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House Of Commons (Freedom Of Access)

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 23 January 1979

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I have a brief statement to make. Yesterday the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—he has been held up—supported by the hon. Members for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) and Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), raised on a point of order the difficulties facing Members in making their way to the House, which in their case had resulted in their arriving late for Question Time. I undertook to look into the matter and to report to the House.

The Commissioner of Police informs me that there were about 25,000 members of the National Union of Public Employees and other unions in the vicinity of the House, of whom some 3,500 were in possession of letters inviting them to see their Member of Parliament. In such a situation it is always a problem for the police to identify Members and afford them the necessary priority: for example, by allowing them through streets closed to the general public. But I am assured by the Commissioner that every effort is made to do so, and will continue to be made in future.

I am sure that the House will agree that the Sessional Order requiring the police to keep free the
"passages through the streets leading to this House"
must be interpreted reasonably and that their responsibilities in this regard cannot extend, for example, to Hampstead, or, for that matter, to the end of the Embankment. I have written to the Commissioner of Police to thank him and his officers for the work that they have done.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what you have just said, is not there a cause for some concern? You said that 3,500 people were in possession of letters inviting them to come to this House. It is my understanding that the authorities have done their best to restrict the numbers of people who come to see Members of Parliament during these vast demonstrations, so that the police and the authorities can have some sort of control. Are you yourself entirely satisfied that there are not Members of this House who are seeking deliberately to encourage large numbers of members of the public to come to the House just in order to create the kind of disturbance that most people wish to see not taking place?

I wrote to my constituents, but in the event I was not able to meet them. Clearly, when there is a mass lobby such difficulties are bound to occur, because hon. Members do not consult each other before writing back to their constituents.

May I thank you Mr. Speaker, for your remarks, and particularly the tribute to the police, so well deserved? Will you please include in your thanks and appreciation the Serjeant at Arms and his staff, and the trade unions which so well organised the lobby, and pay tribute to them for the way in which their members behaved?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. I should tell the House that I also wrote a letter to the chief steward on the union side, who I understand was tremendously helpful in organising the lobby and ensuring that there was good order within our premises.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for your statement. I made it clear yesterday that in my comments I implied no criticism of the police. I also made it clear that I was not prevented from getting here. I was much more concerned, and still am, with the constitutional side of the problem. I do not think that the House had any complaints about those who came here. The problem is that of getting to the Palace. Further consideration needs to be given to the matter during the next two or three weeks to prevent a repetition of what happened yesterday to at least two hon. Members.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your statement about the difficulties yesterday, do I take it that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) will be sent a bill for the police escort that he had to the House?

I should have thought that, knowing that a massive lobby was taking place yesterday—the Tories were talking about it for several days before—most hon. Members would think it sensible to use the Underground. Then, none of that palaver would have taken place.

On the more important point, Mr. Speaker, will you take on board once again the possibility of ensuring that when large lobbies arrive at the House all those with letters to hon. Members have improved chances to see their Members? It is well known that some hon. Members are not always too anxious to see them, but in order to ensure that those who come have a better chance, instead of being stuck out in the rain, could not many thousands be brought inside Westminster Hall, as was done when the disabled came to lobby? The people could be separated into segments and regions for hon. Members to see them. That would give a better opportunity for those who wish to see their Members to lobby their Members—even Cabinet Ministers. It would give people a better chance to get a message across after coming all that way.

I say to both the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) that their suggestions will of course be studied by those responsible for helping us with lobbies.

May I, from the Opposition Benches, respectfully associate myself with the tributes so well paid by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) both to the conduct of the police and to those participating in the mass lobby, which resulted in such an orderly and friendly proceeding?