with the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, all that will happen is that people will cross the road. The Minister and the hon. Member for Northampton North say that will not happen because there are byelaws to deal with it. That is a reasonable point and it holds water except for the fact that the council that enforces the byelaws says they do not work. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say, and no doubt we will respond accordingly.
James Brokenshire: I note the way the amendment was moved. One of the reasons why we sought to define the area was to deal with “highway” in that context. The controlled area under the clause is deliberately small. Members of the Committee will be aware of the map at the back of the explanatory notes, to which the hon. Member for Gedling rightly drew attention. We could have left things open for the sake of drafting, but we considered it important to provide further clarity on what the controlled area encompassed. Clarity is vital, and the area covered by the amendment would not provide the public with a level of general clarity. The amendment aims to broaden the controlled area to the roads and pavements around the island, but our approach is premised on a proportionate, targeted response; it is the minimum necessary to deal with a particular misuse of tents and structures on Parliament square gardens and the footways, which have been well documented.
We want to ensure that the area where the new regime applies is as small as possible so that it targets the problem of the unique situation of Parliament square, without extending matters further than necessary to strike a focused and proportional balance. However, we recognise worries that the controlled area is small by its nature and that the effect of such measures could displace disruptive activities to footways beyond the controlled area. Displacement is a risk, and I do not underestimate the determined individuals who will be looking at different ways to challenge new measures that we seek to bring into force. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman’s point, but we have been working with Westminster city council and the GLA to ensure that relevant byelaws are strengthened to deal with disruptive activity in the wider area.
Obstruction of the highway will more clearly apply to the roads and pavements around Parliament square, given their far greater vehicular and pedestrian usage, and footfall. Our approach is aimed at targeting specific problems in the Parliament square area, empowering local authorities to take action by giving them the ability to enforce relevant byelaws more effectively. In the context of what the hon. Member for Gedling said about Westminster city council, I have met the council on several occasions and am well aware of its concerns.
However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that at my recent meeting with the council, after the note that it circulated to the Committee, it supported strengthening
“The Mayor welcomes the Bill’s provisions on Parliament Square Garden (PSG) and considers that it will enable the more effective management of camped protests in PSG. The Mayor particularly supports vesting officers with powers of seizure in respect of prohibited activities and, more generally, breaches of byelaws.”
With those comments, I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak will withdraw the amendment. Although I recognise the point that he wants to make, I hope that with the assurances I have given, he will accept that it is something we have carefully considered.
Vernon Coaker: These are serious amendments. We have led with amendment 618, but a series of other amendments delete “or authorised officer” in various clauses. I should say at the outset that, of course, there are many examples of authorised personnel of local
I understand that the power that an authorised officer has, in Parliament square in particular, is limited; he cannot do many of the things that a warranted officer does outside Parliament square, and the Bill effectively excludes and leaves out the authorised officer. Notwithstanding that, there are significant powers that an authorised officer can use, including, in Parliament square, the use of reasonable force. Given the agendas of the hon. Members for Edinburgh West and for Cambridge in particular, I find it difficult to understand that they can actually support authorised personnel, who are not warranted police officers, being able to use reasonable force to police protest. It is an incredible increase in the powers we are willing to give people who are not warranted officers.
Dr Huppert: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that I said “state-sanctioned violence”. The point is that we sanction the use of violence, of reasonable force, by the police. That is a very good thing. It is not a criticism of the police doing that; it is an example of our allowing what we would not, in general, encourage other people to do. That was what was meant and I am sorry if Opposition Members did not understand it.
Vernon Coaker: It was not only Opposition Members who did not understand. Even given the point he has just made, I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise on reflection that saying that we sanction the police to commit violence is not quite what we do.
Vernon Coaker: That was the comment of the chief constable of West Midlands police. Whether it was about sanctioning violence or whatever, the hon. Member for Cambridge will recognise on reflection that there were probably better ways of explaining what he meant.
“Of course, individual citizens already have a right to use reasonable force to protect themselves or their property, and the measure would be an extension of that. Obviously, police officers are currently answerable to the law, but we operate with a lot of training, within a legislative framework, and with a significantly negotiated police regulatory structure and a misconduct procedure. The provision on the use of force would make us nervous. At the moment, when people are asked to move, they are generally asked to do so by bailiffs, and we stand by to prevent a breach of the peace”.
“I am also very nervous about non-police personnel exercising those powers. Technically, we all have the power of citizen’s arrest, but with the exception of Mr Straw and a few other politicians who have exercised it over the years, most of us do not run around arresting one another, and most of us would be ill-equipped to do so effectively and sensibly.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 20 January 2011; c. 113, Q215.]
Steve McCabe: Has my hon. Friend given any thought to who “other authorised officers” might be in that context? I wonder whether the term would extend to members of private security firms, particularly given recent news reports about G4S security.
Vernon Coaker: No doubt the Minister will provide clarification, because I, too, am not sure exactly who that term applies to. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is very keen on outsourcing, as he said in a recent speech, and it will be interesting to know what the limitations are on outsourcing in this area.
“I know that it is difficult enough as a police officer to get a lawful order given by a uniform to be accepted and acted upon, especially in stressful situations. You tend to find that different types of people will accept it, and others will say, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ We are potentially exacerbating that situation by asking those same people to accept that same type of, albeit lawful, order from a non-uniformed person, and we could make the situation worse.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 20 January 2011; c. 114, Q219.]
I could not have put that better myself; it is a very good point. If the hon. Gentleman means it, which he clearly does, he will be as concerned as I am about the extension of powers to authorised people.
How will someone know that such people are authorised? Will they have a card to show it? How do we know that that will not be easily replicated? Who exactly are the authorised people? If they are authorised for Parliament square and they run across the road, presumably their powers will stop. Do the powers operate only within the defined area?
The Minister will know that I am not splitting hairs. Supposing someone jumps off the pavement just a couple of feet into the road, so that he is just outside the boundary. Does that mean that authorised persons’ powers would completely stop? The hon. Member for
On reasonable force, what on earth do we mean? What is “reasonable”? Someone resists, and the authorised people are okay—they can force, fight and struggle to remove the tent, loudhailer or structure from him. Are they allowed to take him away, or do they have to hand him over to a police officer? It is unclear to me, because clause 141 says:
“A constable or authorised officer who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is doing, or is about to do, a prohibited activity may direct the person…to cease doing that activity, or…not to start doing that activity.”
The problem, as the MPS says, is that that places a huge burden on individual police officers’ interpretation of the law. If one of the most senior MPS officers says that it puts a great deal of emphasis on trained police officers to interpret the law, what sort of burden does it put on authorised officers—non-warranted people—in their interpretation of it?
Steve McCabe: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not think that any member of the Committee wants to make it difficult for the Minister to achieve his aims, but the issue is the interpretation. My hon. Friend asked earlier how the authorised officer would be identified. Will that not be crucial, particularly when it comes to seizing equipment? Someone might believe that they were being robbed, and could inadvertently find themselves part of a much bigger incident, if they did not know who the individual trying to seize their equipment was.
Vernon Coaker: That is an extremely important point, and presumably the Minister will tell us about the identification. Without clarity on the procedure, there will be real doubt. There are also things that cannot be written down—including training, experience and the way in which one has conducted oneself—that will relate to the interpretation of the law.
The Bill states that, in policing protests—not dog fouling—an authorised officer of the council has the necessary experience, training, skills and qualities to deal with what will potentially be a hugely stressful situation; that authorised officer in Parliament square will be seeking to take away tents or loudspeakers, or other structures or equipment. The power of my point is that it is not just me saying it, but one of the most senior Metropolitan police officers, in her additional memorandum to the Committee.
Michael Ellis: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there are others who are authorised to act in a reasonable manner in other and numerous circumstances in our society? Bailiffs, nightclub door staff and security guards in supermarkets and shopping centres, for example,
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Northampton North, I said at the beginning that this context is different. It is the policing of protest in some of the most controversial and difficult circumstances, which is a completely different ball game from dog fouling and, with respect, from the valuable work that security people in supermarkets do. It would be perfectly fair if he disagreed with that because that would be his point of view, but this is different.
There is potential for real problems of a democratic clash between people of different opinions. Look at the difficulty that warranted police officers—some of the most experienced police officers—sometimes have outside Parliament. Yet we are saying that in Parliament square, one of the most symbolic areas of our country for obvious reasons, authorised police officers will have the power of seizure and forfeiture, and will be able to use reasonable force.
“The MPS is concerned that the Bill as currently drafted could be challenged, both on the detail of what behaviours are prohibited and on the proportionality of any decision to enforce in an individual case. This would necessitate the defence of the decisions of individual officers”—
She wrote that about police officers, but I think it can be applied to authorised officers. If the measure is a concern with warranted police officers, with all their training, it is a huge concern with authorised personnel.
Steve McCabe: Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd, is it not the case that people such as bailiffs or doormen are regularly involved in physical confrontations with the public? Was that not one of the arguments for introducing the Security Industry Authority, which I am sad to see is to be abolished? Surely the one thing that we do not want to happen in Parliament square is a series of physical confrontations; the whole object of the legislation is to try to clear away the current problem and reduce the potential for future ones.
Vernon Coaker: That is absolutely right. Obviously, a police officer can use reasonable force in any legal, proportionate and appropriate circumstances, but we are giving authorised officers—council officials and employees, or others—and warranted police officers the right to do so in Parliament square. The measure is a big extension of power.
I return to the point that was reasonably made by the hon. Member for Northampton North. I cannot for the life of me see how the present situation—with all the various ways in which people can use powers relating to bailiffs, dog fouling, littering, security personnel and so on—translates into meaning that it is okay for people to be involved in the policing of protests outside Parliament. That is a completely different ball game. I can only begin to imagine some of the consequences of council employees going out with their badges and trying to clear tents or structures. That is a real problem.
Chris Ruane: My hon. Friend refers to highly trained and experienced police officers sometimes getting into tight situations. There was a death last year of someone who was not even a protestor—he was a newspaper man—and there was Blair Peach in the 1980s. If such police officers can sometimes get it wrong, what chance do those authorised people have of getting it right? They will be in stressful situations—there is a mob mentality out there. If authorised people are not highly trained and experienced, it is a recipe for disaster.
Does the Minister agree that the measure might be regarded as a back-door way to fill police and police community support officer numbers? If we are cutting back on such trained personnel, perhaps this is a way to get hundreds of authorised people in through the back door nice and cheaply.
Vernon Coaker: It certainly is the case that warranted police officers have had significant trouble in policing protests, even with all their experience and training. Now, in one of the most symbolic and highly charged atmospheres—outside Parliament—we are going to give, in many respects, the same rights to authorised officers. That is a problem.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Would the hon. Gentleman care to note that last week the Mayor of London announced that he intended to ensure that by the end of his term of office, there would be more sworn police officers in London than he inherited from the previous Mayor, contrary to the implication made by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd?
Vernon Coaker: I am not totally sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd was making that implication. My understanding is that wherever the numbers go from and to, the Mayor’s intention is to ensure that they go up just before the election and drop afterwards.
Chris Ruane: The Minister just cited the example that the Mayor of London is going to put more police community support officers on the street. Is that an admission on the Minister’s part that what the national Government are doing is wrong, and that he will make up the mistake?
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there appears to be some inconsistency at the heart of the Government’s thinking? On the one hand, they are committed to rolling back the powers of local authority officers, which they feel have gone too far, but on the other, in this case, they want to extend the powers to those officers. I simply do not understand the consistency there.
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is why I was gently chiding and challenging the two Liberal Democrat members of the Committee. This is a significant extension of power for non-warranted officers. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West made the point in Committee.
I would like to say to my hon. Friend that there is a later clause, which I know all Committee members will have seen, that contains an astonishing extension of powers. We will see whether other Committee members agree. For now, I will see what the Minister or other members of the Committee have to say about the amendment.
Dr Huppert: This has been a fairly heated discussion, and I have some concerns about the issue. First, let me say that I agreed with the hon. Member for Gedling, which I do not always do, when he said that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West spoke extremely well in the evidence sessions and throughout our sittings.
I have had a number of discussions with the Minister about the issue, trying to understand how he understands the role of such alternative officers. We give police officers certain responsibilities and allow them to use force and violence under controlled circumstances. That is a hard thing to manage, and it is tough for the police to work out. They do not always get it right. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that it is a tough balance for the police. They struggle to get it right in all cases, so there are questions.
The hon. Member for Gedling talked about whether other authorised officers would have the skills, and I, too, think there are questions about that. I have spoken
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the amendment and his concerns, but there are a number of ways in which the Government may address them other than through the amendment. I would rather hear from the Minister a range of different solutions to the problem. If one took in all the possibilities, I would have real concerns. If they are constrained—whether by changes in the legislation, which the Minister might wish to continue with, or by clear guidance and controls on such people as a secondary option—then the concern rightly raised by the hon. Member for Gedling could be dealt with in another way.
I have faith that the Minister’s response will be helpful and constructive, and that he is not trying to turn Britain into a police state; I think that that was the last Government’s direction rather than this Government’s. I look forward to hearing his comments.
Bridget Phillipson: I seek clarification from the Minister on a number of points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). The hon. Member for Cambridge appears to be concerned, but I am not sure what he is suggesting the Government should do to allay those concerns. That is somewhat unclear to me. He seems not to like the fact that the Government are suggesting that authorised persons should be able to take on some roles, but I am not sure what he is suggesting as an alternative to our amendment.
Dr Huppert: For example, I raised issues about uniform status, identity status, whether they have full powers to give directions for 90 days—we will come to that shortly—how they identify themselves, how they are controlled and how they are supervised. It was a range of issues. I did not feel the need to give the Committee every possible example; I am sure that the Minister will deal with them.
I have some concerns about non-uniformed council staff. Could they approach members of the public? Will members of the public be able to ask for ID and check such people’s identity? What safeguards will be put in place if a member of the public wants to complain about the conduct of an authorised person? It is clear when one is being approached by a police officer. They are either in uniform or carrying a warrant card. Most members of the public are clear about how to complain if they are unhappy about the treatment that they have received at the hands of a police officer. I am not sure that that will necessarily be the case if they are approached by a non-uniformed, non-ID-carrying member of council staff.
Bridget Phillipson: I think that there is potential for confusion, particularly in difficult and pressurised situations. Police officers are trained to a high standard and receive training that allows them to deal with such situations, but the highly pressurised environment of a protest can prove difficult even for uniformed police officers. I expect that it might prove even more difficult for a less well trained, less suitably qualified authorised person and might actually inflame situations further when that need not necessarily be the outcome.
We heard the comments made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West during the evidence session. He made the good point that certain situations can be difficult even for police officers, and that we must be careful when people are protesting not to inflame the situation further by handling it inappropriately. There is a far greater risk of that happening with an authorised officer acting on behalf of a local authority than with a police officer.
I am not quite sure how all the provisions make for a consistent picture of Government thinking. As I said earlier in an intervention, the Government tell us that they want to roll back powers where they feel that local authorities have overstepped the mark, such as in the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. However, in this instance, they are seeking to expand the powers of particular local authorities or local authority staff. I do not understand how those two things fit together. Will the Minister clarify it?
Chris Ruane: On the issue of local authority staff being asked to take on those onerous positions, does my hon. Friend think that that could lead to undue pressure on council staff? They may be forced into situations that result in conflict and violence. Such undue pressure is unnecessary, if those are truly the functions of police officers.
Bridget Phillipson: People could be in very difficult situations, particularly if they are not suitably experienced or trained in handling conflict situations, which the police deal with day in, day out as part of their job.
Will the Minister tell the Committee which local authority officers he intends should carry out such functions? Which people is he talking about? Is it civil enforcement officers such as traffic wardens, or the people who issue tickets for dog fouling or littering? It is a big leap from that to policing protests in Parliament square. Will the Minister explain who will carry out those functions?
I do not understand the consistency. It is important to have adequate safeguards in place so that when the public are approached by someone claiming to be operating on behalf of a public body—for example, a council—they are confident of the identity of that person and can ask for identification if required. It is important to have suitable safeguards in place should they wish to complain about the conduct of that person, if such an occasion were to arise. There are several serious issues at the
James Brokenshire: At the outset, I should say that it is interesting how the measure has been characterised in terms of authorised officers policing protests. We need to be very clear about the provisions in the Bill and the power to seize property in clause 143. We have not got on to that clause yet, but it is important to stress the context of how such power will be vested. Suggesting that there will be an overarching power of delegation to local authorities to manage widespread protest is wide of the mark. It is important for me to explain the basis upon which we have sought to provide that power in the Bill.
The Chair: If there is anybody causing undue noise and disturbance, I am ruling it out of order, irrespective of what the official ruling is. A reasonable amount of noise is tolerated in the normal vicissitudes of Committee work. Increasing and enhancing noise is not allowable—not while I am in the Chair. Whatever the activity is, it is obviously disturbing other members of the Committee. I am not conscious of it, but I ask all members of the Committee to observe the rules and keep noise to a minimum.
Steve McCabe: Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I apologise, but I may not have made myself clear. I was asking whether it is permitted to give an electronic account of the Committee’s proceedings while it is taking place, and is there any check on whether that account is accurate?
The Chair: It is not permissible to give an electronic account of the Committee’s proceedings, so if anybody is indulging in such activity, I caution them. I have no evidence that it is going on, but if it is going on and I find out about it, it will result in serious repercussions. Although I have no evidence, I am ruling now that it has to stop.
Dr Huppert: Further to that point of order, Mr Benton. I would be grateful if you could expand on that. There have been previous discussions with the Speaker’s office that have ruled that it is acceptable. I will happily accept your ruling for this Committee, but I would be interested in your commentary on it. The Members’ handbook is relatively clear.
The Chair: The point of order that was put to me was whether it was permissible for minutes or a report of the sitting to be dispatched. I say that that is out of order. The Speaker has made no ruling on that at all. It is out of order if that is what is happening. I am not aware of what is happening; someone has suggested to me that it
James Brokenshire: Thank you, Mr Benton. As I was saying, as the Committee is aware, the GLA manages the central garden, including the two footways, and Westminster city council controls the other two footways, opposite Westminster abbey and the Palace of Westminster. The GLA and Westminster city council are effectively responsible for what goes on in their areas, including ensuring that byelaws protecting those areas are complied with and that highways are not obstructed. The police’s role is to maintain the peace and prevent crime. We have always said that the provisions in part 3 need to work in tandem with strengthened local authority byelaws, which will need to be amended to bring them into line with the provisions of the Bill.
By removing the ability of the GLA and Westminster to enforce the new provisions on prohibited activity on their land, it would leave enforcement entirely as the police’s responsibility. In practice, that would mean that where, for example, a GLA heritage warden sees a person erecting a tent on the garden, he or she would be unable to direct that person to stop what they are doing, and would have to ask a police officer to issue the direction instead. That seems bureaucratic, time consuming and puts the onus entirely on the police. By way of another example, a person operating a loud speaker, in breach of any conditions imposed by either the GLA or Westminster, under the authorisation scheme provided for in clause 145, could not be directed by either the GLA or Westminster to cease operating the loud speaker. Enforcement would be left to a police officer.
Our provisions require a collaborative approach to enforcement by the Metropolitan police, the GLA and Westminster city council. That is a key to making our provisions work. By removing the ability of the GLA and Westminster to enforce the provisions, they are unlikely to work effectively to prevent encampments and other disruptive activity.
I assure the Committee that authorised officers, employed by the GLA, such as the heritage wardens, who are authorised to enforce the Parliament square byelaws, are readily identifiable to the public. Heritage wardens carry identification and wear a uniform. From the GLA, I understand that, to date, there have been no issues with their identification for the purposes of implementing the byelaws. From Westminster city council, I understand that its enforcement officers carry, as a matter of course, photo identification which they produce on demand and often routinely. They also carry documentation setting out their powers.
We are working with the GLA, Westminster and the Metropolitan police to draw up enforcement protocols and develop guidance. As part of that work, one of the
I also point out to the Committee that the enforcement of rights of seizure is not new. Officers authorised by Westminster city council already have many seizure powers, including in relation to unlicensed street trading and selling counterfeit goods, and so does the GLA, under its existing trading byelaws. Both the GLA and Westminster city council already deal with issues of identification, visibility and complaints in that context. I have been provided with a long list of various statutes under which rights of seizure already exist.
Michael Ellis: Does the Minister not find it a little rich that Labour should complain about the potential powers of authorised persons when numerous organisations were given extra powers to enter citizens’ homes in this country during the 13 years of the previous Government?
James Brokenshire: The issue of rights of entry is certainly a pertinent one. I think that about 1,200 rights of entry now exist, which is why we are seeking to address this issue in the Freedoms Bill and why we are re-establishing many of the liberties and freedoms that were eroded during the last Government’s time in office.
Steve McCabe: I do not want to go over what the Minister’s hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Northampton North, has said. However, I want to establish if it is right to say that this is a new power and is the point that the Minister is making—that it mirrors existing powers that local government officers have, but it is itself a new power of seizure—an accurate one?
James Brokenshire: I was seeking to draw a parallel and to make it clear that a local authority’s right of seizure is not new. Therefore, some of the points that have been highlighted in this debate are equally applicable to those rights of seizure in connection with other existing powers under byelaws and certain other statutory provisions that local authorities currently exercise. It is important to note that the proposed provision needs to work in the context of existing byelaws and other statutory provisions and that such a collaborative approach is required.
I again draw the attention of hon. Members to the comments of the Mayor of London, who particularly supported the vesting of officers with powers of seizure in respect of these provisions. Both Westminster city council and the GLA recognise that such powers of seizure are important in terms of ensuring that the provisions are enforced effectively.
However, I agree about the need for a collaborative approach and attendant training. Having a memorandum of understanding between the police, Westminster city council and the GLA is key to how that approach is intended to work and it will be developed further as part of the Bill.
I hope that, having provided that explanation as to the purpose, the context and the reasons why other protections are afforded, that the hon. Member for Gedling will be minded to withdraw his amendment.
Vernon Coaker: With respect to the Minister, I am not minded to withdraw the amendment. There is an important point of principle here, so I would like to push the amendment to a vote when it is appropriate to do so.
If you have somebody who says, “I think you’re about to use that loud hailer for the purposes of a protest, you haven’t started yet but I think you will, so I will seize that”, it will not be the loud hailer that resists but the person. The authorised person can use reasonable force to ensure that property seizure.
I will not repeat this endlessly, but the Minister’s response regarding the safeguards and his inability to recognise the real concerns about this measure that have been expressed not just by members of this Committee but by the police is inadequate. I am sure that we shall return to the matter.
James Brokenshire: In the context of what I said about the memorandum of understanding and the need for joint working, the hon. Gentleman will equally recognise situations in which the police work alongside other agencies that also have powers and that that collaborate approach can work extremely effectively. I caution him if he is saying that such powers have to be conducted by the police, even in the examples that I am giving. It would cause potential problems in enforcement generally if he were minded to pursue such matters, as well as practical issues in being able to ensure that local authorities and byelaw powers are properly enforced on seizing tents and other apparatus in circumstances when it would be wholly reasonable to do so.
Perhaps I should start by saying to the Minister that, like my previous amendment, the proposal under discussion is a probing amendment and I am not planning to press it to a Division. I want to be clear whether the definition under the Bill will have the effect that the hon. Gentleman intends. Dos we define “sleeping equipment” as narrowly as a sleeping bag, a mattress or something similar? Would that enable ingenious people desperate to get round the Minister’s aim to thwart his intentions by producing other material and equipment that might strictly fall outside the definition that could be used for the same purpose?
I ask that question because I would not like a series of silly and pointless disputes to take place when people argued that the equipment they were carrying were intended to be used for a solely different purpose. I have not had quite as much experience as the hon. Member for Northampton North, but I have spent enough hours in juvenile courts in the past to hear some ingenious excuses for pieces of equipment that individuals happen to have on their person at particular times.
Steve McCabe: I am afraid that I am not a soul mate, but I was speaking with experience of a former professional activity. I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but we will have to part company there.
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