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Parliamentary Access

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

3. What steps the House of Commons Commission is taking to ensure unimpeded access to and from the parliamentary estate for hon. Members and staff at all times. (277948)

As you have said in the House, Mr. Speaker, the Serjeant at Arms is your contact with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on all such matters. The Serjeant at Arms continues to impress on the Metropolitan police the need and requirement for vehicle and pedestrian access to the parliamentary estate to be maintained.

As the House is well aware, recently the Tamil demonstration and protest meant that the access of Members and staff to the House was completely cut off and for long periods was greatly restricted. Only this week, owing to a demonstration by cyclists—representing the Green party and campaigning in the European elections, I understand—Bridge street was closed for a period, thus greatly inconveniencing Members of Parliament.

And the public as well. Only this week, the very entrance to the House of Commons has been blocked by odd mavericks and others seeking to inconvenience—perhaps even arrest—Members of Parliament. Is it not time that the police, who appear to be completely unable to deal with the situation, developed a strategy and tactics to enable them to ensure that Members and staff of the House, and the public, have unimpeded access to the House of Commons?

We are aware of the instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but obviously policing on London’s streets is a matter for the Metropolitan police. The service says that it has to give a proportionate response, which, in the light of complaints about the policing of protests, is understandable. However, we will continue to make clear to the service the need for Members to be able to get in and out of the House at all times. For the time being at least, protests in Parliament square are legal and legitimate. If the hon. Gentleman and others wish to see a change in the disposition of the law, there may be legislative opportunities to which they will wish to contribute.

I have some grave concerns about what is going on in Parliament square, not least because this is very much an iconic building and we have a lot of tourists who want to visit this area. Equally, I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), in that I think peaceful protest is an important part of the process as well. I want to stress to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) that rules are already in place. There should be no encampment, as there has been of Tamil demonstrators in the past seven weeks, and there should be no more than 50 protestors at any one time. The police already have considerable powers in this regard, and they should be properly exercised.

We will continue a dialogue with the police, and the Serjeant at Arms will continue to make clear to them the need to sustain access to the Palace.

Although I can well understand Members’ irritation about this, I, too, impress on the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) the need to recognise that there is a balance to be struck between the convenience of Members and the legitimate right to peaceful protest, and to ensure that whatever solution is found to the current issues out there, that balance is struck.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, I stress again that any change to the legislation is a matter for this House, while the detailed arrangements for policing the streets are a matter for the Metropolitan police, and the Serjeant at Arms will continue to impress upon them the need to maintain access.

Is it not a fact that the licence for the noisy use of amplified broadcasting equipment ran out long ago, and that no enforcement of the existing laws is being carried out? As long ago as October, we were promised in this House that legislation was imminent. When are we going to see it?

The timing of legislation is not a matter for me. The Joint Committee on the Constitutional Renewal Bill has been looking at the provisions, and we await with interest the legislation’s coming before the House.