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Like my noble friend Lord Carlile, I have participated in many demonstrations; against apartheid in South Africa, the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq to name a few. I see that many Labour activists with whom I demonstrated now occupy high places in Government. Some are in ministerial positions. They are the very people who have now supported the legislation banning public demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. They should hang their heads in shame, for they deny to others the very rights which they enjoyed in their youth.
In July 2005, answering questions on the Statement about terrorist attacks in London, on a day when there were demonstrations outside this Parliament, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, Leader of the House of Lords, said:
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, 11/7/05; col. 905.]
I have serious concerns about the restrictions being placed on peaceful protests in the vicinity of ParliamentSection 138and other designated sites as specified for the purposes of Sections 128 and 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We now have a situation where demonstrating in designated areas without authorisation is an offence under Section 132(1). The Minister may argue that demonstrations are not banned but now require the authorisation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. That authorisation must be obtained not less than six days or at least 24 hours before the demonstration starts. Requirements of that nature do not allow for spontaneous protests in the vicinity of Parliament. One of the grounds for refusal of authorisation is disruption to the life of the community. I am afraid
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The argument advanced was that previous legislation did not provide the police with all the powers they need to control all protests and demonstrations around Parliament. I reject that argument. I do not dispute that, at times, placards and slogans in Parliament Square cause annoyance to some parliamentarians; we all agree that they do. However, Parliament, the seat of our democracy, is big enough to take such protests in its stride. In any case, so fundamental are the geographical changes proposed by the Government that they strike at the very heart of the citizens right to protest well outside the ambit of Parliament Square. The changes will have a major effect for generations to come. Let me start with the geography of the designated area. What initially started as a debate about demonstrations in Parliament Square resulted in legislation that created Fortress Whitehall where no one can protest without permission.
However, business in Parliament can change quickly. There are many days when we are unaware that a Statement will be made in Parliament by the Government. The reality is that one cannot protest freely in that case because 24 hours may not be available in which it is reasonably practicable for someone to notify the commissioner.
The massive area covered by this draconian law includes almost all government offices, Scotland Yard, Smith Square and many places of interest in this part of London. Civil servants working in government departments in an area including almost all the major government offices are not able to protest without permission. We have created a situation in which Ministers and members of the Labour Party can walk with their heads held high because there will be no picket lines to cross. I hope the unions and others will note how fundamentally their rights to picket peacefully are hampered by such legislation.
The designated area order made in 2005 is the outcome of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. I need to ask an important question: has protesting outside Parliament ever been regarded as serious organised crime? Did Mr Wolfgang commit a serious organised crime at the Labour Party conference where he was manhandled and thrown out? Is it is a serious organised crime to shout out at the gate of Downing Street the names of our soldiers who died in Iraq? Can the Minister cite a single example where those who are at present protesting with their placards have hampered the business of Parliament in any way, let alone have committed a serious organised crime that has affected Parliaments work? It is embarrassing to politicians when their policies are exposed, and it is embarrassing when the Governments human rights record is questioned, but they are no reasons to silence a minority that will always find a way to get its message through.
I have no doubt that freedom of expression and assembly, which are protected under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights,
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has repeatedly emphasised that freedom of expression constitutes an essential foundation of democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual's self-fulfilment.
We see no evidence of adequate and effective safeguards to protect against arbitrary interferences with convention rights. If there are no such safeguards, then police power could become fairly oppressive. We have gone though such a sad period in the past, and I do not need to spell out the dangers of such actions by those in power and authority.
I do not underestimate the need for security, but democracy is well served when there is a balance between what is required and what is appropriate. There is a danger if we do not support the Bill that it will make policing work of control and discipline more difficult.
Policing in our country is the envy of the world. It is the independence of the police, accompanied by the consent of the public that makes it possible to maintain law and order. I suspect that, to an extent, we are eroding this independence. The police will soon be forced to take actions that will often smack of political interference. Demonstration and protest are a healthy aspect of our democracy, and by creating obstacles we are treading on values that we have treasured for so long.
If we fail to protect these rights, it will be the Robert Mugabes of this world who will have the last laugh, for their actions will seem all the more justified. If we as a democracy give such comfort and strength to the actions of dictators, it will bring shame upon all of us. We have set a bad example to emerging democracies in various parts of the world. This Bill will need the support of all people in this House.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, on introducing this short two-clause Bill to enable this debate to take place. I am particularly gratified by her remarks on the speech of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, also made reference. I am very conscious that this is not the last business of the House today, so I shall keep my comments short.
As other noble Lords have highlighted, this is a timely debate, particularly in light of the news earlier this week that Brian Haw has won his latest legal battle to maintain his demonstration in Parliament Square. Indeed, some may say it is ironic when we
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We on these Benches share the serious concerns your Lordships House has expressed today, as well as those raised during the progress of the Bill regarding the implications that such legislation has on democracy. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns took pains to emphasise during the progress of SOCPA that it is vital that legitimate protest at the very doors of Parliament is available to members of the public. It is an important right for an individual to feel that their voice has been heard and that we listen to those voices.
The Government listened during the passage of SOCPA. They eventually made welcome concessions surrounding the notice period for demonstrations and the exclusion of Trafalgar Square. Yet today we have a situation where, despite assurances made by Ministers during the passage of the Bills, the powers are being used to exclude peaceful protest, far beyond what was originally intended.
It is when something like this happens that one cannot help but wonder whether other government assurances are similarly founded on quicksand. After hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, it is becoming clear to me that SOCPA is indeed an appropriate weapon for the nanny state.
We need look no further for an example that those feared unintended consequences are happening than that of the much quoted Maya Anne Evans, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others have referred. The 25 year-old, vegan cook from Hastings was found guilty of breaching Section 132 of SOCPA for her part in a peaceful protest where she read out the names of soldiers killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph down the road, while another protester read out the names of dead Iraqi civilians.
It is clear that the legislation has been misused. What assessment have Her Majesty's Government made of the Maya Evans case and what is the Ministers reaction to Mr Haws recent win? I hope that the Minister can inform the House in his reply that the Government are looking again at those powers in SOCPA. We on these Benches believe that the whole of SOCPA and the Terrorism Act merit review. I hope that the Government will undertake to initiate a review as a result of the continued scrutiny and criticism advanced in this debate.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Davidson of Glen Clova): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for introducing the Bill and setting out her case. It has certainly been an interesting debate with many powerful contributions.
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First, I shall deal with the provisions on trespass on designated sites, as the Bill would amend that area. I appreciate that it was touched on very lightly by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but none the less, I should spell out what the Bill would do. The criminal offence of trespass on a protected site in Sections 128 to 131 of the 2005 Act was created in response to a recommendation in the report by Commander Armstrong into an intrusion at Windsor Castle on 21 June 2003. He recommended that a new offence of criminal trespass at secure and specified royal and government premises should be considered. This was echoed by the Security Commission report of May 2004 following revelations of a journalists activities at Buckingham Palace in 2003.
After careful, not hurried consideration, it was agreed that a new criminal offence was necessary in this area. As my noble friend Lord Judd observed, security issues require substantial care. Necessity is an important justification.
The two reasons for criminalising trespass in relation to designated sites were as follows. First, it would create a deterrent to intrusions at such sites. It was noted that it had not been possible to secure prosecution with an appropriate penalty of any of the individuals who had carried out the recent high-profile intrusions. Secondly, it would give the police a specific power of arrest of a trespasser at a sensitive site where no other apparent existing offence had been committed. The police responsible for security at such sites had been lobbying for that. The specific power of arrest in Section 130(1) has now been superseded by the general power of arrest in the 1984 Act under Section 110 of the 2005 Act.
Of course, that is not a restraint on demonstration. Rather, it is a defence against unauthorised intrusion at particular sites. To date, one designation order has been made under the provisions. That is the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Sites) Order 2005, laid before Parliament on 19 December 2005, which came into force on 1 April 2006. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is correct to state that it designated 13 operational Ministry of Defence sites. Following that, on 13 April 2006, all licensed nuclear sites became protected sites following the coming into force of Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2006. In addition, the Home Office is in the final stages of preparing a further designation order which will designate a small number of royal, governmental and parliamentary sites. That is likely to be laid before Parliament within the next month.
The offence is an important deterrent to intrusions at high-profile secure sites. Such intrusions can pose a very real risk to security. There is already anecdotal evidence that there has been a reduction in the number of intrusions at the 13 designated MoD sites since the legislation came into force. The legislation is therefore having an important deterrent effect as well as providing members of our police and security forces with much-needed powers to arrest trespassers at such secure, high-profile sites. To repeal these
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I turn now to demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament, which has exercised noble Lords most substantially today. Sections 132 to 138 of the 2005 Act cover such demonstrations. I am aware that noble Lords and Members in another place have previously expressed their concerns about these provisions, particularly the terms of proportionality and the impact on a persons right to protest.
Let me remind noble Lords why the Government introduced legislation covering demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. Before Parliament enacted this legislation, demonstrations and marches passing the Houses of Parliament while both Houses were sitting were subject to a parliamentary sessional order, which instructed the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to make sure that passageways to and from Parliament were kept free of obstruction and that no obstruction was allowed to hinder the passage of Lords and Members to and from the House. In turn, the commissioner had the power to give directions to all constables under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 to disperse all assemblies and demonstrations if they were likely to cause an obstruction or disorder. However, the sessional order conferred no further legal powers on the police.
Noble Lords will recall that the House of Commons Procedure Committee conducted a short inquiry into a number of existing sessional orders and resolutions, including that relating to the Metropolitan Police, and published a report in November 2003. The committee recommended that the Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access were adequate and enforceable. It also recommended that the Government should explore the use of existing legislation to control the use of loud hailers and other amplification equipment or consider new legislation. The committee said that,
The Government agreed that further legislation was needed to provide the police with the powers they needed to control protests and demonstrations in Parliament Square. This was not a fear-driven initiative. It was thought out and considered.
I can assure noble Lords that the current provisions covering demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament are not about denying the right to protest. We are not preventing the public from freely expressing their views, but we have put some reasonable, proportionate limits on the exercise of that quite proper right. This is not a question of what the Government do not like, as was perhaps suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in respect of Mr Haws demonstration. The provisions do not prevent Mr Haw carrying out demonstrations, as one can see daily. The provisions require the organisers
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It is open to the commissioner to attach conditions to the authorisation where it is necessary to prevent a series of entirely serious problems in the area, which are set out in Section 134. They include hindrance to any person wishing to enter or leave the Palace of Westminster; serious public disorder; serious damage to property; disruption to the life of the community; a security risk in any part of the designated area; or risk to the safety of members of the public, including those taking part in the demonstration. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, correctly identified that the consent of the public is essential if one wishes to maintain public order. I submit that the public do consent to the protection of the entirely legitimate targets addressed by these provisions.
There is no requirement on the commissioner to impose any conditions. He bases that decision on whether conditions are necessary and depending on the circumstances of each demonstration. Where conditions are imposed, it is an offence not to comply with them. The provisions cover all demonstrations within a designated area around Parliament, as noble Lords have plainly identified, and as they are aware, the order defining the precise area came into force on 1 July 2005. The legislation states that no point in the designated area may be more than 1 kilometre in a straight line from the point nearest to it in Parliament Square. In fact, the furthest distance from Parliament Square within the designated area is about 800 metres. I am aware of the detailed discussions held both here and in another place about the geographical area covered by the order. The area was drawn up following discussions with the Metropolitan Police based on their operational experience
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I think he will understand that his reference to the conditions attached by the commissioner to demonstrations is very disappointing in the light of criticisms made by the court only on Monday of this week about the fact that the conditions are unclear and not set out in a way that can easily be understood. Perhaps he could address that before he moves on.
Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: Certainly, my Lords. As I understand the position in relation to Mr Haws case, the judges approach was to say that the specific conditions lacked clarity. That is not an indication that the law itself lacks clarity, but that the specific conditions that were employed in relation to Mr Haw did so. The assistant commissioner has placed further conditions in relation to Mr Haws position. These, I respectfully suggest, do demonstrate an appropriate level of clarity, but no doubt that inevitably will be a matter for a judge somewhere else to consider.
The designated area was based on police operational experience of where demonstrations may cause a security risk when they hinder the proper operation of Parliament. The risk to safety of members of the public was also considered. I recognise that there will always be a debate about the boundaries of the designated area and that this will be kept under review. Since 1 August 2005 when the rest of the provisions on demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament came into effect, the Metropolitan Police have used their powers to facilitate peaceful protest.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, particularly because it has taken a moment for his previous words to sink in. I am so slow at these things. I wonder if he could assure us that these new conditions which, unless I am wrong, he said that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has now imposed, could be placed in the Library. I ask this since they appear to be central to his argument.
Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: My Lords, I have never detected in his learned writings or anything he has said that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, is slow. I will of course be delighted to carry out his request.
I was going to indicate the number of convictions that have taken place between 1 August 2005 and December 2006. I am told by the commissioner that there have been 15 convictions and one caution for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration in the designated area, one conviction for using a loud hailer in the designated area and one conviction for organising an unauthorised demonstration. The commissioner indicates that during the same periodthis is an interesting figure1,379 demonstrations have taken place with an authorisation. Demonstrations by, for example, the Pensions Action Group, Unison, Peace Appeal, the Make Poverty History campaign and the Campaign Against Climate Change have all taken place. The commissioner has imposed conditions on very few of the demonstrations. Contrary to the fear expressed by many noble Lords that demonstrations would not take place or that in some way democracy was imperilled because of the authorisation requirement, one should note that the opposite appears to have happened: more demonstrations are taking place than before.
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