Memorandum by the Countryside Alliance
As President of the Countryside Alliance I have
been closely involved with eight major demonstrations which have
taken place either within Parliament Square or which have passed
through it. The Alliance has, therefore, perhaps unique experience
of demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament over a number
of years. All save two were totally peaceful. All involved close
co-operation with the police. Where there were disturbances we
believe that co-operation had broken down.
The principal demonstrations were:
December 2000A vigil held in Parliament
Square during Second Reading of Hunting Bill in the Commons.
15 May 2002 to 22 September 2002A round
the clock vigil in Parliament Square.
22 September 2002The Liberty & Livelihood
March. 407,791 people march, with over 100,000 "marching
in spirit". This is the largest civil liberties march in
modern history culminating in Parliament Square.
16 December 2002A march from Hyde Park
Corner to Parliament Square for a mass lobby of Parliament, to
mark the Second Reading of the Government Hunting Bill in the
29 to 30 June 2003Women's Vigil over two
days to coincide with the Report of the Hunting Bill in the Commons.
9 July 2003Demonstration involving working
dogs, owners and handlers in Parliament Square during the Hunting
Bill's Third Reading in the Commons.
15 September 2004Demonstration in Parliament
Square, arranged at short notice to coincide with All Stages of
the Hunting Bill in the Commons.
On only two occasions did any public disorder
occur. The fact that the vast majority of demonstrations were
peaceful and orderly indicates that demonstrations involving Parliament
Square do not of themselves pose any greater risk of trouble than
demonstrations elsewhere. On the 16 December 2002 disturbance
occurred as a direct result of the police, without prior warning,
trying to prevent the march from reaching Parliament Square. On
the 15 September 2004, when more serious disturbances occurred
in Parliament Square, problems of crowd control was exacerbated
by inadequate police communications on the ground and some heavy
handed tactics. Stewards who identified trouble makers, unrelated
to the protestors, who appeared to be inciting an otherwise peaceful
crowd, were unable to liaise with police quickly enough to have
them removed effectively. There was inadequate communication on
the groundthe Countryside Alliance having been refused
permission for loud speakers in all corners of Parliament Square
in order to communicate with the crowd. Where organisers and police
work together and the policing is appropriate and sensitive then
trouble is rare.
The 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police
Act, in respect of Parliament Square has proved ineffective and
the Government's intention to repeal these provisions is welcome.
The ban on protest without police authorisation (the right to
assembly under the European Convention on Human Rights) is unacceptable
in a democracy.
The repeal of these provisions however, should
not be used to "harmonise" the differing regimes in
respect of marches and static assemblies under the Public Order
Act 1986. Such a move would seem inevitably to lead to considerably
more control of assemblies across the UK and would place unnecessary
limitations on the right to protest. The differences in the existing
regimes reflect practical considerations between a moving and
Harmonisation could result in the police being
able to arrest someone simply for handing out leaflets about a
local issue on their high street, even if he was law abiding in
every other respect. This is clearly unacceptable.
A requirement to give notice of protests, in
the designated area or elsewhere, is unacceptably bureaucratic
and threatens to criminalise spontaneous protest and to make people
feel unable or unwilling to participate.
Censorship of placards/banners, allowed under
the 2005 legislation, is absolutely unacceptable unless there
is a clear offence of incitement to violence or racial/religious
There is a substantial, and growing, array of
legislation and provisions already in place, giving the police
powers to control protestors throughout the UK. Around Parliament
the Sessional Orders are in place to ensure access by parliamentarians
and bye laws exist to protect the "World Heritage Site"
of Parliament Square.
The whole purpose behind a Constitutional Renewal
Bill must be to re-engage people with the process of government
and to encourage participation in our democracy, not to isolate
Parliament from the voice of the people and legitimate protest.
Lastly, Parliament is world famous not only
as a building but more importantly as the "mother of parliaments".
Free speech and the right to peaceful protest is an essential
prerequisite of a healthy democracy. It is important that these
freedoms are seen and understood not just by our own citizens
but by those who visit this country, sometimes from countries
which do not enjoy these freedoms. However unsightly a protest
may be the right to protest must be protected. Parliament's status
as a tourist attraction is incidental to its primary purpose and
the rights and freedoms which it embodies.
The provisions of the Serious Organised Crime
and Police Act 2005 are not a reasonable way to deal with demonstrations
around Parliament. They are too restrictive of the rights of freedom
of expression and assembly and have proven to be ill-defined and
hard to implement on a practical level, as legal cases have demonstrated.
Both the nature of conditions that can be imposed on demonstrations
and the circumstances in which conditions can be imposed are too
broadly defined. The rules should revert to those of the Public
Order Act 1986.
The powers under the Public Order Act 1986,
the byelaws relating to Parliament Square Garden and the requirements
place upon the police under Sessional Orders provide sufficient
powers to the police to deal with demonstrations in the vicinity
Parliament as the seat of our democracy is rightly
the focus of protest. It is imperative that the right to free
speech is protected and I am unpersuaded that the area around
Parliament should be treated differently than anywhere else in
the country. Demonstrations, under the 1986 Public Order Act and
other legal provisions give the police ample powers to ensure
the security of the public and Parliament and at the present there
is no case for additional police powers.
It should be noted that the current area designated
under the 2005 Act does not simply extend to Parliament and Parliament
Square but also covers civil service and security service buildings.
This was not what the 2005 Act was supposed to cover and indicates
a lack of proper distinction between Parliament and Government
and is a far greater area than that which would be required to
ensure the protection and proper functioning of Parliament. It
is unacceptable, for example that people such as Maya Evans and
Milan Rai should face criminal sanctions for protesting outside
Downing Street by reading out names of Iraqi and British dead
killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
We agree that the business of Parliament must
be allowed to continue unhindered and that the police need appropriate
powers to ensure that this takes place. The Sessional Orders,
which are renewed each session at the Opening of Parliament, require
that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police ensures that
access to Parliament is kept free. Although the Sessional Orders
do not confer any special powers of arrest on the police, they
are sufficient when taken together with other police powers, including
under the Public Order Act 1986, to deal with all ordinary occurrences.
In considering whether the police actually
need additional powers to enforce Sessional Orders, it is important
to remember that the Public Order Act 1986 already contains the
power for a senior police officer to impose conditions when he
or she considers that an assembly may cause "serious disruption
of the life of the community". This power would be activated
if any serious or prolonged disruption to parliamentarians was
reasonably envisaged. Given the variety of access points to the
Palace of Westminster and other parliamentary buildings, the obligations
on the police under Sessional Orders, when taken together with
existing police powers, are more than sufficient to ensure the
free movement of parliamentarians and their staff to and from
Parliament and to ensure the continued functioning of Parliament
during protests. The arguments of the police for additional/specific
powers is unfounded in our opinion.
In the case of persistent obstructions, general
powers such as the power to arrest for obstructing a police officer
in the execution of his duty, for breach of the peace, or for
public order offences would operate. For larger gatherings, the
Public Order Act 1986 provides powers to prevent disruptions to
the life of the community, for example. In addition, the Greater
London Authority has authority over the central gardens and Westminster
City Council has responsibility for the pavements, which can be
exercised in the event of serious obstructions.
While understanding the importance of ease of
access to parliamentary buildings and especially for divisions,
we would suggest that rather than unduly banning or restricting
demonstrations Parliament might consider other options to respond
to the very rare occasions when a protest might render access
to Parliament less easy. Parliamentarians have various options
for accessing Parliament which do not all access onto Parliament
Square itself. It is also worth remembering that any sizeable
assembly due to take place in Parliament Square, of the type capable
of causing a hindrance to parliamentarians, would be widely publicised
in advance, allowing the opportunity for suitable arrangements
to be made by the relevant authorities in Parliament.
Accepting that the right to demonstrate in a
peaceful and responsible way is a key human right and aspect of
democracy, Parliament could consider special provisions where
a particularly large demonstration has restricted access to the
Palace via one or more entrances involving for example greater
flexibility in the timing and duration of divisions.
The ban on loudspeakers in the designated area
is unacceptable because it makes protest ineffective. It is now
almost impossible for people to hear speeches at demonstrations
or for large groups of people to be addressed by organisers. This
is a significant infringement on freedom of assembly. It also
restricts the ability of peaceful protesters to co-ordinate, express
themselves collectively and protest effectively.
There is no doubt that excessive noise impinges
on the work of those working within the parliamentary estate.
This however is a small price to pay for free speech and it does
not prevent work continuing. Moreover, both chambers are sufficiently
removed from Parliament Square that it seems unlikely that noise
from the Square would make sitting impossible. The same would
apply to many other parts of the Palace.
Moreover the police have powers under the 1986
Act to place conditions on the place and duration of a static
demonstration which can be used to ensure that the use of loudspeakers
and any inconvenience caused is managed. In any case written permission
of the Mayor of London is required in respect of Parliament Square
Gardens for the use of a loudspeaker. What is required is a proportionate
and proper use of existing powers not draconian restrictions which
undermine basic democratic rights.
While unsightly and possibly irritating to some
parliamentarians tolerating longer term protests is a small price
to pay when what is at stake is a fundamental democratic right.
Bylaws already exist in respect of Parliament Square Gardens.
It is also against the law to block footpaths and public roads.
It would seem that the laws and police powers already exist to
prevent permanent encampments on Parliament Square or indeed elsewhere.
In respect of permanent protests, such as that mounted by Brian
Haw, there appears to be a lack of willingness by the authorities
to act not an absence of laws which allow them to do so. Between
the Mayor of London's byelaws, and other legislation the police
could remove him. Perhaps the reluctance of the respective authorities
to co-ordinate and use their powers is a healthy indication that
the right to protest is seen as more important than legal niceties,
or the aesthetics of the area around Parliament. The Countryside
Alliance throughout the summer of 2002 held a longstanding vigil
and a variety of themed protests, all of which were peaceful and
admirably tolerated by the authorities although there must be
doubt as to whether they were all within the strict letter of
The Government has stated that "we need
to ensure that all groups have the opportunity to protest peacefully
at the seat of the UK elected Parliament". Indeed former
Prime Minister Tony Blair famously said in a speech at the George
Bush Senior Presidential Library on 7 April 2002: "When
I pass protestors every day at Downing Street, and believe me,
you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they
call me, but I thank God they can. That's called freedom".
However, the Government also wants this to be
consistent with Parliament Square a World Heritage site and visitor
attraction. The right to protest is as much a part of that "heritage"
which should be celebrated, as the buildings. Parliament Square
is a "living" place and the presence of protestors is
in itself an example to the world that we are a free and democratic
society. While Brian Haw's protest is aesthetically unpleasing
it has commanded a huge amount of respect worldwide and is an
attraction for visitors. As I have said above the freedom to protest
is more important than any considerations which relate to Parliament
and its environs as a tourist attraction. The right of protest
must be safeguarded regardless of World Squares or indeed any
When discussing the Serious Organised Crime
and Police Act (Designated Area) Order 2005 on 14 July 2005, Lord
Dholakia reminded the House of Lords of the words of Lady Amos,
who had said, in response to questions on her Statement about
the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July: "On the issue
of democratic liberties, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord
Strathclyde, I cannot think of any other country in the world
where the demonstration that is going on right outside Parliament
this afternoonright outside my windowwould be going
on. We should take immense pride in that". [Official
Report, 11/07/05; col 905].
Following on from Lord Dholakia, Baroness Williams
of Crosby argued:
"Parliament is properly described as
`the people's house'. It is the house of the representatives of
the people; it is not a house that belongs to the Government,
but a house that belongs in the end to the people. Therefore,
there has to be some way in which the people can have access or
enable their feelings to be heard by Parliament. That is a duty
on Members of Parliament, as much as members of the Government,
and I find it extraordinary that we should be segregating members
of the public from those that they elected". [Official
Report, 14/07/05; col GC 154].
No evidence has been provided that the security
risk has been reduced around Parliament as a result of the 2005
Act. A public demonstration poses no more of a security risk than
large numbers of tourists. Moreover, the scope of the 2005 Act
which criminalises lone protesters undermines the official justification.
It is illogical to suppose that a single person demonstration
could pose a security risk or indeed hinder the business of Parliament;
or compromise the equal right of protest.
Under the 1986 Public Order Act the police already
have specific powers in respect of public safety and these are
more than adequate, coupled with powers of arrest.
Sections 11 to 14 of The Public Order Act 1986
cover public marches and public assemblies. A march involves people
moving along a route although the law does not define a minimum
number of persons who constitute a march. An assembly is defined
as two or more persons in a public place in the open air. It was
under the 1986 legislation that the various Countryside Alliance
demonstrations took place.
Under section 11 organisers of marches must
give advance notice to the police. Notice must be given six clear
days in advance, in writing and must include the date, time, proposed
route and name and address of the organiser.
Notice need not be given if it is not reasonably
practicable to do so as in the case of spontaneous marches and
if a march is planned at short notice then the organiser is required
to deliver notice as soon as reasonably practicable.
A senior police officer can impose conditions
if he reasonably believes the procession may result in:
1. Serious public disorder.
2. Serious damage to property.
3. Serious disruption to the life of the
4. Or, that the purpose of the march is to
coerce by intimidation.
Failure to comply with these provisions knowingly
and within one's control is a criminal offence.
Under Section 13 the chief officer of police
may apply to the local authority for an order banning a march
if he reasonably believes imposing conditions will not prevent
serious public disorder. Such an order requires the Home Secretary's
consent. In London the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis
may seek consent for such an order from the Home Secretary directly.
It is a criminal offence to participate in a banned march.
The importance of allowing spontaneous protest
has been highlighted in the recent case Bukta and Others v
Hungary (2007) in which the European Court of Human Rights
"in special circumstances when an immediate
response, in the form of a demonstration, to a political event
might be justified, a decision to disband the ensuing, peaceful
assembly solely because of the absence of the requisite prior
notice, without any illegal conduct by the participants, amounts
to a disproportionate restriction on freedom of peaceful assembly".
Unlike marches there is no requirement to give
prior notice to the police. In practice organisers usually consult
the police to ensure a safely managed event.
Section 14 does allow a senior police officer
to impose conditions on a public assembly for the same reasons
as given for marches above. However, conditions may only relate
3. Number of persons who may assemble.
There is however no power to ban a public assembly,
although under Section 14A of the Public Order Act the Chief Officer
of Police can apply to a district council for an Order prohibiting
the holding of a trespassory assembly ie one which is on land
to which the public has no, or limited right, of access, and where
it is likely to be held without permission of the landowner and
is likely to result in serious disruption to the life of the community.
A protest in Parliament Square Gardens would be a tresspassory
To require notification in all circumstances
is overly restrictive. The principle that notification should
be given by organisers as soon as possible is desirable but not
The existing law provides the police with ample
powers of arrest. In respect of persistent noise disruption, there
are the existing byelaws which cover Parliament Square Gardens
and under the 1986 Public Order Act there are provisions which
could be used to limit the duration of protests.