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Clause 31

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 26, line 19, leave out 'the district council and'.

With this we may take amendment No. 32, in page 26, line 19, after 'constable', insert

'by delivering it to a police constable at any police station in the district'.

9.15 pm

These amendments are the result of a good deal of discussion and deliberation. Hon. Members may recall that the so-called street procession clauses have given rise to a considerable amount of debate and discussion.

In a previous debate I stressed that in no circumstances were the clauses intended to apply to spontaneous processions. It has been a recognised concern of many hon. Members that in their present form the clauses could ban spontaneous marches. That was never the intention. Therefore, the two amendments will clarify the situation beyond any reasonable doubt.

For an organised procession there will still have to be three days' notice, and for the vast majority of other processions there will still have to be at least three day's notice. I hope that to assist the police force in Merseyside a period of notice in excess of three days will be given when there is a major procession. Regarding the spontaneous procession, I give the following undertaking and assurance that under clause 30 byelaws will have to be submitted to the Home Secretary by the county council for confirmation. It will appear as a paragraph (b) and it will state:
"If in the case of any procession it is not reasonable and practicable to give the notice required by the said section 31"—
that is, clause 31 of the Bill—
"by the time it is so required, the notice may be given as soon as reasonably practicable after that time, and before the procession starts to pass through any streets."
I give an assurance on behalf of the promoters that that will be the text of the byelaw to be submitted to the Home Secretary by Merseyside county council. I hope that that will do much to meet the fears and concerns of hon. Members. I hope that citizens in Merseyside will continue to give the police every possible support and every possible notice of any major procession, so that the police will be able to take adequate precautions to give the citizen the protection that he seeks from our police force.

It is not my intention to disturb any agreement that has been reached but simply to put on record a statement of the enormous amount of time that the county council and hon. Members have taken in concentrating their energies on this particular agreement.

The agreement recognises that some hon. Members and some people in Merseyside believe that the first test of democracy is to get up, organise a spontaneous demonstration, and march. There are others, like myself, who feel that the demonstration encourages the demonstrators and encourages a show of strength. I heard that the only time a demonstration changed anyone's mind was when the crowd cheered for Barabbas. But I shall not comment on that. An agreement has been reached. It is operable and it should cause no difficulties.

It may be convenient if I indicate the Government's attitude to the amendments which have now been agreed, and which I welcome.

Crucial to the agreement that has been reached is the question of the byelaw. The effect of the byelaw, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) spoke, would be, in effect, to apply in Merseyside arrangements in relation to giving notice of processions similar to those that the House recently agreed should apply in the West Midlands. Such a byelaw would require confirmation by the Home Secretary. I should like to make it clear that there will be no problem in securing that confirmation. I am glad that it has proved possible for the promoters of the Bill and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) to reach agreement on that basis.

As I made clear in our discussion on the West Midlands Bill, the compromise formula then achieved, which is now again to be given in Merseyside, may not necessarily provide a perfect model were the Government to decide, as a result of their current review of general public order legislation, that a national requirement of advance notice is desirable. That would be a question that would have to be considered on a national basis when the review was completed and according to the conclusions reached in that review. Any decision taken by the House tonight in no sense pre-empts that review or implies any conclusion of it.

I also said, when we considered the West Midlands provisions, that where a case was made for a provision of this sort in the current local legislation that is going through the House, there was some advantage in a measure of uniformity of approach. That is a further reason why I congratulate those concerned on what is now proposed, as it falls in line with the similar compromise that has been reached elsewhere.

I think, therefore, that it makes sense, pending any consideration of the whole question on a national basis as a result of the review on which we are now embarked.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 32, in page 26, line 19, after 'constable', insert—

'by delivering it to a police constable at any police station in the district'.—[Mr. David Hunt.]