Examination of Witness (Questions 520-528)|
Mr Tony McNulty MP
17 JUNE 2008
Q520 Chairman: Is that not rather
suggesting that one could repeal SOCPA and put nothing in its
place because it is all there already?
Mr McNulty: The only narrow difference, as I
think I said right at the start, is what the House authorities
feel they need above and beyond a situation without SOCPA for
uninterrupted access, noise and other elements. I am saying that
we have come to the view with the assorted security paraphernalia,
the security police and everything else that now prevails on the
estate where SOCPA is no longer necessary. We can work from a
presumption of freedom to protest and demonstrate in the Square
within the wider legal framework. I am saying that but only save
for those two narrow dimensions that it is right and proper that
the House authorities are brought in to discuss further.
Q521 Lord Armstrong of Ilminster:
Would you like to see a compulsory prior notification scheme to
allow protests to be managed in an effective way?
Mr McNulty: Broadly it will be in the interests
of both the police and the other party, if there were prior notification,
but I do not think we start from the premise of it having to be,
as with SOCPA, compulsory.
Q522 Lord Armstrong of Ilminster:
Would you apply that only to groups over a certain size or would
you make that a general requirement?
Mr McNulty: I think general and one would hope
that the larger a demonstration the more rather than less goodwill
would prevail and things will be done by prior arrangement and
notification, which notwithstanding demonstrations around Parliament
is, as I understand it, what does prevail more or less in non
SOCPA areas, if I can use it that way.
Q523 Chairman: It was put by some
of the protester witnesses that we had that it was a good idea
to give notice but a principal objection to doing so as a matter
of law. Would you see room for legislation which gave different
rights to those that gave notice as opposed to those that refused
to do so?
Mr McNulty: No, I do not think so. I think the
distinction should be between those who would duly act and behave
within the confines of the law and those who do not. I think that
is the important distinction and that the framework within which
people have the right to protest or demonstrate outside this very
building should, as much as possible, notwithstanding what I said
about discussing noise and access with the House authorities,
be as much the same as people's rights to demonstrate or protest
outside any other building. Those are the two things that govern
us, I think.
Q524 Chairman: Are you aware of any
problems before SOCPA by the non-giving of notice? I appreciate
that in most cases notice is given as a matter of common-sense,
but where it did not happen are you aware of any examples where
there were problems when notice was not given?
Mr McNulty: Not off the top of my head. I am
trying to think now whether when someone gave Winston Churchill
a grass Mohican I am sure that pre-dated SOCPA but was at a weekend
so it was not as troublesome or problematic as it may have been
had the House been sitting with all the incumbent traffic and
everything else, but that sort of demo as far as I know, both
if I may say from an MP observing and further back in the midst
of time as a participant, I have not noticed any major difficulties
of that order pre SOCPA that go to the point about notification
because, in the main, certainly when I was doing it we were all
terribly well behaved and there was due notice given and everything
else as part of the process because that is clearly in the demonstration
organisers' interests as much as otherwise. I do not think the
notion of spontaneous guerrilla "we're never going to
tell you when we're going to come but we're coming" type
demos around the Square have been that much of a problem in the
past, although notwithstanding what I said about Winston Churchill
with the Mohican.
Q525 Sir George Young: Can we go
back to the answer which you gave to Emily Thornberry when she
asked you about noise. I wrote down what you said about the powers
and I think you said these are not terribly strong anyway. This
confirms what we heard from the police, that if somebody repeatedly
makes a lot of noise that does not score under the conditions
under PACE for actually taking any powers. Do I take it from what
you said earlier that you would support more powers for the police;
for example, to confiscate a loudspeaker if they repeatedly went
on making an excessively loud noise?
Mr McNulty: Where it is absolutely repetitive
and a positive nuisance, then I think there is something worth
looking at. We are fairly close to the end of our PACE review
but that is certainly something I shall take back. My broader
point about planning, bylaws and the noise reduction side of things
is that I think there might be potentially more mileage in that
side of the law rather than through PACE, but I do take the point
and will take that away and look at it.
Q526 Sir George Young: This will
apply everywhere, not just outside the House of Commons.
Mr McNulty: Surely, yes.
Q527 Lord Norton of Louth: Surely
a follow up to that on the base of your own memorandum because
part of the problem on the base of the memorandum appears to be
the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act because it actually exempts,
as I understand it from the memorandum, political demonstrations.
One way might simply be to remove that from that Act.
Mr McNulty: Yes, or indeed I would certainly
look at the notion of maybe utilising PACE, but in the broader
sense of everywhere, not specific to the gentility of Members
of these Houses and the noise outside it.
Q528 Chairman: Thank you very much
for helping us this afternoon. I have one final question. Whilst
this area has been covered by the Constitutional Renewal Bill,
do you have a view as to whether it should be contained within
the other areas that Constitutional Renewal deals with, or should
it be part of a Criminal Justice Bill when the next one comes
Mr McNulty: We are trying not to make the next
one come along with the same rapidity as perhaps in the past.
Given the importance of protest, given the symbolism and I would
say potentially at least mythology of the impact of SOCPA and
demonstrations outside this House, for now at least it properly
belongs in the Constitutional Renewal Bill. I think any future
look may well appropriately belong somewhere else in the context
maybe a Criminal Justice Bill in the context of how we police
protests and demonstrations in the broadest sense in the country
rather than specific to Parliament. It is almost because it is
looking at the context of Parliament Square I think it is more
than proper that it belongs in the Constitutional Renewal Bill.
Chairman: Thank you for dealing with our questions