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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019

Before we proceed to the urgent questions, I would like to say something that relates to the events that unfolded outside this place yesterday.

In the course of proceedings at various times yesterday, the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) all raised with me their very grave concerns about aggressive, threatening and intimidating behaviour by demonstrators at Abingdon Green and, in many instances, between Parliament and Abingdon Green.

To those points of order, I responded, I hope, sympathetically and as effectively as I could. Colleagues will realise that I had not myself witnessed the behaviour, which was taking place while the House was sitting and I was in the Chair, but I was extremely concerned to learn of those developments. Moreover, it was clear beyond doubt both that there was an intensity of feeling on the matter and that that intensity of feeling was across the House. I undertook to look further into the matter.

Of course I am aware—as colleagues will know, for it has been reported—that a very large number of Members have written to the commissioner of the Metropolitan police. I thank them for doing so. I have myself today written to the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Cressida Dick, in support of those representations, and my letter has been published. We respect the operational freedom of the police, and we absolutely understand that they have difficult judgments to make in balancing the precious right of peaceful protest on the one hand and the right of Members of Parliament, journalists and others to go about their lawful business unimpeded and unthreatened. My sense of the opinion of colleagues, and they have considerable evidence for their view, is that, as things stand, the balance is not right.

I must say to the House that, frankly, it is intolerable if Members of Parliament and journalists go about their business in fear. This situation cannot stand. I have written with force, passion and politeness to the commissioner of the Metropolitan police seeking a review of policy. I hope that that is regarded by colleagues across the House as helpful. I would like to thank all those Members yesterday—on the Floor of the House and in conversations with me—who registered their concerns. I share them, and I will do my best to ensure that those concerns are properly addressed without delay.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you very much for your response and the sense of what you have said, which the whole House will have appreciated? However, will you add to the list not just politicians and journalists but ordinary members of the public, who themselves have been grossly abused just by being present?

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said. In making that powerful point, he prompts me to add a reference to schoolchildren coming on to the estate to visit the education centre, for a wider tour or both. They should not have to witness such insulting and, frankly, toxic behaviour. It is one thing to observe such behaviour, but it is another actually to do something to seek to prevent it, and it is, I think, for the latter that we in this House are looking. I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fully concur with all the things that were said yesterday and, indeed, by yourself just now, but I do not think this is just about policing, if I might say so. The arrangements at Abingdon Green, with the barriers placed in the way they are, mean that Members going from this palace can take only one route. That is making things more difficult and worse. I urge the House authorities to look at how they can relate better with the broadcasters to make sure that that area, which is part of our parliamentary estate, is better protected.

It may be, and I say this in all seriousness, with no frivolity or levity, that there is a symbiotic relationship between the House authorities and the hon. Gentleman, for I am able to say to the hon. Gentleman that we are seized of that point. It did not seem to me to be relevant to my letter to the commissioner, and I did not want to give what would, in any case, on that point, be only a holding statement to the House today. If I can say so with great politeness and respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have got that point—he is right—and we are looking to do something about it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for the comments you have made and the action you have taken, and I certainly agree that your view is shared across the House by Members of all parties and all views—nobody wants to see this behaviour going on. May I just add that, of course, threats have also been directed at the police themselves? Earlier this morning, I spoke with some of the police officers protecting us all—they are doing a fantastic job. They, too, are being subjected to racist abuse and threats, and we all saw the tragic events here at the House, with the death of PC Keith Palmer. Nobody wants to see that situation again, so I hope that those conversations will be fruitful and that we can ensure that all of us can go about our business safely.

Thank you. It is a type of fascism, let us be quite clear about that—it is a type of fascism. Women and ethnic minority citizens, in particular, are being targeted. I do not say that they are the only people on the receiving end of this completely unacceptable behaviour, but they have been, and are being, deliberately and disproportionately targeted. That is not acceptable, and we have to ensure that something is done about it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your intervention and for writing to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Is there not also a responsibility among the leaderships of our parties, and among Ministers and shadow Ministers, when they speak in the media, to reiterate what you are saying and not to seek to inflame some of the heightened tensions we are going to witness over the coming days and weeks? If I may say so, I was slightly surprised by an interview this morning with the Secretary of State for Brexit, in that I thought he could have been more forthright in his condemnation of what happened yesterday.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I did not hear that interview. I must, in passing, observe that I was told that the Secretary of State for Brexit—presumably because he was asked about the subject—did reference the concerns that exist about this totally unacceptable behaviour. Beyond that, I think it is fair to say that I should not comment, because I did not hear the interview, but we all have a responsibility to use moderate language and to treat each other with respect. I really do think that this is something that can unite the House, whatever people’s views in this Chamber on Brexit or indeed anything else. We all believe that we and everyone else should be able to go about our lawful business unimpeded. Denying someone’s personal space, shouting abuse, swearing at them, making sexist, racist or misogynistic remarks, or implying or stating directly that someone should lose his or her life because of the view that that Member holds is wrong—period. If there are people out there, as clearly there are, who do not get that point, well, they will have to be made to get it.