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House Of Commons (Freedom Of Access)

Volume 961: debated on Monday 22 January 1979

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your advice?

Half way through this morning, I was advised that my question No. 19 would be taken with question No. 2 and I made the necessary arrangements to be at the House in plenty of time. I was approximately a mile and a half from the House at two o'clock and I was prevented from reaching the House until three o'clock as the police had closed off many streets within the city of Westminster because of the demonstration and march by members of NUPE. I believe that the House issues a Sessional Order on the first day of a new parliamentary Session requesting the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to keep open access to the House and its precincts at all times when the House is sitting. I was prevented from reaching the House to deal with an important question that was on the Order Paper.

I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on the question whether, even at this late stage, I may be permitted to put that question to the appropriate Minister, or whether there is any other way in which I can deal with the matter.

It cannot be further to that point of order—oh, yes, the Minister is in the same plight, I think.

Sometimes I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and sometimes I do not—I am his immediate parliamentary neighbour. On this occasion I agree with him. I apologise for the fact that I was not in my place to ask question No. 13, but for reasons similar to those of my hon. Friend I was stuck with two other hon. Members in a traffic jam, and we could not approach the precincts in time. Like my hon. Friend, I hope that it will be possible to return to this question on a future occasion.

I have two observations to make. First, both hon. Members are almost invariably in their places when they have a question on the Order Paper to be called and I realise that it has obviously caused them distress that they could not reach the House today. Secondly, we must remember that the responsible authorities are under heavy stress on this day. We are all grateful for the steps that they have taken to ensure that so many of us have arrived here. It was easier for me than for most.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, I think that a much more important constitutional point is at issue than you have answered. What is the effect of this House's Sessional Order? Does it override the instructions that the Commissioner has given today to keep the streets of London clear so that a mob withdrawing emergency services can come here? I believe that this is important. In no way am I seeking to criticise the police, who are being given an impossible job. None the less, this is the highest court in the land—it is the Parliament—and it should not be a matter of congratulation that so many of us have got here. It should be a question why any hon. Member was prevented from being given free access to do his parliamentary duty.

I think that the House must be reasonable in this matter. Of course, the police have their instructions from this House in the first Sessional Order that we pass, but it is entirely lacking in a sense of fair play and common sense towards those who are dealing with a major problem outside the House to say that under all circumstances they must get that crowd to make way to ensure that hon. Members may come through.

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is correct in saying that hon. Members must have the right to come to this House. I am confident that the people responsible for law and order in the streets have done their best, but I will make inquiries on the matter raised by the hon. Members.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully appreciate what you have said about the difficulties of the police, but a very serious constitutional point has been raised by several of my hon. Friends. It is surely above all in circumstances such as these that unimpeded access must be guaranteed to hon. Members to come to this House, otherwise our constitution is threatened.

I welcome very much, Mr. Speaker, your statement that you will conduct inquiries into these incidents. Would you be kind enough to extend the dialogue further and to bring to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the views which have been expressed in this House today, so that perhaps some arrangements can be made to facilitate Members in coming here, should this sort of position occur again?

Order. Before I take any further points of order, may I say that I will, of course, have discussions with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and do my best to ensure that this difficulty does not arise again. Mr. Mellish.

May I say, Mr. Speaker, with great respect and in an effort to be helpful, that it was a known fact—it was in the press yesterday and on the radio this morning—that there was to be a march of 60,000 to 70,000 people upon this House today. We all knew, as Members, that there would be terrible pressure on the police in order to keep open the doors of this House. Surely in these circumstances it behoves some of us to show common sense and get out of bed a little earlier in order to try to get to the House a little earlier.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I make it perfectly clear that I have no criticism whatsoever of the police? Once I was able to identify myself to a police constable, I received a motor cycle escort all the way down the Embankment, for which I am very grateful indeed. Sadly, it did not get me to the House in time to deal with my question.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for indicating that you will take up the matter with the Commissioner. It is possible, however, that there could, in the next few weeks, be several similar marches and demonstrations. If we are to have a series of them, the problems of Members will be considerable. This especially applies to those of us who represent constituencies outside London. I say this through you, Mr. Speaker, if I may, to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). Some of us have to come many miles to this House after we have attended constituency engagements on a Monday morning. Would you, Mr. Speaker, be good enough to discuss this matter with the Commissioner, in the light of the fact that there could well be a series of such marches and demonstrations?

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you, with very great respect, not to bother the police with this matter. Like the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), I had to travel about 210 miles to get here. I was also stuck in a traffic jam. Realising that I had chosen the wrong route, I doubled back. I suggest that any hon. Member with an ounce of sense—[Interruption.] I have probably pitched it too high, Mr. Speaker, in referring to an ounce of sense. Any hon. Member with half an ounce of sense, in the light of the warnings which have been made for the past weeks, about a mass lobby should have made preparation for it.

I suggest, with great respect, that it will demean your office, Mr. Speaker, if you approach the police on this matter. What can the police do in these circumstances, knowing that the march is to take place—