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The noble Baroness said: Government Amendments Nos. 192, 193, 196, 197, 199, 200, 201 and 248 respond to the concerns expressed about the requirement to give at least six days' notice of any demonstration. The Government recognise that there should be provision for a shorter notice period of 24 hours in exceptional circumstances. For example, a demonstration may be organised as a response to an event which could not be foreseen. Amendments Nos. 194 and 195 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, seek to remove any requirement on the organisers of demonstrations to give any notice of their intentions to the commissioner.
The purpose of these provisions is to allow the commissioner to consider the circumstances of a demonstration and its likely effect on the work of Parliament and the security of the area around it. He can then set conditions which are appropriate and proportionate. The commissioner must be able to do this in advance. The Government have recognised that there may be occasions when demonstrations are organised as a response to events which could not be foreseen. We have shortened the notice period to 24 hours in exceptional circumstances, but we do not believe that we should remove the notice period completely.
we must be able to ensure that those who work around Parliament are able to carry on their business without disruption and that the commissioner is able to place conditions on demonstrations to prevent this disruption. The Government believe that serious disruption is too high a threshold for demonstrations around Parliament and, given the importance of this area, the police need to have the ability to control all disruptive demonstrations.
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Government Amendment No. 201 allows the Metropolitan Police to give authorisation for a demonstration by fax or e-mail if organisers agree. This is particularly relevant if an organiser is unable to give six days notice for the demonstration. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, opposes the whole of Clause 134. This clause follows the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which ban the use of loudhailers in the streets at night. The new clauses ban the use of loudhailers in the vicinity of Parliament at any time except for certain specified purposes, such as in an emergency.
The Government included these provisions to reduce the disruption which loudhailers cause to the work of Parliament. This issue was raised in the Procedure Committee in the other place, which in its report on Sessional Orders and resolutions recommended legislation on the use of loudhailers. The work of Parliament must be able to continue. Noise from loudhailers is particularly disruptive and the Government believe that those who demonstrate around Parliament are able to make their views known without resorting to loudhailers.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 204 and 205 seek to reduce the maximum extent of the designated area to which the controls on demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament apply. We are aware of concerns about the designated area taking in Trafalgar Square, and the House may be assured that, in exercising the order-making power in Clause 135, we will ensure that Trafalgar Square is excluded. Those are the two areas that both Benches opposite saw as the main thrust of concern. As a result, demonstrations could continue there without the need for prior notification from the Commissioner. I hope that that meets the noble Lord's concern on this point. I would love to see him smile. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia: I shall certainly smile with that small mercy from the Minister, which, in particular, excludes Trafalgar Square from the demonstration provisions. I should remind her that I never thought that I would see the daygiven that I used to march outside Parliament in my younger days, as did many members of her own partythat new Labour would actually prevent people from demonstrating in the square outside this place.
I shall express my concerns about the severe restriction on peaceful protest proposed by these clauses. In the light of the protection that has been given to political speech in Article 10 of the convention, we are particularly concerned at measures that seek to inhibit public protest on the doorstep of parliamentary democracy. It is an unpleasant irony that, should this provision become law, freedom of expression will be most at risk in the one area where it should be most protected.
Under existing legislation, the police may place conditions on processions if they reasonably believe that the purpose of the organisers is to intimidate or if
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the procession may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community. We therefore question whether these further restrictions are necessary to achieve any legitimate aim. In fact, we are unclear as to the aim of the provision. If it is to regulate static assemblies, as opposed to processions, by allowing the police to impose conditions in the interests of public safety and so on, we believe that that could be achieved in a more proportionate manner.
There are a number of issues here. In relation to Amendments Nos. 193 and 194, we appreciate the move made by the Government from six days to 24 hours, but that still does not allow for continuous protest in the vicinity of Parliament. Business in Parliament can change very quickly and, in the event, there may not be 24 hours in which it is reasonably practical for someone to notify the Commissioner.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 195 and 198, we believe that the Commissioner should not be able to impose conditions on demonstrations on the grounds of disruption to the life of the community unless the disruption is serious. Any large-scale demonstration will almost inevitably cause some disruption. We are concerned that, without the amendment, the legislation will permit disproportionate restrictions on protests.
We oppose the Question that Clause 134 stand part because we believe that a total ban on the use of loudspeakers in a designated area is a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression. It is arbitrary as to the area and could have unintended consequences.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 204 and 205, we believe that, if these provisions are retained, the area should be designated, and I believe that the Minister has now accepted that. However, if that is not practical, the maximum radius should be reduced generally to cover Parliament and its surroundings rather than large parts of central London. Now that Trafalgar Square is excluded, will Waterloo Station, which I suspect falls within the 1 kilometre range that we were talking about, also be excluded? For that reason, we propose that the centre of the area should be Parliament itself rather than Parliament Square. Those are our concerns and I hope that, by tomorrow, the Minister will see fit to make some changes for the betterment of this clause.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall comment briefly on this group of amendments. I welcome, in particular, the commitment given by the Government with regard to Trafalgar Square. I think that that is a proper response to the debate that was held in another place and to the concerns expressed there.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is absolutely right in stressing how important it is that British citizens should have the right to make their views known at the very doors of Parliament. The Front Bench view is that the Government have met our concerns about the original proposals by the amendments that they have tabled today and that therefore they are still enabling proper demonstration to be made.
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I have certainly been reminded by organisations such as Global Women's Strike that there is a vital need for them to have the right to come to Parliament Squareindeed, they would say to use loudhailers as well. They remind me that, on occasion, they have lobbied Members of another place by post and have not received a single response. Therefore, they feel that they can make themselves heard only in a physical way by coming here with a loudhailer, and I can well understand that view.
As this is free-vote territory, I am allowed as a Front-Bencher to say that I have always felt it an important right for people to ensure that I hear what they say. Even if I do not agree with what they say, I shall certainly try to go on listening as long as I have breath to do sonot that one needs breath to listen.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am glad that the Government have brought forward this amendment, but we have to be very careful, particularly now, that we do not send the wrong message to the voters outside. We are asking them to vote in a general election to send people to Parliament. Then we are saying to them, "Okay, you have elected us now, don't bother to turn up to see us in great numbers". I think that is such a pity.
For hundreds of years we have been able to demonstrate in front of Parliament and speak to the people who govern us, and now, because one fellow made a nuisance of himself for a few months, we are restricting the rights of the general population, the general voters. I believe it is a great pity, despite what the Government have done which is to be welcomed, to send a message to the people that restrictions on Parliament are to be tightened yet again.
When I was elected to Parliament in 1970 everyone could come through the doors of this place and the House of Commons without let or hindrance. That has changed to the extent that they have to be searched, they have to wear badges, and now we are saying that they have to give notice if more than a handful of people want to come to demonstrate and tell us what they think.
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